In Which we Induct a New Recruit

The prospect of receiving a new recruit into membership is always an exciting one and when Peter informed me that we were to have an additional rider on our weekly ride I was obviously encouraged. My mind raced ahead to the thrills of another secret initiation ceremony deep in the darkest forest near Killara. (Well maybe “another” isn’t exactly the correct word because we haven’t yet got around to holding our first initiation ceremony yet.)

I was in Peter’s shop when he pointed across to a likely looking fellow standing opposite and said “This is Allan, and he will be riding with us this week”. I took a careful look at the guy and immediately noticed an ominous lack of grey hair. “Are you sure this guy’s old enough?” I asked. Peter didn’t answer my question and I was left wondering just what his true pedigree was.

I did casually ask Allan where he planned to start the ride, expecting him to say that he would be joining us at Yarra Junction or thereabouts. When he looked me in the eye and said that he would be riding from Emerald to Mt Evelyn and would then join us there, I started to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. This guy really sounded dangerous, didn’t he realise that we only do it “for fun” (as John continually reminds us).

Alan Mills – aka “The Butcher of Berwick”

The weather on the day of the ride looked as if it would provide perfect riding conditions, cool and clear with temperature of about 22C. As I passed through Silvan I spied a frightening sight on the road ahead. There was a lycra clad rider, massive legs pedalling away as if there was no tomorrow. This guy looked like a man possessed and when I got closer my worst fears were realised when I could see that it was our new “riding mate” Allan.

A few minutes later we were all assembled at Mt Evelyn – Bob, Peter, Allan and myself. After the necessary introductions were carried out we headed off down the trail. I wondered if this would be a good time to tell Allan about the secret initiation, but decided that he looked tough enough to defend himself and thought we better postpone the actual ceremony until a later ride.

John joined us at Wandin, took one look at Allan’s legs and said “remember this is NOT a race, we are social riders”. Social riders? Sure we are. Soon we were hurtling down the hill trying to show our youthful new companion that old guys can have fun too. Unfortunately Bob’s hip started to throb, Peter’s knees started to crack, my lungs started to hurt and John started to yell “Hey Dad, slow down”. Maybe we were not quite as young as we thought after all.

Eventually we did manage to arrive at some sort of consensus speed for the peloton and made quite reasonable time to the Launching Place Pub, where John insisted we all stop for a five minute breathing and drinking stop. Soon we were off again and flying down the bitumen straight for the traditional sprints. Bob cheated by leading out far too early and ensuring that I was well and truly out of energy by the time the finish post was in sight. I tried to remind him that I can only peak for a period of about 2 seconds, so timing is very critical for me.

The remainder of the outward ride went well, although we did do battle with a head wind for some of the way. When we arrived at the Coffee Shop we were immediately joined by a second peloton of aging riders from the Eastern Vets. I had not seen so much lycra in one place since the opening of the Australian Ballet, although I reckon our legs looked better than their’s. Bob was soon immersed in an animated discussion with some of the Vets reliving their halcyon riding days and tales of great races that they could have won.

Lunch in the Sun (with Peter doing the hard sell)

The sun had now emerged in its full force and proceeded to bombard us all with damaging bursts of UV radiation, but the Vets had grabbed all the shaded tables. Peter managed to trap another unsuspecting rider in a corner table and lectured him on the benefits of buying a bike from Warren’s Sport & Recreation. Allan demonstrated that he could fit in well after all, by settling down in front of an enormous cream cake and cappucino. I am still convinced that this is probably the main reason why we ride each week.

Peter’s new potential customer was forlornly looking at his burst tyre, but we could not help him without a spanner and the correct sized tube. We left him sitting there and said that we would “see him next week, if he was still there”.

All too soon we had to say adieu to the coffee shop and head back to civilisation. Within the first 100 m John started tooting his whistle and imploring us to slow down. We pretended we couldn’t hear him and sped up instead. As John disappeared in the rear his cries of “why do we do this ?” were lost in the wind and the turbulent waters of the nearby Yarra.

We were soon caught by the riders from the Vets and, for a time we rode on as a combined peloton. They proved to be a more competitive group than us and started to increase the pace. Bob and Peter could not resist the challenge and headed off in pursuit, although I decided to stay behind and get to know our new recruit a little better. John decided to stay even further behind and get to know the flies a little better.

As we watched the others ride off into the distance I learnt that Allan is a butcher who rides his bike from Emerald to Berwick and back most days. No wonder he has legs like the proverbial billiard table. In spite of those enormous limbs I think he was starting to question his original plan of riding all the way back to Emerald, when he asked me if I might be able to give him a lift. I, of course, informed him that would be out of the question. He better just get used to suffering if he wanted to be a Ghost Rider.

By the time we reached the water trough Bob and Peter were waiting for us and the four of us decided to linger a while for John. After Bob had told us his life’s story and we had each read a couple of novels, John came riding up the trail to join us. The remainder of the ride was completed at a more sedate pace and all managed to reach their cars without punctures or mishaps. Bob even offered Allan a space in his van for his bike. That just goes to show you that we are human after all.

It had been a perfect cycling day and, all in all, another great ride. Why is it so long until next week?