I’m not a pretty sight. My tent is not a pretty sight. The view outside… you guessed it, is not pretty. I’ve been awake for hours listening to the storm overhead, and wondering if any of the gum trees above me will mercifully drop a branch directly onto my tent.
At 3am I change into my riding gear, put on my raincoat and huddle in the darkness. All my gear is stuffed into heavy duty plastic bags, but my mattress is soaked. Which means I’m propped up on my two canvas bags in order to keep my sleeping bag from getting wet. I count down the minutes to dawn.
At 5.30 I drag myself outside and pack my tent in the pouring rain. The weather is abominable. Breakfast is quick, no line up this morning due to the rain. I grab a cupful of porridge, and swallow it down on my way to the coffee stand. I mainline a cup of luke warm coffee, rinse my cup under one of the streams of water pouring off the eave of the food tent before dashing back to the camping area. The boys are ready to go. “If I owned a mobile phone fellas,” I say casually, “I’d be ringing Pomona right now trying to book a room for the night.” They think about it… I wish they’d done it, plenty of others did! Our fellow riders booked out every unit, pub, or van in the entire Noosa coast area that day apparently.
The couple behind me, a New Zealander and his American girlfriend / travelling companion are dumbstruck, “I thought it was always sunny up here?” he asks incredulously. I smile back, “How do you reckon it stays so green?” He shakes his head, “Do you know,” he shouts over the wind, “we have a special name for this sort of weather in New Zealand.”
“Yeah, what do you call it?” I ask.
He grins back, “We call it, ‘Fuck this Weather’!” He disappears back inside his tent. It did the trick, we’re all laughing.
On the bike, and down the road and back, the old girl is still running well. Bernie joins me, and we wait for Bill. His knee is still very stiff and he wobbles toward us pushing his bike. He looks concerned, and realises he can’t find his glasses. I hold his bike while he looks for them. I’ve never handled a carbon fibre bike before, and I tentatively lift it to feel the weight. I nearly throw it over the nearby toilet blocks! It must be like pedalling a cloud of steam riding this thing! Bernie notes my surprised expression and has a try, he too is stunned. Our bikes feel as heavy as cement trucks compared to this toy. Bill returns, no luck with the glasses. His vision is like mine, blurry distances, he will be needing those glasses today.
I pedal back to the site and dig around in the clover. No luck. A group of people join me in the search, and I’m touched by their helpfulness. They are all busy trying to get wet gear into wet bags, but still take the time to help a fellow cyclist out. I’m glad to be associated with these kind folk.
Returning to the bikes empty handed I note Bills expression, it’s one of many future disappointments for the poor bugger. He bravely throws a leg over his bike and saddles up. We can feel the pain as he slowly pedals toward the road. We get a kilometre down the track before he stops, he can’t go on. We sit with him on the side of the road for a bit. The ‘sag bus’ will pick him up eventually. We feel pretty sorry for him. He grins back at us, “No good all of us sitting here is it? Go on, piss off you two, at least I’ll be sitting on a dry bus today!” We grin back and wish him well as we saddle up. The rain stops.
We stop again down the road and remove our raincoats, they’re too hot to ride in. A minute later we are scrambling back into them as another squall hits us from out of nowhere. The drops are huge, and we are punching straight into the wind. The road is lined with ripple strips and they are playing havoc with the wheels. Oh the joy!
Smoko is a quick affair at a service station. I stuff a sandwich down and entertain the boys with a quick rendition of Singing in the Rain. They, and others, cheer up immediately when I accidentally step into a deep puddle while trying to high kick as I sing. The show is now over. Minutes later we set out again. Bernie and Phil quickly shoot through, I’m in cruise mode, one shoe squelching loudly with every push on the pedal. Even though it’s raining, and cold, it’s good to be riding. While I’m riding, I’m warm, and my thoughts are pleasant. I think about my family, sing songs, and reminisce about the last time I was on this particular stretch of road. I was on my motorbike, and travelling much faster than I am now… the sun was shining back then too.
Gympie is 10 klms away when we turn off onto the Kin Kin road. The country side is a bit hillier, and the road narrower, but very pretty. If only the sun were out this would be an almost magically beautiful ride today. Lunch is held in a small hall, and as we pull in a group of brightly dressed people cheer us on with a rough version of “Cycling in the Rain”, I ring my bell and they cheer wildly, I feel better already! I take my shoes off and squelch inside, grab a roll, a piece of cake, an apple and a bottle of water. I stuff them down as Bernie finds me. “How’d you go?” he asks. It’s what we always ask.
“Yeah alright.” Standard answer.
“Big downhill coming up.”
“See you at smoko eh?”
“Yeah.” I’m a sparkling conversationalist at times…
We ride into the mist, invigorated with solidly filled stomachs. The hills beckon. I hang onto Bernie’s tail for as long as I can, but soon he disappears into the distance again, ‘Really,’ I think as I puff up another slope, ‘got to get me one of those bikes!’ A wooden bridge at the bottom of a long downhill has a couple of marshalls posted at it, and they are looking worried as I pass them, “Slippery! Slow Down!” I do, and I judder over the potholed surface of the bridge. My teeth manage to remain in my mouth somehow.
I struggle up the hill past the Cedar Falls Dam. It is overflowing, a stark contrast to the last time I was through here. Again I wish the sun was out, this would be a photographers dream in the sunlight. Around the corner, up another hill and I spy a familiar bike on the side of the road, I pull up alongside it. “Bernard! What’s a dazzling urbanite like yourself doing in this rustic setting?” I ask.
He grins but he’s concerned about something, “My container with all my tube repair gear has popped off my rack.”
I look at the empty pocket on his carrier, yep, it’s gone alright. “Jesus! Where do you reckon you lost it?” I ask.
“Maybe at the bridge.”
I think about the crossing and nod, he’s right. I turn to go back with him. “Nah, you keep going,” he says. I shrug, “Got nothing better to do!” We turn and head back downhill, the riders coming up the hill look at us as if we are mad, only the ‘boy racers’ double back, wanting to add to their klm count. We don’t look anything like ‘boy racers’, we look lost, and very, very wet. I pull up at the dam lookout while Bernie has a look around the bridge. He pedals back up the slope, “Not there, it probably fell in the water.” I nod back dejectedly, and we rejoin the riders heading south.
Not long after he disappears again. I slog on. The rain is back, and the wind is too, but is much colder now. The hills are getting steeper as well. Swollen streams line the side of the road, and the trees bow low overhead, dripping heavily onto us. The road is covered in patches of dirt, run off from the hillsides, slippery and treacherous under my wheels.
I take one long downhill run at speed, freewheeling, the water spraying off my front tyre is hitting me directly in the face and the grit is filling up my nostrils and tightly pursed lips. Up the next hill, my legs are screaming for mercy by the time I reach the top. The downhill is long and curving and I’m not going to go nuts here, it’s too slippery and the road surface too uneven. I’m halfway down the hillside and braking fairly hard as I go, when two old ladies whip past me on their comfort bikes, “Don’t burn out your pads luv!” the lead rider calls as she slips past, “Yeah, ta darls,” I think, “when I need advice from a little old lady I’ll…” I hear a familiar sound behind me, “PASSING!” I edge over to the shoulder of the road to allow the rider behind me better access, and as I do, my front tyre flicks off the edge of the bitumen and to my absolute surprise I find myself flying through the air. I’m currently enjoying the thrill of my first stack in over 10 years. I hear the sound of someone nearby yelling out, “RIDER DOWN!” and as I hit the bitumen landing on my back, I think, “That’s me! I’m the Rider Down!” I roll in mid-air and land on my back again before rolling onto my right side and skidding to a halt that ends with me miraculously on my feet. I howl into the rain, “Goddamit!! I’m On Holidays!!” Bikes whiz past me, one stops, “You alright mate?” he asks. I nod my head, “Yeah, I’m fine mate, fine, keep going.”
He leans over his bars looking closely at me, “How’s your leg?”
“Ok,” I reply without looking, I’m pre-occupied with picking up my bike, I’m delighted by what I see, bugger all damage!
“Mate,” says the rider, “have a look at your leg will you.”
I look down at my left leg, it’s fine, a quick glance at my right leg reveals that my calf is covered in blood down to my shoe. Shit.
A quick wipe with my gloved hand, and I laugh, “It’s fine mate,” the relief in my voice is real, “just a graze, the rains’ making it look worse than it is.”
He hobbles over and confirms the result, “You gunna be ok?” he asks.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I say. But my feet are wobbling now, and I’m cold all over, if I don’t get back on this bike soon I never will. I throw a leg over the seat, prop my right pedal and let go of the brakes, “C’mon!” I call out to him over my shoulder, “race you to the bottom!” He smiles, and easily beats me to the next corner. Both my feet are shaking like leaves on the pedals now. I push harder to stop them from getting worse. It works. By the time I pull up for smoko the bleeding has stopped and my nerves are fine. “Not Today!” I think as I pull up, “Won’t be quitting today!”
As I hobble into the Kin Kin school for smoko I note that I have an egg shaped lump on my right hip, my knee is bleeding again, and that I’m unable to raise my arm any higher than my right shoulder. I’m going to feel this in the morning… I check my backpack, miraculously my camera is not smashed, and all the gear inside my plastic bags is still dry. Yippee!
Smoko is another quick affair as I’m keen to get into camp. Bernie has gone ahead. There is a large concentration of traffic on the road around the area. We were to learn later that a multiple fatality had closed the Bruce Highway and that all traffic had been diverted through the Pomona district. It was a sad end to the days ride thinking of the shattered bodies out there on that lonely road, and the news that awaited their relatives.
I set up camp, eventually. Brisbane people can be arrogant bastards at times. Twice I put my bags down on a likely spot, only to have some jumped up little twit race up to me and say, “That spots taken!” One of them, a dumpy little woman even raised her finger to my face. I’m really not in the mood for this by now. I actually toy with the idea of breaking her finger, it’s right there in front of my nose, and I could just reach out and snap the thing back to her arm, but I manage to choke the feeling down, “Well,” I say through clenched and chattering teeth, “if you get out of my fucking way you stupid bint, I’ll just find somewhere else to freeze to death ok?” I got a look of disgust thrown back at me as I barged through the ‘forbidden zone’. I set up camp atop a hill, away from every bastard else. Everything is wet except for the plastic treasure bag of dry clothes I packed the night before. I grab my towel and a change of clothes and find the shower truck.
Some hero, no scratch that, some SAINT, has managed to find a source of hot water and plugged it into the showers. Just standing in line inside the shower truck is blessed relief. I actually smile as I catch my bedraggled reflection in the mirror. The shower is brilliant, blood and mud disappear down the drain, and 5 minutes later I’m a new man.
I toss my wet gear into my tent on top of my wet bags and make my way into Pomona for a feed and a beer. I get both in record time, and follow it up with a hot coffee at a nice little takeaway. It’s late afternoon, and I don’t want to go back to my wet tent just yet, so I stroll around town. I’m impressed with the place, it really is very pretty. I visit a bookshop, buy a book and listen to the weather on the radio with the owner. More rain, gales, and cold weather tonight and tomorrow. I find a pay phone and call my family, and listen to their cheerful voices, I miss them very much right now. A mate has dropped in to pick up his lamingtons from the girls school fundraiser, his booming laugh and their happy squeals make me want to pack up and catch the first train home. My heart sinks as I hang up. I have one more beer at the pub, and start to toddle back to the camp site. I hear the news of the car crash from a fellow rider as we walk through the rain, and in spite of feeling bad about it, think about how lucky I am to be alive right here, right now. I think about the day and reflect that things could be much worse. By the time I get back to the campsite my mood is greatly improved. How bad could it be? As I stroll through the gates one of the marshalls informs me that unofficially 100 + riders have pulled out of the ride. I’m actually surprised by this. I thought this mob was made of sterner stuff.
While I was in town I managed to grab about 6 free newspapers. I lay them on the floor of my tent, then lay my mattress on the papers, then I took all the inserts from the papers and lay them on top of my mattress. Hobo bedding made easy. It will still be damp, but not uncomfortably so.
Tea is quick and forgettable. I stagger into the beer tent to listen to tonights briefing. I am stunned to hear that only one other rider had a fall today. They know about my accident, but nobody knows who it is! I do : ) Al, the bike cop, informs us about the accident, and how we will be crossing a very notorious part of the main highway tomorrow. He looks worried. We’re too tired to be worried.
Bernie drinks a bourbon while I down a rum and cola, we are both dead on our feet. He has some good news, some rider found his tube of gear and handed it in to the lost property tent, just as Bernie was walking in to report it lost! We’re both amazed at this stroke of luck. Maybe better times are ahead for tomorrows’ ride? The entertainment is cancelled tonight as the performers leads are lying in puddles of water. Our loss I suppose.
At 7.30 I stagger off to my tent. I can’t lie on my right side, even though I try a number of different positions. Another shower of rain hits the top of my tent and the words of a Charley Pride song roll through my head as I drift off, “Rain drippin’ off the brim of my hat, sure is cold today.” I’m smiling as I drift off to sleep.