On Thursday morning I rose at 6.30 am to attend a veggie (no one here seems to get what I mean, so I have to translate this as a 'beginners') class in mountainbiking, conducted by a kindly soul from the biking club, who wants to convert roadbikers such as myself to the true path of mountainbiking. But really, I couldn't live in a town like Alice without checking out the warren of offroad biketracks that exists here.
Missed meeting with friend outside his flat; found him at servo further up the road. Yes, he had meant 7.00 am sharp. We cycle over to Eastside to meet up with L, the third of our trio (apparently, there was a fourth who couldn't make it). When we get there, L is rather shaken, as she's had two visitations from an intruder during the night, who tried to siphon off petrol from her car, then jumped in the pool (twice). Each time they called the police, the intruder conveniently scarpered.
L is actually my benefactress; she's lent me her old 'tractor' for the ride. The 'tractor' is an outdated Giant with huge tyres. I develop a fondness for it straightaway; it's a stable packhorse and certainly a lot easier to ride than my old Giant hybrid.
'I would be really depressed,' says W, mountainbike guru, 'if I had to start out on that bike.'
I suspect this is a 'boys with toys' comment. And it's true, I can't keep up with W on his snazzy mountainbike. But basically, I'm happy with anything that rides more easily than the hybrid.
L is encouraged by us to join in with the early morning ride; she's not as tired as she thought she would be, she says. She tells us to check out the beginning of the tracks and then to loop back around to her place. We do, but she's not anywhere in sight. Rather than attempt to bail her up, W wants to press on. I begin to sense a certain militancy about his personality.
We ride out to the starting point of the tracks. There's a sharp embankment to ride down before crossing the river bed. I immediately freak out and leap off the saddle and run the bike down the slope.
'What did you do that for?' says W, crossly. 'It only gets worse after this.'
It brings out all my childhood fears about being 'unco' and not chosen for school sporting teams. I've told W that if I go out with the mountainbiking mob, I'm bound to pitch straight over the handlebars onto my nose. What could be the 'worse' stuff? I start getting scared, worrying that the ride will be a total disaster and my true unco, girlyswot colours will be revealed: I wont be at all like Claudia in High Tide.
And for the first half hour, it is a struggle. I valiantly attempt to follow W up gravelly trails and over small jumps on my borrowed steed. (I do feel secure, though, on my 'tractor' steed.) I'm cautious; whenever I lose my momentum, I jump off my bike and take a runner up the hill or whatever then leap back on, rather than hitting a stone and swerving off or whatever. (Thought: pushing bike up sandhill in bikeshorts gives great perving opportunity to guys.) I take downhills slowly and overcautiously, then W explains to me that I should use the backbrake only on hills and lean back...suddenly, things start to make sense. I begin to see that you need to keep the momentum up to get through the sand traps and to make it up the hills. And that, as W says, you've got to trust the bike; it will just keep on ploughing on. It's a bit like 4WDing on a bike. (It definitely has similar moments to when the 4WD instructor says, 'And now you're just going to reverse down this rocky escarpment' or whatever.)
The second half hour, I start to get things. I can see that mountainbiking is one of these skills, like playing a musical instrument or driving a car, that once you've learnt the basics, you've just got to give up that sense of control and let that part of your mind that puts things together take over.
W is fairly patient and kind; he warns me when things are coming up like a bloody great rock face that I might rather walk than cycle down. A couple of times when we're downhilling it on some difficult stretches, I jump off and walk part of the way when I'm sure he can no longer see me.
On the way back, I start feeling exhilarated by the morning's labours, and perhaps by W's encouragement. He says, 'You're good at finding a path through things.' I say, 'It's because I'm cautious.' I'm pretty bruised by the end of the ride, but at least I didn't fall off. He loans me his bike (to see what it's like) and I sprint down Kurrajong Dr, gratifyingly leaving him behind. We exchange bikes at the crossing; he admits that the 'tractor' isn't as bad as he thought.
A couple of days later, I tell a friend what I've been up to with the bike club, and she says, 'You're turning into bloody Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby' .
Actually, would love to be as spunky and athletic as Ms Swank, but fear 'tis not likely to be the case at my ripe old age.