An hour later I’m awake. It hasn’t rained but heavy dew has soaked everything. I stagger out of my tent and start packing up for the last time. I take my time over breakfast, chatting with some of my fellow riders, shaking their hands, some for the last time, as we get ready to roll. I’m on my bike soon enough, and today, my nice clean gloves are firmly lashed to the ends of my arms.
The weather is fine, a cool breeze is building from the west, interesting…
On the road and the ride is magnificent. Lots of little hills, switchbacks, downhills, creeks, and the ever present sight of the Mary River languidly flowing to the sea. It’s funny to think that if I got into a canoe and paddled a couple of hundred klms, I be back in Maryborough again. The smell of the grass, african tulips, a dairy, and one piggery are intense in the cool of the morning, as are the sound of the bell birds, their lilting warbles can be heard for miles.
The road twists and weaves, several one way bridges present the only real obstacles of this mornings ride. I watch as one rider tries to pull over for traffic as we approach a bridge and discovers, to his horror, that his cleats are locked into his pedals. He wobbles past us toward the oncoming car and the one laned bridge, his cries of terror getting louder with each passing metre. The driver of the car, seeing his plight, guns his engine and dashes over the bridge, clearing the way for the hapless rider to cross unhindered. Some of us were thinking that the cyclist was about to go for a swim. I follow him for a while, and watch with interest as he tries to free himself. I get bored with the show and pass him on a small uphill.
Over the rise the wind hits us hard. My rear flag snaps to life, bending hard to the left as the westerly cross wind punches into us. Cyclists groan under the added pressure, until someone calls out from behind, “Hey! At least the wind will help us tackle the range!” Everyone smiles again.
The Range! It’s on everyone’s mind, the big climb to the top of Maleny. Steep and twisting, there is nothing we’ve hit so far that can compare with it. I’ve climbed it numerous times, but generally at speed with the whites of my eyes showing. Didn’t seem too hard, or high, on the motorbike.
We stop for smoko at a school in Conondale. The fare on offer is all sweets. I’m caked and sconed out. I’ve eaten at least 3 years supply of sugary, cakey stuff, and hanker for something a little more useful. I stroll over to the Conondale Shop and buy a tomato sandwich and an apple. I mention this because while I was reaching for the apple I managed to knock over a display stand of chocolate bars. 50 people watch in amazement as the lollies cascade to the floor. 49 people rush to help me pick them up… bless ’em!
Bernie rides with me out of Conondale, and we are cruising so we take the opportunity to chat. He is impressed with this part of the world and will drive back through here with his wife after she picks him up from Brisbane. I want to move here, to the permaculture farm my mate lives on in the back hills near Conondale, but my family would rather jump head first off a tall building than drop out of Gladstone society. Pity.
Bernie is keen to tackle the range, his outlook is to face challenges head on. Good on him. We reach the base soon enough and he hoofs into it. I, on the other hand, kick back into first and spin easily up the first incline. I’m surprised to see so many riders off their bikes already, pushing them up the road, puffing as they go. I check my speedo, 9 kph, I can maintain this no worries, and reckon it would be easier to do it in this gear than walking. Halfway up I pass a big woman on a cruiser, she is struggling, and I think she is about to give up. Pedalling hard, I catch up to her as she slows, “Hey Look At You!” I call out to her. Her head snaps round in my direction and her bike wobbles a bit, “What?” she asks.
“Look at you! You’ve got this far and you’re not walking! Good onya mate!” I’ve got the biggest grin on my face.
She smiles back, and her jaw sets, “Yeah, I have haven’t I?”
I nod frantically, “You’ve already outdone half the people here today, just keep going mate, you can do this. Just remember, whatever else happens, no one can take away your victory today, the day you rode to the top of the Maleny Range!”
Her feet are spinning faster on the pedals now, and I laugh out loud, she laughs as well, “I was just about to give up… but I’ll keep going now.” Her breathing is laboured.
I slow down a bit, “Look, it’s not a race, just ease up a bit, get your breath back and keep pushing. You’re gears are perfect for this. See,” I say pointing to one of the boy racers who is standing up and straining on his pedals, “this is our time to shine.”
She nods and slows immediately, “I think I’m going to make it.”
“I’ll see you at the top mate,” I say and push on, easily passing the red faced boy racer.
Ten minutes later I turn another corner and see another hill sloping upwards, “Jesus!” I think, “This is a bloody nightmare!” Then I hear the sound of cheering ahead. The CQ Cheer Squad must be at the top of the hill, which has to be round the next bend! I pump the pedals harder, and the cheering grows louder. As I turn the corner I can see in the distance a group of people in the middle of the road waving flags and blowing whistles. My fatigue is forgotten as I kick up two more gears and cross the line in style to a fanfare of cheering and bell ringing. I crow like one of the lost boys from Peter Pan, with all my heart and soul behind it. Bernie takes a snap and high fives me.
“Did you make it!” I cry out, circling him tightly, not wanting to get off,
I laugh for the sheer joy of victory, “Bernie and Greg! Kings of the Mountain!” He laughs with me.
I circle a few more times, “Come Bernard, let’s go to Melaney and dine in the park.”
As I ride off I wonder about the woman on the cruiser, should I stay and see if she makes it? I hesitate for a moment then decide, no. If she does make it, the Cheer Squad will be there to meet her and she’ll feel pretty good anyway. If she doesn’t make it, then the last person she’ll want to see is me.
Bernie slides into the space behind me, and we cruise over the gentle hills. The view from the top of the range is unbelievable. Ocean one side, forests the other. The grass is lush and green, the cattle fat. Large trees hang over the road in places providing shade. Everyone is in a great mood.
We cycle into the main street of Melaney and I pull over to visit my other favourite book shop, The Rosetta Stone. I buy Dad a Fathers’ Day book, and the owner of the shop stares at me for a second, “You’re one of those crazy cyclists aren’t you?” she says, her eyes smiling.
I nod my head, my helmet is still on, “Yeah, how’d you guess?”
“How far are you riding?”
“From Bundy to Brissy.”
“That’s a long way! Why are you doing it?”
I lean on the counter and give her a ‘thousand yard stare’, “Because little lady… it’s there!”
The people behind me laugh as well, and a lady standing near the door asks me, “So where are you from?”
“Gladstone, Central Queensland.”
“Oh Gladstone! I was born there.”
I’m stunned, “You’re kidding!”
“No, my dad was a photographer, had a shop in the main street. He was killed in a plane crash years ago, and I escaped the place.”
I shake my head, “This state is too damned small,’ I think.
She smiles, “It’s a lot nicer place now isn’t it?”
I nod, “You thinking of coming back?”
“Oh God no!” She immediately turns and leaves the store. I follow not long after. A small crowd has gathered round my bike, and I immediately think, “Oh, not another flat tyre!”
It turns out they were admiring it! My bike! An old man is playing with the bell, and sees me, “Oh, gidday son,” he says, looking a little guilty, “just checking out your machine, is it all aluminium?”
“No mate, she’s just an old clunker, the flash bikes are still coming,” I jerk my thumb back toward the range.
As I saddle up, one of the kids says, “I bet your bum hurts!”
There’s a small embarrassed silence before I start laughing, “Yeah little mate, it hurts heaps!”
I ring my bell as I ride off, and the small group wave back. Nice place!
I eat lunch while seated on the lawn of the park on the banks of the Obi Obi creek. The Woolworths is across the road, the much maligned and protested against shopping complex. A lot of bad blood remains in the area due to the building of this concrete wonder on the banks of the creek. It is believed that platypus were displaced by the concrete pylons punched into the bank and the creek itself to support the car park area. Many locals refuse to shop there as a result.
Bernie joins me and I tell him in graphic detail about the great downhill ride ahead. The road out of Maleny down the range to Beerwah is a cracker and I can hardly wait to get onto it. We saddle up and ride out of the park, straight up a narrow street and away from the south bound highway exit. I’m confused, and call out to one of the marshalls, “Where are we headed?”
“Western road out of town, toward the Kilcoy turnoff. Don’t worry, it’s only a couple of hills, then a big downhill run.” As I slip past him he calls out again, “Take it easy, a couple of motorcyclists got killed on it fairly recently!”
I nod back and grind up the hill. My legs protest, and my back joins in, they were expecting a cruisy downhill run, but have been asked to step up for more work. My brain is sympathetic to their cause, but orders is orders…
“A couple of fucking hills my fucking arse!!” The rider I have just passed is not a happy cyclist, he continues swearing and cursing as I ride away from him. We’re on uphill climb number 14, and rapidly running out of steam. Many riders have given up and are walking their bikes up even the gentlest of slopes. I climb hill #15, and see Bernie has pulled up. His face says it all. “I just wasn’t expecting this mate!” I puff, “I didn’t mentally ready myself for more bloody hills!” He grins, and saddles up, “Well the downhills’ gotta be here somewhere eh?”
I shrug my shoulders, “Dunno, never been on this road before. Pretty enough, but it would be nicer to see it from the top of my motorcycle. Might have to track back here one day for another look.”
I follow Bernie down a small hill that leads to another steep uphill climb. I sigh and allow my feet to flop in the pedals on the down hill run, they’ll need all the rest they can get. The westerly wind which was our staunchest ally up the range just an hour ago, has turned into a hot, dry headwind. I can feel my lips burning, my shirt is clinging to my back, and sweat is freely dripping off my elbows. As I clamber to the top of hill #16, I see an upturned bike and a damsel in distress. I stop and ask her if she’s alright. She shakes her head and points to her rear tyre. It’s a mess, the tube has blown out, and removed the sidewall of her tyre in the process. I can’t help her. She smiles, “A nice man is pedalling back to the mobile repair van, he’ll get me another tyre, or send them up here.” I nod. That ‘nice man’ is going to have to pedal up and down these bloody hills again, the poor, unlucky, but big hearted bastard. I ask her if she’s got enough water and she points to two water bottles on the fence. Beyond them is a wonderful looking place which I can’t decide is a house or a restaurant. I take a photo of it so I can ponder over it at my leisure.
The downhill run is brilliant, with only one stop at an intersection as we turn onto the Kilcoy / Beerwah road. I’ve been on this road before. Admittedly I was lost at the time, but I wasn’t lost now, and knew that it was all downhill to the coast. Yippedy, yippedy, YAY!
The upper reaches of the range are all cattle farms, interspersed with pockets of gum lined roadway. The road is steep in places, but level off for a bit so braking isn’t too hard on the pads. I pass only a couple of people, and for the most part have the road entirely to myself. Now, this is cycling!
With about 5 klm’s to go I feel a movement on my neck, followed by a sharp sting. The pain is intense and I automatically reach up with my left hand. The bike wobbles a bit as I crush some sort of insect on my glove and try to extend my hand to see what it is. Whatever it was is blown out of my palm by the rushing wind as I accelerate. Bugger. The bite is throbbing. I rub it. This makes it worse. Damn, damn, damn. Checking my odometer I work out that I only have about 4 k’s to go before smoko. With a bit of luck the St. Johns van will be there, and I’ll be able to get this thing checked.
I make it ok, but the bite mark is hurting like blazes. Oh, for some Stingose! I bypass the school area where the other cyclists are, and pull up next to the St. Johns van. The officer is on his mobile phone and having a somewhat heated discussion with someone. I decide not to interrupt him. Instead I go and buy some sandwiches, and a couple of cakes for my little niece who will be coming with my sister today to pick me up at Beerwah. I lash out and buy a coffee and a bottle of Gatorade, which I place on my sore neck. The relief is instant.
I show Bernie and he relays a horror story to me about how his son nearly died from a wasp sting. My eyes open even wider and I want to check my breathing and my pulse… don’t panic!
I finish my sandwich, visit the toilet and all but rush to the van. The bloke is still on his phone! For Gods Sake! I see that the rear door is partly open, so I give it a nudge. There’s stuff everywhere, but none of it is any good for my purposes. The officer sees me and waves, I wave back, and he promptly turns away and starts stabbing the air with his free finger as if he was poking the chest of who ever was on the other end of the phone.
Bernie grins, “Looks like you’ll have to wait mate.”
I get the shits now, “Stuff that for a lark!” I say, and stalk over to the St. Johns bloke. He sees me coming, six foot of unshaven, wild eyed, lycra clad wrath and he smiles, “What’s up mate?” he asks in a kindly voice. I point to the mark on my neck and he smiles even wider, “Oh that? Just grab a block of ice out of my smoko esky on the passenger seat.”
My eyebrows shoot up all by themselves, “Yeah, it’ll be right,” he says, “just put some ice on it.” He turns away and starts yelling back into the phone. Bloody hell. I do as he says and 5 minutes later, greatly relieved I pedal off.
The road continues to drop, and a sign warns us of good times to come, “Trucks Use Low Gear”. Bernie and I are the only two riders on the road as we hit the tree covered twists. We stop pedalling, hunker down and hang on. His bike slides away from mine easily, but I cut corners and slowly reel him in. I kick my pedals, using top gears now that I’ve never used before, and hitting them hard. Speed is at a premium, and I’m having a ball. From the way Bernie is hanging from his bike, so is he. Magical stuff!
All too soon though the road levels out, buildings appear, then houses, and traffic. Cars zoom past us and alongside us, too quick, too close. The traffic builds steadily until we are almost driven completely off the road. We scarper up a small hill, and see the sign announcing that we have ridden into Beerwah. I ring my bell for the last time as a marshall appears on the road and directs us into the football grounds. There are already hundreds of tents lined up in the fields. It is a pretty campsite, and again I regret not staying the night.
We pull up at the entrance, and I ask Bernie for the use of his phone and call my sister. My parents are visiting her and they will come out as well. Nice. Bernie takes a photo of me. My last one as an entrant.
The Final Line Up
We find our bags, and while Bernie selects a campsite I wander over to the Rider Information tent with my luggage. I find a volunteer and ask her where I can get a bike box from. She points to the tent and says, “In there, but they don’t like being disturbed before 2pm.” I check my watch, 1.35pm. Damn. I partially dismantle my bike as a small line builds. I pack away my riding gear, sort out my backpack, find the little gifts I bought for my niece and wait. Walking to the front of the line I see the look of indignation on the man and woman waiting near the front. “I was here first,” I say in a flat voice. She’s about to speak, but the man beside her looks at me, then down at my hand and cuts off her off, “No worries mate,” he says, and placing his arm round her shoulders they move back a couple of steps to make room for me.
I take my place at the front of the line, impressed that my ‘standover man’ voice worked, then I realise that in my right hand I’m casually flicking my work knife open and shut. I do this so often at work that it has become a sort of habit. A habit that I will no doubt be arrested for in a couple of minutes. I close the knife and slip it into the top of my shorts, my ears blaze red with guilt. Then it dawns on me why they are so eager to be in the front of the line. All these people have flat mobile phone batteries and are waiting for the few available power points that are so greedily fought over everyday. No one in this crowd can call anyone, let alone the police. I’m smiling now, as a small man, with a twirly moustache steps in front of me, “Is this the line,” he asks casually, not looking directly at me.
I grip his shoulder and say, “Yes it is mate. You must be from Brisbane eh, because you’re place is, back there!” I manage to turn him round then give him a little shove in the right direction, but he spins on the spot, his flushed face says it all. I’m in the mood, he’s in the mood, then the tent flap opens and a cheery voice calls out, “Right! Who’s first?”
“He is!” Two voices call out simultaneously, and I look over my shoulder to see the man and woman pointing directly at me. Nice of them wasn’t it. ‘They must be from some other place than Brissy,’ I think as I step forward. The little moustachioed filcher is shuffled back several places as he stands dejectedly to one side of the line, his anger unspent. I tip him a wink and and friendly nod as I pass him a minute later. Gb the magnanimous. He looks daggers at me.
I’m handed a box, and I find my bike tools. 15 action packed minutes later and my old pushie is boxed up and ready to go. I slap the labels on the sides and decide to find Bernie. It’s quite easy to do as he’s standing right behind me. “Thought you could use a hand with your bags,” he says. What a mate! Mr. Moustache is still waiting in line, he is not a happy camper. I wave farewell to him, and he glares back at me, ‘Not my fault you’re an arsehole mate’ I think.
No darling we don’t eat raw chicken. Right here, right now, it hits me that the ride is really over.
(We don’t have chicken for tea.)