Ok, so brief reprisal of this blog while I’m in central Australia for the week…competing in the Masters Games for the fourth time, mountainbiking solely, as my road bike’s in Melbourne.
My first race was this morning, the mountainbike cross-country. In some ways, this is my favourite race, as it passes through some interesting, slightly tricky terrain (narrow winding rocky tracks and stuff) and is more of an endurance event, which I prefer. I figure you can go hard for the first and last kilometres, then slum it in the middle at your own pace.
I felt a little intimidated by the other nine or so competitors. As far as I could tell, I’d moved up into an age division, with some pretty fearsome women in it (contrary to what you might think, women seem to get better at cycling with age—more kms under their belt, maybe). I’d also only done one practice run, and had found that whatever technical skills I had before had gone to pulp. I was starting at the sight of any rocks or trees on or near the track (esp with the overgrowth), foot constantly going to the ground. Things I used to take with ease I had to re-think how to do.
At the start of the race, I loitered up the back of the pack with my friend K, chatting. Talking turned out not to be such a good plan: I missed a significant announcement, that the 40 something women would be riding three rather than two laps of the 7.5 km track.
Most of the time, K and I rode in and out of each other’s orbit, occasionally riding together for stretches. It was more like a social ride, with people we knew as marshalls suddenly appearing from the bushes and shouting out encouragement.
The first lap was ok: it always is. The second one was purgatorial…as it always is. Something to do with how the morning sun hits the hills on the first half of the track. And somehow, whenever you stop, you always feel worse, as you realise you’re overheating and gasping for breath.
At one point, I saw K and another woman, sitting in the shade by the side of the track, pouring water over themselves. It was probably only early to mid-20s, but sometimes that can feel like enough in the desert.
When I got to the finish line of the second lap, I felt pretty pleased with myself. I leapt off my bike and was guided into a tent by old codgers who plied me with water bottles and damp hand towels, asking me if I was ok.
One of the marshalls came over and asked me whether I had finished or was going to do my final lap. What final lap? I saw A, another competitor whom I thought was in my age group, relaxing by the finish-line, and said, ‘But she only did two.’ A said, ‘I’m fifty. You’ve got to do three.’
So, no rest for the forty-somethings. I tipped a bottle of water over my head and jumped back onto my bike: it was nice, sitting by the sidelines, feeling as tho I’d finished a race, but I might as well finish the damn thing now I’d done two laps of it. Besides, the rest hadn’t done me any harm. It might have added five minutes to my time, but I probably would have been two or three minutes slower anyway. What we really needed were people with squirters to hose us down at the sidelines or a shower tent to ride through.
Unbelievably, I won a silver medal for all this, tho I was probably a day behind the woman who won in my division. Medals aren’t the point, and I was more pleased with finishing three laps of the bloody thing than anything else. But…only in Alice do you get a medal for a race in which you had a nice bit of a sit-down in the middle.
I’ve been wondering ‘what next?’ with cycling, given that my exploits have been pretty much been confined to the gym, now that I’m in Melbourne. My mind’s beginning to turn to touring again, and I’m starting to scheme about new journeys, like the pilgrims’ camino across the top of Spain. One day…
I initially felt invigorated by my race, but now it’s afternoon, the fatigue is setting in. I’m still feeling a bit discombobulated being here. Alice doesn’t seem quite as familiar as it did when I visited three months ago, tho it may do by the end of the week. There’s been so much rain over the last few months that everything is lush and green, more like my memory of Arnhemland. The sides of the mountainbike tracks are dense with wildflowers and shrubs: people have been warning against snakes. Over night, it’s been quite cool. I’m staying on the northside of Alice, not far from Hoppy’s Camp, and there are folks toting blankets and other makeshift coverings along the road at night.
I’m now seeking refuge from the heat in the town library. Amongst the other refugees here are old men with white beards and women in hoodies and thongs reading quietly, often coffee table books with pictures of local people and places. For better or for worse, Strehlow, Gillen, Spencer and others recorded local culture for posterity in their photographs and writing. It’s another world.