If you have ever tried talking to a racing cyclist, you could be forgiven for believing we always have some excuse or another. Well it’s not true that we always have an excuse. Sometimes, we win. It’s only on the other occasions that we have excuses.
Unfortunately, today, you will hear excuses from me. I was awfully sick all through the week, with a nose like a tap all day on Wednesday, then feeling as though I had pig flu on Thursday, then bird flu on Friday. Gallantly, I forced myself onto my bike on Saturday, hoping against hope that I could flog my body into some kind of race fitness in time for Sunday, but alas, this morning saw me dropped from the peloton the moment it gathered some speed. Had it not been for that super bird/pig flu that has just hit me like kryptonite, I swear this would have been a photo of me winning our Christmas handicap, and not a photo of some guy called Bob, whose wheel I knew would be the wheel to marking.
Thankfully Tasmania has a wonderful consolation prize for each rider dropped from their bunch. Behold those rolling hills in the background. The only car in sight bears a sign warning Tasmania’s other two drivers that they may encounter a cyclist ahead. We have long days and temperatures in the low twenties. The fields are lit up with crops, including hundreds of opium poppy fields.
If these were grown anywhere else in the world, they would be illegally harvested and smuggled to Europe and North America to sell to smack addicts. Nobody in Tasmania has the organisation or nous to do more than poison themselves with poppy tea.
I’m learning a bit about farming from cycling in Tassie. I’m learning lambs are born during spring, that hay is made into bales during summer, and that people who look like they’re actually farmers drive slowly while people who look like they live on farms to save rent, drive like complete ratbags. Those irritations aside, I’m finding farmlands are overwhelmingly calm. Whether it’s endorphins or vapours from all of those poppies, I find myself in a stupor out there. The crop rotation I see, as a cyclist, has a rhythm like this: cows, sheep, wheat, hay, poppies, cows, sheep etc.. The rhythm of the topography has three main notes—hill, valley, plane, hill, valley, plane—with the occasional cymbal crash of a mountain. I’m like Buddha out there. I’m so freakingly at peace with the cosmos, it can’t be long before tours are setting out from Silicon Valley to cycle in the tracks of the guru. “How does he switch off to the potential of being hit by somebody speeding?” they will come to learn.
Perhaps it’s fumes off the poppies. At the forefront on my mind when I think of cycling in Tassie (with no bike infrastructure) are visions of whole roads with no cars, while visions like the photo below are thrown back at me from my recent visit to Holland. This is hardly the postcard shot of windmills and schoolgirls platting each others blonde locks while they ride.
This is a photo Jean-Pierre Jans took of me for Trouw newspaper, near a kindergarten where parents collect their kids then go face intersections like these. You might argue that laws blaming cars in all cases provide bicycling mothers a forcefield in such situations. No. This junction, and many like it, are blackspots like any other. They make you wonder if Dutch cycling really is the result of much lauded infrastructure and laws, or if all these people aren’t effected by some kind of drug that makes them see tram tracks and traffic, the way I see country roads that some drivers use for land speed record attempts. Are too many fumes wafting out of the cafes?
In truth, no fumes waft from poppy fields, and it would be a very odd mother who would collect her kids after a spliff. What does happen, is the habit of cycling helps regular bike riders differentiate between real and perceived dangers. The mum on her box bike and I, are simply going to wait for the traffic to pass. And I am able to be seen on country roads, even by speeding drivers. Non cyclists overreact to perceived threats, simply because those threats are unfamiliar. Meanwhile, many regular drivers take chances that cause me to shudder.