A Simple Bike Ride

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

Or so said John F Kennedy – sometime before they shot him.   While I don’t think for one minute that his now-famous quote was a shootable offense, I suspect that JFK never took a quick flight to Brisbane for an Audax ride.

I can now confirm that tacking a few extra days onto a work-sponsored trip to Brisbane to sneak in a Saturday Audax ride provides irrefutable evidence that bike riding, pleasure and simplicity can inhabit vastly different universes.

There is always a sense of pleasure in anticipating an Audax event, with fond memories of rides with friends, discovering new places, and chomping down burgers and pies at leisurely control stops.  However on this occasion, the pleasure-threatening factor appeared when my Brisbane sojourn coincided with a “challenging” Audax ride.  It promised more hills for fewer dollars, and an assurance that “hills are your friend”.  I blundered on.

Enter non-simplification detail Number One.  Mr Kennedy, with his taxpayer funded planes, would never have paid to fly his bike around to enjoy his periods of simple pleasure.  I accept “excess baggage charges” as a reasonable surcharge against WorkCover claims for strains, sprains and hernias incurred from lifting weighty bike boxes.  However, I am a little perplexed by the newly imposed “oversized baggage charges”.  No doubt baggage handlers face additional risks when lifting items with their arms spread wider apart.

Non-simplification detail Number One persisted as I grappled with the online system of adding extra baggage to my flights.  Numerous online chats with faceless people, who I am sure weren’t all smiley and spruced like the on-screen avitar, with repeated details of my flight time and number, name, rank and serial number, dog registration and inner leg length, failed to yield an answer more precise than a suggestion to check the online baggage allowance information.  I decided to wing it and have the credit card handy at check in.

Simplicity-reducing details proliferated as I struggled to locate appropriate gear for a 200km ride in Brisbane in mid July, while sunning my way through another mild Far North Queensland winter.

Even more simplicity sapping was the task of finding enough battery power to run the multitude of devices that are now essential for cycling pleasure.  I can only marvel at JFK’s ability to find pleasure in a ride that was not logged on his cycling computer and immediately uploaded to share with his multitude of followers.  John F didn’t know what pleasures he was missing in his failure to take multitudes of photos, or to live stream his video footage, complete with his cycling metrics and GPS data.  I pondered this lost pleasure opportunity while surveying my powerboard bristling with cycling computer, camera, phone, lights and rechargeable batteries.  Once the rapid surge in household power consumption had eased, my simple ride preparations were well underway.

The drive to the start line added to my already non-simple and mildly pleasure-reduced preparations.  The northside of Brisbane is as familiar to former southsiders as the dark side of the moon.  I managed to have a complicated and ultimately error ridden interaction with Google maps in the early hours of the morning while navigating my way to the start of the ride.  I was slightly perturbed to see that much of my lostness occurred in suburbs that were well equipped with mountainous ups and downs, and glad to be traversing them from the comfort of my hire car.

Enter a further pleasure-challenging variable, as I arrived in the darkness to find four Uberfit cycle-hardened blokes ready to tackle the course, possibly just before riding home via Mt Everest basecamp.  Females and the coffee set were distinctly absent, sending my pleasure-meter plummeting down another several further notches.

Greetings were hastily exchanged, dire warnings delivered about tight turns, navigational hazards and steep climbs.  Desperate to enhance the simplification rating, I sought clarification.

“So that bit up Mt Glorious, is it really pretty steep, like, all the way?” I ventured.

Several battled hardened faces stared back at me.  “Yes”, came the reply, leading to a small increase in simplification levels, but a significant downsizing in the pleasure department.

The skyward pointing streets leading out of the estate gave a hint of what was to come.  I congratulated myself for refraining from desperately panting out loud until the fourth cyclist had passed me and sailed out of view, which happened somewhere around 750 metres from the start.

I rode on in the darkness, and was soon in bushlands heading up and down small undulations, and occasionally allowing my largest cog a few moments reprieve.  JFK would have been proud of the navigational simplicity that came with having downloaded the TCX file onto my Garmin, and the pleasure of knowing that I was on course without resorting to a cue sheet or “phone a friend” in the dark.

The sun rose as I continued meandering slowly up and down.  Something from the ride briefing stuck in my foggy brain about Heather Anne Drive, but I could only recall some sense that a pretty name could belie pending danger, so I crept along even more slowly.  Pleasure was reaching a low ebb as I saw the steep downhill, into a very tight left hander, and immediately up a near vertical climb.  As I limped down the slope and onto the wet corner, my nerve failed me and I allowed myself to overshoot the corner and roll to a safe stop on the grass on the opposite footpath.  I powered my uphill footslog with a simple and somewhat repetitious language form, gaining perverse pleasure from profanities peppering the dawn light.  I imagine this was not quite what JFK intended.

The next few hours were a blur of heightened anxiety anticipating the devious yellow road signs that signalled climb after climb of between 15% and 20%.  While what goes up must inevitably come down, descents of similar gradients did not quite trigger the pleasure factor.  Rather, my hands cramped with the effort of gripping the brakes, while holding my ample tail over the back wheel in an attempt to prevent myself from a quick nose plant into the bitumen.  I tried to calm myself with simple assurances that I could walk anything that made me too uncomfortable, then worked to quell the rising panic that I could be walking for the next several days.  Cleats and uphills make poor travelling companions, and I tried not to contemplate just how much plastic I was smearing on the road as I clomped along.

Fears of not making it to Control 1 before the cut off time started to consume my thoughts.  Mental arithmetic has never been my strong point, and even the simple calculations of dividing the time by four and seeing how many 15’s had emerged was proving to be beyond my capacity.  The small matter of the extra 14km that had been tacked onto the 200km course totally overwhelmed my brain functioning, and I rode (and clambered) for the next hour with each calculation attempt bringing a result of “Maybe I’ll get there in time”.  Interestingly, the pleasure readings began to re-emerge when my calculations tipped into the “No Chance” bracket, and I warmed to the prospect of ditching the ride and finding the shortest route home.  Just as I settled on this plan, the road tilted sensibly downward off Mt Mee, giving a rare burst of pleasurable speed and putting the “Will I Make It” calculation back into the indeterminate arena.

The T junction into Woodford proved decisive.  Turn left towards Woodford, and continue onto Somerset and the climb over Mt Glorious to home.  It promised to be a massive climb and a matched descent, possibly in the dark, not to mention patches without mobile reception and no public transport escape hatches.  To the right lay Caboolture, which is not the epicentre of civilisation, but home to trains, buses and taxis.  I did another quick (and probably inaccurate) time calculation, and turned left towards Woodford.

The Woodford pie shop has been the scene of several previous happy Control visits.  Today I stood by myself in line, my anxiety growing as I watched time tick by and waited as the couple in front of me debated over quiches with or without mushroom.  I wondered if I could afford the time to get food, or should just get my Brevet signed and keep going.  The minutes passed as my tension grew, and I was close to despair when the gum chewing girl behind the counter finally addressed me.

“Yeah?”  The word was posed as a full sentence question, tinged with teenage boredom.

I pushed my Brevet forward.

“Could you please sign my card, and put the time on it?”

She glanced skyward, and plucked a pen from the counter.

“That all?”

Again, short and succinct, but the message was clear, and I quickly capitulated.

“Could I have a quiche please.  One with mushrooms”.

“Eat here or takeaway?”

“Mmmm.  Takeaway please”, still eyeing the time and my unsigned Brevet.

She wandered off, apparently looking for tongs, and shoved a cold quiche into a paper bag.  It sounded cold and uninviting as it clunked onto the counter.

And in that moment, my resolve shattered.

“Sorry, I’ve changed my mind, could I eat here, and have it warmed up a bit, please”.

I retired to the front table, close to tears, as another rider joined me.  I was surprised to see him, until he explained that he had taken a 21km detour early in the ride to deal with something at home.  He was back on schedule, but his detour was going to add a bit to his 300km ride.  I suspect he went home to eat a few nails.

We chatted about my predicament, and he confirmed that the course ahead was tough and bail out options didn’t exist.  I choked back tears, feeling a heady mix of silly and weak and self-indulgent and embarrassed, while he tried to be reassuring and give ideas about the best way home.  I also managed to feel unusually tired and snuffly, and held out a vague hope that tomorrow I could easily attribute my failure to the onset of some dreaded lurgy.  He wished me well and rode on.  I picked through my overheated quiche and tried to gather myself for the ride back to Caboolture.

The 25km back to Caboolture Railway Station was surprisingly pleasant, despite the traffic and increasingly urbanised surroundings.  All thoughts of seized wheel bearings, under-inflated tyres and pending disease states vanished, and the pleasure metre headed slightly upwards for the first time in several hours.  My emotions overflowed as I phoned home from the train to report on my failure, and I blubbered my way through several train stops before tackling the final ride back to the start.

The RO greeted me warmly, and treated me to some thoroughly undeserved chips and a coffee.  It was reassuring to hear my bailing out re-framed as sensible decision making, and the pleasure meter showed some signs of life as we compared notes about our favourite rides and best cycling memories.

What have I learned from my experience?  Thanks to the Audax grapevine, news of my ride spread quickly, and I have been provided with a list of RO’s whose rides need to be undertaken with caution.

I have grudgingly learned that some rides are just too hard, and that isn’t likely to change despite all the training and determination I can muster.  And that my simplicity and pleasure experiences may increase if I hold onto that small piece of wisdom, and choose my challenges more sensibly.

I am also taking JFK off my list of quotable people, particularly when looking for inspiration in the cycling department.  After a night’s sleep, waking in perfect health and taking a gentle 25km roll around Wynnum foreshores, I prefer the words of Mary Anne Radmacher:

10 July 2017

"No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle" Winston Churchill