With August rapidly drawing to a close I guess we can all take comfort from the fact that we have only one more month of winter to endure. Fortunately the afternoon greeted us with patches of blue sky, sunshine and a relatively mild temperature. I was quickly joined at Mt Evelyn by Peter, Lothar, Bob and JCL (who made one of his customary skidding entrances into the car park.) When he emerged from his car he announced that he had, once again, forgotten to bring his helmet. We looked around for a spare ice cream container for him to put on his head, but eventually agreed to let him ride helmetless.
A few moments later we were joined by Trish who had riden back from Wandin to avoid having to face the big climb at the end of the ride. Surprisingly clear thinking for a woman. This was also a significant ride for Trish, since she has now qualified to become our fourth female Ghost Rider. And to think that we once referred to ourselves as a “Men’s Bike Riding Club”.
Just as we were preparing to leave I felt the ground start to tremble. I looked around for the source of the noise, thinking that it could be an earth tremor. It did not take long for the mystery to be solved – someone was coming up the street in a monster 4×4 truck. It was one of those real mean beasts you only see on the American shows, with huge tyres elevating the vehicle to an obscene distance from the ground. Under the bonnet was obviously some gigantic turbo charged 8 litre petrol sucking aircraft engine. And on the back was a bicycle!
We looked on aghast as the engine noise stopped and the door opened. Out stepped the toughest looking guy we had ever seen in lycra. Just the sort of guy you would like to have on your side when you were walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night. About 180 cm of solid rippling muscle (and that’s his leg circumference, not his height). This guy was built like a human log splitter. Peter looked at the massive calves and realised that his own (once legendary) legs looked like chicken legs by comparison. Our new riding companion walked up to us, pulling on his Merv Hughes moustache, and introduced himself as “Garth”.
In fact I remembered Garth from his days at Monbulk High School, many years ago. He was the only Year 7 student I could recall who used to give the teachers detention. Apart from the fact that his moustache was now a little longer than when he was 12 he had not changed much over the years. He pulled his bike down from the truck and announced that he was ready to teach the Ghost Riders how to ride.
Soon we were careering down the Mt Evelyn hill trying to impress Garth with our riding prowess. He did not seem perturbed but just allowed his massive legs to power his bike along effortlessly. At Wandin we were met by Gary and Roger, swelling the peloton to 9 riders. Gary was proudly displaying his Avanti mountain bike. When he told us what Peter charged him for it, we told him that he could have got a new bike for that amount. I guess if you are not one of the elite who ride a Cannondale, then an Avanti is some sort of a reasonable second choice.
We soon discovered that Garth was not only a human log splitter, but he was also a pretty good peloton splitter as well. This guy must have been taking lessons from Mal. He put his head down and bolted into the distance, encouraging JCL and Bob to head off in pursuit. Our once proud peloton was left scattered all along the trail. By the time we were joined by Hooters and the Spanner it was obvious that we would not be seeing some of the riders again before reaching Warburton.
On Settlement Rd the remainder of the group staged an exciting sprint which was too close to call. Although Roger had been missing from the rides for the past few weeks he had not lost his natural competitiveness.
It was with some surprise that we discovered that the coffee shop actually had some food left for us. It was good to be able to settle down with a hot pie in the sunshine. Trish said that she had not eaten last week and ran out of energy on the way back, this time she made sure that she got a decent input of caffeine.
Garth seemed to be enjoying himself as he swallowed a few rusty nails (presumably to increase his iron intake) and drank a bucket of coffee. We needed something to show him that being a Ghost Rider was something that had to be aspired to. Not everyone can just come in on their first ride and humiliate us with their powerful legs. It was then that I remembered El Capitan. “Garth”, I said,”there is one little challenge that we would like you to have a go at on your way back”. I knew that he would not be able to achieve the impossible and that would give us the chance to laugh at him as he fell over in the mud, like all previous challengers had done.
At the bottom of El Capitan I pointed out the bent sign and explained where the record level was. I told him to get a good run up to build up speed. He ignored me and just started grinding away up the hill. We watched in amazement, expecting him to stall and fall. He didn’t do either. He kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. He passed the sign, his legs churning like the tailshaft of the Titanic. He climbed further, past Tom’s previous record and on into unfamilar territory. Ten riders watched from below in stunned silence. About 4 metres past the sign he announced that he had gone far enough and proceeded to ride back down again. “Next time I might ride to the top”, he casually said. Tom’s record lay in ruins, along with the mystique of the Ghost Riders.
Perhaps it was because we were stunned, but the peloton actually rode with discipline all the way back to Settlement Rd. The final sprint was hotly contested between Lex and me, bringing yet another photo finish. It was then more disciplined riding back to Woori Yallock where we were spellbound for a time watching birds enact their own fierce aerial warfare high above our heads.
On the final leg of the ride Bob, Lex, JCL and Garth bolted into the distance while Trish, Peter, Roger and I followed some distance behind. Roger seemed to be showing the effects of not having ridden for some time. Personally I was quite happy to ride at a moderate pace and enjoy the winter sunshine. By this time the temperature had risen to a very pleasant 16C and gave a faint foretaste of warmer days to come. The only spoiling factor was the fierce head wind buffeting us all the way back to Killara.
Halfway up the Wandin climb we noticed a lone rider on the trail ahead. As we approached closer we found that it was none other than Garth. He had been dropped by the other three riders and was now labouring against gravity. His huge thighs were not generating the same horsepower as they had been earlier in the afternoon. Perhaps this guy is human after all. We pulled alongside and chatted most of the way to the Wandin car park, where we bade farewell to Roger and Trish.
The final climb up to Mt Evelyn reminded Garth that it is always wise to keep some petrol in the tank for the last section of the climb, but he did finally make it all the way to the top and was still smiling at the finish. He really is a great guy and it would be good to see him back in the peloton in future rides. Next week we will be pitting our considerable skills against the Emerald to Cockatoo Trail. Who knows what will happen then?