Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Double Wombat Brigade

Inside the sailing club, it was warm and hopping. Downstairs were the showers while upstairs, food and crowds of people. One of whom was Craig McGregor, the lone Kiwi. The other late starter on Day 1. He was sitting at the table, arm in a sling and a dazed look in his eyes. There was clearly some pain. And so we had to ask, though the story had already been told many times, what exactly happened?

He mumbled about being double-wombatted. The Double Wombat Brigade. Of course!

What the hell is that?

Craig had voiced his intention to ride Day 3, even after a rear blowout took him to the mat on the road to Laurel Hill. That was his first set of scuff marks, in the evening of Day 2. Deb Banks and I had chatted with him over dinner. Or whatever it’s called when you eat at midnight in disgusting bike clothes before collapsing.

The next morning Craig rolled out of Laurel Hill for Mansfield, with a donated rear wheel. So the fact that I’d seen neither hide nor hair of him on Day 3 didn’t seem strange at all. Deb had the same plan; hadn’t seen her. David and Sarah, only briefly. Seems like after lunch at the snack bar at Hume Weir, riders crossed back into Victoria and promptly exploded into the vast countryside.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening…with me descending faster than I liked into Mansfield. At that hour, Craig was just leaving Whitfield (and its snoring randonneurs on the gym floor). He made it over the ridge and down the other side.

But the wombats with their ancient instincts must have heard him coming. They waited until just the right moment. One ran out in front of him and Craig saw it in time. He swerved left, missing it. But  the first wombat was not alone. A buddy, sensing the lost opportunity, followed suit. It aimed for and intersected Craig’s wheel. Caught off-balance he went down fairly hard. Wombats, though not exactly large animals, are compactly built. Unlike humans, they’re mostly cartilage. They scuttled away. Craig did not.

In the darkness on the climb, the official ride ambulance had passed me. It was in front of us. Then, the Whitfield Randonneuring Club had elected Mr. Sandman as their mascot. In those cold hours before dawn, no one rode behind Craig. The wombats knew he was their last chance... 

Realizing he was more than a little hurt, Craig lay next to the road for several hours, alone and cold. Until help finally came.

Yes he’s OK now! No, he did not ride Day 4. But the next day at a BBQ, Craig was recruiting us all to come work a crazy 1200K in New Zealand that he's been dreaming up.

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