Wokalup Tavern

The headlights shine to the left.

I follow two red dots.

A small stone cracks the windscreen.

In Pinjarra I give an ETA

And recall riding, riding, riding

Back when I had to run.

Inside she is behind the front wall.

She senses in me her own

Disappointment, I’m undatable

Were her words, before she deleted

What little of us we had.

I’m not sure what she thought

I was looking for, as two bowls

Of half eaten salad sat between us,

But what I saw were these eyes

And inside was a fire trying

To extinguish itself, a light

More intense than I’ve ever witnessed

A colour colliding, shattered

And slaughtered by red

That stuck across her iris

And bit deep into her pupils

That said she was barely able to cope;

That her illness didn’t care

For my sympathy and that soon

She would have to leave.

Blackwood 600 Ride Report

I’ve been frustrated lately. For about the last six months in fact. The manuscript for my first novel sits on the desk of a couple of editors. Each day I wait to hear if they’ve decided yes or no. The waiting goes on long enough that eventually I wish they will say no so the agony can stop. My impatience turns to anxiety to stress to indignation. My indignation jumps ship and turns viciously to other perceived injustices I can identify. Identify I do. Powerlessness can lead to irrationality.

I’m indignant at Australia’s government and lack of action on climate change. I’m indignant at my fellow citizens for their lack of action on climate change. Those who shake their heads from their 4 x 2 houses on 1000m2 blocks with two cars in the garage. I’m indignant at climate change deniers who’ve never read a scientific document.

I’m indignant at myself. Am I wasting my life? Is my indignation unfounded? I’m indignant that being indignant is undignified. You won’t find any moments of clarity, or optimistic crystallisations in this ride report. Australia’s lack of action in regards to climate change prevents any such niceties. Our history is destroying our environment is deplorable.

Motivation differs. Many people were driven by fitness. Many people begin to wonder very quickly why they do audax rides. The drop out rate is high. On this ride I was driven by anger. Anger at myself and the world around me. I wanted to ride alone, to explore the dark areas.

Would a 600km ride cure my anxieties? Would cycling for 33 hours or so put a muffle on my anger and frustrations? Would the body teach me something I haven’t been able to think through?

Not likely when the route goes through the biggest environmentally devastated area in Australia: the wheat belt. Anyone who thinks clearing 90% of the state’s forest for poor quality agriculture soil is deluded. And if you think Australian farmers are feeding the world, consider this: per hectare Germany produces more wheat each year than Australia. The soil we burn vast tracks of ancient vegetation to get to is so unsuited for agriculture, we need an area the size of European countries for it to be profitable. And they still want more land! The one’s who most vehemently deny the there’s a problem are usually the ones who have the most to lose.

The Blackwood 600 goes from Singleton to Dwellingup to Quindannng to Darken to Boyup Brook to Nannup to Balingup to Gnomesville to Harvey to Singleton. We get to see bits of forest that were left because it was too difficult to drive a tractor over.

We leave at 6 am and I take a wrong turn and end up at the back of the group and ride alone to Darkan, some 170km away.

From Darkan to Boyup Brook I ride with Ruth and Steve. Conditions are perfect. The flocks of birds that once turned day into night exist only in my imagination. My left leg is in so much pain I consider withdrawing. Perhaps the pain is in my imagination. Ruth says at the top of the hill we stop to put on warmer cloths and ‘light up’. The climb goes around a bend and continues on a for a kilometre or so longer. Shadows grow longer. ‘Bet you didn’t think the hill would go that long’ I say and ride off, alone again.

The Nannup-Ballingup road is unique in the south-west. It follows a small river that twists and turns sharply. It’s heavily forested but not without over clearing. On a clear day riding through here is tough as it’s not possible for the road to follow the contours of the gullies as they’re too steep. Instead the road goes up and over each crest with a series of about 20 short sharp climbs. It’s impossible to get a rhythm.

On a clear day you gain occasional glimpses to the rapids below. Cute cottages and wooden railed bridges break up the forest. You can charge down each hill looking up to the next climb.

At four in the morning in pitch black and freezing cold I was to experience a different road. Thick fog reduced visibility to about ten metres. Lights on high beam, kangaroo eye reflectors were the only indication I was on the road. There was a waxing moon setting out to the west that offered no illumination, the fog was too thick. The trees cast no shadows.

On the road surface, dark patches came toward me. If there were a rock I probably didn’t have the time to avoid it, so I had to slow down. It was like I was in a nightmare. Basically a white haze on a black surface with a red dot to my right and white dot to my left every two hundred metres. No white line in the middle to follow. It felt like I was riding through the darkness of my mind like an endoscopy.

Slow cold, so dewy, droplets fell from leaves. Fell from my helmet. Then froze. A white web of ice all over my body. If I stopped to wee I started shivering. The water in the bottles made me colder.

I’d ridden the same road twice before. I thought I recognised a fence. Maybe 10km to the highway. Ride on. Darkness. After another 15 mins I realise it’s not the bend before the end. Ride on. Wearing long leg bibs, two pairs of socks, shoe covers, base layer, jersey, arms warmers, gilet and soft shell jacket. A kangaroo hopped out in front of me, trying to commit suicide.

A flock of red tailed cockatoos cried in a tree above me. Black cow sumped in the way, strafes across my path as I approach.

When the earth tilted enough to let light in to this side of the world fog pockets filled the valleys.

Don’t take this to mean a sense of positivity came over. The fact that a tv show you were thinkin about the other day miraculously comes on as you’re flicking through the channels is no prophetic omen you’re doing things right. The major signs are that the ice is melting and a billion people are set to be displaced by rising sea levels. Ride on.

As I got closer to Singleton a sense of achievement grew inside. At a set of traffic lights I looked at the time. 2:30pm. At 3pm it’ll be 33 hours since I departed. As fast as I could, I rode the final kilometres along the highway. People looking at me like I was shitting glass. Big jacket sticking out of back pocket. As I turned off the highway a Commodore drove up behind me and got irate because I was riding on the road and he didn’t have the chance to boss me off the rode. Didn’t he know I’d just ridden 600km?

Oppy 2015 – WA – Ride

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 a metaphysical level, the delineation between riding and not riding, or the ride/not ride state is insignificant. The most obvious marker for being on a ride is being on a saddle and turning pedals. But on a metaphysical level this has no bearing. We don’t usually consider the time off the bike eating and resting as somehow not part of the ‘ride’. How we carry ourselves mentally throughout the ride is important. If you allow the circumstances to gain the better of you, you may not finish the ride. This is bleeding obvious, but if you stop riding, you can not expect to complete the ride. This admonition can take on great significance half way through a 400km day into a headwind.

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.

It’s this notion of tiredness that brings me to the Audax Oppy ride held on the 28th of March 2015. I’ll keep it brief because there’s a few points I’d like to make about ride reports in general. Ride reports are not stories. Stories rely on conflict and adversity in order to be interesting. A good or pleasant Audax ride is uneventful. Everything goes to plan. No one crashes or dies or cries. Interesting stories are the opposite to the way we’d like Audax rides to unfold. To make a ride report interesting you need to invent certain elements. This can get you in trouble with offended parties or ensure your report is rejected from being included in the clubs quarterly. A great loss to all. Anal sex. As Barry Humphries has said, “if it amuses me, it’ll amuse others”.

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.

Col De Lussette and Mont Aigoul

“Would you ever take performance enhancing drugs?”

“Like most things, I’d try it. Just to see what difference they would make.”
“I’d try testosterone.”
“Apparently EPO doesn’t really do much unless you’re already fit.”
“Really?”
“I’d never take drugs in a race though.”
“Oh me neither.”
“Unless it was in the Tour.”
“Yeah, of course. Testosterone and EPO in the Tour.”
“Testosterone in Giro.”
“And the classics.”
“Well you want to win.”
“Probably in the local club race too, just to make sure.”
I want to go deeper. I want to go harder. I want to push myself. To see how hard the body can go. To see if I can push my body beyond the pain threshold. They say it’s mind over matter. Often it’s the opposite.
Today we have a big day of riding. Starting in Le Vegan we climb the Col De Lussette, then Mont Aguail. Then descend for about 30km back to Le Vegan. From a 75km ride back to Montpellier through rural France and two medium sized climbs. The distance would be no problem for me, but I’m still a baby in these mountains. Let’s face it, living in Perth, I’m a flatlander.
We depart Le Vegan slowly. Before too long, begin the first rise. The day before I’d been trying out a pedalling technique called ankling. This works, but my left leg is a little inflexible. Already I could feel it stiff. Also, I’m a big sissy. When you want to go hard, often the opposite happens. It’s difficult to visualise going hard or doing well in a place you’ve never been to before. These mountains demand respect. If you attack the mountain the mountain will attack you.
The scenery is stunning. Shane rides away. The switchbacks are regular. He disappears. I’m frustrated. Annoyed. I feel like a beginner. Like this was my first ride ever. I begin to blame the borrowed bike. Too heavy. Too big. I’m negative, but thankfully for the world, there’s no one to share it with. There’s little to do other than settle in as much as possible, wait for the summit to arrive.
At the top Shane is waiting. He’s happy. He has climbed faster than ever. Two days before we moved his seat back a little. Seems to have done the trick. His forehead has a line of dried salt. When I arrive I see he has dropped 20 euros on the ground. I stop over it and pick it up. Put it in my pocket without saying anything. We are surrounded by thin woods. We cannot see Mont Aigoul but that’s our destination.
The start of the climb to Mont Aigoul, two old ladies in team kit riding casually. We overtake them into a head wind. Shane rides off. Shortly afterward the ladies catch me again, see I’m struggling. ‘Grab my wheel’ she says, ‘don’t worry about taking a pull.’ Granny draft, nothing like it.
The final bend up to the summit of Mont Aigoul, the wind is gale force. A motorbike rider drops his machine in the carpark. His friend struggles and runs over to help. I am blasted up to 3 meters across the road. Forces me over to the shelter of the cars. There’s Shane. ‘The cafe is up there,’ he points. We walk into the wind holding our bikes. They fly horizontal next to us, whistling some alpine tune.
In the cafe an old friend of our’s doppleganger serves us chips and coke. We laugh, and laugh. Shane’s laughter ends when he empties his pockets and realises he’s lost 20 euro. This makes me laugh on the inside. He’s really annoyed with himself because he had lost another 20 euros a week before and this was his money decade. We’ve already ordered. ‘Got any money’ he asks? I pull out the sweaty blue note. ‘That’s mine’ he exclaims. ‘Sure is’ I say.
Shane explains his idea for a mountain with tunnels than turns small hills into high category climbs. ‘Perth needs a mountain’ I say. Luckily for me, Shane has the answer. We are good like this. We solve problems that don’t need solving. There are millions of problems out there already that do need solving, but we are unless in that regard. That’s our problem. Shane nearly buys some woollen socks made of polyester and cotton.
On the descent our good friend Richie returns. Every unsuspecting rider and pedestrian gets a blast of Richie as we pass. Even dogs. “RRIchchies.” “Alle Richie.” The sun is out and bees smack into your sunnies.

Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.

 

These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.

 

Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.

 

At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.

 

I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.

 

There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.

 

White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.

 

On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.

 

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Day 6 and 7: Riding with Shane Starling in Girona.

 

Day 6 was meant to be an easy stroll west out of Girona for 30km and then back as a sort of recovery ride from the previous two days. We rode about 5km up a road and then it turned to gravel. Riding further meant dealing with traffic and I couldn’t be bothered and threw in the towel. Shane tried to ride on but was back at the apartment not long after. Then it started raining and we were glad with our decision. 
 
 Day 7: Today we packed everything up and left Girona. We drove north to a little town called Roses and climbed up to a grand peak 20km from the town. We then cut through a valley and emerged at El Port de la Salva. A big bunch of riders caught up as we stood at an intersection and deliberated on a direction. These riders would catch and pass us on the way up a massive hill between us and Roses, where we would finish for the day. After the ride we found a bar that would put the cycling on for us and watched them ride up a mountain in snow eating steak, eggs and chips.