The late Mrs Gwynne Brooks was a hard-working foundation WKC member who when time permitted contributed some interesting and entertaining stories. This is her account of how she prepared to compete with her working Kelpie in a 20km endurance trial.
A TIME OF TRIAL!
Gwynne Brooks wrote in the September 1994 Bulletin. I would be the first to agree that I am no spring chicken. However, my attention had been caught by an advertisement about a forthcoming new competition for dogs - the first NSW 20km endurance test. I resolved to enter The Dog. Perusal of the rules revealed that I would have to accompany The Dog over the same distance, either by jogging (no way!) or by bicycle, which seemed a possibility.
Upon tentatively broaching the subject at home, my ever-loving husband showed some concern. "Ah," I thought fondly, "he's worried about me", but his response shattered my illusions. "You'll have a heart attack," he stated firmly, "and then who will look after me?" My adult son gazed at me in disbelief. "You, Mum?" he said, "Get real!" My married daughter's reaction was "What? You haven't been on a bicycle for at least thirty years!" Mention of the proposal at work reduced my associates to fits of giggles, except for the office junior who stoutly defended me by saying: "I think it's wonderful somebody your age having a go!" Such expressions of encouragement and confidence determined me to fly in the face of all reason. The Dog didn't care, either way. As I live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the bicycle shop at Centennial Park seemed the logical place to begin.
There on the footpath was displayed a mind-boggling array of machines available for hire - four-wheelers with canopies, racing and mountain bikes, and miniatures for the tiny tots. When I explained the project to Frano, the youthful proprietor, a guarded look came over his face, such as one might adopt when humouring a difficult elderly relative but, at least, he did produce a mountain bike for my inspection. I remembered, with nostalgia, my sixteenth year when my own bike had sported mudguards, a basket on the front handlebars and a fine net guard over the rear wheel to prevent four metres of gathered gingham skirt becoming entangled in the spokes. The present-day version awaiting me had a straight rod for handlebars, no mudguards and a frightening collection of gears! It did not look user-friendly.
Plucking up my courage and leaving the gears where Frano had set them for me, I took the beast to the Park and, with great caution, wobbled slowly around one lap of the main bicycle track, a distance of 3.7km. I did not fall off, at this early stage, although muscles, long rested, united in objection. Obviously, there was a great deal of work to be done.
The following Saturday, I hired the bike again and took The Dog with me. Having been taught from puppyhood to keep away from all vehicles (and roads, especially!), The Dog viewed the project with some doubt. It was clear from his reactions that he subscribed to the general opinion that I had lost the plot but, being of a stoic nature, he bore with this new peculiarity of mine and agreed to trot beside the bike, no matter what. That day, we did three laps, and I came home feeling acutely unfit. The Dog was fine.
My next step was to see if I could keep up the cycling for a week, so the hired bike came home with me. My attempts to use the cycle track during daylight on weekends had tested my patience sorely, what with smart-alec roller bladders, motorists parking illegally on the cycle track, juvenile cyclists wandering without warning all over the place and uncontrolled canines rushing at me and The Dog. All of these factors had successfully unhorsed me with varying degrees of pain and I had had enough. Better the unknown terrors of the dark, apart from which, the only time available for real daily practice was after work.
Everyone was aghast. I was counselled about after-dark stranger danger. I was urged to carry a personal alarm and have someone stationed at the Park entrance (which is closed to traffic at sundown) to time my laps and, in the event of my failure to appear, to sound a general alarm and race to my rescue. Despite all warnings, I entered the Park early that first evening, albeit with some trepidation. The place was teeming! At regular intervals about 30 racing cyclists flashed past, nose to tail, winky lights glittering, as they did their training laps. Joggers panted along, a few sedate cyclists like me were working out or pedalling home through the Park. There even were people strolling or walking their dogs in the dark!
I decided that The Dog and I should concentrate on six laps, which gave slightly more distance than that required for the endurance test. Initially, for me, the main task was actually getting through the six laps without total collapse (The Dog was fine!) but I did notice that, by 6.30 p.m., activity in the Park had begun to drain away. By 7.30 p.m., the place was almost deserted and very silent. I thought that probably it would be a good idea to be keep alert, but I didn't dwell on the odds of saving myself by pedalling off at high speed, given my continuing state of exhaustion.
Under bright moonlight, the Park was a thing of quiet, silver beauty - what I hadn't reckoned on were the possums skittering around the trunks of trees and the rabbits making suicidal dashes across the cycle track. The Dog could resist neither. My worst tumble occurred when The Dog so far forgot himself as to lunge after a possum. As the lead end was tied to the handlebars, the bike altered direction dramatically and I ended up spreadeagled over the log balustrade so thoughtfully provided by the Park Trust at the side of the cycle track. The Dog endured a sharp homily on the evils of temptation, and I attached the lead thereafter to the vertical column below the handlebars.
By the end of the first two weeks, I had pedalled painfully as far as Gosford, which fact I announced proudly to anyone who would listen. "Ah," said my son darkly, surprised that I had lasted thus far, "but you still have to get back home again".
As bike hire was costing a small fortune, I decided to take the plunge and invest in my own mountain bike. Custom-made and spray-painted to personal taste (fluoro pink and purple), I sallied forth with it to the Park. Because the hired bike did not have lights or reflectors (no sensible customers being mad enough to propose riding in the dark), The Dog and I had been subjected to a modicum of verbal abuse from other cyclists who had barely avoided running into us. Now, I proudly turned on my front lamp, got one evening's light out of it and thus discovered I should have used alkaline batteries. However, the alkaline batteries weren't much better, giving up the battle after a couple of two-hour stints. A kindly racing cyclist suggested winky lights back and front. "They're not to light your way," said he, "they're just there to let other people know where you are." Great! So, I learned to watch the painted white line which divided the cycle track from the main vehicle thoroughfare.
Bit by bit, my body began to fall apart. I developed sinus from the cold night wind and had to wear a scarf under my bike helmet. The skin split between my toes, presumably from all the pedalling. No sooner did I get that fixed, than the base of my spine objected to the jarring of the saddle. I invested in a gel saddle, topped with sheepskin. Trial and error eventually solved the problem of the saddle height and sore knees. Chafing became a major difficulty, and I discovered the true bliss of padded bike knickers. The spread of the trendy handlebars caused shoulder soreness and pressure pain at my wrists. Not only that, but I also found them somewhat uncontrollable, while managing The Dog, and ran full tilt into a brick wall, severely skinning my elbow. I located a rounded pair of lady's old-fashioned handlebars and swapped them for the trendy ones.
Slowly, the bike and I got more comfortable with each other - through all of these tribulations The Dog was fine! However, a Catch-22 situation had developed. The Dog, entering into the spirit of the project, now could trot a 3km lap in 13 minutes, while I had to pedal like a maniac to keep up with him, muscles in a state of shrieking rebellion. "What about your gears?" said my son. "I haven't worked out how to use them yet, "l admitted, lamely. Snorting with exasperation, he lectured me about gear changing and I tried hard to grasp the concept. Notwithstanding, I found that, although I could slow the spinning of the pedals, I had to push harder, and my aching muscles were no better off. Clearly, it was time to consult the experts.
The neighbourhood chiropractor heard me out in amazement. "Well," she said, after examining me thoroughly, "you don't appear to have done yourself any permanent damage. It's definitely muscular"; and she then gave me a treatment which resulted in me being barely able to move at all on the following day. "Serves you right," said my husband with satisfaction.
Molly, my friend at work, had conditioned show ponies. "There's a horse liniment that's great stuff for soreness," she suggested. "We used to rub their legs with it and then hit them with wisps of straw. They loved it." I got the liniment and told my family the tale. With a gleam in his eye, my ever-helpful husband offered to flick me with a wet tea towel if it would assist. "Mmm - kinky!" said my married daughter, giving her father a strange look.
The liniment, applied after a hot shower, was so fiery that it numbed everything it touched but, although I reeked with embrocation, I now could negotiate the staircase without resorting to my hands and knees.
I also found out about interval training. Molly thought it might be better for me and I was eager to adopt any bright idea which would ensure that I did not fall down in a heap. So, The Dog and I went out every second night and, slowly, my muscles began to bend to my will. The Dog, as usual, was fine. He had developed into a formidable trotting machine, effortlessly powering along with beautifully co-ordinated breathing and pulling up as fresh as a daisy - undoubtedly capable of another six laps, as opposed to me! He was enjoying himself immensely.
Regulars in the Park after dark began to recognise me as another regular, rather than the eccentric dame with the trotting hound and became interested in why The Dog and I were doing it all. They applauded my perseverance - they admired The Dog; and so, we battled on, me and The Dog, as the weeks flew by.
And did The Dog and I succeed? Ah, well that's another story!