Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The long ride home

I’ve now made the trip from Palmerston to home four times and it is getting easier. By using the bike computer I tend to go faster because I’m always working against the clock or trying to increase my average speed. I’ve ridden once under the midday sun, once in the comparative cool of early morning and twice in the evening. The path is becoming quite familiar to me now and I have divided the trip into segments so I can raise the pace or rest within measured sections waiting until I reach a weigh point before I allow myself to reduce the pace. It’s still fun and I am making pretty good time. The radio helps me keep up the pace as I try to match the cycles of my legs to the rhythm of the music.
Last night was the first time I have ridden home after dark and it was by far the most challenging time to ride! I finished work at 3:30 peddled home and threw down a couple of glasses of reconstituted fruit juice and water and consumed a quick sandwich and a banana, grabbed the ex-Bunnings hardware reflective vest and took off for my 5:00 pm cataloguing class in Palmerston. I made great time and passed a few troops peddling their slower mountain bikes from Robertson barracks to Palmerston along the way.
The 4:00 am mornings and extra exorcise have taken their toll on me and I did start to drift off during class but our teacher is into drilling us with various cataloguing Areas, Elements and punctuation so the fear of failure kept me from dozing!
The lights began to flicker as a thunder storm rolled across Palmerston, blinding flashes of electricity tearing up the sky as the heavens opened up over Darwin. I was ambivalent about riding home in bad conditions, on one hand I wanted to test my waterproof panniers but on the other I didn’t want to be struck by a bolt of lightening and die like a fruit bat tangled in powerlines!
When our class was finished the storm has eased and I rang Sam to let her know I was about to begin the 20 km journey home. She didn’t answer the phone. Just as I had gotten out on the road I heard a familiar 'Beep' and turned to see our car making a U-turn and heading back towards me. Sam had come to the rescue to drive me home so I wouldn’t be fried like a potato chip in dirty oil. (the lightening had been pretty bad!) I refused her offer with a smile and a mocking laugh and told her I would see her at home. I am committed to this ride! And peddled off so she would think I am a super cyclist with powerful legs and unstoppable determination. I am astounded by the enormous feats of stupidity my ego can inspire me to do!
Off I went, hard as I could go, into the dark soaking night and onto the unfriendly highway (my daughter in the back seat of the car excitedly waving me on). I chose to ride the highway because the bike track is in complete darkness and sometimes harbours itinerant camps that I’m not comfortable passing at night.
Street lighting is intermittent on the Stuart Hwy between Palmy and home, and the edge of the bitumen drops away invisibly where tropical rain has washed shallow swathes out from under it. I rode on the slippery white line because it was smooth and I could see it. Waiting for a mob of trucks, busses and possibly drunk drivers to pass I managed to cross over to McMillan’s Rd without incident and headed for the bike path. Sam waited on the other side to see that I was actually going to make it off the highway, (I rode harder).
McMillan’s Rd was OK but when the bike path narrowed and the streetlights had faded into the distance I became dependant on lightening (there was plenty of it) to illuminate the twists and turns in the slippery path. As I approached Vanderlyn Dve the whole sky lit up as off in the distance a thick beam of plasma light stretched down to the earth with an explosive thud and a flash of orange light. Something was hit, it looked just like a scene from Independence day! I felt quite vulnerable on my bike with this stuff around me so I peddled harder.
Nearly at home and on an easy downhill section I caught a whiff of something rotten! There was a lump on the side of the road up ahead but I couldn’t make out what it was. I prayed it wasn’t a person. (We have a high incidence of pedestrians being knocked down by cars in the NT!) As I got closer I could see that it was a dog, probably frightened by the storm, and not a person. He was lying stiff as a board. This poor fella won’t be going home. There was nothing I could do, he was far enough from the road not to be hit again so I left him there like so many other casualties of the heartless road!
With my heart pounding I pushed on, determined to get home in good time. Coasting comfortably down hill with only a couple of metres visibility and the steam from the rain rising in pockets from the hot tar, something ran across the path right in front of me! I went for the brakes and there was a flurry of feathers and long stick like legs! What was this in front of me?! I slowed a little as a mob of frightened curlews struggled to gain altitude with me hot on their tails! They rose gracelessly and lunged to the side before I caught them up! I felt the air move from their wings! And could almost taste their damp feathers! What a close call! I’d hate to have hit one of these beautiful birds, I’d never forgive myself if I killed one.
So anyway I made it home alive. Just. But now I have a dilemma about how to get home at night. If I ride on the road I have better visibility and there are less obstacles but one psycho drunk driver could put an end to my trip in a second. If I ride on the bike path I risk close encounters with wildlife, vegetation and unmarked gutters that will also cause me much grief. I am well lit up so should be safe on the road but if I ride slowly the bike path will be safe from four wheeled lunatics. I don’t know what I’ll do next time but I sure prefer to ride before the sun goes down!

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