In Which we do Battle with the Phylum Gastropoda (and see Elmer Fudd)

We all knew that this would be our last chance for our regular weekday ride before Christmas so it was important that we finish the year on a high note. The weather, however, was less than promising. After the heatwave that had persisted all week, we were now faced with an unsettled day with the prospects of thunderstorms. A quick glance at the weather radar map showed a rather disturbing amount of blue colouration. This was always going to be a difficult call.

When Peter rang to say that he would not be able to attend due to “pressure of work” (really meaning that he was in the shop polishing and playing with his new road bike) it seemed that the sensible thing would be to cancel the ride. I spoke to John and suggested that we should reassess in 30 minutes time.

By 1 pm it started to look as if the rain bands had moved safely out of the way and so we finally decided to exercise our courage by meeting at Wandin at about 1.45pm. On the way to the meeting place I had a call from Bob, letting us know that he would also not be able to attend. Apparently Fran had locked him in the basement until he finished wrapping another 5,000 soaps for the day. Our final pre Christmas ride had thus been reduced to a DUOTON.

After John spent some minutes with his customary car park aerobics and calisthenics, he finally announced that he was ready to go. By this time the weather was warm and humid, and the clouds did not look too threatening. A more ominous sign, which perhaps we should have paid more heed to, was that thousands of snails were crossing the trail (obviously looking for shelter from the monsoonal deluge that was to come). We also appeared to be the only riders that had come out that afternoon.

In spite of the dire forbodings the outward journey was completed without a problem. At least it was completed as far as the final few km up to Milgrove. On the final straight section we were beset with an evil head wind that seemed to have sprung up from nowhere. It was also on this section that my mobile phone rang. It was Bob wondering if we had cancelled the ride. I told him that we were almost at Warburton. He seemed somewhat amazed and went on to inform and encourage me by telling me that Lilydale was being pummelled by a monumental storm. “It’s persisting down here” he said (or I think that’s what he said). “You guys are in for a real drenching”.

I decided not to pass this vital information on to John, who was having enough trouble tacking into the wind as it was. When we arrived at Warburton at about 3 pm, my lunch was again interrupted by a call from Maggie. “We are in the middle of an enormous downpour here”, she said, “it’s been raining for 45 minutes, and it’s heading your way”.

At this point I could not hide the truth from John any longer and advised him that maybe we should wait under shelter for the storm to pass by. Another call back to my office and a study of the latest radar images informed us that the “front should be past us within 30 minutes”. That didn’t sound too bad.

About 75 minutes later we were still huddled under the verandah, watching the new river that was running down the main street of Warburton. The proprietor of the shop asked me”Are you alright dears?” as she locked the door for the evening. I replied that we were OK, but we might need to spend the night in her cake shop. (At least I knew we wouldn’t starve to death.)

When a somewhat familar figure pulled up and climbed out of an old car we started to believe that we had been in Warburton far too long. But there he was in plain sight, deer stalker hat and hunting jacket – our friend from the looney tunes. I was tempted to ask him if he was looking for a “wascally wabbit” because we had seen several of them on the Warby Trail. When we took another look he had disappeared again. I began to think that we really needed to get out of this place before nightfall.

By 5.30 pm it was still raining, although by this time it had slowed to just a torrent. John finally realised that he had unwisely left his bike parked in the rain, instead of safely under shelter. I suggested that if we didn’t make a start we could be there all night. It appeared as if the nearby presence of Mount Little Joe was actually attracting the rain to us. Maybe if we started riding it would be clear further down the trail.

Thus we mounted and headed off, trying to be optimistic about our future. Within a few minutes we were wet through and covered in mud. In fact we had never been so dirty. Our backs were caked, our legs were caked, our bums were a muddy mess, even the back of John’s neck was streaked with large lumps of dirt mixed with wet horse manure. It was so awful it was really funny. With each new puddle we rode through, more filth was added to our collection. We tried to distract ourselves by riding over the snails that were still out in their thousands. Each successful strike was rewarded by a juicy “pop” and the resultant spray of warm snail innards being added to our filthy socks.

Fortunately the rain did stop by the time we reached Yarra Junction, and the temperature was actually perfect for riding. The storm had reduced the humidity and the air was clean and clear. If it wasn’t for the filth, it would have been ideal.

After passing through Killara we were almost killed by a lunatic motorcycle rider doing about 60 kph on the bike trail and a few km further on we were almost stopped by a heavily pregnant woman giving birth on the side of the trail. We would have liked to stop and assist but the hour was late and all we could think of was getting home to a warm shower. After wishing her good luck and hoping that “everything would come out all right in the end”, we hurried on to complete the ride at Wandin.

By this time John was a spent force (exactly the same condition that he had been in at the start of the ride) and I was very pleased to see Maggie waiting with a towel and a change of clothes. It had certainly been a different kind of ride and one that we will probably never forget, and isn’t that what it’s really all about?