After so many trips up and down the Warby Trail some members of our riding group had started to express a desire to ride on bitumen for a change. Although this suggestion was popular with most members of the team, there was still one big problem – John’s morbid fear of riding with motor cars and his even more abject fear of any sort of hill.
I planned for many weeks to find a route that was both devoid of traffic and hills. At last I though t I had the perfect solution. If we started South of Pakenham we could ride along the back roads South of the railway line all the way to Longwarry and then continue the short extra distance to Drouin. This would give us a total riding distance of about 65 km or so, and all along some of the quietest roads you could find anywhere. And not only were the roads flat, they are also dead straight – giving any motorist plenty of time to see us on the road ahead. I was confident that for John, after three years of weckweational widing, it could finally be some sort of rite of passage to the fun of real cycling.
On a perfectly fine and wind free Thursday afternoon we assembled at the car park at the corner of Racecourse Rd and Bald Hill Rd. Although Bob had trouble with his map reading skills, by starting time we had Hooters, JCL, Peter, Bob, Little John and myself ready for the ride. It was particularly pleasing to see that Lex had finally emerged from the toilet he had spent the last week in. Even Mal had also indicated that he would try to join us further down the road (but we had all heard that story before).
It was a nice feeling being able to head off down the smooth road on my Cannondale, although we had previously decided to keep the speed down so that we could maintain a good peloton. With the temperature around 25C we cruised along at a sedate speed, thoroughly enjoying the company and the change of scenery.
After about 15 minutes the first car came past. “What was that?”, shouted John, “You told me that there wouldn’t be any cars”. I had to explain that we could possibly be passed by one or two cars over the course of the next three hours, but they would present no danger whatsoever to us. He did not seem convinced and vehemently insisted that he be surrounded by decoy riders on all sides.
The ride as far as Longwarry went without any serious hitches. We were even amazed to find that Mal did indeed somehow find the time to join us for the remainder of the ride to Drouin. Mal drew me aside and asked “Did you warn John about the BIG hill before Drouin?” I optimistically replied that if we did not mention it, he probably would not notice it.
A few minutes later we headed off on the final section – only about another 6 or 7 km to go. Unfortunately when we rounded the critical corner, the “secret” hill came into view. It was probably at about this time that John’s courage turned to water. I had to admit that it is a steep hill, but one that is quite achievable if you just head up it at a pace that is right for each individual. While the smaller guys headed off at a fast pace, us real men husbanded our strength and ground up in our granny gears. John, on the other hand, immediately got off his bike and decided to use Shank’s Pony instead.
Once at the top of the hill, the remainder of the road to Drouin is gentle and presents no more real challenges. We were soon settled outside a nice looking coffee shop in the Main St, enjoying our coffee and lunch. Unfortunately John was nowhere to be seen. About 15 minutes later he finally pulled in and immediately lay down on the footpath with his mouth open. We had never seen someone get so tired from walking their bike before, but decided to give him time to recover his dignity.
About 20 minutes later he finally staggered to his feet and went to order his coffee. About this time he also started making enquiries about alternative ways of getting back to Pakenham. A phone call to Joy quickly reminded him that she had absolutely no intention of setting out on a rescue mission. He had no choice but to ride the 30 km or so back to his car.
After a leisurely and protracted break in the cool shade, we eventually headed off back to Pakenham. We had agreed to keep the pace down to no more than 25 kph and soon discovered that the return ride is MUCH easier than the outward ride. The big hill that had been such an obstacle now gave us the benefit of a fantastic high speed straight line descent.
As we progressed through the quaint little hamlets of Bunyip and Garfield it became obvious that John’s stamina was wilting. We stopped for a long drink break. John lay down in the gutter. (Not a good look for an elite athlete). After a few more very slow km we wobbled into the Main St of Nar Nar Goon – only another 7 km to go. John crawled from his bike and refused to go any further. “You can bury me here”, he said, before proceeding to lay down on the footpath, obstructing the afternoon shoppers.
It seemed obvious at this point that he was serious. We had no alternative but to ride on to Pakenham and send a car back to pick him up. The remainder of the peloton headed back to Pakenham, allowing Peter, Lex and Bob to engage in a short sprint to the finish. Bob and Peter went back to Nar Nar Goon to pick up John’s remains while the rest of us sat and chatted in the car park.
I think that most of us had really enjoyed the ride. A final look at the computer revealed the final distance to be about 73km. Taking into account the good condition of the surfaces, the numerous shops along the way, the lack of traffic and the good destination at the end, I felt that this course offered all of the requirements for a great ride. A pity that John did not seem to feel the same way.
Next week we will be having our traditional Summer Twilight Ride along the Warby Trail so we are hoping for a few more riders to join in the fun. Hopefully John will have his breath back by then.