0130 hours, Saturday morning. I had a nap during the early evening, and then couldn't get to sleep at the normal time. I finally shut down my browser, having read my fill of blogs, and crawl off to bed, hoping that sleep will come quickly. It is a silly time to be going to bed. I have read about a BayBUG ride that leaves Concord at 0645 hours. I resolve that if I am awake by 0600, I will go and have a look at what they do. Showers are forecast for late on Saturday - if I am to ride, it must be early in the morning, before the rain. But it is only 4.5 hours away. Can I get by on that little sleep?
Some time later. I awake. The light making its way through the crack in the bedroom curtains is too weak to read my watch by. It is a mixture of far away street lights and the last of the reflected illumination of the moon. I know this light well - it is the light of stand-to (without the street lights). I have seen this light hundreds of times, standing in a sandy or muddy gun pit on some god-foresaken training area, M-60 in front of me, gunner's mate beside me, a long belt of blanks leading into the gun as we scan the perimeter for nogs. This is the time for the Zulu, or the Jap, or the VC to attack. The Australian soldier always stands-to at dawn in preparation for the dawn attack.
This morning, I don't have to resort to licking my finger tips to wash the crust out of each eye - I have a basin of warm, running water to do that. My joints do not ache after another night spent sleeping on ground laced with annoying little rocks, and I am not wet from rain dripping in through holes in my hootchie. I have not spent half the night on gun piquet, swatting away mozzies and jabbing a sharp stick into the palm of my hand to stay awake. I have not slept in all the clothes I have on me, including wearing my boots in my sleeping bag, in order to ward off the cold. I don't have a 10 kilo lump of ice-encrusted metal in front of me that I must now lift to my shoulder and rest my cheek on. I am warm and comfortable and dry and rested, even if I have only spent 4.5 hours in bed. Out there, it is cold and possibly wet. Monkey has joined us during the night, and he is softly snoring beside me. It is Saturday, the day of sleepy-sleeps. Sensible people roll over at this point and go back to sleep. I have been up too early too often to ever feel the desire to do so ever again.
But the light beckons. If I am this awake, I am right to ride. I promised myself that if I was up by 0600, I'd go. I procrastinate for a few more seconds, then slip out of bed and gather my gear together. I will get changed in another room to avoid waking anyone up. If Monkey wakes up now, that will be it - game over. I will have to stay with him and entertain him until J arises - and Saturday is definitely sleep-in day for her.
I walk into the lounge room, where it is light enough to read my watch. 0601. The internal alarm clock never fails.
The trick is to avoid the bloguputer. Do not get bogged down, or blogged down, with reading stuff. I make half a coffee (to avoid filling my stomach) and have half a bowl of cereal - riding on a full stomach is impossible. I grab a few minutes in from of the bloguputer checking on who has updated overnight. I read a few short posts as I eat my cereal and drink my coffee. The long ones will have to wait. I am awaiting clearance from bowel command (not bomber command) before I depart - the iron law is "no poo, no ride". I am not going to put myself into the position where I need to jump the fence at a golf course a drop a woombie behind the 9th green and wipe my bum with gum leaves. This is not a problem today - the guts are well trained. The main purpose of the coffee is to stimulate the bottom end, not the top end. By 0620, all is taken care of. Teeth are brushed, the lenses in the sunglasses have been changed out for the low light orange lenses, pockets are packed and I am ready to go.
By the time I hit the road, the eastern horizon is a huge blog of orange. There are few cars on the road, and half have their lights off. I ride carefully, worried about half-asleep drivers and the odd half-pissed clown weaving his way home after spending the night on a mate's couch. I am ready to leap the kerb and take to the footpath if I have the slightest doubt about any of the cars heading my way.
I waste a few minutes cursing and fiddling with my headlight - it has been ages since I rode in the dark, and the battery has died in the meantime. At least the tail light is blinking brightly - the greatest risk is being hit from behind rather than in front, so as long as I have a red flashing rear, I am right to continue. The dead battery stuffs me up though - by the time I get to the Baybug meeting point (or at least where I think the meeting point is), tumbleweeds are blowing past.
I have a rough idea of where they are going. I don't intend taking the same route, so I push on around Homebush heading for one of the bridges heading north. I catch a pack of bikes just before hitting the bridge - they come from one direction and me from another. I don't actually catch them - they come in from a side street about 50 metres in front of me, and that is as close as I get to them all morning. Those boys are moving. I keep them in sight as we power over the bridge, with my legs suddenly putting out 50% more effort than they were a minute ago. I am one gear higher than usual, and only just holding the gap. I can't close it. Any last vestiges of cobwebs in my system are quickly blown away. A few minutes ago, I was cruising on autopilot with the brain half switched off - I am now 110% awake, heart pumping at full throttle.
Then we hit the hills. Normally, I'd chunk down into low gear and just pleasantly grind up the nasty ones, but these guys stay in a middle gear, stand up and grunt their way up each incline. I am forced to do the same, coming out of the saddle and pushing much harder than usual on each down stroke. The gap widens slightly with each hill - these guys are all much younger, lighter and fitter; and my size and lower fitness level really tells on the hills. A few of the slower riders drop off the back of the pack and lag 50 or 100 metres behind it. Before long, these are the only riders that I will have in sight.
The corners also conspire to open up the gap. As the pack goes through a roundabout or intersection, the riders up the front call back whether the road is clear in each direction of not. Riders further back in the pack do not need to worry about braking if they know there are no cars about, so they power on without slowing down for a glance left and right. I can hear the calls of "clear" floating back when I am near the arse-end of the pack, but I am too far back to take advantage of them. by the time I reach each corner, I have to slow and look. They seem to get all the breaks too - the road is clear for them, but not for me. I have to stop a few times for cars as they disappear over the crest of the next hill.
Then the coughing fits begin. I am still not completely clear of the flu. The main residue is an irritated patch in the back of the throat. Most of the time, it doesn't bother me much, but after a few minutes of breathing very, very hard, the patch is inflamed and slightly painful. I feel like I have a spliter jammed into the flesh of my throat, and I can't cough it out. My body wants to be rid of it, and I can't suppress the coughing spasms. I cough so hard, I nearly vomit. I am still riding, albeit slightly off the pace, and I can taste the bile in the back of my throat. There is no time to worry about that - I must push on and try and maintain contact with these evil bastards. There is not even time to grab a quick drink of water in between hills and corners to wash away the vile taste at the back of my tongue.
And then the chase is over - I have reached the point where they turn left to loop back to Homebush, and I turn right to loop further north. Our ways part. By now, they are a distant sliver of rapidly moving colour that glows brightly in the ever increasing sunlight.
They are heading back to the flatlands, but I am heading further into the hills. I throttle right back, catching my breath and preparing for the nasty bastards in front of me. It takes very little time to recover - even if I can't hold the pace on the hills, at least my body gets over intense spurts of exercise very rapidly. I slow down enough to eat the banana in my back pocket, and then the hills begin again....
Two hours later, I am home. I hurt in some odd places in each leg - the high speed run with the pack has clearly exercised some muscle groups that I don't use that often. I feed some more, shower, suck down some Endura and then flop on the couch. The fatigue hits me like a sledge hammer at that point. Fifteen minutes later, I drag myself back to bed. J times me - I am snoring within a minute, too tired to even bother to close the curtains.