Monday, November 18, 2013

Whistling in the dark

At the top, it's dusk. Of course not the real top, just the top of the steep part.

David is there, waiting. So is Geoffrey, wanting to know if I've seen his buddy. I passed him—he was going slowly, munching on something. He'll be here in a minute or two. Sarah is down there also, but I haven't seen her in a while. That might not mean anything. On a steep hill the only people you see are the ones in front. If you look back you'll fall over.

If staying upright is half the battle, fuel is the other half. Somehow I've managed to stay on top of it this afternoon. Even forced down a couple of gels! (It's not their fault I find them disgusting.) Whether luck or the gels or the fact that yesterday I ate half the Southern Hemisphere, there's fuel in the tank. The legs didn't stop in the middle or anything. They worked, they did it, they made it this far.

From the Tumut River at the bottom to this point, we've come somewhere between 8 and 9 kilometers. The experience seems to match (some of) the data. Average grade of 8%, consisting of long pitches of 10-12% and steps in between of 4-5%. You have to look for the version of the story that's truthful.

Now for the rest of the climb. Out pop the reflective vest and leg bands. On go the lights. David's twitching and getting eaten alive; it's The Mosquito Hour, his reward for being first! I set off, expecting Sarah to catch me on the downhill as usual. David follows to save his skin. The ride is far from in the bag and we all want to survive.

More climbing, another 6 kilometers or so. Not as steep, and rolling as you go. At times I switch off the Edelux and use the headlamp, to go easy on my legs. There's another climb after this. The headlamp is on long enough that I start to worry about running down the batteries. Spending them all on Day 2.

At the real top, what they call Sue City Pass, it's truly dark. With the steep, lower part it's 15 kilometers all told. So that part is (kind of) true as well. We pause for a moment before heading down.

My lights are strong but no match for lousy pavement at this speed. Makes me think about hitting a some anomaly and going down. You could take your pick; there are literally hundreds of anomalies, everywhere. They're like the stars in the sky.

You look for a pattern, like where car tires normally make a rut. Avoid the rut and you have a reliable and safe line to ride. The problem is there's no pattern. Patches and fissures and holes all over. Usually I can give myself a little pep talk to get through the scary stuff. Tonight it's not working.

Fear is how I've come to pick this speed, slow enough to lose David yet too fast to save the day in case of impact. Worst of both worlds. Not only that but while the legs are still strong, my attention has expired, every bit spent. We've been on the road for 17 hours. I'm blurry and really struggling to keep focused.

With all the fast, bumping around after maximum pushing, my lower back is not happy. It says, stop that. Now. I shift back in the saddle to stretch it out. Can't stop now.

Then I remember this descent is also where we need to watch out for brumbies and kangaroos! It's known among locals and cyclists for large animals that appear in the road. In the dark. OK!

I start to whistle. The technique recommended by Alison, one of the volunteers. A cyclist who grew up in the bush. Whistle, she says, to let the macropods know you're there. If they know, will it make a lick of difference? Just in case and to feel like I'm doing something to further my own survival, I whistle.

Whistle and whistle the same note, the whole way down. Along the McPherson Plains, where a single homestead has the light on, probably this place. At one point I do hear a rhythmic hopping in the grass near the road. From time to time, a mysterious rustling as well. But amazingly, the creatures let us pass.

No comments:

Post a Comment