This turning 50 isn’t as easy as I thought. Instead of buying the Harley, the red sports car, or trading the wife in for a younger model. I, well, (we) have decided to relive our youth and do all these adventure trips that will reinvigorate us and stave off the wrinkles and obesity of old age. Our next adventure was a cycling Queensland 9 day trek around the beautiful Darling Downs.
The brochure looks sensational with pictures of green pastures, lots of happy smiling faces and magnificent blue skies. Just looking at the brochure and reading the pros of the professional copy writer makes my wife Sharon and I eager to participate in this annual event. There is talk of camaraderie and friendships that will last a life time. Undeterred by the lasting friendships stuff we decided to go anyway.
I have assured Sharon that my friend list is chokers and finding new friends was totally unnecessary. We were however going with my friend Tom and his wife Marg, who we have successfully travelled with on several occasions.
I was tired my muscles were sore and the hot sun was now beaming in my eyes. I felt restless and my back was now aching. However there was no use complaining as it was time to get out of bed and pack the car and head to Toowoomba as the event was starting at 12.30 post meridian today.
The long trek from the Sunshine coast to Toowoomba took us the back roads via Toogoolawah and Kilcoy. It was teaming with rain and I did wonder what the hell I had gotten myself in for.
We arrived to find over 900 others immaculately clad in brightly multicoloured lycra, with attachments hanging from their utility belts that even Batman and Robin would have been proud of. Some couples were dressed identically looking like the bobsy twins with matching pant suits. It was then I stared to doubt my decision to participate as I arrived in my trendy long shorts and my designer Jag shirt and Country road cap.
We hung out with the in-crowd nodding appropriately and knowingly when people talked about their Apollo’s, cadence, caravane, chain slap, chain sucks, clincher, commissaire, and counter attacks. I wasn’t sure now if I was going on a bike ride or off to battle for my country in some forgien land know as the Southern Downs.
At precisely 12.30pm and after the political announcements we headed off like a herd of sheep weaving our way through the streets of Toowoomba at a cracking pace of 4 kms an hour. So far I was keeping up with the elite. This of course was short lived as the crowd started to thin out. Day one was apparently a short 37 km ride to our camp site. Up and down hills I went huffing and wheezing my way to the camp site. It was imperative that I got to both Tom and Geoff (a staff member I work with) to sort out any potential problems. At an appropriate time I pulled Tom and Geoff aside and told them that I didn’t want them fighting over who was going to set up the CEO’S tent each night. I said “this is going to be easy guys you can take turns, one night on one night off”. They both assured me that there would be no fighting about this issue.
I was now setting up my own tent yelling instructions to Sharon to peg it down first, get me a hammer, get the fly , where are the sleeping bags etc. Much like Geoff and Tom, Sharon was making little response to my requests. Out here my status as the CEO had little impact on my wife, Geoff or Tom.
It was kind of exciting setting up camp and lining up for showers and the nightly dinner. It reminded me of a school camp. After dinner (and completely shagged from my 37km ride) we went to bed. Getting down on my hands and knees and crawling into the tent for the very first night was challenging to say the least. This was a two man tent but weighing in at 106kgs and being six foot three in a confined space of two square metres took the shine off the school camp theory of having fun. Tossing and turning and squashing Sharon’s tiny frame of 60kg throughout the night was also not Sharon’s idea of having fun. Some how that tent seemed so much bigger when I erected it at home.
After about 3 hours of interrupted sleep it was time to venture to the toilets conveniently located 300 metres away for my nightly pee. I leant over and softly spoke to Sharon. “You awake? I’m going for a pee, want to come? No thanks I’m fine. Then she said “OK I’ll come now I’m awake. Little did I know then but this was to become a nightly ritual where I would wake Sharon, tell her I’m going for a pee, ask Sharon did she want come, then she would reply” no” then after putting my shoes on Sharon would agree to come.
Back in the tent I tried to fall asleep. I was surrounded by 900 other small tents where the noise of snoring and farting was emulating. It was like a bad choir with all totally out of tune with each other. It was hard to sleep and I started to think about the environment and all that methane concentrated in one spot. This turned to panic and I was hoping there were no smokers in the group. One flick of a match would have seen an inferno.
It’s now 5 am its time to get up. The temperature is obviously below zero as I crack the ice off the tent flap. Its time to line up for the showers with lots of other naked men, line up for the toilets where the sounds are similar to those I experienced last night, line up for breakfast holding my bowl like Oliver Twist, pack up my frozen tent and pack my bags on the semi trailer heading to the next destination, fill our water bottles and get started on the journey of a thousand miles. This is to become the morning ritual. The real courage is to get out of the warm sleeping bag each morning.
Finally the sun rises and we feel its warmth. As we ride along several people pass me and say “passing” which I soon learn is biking etiquette for move over slow coach.
Then comes the words “CARBECK” thinking the next four people are from New Zealand and introducing themselves as the carbeck family I respond with nice to meet you all. I am soon to learn that they are in fact not the carbeck family but they are saying “CAR BACK” which again is biking etiquette for “look out there is a car up your arse”.
As they day progresses I here about 400 passings and 30 car backs. Needless to say I am slow.
Day 2 contd.
Today we go from Goombungee to The Bun a short 77km. The first rest stop is at the17km point at Haden Hall. As we arrive I stagger to the cake stall and eat all in sight. Just to balance it all out Sharon and I head to the coffee van for a skinny latte.
I am now reading the bit in the book where it says “ this is where all your weeks of training will pay off” It is now very evident as we head to lunch that the two 5km rides Sharon and I did where we stopped to eat ice cream were clearly not sufficient training.
Next stop for lunch is at the 43 km mark then onto the final stop at the 77km mark. We pitch the tent again, line up for showers, and then grab our dinner bowls. Today a serious traumatic incident occurs in the showers that will affect me for the rest of my life.
It is traditional to line up for the showers as naked men prance around outside the shower cubicle. Being somewhat of a prude I head into the shower undress, shower as quickly as possible, place my undies and pants on then head out of the shower cubicle.
I have strategically place my clean socks and shoes under the small wooden bench and bend over to retrieve them. As I raise my head I am suddenly confronted by what initially looks like a dried flower arrangement. Suddenly my heart races and I realize that I am within three inches of another man’s penis. This I must confess is the closest I have come to another man’s appendage. Traumatised I quickly retrieve my shoes, avoid eye contact with the elderly man and trip down the shower stairs.
I have never been this close to my own let alone someone else’s. Sharon notices my pale face and again I have to relive the event. Sharon also ensures I continue reliving this as everyone we come into contact with she tells them John has a story to tell.
The next night I leave my shoes at the bottom of the stairs and cleverly attempt to put them on. I spot a new great location and head under the female toilet block where a steel frame is positioned at a convenient height for me to sit at. As I attempt to place my shoes on I feel dripping water on my shoulder, only to discover that there is a leak in the sewerage line above my head. The next morning I inform Sharon of the new incident. She asks if I re-showered. I tell her” NO”. She seems unimpressed.
The Bun to Dalby 71km.
Met with Tom and Marg for breakfast. I told Tom and Marg that unfortunately that we had some really bad news to tell them. “what is it?” Tom said with a look of concern on his face. “well, Sharon and I got up this morning and went looking for our bikes” yeah” said Tom. Well, we found them no one stole them over night”
Today we discover the SAG wagon. I am excited. The Sag wagon picks up anybody who can’t complete the days riding because of Illness, injury or mechanical problems. As we ride off my imagination goes wild on what exotic illness I can invent. I am determined to one day go on the sag wagon. Again we gorge ourselves with food, never see Tom, Marg, or Geoff, as they are all like jack rabbits and dart off at hare speed. Their showing off does not impress me. I tell them all at night “It’s not a race you know!” to cover my own inadequacies as we trudge along at a turtle’s pace. Today the last 27km into Dalby sees us with a tail wind and Sharon and I bolt along at 35km an hour now feeling like a real cyclists.
As we arrive we feel the tension between Marg and Tom as Marg insists on wearing a plastic Jacket each morning. Tom asks Marg isn’t she hot in that thing. Marg responds with a tense “NO”. Then to make matters worse several people pass by and ask Marg “hey aren’t you hot in that thing?” This pleases Tom but not Marg. The shaking of Tom’s head isn’t what Marg wants to see. Tom is forced to wash his own dishes tonight.
Tom often rises early and in the dark as he too finds it difficult to sleep with the camp ground sounds. Of course this is exasperated by Tom pitching his tent beside the generator.
Today Tom informs me he accidently grab Marg’s underwear in the dark. Marg still is unaware that Tom is wearing her floral, lacy underpants and thinks they have gone missing. Tom keeps quite. I ask Tom how they feel. He tells me he likes them against his skin.
Dalby to Oakey.
Today is an 82km ride finishing at the Oakey Rugby League club. We drag along and I keep myself amused by counting the number of “passings” and “car backs” I hear. I become delirious and start shouting back at the “passing people” with things like, whatever! Passing out, passing wind, well it isn’t helping your big arse is it? The only time I get to shout passing is when someone has stopped for water or has a flat tyre. I have much delight shouting “passing” at these moments.
Sharon is not amused by my antics but eventually joins me when several people tell her “ well done keep going, you are doing well” Sharon now races up the hills passing several good riders saying “ you guys keep going you are doing well, not much farther”
The Oakey arrival is a good feeling with a days rest planned for tomorrow.
Sharon Tom Marg and Geoff are all excited about a day off. Geoff heads off to the Jondaryan woolshed to meet up with some sheep, while Tom Marg, Sharon and I do the washing. Sharon is now feeling faint because she hasn’t eaten and I’m instructed to rush off and locate her some food immediately.
It is now 11am am my dream of having a mixed grill for breakfast has now past. Tom realizing my need for food suggests we go to the local pub for a big steak. We arrive to find for $7.50 we can have an all you can eat BBQ. Excitedly I rush to pay. “Where is this BBQ” I ask?” “Right here” the lady in large pink ugg boots replies. We lift up the 2 lids of the Bain Marie to find sausage steaketts and beef sausages. Beside that sits a stainless steel bowl 12 inches in diameter with lettuce leaves in it. “Help yourself” she shouts, “eat all you can” We then order drinks and the pink ugg boot wearing lady disappears into the cold room. She emerges 15 minutes later. Her colleague says” we thought you got lost in there” she responds “ I did!”
With Tom being a celiac the steaketts make him vomit. I ask him politely if I can eat his leftovers. I think he nods to me.
We then locate a hairdresser for Tom as his hair is now 2mm longer than when we left home and he needs a trim. Being an inquisitive fellow he asks the hairdresser what the girl next to him is having done to her hair. “Does she have a problem? What are bits of foil on her head for” he asks? Tom soon learns that she is a him and the foils are for a special effect.
We head back to camp and head for the showers once more. Tom notices someone leaving with a cut on their chin bleeding profusely. “Hey mate” he shouts “you’re bleeding”
The guy thanks him and he moves away about 200 meters then returns with “yeah that’s because I’m pretty sharp!” We both look at each other thinking what a quick wit the guy has.
I woke up again today and made the long walk to the toilet. I need to finally vent about another serious matter. Who is responsible I ask myself for inventing toilet paper that comes in 100mm squares and is shiny? I am now wondering if this was done for someone’s amusement.
After about 2 hours of cycling I now can’t wait for the next stop and decide to find a suitable tree for me to pee under. As I scramble through the scrub I find a nice secluded spot. I should have looked where I was peeing instead of checking to see if anyone was looking. I was very soon to realize with a jolt that I was peeing on a fence that was electrified.
To spend up the process Sharon and I formed our own “pelican” which we were later to realize was in fact a “peloton” It didn’t seem to matter much as our speed stayed the same, and the passings continued.
It now all seems like a blur to me hill after hill, passing after passing, car back after car back we all ride on. I start to feel like Forest Grump and want to stop riding right now.
Day 7 is a 96km ride with the first stop being 32kms away. As the day progresses we pedal along feeling excited about the long ride we are getting close to completing. Then disaster strikes.
I get a flat tyre 7 km from the last rest spot. Sharon and I wait for the support vehicle to arrive. An hour passes and we walk carrying my bike the last 7 km where we hope to meet up with the support wagon. It is our intention to fix the tyre and finish the last 13km.
We arrive to find no support vehicle and are told we must enter the SAG wagon. “No way” I shout. “I’m not getting in there that is the shame wagon”. Of course we have no choice and jump aboard.
The SAG wagon literally follows the last rider in like the grim reaper stalking an old lady as she rides at 5 km an hour determined to finish. On arrival we are greeted with stares of shame, people pointing laughing as we walk the long road of shame to pick up our bags.
Today we ride 64km. The first rest stop is what now seems an easy 16km ride. As we arrive into the Warwick Aerodrome I am excited to see the array of fresh baked cakes, lamingtons and Yes, Donuts. I buy my usual four pack of goodies, two double strength skinny lattes (because I am watching my diet) we then mount the bikes to head to lunch another 20kms away.
I start to ride with my bum firmly positioned on the Jelly seat that I bought for comfort. When it is time to lift off to gain some much needed pedal power I find myself stuck to the seat. While gorging myself some bright spark has decided to place some chewing gum on my seat. As I lift my arse off the seat I find long lengths of chewing gum still attaching me to the seat. Sharon jokes that I am blowing bubbles as I lift off. She soon realizes that I have lost my sense of humour and stays her distant as I use the next hour to vent about ‘Morons I have met” ect.
If I could just get my hands on the culprit there may have been a murder on the trip. After a short 4 hours I calm down and Sharon realizes it is now safe to burst into laughter. She found it quite comical from behind so to speak. Clifton can’t come soon enough and we arrive by midday where I attempt to remove the gum from my bike seat and arse.
The final day comes and the hills still keep coming. We hobble into the Toowoomba show grounds and pack the car and head back home. An experience we will never forget. The trip logistics and organizers were sensational the support just plain terrific. Well done to Cycling Queensland. I can’t wait until next years Yeppoon to Bundaberg trip.