Turning Lead into Gold

Periodically, out of the blue, I question what I’m doing, whether it’s my work, a thesis, or in this case riding. One of these times was last Wednesday night and I was trying to remind myself why I ride. It was odd really, feeling temporarily disconnected. Of course I know it’s good for my body and mind, riding through the country I often feel like my soul is being fed directly and I feel a wonderful combination of peace and freedom. Then there is the feeling of accomplishment, gathering my stats, constantly striving to improve my performance but allowing for the natural ups and downs.

I’m not sure what brought on this introspection, maybe it was the prospect of doing an especially long ride the next day by myself. I had decided to ride to Healesville with some extra bits off the main road, a course of at least 140km. The distance isn’t a problem in itself. On Monday I’d done 125 and the previous week I had managed three rides totaling some 340km, including what was my longest day, a 140km with over 2000m climbing. Doing this long ride on my own felt significant. 80 or 100km from home, there is the awareness that it’s just you out there. Riding solo, you can feel more vulnerable. If you hit the wall, you don’t have someone to encourage you over the last 1000m of climbing. It’s a test of self-reliance.

Starting out I wasn’t sure I would do the whole ride. I got out unusually late, and I could hear squeak in the head-stem which I couldn’t fix. So I started by getting it checked out by my mechanic who gave me the all-clear to ride. No excuse now. Still feeling off I made a stop-off at my regular cafe, Piccolo Mecannico, to gather my thoughts and my nerves. Using an old strategy that worked wonders with the PhD, I just gave myself permission to ride one stage at a time and see how I felt. I did this last week and ended up getting over 100km.

With this license to roam, without the focus being on the destination, the answer to the question I had asked popped up. Why do I ride? Because it’s about the journey. It’s the quality of the path I take, whether it’s the scenery or the atmosphere, or whether it’s building my climbing strength. The journey is ultimately about experiencing the way, and all that it has to offer, the stories, the people, the memories – experiencing the moment. Rolling mindfulness might even describe it at times.

With this clarity I felt like I had reconnected with my sense of purpose, power and being and that usually translates to feeling pretty good on the bike. After taking a longer route to Kinglake, I found that I had maintained an average speed of 29kmph for the first 42km until the base of Kinglake. I was feeling great and put in a strong effort on the 7.3km ascent. Before long I had covered 80km, rolling into the lovely town of Healesville and had stopped at my favourite cafe there, The Gilded Lily.

Coffee at the Gilded Lily

Satisfied by one of the lovely cakes I’d eaten, I started to roll again – a flat! A bugger, but I had a spare. After a quick change and some arduous pumping with my mini pump (really need to get one of those small high pressure things.) I started looking for a bike shop. Unfortunately there isn’t one anymore. While I was working off some of the carbs I had hoped to keep for the climb back over Kinglake a very friendly woman came up to ask me about my bike. Five minutes later I was on my way to wait for her at Wombat Chai, my other local favourite, where she had offered to return with a high-pressure pump. With 70km to go, I didn’t mind the idea of waiting a little longer if it meant I would have a good amount of air in the tyre. While I was waiting at the cafe, whose owners are now keen to stock some emergency bike spares, the owner, Iggy, discovered a bike shop in the local directory. Fantastic, especially because while I was drinking my iced coffee my spare had lost all it’s air. I was starting to organise for my wife to make a long drive out to pick up me and my stranded carbon.

A phone-call later and Greg was on his way to help me out. A bike shop that does roadside, or rather, cafe-side service, that’s too good to be true. Turns out Greg doesn’t have the shop anymore, but he still has stock, so he brought down a selection of high quality tubes and a good pump. “Did I want short or long valves, light weight…” I was just happy not to have to get Ophelia to drive 100km.

By the time Greg had arrived, so had the friendly local with pump in hand. Of course everyone knew each other by name so the atmosphere was very jolly indeed. Half an hour later, the bike was ready for me to tackle the ride home. Rain had come and gone, and thanks to daylight savings, even though it was now about 4pm I had time to get home while it was light.

What I love the most on any journey are the connections I make with people, whether they are fleeting exchanges of stories with strangers or friends I’ve known for years. So it was ironic that on this day when the very nature of the journey was so front and centre in my mind so many connections should transform an inconvenience into one of the more memorable and enjoyable experiences on my cycling journey. It wasn’t just that they were all so helpful. I was also delighted by the qualities of these people, their sense of culture, of individual spirit and a good-hearted openness. Of course, my attitude had helped to shape the afternoon. I could have become angry with the first flat, becoming irritated or annoyed at the woman’s questions, and even given up altogether at the second puncture (it was actually a rupture right around the valve). But I didn’t, so I guess I have only myself to thank for that.

The ride home was, thankfully, rather uneventful and very fast. I ended up with an average of just under 28kmph over a distance of 150km and about 2200m of climbing. Like a horse who knows that it’s near home, I often find I have plenty of power on the final leg home. It was my longest, fastest, hardest ride ever, with PRs, or personal records set on all the sections I was gunning for, especially the two ascents of Kinglake. You can check out my ride on Strava here.

Upsets, both big and small, are inevitable on the journey. But in my experience often it’s the unexpected hiccups, accidents, breakdowns etc. that also make the journey more interesting, even more enjoyable. Through days like these and the unplanned adventures they throw up, I’ve made many friends, discovered treasures, and been reminded of the point of it all – to love the journey and by doing so open myself to the extraordinary in the ordinary – to turn lead into gold, as a friend put it.

The good news for fellow cyclists is that Wombat Chai will soon have a small stock of spares and a decent pump – more gold for all!

If you’re interested in learning about or even going for a ride out this way, get in touch or have a look at The Climbing Cyclist.

The view over the Yarra Valley from Kinglake in the early evening.

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