At first I thought I must have been hallucinating. Although the day was not overly hot I know that dehydration can sneak up on you suddenly and cause most unexpected and alarming consequences. Whatever the reason, I did not expect to see an apparition of a cyclist from a long bygone era coming towards us along the trail. In my library at home I have a book of photographs of early riders in the Tour de France and I suspected that it was one of those photographs that had stimulated my fevered mind into seeing something that just could not be possible.
Up to that point the weekly ride had gone quite predictably. Our group of about 20 riders had gathered at Woori Yallock station for the customary drinks and rest break when the impossible happened. To my relief I was not the only one who witnessed this astounding phenomenon and thus I was left seeking other possible explanations. I had read about strange warps in the space-time continuum that had caused objects as large as war ships to disappear and reappear at another place and in another time – but a cyclist from the 1920s appearing on the Warburton Trail ? Could it really happen ?
As the apparition wobbled closer we were able to discern that it was actually Crasher Lewis. Although we already knew he was certainly one of the oldest cyclists still on two wheels, we had never seen him dressed in such a macabre fashion. Instead of his bright yellow jersey he was adorned in some weird garb from a bygone century. In large print across the front was the word “DULUX” followed in smaller lettering by “Purveyors of the Finest Kalsomine”.
When Crasher joined the rest of us he proudly explained that the jersey was presented to him when he won the 1921 National Title (or some such similar nonsense). Apparently it had not seen the light of day for the past 80 years but had remained cocooned in the bottom of his trophy locker with only the moths and silverfish for company. When his wife had threatened to chuck it in the bin, Bob had felt compelled to show her that it was still an essential part of his cycling regalia. Hence the reason for his most bizarre appearance.
As we rode on towards Launching Place I suggested to Bob that he needed a couple of spare tyres and tubes crossed over his chest to complete the full retro picture and look exactly like those famous riders of yore. Bob seemed to be having trouble concentrating and started energetically scratching his arms instead. Apparently the horsehair and sackcloth material used in his ancient jersey was starting to prickle him all over. He tried rolling up the sleeves without much success. The further he went the more he looked like a man being attacked by a million hornets.
The unexpected (and obviously highly humorous) appearance of Crasher gave us something to laugh about all the way to Milgrove. By that stage the laughter had taken its toll and I could ride no further. I had no choice other than to head straight for the Bakery and take on some nourishment instead. While a few diehards continued up the hill the sensible riders joined me in beating the rush for the best pies and settled down at the tables for lunch.
This gave us the opportunity to have a closer look at Crasher’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamjersey. We discovered that the multicoloured blotches were not part of the original design but were a mixture of bloodstains left over from a succession of early crashes combined with splashes of early steroidal compounds from his club chemist. It is sometimes reassuring to realise that, in an uncertain world, there are still some things that always stay the same.
Somehow Bob stopped scraching long enough to ride back and the rest of us somehow stopped laughing long enough to stay upright for the same distance. As I packed the bike back onto my car at Wandin I wondered just what surprises would be in store for us next week. Perhaps we should designate one Thursday ride as a “heritage ride” where we all dress in old clothes and ride the oldest bike we can find. It could be a reminder of just how far we have come. What do you think?