When confronted with ridiculous challenges, there are usually two voices in my head. There’s the voice of reason, saying, “No, don’t do it”. Then there’s the other voice, which, in this case, sounds very much like my Senior Deputy Editor’s, exclaiming, “Yes, do it!”.
I couldn’t hear the “no” for the enthusiastic shouting of my boss on Tuesday.
And that’s how I agreed to participate in the national Ride2Work Day. “Why” is another question altogether.
This was a ridiculous challenge for a couple of reasons. The first was my ride to work was to be more like an odyssey. I would be cycling from the southern part of Lake Macquarie to Newcastle, a journey of about 33 kilometres.
The second reason was that I’m no MAMIL (Middle-Aged Male in Lycra). I’m more of a reptile. At 52, I’m a MAM. My bike is also well-worn. It’s a red Shogun, which I bought more than 20 years ago. It’s a marvellously durable bicycle, defying the years and rust. The Shogun even has an original front tyre. That’s not an issue if you’re just riding to the shops, as I usually do; for a long trek, there was a reasonable chance this would turn into Push2Work Day for me.
Anyway, I ignored the “ridiculous” bits, as only a MAM can, and embraced the challenge. Wearing my best gym shorts (the ones with elastic still in them) and a pack on my back, and carrying a bottle full of water and a belly full of anticipation, I set off at 9.07am on Wednesday.
No sooner had I put my feet on the pedals than a north-easterly skittered across the lake and smacked me in the face. That infernal headwind was to be my constant companion.
Tracing the lake’s south-western shoreline was therapeutic. The riding must have been making me look positively youthful. A tradie in a ute near Rathmines waited for me to pass, saying, “It’s harder for you, son.” Son!
When I hit Wangi Road and endured the long climb towards Toronto, I felt positively decrepit. Actually, from my thighs down, I felt nothing at all but aching. I also felt a little exposed, with the whoosh of trucks travelling at 80 km/h just metres away. Still, there’s always someone slower than you. I passed a young bloke, Nathan, who was walking to Warners Bay.
The run down through Toronto was sweet relief. The falling of rain as I crossed the Fennell Bay bridge was not. Thankfully, there were only a few drops. From Booragul to Warners Bay, I didn’t have to contend with motor vehicles; I was on the bike and pedestrian path, allowing me to glance at the lake. On the path, I passed the first cyclists I’d seen since setting off. I wondered how many were participating in Ride2Work Day.
To get an idea of that, as I pedalled towards Hillsborough, I stopped in at Cheeky Bikes. Owner Oliver Pringle said more and more people cycled to work most days.
“Traffic congestion is getting worse, and cycling is getting easier, with electric bikes,” he said. I was tempted to buy one of those, there and then, on the company card. In the workshop were Matt Miller and John Ebeling. They praised me for riding to work. I felt smugly self-satisfied. That is, until “Ebo” mentioned he cycled to work most days – from Maitland.
Following the Cheeky Bikes boys’ advice, I rode along the edge of the Newcastle inner city bypass, acting like a tortoise beside the motorised hares tearing past, as I climbed the hill to the Cardiff turn-off. From there, it was gloriously downhill to Kotara and across to the Fernleigh Track – well, the last few hundred metres of it – and a cafe popular with cyclists.
Fernleigh Cafe barista Djalar Donovan said it had been an average morning, with about 20 riders stopping by. Then Louise Shearston arrived. She had just ridden from work, a nearby indoor climbing centre, to buy a drink. But she was participating in Ride2Work Day – “I never usually ride on a Wednesday”.
One common call among the riders I had met was a need for a larger cycle network to connect communities and encourage two-wheel commuting. What’s more, having shared roads with motor vehicles, I reckon there’s room for more bike awareness. It’s not enough to have “Watch out for Bicycles” signs and logos on the road; that has to be translated into respect, irrespective of the number of wheels below us.
I traced the Honeysuckle foreshore and arrived at the office at 12.31pm. I had ridden to work. I felt great. It would be impractical for me to do this every day, as I would have only a couple of hours at my desk before riding off again. Hang on. Now that I think about it, perhaps every day should be Ride2Work Day. Say “yes!” to that, Senior Deputy Editor.