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Swept along on a bike and a prayer.

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 15 January 2012 | Views [1401]

Perhaps I was being too polite?!?

Perhaps I was being too polite?!?

Eden is a lovely town, but not quite in the same league as its biblical counterpart. Quaint little shops, a long history stretching back to early settlement days and 360 degree views. That last fact was due to its location atop a wart in a field of pimples. As the start of the 'hell' section, it certainly felt like I was descending into Lucifers lounge room when I rode passed Bellbird reserve. Thankfully I was going downwards, as going up would have given Lions Road a run for its money in the sweating and swearing stakes.

Up a few more huge hills and I was in the town centre. “Been up Bellbird yet?” enquired the first local I wobbled across. He was walking in the same direction and easily keeping abreast due to my labouring in 'granny gear'. I would have preferred to have sped away half smile, half snarl, all aloof, but that would have required turning back down the way I came. I had to do that later anyway to find a camp site but anyone telling me so at the time would have suffered some non-specific organic damage.

I had only ridden 23kms but I needed to figure out how best to tackle the next 200kms. There comes a time in every man's life where he has to face up to the consequences of his decisions and suffer through something really painful hoping to come through the experience as a better person. This was not one of those times. Suicide is not my idea of fun, although it would answer some pretty intriguing questions I have about dirt naps. This was more like the time you take the easy way out and at least survive to ride another day.

I went straight to the bus office and tried to book a ticket through to Orbost. The polite lady took one look at my rig and said either myself or my bike could take the seat, but not both. Knowing that my bike wasn't a great conversationalist, hogged arm rests and generally ignored the requests of anyone near it, I knew I couldn't put it on the bus without me. Nor could I hope to ride from Orbost to Melbourne on memories, prayers and gratitude for being alive.

Back down the hill I went and checked into a camp ground. The lady at reception gave me a piece of cardboard to fashion myself a hitch-hikers sign and charged me an exorbitant price that implied the cardboard was a family heirloom. I set up camp well away from everyone else as I had a lot to chew over. “To ride or not to ride”, that was the question. Not as philosophical as the original expression, but profound enough to worry me senseless. Realising worry is wasted thought, I decided to ride, as per the original intention of the trip, and stick a figurative thumb out as soon as things got too risky.

It was a beautiful sunny day I woke to and my spirits were immediately buoyed. “I can do this!” I goaded myself, punching my chest hard to punctuate the point. Having two out of the last three days finishing before really starting, I had the leg strength to power me into town for a coffee without working up much of a sweat. I was so adrenalised to smash these hills that I was almost foaming at the mouth. Needless to say, custom at the cafe dropped sharply for the 20 minutes I sat there snorting and swigging coffee like it was straight scotch.

Half crazed and caffeine euphoric, I charged through the first 5kms which involved three hills high enough to invoke nose bleeds. Kilometre six and the game changed. I had been warned there was no shoulders on the road and that was what made this section so hellish. Big hills are a pain in the ass, in everything from the waist down actually, but they're not life threatening in themselves. Maintaining a straight line is hard enough when you're just grinding along. Throw in a trailer bolt that's slowly winning the war against Loktite's grip, a road I now had to share with speeding motorists and my mortal coil was shortening quicker than a truckies patience.

The white paint of the lane was sprayed across gravel, leaving me about 30 centimetres to swerve into if forcefully petitioned to do so. The road itself was in its twilight years and the outer edges were undergoing severe seismic alteration. I had admonished myself repeatedly about the key to success being awareness of approaching traffic. If I saw anything big coming, I had to blaze a trail into the scrub to avoid an instant red card from life.

Struggling up a hill usually entails putting my head down and focusing all energy into legs half the size they need to be. That doesn't lend itself to sightseeing or using the rear view mirror enough to avoid losing points on a driving test. Out of nowhere roared a road train carrying goods that obviously needed to be in Melbourne within the hour. The gush of swirling wind from its slipstream slung me off the road like I'd been shot from a slingshot. I saw it all in slow motion, strangely detached from myself, and still the truck was nothing but a blur as it passed. Miraculously everything remained vertical even with the trailer still shaking like it had just shit itself too.

Right, that's it, I'm going home! But not if I have another truck brush past me with more menace than Medusa with PMS. I attached the sign to the back of my bike and instructed the teddy to start waving at people with imploring eyes. My fate was in the hands of the universe now, and the absence of resistance brought a sense of calm with it. I imagine it is what soldiers feel before entering a battle vastly outnumbered. You're fucked anyway so why worry about the particulars.

Freed from my own mortal concerns, the day had the potential to improve significantly. Until the next road train went passed and blew me into the gutter again. I thought riding backwards might help me see what's approaching but riding into oncoming traffic removed all element of chance from the equation. The wind doesn't really whistle in your ears when your travelling at walking pace, so I decided to veer off any time I heard something coming regardless of whether it was a truck rumbling like thunder or a scooter whining like a mosquito.

The fact that I was still moving obviously didn't incline people to take pity on me. More people than usual honked and waved, but it was more like offering gold to cross the River Styx rather than ferrying me themselves. The pity of some extended far enough to try and run me over, as people must reason that it won't ruin their day as much as it would mine. I didn't think it would be so much of an issue to give something so unstable a wide berth but not a day goes by without someone vocally asserting my subservient road rights to their own.

The Victorian border was guarded by a storm front that washed the last vestiges of gloss from the day that I had been clinging to harder than the handlebars. I made a roadside shelter just in time to avoid the worst of it and used the extended break to fix the parts of my trailer that took every opportunity to degenerate faster than table manners at a Bacchanalian banquet. More Loktite applied here, more rubber shoved in there, more high yield explosives dreamed of being attached everywhere. A lovely lady offered me a ride in the opposite direction and had she been going as far as Cairns, I would have accepted.

Instead, I soldiered on to Genoa, getting rained on in fits and starts but never getting soaked. I wanted to celebrate surviving the days out of body experience, but I was still suffering from an out of money experience. It meant little any way cause Genoa was virtually a ghost town and the only place offering rooms was suffering from an out of business experience. There was a 'by donation' way-stop which everyone used to camp for free so I haggled with the sign for a hot shower before realising it's sole purpose was to tell me it didn't even have drinking water available.

I was lucky to find a site right next to a shelter and had just finished setting up when the rains really started in earnest. I was able to stay dry as lakes of water began to build up around my tent. Emergency procedures were implemented and the tent and its contents were dragged unceremoniously under the shelter. As soon as I did, it stopped raining and the waters receded. A lovely French couple I shared the shelter with even thanked me for stopping the rain.

All I could do was chuckle away to myself like I was privy to Mother Natures little jokes. I was a third of the way through the shoulderless section of shit and simply surviving it was amplifying my arrival euphoria to V-E Day levels. I had my own Bacchanalian banquet with a double serving of two minute noodles, an extra scoop of staminade in my drink and a chocolate brownie flavoured protein bar to really let the good times roll. I don't care what my first meal in Melbourne is, but it's going to be deep fried and consumed with enough alcohol to make any nutrition redundant.

Tags: bicycling, misfortune, on the road

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