I was riding so slowly up a mountain road that a butterfly landed on my handlebars. It stopped, looked around and then flew off.
It was a welcome distraction and started a train of thought that had me beaming from ear to ear as I continued to climb.
The family has been down in the Victorian High Country over the holidays. Maybe holiday is not the right word as Robyn and I spent most of our time riding up some mountains prior to our joint attempt at the 3 Peaks in March.
My butterfly encounter happened as we travelled from Bright up to Falls Creek. Robyn had taken the day off her bike and was driving over with the girls so I took the opportunity to ride up to Falls, over Mount Hotham and up the Back of Falls.
We have been training so much together it was strange to be out on my own. As I have written before, I like riding with my wife. She is good company, doesn’t moan and just gets on with it. Robyn is also very resourceful and for this I am very thankful.
For the most part cycling is a simple pursuit. If your bike works and if you are prepared to work, then you just have to point and peddle. For 99.9% of the time out on the road this is the case. It’s only when things go a little wrong that you are forced to live with the impact of seemingly previous inconsequential decisions.
We had already climbed Mount Hotham together earlier in the week. We had set off early from Bright as it is a 100km round trip with a long climb of 30km. It’s challenging, very picturesque and for Australians one of the must do climbs.
Riding up it was not a problem. Robyn has peddled enough over the last year to have the fitness and the mental strength to climb anything put in front of her. She amazes me because she just keeps going, if it gets steep she goes a little slower, if it flattens out she speeds up. It took us just over 2 hours to get to the top but seemingly it was job done. A steady decent back down and a well earned lunch.
After getting knocked off the previous week, I was a little apprehensive about the decent. Once you have come off you can’t help but ride a little more cautiously, especially when you are still wearing and feeling the bruises.
As we set off, I was leading the way and Robyn was following behind. We had only gone a few km’s when I heard a loud pop and I discovered a front wheel puncture. Not a slow one! A complete flat when I was doing 45 km down a steep mountain pass. I gingerly applied the brakes to try and stop myself and began to snake across the road as the front wheel squelched without any grip. I did not want to fall off again and with only my back brake either producing a child like skid or having a limited impact on my speed, I actually started to think about which side would hurt less if I fell on it.
I like to think it was my bike handling skills, but truth be told it was my instinct for self preservation that keep me upright as I managed to stop. I got off the bike and laughed like a maniac with sheer relief.
Robyn stopped beside me, “Did you see the size of the rock you hit?”
I hadn’t seen any rock, but if that was the cause then I was even more lucky to have stayed upright. On closer inspection my front tyre had been slashed. There was now a 4cm hole where the inner tube had come through and effectively popped like a balloon. This was not going to be as simple as just replacing the inner tube, I’d have to patch the tyre.
I have ridden around for the last 5 years with enough spare equipment for an event like this, new inner tubes, bike tools and a good old fashioned puncture repair kit with great big rubber patches .I had also not fixed a puncture in 5 years. It’s a bit of a flaw but I’d rather spend the money on a new tube than invest the time fixing a puncture. Well that had been the case until a few days before. We were at the in laws for Christmas, I had some time on my hands so I actually fixed a puncture. The thing I hadn’t done is remembered to put the puncture repair kit back on my bike with all my other spares.
This was going to be tricky. We tried to fix the tyre with some lightweight patches that Robyn had. We got the tyre inflated and I gingerly set off, but the hole was just too big and after about 500 meters I was again careering down the mountain with a front flat.
We had made it to a lookout so we could safely get off the road. Robyn and I discussed our options. There was no real chance of ringing anybody to get us, we could either flag another cyclist down and see if they could help or try and hitch a lift down the mountain.
Whilst we were talking a great big camper van pulled into the Lookout. Robyn’s face lit up at the young couple who were now parking their van to take in the beautiful vista.
Robyn was now striding over to the van. Her approach was pure class…
“Hello, isn’t it a lovely day?”
“Er, yes it is”, said the man, who sounded like he had a French accent.
“Are you going to Bright?”
“Yes”, the foreign man is now looking very confused and sounding a little bit unsure after being greeted so enthusiastically to the Lookout by a middle aged lady in Lycra
“Great,we are staying there as well. Your van is also lovely, do you think a bike would fit inside it?”
The gentleman looks at his van and back at Robyn and has to agree it was big enough.
“Marvellous, can we hitch a lift to Bright?”
Game, Set and Match, what could he say? We had a ride.
Now I like to think what Robyn did next was out of pure generosity of spirit not because she didn’t want to ride her bike the 50km back down the mountain to Bright. She gave me her front wheel, saying I would be quicker on the decent and it was the sensible thing to do.
“Are you going to be alright”, I asked her.
“Well the statistical chances of shredding a tyre and getting abducted by foreign tourists are remote, so yes I’ll be fine. Please watch yourself on the decent and I’ll see you in Bright”.
Before I could argue she handed me her wheel and loaded her bike with my wheel into the van. She hopped in, waved goodbye, then as the door slid shut I was left on top of a mountain looking at the back of a camper van, being driven by complete strangers, that my wife had effectively hijacked.
As the camper van started the decent, I scrambled to pull all of my bits and pieces together and to set off in hot pursuit. It was a big van so I managed to keep up, only when the road kicked up at various stages did I loose them and then I descended like crazy to catch them again. This happened for the next 30km’s as I chased them down the mountain and then as we passed through Harrietville for the final 25km into Bright I lost them.
I put my head down and rode hard for the next 45 minutes. When I arrived back at our place in Bright I could see Robyn’s bike outside; she had not been abducted. As I approached the house I could hear her talking to the girls about how her new friends Ben and Sandrine from Martinique had been delighted to have her on board and she had answered all sorts of questions about Australia, from the Tax system, to the health care system and public education.
The butterfly on my handlebars had bought all this back to me and as I slogged away I was truly lost in my own reflections.
I was bought back to the present by the sound of a car behind me. Instinctively I moved over to the side to let it pass but it started to slow. A quick look behind and there was my own support vehicle. Robyn was again beaming away and Milly and Alice were hanging out the windows shouting encouragement.
I’m not sure what events conspired for Robyn and I to meet in the pub in Dublin 20 years ago but the impact continues to amaze me.