[ARTICLE UPDATED ON OCTOBER 1, SEE END]
I’m being hassled by the Ride to Conquer Cancer people. Someone from Peter Mac phones me every other week, asking how my fundraising is going. “It’s going OK,” I say. “It’s not bad”. Can they do anything for me? “No, I’ll be fine,” I say. “Thanks for calling.”
I’ve raised $591 so far, and need to reach a total of $2,500 before the deadline on October 5 – nearly two grand. Gulp.
A couple of people have told me I won’t be allowed to take part in the event unless I raise the dough – and the ride website seems to back this up. That strikes me as unnecessarily punitive. What will happen to the money people have already donated if I don’t make it? Is a little cash not better than no cash?
I’m being pressured by the ride’s organisers in unsubtle ways. They want me to feel their pressure, and to act upon it, so that they can:
a) earn an honest wage
b) pump money into research that may or may not advance understanding and treatment of an illness that’s guaranteed to cast a shadow over most people’s lives.
The unrelenting – and unremittingly friendly – badgering from those Peter Mac callers is probably why I’m writing this now.
My fundraising effort to date has been modest.
I stopped letting Peter Mac post to my Facebook timeline on my behalf a couple of months ago because it felt like they were spamming my friends. And I haven’t acted on any of the emails from the organisation – like the one below – for much the same reason:
Are you ready for The Ride? It’ll be here before you know it! Now is the time to kick your fundraising into high gear. Be sure to ask all potential donors for contributions. We’ve made it easy to ask, just forward them our template email below.
Here’s how it works:
1. Click FORWARD
2. In the subject line type “Help me do something epic!”
3. Delete everything above the ********** line
4. Enter in the email addresses of your friends and family in the TO: field.
5. Press SEND!
************Delete this line and everything above it!************
I’m doing something big about cancer, something epic. I’m cycling for two days in the inaugural Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. AND I’m so committed to the cause that I’m fundraising at least $2,500! That’s why I am asking you for a donation to my fundraising account. Your contribution will play a role in the quest to conquer cancer.
Please visit my personal page and donate today:
Thank you in advance for your generosity!
I’d feel a bit weird sending that message to people I know – but, hey, it could be the cash cow I need.
Of course I have personal reasons for doing a ride to support cancer research. Most people, I’m sure, have charities picked for them by circumstance. I’ve yet to meet anyone with Escher Hirt syndrome but if I had, or if I’d been born with it, that would no doubt be my charity cause of choice.
I don’t expect the ride on October 27 and 28 to be physically demanding. I’ll be riding 200km over two days “out of majestic Melbourne as the urban landscape gradually gives way to the rolling hills and vineyard views of the world-class wine region of Yarra Valley”.
I’d be surprised if we leave the city at race pace. I predict both days will be far easier on my legs than the training rides I do with friends most weekends.
But I do expect it to be emotional. I imagine I’ll see and meet people who are going through all kinds of suffering, and not just on their bikes. I hope to talk to some of them, to ride beside them, to hear what they have to say. And even to act as their domestique if they’re finding the going difficult.
For that to happen, from what I understand, you need to donate whatever money you can spare to my personal fundraising page right away.
Update, October 1 2012:
So, I’m just off the phone with a guy from Peter Mac. Turns out the minimum I can raise and be “allowed” to do the ride this month is $2500. At present I’m sitting at $1000 (which I’m pretty happy with), and the deadline’s later this week.
I asked the guy whether people who have sponsored me so far would get their money back if I didn’t do the ride, given I’d be forfeiting the challenge; and, no, they won’t be – technically they have “donated” rather than “sponsored”, which is a clear distinction.
The guy said they’d be able to grant an extension on my deadline until post-ride, meaning I’d have until December to raise the dough. But this would involve me giving Peter Mac my credit card details and giving them permission to make up the difference – currently $1500 – if I fall short of the target.
He asked me to email everyone I know three times this week to ask for money, which I’m not prepared to do – I reckon there are loads of good causes and loads of people doing things to raise money for them; I don’t want to hassle people beyond the emails, blogs and tweets I’ve written already.
In short, donate if you want – regardless of the tactics, cancer research is as important as ever, and something I’m still happy to donate to – but there’s a growing likelihood I won’t be doing the ride. Frankly, I can’t afford $1500 or anywhere near it.
To those of you who have donated money, thanks a million: I’ve been a bit blown away by your kindness and generosity.
Apologies if you believed – as no doubt thousands of people do – your donation was contingent on someone actually doing something. On the plus side, it’s going to a good cause, even if the strategy employed by the company is, at best, disingenuous.
My parents didn’t arrive at Sunwun’s third birthday party until about half way through, despite the fact they were staying at ours. Or kind of staying at ours.
They’d arrived in Australia the morning before. I stood with Sunwun at Tullamarine Airport international arrivals, me feeling impatient, Sunwun holding a sign that said Grandma and Grandpa.
They were coming from Singapore, following a three-day stopover, following a flight from Dubai, following a flight from the UK, following a flight from Spain, where they live.
We stood behind the barrier for ages. And then, all of a sudden, they were there. I hadn’t seen them in the flesh since 2010, which means they hadn’t seen my wife, Sunwun or I in the flesh either; and they had never seen Suntoo in the flesh, because he was born right here in Australia.
Emotions were running high. And about to run higher.
I drove them down the CityLink Freeway, fighting the glare of the early-day sun, to our rental house in Brunswick. We had a quick cup of tea, and they had first contact with Suntoo; but naturally, after such a long journey, they needed to rest. They went into the living room, on to the sofa bed.
My mum had a swollen stomach, which she’d had for some time. So while they were both napping, my wife and I booked her an appointment at our GP out in Donvale, where we used to live. My wife drove my mum out the Eastern Freeway, and I stayed at home with my dad and the boys.
They returned in the evening to say no cause for the swelling had been found, but they’d been told to go to accident and emergency, out at Box Hill hospital. My mum didn’t want to go, because it was the night before Sunwun’s third birthday party – but, eventually, we went: I drove my parents out the Eastern Freeway, and my wife stayed at home with the boys.
We spent the rest of the evening in a booth at Box Hill hospital, which is really nowhere near our house. It was an emergency ward, and a Friday, and so nothing happened fast.
My parents persuaded me to go home some time after midnight, which I did, albeit reluctantly. Leaving your parents in a hospital booth in the middle of the night and – from their perspective – in the middle of nowhere, when they’ve just crossed the planet to see you … yeah, not good.
By the time they arrived the next day, half way through Sunwun’s party, our house was heaving with people. They looked grey-drained. We cut the cake. Sunwun blew out the candles. I got a pic of Sunwun with my parents looking grey-drained in the background. Hurray. A happy birthday.
It wasn’t until Sunwun and Suntoo were in bed that night that we got the news: my mum had been diagnosed with cancer.
It didn’t sink in. Not then. Not now.
She’d been told at Box Hill she could go home, that they could see nothing wrong with her, only to be told the exact opposite by an oncologist ten minutes later.
There have been better starts to holidays.
Three days later we were back at Box Hill, in a gyno-oncology waiting room, dreading what was about to be said. My parents were grey-drained and exhausted. I looked at my phone. We said nothing.
I watched an Asian man with bad English trying to communicate his needs to the receptionist. I watched the faces of other people sitting around. I wondered if they all had cancer.
We were called into a small office-cum-examination room. My mum, my dad, a Transylvanian oncologist and a student doctor sat on plastic chairs. I sat to the side of them on an examination bed, with a clear view of my parents.
Niceties were exchanged while the doctor got my mum’s file up on the computer. My parents’ faces were primed for the worst, their bodies prepared to absorb a knockout blow as best as they could.
The doctor said he wished he was Harry Potter, that he could vanish the illness with a wave of his wand.
My mum asked how long could she expect.
The doctor said it’s not like in the movies, and that no-one really knows.
My mum asked what would happen to her without treatment.
The doctor said not to go down that road.
My mum asked what would happen next.
The doctor said the next thing was a CAT scan .
My dad and I shook the doctor’s hand, and my mum said thank you, as we left.
I locked myself in a cubicle in the nearest bathroom and cried. A lot. I couldn’t stop. Then my dad knocked the door and said we had to go to to another part of the hospital for the CAT scan.
The next day, I drove my parents to a clinic in Bentleigh East, on the other side of Melbourne, and we sat twiddling thumbs in another waiting room. A specialist we’d met briefly the day before in Box Hill had agreed to see us there briefly, and without an appointment, if we were prepared to wait.
We waited. I looked at my phone. I read a booklet on living with cancer, another on chemotherapy, another on diet. I went to the toilet, came back, sat down, stood up, sat down, stood up.
A receptionist came over to say the specialist had been held up at her weekly “tumor meeting”, discussing cases, including my mum’s, and would be some time.
We drank hospital coffee on the terrace outside, and said very little. And then we came back.
Eventually the specialist called us in, sat us down. Another student doctor sat watching, taking notes. The specialist discussed the likely spread, the likely treatment, the likely timescale, the likely survival rate.
Treatment should start immediately but, of course, it wasn’t that easy: my parents don’t live in Australia, they live in the UK, or in Spain, or in … sorry, where would my mum like to start her treatment?
The specialist and student left the room so we could talk logistics. But we mostly just stared at each other.
If treated here, my mum would be in Australia until at least Christmas. That was fine with me: I wanted her to stay. For me, that was the best option. But then this. And then that. And then this again.
A day passed faxing things, phoning people.
The fluid build-up in my mum’s stomach was making it increasingly hard for her to breathe, and so we asked for some medical help. They’d be able to drain the fluid at Box Hill in a few days, they said, maybe sooner.
In the supermarket that same day, I got a call from a doctor to say a bed had become free.
I drove my parents out the Eastern Freeway to Box Hill, and my wife stayed at home with the boys. My mum sat on a bed behind a curtain and spoke with another friendly oncologist. Yes, she would be in overnight, maybe longer.
The first night, some litres were drained from her stomach, and some litres remained. She didn’t want to stay in another night because she wanted to come away with me, to see me ride my bike in an event I’d been training for for months. She knew I wouldn’t go, or would struggle to go, if she was stuck in hospital.
I drove out the Eastern Freeway with Sunwun to pick her up from hospital that same afternoon, to be there when she was released. Sunwun sat with my mum on her hospital bed while I took a couple of photos.
And then he got restless. I followed him through corridors as he pushed a wheeled walking frame, down in the lift, up in the lift.
At six the next morning, I was standing among hundreds of other people on bikes at the top of a mountain in the Victorian Alps, blowing a kiss and waving to my mum. She looked cold but happy.
I cried a bit during my descent of the mountain. I felt fitter than ever, and yet somehow my mum was so ill.
Nearly 12 hours later, when I crossed the finish line, she was there with my inlaws, my dad, my wife and the boys. But when I looked for her five minutes later she was gone. She’d returned to our apartment, I was told – it had taken all her strength to stand waiting for me in the cold.
At the apartment, she said she’d been vomiting, and apologised for ruining my big day.
Her health worsened in the following days. She couldn’t eat, and couldn’t hold down liquid; she had no energy.
Unhappily, she agreed to go back to Box Hill. She wanted to go to Aberdeen for her treatment, and knew it was going to be harder, if not impossible, the more time passed.
She lay in a bed in a booth in the emergency ward, and was told a blockage from the fluid drain might be causing the vomiting, and so that’s what they would test for.
Nothing was found, but would she stay in overnight for further tests? No, she wouldn’t.
Before coming to Australia, my mum said her main ambition was to take Sunwun and Suntoo to the local park, a mere block or two from our house, to push them on the swings, to have that memory.
We tried the next day, but half way to the park my mum apologised and said she couldn’t go on; she had to get back to the house, to lie down.
The airline representatives, when we phoned, said they wouldn’t take my mum in her current state without a doctors’ note – specifically their doctors note – and that it would take about 72 hours to arrange.
That was too long.
My wife and I got the boys out of the house the next morning. While we were walking to the play park my mum phoned to say she’d managed to get a flight with a different airline, and would be leaving in a few hours.
That evening, my mum and I sat together briefly in the living room, saying what we wanted to say, before Sunwun and Suntoo burst in on us, full of life.
My parents’ bags, still largely unpacked, were zipped up again. Branches on a tree outside our living room window thrashed wildly in a gathering storm.
Sunwun said “me lub you” under the veranda at the front of our house; Suntoo said nothing, and offered just a fleeting hug. Neither boy seemed shocked to see Grandma and Grandpa leaving so soon; neither seemed aware of the distance or drama.
I drove my parents out the CityLink Freeway in heavy rain, and my wife stayed at home with the boys. It was hard to see through the windscreen.
I helped carry my parents’ luggage into the airport, helped check the noticeboard for the right check-in desk and departure gates. I was still with them as they shuffled along, still part of things.
And then, after hugs and blown kisses, I wasn’t.
I was dreaming on an inflatable camping mattress the other night.
In my head I was in Scotland at a music festival with my wife, traipsing through eat-your-shoe, early-evening mud.
I think we were 26, 27 …
We turned a corner and saw a man at the top of a rickety walkway, bathed in a red light that made it look as if he had red wings.
I’d already necked two Es and was buzzing.
At the top of the walkway we joined a crowd waiting for the next band.
My wife reached into her jacket and offered me another E.
“On you go,” I said.
She popped the pill in her mouth and swallowed. I wondered if she’d be sick, or just ecstatic. Were we in love? Yes. Did we cuddle? Yes. Would we have kids one day? Yes – maybe.
I woke in lukewarm darkness, the swell and crash of sea against rocks, wind rippling the tent’s walls, tugging gently at the pegs I’d hammered in, the guy ropes I’d pulled tight.
Our beautiful nylon house – with a kitchen area and a fridge.
My wife was asleep, lying behind me in her sleeping bag, her knees touching the base of my spine.
It might have been three in the morning, maybe four.
I stretched my right leg and pressed my foot against the mesh wall of Son Two’s portacot, trying to see him in the dark with my toes. I got the impression he was on his back in a star shape, just as he’d been before.
Son One’s little hand was in mine – a warm surprise. The last four evenings he’d fallen asleep next to me on his mini mattress but gone walkabout during the night.
Maneuvering on my hands and knees – at times in a state of some alarm – I’d discover him in another part of the tent, face-planting the floor or hunched across a suitcase like a caterpillar. From there I’d put my arms round his middle, hoist him up and humph him back into position.
I realised I’d been falling back in love with my kids, my wife.
Mostly I see the boys at the bookends of the day or in their car seats at the weekend.
And now this …
By morning feeding rosellas, preparing breakfast slowly – is there another way? – on our camp stove.
By evening washing the boys in a sink in brownish dam water, singing songs.
By day filling hours between orange-grey rocks on Squeaky Beach, Sons One and Two with their buckets and spades, digging holes – a Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads vibe for me, but not in a bad way.
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down, water flowing underground …
Them: my sons; me: their dad; my wife: their mum; me: her husband.
It’s true what they say: you may find yourself in another part of the world, picking sand from rice cakes, from bottle tops, shoes, everything gritty. Crunch.
There’s no point asking yourself how you got here, looking out over Bass Strait, the southernmost point of Australia, to the cold, hypnotic south.
Son Two stirred in his cot and then settled.
I turned on to my stomach. Even in the darkness it was clear something had changed: I’d moved from old-young to young-old; I’d changed gears to something easier.
I felt no optimism for the future, no pessimism for the past.
Only the present, right in front of me, all around us.
Same as it ever was.
This is the last instalment of Innocent in Australia (for now). Thanks for reading and for lots of great feedback over the past year – much appreciated! Paul
Son One sees a man no-one else sees in our living-room-house.
From what he’s offered voluntarily, and what my wife and I have gleaned through cross-examination, we know the man is old. That means he’s over 12.
We know he’s like Daddy. But then, several people are like Daddy. When Son One sees Jimmy Giggle from Giggle and Hoot, he says, “Daddy”. When he sees skinny-jeaned rock stars in music videos, he says “Daddy”.
There are exceptions, alas. When Johnny Depp appeared in a film trailer Son One didn’t say Daddy, despite repeated prompting.
We know the old man in our living-room-house stands with his hands in his pockets. Sometimes he smiles; sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he says hello to Son One; sometimes Son One says hello to him.
“Who are you saying hello to?” we say.
“Man,” he says, pointing erratically. “Deyr, deyr.”
When I ask Son One where, exactly, the man is, he points over my shoulder to the table at the centre of our living-room-house. Hairs stand up on my neck when he does this; a chill runs through my bones. It’s almost as if I know what I’m going to see.
I turn and survey the creaking table top; I take in the trike and boxes of toys lurking beneath it; I consider the mounds of clothes, Tupperware, plugs, toiletries, bike bits and boxes on the table’s surface; I marvel sadly at the piles of photos still in their packets, posters still in their tubes, official-looking mail still in its envelopes …
You’d be hard pushed to conduct a séance round that table; there’s no gap for a Ouija board.
It could be worse. At least the old man isn’t threatening. For all we know, he just wants to watch over us, to mollycoddle us in some gentle way. It’s a tough one to read.
Because he keeps schtum, at least to us, the man’s motivations are opaque, and yet I seem to see right through him.
He could have picked a better time to join us. Four of us in one room is already too many – now we’re five it feels unbearable. I thought ghosts were supposed to haunt airy castles, empty factories, forests …
For nearly a year (with a big gap in the middle) the living-room-house has been our home, and space is at an obvious premium; our individual bits of real estate are carefully allocated.
Mine is the suitcase I arrived with in Australia and the space directly above it. I say “space” … it’s currently an unwieldy skyscraper of clothes and personal trinkets. I have to maintain this, of course, keep it tidy.
Given I’m mostly in the room in morning darkness, when everyone is sleeping, or evening darkness, when Son One and Son Two are sleeping, this is less than straightforward. My life has become a kind of sock Jenga: some days I escape without a total collapse, but these are few and far between.
We need to find a place of our own. My wife and I agree on this. We need to have a strategy for finding a place of our own. We agree on a time to discuss this.
And then we sit down, eat food and watch TV.
We’re too tired, so we resolve to do it the next day when we’re not so tired. But the next day we’re just as tired. We don’t have a ghost of a chance.
More than once I’ve thought the old man in our living-room-house could be employed by Rentaghost, the firm from the 1980s children’s show that specialised in lending the undead to the general public to help with “various tasks”.
Although that would mean the company’s been struggling of late, given the series tagline was: If your mansion house needs haunting, just call Rentaghost.
It’s probably like the DVD rental market, the music industry – I blame the internet every time.
I like to wonder who could have hired the old man on our behalf, and what his “various tasks” might be. There’s definitely no shortage. Maybe he’s been sent to help us get our fingers out of our arses.
Maybe that’s what Son One means by “old man, hands in pockets”. How would we ever know?
I got an email that said ten days to go until BUPA Around the Bay. Which means I’m running out of time.
The route I’m doing is 210 kilometers clockwise round Port Phillip Bay (as per the map above). That sounds easier now than when I entered the event a few weeks ago, but still …
I’m cycling to and from work, 51 kilometres a day, pushing myself hard. I climb hills in higher gears, attack bends at greater angles. I have two water bottles on my bike now rather than one – in fact, I have a whole new freaking bike. It’s this one.
Is it wrong to form attachments? Is the word “love” too strong for a machine? Is there anything sweeter than your first date with a carbon frame? That’ll be three “nos” then.
The last two weekends I’ve done a 140km ride and 110km ride. The first was on my old bike – from the in-laws’ home in Donvale to the Dandenongs to Frankston, and then back again – it was good, but it nearly killed me.
The second, on my beautiful new Beistegui Hermanos, filled me with confidence, joie de vivre … if not for my innate sense of decorum, I might have smacked people’s asses and hissed as I glided past them, then laughed as I left them for dead. Also, I was with the Climbing Cyclist, who may have objected to this behaviour.
For Around the Bay, I plan to stuff my jersey’s back pockets with sesame bars, muesli bars and bananas. Of course, for practice runs I only take one banana as they still cost up to $3 each. I fantasise about throwing the peels behind me on the big day to eliminate any competition, but I probably won’t.
It’s not just physical training – I’m preparing psychologically, too.
One major goal is staying relaxed on the saddle.
I burst four tyres on my old bike in recent weeks and had to fit spare tubes on the road, once under a tree in heavy hail. I had to rub the water out of eyes with oily knuckles, and spread grimy black lines across my face. When I got back on, people moved quickly out of my way, often grimacing.
I fell to the ground three days in a row just for practice. A universal truth about clip-in bike shoes is you’re either clipped in or not – there’s no in between. Another is: if you panic when trying to release your tootsies you’ll do it wrong.
The first fall happened at the end of a bridge while trying to negotiate a tricky double barrier. The bike stopped, I yanked my feet helplessly on the pedals, and landed heavily on my shoulder and hip. The impact knocked my back derailleur out – just enough to cause problems.
That became apparent the following evening while I was climbing the steepest hill on my commute – a thin asphalt path bordered by sharply descending scrubland. It’s a meany. Screaming “Cumon ya big hill basturt” as you ascend isn’t strictly necessary, but I find it helps.
I was about two thirds of the way up when the chain slipped from its cog. The bike stopped, then swerved backwards, dragging me by the clipped-in feet down the scrubland and into a bush.
I was pulling branches from the spokes when I saw a woman with a concerned face on the road above looking down at me and talking. Because I had LCD Soundsystem pumping music through my earphones, I couldn’t hear a thing.
I just shouted: “Yup, no probs.”
The next morning I was waiting for the green man in a group of about 20 riders. When he appeared, I lifted my free foot from the ground and started pedalling.
Within seconds I was splayed awkwardly across the road, waiting for someone to cycle over my head or drive across my legs.
I can only hope my feet have learned their lesson.
I’m also working on signalling my intentions to other cyclists. The Around the Bay email advised me to get used to team riding, to study the finer points of bike etiquette. I’m asking the cyclists I know for tips, doing what I can.
I still find it a little intimidating to latch on to the back of a pack of unknowns and cycle with them – I fear they’ll all sprint away, then let me catch up, then do the same again. But it’s a minor anxiety – I’m not stressing too much.
People will be falling over themselves to ride with me on the day.
I love Son-One. He loves me back.
But for some time he hasn’t wanted to kiss me.
We have short conversations in which I say: “A kiss for Daddy?” and he says: “No”; or I say: “A hug for Daddy?” and he says: “No”.
Sometimes he runs past me, giggling, tickled pink by his own impetuousness.
But it happens mostly when he’s in his cot, before he goes to sleep.
There’s nothing I like more than a tight hug and a wee kiss on the smacker before sleep-time. I shut my eyes and close in, but he hits me on the head with his hand, or a plastic hammer, or one of his teddies.
For him it’s a big joke – you should hear him laugh – but for me it’s rejection: I shuffle out of view and fall face-first on to the mattress.
Then I hear smooching from around the corner as my wife and he exchange sweet tokens of affection.
Son-Two’s much better. Because he can’t fully control his body, he just has to lie there while I squeeze him; I can kiss him on the forehead with impunity.
The fact he smiles when I do this is a bonus, although lately he’s been less than happy.
Nana’s been sick and, given we live like Charlie Bucket’s family, others have been sick, too. Not seriously ill – just colds. Son-Two has a cough. Son-One’s all runny.
You’d describe him as mucusy. There’s mucus all over the shop. It’s in his throat, waking him up at night. It’s encrusted on to his pajama sleeves in the morning. It’s on his bedsheets.
You can see he’s infectious – and I think he knows it, too. He needs reassurance.
A few nights ago, I was dabbing at his green-white snot tracks with tissue when he looked up and said: “Hug, Daddy.”
I’ll be honest: I was happy. I lifted him from his cot and held him close. Then I leaned back and saw fresh gloop round his nose and mouth.
While I was getting a new tissue, he darted his head forward and kissed me on the lips.
Sloppy’s an understatement. It was all round my lips, and a bit on my cheeks. But I didn’t want to discourage him or seem dismissive of the gesture.
I waited till he was back in his cot before discreetly wiping my face.
It’s been the same ever since. We seem to be entering a golden era of mouth-to-mouth, where he wants to kiss me frequently, as long as there’s snot on his face.
And so my throat hurts. My head hurts. My nose is running.
It’s lovely. Son-One’s germs are my germs. We’ve reconnected.
I cycle 25.3 kilometres for a shower in the morning.
Each time I do I amass new things, and my bike itself changes. After the first day I stripped off all reflectors, got rid of the bell. Pah!
On the second, with the help of someone who knows what he’s doing, I dropped the handlebars considerably, raised and slid the seat back. Aggressive? Get outta my way …
On the third I felt so aggro I skidded to a halt outside a bike shop, bought a spare tube, cycling T-shirt, fingerless gloves. And so it goes.
There’s much to commend cycling for 25.3 kilometres versus taking the train: you don’t have your face in someone else’s armpit for 40 minutes, your crotch on someone’s knee; you don’t feel hobbled by your fight or flight instinct.
My days start like this. I wake up at 5.50am in the dark and pull my lycra shorts on, think about Freddie Mercury, then get the rest of my gear on. When I put the first of my cycling gloves on I think about Michael Jackson, and sometimes grab my crotch. It’s a musical start to the day.
I clip-clop downstairs to the garden in my cycling shoes, fending off Charlie the chocolate lab and Pugsly the pepper pug, to get my bike from the under-house workshop.
My backpack contains toiletries and work clothes, sometimes lunch. I put my phone at the top so I can listen to the radio through my earphones.
On the street, in Donvale, I pull my sleeves over my gloves and wish I had tracksuit bottoms, not shorts. I zip up my nylon windbreaker. I’ve learned to love the smell of nylon in the morning.
About 100 metres later I turn left and on to a tree-lined bike track that, linking with two more, takes me right to the heart of the city.
There are other cyclists. I’m not the fastest but average 26 kilometres an hour. To reduce drag, I sometimes come up behind a semi-pro and sit on their back wheel for as long as I can.
When they burst away I try to keep pace with them. When they slow, I slow.
I hate it when someone does this to me. One day, when I thought I was alone, I glanced over my shoulder before braking and saw a man virtually glued to me, grinning.
I could drop tacks behind me but that would be unsporting.
Through the trees you sometimes see people in canoes or rowing boats. You cross the freeway on concrete bridges, cross creeks and small rivers on rickety wooden bridges. You see boathouses.
You see joggers, walkers, cyclists. When you’re passing you say “passing”; if you’re not passing you don’t say anything – unless someone’s coming the other way, in which case you say “g’day”.
You get to know the contours, the hills, the hard, grit-your-teeth bits and the speeding-downhill-without-pedalling bits.
My favourites are the Warundjeri Spur lookout, from where you see the CBD rising from the flatness like Gotham City, but cleaner.
I like the Fairfield Pipe Bridge – specifically the whirring noise my wheels make on the brown dappled iron as I cross it, and the fact my head nearly, but doesn’t quite, collide with the overhead beams.
I like sustained downhill stretches where I get up to 45 kilometres an hour, and snatches of road where I get a blast of jasmine, a lungful of eucalyptus.
I like Rushall Train Station because it means I have just five kilometres to go to work, all of which is along flat, easy asphalt.
I like the fist-pump and victory salute as I come into the city proper and speed down Canning Street in top gear.
People throw garlands from balconies. Washerwomen raise their mops like flags. Men in string vests hold their children over balconies so they can wave. “There he goes,” they say. “Our hero.”
I have a shower at work, feeling victorious, then head up two flights of stairs with my bike on my shoulder.
I do a full day’s toil then cycle 25.3 kilometres for a shower in the evening.