Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Bicycle Sagas #3

Dad sat on my verandah the other day and accepted his cup of bushie tea - strong, black, no sugar. I showed him my new pride and joy, The Contessa Ladies Bicycle leaning nonchalantly against an icebox. We talked about the Avon Descent, an annual white water race coming up this time of year. That collision of two ideas that make you go fast without an engine - a bike and white water kayaking - made for the inevitable question.
"Do you remember that bike ride?"

At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, not something embarked upon lightly in the blogosphere, I am probably the youngest ever contestant in the single kayak section of the Avon Descent. This is because my father entered me illegally (paddlers should really be over 18) with the intention of providing me a formative adolescent experience he could approve of.
For months, I swam laps of the pool, went running through tick-infested coasthills and did a lot of ocean paddling. I canoed alone most nights after school, across a winter harbour, guided home by the lights of the slipway, where a grizzled old shark fisherman (yes I've always loved that lot) kept an eye out for me, whilst his boat was up there getting her barnacles blown off.
But there was no white water in town, dammit and how is a girl to learn the rapids without white water?
Dad's plan was to stalk it in its natural environment, hunt it down - and shoot it.
Off we went to the Avon, to find some white water, a week before the great race. Again - his plan. Put the canoes, two bicycles, a tarpaulin and some baked beans on the back of the ute and drive inland to Toodyay, where hill and dale swelled with the music of rapids. Drop the bikes off twenty kilometres downstream and then drive back to base camp, where we would launch our canoes.
He's ex-Army and knows a thing or two and I was up for it. We had a great day. I understood the regulations about racing with helmets, when I felt the deep scores in mine, from bouncing head first over submerged rocks. I began to understand the currents and when to lean into them. I was missing a few things by the time we reached our bikes, like all of my Mars Bars, (never even got to eat one and this was a special occasion, having 'no Coke and half an hour of TV a day' kind of parents) a box of those matches you are supposed to be able to light underwater - and my paddle.
By the time I lost my paddle, it was darkening, the sun was gone and things began to feel a bit less friendly. We'd gone too far downstream and couldn't find the bikes. That took another hour.
Finally, we dragged the canoes out of the water, climbed on the bicycles clad in sodden wetsuits and headed for the camp.
I think I was about fifteen metres down the pocked and puddled gravel before I realised, no I knew, that this was to be an Epic. It was twenty kilometres on a darkened track through the bush on a bike and I was fucking freezing already!

After the pain, numbness set in. My bare feet must have been minus toes from the sticks and tree stumps, but I couldn't see or feel my my toes, so it didn't matter. I couldn't feel my face anymore either and my fingers were no longer part of my body.
I can remember the rattle of those two bikes on gravel, the sound cutting through that still, inland chill.

Dad hurtled down the chasm of a track and straight into a closed gate.
"It was open this morning!"

In the morning, I awoke to pooled ice in the creases of the tarpaulin.
A formative experience alright. A peak experience? Hell yeah. I'd do it again, strangely enough. but I'd whinge louder!


  1. Oh man! I was right about you Ms Toa...such an Amazon.

    So...tell me, did you go on to do Ironwoman comps or triathalons? Tough stock you come from. Impressive.

    Like the link too. :)

    It certainly qualifies as a peak experience and a formative one at that!

  2. Amazonian you say Sontag? Well I can confirm Ms Toa is scary big larger than life!

  3. Yep, a big strong girl and gorgeous too, with uncontrollable hair and brain to match.

    I too am impressed. I came from similar tough stock (not army, just hard) and very grateful for it, especially when I see so many unfit and lazy younguns who have grown up way too soft, and missed out on some great experiences.

  4. Oh...and Ms Larger than Life Toa with uncontrollable hair and brain :)

    ( Ha. The brain power is obvious too)

    I loved the line...'That collision of two ideas that make you go fast without an engine.'

    Works on many levels and has stuck with me...

  5. I'm just lucky to have my Dad really.
    The Teen Amazonian came to grief the next weekend, in water that rushed through a tea tree forest. I managed to sink an unsinkable fibreglass kayak, lose my other paddle and cry a little bit.
    I got picked up by a bunch of guys on an inflatable, coming dead last, with a roll of toilet paper and a cask of fruity lexia on board!

    Glad you liked that line Sontag, wasn't sure about it when I wrote. Thanks for your comments ...

  6. Wow!! Toa, knowing you is a constant unwrapping.