I guess I should have taken more notice of such an ominous portent of forthcoming doom. After all, it is not every day that you see a house brick being blown down the road by the wind. Perhaps it would have better for all concerned if I had just followed my best instincts and instructed the others to just drive to Warburton for an afternoon coffee. It is at times like these that being a leader of men (and one woman) is not easy.
With the hurricane force wind howling over our heads it was hard to even hear each other speak, let alone imagine what the conditions on the trail would be like. I had even heard on the radio that the force of the wind had torn away part of the new Bolte Bridge. On the other hand – at least it wasn’t raining (yet). Lex and Little John had made the effort to meet me at Mt Evelyn and were looking to me to make the call. “To ride or not to ride?” that was the question. Of course I already knew the question, the problem was coming up with the best answer.
Trying not to look indecisive in front of the team I looked to the sky, and to the trees bucking wildly over our heads, then announced “I reckon we can beat this wind, let’s give it a go”. I got the impression that the enthusiasm was not shared equally among the small peloton as the others plodded slowly back to get their bikes, at the same time as slowly shaking their heads and mutely questioning my sanity.
John Ruigrok had already ‘ridden’ past on his bike in the direction of Monbulk. I think he tried to stop to say something but the wind just kept him moving on with a look of abject terror on his face, and his hands vainly clamped on the brake levers. We could only hope that the wind was blowing him in the same direction that he needed to go.
As we headed down the Mt Evelyn hill the noise of the wind increased to something akin to a thousand jack hammers, but the tall trees (many of which had already blown over), did help to shield us somewhat from the full force of the maelstrom. I knew, of course, that we would not feel the full onslaught until we reached the open spaces past Killara. Being an optimistic type of guy I tried to hope that the wind would actually be behind us at that point. If that was the case we certainly would not need to pedal. It would be stopping that would present the most problems.
I was pleased to see Cheryl coming towards us near Wandin, although her ashen face and torn clothes did not bode well. When she had recovered enough to speak she told us of something of the horrors she had endured between Woori Yallock and Killara. With so many falling trees and flying rocks, it had been a ride to go down in the annals of great cycling triumphs. She was obviously relieved to be able to turn around and ride downwind for a while.
A little further on we met another brave soul on the trail. Although this guy looked a little like Bob, we were not ready for the big Colgate smile that he was wearing. He looked like Bruce the Shark from “Finding Nemo”. After the initial shock had worn off we realised that Crasher had finally got his new set of shiny big choppers. The only problem is that he had obviously not learned to work them properly yet. Although he can now speak three entirely new languages all of them are completely unintelligible. As he mumbled and whistled something we nodded and tried to pretend we had some idea of what he was saying, before cycling on.
At Woori Yallock we finally came across John “Hooters” huddling in his car, apparently terrified of the wind. He eventually emerged from the safety of his mechanical coccoon, but would only ride on the condition that he could follow in Cheryl’s slipstream.
It was at this point that another obstacle manifested itself, that would soon prove to be almost as big a problem as the wind. Some bright spark had dropped another 6 inches or so of soft toppings on the trail. As we tried to make headway we felt like we were riding through a bed of soft treacle. If the Warby Trail could be likened to the Pilgrim’s progress, then this certainly would have been The Slough of Despair. Standing up on my pedals, watching my thin tyres sink deep into the mire, I vainly waved from side to side as I tried to avoid coming to a complete standstill.
One can only assume that the contractor responsible for the “upgrading” of the trail has never ridden a bicyle in his/her life. I suspect that the specs for the upgrade were prepared by someone in the powerful horseriding lobby group. I can just imagine some well dressed equine lover instructing “We need a nice soft surface so our horses’ hooves don’t get sore”.
Eventually we did battle our way out of the Slough and made it as far as Yarra Junction for the traditional Settlement Rd sprints. Lex had quietly slipped a set of slicks on his bike and let slip that he has been doing up to 300 km per week in serious training. Once this guy gets his road bike he will be a force to be reckoned with. Although I tried hard, Bob gritted his new teeth and managed to pip me at the post. I think the final winning margin was a “won by a tooth”.
By 2.35 we were all safely at the coffee shop where we had to tie down our bikes to prevent them being blown into the river. When I saw my first sausage roll get blown down the Main St I knew that we had better have our drinks inside for a change. For 20 minutes we shared jokes and coffees before (reluctantly) heading off into the blizzard.
With the wind now seemingly coming from all sides at once, I wasn’t sure whether we should laugh or cry. For a few seconds it was behind us and then it was in our faces. It seemed that we would be doomed to some sort of perpetual battle against the elements, but because we are people of such valour, we eventually prevailed (and reached Milgrove).
It is not easy to ride when the wind throws great rocks in front of your bike, and even harder when these rocks cause yet another puncture. It’s even worse when Peter is not around and you have to repair your puncture all by yourself.
The remainder of the ride was something of a blur of flying trees and cows, darkness, cold, pain, quicksand, yapping dogs, horse manure, elevated blood pressure, tiredness, hallucinations, etc but somehow we managed to get back to Mt Evelyn soon after 5pm. I looked at my battered companions and said cheerily “Well that wasn’t so bad”. John looked back at me and tried to muster a wan smile. “I can’t wait till next week” he replied. I guess madness is hereditary after all – except you inherit it from your riding friends.