One of the psychological tricks to ‘a ride’ is how you gain perspective on what that amounts to. A ‘good’ ride or a ‘bad’ ride can be determined by the literal/material elements that constitute the sequence of route planning, getting ready, leaving home and returning, and everything in between. That sequential array can go splendidly and the stars can align – no flat tires, don’t get lost, strong tailwind – and you get home concluding yes, ‘that was a good ride’. We/I belted along, felt strong, had a few laughs, some coffee and returned home safely, without injury. A ‘bad’ ride involves something like a torn tires, five flats, a terrible headwind that switched direction when you headed home, a crash, bearing busting precipitation, cold, inconsiderate drivers and so on. The trick I’m talking about is convincing the mind that those ‘bad’ rides are in fact the ‘good’ rides. Uneventful rides are generally forgettable. Uneventful rides rarely test our resolve. My contention is what we mostly consider ‘good’ rides, uneventful rides, are the ones we learn little about ourselves.
On long Audax rides we often praise or criticise ourselves and other riders on a attribute basis, not a moral one. We save the moral inquisitions for friends and family. Riders are either strong, or determined, or fast, or slow, or steady. These attributes can be generally said to cross over into our lives off the bike. If this proposition is accepted then this is the testing ground in which we are constantly assessing ourselves while ‘out riding’.
One of the benefits of cycling is that we can still think while doing it. We run scenarios through our minds like repeats of television shows identifying where we went wrong or how to address an issue with someone. In concert with these thoughts is the generated association with our bodies. Through our bodies we ‘exercise’ those thoughts. Often by the end of a ride we feel better about a certain issue and maybe ourselves and others. In fast group rides or longer rides we can enter a state of mind where we are kind of ‘not thinking’. This meditative state is usually achieved, in my experience, through paying close attention to detail. Mindfulness to the minutiae leads to a dreamy-world of time distortion where an hour feels like five minutes. Ironically this state can be achieved during intense physical exertion or unavoidable exposure to inclement conditions. A level of tiredness usually helps. Perhaps it is because Audaxer’s spend so much time on the bike that the recognition that “this is a moment” takes place. Occasionally we feel attuned and at piece with our surroundings.
Four of us set out to ride a touch over 500km in the twenty four hour period. We didn’t plan on any sleep but instead to take longer breaks to stay in line with riding the mandatory 25km in the final two hours. Our route – entitled the ‘Tony Gillespie Celebratory Route’, after Western Australia’s outgoing club president – would head south east from Perth. We rode down the freeway into a slight headwind, chucked a left at Lakes Road and then up the rolling Del Park Road to Dwellingup. From Dwellingup we headed due east to Quindanning Pub where I raided the cookie jar. Further east we found the turn off to Darken where I started to tire. I hadn’t ridden much in the previous 4 months and the more my back muscles and legs protested the more I drifted mentally into the territory of “treat this as training”. Having found a rhythm we soon discovered the Darken servo shut, putting an end to our hopes of pasta. 60km to Collie where the road was filled with fellatio and cunninglingus; a kind of ritual in these parts. Must have something to do with mining and smelters.
At Collie we waited an hour in the warm confines of the McDonalds. Perry, Steve and I all agreed it was the best McDonalds we ever had. Maybe this was the most transformative aspect of this years Oppy? Greg, with his metaphorical blinkers on, couldn’t quite grasp the notion of finishing together, at a certain time, and decided to “soft pedal” off into the darkness. We never saw him again.
Good old Mornington Rd has taken on a semi-mythical status among WA Audaxers as one of the most enjoyable around. The surface is smooth, there’s hardly any cars and there’s good forest wither side to protect you from wind, even though there wasn’t any at that time. Perry touts the road as his favourite despite the fact the first time a ride was to include it, he rode around in circles for an hour on a freezing cold Collie night trying to locate its coordinates. He gave up that time and now is quietly pleased with himself every time he discovers the road is still there. He had employed his headlight on this stretch often illuminating roadside shrubs whenever a rustle was audible. He’s a touch paranoid about bounding two legged mammals after having a run in with them last year. This meant when the descent started, a gap, like reality and a politicians promise, opened up between Steve and Perry and I.
Water bottles filled at Harvey there were no more hills to worry about, just growing tiredness and we all appeared to go through episodes of apathy. 100km to go at the Forrest Hwy toilet block where some German tourists asked what we were doing and then dutifully appeared unimpressed by our efforts. Two areas of lights along the hwy. The second, at an overpass, marked the beginning of the freeway bike path. I was a long way from experiencing a kind of misery, but I wasn’t having a ball either, to be honest. Each distance marker was acknowledged and measurements of effort distributed accordingly. Recently I’ve ditched the cycle computer to focus on where I am at, so the off-ramp signs were analysed over and over. At one point my internal monologue went something like: “Perth: 71km, Safety Bay Rd: 15km. I could make it to Perth easily, but I just can’t be bothered riding to Safety Bay Rd.”
Perry and Steve were snacking on pancakes from Hungry Jacks when I arrived. Yes, we ate a lot of shit on this ride, but these were our only options. Shit. The store is open 24hrs but only the drive-thru overnight. I was forced to stand around for ten minutes while the tills restarted, but who am I to complain? People are dying in hospitals. 40km to go. Only 40km of 500km. The longest both Steve and I had ridden in 24hrs. All we had to do now was get on and pedal. Sunrise as smoke from some bushfire filled a trough where the morning before a horrific accident had occurred. We were early so I putted along like some geriatric in a flat-batteried golf-cart.
In Freo some triathlon event was being held, complete with roadblocks. We took some circuitous route to the cafe and sat beneath the pine trees and shook hands and congratulated ourselves and I know I didn’t wonder what all the unvocalised winging was about: I was rooted. Soon after the sissy’s from the other team arrived, looking fresh from showers and sleep. They rubbed it in by having enough energy to smile. Across the park a myriad of triathletes of all shapes and sizes pounded and/or square pedalled up and down the Esplanade. “That looks like Hell” I thought to myself.