Ramblings of a Cyclepath

Cycling must be one of the craziest activities to undertake in this time of fast cars containing stressed, intolerant, anxious and angry people – and they are the good drivers!

Why expose yourself to the vulnerability of the edge of the road, on a flimsy contraption of metal or carbon fibre, attired in clothing which virtually asks for someone to run you off the road? I mean, come on. If you do have some innate desire to clothe yourself totally in Lycra well that’s fine, we all have our secret fantasies. But why for goodness sake, do it in public whilst placing yourself at the mercy of tons of manic metal?

At least on a motorbike the dress code encourages one to cover and protect vital areas of skin, rather than exposing it to the elements at large. For some bizarre reason, cyclists don’t think they can be affected by traumas associated with hitting the bitumen or gravel at speed. Lucky them.

Having said all that, I have recently been encouraged i.e. manipulated to get out and wobble around on a pushbike myself. This is something I haven’t really done for about twenty-five or thirty years. It’s amazing how age can weaken those parts of the brain, which would normally tell you not to bother.

In an ideal world of cyclists heaven there would be no hills at all, only level terrain and no need for “granny gears”. In fact gears would not be necessary at all. One could glide along effortlessly, with a regular and poetic cadence enjoying the scenery and breathing normally.

Dorrigo is not such a place. In fact, there are not enough gears available to cope with the hills around here. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a stunningly scenic area. The problem is, when you don the Lycra and head off into those wondrous hills on a pushbike, you don’t actually see much through the sweat and pain of physical exhaustion.

My cellmate – husband – and I decided on a nearby ride, which meanders through lush rainforest and farmland with very little traffic. It was a perfect autumn day with just a hint of coolness in the forest-scented air. We set off going downhill – which was great, no effort at all. Simply hang on, take in the scenery, and enjoy the myriad of wonderful scents and sounds engulfing us along the way.

We spotted a couple of pademelon wallabies. These little fellows are like the finches of the wallaby world; they’re so fast, sometimes you wonder whether you really saw one or not. They are petite and exquisitely formed; if they don’t move it’s difficult to spot them at all. We also disturbed a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos, who seemed to be screeching with laughter at our efforts.

So, we were cruising along up and down these hills under the pretence of enjoyment and exercise. Now, these two words should never be uttered together in the same sentence.  The problem is, when you go downhill eventually you must go uphill. One of my brothers who is an intrepid iron man and triathlete reckons, “Hills really mess with your mind.” He should know.

Now, up to this point I had coped pretty well with the whole ride and dare I say it, enjoyed myself as well. We came upon a particular downhill stretch that seemed to be threading it’s way inexorably towards the Underworld and Hades welcoming embrace. I decided maybe I’d had enough excitement for one day, and we should begin the return journey, before we started something I couldn’t finish.

We turned back up the hill we had so easily travelled on the downward journey. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought, “the granny gears allow me to cope quite well with this incline.” Five minutes later, still ok. “I must be getting stronger all the time. I can even manage to think coherently – should ride a bike more often! What’s all the fuss about?”

Suddenly, there it was up ahead. An aberration in the degree of incline. Maybe only fifty metres in length, it was enough to send my spirits down into regions never explored before. I mean, who the heck put it there? Why did they? Some sad, sadistic little road engineer totally lacking any conscience, who obviously hated cyclists, must have added a simple pen stroke to the plan. Did he realise the suffering he was to inflict on one such as I? Probably.

So, I collected my thoughts, braced my muscles, centred my being … and got off the bike to walk up that little stretch of purgatory; after which the rest of the ride seemed almost easy.

Looking back on the expedition I really did enjoy it. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? It’s a bit like childbirth, excruciatingly painful at the time and you wonder why anyone would willingly go through it; but the joy of holding the little bundle at the end overshadows the agony. Having said however, I would prefer to ride a pushbike these days than to have a baby!

I mentioned earlier the Lycra bike apparel which is common to cycling. Included in these items are the cycle shorts called nicks with all the extra padding. They make you feel as though you’re wearing incontinence pants – not that I’ve worn those myself – and if you’re a woman don’t expect to be able to wear just any pair of nicks. If you do, you’ll end up with a particularly chaffed saddle area and a big looking arse for your trouble. Apparently, there are specially made women’s pants which are designed for comfort, and reduce the appearance of the derriere. When I find them I may wear them on every occasion, regardless of the bike.

I seem to be obsessed with Lycra, but it’s a major part of any serious cycling experience. No matter what sport you participate in you usually wear clothing peculiar to the activity; you wouldn’t dream of scuba diving without a wetsuit and aqualung for example; nor would you sky dive in anything but a parachute. Therefore, if you are going to ride a bicycle you must look, peculiar.

In my opinion, cycling is for enjoyment and there’s nothing better than getting out in the fresh air on a bike. Car exhaust fumes don’t impress me at all. The thought of defying death on a major thoroughfare whilst inhaling poisonous gasses is not encouraging, it’s much more pleasurable to be out in the countryside with nature, although, there are some drawbacks there as well.

Consider careering down a particularly steep incline with the full-speed, wind colliding with your face, when a carpet Python of mammoth proportions is detected only metres from the front wheel. It’s spread the full width of the bitumen road, and if you hit it, not only will you make it angry but it will probably project you spinning off into a satellite. This was the scenario presented to my cellmate and I one morning, whilst savouring the delights of a bush ride. Luckily we both have the reflexes of le chat, and we applied our brakes amidst a chorus of profanities and skidding-emergency manoeuvres, leaving most of our tyres on the road surface – ending only millimetres from the reptile. The snake was totally unmoved by our antics, in fact, the carpet Python has a curious way of simply stopping in its tracks. If anything or anyone gets too close it will refuse to budge until it is ready to do so. The advantage of this was we were able to study the absolute beauty of this creature. I admit that I used to be quite unnerved by snakes of any kind, but now after many years of living in close proximity to them, I am able to admire and respect them. This was an extremely handsome specimen of about three metres long, with exquisite cream markings running the length of its shiny, body. Eventually, it moved leisurely on its way into the undergrowth beside the road and we proceeded to ride the bikes home on the wheel rims.

Cellmate met another of our local characters early one morning after we’d had some rain. This time he was riding uphill so speed wasn’t an issue. An extremely bedraggled, feathered agglomeration was noticed in the mud and slush at the side of the road. Upon further examination it was recognised as a young parrot, however, the mudpack denied proper identification. What a sorrowful vision it presented, barely able to move at all and shivering with cold. Now Cellmate didn’t have any backpack with him, and no way to carry the pathetic critter the five kilometres home. Then he remembered the small bag serving as a toolkit under the saddle; so placing said tools into the elastic waistband of his nicks he inserted the small parrot into the bag. This wasn’t as easy as he’d expected, because the parrot was beginning to warm up in his hands and become more alert. If you’ve ever tried to handle a wild parrot you will understand his discomfort, as it attempted to remove as many of his fingers as it could, with its secateurs-like beak. It was just as well he didn’t put the parrot in his nicks instead of the tools. So, he made it home and removed the parrot from the bag, amid a mist of expletives and blood – his not the refugee’s.

I must admit I didn’t have much confidence in the survival of this bird as it looked very depressed. Cellmate however, has a way with them. He has saved many different varieties over the years, releasing them back into the wild. Between us, we were able to clean the little feathered fellow, discovering a splendid and very young King Parrot, with a motley green head and back, and brilliant red breast. With an eyedropper and a pair of stout gloves we managed to get some water down “Charlie’s” throat, then placed him in a box to rest. I carried out a similar procedure for Cellmate with a beer and a recliner chair.

Over the next twenty four hours we fed Charlie with mushed grains and water, and as time progressed he became increasingly tame, until, siting on Cellmate’s shoulder he would preen his beard and cuddle into his neck. They seemed to have a certain understanding. When Cellmate suggested feeding me the same diet to obtain a similar result, I told him emphatically to stick the food into the birds mouth, or words to that effect.

Charlie was so much better the next day, Cellmate decided to return him to his family, if he could find them. It would have been so easy to keep him as a pet; he was gorgeous and had adapted so well to being handled. However, we both prefer to enjoy watching birds in the wild rather than to see them confined in aviaries.

He was placed in a cage to be driven back to the spot where he was found. It was so peaceful as we sat under the trees to wait, but it wasn’t long before we could hear the unmistakable calls of King Parrots above us. We hoped it was Charlie’s family; it was. Charlie heard them and began to call out which caused the wild parrots to come closer to investigate. The time was right to let him go. Cellmate reached into the cage to let the now tame Charlie out, and the bird showed his appreciation by taking a whopping big chunk from his naked finger. So you see, I’m not sure whether the tears in Cellmates eyes were of pure emotion or pain. I know that mine were tears of happiness, seeing the bird back where he belonged with his family in the forest.

 

The other advantage of cycling is its lack of impact on the environment. A bike certainly doesn’t cause too many greenhouse gasses. Although, the amount of carbon dioxide eliminated from the body, gasping for air whilst trying to maintain the oxygen in the overworked lungs and heart, may have an impact. The diet of the rider may also have a detrimental effect, as methane and other gasses are expelled via the human exhaust system. I wonder at the size of the carbon footprint from these emissions and how the LCA – Life Cycle Assessment – would be measured. Would it be over the life of the cycle or the rider? If you are serious about the environment, then these issues certainly should be considered before pursuing the sport of bicycle riding.

Cycling is great for the canine members of the family as well. I know that our cattle dog loves the bikes. We had a friend once who owned a Red Heeler who delighted in eating tyres. It didn’t really matter what the tyres belonged to as long as they were moving. I think maybe he preferred trucks; they presented more of a challenge. On many occasions, I recall seeing him with his teeth deeply embedded in the tyres of some unsuspecting visitor’s vehicle, his body revolving in motion with the wheels and a look of manic delight spread across his scarred, russet face. The funny thing about that dog is, he died of old age. Our dog simply enjoys running alongside or behind the bikes, and it’s about the only exercise which actually tires her out.

There’s a person who is extremely close to my heart, who purchased an exercise bike. At risk of losing my inheritance, I won’t divulge her name, but my mother knows who I mean. Now, getting fit in the comfort of the home is a great idea; it doesn’t matter what the weather is like; whether you live on the flat terrain of the coast or hills of the inland, the whole routine is consistent. You don’t even need to wear the Lycra if you don’t want to – although the privacy of the spare room is probably the best place for it. This person/mother loved to dress up at the smallest provocation, especially figure hugging, brightly coloured Lycra, but the helmet was out as it flattened the hair too much. So, this generic mother was on the exercise bike and riding as though she was in the Tour de France on the last leg. You could see the calories ejecting themselves like lemmings off a cliff; suddenly a dog or something must have run out in front of the bike and the rider went spinning out of control onto the floor, sustaining severe carpet burns and shock. It was as well there were no riders behind, or the whole troupe would have been wiped out. Maybe it proves the point that there’s no foolproof way to ride a bike. Or maybe, there are certain proven fools who shouldn’t ride a bike. I should explain here that no one was actually injured during this anecdote and that the character portrayed is entirely fictional.

There are many tales to be told about cycling, I have merely scraped away a few surface cells. In fact, I think I’m beginning to feel the need for another scratch …