Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gathering kindred spirits

In Marulan the control is at something called a Service Centre. A truck stop with a full-on cafe, that's what that means. As we roll in our host has a floor pump, chain lube, and spare tubes all lined up and ready outside. He's asking everyone what they need! We're in good hands...

As it happens, the chains do need lube, yes they do! Outside Moss Vale a heavy mist turned to something wetter that became rain. There are often very good reasons a place has the name it does.

Then, the last few kilometers we encountered an unpaved surface. Which turned out to consist of a fine grey plaster-like dust. Add rain and you have mud splashed all over everything. Chains. Reflective vests. Bike frames. Shoes. Faces. Yuck!
The Waterford gets plastered…as do we!
The restroom at the Service Centre is good for a makeover. The tap yields hot water! At least hands and face will be clean, and hair can go under the hand dryer. Now I can sit at a table in civilized company and inhale a Coke, veggie frittata, and plate of chips (fries) roughly the size of New South Wales. The chips are passed, table to table, under the guise of inventory reduction. On the first day of a 1200K you want to make friends. Odds are we'll be seeing each other again.

We leave Marulan more or less at the same time, four Americans, an Aussie from Canberra and one from Sydney. Winding up together in a proper pack on a beautiful, rolling, back road. It's about a lane and a half wide, good surface, with traffic heading against us back toward Marulan. Most of the cars are hell bent, but with no one coming up from behind we can relax. There's time to chat.

The Canberra rider, Michael James, is basically in his own back yard. He knows this road. In fact tonight he's sleeping napping at his own house. Tomorrow is the Big Day that has everyone in a tizzy. I ask when he's leaving and he says "2 am."

His big question: how are drivers in the US toward cyclists? We have some of everything. There are cyclists driving cars who cheer when you take a fellow motorist to task. There are drivers who get territorial, competitive, enraged. There are, to be perfectly honest, a huge number of drivers who are on the phone.

Michael tells a story about fighting back against an aggressive driver in Canberra. Based on what we've seen today, it's not hard to imagine. After he fought back the guy went after him, chasing him down (with the car). He's really asking, would that happen in the US? It absolutely would. Intimidation and bullying are not unique to this culture. Australia is, after all, modeling itself after the US. Though it's distasteful in many ways we are the source.

The Sydney rider, Geoffrey Burge, recognizes my name plate. He's checked out this blog! It takes some probing but in a few minutes the reason comes out. A few years ago he had an ischemic stroke. It started with a splitting headache that would not go away. Eventually he went for  medical help. The clot was resolved and they put in a stent.

On to rehab! His cycling (and everything else) went on hold while the two hemispheres of his brain learned how to work together again. Speech therapy was helpful. The stroke came while he was training for a different 1200K, so picking up cycling again and being out here on the road today, it's a definitive step in his recovery. He is a strong rider. There are no external signs.

Suddenly we hear the sound of metal failing under stress, almost like a pedal snapping off its spindle. Then a shout. At the base of the last roller Mark Thomas is crouched by the side of the road. He's OK but wholly engaged in chain repair. Rick Blacker is holding the bike upright. The quick link failed and though triage takes only a minute or two, it's long enough to coat Mark's hands with a layer of grease. Impressive. Two flats and now this. The tools and parts scattered all over need to go back in his bag.

"Your bike is having a bad day," says Deb. She's riding well, with determination, digging out of a hole.

Mark's not saying much. On days like this you're usually grateful for small wins, like being able to turn over the pedals.

When your ability to move forward goes away, or it happens to someone nearby, everyone becomes  more cautious, inward, defensive. We're creatures of instinct. We expand and explore when conditions are favorable. In the presence of adversity, we contract.

And we're social creatures as well. It's normal to think something along the lines of that could be me. Together we quietly leave the Chatterbox Cafe and go hang out in the Land of Few Words. And that's all right, too.

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