Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The last to leave

At 2:15am in Mansfield, after signing and stamping my brevet card the first question is, what time do I want to get up?


I mean, as late as possible. The opposite of ASAP. Leave just as the control is closing. When is that?

Ahead lie 220 allegedly-flat kilometers (~140 miles) to Melbourne. Mansfield closes at 8:17am. We have until midnight to get to the finish.

I know this not because I know it, but because in Whitfield over dinner it was revealed that Mark Thomas keeps a mental spreadsheet of control opening times and closing times, and the distances between them. Probably the climbing stats too. He's not checking a Garmin or a smartphone, people; it's in his head. Rain Man.

So the riders sleeping on the gym floor in Whitfield, the brave ones who shortened a very long Day 3, will be leaving before dawn to get here in time. On the other hand, I will be sleeping in. They can bang on the door at 7:15.

At 6:30, reacting in some animal way to motion in the vicinity, I emerge from my warm dark cocoon of covers. Sarah is just packing up her lights, on her way out the door. The woman's got discipline!

Eggs for breakfast. Oatmeal too, and hot tea with milk. Sunshine, laughter, plenty of food. Everyone is so happy. Why on earth would you want to leave? At this point, barring something truly out of our control, we're all going to make it.

Mark and Vinnie are pushing the limits in the parking lot. The goal is to leave at the very last minute. But around 7:40 those randonneur instincts kick in and I can't stand it any more. I push off, leaving them still joking and laughing around the empty bike racks.

Roll 20 meters down the road and come to a stop at a big roundabout. The road sign doesn't have the road number. And the route sheet has only the road number. Several minutes are spent here, deciding what to do.

The hilarious thing is, there's really no choice. There's only one way out of Mansfield to the south and this is it. On Day 4 you become simple and literal; you want everything to match and tuck in nicely. You want road and mileage numbers and towns to line up so that finally, you can finish.

Also, it kind of looks like a highway. I'm not that happy about sharing space with fast traffic this morning, but as it happens no one has asked me. On we go.

I'm not proud of this, because it seems soft and wishful. But I would really like a nice aesthetic experience today. For example, a beautiful, narrow, shady bike road. Flat or rolling would be good. Maybe a tailwind.

Sure I'm ready for a reward, but also just mentally spent. Too much hardship. Don't want to be cautious. Don't want to worry about making a mistake, leaning too far in the direction of the rumble strip, or on the other hand, the trucks. For three days I've been riding with head down through some beautiful landscapes. Now it would be great to relax and take things in.

Instead, we have a blustery cold, quartering headwind on the Maroondah Highway. Must be a front coming in. So Mark and Vinnie might have been right to eat their dessert first, by lingering at the control. Carpe diem.

Eventually Jan-Eric and Vinnie overtake me, and I latch onto Vinnie's wheel. We struggle as a unit, Vinnie occasionally saying something to Jan-Eric that is (to me) lost in the wind.

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