it was a ride that was almost never to be. a constellation of work, family commitments, and roadworks up the blue mountains was looking like my long-held plan of a ride to katoomba was going to stay that way; a plan for another time. fortunately, happen it did, and so it was at 8.15 on a friday morning B1/m and YHC found themselves with butterflys in their stomachs and 200km of tarmac in front of them. on good advice from ian, and some google mapping by B1, we headed west for pennant hills, castle hill and bella vista, joining the M7 bike path. we were lucky enough to hop on the back of 3 riders, making good time to the M4 turnoff at eastern creek. the mountains were in full view by this stage. cutting a blue/black line on the horizon, an ever present reminder of the toil to come. silent, omniscient, inviting.
and so to the climb. B1 was troubled with a loose headset early on and spotting a bike store in blaxland, got it tightened. on greeting us, the store’s owner said, pointing vaguely to B1’s peugeot beauty, “that’s vintage”. “yes, she is” blushed B1 in reply. i was quick to assure B1 that the owner was remarking purely on the steed and not the rider.
we had sailed through easily up to now but the temp started to rise with the climb. up to 38 celsius and with a westerly in our faces, it wasn’t long before we were haloed with salt and our lips dry. it didn’t drop below 30 degrees the whole time we were on the mountain.
3 sisters arrived 2 hours later. photos were taken (attached). a quick snack at cafe 88 in katoomba and the descent was on. a water stop and after being spat out the bottom of lapstone hill onto the M4, a swim would have been just the ticket. looking at the nepean river beneath us, B1 suggested a quick dip. ever the timekeeper, i declined. maybe next year B1. roll on gentlemen, roll on.
what felt like crystal cranking going west, now felt like riding through molasses heading east. a change in wind direction meant a gusty headwind, sometimes head-on, sometimes cross, but always against us. cursing at the gusts as they battered us, there was nothing to do but ride. and so we grabbed our handlebars and fell into it. like a daydream, or a fever. km after km of riding upstream, straining for a view of the M7, and north out of the headwind.
dry, dirty and sore, we finally rolled onto the M7 bike path, stopping for some HTFU pills in the shade of an overpass. B1’s feet were giving him trouble, and the pills seemed to do the trick. electing to go up pennant hills road we drove for home, flicking onto the pac hwy at hornsby. exhausted, we pointed the front wheels in the direction of home, and like old nags that have travelled the way a thousand times, our trusty steeds wheeled us to the front door.
looking back, curiously neither of us felt we had conquered the mountain. but do you ever? someone, somewhere has always done it faster. perhaps the victory is in you conquering you. a vindication your fears were nothing. a battle against the devils on your shoulder, or between you and the road – a battle you did overcome. and it is in that struggle, in that heat, exhaustion and in the camaraderie of your fellow riders, that you discover the difference between riding a bike and being a cyclist.
PS: If anyone wants a good read over the holidays, get your hands on Paul Fournel’s “Need for the Bike”. Also in French. It is, quite simply, the best book on cycling I have ever read.
Apologies to Godspeed You Black Emperor.