In Which we Meet another New Recruit

One of the undoubted highlights of the Summer Riding Calendar is the opportunity to join in a few “Twilight Rides”, along the Warby Trail. These rides are invariably well attended and early indications were that this ride would be no exception to that rule. I was also further encouraged when I heard that weather conditions would be ideal for riding. We had even been teased with the prospect that Mal (aka The Elusive Invisible Man) would be joining us and bringing along a “guest rider”.

Since I had not had a real ride since last week I decided to arrive at Mt Evelyn 40 mins early, leave my car and then ride down to Lilydale and back, before meeting the remainder of the peloton for the main ride. As I rode down the long hill towards Lilydale I could not help but recall the unfortunate incident that occured the last time we descended this section. Being almost decapitated by lengths of twine strung across the trail was not something I ever wish to participate in again. With this in mind, I made sure that, like Johnny Cash, I kept my “eyes wide open all the time”.

Upon reaching the bottom of the trail at lilydale I gave Bob a call to see how far off he was. When I learned that he was only a few minutes away I thought that I might give him a bit of a challenge by leaving before he arrived. That way he would be able to chase a moving target all the way back up the hill to Mt Evelyn.

I headed back up the trail at a relatively sedate pace of about 19 to 20 kph, expecting to be overtaken at any moment by the flying wheels of the reigning King. To my surprise I managed to reach Mt Evelyn before him. There I met Legs Warren, already unloading his bike and massaging his elephantine calves for the forthcoming ride. A few minutes alter we were joined by HRH King Crasher, who was covered in sweat and puffing like a blacksmith’s bellows. I guess the old guy just isn’t what he used to be.

Within a few minutes we were joined by Ross, who had decided to forego his regular afternoon sleep in the public service and come for a ride with his mates. By this time we were rapidly approaching our scheduled starting time of 3.30 pm, but there was still no sign of Mal (or his promised friend). Since this was to be a staggered start it was important that we start on time. John and Warren were already waiting at Wandin to head off at the same time we left Mt Evelyn.

When the appointed hour arrived John rang in on his mobile and I gave him permission to start without us. If Mal didn’t show within a couple of minutes we would have to head off without him (again). Fortunately at about 3.35 pm he did arrive and duly introduced us to his companion who answered to the name of Dave Keys.

Our latest potential recruit – Dave Keys

In Nepal I had seen diminutive Gurung porters carrying loads in excess of their own body weight, and I remember as a kid hearing about the infant Jimmy “Snozzle” Durante, where the nose actually outweighed the child, but I had never before seen a cyclist that weighed less than his bike. As Dave proceeded to unpack and assemble his huge mishapen hulk of mountain bike (it even made Mal’s pit bull look more like a Jack Russell) I could not help but wonder how Dave (who looked more like a pretzel than a bike pusher) would ever be able to pedal it all the way to Warburton and back. By the same token this guy looked like, with the right bike, he would have the right build for a future hill climber.

Keeping in mind that John and Warren would be now enjoying a lead of about 10 km, I tried to dismiss my worries and sound positive. “Let’s Go” I shouted as I cleated up and headed off down the trail. Soon we were riding at a breakneck pace, wondering if we would be able to catch the B graders (or is it Z graders?) before Warburton. I think it was at about this time that Dave discovered that the gears on his Mountain Behemoth did not work, forcing him to stay on the small chain ring and pedal like a whirling dervish to maintain the pace.

In spite of these early problems we were soon through Wandin and hurtling along at about 35 kph, keeping a lookout for two bright yellow jerseys in the distance. With the temperature in the low 20s and not much wind it was great to be on the trail again, especially moving along with such a gifted peloton. We managed to stay together until the long bridge at Woori Yallock, at which time Bob and Peter staged a breakaway and soon surged into the distance. The remaining 4 riders bunched up for the next section to Launching Place.

I was somewhat surprised that we still had seen no sign of John or Wazza at Launching Place, and had to admit that they must have got further ahead than we would have believed possible. After turning onto the highway and passing over the little bridge we started to jockey for positions for the intermediate outward sprint. Since Peter and Bob had bolted, all we really had to fight over was third place, but I suspected that Mal and Ross would be hotly contesting even this minor place with me. Dave was still flailing wildly on his low gear and, with his 75 kg bike, would probably not be much of a worry.

As I turned into the long straight there was no sign of the other three riders and I started to think that they had given the road to me after all. I slowed down and started to coast, my mind started to wander, the finish post grew closer, I started to think about dinner, it was very peaceful having the road all to myself. I knew I didn’t need to check behind me. The finish line was only about 20 metres away after all. At that moment a silent rocket went past and I knew I had been dudded right on the line. Mal turned around with a wicked smile on his face (and that guy’s supposed to be a pastor!).

Even though we were now only a few km from Warburton we still had not seen any sign of the B graders. By this time I was growing suspicious. Maybe John had pulled off the trail to catch up on some of his famous calisthenics. After all, it would not be the first time he had demonstrated such poor sportsmanship. I put my head down and decided to complete the remainder of the ride at a good rate of knots. Since there had been no sign of John & Warren (or Peter & Bobl since back near Woori Yallock) I had reluctantly come to accept that they were already sitting at Warburton enjoying their cappucino.

About half way up the final bitumen leg I was unexpectedy passed by two cyclists, flying up the track from behind. When I looked up, to my surprise I saw that it was Peter and Bob. “How did they come to be behind me?”, I wondered. Apparently they had taken the slower path through Yarra Junction while we had headed up the road. In the process they had met John and Warren resting on the side of the trail. Now I understood why I had not passed them while I been riding.

Gathered by the river for a twilight dinner
(Is it my imagination, or is Warren’s body changing?)

As the peloton began to arrive at Warburton we were able to meet our faithful support staff (and the others) who were waiting to join us for tea by the river. It was really a very pleasant way to pass an hour on a balmy summer’s evening. The males, in particular, looked resplendent in their matching yellow lycra, although Mal had disgraced himself by apparently using his jersey to clean his greasy chain.

After tea we headed off on the return ride. It was generally taken at a more sedate pace as we fought to digest our cream cakes. This time I somehow managed to just hold for the intermediate sprint, with Bob rapidly closing from behind.

After saying goodbye to John and Warren at Launching Place the “A Graders” continued on towards Mt Evelyn. The evening was rapidly approaching as we pedalled on in still, cool air and idyllic surroundings. What a perfect way to finish off another ride.

Fortunately all riders made it safely back to the car park, although David was starting to look more like he had done ferocious battle with a grizzly bear, rather than participated in a relaxing ride along the trail. As the remains of his mechanical behemoth were loaded into Mal’s car, we tried our best to convince him that it actually gets easier each week. Will he come back again? Time will tell.