Long, long ago, far back in the dreamtime of the Ghost Riders there was talk of a mysterious extra Ghost Rider with the unlikely name of “Mal”. While no one in living memory can ever recall actually seeing this enigmatic cycling entity, there have been many whispered stories, passed down from aging rider to new recruit over the years.
When new recruits are introduced to the ordeal of El Capitan, they are pointed to the bent sign about one quarter of the way to the summit and told “Mal did that when he fell over on it”. When someone breaks pelotonic discipline and bolts from the group they are said to suffer from “Doswell’s Disorder”, again named after the mythical Mal.
Over the aeons most have begun to doubt whether Mal actually ever existed, suspecting that he was just another figment of aging cyclists’ fevered imaginations. In the minds of most he had been relegated to the same status as the Monster of Loch Ness, The Himalayan Yeti, The Nar Nar Goon Bunyip and the Black Panther of Macclesfield.
It was therefore with some degree of surprise that I received a mobile call from the invisible man himself, telling me that he would be joining us for our mid week ride. At the time I wondered if someone was trying to pull a practical joke, but tried to act excited and said that we would “look forward to seeing him at Mt Evelyn”.
As it turned out, it looked like I would be the missing rider on the day. With a succession of urgent jobs to do around the Eastern suburbs, I was frantically looking at my watch, wondering if I would have any chance at all to make the starting time. If I receive a clutch of speeding infringement notices in the mail over the next couple of weeks, I will know which day they were incurred on.
When I finally arrived at our regular meeting place I was somewhat surprised to see that I was only a few minutes late. Cheryl, Johnny Come lately, and Little John were already there unloading their bikes. Why was I not surprised to see no sign of Mal I wonder ? After a few more minutes we were joined by Peter, who had ridden his bike back from Woori Yallock to meet us. A call to Bob helped to wake him from his sedentary state and remind him that the ride was on NOW. He was somewhat hard to understand, possibly because of a combination of senility and his two remaining teeth.
Just as we were about to head off a major miracle occured – Mal actually appeared. Somehow he had defied all the laws of probability by actually turning up for a ride. Even though he was a little late it was, nevertheless, good to see that he would be able to meet our new recruits.
As we set off down the hill we soon noticed that the trail had been graded, although we were not sure if it was actually an improvement or not. The grader had brought a lot of dirt to the surface and a heavy downpour of rain could convert it to something akin to the Kakoda Trail. I suppose time will tell.
Johnny come lately wasted no time in demonstrating his riding power by opening up a commanding lead, rapidly pursued by Mal. Bob had not turned up yet and the peloton was soon spread between Mt Evelyn and Wandin. Somewhere near Woori Yallock, we finally caught up with John (Hooters), who again reminded us that he was a “wekweational Wider” only.
A short wait to allow all the riders to bunch up again (we now had a total of 8 in the peloton) was soon followed by a call from Hooters to “slow down”. Apparently his two week break in PNG had meant that he would have to start his onerous training regime all the way from the beginning. He had reverted to riding at 6 kph with stops every 2 km.
As this charade unfolded we noticed that a 92 year old lady was shuffling up the trail with her walking frame. When she was impeded in her progress by John, she politely asked him to move aside. He explained that he was a weckweational wider, she replied that he looked more like a disgrace. “Young man, life’s too short to spend it going nowhere” she added.
While John stopped to do some more leg stretches, the rest of us moved towards the inevitable battle of wits that occurs every week on Settlement Rd. With Mal in the peloton, along with Bob, Johnny Come Lately and Legs Warren, this shaped up to be something rather special. The speed increased steadily to about 35 kph and the sprinters remained tightly grouped. I expected that Mal would be a serious contender until his mobile phone rang at the critical moment – seriously diverting his attention.
Johnny opened up an early lead while the rest of us jockeyed for position behind. The speed increased to about 40 kph. Legs went sailing past in a real flurry. I dug deep and held on, all the time knowing that Bob was ready to pounce. As we approached the sign I held a narrow lead over Peter, but unfortunately I was again pipped on the post by Crasher Lewis, narrowly followed by Legs. Johnny was close behind and Mal was still talking into his mobile. Little John was not far behind either. Cheryl was further back, waiting for Hooters to finish another calisthenics display.
The remainder of the ride to Warburton was spent riding at a more sedate pace. The day had turned out to be the best weather we had had for weeks. With a clear blue sky and absolutely still conditions it would be impossible to imagine better riding conditions. I even took the chance to show our latest recruits the weird tree house near the end of the trail. The surprised expressions clearly showed that they had never seen anything like it. It could only happen in Warburton.
Lunch at the coffee shop was most enjoyable. With the warm sun and fresh coffee we were enjoying a real high. A pity about the thousands of European wasps who also chose to enjoy our food with us!
The return ride started out in good formation. We even managed to stay together until the start of the return sprint. Unfortunately no one rang Mal on his mobile this time and he managed to take the points, over an enthusiastic group of chasers.
At about this time John (Hooters) was met by a three year old on a plastic tractor. Apparently the toddler was trying to pass, but John was holding him up. John explained to the young lad that he was just a “wekweational wider”, the little chap looked confused and asked him why he was wearing a Ghost Riders jersey, if he did not even know how to ride a bike. (A very good question). He also commented “My old grandma moves faster than you – and she’s dead!”
By the time we finally got back to Woori Yallock, the golden sun was lying close to the horizon. The surrounding hills were so peaceful that I could not have imagined a better place to be. My only concern was that the darkness was rapidly approaching and the air temperature in the shade was getting close to freezing. At this rate we would not be back to Mt Evelyn till well after nightfall.
After dropping off Peter at Woori Yallock, the reduced peloton made its way to the water trough at Killara. By this time John’s progress had apparently slowed to glacial proportions. According to reputable authorities stalectites growing from cave ceilings grow at a faster rate than John was moving along the trail.
As a small group waited at the water trough under the last few remnants of daylight, there was still no sign of John or Cheryl. Mal eventually had enough and shot off with a cry of “I’m getting out of here”. With the onrush of nightfall the surrounding hills were echoing with the ghostly howls of dingoes. This was definitely NOT a place to be caught out at this time of night.
When Cheryl and John finally arrived, Cheryl did not look amused. “How old did you say that guy is?” she asked me, pointing at John. Apparently John had been passed on the trail by an acreting sedimentary rock. Cheryl said that next time he wants to ride at that pace he can get embarrassed all by himself. As for John – he did not seem at all perturbed and proceeded to start another calisthenics display. Fortunately it was now pitch dark and we could not see what he was up to.
The last sight we had of John was him WALKING his bike up the hill to Wandin. Since the rest of us had families and homes to go back to we had to make the tough decision to leave him to his own devices. I suspect he may be still there when we return next Tuesday.
P.S. Congratulations to John Dawson (aka Little John) who has now met all the requirements to become accepted into membership as our lucky 13th member!