On Sunday morning, I caught up with the not-so-speedies (a ka: the ‘slowpokes’). For those not in the know, this is a consortium of peoples who prefer to ride at an average speed of 23 kmh. This coalition of the unwilling was started by my dear friend L, who was disquieted by the constant 30 + kmh speeds of the bike club’s Sunday Social Ride, as opposed to the advertised average of 27 kmh.
I told L I might come if I woke up in time. (Actually, there are a lot of ‘L’-friends in my life, and their names often do start with ‘L’ – ha!). The biggest hitch was the meeting time of 6 am, but there were some good reasons to join them. It’s hotter earlier at this time of year, and the last time I joined the Sunday Social Ride, they wore me out, as I’m not ‘bike fit’ enough to deal with the speeding.
Much to the not-so-speedies’ surprise, I did wake in time (it’s also very bright early in the day this year) and joined them. We rode about 40 km at 25 kmh, amid protests that I had raised their overall average speed. However, they did get to use me as a windbreak.
Out riding, I was reminded by how seductive the embrace of the Centralian landscape can be early in the morning: the quietude, the gentle light picking out pastel tones. Holed up in my air-conditioned bunker over summer, I had begun to forget what the place could be like.
There were only three of us slowpokes on
the ride, though many others passed us on the way, evidently with the same idea
of catching the cool of the day.
Afterwards, we – L, the Gavster and I — had coffee in the Mall while the
marketers were still setting up their stalls. It was almost impossible for me to imagine I was up so
early, as indeed it was for my companions (mind you, I felt like falling asleep
for the rest of the day).
There were only three of us slowpokes on the ride, though many others passed us on the way, evidently with the same idea of catching the cool of the day. Afterwards, we – L, the Gavster and I — had coffee in the Mall while the marketers were still setting up their stalls. It was almost impossible for me to imagine I was up so early, as indeed it was for my companions (mind you, I felt like falling asleep for the rest of the day).
Gav, in particular, couldn’t get over the fact that I was actually there, given my aversion to earliness and my peripatetic lifestyle. At one point, L related a travel tale about a friend who had been ‘sleeping with bears’ while camping in the States.
‘Can you imagine that?’ she said. ‘I can’t imagine camping with bears. Would you camp near bears?’
‘No,’ said Gav, ‘But I can imagine texting El and finding that she was sleeping with bears. I’m always getting messages: “Sorry, can’t ride with you, I’m in Timbuktu” or “I’m in Alaska”. Next thing you know, she'll be texting to say that she's "sleeping with bears".’
Well, more like penguins in Tasmania or Mormons in Utah… We also talked about Alice, what a good but difficult place it was to live, and where we might go next. ‘Alice’ is such a common topic of conversation amongst those who live here, it’s hard to know why (apart from the obvious ‘resonances’), but maybe it’s because everything is so far away. So many residents are expats too and there’s such a great sense of transience that the place naturally becomes a point of discussion and comparison itself.
L had always wanted to live in the centre, and had cast an anchor over the side here after travelling round the country with her ex. Gav, it seemed, was gradually travelling north from Tasmania, and planned to head further north, to the Kimberley perhaps, in hope of better fishing prospects.
L asked Gav if he’d seen any of the film festival or if he intended seeing anything. She handed him a flyer, and he scanned it and said, ‘No, and the only film I’d want to see has already been on.’
‘Oh, The Fox and the Child!’ I said.
‘That’s the one!’ Gav turned to L. ‘You see, El knows me so well she knows which film I’d pick. It’s because it's about the innocence of childhood, and my childhood was disturbed, so I like to see things like that.’
And not only that, but hence the long journey north, further and further from Tasmania.
At some point that morning, Gav and I
realized we’d known each other for at least five years. It’s moments like these when you
realize you’ve been in the Territory a good while.
At some point that morning, Gav and I realized we’d known each other for at least five years. It’s moments like these when you realize you’ve been in the Territory a good while.
It’s the strange thing but the friendship with Gav has probably been one of the constants in my Territory life, although it’s such a loose alliance it’s hard to know what to call it. Months will often go by, and suddenly I’ll see Gav instructing delinquents at the pool or ambling out of the pawn shop where he sometimes works. Or more likely there’ll be a text inviting me on a ride at some ungodly time of the morning. There was even a text once out of the blue announcing his engagement to someone I’d never heard of…he’s ended two marriages in the time I’ve known him.
Gav is a couple of years younger than me and he was one of the people who introduced me to mountainbiking. (I’ve blogged about him before.) He was – and is – also someone patient enough to hang round with beginners and slowpokes until they improve. He enjoys being in the role of enthuser and encourager: he likes working with kids and is a kind of natural youthworker personality.
Otherwise, he waxes and wanes between a strange toothy gawkiness and a well-padded Homer Simpson-esque physique. He’s obsessively committed to training. He boasts of ironmen and triathlon events in which he’ll one compete and suddenly be covered in glory, which never happens although others have told me he is a demon squash player.
I’m not sure what I have in common with him, apart from cycling and Alice. I’m not sure what we would talk about otherwise. But there it is: a friendship based totally on training rides, on believing that we can do better if we go out and put in the hours and the miles, at our own pace. This is the thing about cycling — and the Territory: that you’ll make friends with people you wouldn’t otherwise. The rhythms of cycling and the fact that you ride side-by-side also make it easier to be in the company of someone you might struggle to hold a conversation with face-to-face.
At one point, I think TPS (another patron saint of lost dogs) and I were the only people who related to Gav as some kind of friend (her ex used to refer to him as ‘your friend with the teeth’). He was just another of those strange add-ons in the cycling club who never quite seem to gel, but are around for the ride. He seemed to go through phases of ‘training’ with various small entourages, often beginner girls. Men generally don’t like him, I think because of his unquantified boasts and maybe the entourage, tho Gav’s in no way sleazy. Women tend to brush him off with: ‘Oh he’s harmless!’, or ‘He means well’, & ‘He’s a good-natured soul.’, etc.
Gav’s no intellectual and knows it: he frequently describes himself as ‘thick’ and having ‘shit for brains’. But this is deceptive, because he is a shrewd social observer of sorts, maybe from his childhood or from being in sales and real estate for a while. I’ve often been thrown off-balance by how accurate his summations of people can be. That might be something I share with him: a tendency to make quick assessments of other people (not necessarily correct, of course). He seems to understand that I travel a lot, and isn’t offended if I disappear without word for a while. We can always pick up later wherever we left off, and all that.
I can’t imagine keeping in touch with him, if I relocate. And he’d never read a blog. In all probability, I’ll never see Gav again if I leave the Territory. Despite his southern origins, he’s a recognizable Territorian type: cheerful, outdoorsy, feckless, enterprising and perpetually travelling north, impelled maybe by some childhood demons. I imagine Gav re-making himself over with different groups of sporty types, and ending more short relationships, until there’s a final ash-scattering at a favourite fishing spot with the last clutch of friends.
In the meantime, I might be travelling further south, or who knows? Sleeping with bears in Alaska, or perhaps some place closer, like Tasmania.