Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I do it for the shower

Mansfield is not a large place and this isn't the best way to experience it, totally dark and buttoned up. Which is understandable in the middle of the night. In (roughly) the middle of nowhere.

Hard to believe I've been here once, 30 years ago, on the kind of weekend field trip that exchange students go on because someone thinks they should see something. You just go along, like a rag doll. In this case, a friend of a host mum drove us over the hill to visit the childhood home of Henry Handel Richardson, who wrote The Getting of Wisdom. Richardson grew up here in Mansfield, wherever it may be. For years a copy of the book sat unread in a box at my mother's house. Now it's a movie, and I regret not reading it and following up on whatever wisdom I should have gotten. Maybe it would have put me on a better path in life.

Nothing rings a bell, rolling through the main shopping district. It's a bit worrisome, as there's not a lot of town to roll through. In Whitfield, the third David and I looped back and forth many times in the dark, trying to find the control before realizing we'd run into a small error in the route sheet. No  more adventure left in me tonight.

Lo, ahead and left a red blinking light on an Audax sign. At eye level. A superb volunteer knew the importance of roping in us weary randonneurs! It's a sort of communal motel that's been taken over for this event. The large bike rack in the parking lot is full of bikes. Is everyone here already? That would explain my solitude on the last leg.

I park the Waterford, gather stuff, and head straight for the light in the doorway of the common room. At the sight of a rider, friendly faces look up in the kitchen and at the table for stamping cards. The guys who passed me with the flat are at a table, eating ice cream and laughing. Ah, it is warm in here. Warmth!

The meal is amazing. Wholesome, with protein and carbs and lots of flavor. Hot tea with milk. Kindness and patience are radiating from the volunteers. They're all in orange T-shirts but at this point, frankly it could not be more obvious who's a rider and who's not. Just watch us trying to walk in bike shoes, our eyes trying to focus, the delay in responses when a decision is needed.

And then, our delight with the food. I could sit here a long, long time just sort of wallowing in good stuff.

In comes Michael James, the rider from Canberra. In his honor I order another portion, and eat it. Then Sarah and her small posse come in. OK, that is my cue. Everything now is subtracting from sleep, which is coming on fast. Time to get the drop bag and get into the shower. Then, bed.

Arnie insists on carrying my duffle to the room. Remembering a room number, that can be kind of dicey. Carrying a bag, dicey. Good thing all I need to do is walk. These people are taking unbelievably good care of us. Arnie's exhausted too, running on little sleep, coming down with a cold. I shove some echinacea at him saying, it's just a plant, give it a try!

I manage to gather my shower kit and pajamas. First, brush teeth. Strip off these grimy stretchy clothes, kick the pile to one side. Then, turn on the water and get in.

There are no words to describe how it feels to have the hot water running over me, the soap working on  the layers of sweat and grime.

It's a transformative process that seems to make everything that's happened today, from leaving Laurel Hill before dawn, from running low on fuel, from heat exhaustion and fixing a flat and the cicadas and a lower back on fire, from careening down this side of the Great Dividing Range in the dark, completely normal and bearable.

Clean skin and clean hair. Clean teeth. I can barely stand up straight, yet every second standing here is worth it. You can't get this intensity of feeling in ordinary life. What you deserve and badly need and what's available all converging in the same time and place. Three days and nights on a bicycle, that's all it takes.

I need sleep. But I almost need this more.

1 comment :

  1. I really liked this. You're right, there is something about that level of extremity that makes everything vivid. And food! There is very little that tastes as good as food after a ride.
    Hopefully you had enough clothes that you didn't have to climb back into the grimy jersey the next morning. Was laundry available on the ride?

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