Sunday, November 17, 2013

Failure to launch

It is 5:40 am. Dark, raining. The streets of downtown Sydney are wet. Even this early on Sunday morning, there are buses and cars to avoid. Deb and I are wearing heavy backpacks. We're trying equally to not get run over, keep the bikes upright, and find our way to the start.

The instructions said after getting off the train at Wynyard follow George Street to the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Simple enough. One or two turns and a major landmark.

We lost track of George Street at some sort of major freeway intersection. Perhaps its name changed to something else. As it turns out, the geography of Sydney trumps all efforts to decipher it. The past 25 minutes we've been see-sawing between the residential districts of Haymarket and Darling Harbour. It's a kind of Bermuda Triangle here with major thoroughfares, the Central Business District and its hotels, warehouses, and the bridge. By now the bridge should be visible but we see nothing but generic buildings. This is some kind of nightmare.

I'm the one with a smartphone and a data plan. However, I can't decipher the chaotic network of streets, not while sleepy, disoriented, panicked. This is definitely not a grid. And the phone keeps using its gyroscope feature to flip the map around as the phone moves. Whoever designed this feature should be shot. It's disorienting, irritating. Deb has not slept much and isn't able to read the phone or the printed map clipped to my stem.

So far the Sydney Melbourne Alpine 1200K is not going well.

Deb says we still have 20 minutes, which is true. She tries another tack, asking passers-by for directions to the park that sits underneath the bridge. Dawes Point Park. No one knows where that is. So we ask, where is the bridge? We are still see-sawing back and forth instead of making progress. My method of reading maps is not getting us there. Her method of searching for George Street is not getting us there.

A clock on the street reads 5:54.

With one breath, I just relax. We won't be at the start on time. After leaving at 5am we're gonna miss the start. We should just focus on making it there, period. Hopefully the truck with the drop bags will wait. Or another driver like Trudi can take our packs. Or, we just won't ride to Melbourne. It's kind of a ridiculous concept, anyway. We'll be forced to stay in Sydney and take ferries and attend concerts. OK!

It's starting to get light.

Out of the blue, two rail-thin racer dudes pull up to a stoplight next to us. One is wearing a classic wool jersey; they're out for a ride. It's Sunday morning; they're probably meeting other cyclists nearby.

"Guys", I call out. "We're in trouble. We need to get to the park underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Dawes Point Park. Can you take us there?"

They just stare at me. It's a middle-aged lady in a reflective vest, wearing a huge backpack and a shower cap over her helmet. Calling out to them, asking for a favor. As if we're all in this together. They hesitate, look at each other.

"Can you take us there?" I ask again.

Unbelievably, they turn and guide us to the start. Despite our best efforts, we were not all that close. We see the dark metal structure of the bridge overhead and are euphoric.

"There are cyclists coming toward us" they say.

"That's the ride", we say and wave to the main pack setting out on the 1200K. We're on the outside looking in. I feel calm. It is what it is.

We find the group of supporters intact, still under the bridge. They want to help us get underway. They reassure us, 5 or 10 minutes does not matter at all in the long run. I give up on reorganizing my drop bag, retrieving my knee warmers and some food — too complicated at this point.

Just unloading the pack and fixing my blinkie (the mount has come loose) and starting out with one other late rider, that's enough.

And that's what we do.

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