Near the end of October of 1994, I was having dinner with two friends of mine, Sam Williams and Piers Truter. Over a lamb roast, they were busy discussing a madcap idea of theirs, namely to cycle from Melbourne to Sydney during December of that year. Melbourne was suggested as their starting point since they would already be there for an Ultimate Frisbee competition at the start of December.
I denounced the idea as ridiculous and insane, whereupon they immediately tried to convince me that I wanted to be part of this ride as well. I started to think of excuses. "It's way too far. It's nearly a thousand kilometres". "I haven't ridden in years". "I don't have a bike". "How will we get the bikes to Melbourne?". They weren't moved by my protestations. In fact, it only seemed to get them more enthusiastic.
This was Tuesday night.
Sam already had plans for remedying the second excuse. Armed with "The Weekly Trading Post" and a red pen, Sam had places and bikes circled in preparation for an assault on the second-hand bicycle market. A house in St Ives netted us our first acquisition, a Blackburn back pannier rack for , but unfortunately all of the bikes being advertised were clearly going to be too small for my 6'1" frame. A gleaming new machine it was going to have to be.
Next stop - Clarence St Cyclery. In less than an hour I had managed to rack up a 00 bill and a bike equipped with all sorts of apparently fancy gadgetry. I told them I would think it over and come back tomorrow.
This was Thursday night.
An interview and a holiday job offer the next day almost put paid to all the plans, but the ride was a one off - you can get a job any old time. I went back to Clarence St and ordered the bike, a Trek 850 Mountain Track, and all of the bits.
This was Saturday. It had taken less than 5 days for me to be conned in to this wild escapade.
I made myself ride almost every day. The other two had done a lot of cycling before and were both bike-fit. I was going to be the weak link. However, fate almost intervened. Piers came down first with sciatica (a pinching of the sciatic nerve which runs from the back down the back of the legs) and then suffered from a virus. While he recovered from the virus in time, the sciatica had the potential to lay him low.
A ride to West Head and back just before we left showed how hard it would be. With only one mostly empty pannier, I was exhausted after just 92km. I wondered how I would cope with succesive days like that. I also road tested the bike by sliding it (and me) into a guard rail at 50km/hr. The bike stood up well. So did the Ortlieb pannier. I came off third best, sporting a large number of cuts and weeping grazes. I rode the 46km home in some degree of pain.
To get the bikes to Melbourne was the next problem. We finally decided (for want of any other method) to put them on a bike rack on the back of a friend's car. Again fate was there to lend a hand. At about 2am in the morning, just past the Victorian border, the car hit a truck tyre in the middle of the road at 110km/hr (the car, not the truck tyre was doing 110!). The tyre went under the car, and kicked up hitting the bicycles on the rack. We stopped in a hurry and checked the bikes. All of the wheels on that side of the car were buckled, and only one of the bikes was rideable.
Arriving early on Friday morning in Melbourne, the first thing we did was to book into the Youth Hostel, closely followed by jumping in the car and heading off to find the nearest bike shop. Luckily we found one which would have the wheels ready by that afternoon at a cost of all up. Sam was dismayed. He had come down in a different car, and had not seen or heard the truck tyre story. Yet he was being charged dollars to have his bike returned to him in the same condition as he had last seen it. I was also dismayed, since I'd just had the wheel trued less than 24 hours earlier!
The bikes came in handy during the tournament, turning the 15 minute walk to the fields into a 5 minute roll. The tournament, however, was exhausting, and I was a bit worried about our decision to ride the 85km from Geelong to Cumberland River (where the post-tournament wind down was being held) the following day. I was even more concerned after finding a second-hand bookshop on the way to the station, and buying 30 books which I would have to ride with!
We caught the train from Melbourne to Geelong, an 80km trip. I spent part of the trip mending a puncture which I had acquired somewhere around Melbourne. The Victorian rail system is so much more bike friendly than the NSW system. We just got tickets for the bikes, and threw them in the luggage van for the trip. No trying to manoeuvre bikes in narrow carriage passageways. One less stress for the cyclist.
Once in Geelong, we had a brief look at the St Mary's Cathedral. Beautiful place. Sam took a number of photos, some of which turned out spectacularly. Then it was on to the bikes, and off along the road to Lorne and Cumberland River. The real trip was starting.