Christmas Carnivals: A Summary.
Day Zero - Boxing Day.
Nath, Casey and I pack everything into my mama's Astra and head up to Stawell, with the idea that a night there in my parent's care will leave us refreshed for the Horsham Carnival the next day. In Ballarat the Christmas spirit is still lingering, which mostly means it is difficult to find food. The restaurant application on Casey's phone directs us to a Thai place. It is not the first time that the good people of the Apple Corporation will save us over the next four days. We arrive in Stawell around 9, watch some 30 Rock on DVD and head to bed.
Day One - Horsham.
After the mandatory stop at the Giant Koala we made it to Horsham unscathed. Food was again difficult to locate - a choice between The Fig Tree Caffe (the misspelling is not mine) and Waack's Bakery (the misspelling is indicative of quality). I'd seen a copy of the Wimmera Mail-Times on Christmas day and knew that I had been placed in C grade with a kid I occasionally race against at DISC - Matt Lees. We figured we could 1-2 most of the scratch races, and roll turns together to get through the handicap heats. This is pretty much how it worked out. We may have gone a little hard in our heat, however, as both of us needed a little private vomit time afterwards, and weren't able to do anything special in the final. Our little Brunswick / Hawthorn posse was more successful here though, with Stu Vaughn taking it out, followed by Ewin Williams and a mate from Creswick, Scott Keating (both of whom had told me they were feeling pretty average during the warm-up). It was hot, sure, but nothing compared to the days to come.
Day Two - Maryborough.
The Maryborough Carnival traditionally ends with a Madison, and much of the early talk was about who would partner up with who. I was in salvage mode by this stage, only really thinking about how best to survive the whole tour and still win the occasional race. Rumours were starting to float around about how hot it was going to be in Shepparton, and I was already beginning to rule that entire day out in my head. Still, Ewin was keen to do it, and I'd done Madison training with him before, so the option was there. When the first race turned out to be a bit harder work than I'd counted on, however, I ruled it out. It turned out to be the right decision.
Dale Parker was over from South Australia, and pretty much showed the entire A grade field what it meant to represent your country. The boy took off the front in each race and didn't look back. He partnered up with Danny Clark for the Madison. I'd never heard of Clark before Maryborough, but you know if they put the letters OBE after your name for services to cycling, you've done something pretty important. The guy was awesome to watch - spinning through both B grade and the Madison on an 88 inch gear, emerging triumphant in both. Not bad for a bloke of fifty-five.
The first serious crashes occurred in Maryborough, however. The first was in the junior girls, the second in the Madison. The latter involved my mate Cam Woolcock, who can now state that he has ridden in two Madisons and crashed in both. This one he ended up laying on the track. Some kind of emergency staff moved him straightaway - not the brightest idea, but I suppose still better than being run over. Not much of the crash was handled well - a red flag came out for riders to move around the accident, but very few did until they were threatened with fines for hitting the flag. Clark and Parker had pretty much claimed the race as their own when the crash occurred, so it was kinda disappointing to see riders disrespecting a peer like this. It left a pretty bad taste in our mouths as we packed up and drove over to Bendigo.
Day Three - Bendigo.
I love the Bendigo track, love racing in Bendigo and even kinda love the town itself. We were staying at my sister's place about twenty minutes drive out of town. She and her husband and my new niece were down at the beach somewhere, so we had the house to ourselves. This was kinda a godsend, as it meant we were able to stretch out, make a mess and spend most of the day watching 30 Rock.
We drive into Bendigo a little early. The Bonsoy Scare is in full effect and it is making a decent Soya Latte hard to locate. We rustle one up from a place that stinks like fish sauce, but either it or my poor humour makes Casey throw up and me feel flat for the rest of the day. Nath slips on a step and inflames an old shoulder injury. We bump into a few mates from Bendigo as we walk around, and all of them present us with different plans for how to win the handicap that night. Apparently there's nine hundred dollars up for grabs. I don't tell any of them that I'm saving myself for the scratch races, and perhaps the frontmarker's handicap.
When the night itself comes around things pretty much pan out how they are supposed to. Glen O'Shea makes an appearance - this is his local track, after all - and makes life a little more difficult for Dale Parker. I win both my scratch races - without the help of Matty Lees this time, as he had been bumped up a grade. I die in the main handicap but make it through to the final of the frontmarker's.
Here's where things got a little confusing. I owed Matt a few leadouts from Horsham and Maryborough, so volunteered to take off with one and a half to go, in the hope that he would go around me and take out the win. He, however, had made a similar deal with Scott Townsend, who eventually won it for himself. I wasn't aware of this, and decided that it would not be in my best interests to make deals with Matt in the future. All would be forgiven, however, as I had decided by this point not to race Shep - my hip flexors were starting to complain quite loudly that I'd alread done too much in the last three days. Plus, it would be hot, and not racing would allow me some quality heckling time. We drove back out to my sister's and let Tina Fey entertain us some more.
Day Four - Shepparton.
Shep wasn't due to start til around 3.30, so we were able to spend some time in Bendigo before driving over. Here we discovered yet another reason to love Bendigo - Lady Sultan's Turkish Restaurant. A combination Turkish Bakery and Felafel place. Everything was so fresh, and the bakery smell so delicious that you could almost eat the air. We had little hope for eating in Shep, despite the knowledge of a strong Middle-Eastern community there, so stocked up here.
Even at that time of the morning it was bloody hot. Searing. The digital display on the dashboard read 41 degrees, and didn't change as we drove into the Goulburn Valley. I handed in my numbers and watched other folk go around. Jess Morgan was finally placed in a grade of her equals and took a win. Matty spent a lot of time off the front and got good announcer airtime. Nath was issued an apology from the same announcer, who had previously made fun of his compression socks. Nath didn't seem too bothered, but was also quite happy with the increased airtime. I was told that I had probably shot myself in the foot by not racing, with regards to the Jayco Aggregate, but wasn't too fussed. And I was even less fussed when the Frontmarker's Scratch race ended in a fucking huge crash.
It happened pretty much exactly where I would've been - middle of the pack with about seven or eight laps to go. Someone touched wheels and someone went down, taking a whole bunch of others with them. A picture from the Shepparton News shows Nath and Matty on the ground, tangled up with someone else. A bike is flying through the air behind them. Nath's bike is underneath him - he was holding on to the bars and pedalling, just as you are supposed to, right to the very end. What you can't see in the picture is the moans coming from Matty, or the quite pain of the kid next to him. Nath gets up and we patch up his grazes, waiting for the ambulances to come get Matt and two others. Casey and Matilda Vaughn set up a triage under the Brunswick tent and are bandaging up a bunch of different blokes, using whatever they can find in the well out-of-date first aid kit. I think some guy got eyepatches instead of gauze. The ambulances come and Matty gets some morphine. The kid has never been a quiet type, and the morphine makes him even chattier. He compares the Morgan sisters and asks Jess to marry him. Later, in the hospital, he will be asked if he has ever had surgery, and will reply, "Only the Caesarian I had when I was pregnant." His dad seems calm, telling Casey that when you play sport, this is what happens, with a resigned shrug of his shoulders. Nath is edgy from the adreniline, and most of the riders seem to have gone home, so we help folks pack up the tent and head home.
In some shitty service centre I buy a three-cd best of Bruce Springsteen. At this point I was thinking of taking a month off, a plan that has now been ixnayed by my coach. But I'm pretty relaxed eitherway. Casey seems happy to be heading home - four days of sun and dust and very average eating habits have made her tired, and perhaps a touch over running around purchasing Powerade for her boyfriend. Nath is in the back of the car, trying to deal with the new injuries he has accumulated, the latest in a long line. It's not the most triumphant of returns. The city comes into view and we start talking again, figuring out our New Year's Eve plans and returning, gradually, to our regular lives.