In Which we Dance with Danger

Sometimes belonging to a group of riders has both advantages and disadvantages. As I studied the radar weather map and forecasts, the outcome looked rather unpredictable. There were large blue patches hovering near Melbourne (indicating storms), but they seemed to be rotating in a circle rather than getting any closer. The written forecast simply said something like “scattered storms”. I needed help to make a decision whether to ride or not.

When I contacted John he said he could not ride because he was in mourning. Apparently someone had reversed into the front of his impressive Jaguar at high speed on the highway (while he was stationary) and smashed the front in. He wanted to spend the day sitting outside looking at the damage. Bob simply said that he “had other (better?) things to do”. This was starting to look simple. All I had to do was contact Peter, and if he said he wasn’t coming, then my afternon would be in the clear.

“I don’t care what sort of storms are coming, I think we’ve got to ride”, said Peter, with a show of unbridled enthusiasm. “Yes, I think so too”, I answered, with somewhat less conviction (and almost no common sense), and the decision was made.

One hour later as I was driving through Monbulk in a downpour of rain, I started to seriously doubt our sanity. Fortunately a few minutes later the sun was shining and it looked as if the storms might just pass away after all.

We headed off from Mt Evelyn with one eye on the sky and the other on the trail ahead. Because of the somewhat parlous nature of the meteoroligical conditions (and because John was not with us), we decided to increase the pace somewhat more than usual.

The trail was successfully transitted as far as Yarra Junction where Peter and I started to jockey for position on the intermediate outward sprint. Peter decided to increase the speed early, exploiting his superior staying power. About halfway down the straight we were nudging 33 kph and increasing. This was far too early for my liking. I tried to hedge and postpone the final attack until we were closer to the sign, but due to Peter’s persistance I was forced to break early or risk being broken. Quickly throwing into top gear I jumped from the saddle and started pumping. I was amazed to see my speed increase to 48 kph. Although I began to fade before the finish line, I had established enough of a break to hold on for a win.

The remaining ride to Warburton was completed at a brisk pace and we pulled into the coffee shop 1 hr 17 mins after leaving Mt Evelyn. So far, so good we thought, as we sat down to enjoy our coffee and cakes. Although we still had the return ride to complete, we were pleased that we had made it thus far without being caught in one of the circling storms.

As we enjoyed our lunch we did cast anxious eyes to the skies where the clouds seemed to be getting darker all the time and there were regular rumbles of distant thunder. “I think we had better get going” I said, before cleating up and heading off again.

Although we made it almost to Woori Yallock without mishap, it was at this point that things started to go awry. Peter decided to increase the pace to try to outrun the surrounding storms, but the folly of this tactic became apparent when I hit the small bridge too fast and immediately heard the sound of escaping gas (not from me, but from my rear tyre which had suffered a pinch flat).

Five minutes later, Peter had partly attoned for his mistakes by repairing my tyre while I rested by the trackside. We headed off again, although it was now eminently obvious that we were in serious trouble. The clouds had covered over and the lightning started to flash ominously. “Let’s count”, I suggested. “One, two, three….BOOOOOOM”. “Gee that was close”, Peter deduced (correctly).

As the lightning flashed all around I started to ponder my own mortality as I mentally considered the odds of two idiots on iron lightning rods in the midde of open fields being hit by a bolt from the blue. Should we lie down and wait? Should we hide under the single nearby tree? Would it help if we closed our eyes? If we did get struck, would a single cleated foot be all that remained of us? Such thoughts raced through our minds as we pedaled on through the tumult.

As the cascading fireballs and forked lightning hit the trail behind us we tried to increase the pace as we approached the long bridge. At this point, things took a further turn for the worse when the skies opened with a torrential downpour. We were quickly soaked to the skin and I started to ponder whether a wet cyclist is a better conductor of electricity than a dry one.

Although we tried to seek temporary shelter under the small overhead bridge near Killara, we soon discovered that water was still cascading down on us through the gaps in the planks. The track ahead was now looking more like the Yarra River as water flowed freely down the hill towards us. “I don’t think this is going to stop”, Peter stated the bleedin’ obvious. We had no alternative than to dig deep and just head off regardless.

We tried riding side by side with the rain running down our backs and the mud from our tyres quickly coating us from head to foot in a layer of black sticky goo. Peter decided to assist by riding to the lead and thereby adding to my torment by a further onslaught of flying mud and horse manure thrown from his back wheel into my face. “I think I know what that horse had for breakfast” I shouted as I tried to spit some of the lumps from my mouth.

Fortunately by the time we reached Wandin the rain had settled down to a drizzle, but by that time we could not have got any wetter or dirtier anyway, so it did not really seem to matter any more. A couple of amazed walkers staed in amazement as we passed. I suspect that we looked more like the legendary New Guinea Mud Men, than the esteemed Ghost Riders.

Fate still had one final surprise for us as we started the final climb to Mt Evelyn. “Flat tyre” yelled Peter, as he quickly pulled up. “It’s the first I’ve had in years” he lied. As he unpacked his tool kit he discovered that the spare tube was not the correct one for his wheel, however it is amazing what you can achieve when you are driven by desperation and blind rage, and a few minutes later we were on our way again.

Standing by our cars we eyed the carnage on our clothes and our filthy bikes, shook our heads and then Peter said “Gee that was fun, I really enjoyed it”. The strangest thing is, I had to agree with him.