How can a rock arouse as much passion in the average person as pea gravel.
As we were planning our big adventure to West Australia, our proudly announced plans to ride the Munda Biddi trail between Perth and Albany met with a variety of responses. People who had never heard of this 1000km off-road cycling track raised their eyebrows questioningly. People who knew about the trail also raised their eyebrows, but in alarm.
“Pea gravel,” was the common response.
After countless lectures on the dangers of this yellow ball-bearing shaped stone, I assumed that falling from the bike was inevitable as soon as it was encountered.
My stress levels grew so high that I contemplated swan diving onto the trail as soon as the first morsel of pea gravel appeared, just to relieve the anticipatory anxiety.
It seemed that every West Australian had a firm opinion about the dangers of pea gravel for cyclists.
They talked in hushed tones about riding on ball bearings, finding themselves suddenly up-ended or their bike careening to a sudden halt in a bed of this treacherous substance while they sailed on over the handlebars.
In despair, I asked my normally level-headed West Oz cousin what he knew about pea gravel.
“Well, it depends on what you are looking for,” he replied. “It’s beautiful stuff. You can get 3 mil pea gravel, or up to 5 mil pea gravel, or you can get a mixed load. It looks good in landscaping and you can use it in bedding materials.”
For a frightening moment I thought I had been trapped in a conversation about shrimp with Forrest Gump’s mate, Bubba.
“No, no,” I pleaded. “What do you know about riding a bike on it?”
He laughed. “Shit no, you wouldn’t do that. It’s like ball bearings.”
The rain was tumbling down when we woke to start our adventure. We lamented being cold and wet, and our rotten luck to get rain this late in the season. We had planned for so long, traveled so far, prepared for every eventuality, and now it was raining.
“Excellent,” beamed our host while we lamented our plight. “The pea gravel won’t be as slippery. The rain should wash all the fines away, and it will pack down better.”
Contrary to my expectations, I managed to stay upright when the yellowy rock loomed into view. And the rain had helped to pack it into a firm and not too slippery surface. By the end of the first day, I was wet, cold and tired, but had managed to retain a reasonably neutral position on the issue of pea gravel.
Then the rain stopped. And I became a member of the pea gravel anti-fan club.
Pea gravel has declared war on those who attempt to ride on it, and has a frightening array of warfare tactics. It gathers in deep ruts, camouflaging itself as a solid surface, but in reality forming a tank trap waiting to ambush bicycle wheels. Separate pea gravel battalions gather into coalitions forces at intersections, daring anyone to corner at speed. Using devious commando tactics, it adheres itself to muddy bike tyres, before launching from the spinning wheels in a staccato attack onto the hapless cyclist.
I got a bit excited when I saw big pits dug at the side of the track, half full of pea gravel. For a happy moment I thought West Australia had come to its senses and was making mass pea gravel graves. Hubby corrected me gently, “They’re quarries, babe”.
I fought pea gravel skirmishes bravely for days, ultimately winning each battle to stay upright. Given my quickening heart rate whenever I saw it, I suspect it was gloating about winning the psychological war. I contemplated taking a sample home with me to Queensland. I could put it in a glass container, and display it on the TV cabinet. Something like the spoils of war. But I feared that pea gravel would declare itself a hostage and call in a rescue party. Visions of squadrons of pea gravel rolling into Queensland were too frightening to contemplate.
2 September 2016