Going up against the Lycra Brigade while riding along Melbourne’s Yarra Trail. >>
Yesterday, I went for a leisurely bike ride along Melbourne’s Yarra Trail. I pedaled, grinning at nobody, craning my head this way and that, while inhaling the smell of wattle that perfumes the early summertime. A loud PING! shocked me to attention. I turned to see a cyclist approaching, head down, enormous calves flexed, serious in his pursuit. “Hello,” I said. But his eyes didn’t lose focus behind the clear lens of his cyclist’s sunglasses. He stood on his pedals and sped up, showcasing his sinewy muscles beneath glossy Lycra.
I wobbled from the whip of his air displacement and then carried on, peddling with enough momentum to generate a thrill, but not so fast as to miss the view of the coffee colored river reflecting the overhanging foliage, or the rosellas socializing in raucous delight on the bendy branch of a river red gum. I searched the scrub along the banks, hoping to catch a peep of an urbanite tiger snake. I thought about how lucky I am to live in a city with unique flora and fauna that—
PING! PING! A gaggle of serious cyclists snapped me from my reverie. It seemed I was congesting the traffic with my non-aerodynamic cut-off jeans and my relaxed tempo, so I veered off the trail and out of the way until I was passed by a blur of logos and high-tec cycling accoutrements. I resumed my ride, coasting down a satisfying hill that lead underneath a bridge crowded with sluggish Monash freeway traffic. As wind curled its delightful self around my body, my home city began to undress icon by icon, unveiling slowly with a peek of Eureka Tower, a hint of MCG, a spy of the new dome-shaped soccer stadium, until all at once it was standing before me—my glorious city.
I traversed around Federation Square and, sweaty and happy and high on endorphins, I smiled at newly arrived immigrant families, BMX-ing youths and tourists disoriented by the fractured architecture. Jovial cricket fans chanted the hymns of their beloved sport, holding each other affectionately, and for once I decided that maybe, just maybe, cricket is an exciting sport. Okay, maybe not.
I patted my bike with an affectionate stroke and thanked it for transporting into the buzzing Mecca of Melbourne city. The sun disappeared downstream, so I turned around and headed home, leaving the dimming city behind. Anxious commuters with bell happy thumbs rushed past, pumping at their pedals more frantically than before. LED torches clicked on and flashed beams of white and red, drowning out dusk with artificial light. Their PING!-ing spoke an angry message, yelling: “Get out of the way, amateur! Make room for the real cyclists!” PING! PING!
I smiled to myself with a realization: they’re missing out! So single-focused on getting home, they’re rushing past the rosellas and the fractured architecture and the caffeinated river. Fools! I screamed in my head, giggling out loud as I slowed to an even more relaxed pace. Lycra shorts, LED headlights, cyclist’s sunglasses: all the gear and no idea! Speeding suckers! Aerodynamic assholes! I peddled on and refused to yield to the rude PING!-ing idiots. You’re missing the sights! I wanted to tell them. Slow down! Turn off your high beams! ! Smell the roses! Do away with your stupid gear!
I surrendered myself to the view of the Yarra Trail at dusk, in fact, I owned the view because—ha ha!—I was the only one with my eyes open to take it all in.
Then, from nowhere, smack-bang in my left eye: a bug. At least, I think it was a bug, although it could’ve been a small mammal, a bat perhaps. It sure as hell felt like a bat.
I pulled over to scoop it out, poking around in the delicate flesh of my tear ducts for ten minutes. While I scooped and gouged, cyclists zipped past until the stream of commuters abated. Then there was just me on my own with my lowly bike, my stinging left eye and my finger holding something black, soggy and squashed. I wiped it off on my shorts and tentatively remounted my seat.
With night turning the shrubbery into thickets of shadows, menacing enough to silence even the rosellas, I peddled on, watching over my shoulder for thugs, blinking the remnants of squashed dead fauna from my eye, while making a mental shopping list for my next cycling adventure:
- One pair of aerodynamic Lycra shorts
- One bright LED headlight
- One pair of cyclist’s sunglasses
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.