Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge, Day 8 - Charters Towers to Townsville

Spirits were noticeably brighter with the finish line in sight. However, as has been said, 'parting is such sweet sorrow', and thus, road crew and riders were certainly experiencing mixed feelings as waking became breakfast and breakfast quickly became departure. The dulcet tones of Kev's bellowing could be heard to have everyone coordinated, focused and ready so that chaos could form into a smoothly oiled, organised and functioning peloton.

The end of a tiring day of riding is characterized by a deal of silent exhaustion and head-down riding styles. The end of a challenging week, physically and emotionally, is characterized by contemplative silence and a heads-up riding style as people come to terms with what has been accomplished... Accordingly, with the traditional bell ringing departure ritual deservedly bestowed upon Josh, our youngest rider, we set off in a pace of yes... Townsville bound. It was 6.30am.

The pace persisted until we reached the mighty Burdekin River, now a mere trickle because of such a dry winter. As we proceeded into brighter lighting and onto Woodstock, the brown hues of parched, dry vegetation did not change to any hint of green.

The Mingela truck stop was no site for a party; however we once again more enjoyed the usual road side smoko courtesy of our tireless road crew. Out of morning tea, we then rolled down the sweeping desert of the Mingela Range before more rolling hills through an increasingly debilitating head wind for a water stop at Reid River... but where was the river? So dry and oppressive and about 50 kilometres to go. It seems the last little bit takes the longest and we were constantly counselled against complacency by those more experienced in the group.

What a pleasurable surprise to be greeted with by the Woodstock CWA ladies at their hall of faded blue. All ate heartily, enjoying once more the country - folk generously we have encountered so often since leaving Brisbane. No hint at all that the infamous naked mud romps of the sixties were too replicated for this day, at this Woodstock. No doubt though, the local ladies were bemused by so much lycra and the odour of decay that sweating, tired bodies emit.

Then, the final 40 kilometres in to Townsville. Upon reaching half way on this final leg we changed tactics and once more employed the 'horse power' of 8 strong riders to drag us to the finish line.

As an inexperienced rider, this my first big ride, including mountains and other travels, I have concluded there are three models of riding in a large peloton. At the front it might be described as 'flowing', in the middle a type of 'slopping' (a combination of stopping and slowing), and at the rear, 'sturging', a mix of stopping and surging. Ordinarily the rank in increasing levels of physical demand. We all arrived at the Sun Hotel in a mode one could describe as 'palling' partying and falling... to find that the bar where we were kindly served ice-cold drinks was cool... the kind of cool that Mr Geeves enjoyed all week? BUT!! We don't begrudge the road crew their creature comforts as they keep us safe, watered and few. However I guess even the most generous of us may have felt a fleeting twinge of air con envy upon entering the Sun Hotel Lounge Bar!

From there, it was on to Strand Park and the first sniff of sea breeze and the normal twinge of Algal bloom which typifies North Queensland spring by the sea. We witnessed the generous and downright disgusting run as we rode smoothly on city hot tar through Townsville streets. Some motorists honked congratulatory greetings whilst some hung out the windows uttering references to ducks and stunts in lycra. Strange language is that of the red neck.

At Strand Park there was a great sight of families greeting, hugging, backslapping and well deserved relief. We enjoyed drinks and food thanks to the Mundingburra Rotary Club and got to patron the CHUDDLE. An interesting ritual whereby a central assembly of road crew was surrounded by a ring of female riders, all in resplendent lycra. This arrangement was further enveloped by older gentlemen who formed a barrier between the nubile and the more testosterone laden menfolk of lesser years, wisdom and self-control.

Once formed, this circular, human onion arrangement proceeded to rhythmically rise and fall with increasing speed and frenetic zeal until exhaustion, risk of arrest and self-congratulatory fulfilment was achieved. The hair suit among us had our face fur removed... a transformation process so drastic that some were unrecognisable.

The peloton then for the last time rode through Townsville streets, including a cruel little hill to the Mercure Inn where bikes were packed and preparations were made for the dinner this evening.

Matt introduced the riders at dinner, front and centre stage - a group of largely unrecognizable folk at the commencement of the Mercure ceremonials... They each looked cleaner, smelled more like roses than road kill and stood somewhat more at ease without the bum constricting stance to which their weekly lycra attire had accustomed the smiddy lifestyle.

Sharky returned the debrief to normality, handing us back to loved ones with ease and grace. His video presentation touched us all and reinforced all reasons we participate.

The evening was concluded with the final word from Maria and David Smiddy.

An unforgettable evening to conclude an unforgettable week, one I am sure that will live on with me (and 50 or so fellow riders) for a lifetime.

Derek Hedgcock

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