Monday, November 18, 2013

The Monaro blues

For some reason, I thought this morning's ride to Cooma would be beautiful. Maybe even easy. Don't ask me why. Rolling hills up to 800 meters—just look at the elevation profile. A wide plateau that's known for wind—the official warnings to leave Canberra early were clear. And we did, at 3:30 am, in some half-conscious state.

Ready or not, time to reinvent! Leave yesterday's failures behind. A messy launch, headwinds, rain, long rolling hills. Start a new day with hope, optimism, denial, whatever... There's no other way. Today will have its own set of challenges. To survive we're going to have to shed that skin.

"Sky's getting light." The words just drop out of my mouth and hang there, naked, obvious. After all when the sun comes up, most people notice. For a couple of hours now we've been plowing through a steady wind, barely looking up. Sarah and David and me. Somehow Sarah knew we could ride together and thankfully, she was right. So far, so good.

The idea, or the hope, is wake up with the sun. Begin peeling off layers and feeling human again! Ready for a challenge. As the sky progresses from dull russet orange to light blue, somehow it's actually getting colder. We've lost a few degrees out here, my feet are definitive on this point. Each pedal stroke brings more pain; they're saying do something nowfix it now. I packed light for a long, warm day. Nothing for frozen toes.

I drop off the front, saying "Need to follow someone for a while. Just too cold." As Sarah takes over I see her struggle with the transition. It's all part of the give and take, but you have to feel guilty, drafting for warmth. David's quiet, too. We're all dealing with it.

The cold stretch is only a few minutes long and the air starts warming slowly, stepping up one degree at a time. As the sun crests a hill the next problem becomes clear. It's aiming directly into our eyes. Heading due south, no avoiding the torture! All we can do is wait for it to move higher in the sky, out of view. You start to realize how slowly the earth spins. If this weren't so painful, it would be fascinating.

It's not the best angle for distracting yourself with the landscape, either. The rolling grasslands seem flat, one-dimensional, like a hazy photograph. Overall this place feels exposed and inhospitable. It's neither beautiful nor easy. All those good reasons for coming here, doing the ride, someone else wrote them. Someone pretty arrogant.

The mistakes and disappointments go on. How I dig in and forget to eat until it's almost too late. How the road goes directly over the top of every little hill. Someone with a bulldozer just drove a straight line...

How the Monaro Highway is a real highway with fast, aggressive drivers. Cars and trucks passing us close, playing chicken with oncoming traffic. As if we're between them and something truly important. How I lose my nerve on fast descents, riding on the left with trucks passing on the right. A shoulder that is sometimes there, sometimes not.

Oh, the staggering number of ruined kangaroos on the side of the road. What's left of them, the permutations of shapes. The smell… How I can't bring myself to put a foot down and take a photo of anything.

Day 2 of 1200K, never my finest hour. Always a time of jeopardy. The most basic reason to ride a 1200K is right here, under my nose. Normally, left to your own devices after the first day you wouldn't get back on the bike. There has to be a reason to push through, see what's out there.

Sometimes it ain't pretty.

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