Anyone who comes with me can take a shortcut, says Rod Evans. Rod is a favorite, having amassed a large collection of Australian ultramarathon cycling records over the years, including a 24 track record of over 500 miles (check fact) and the perimeter of Australia record of 49 days.
The sand is thick and stiff. We run up the hills and surf down them. Rod has taken the toe clips off his pedals. I have brand new clipless pedals, and I'm not used to them. The tension adjustment is set too tightly. I can't get my feet out of the pedals very quickly, and I keep crashing.
Once, I hit my shin very hard on the pedal as I crash.
I go hard, but hold back a little. I want to keep an eye on Rod and his short cut, but Rod is going very hard. Finally, I let him go. I can't see him, but his tracks are obvious. I find the shortcut, across a massive sand dune, and even pause to take a picture. After the dune a very corrugated road shakes the blood in the welt which has come up on my shin. I come third for the day.
I try to find a bandage for my leg, but Hans' wife Hannah has only one bandage in the first aid kit, and she wants to save it in case anyone gets bitten by a snake. There are lots of really poisonous snakes near Australia's coasts. We had seen three or four that day. Finally Hannah agrees to let me use the bandage, on the condition I give it back the next day.
Eric Nordenson is pissed. He missed Rod Evans' shortcut. He had to ride 20 km extra. He tells Hans he's pissed. His veins really bulge now, as he yells at Hans. Hans offers him his money back if he would leave. He says yes. He cools down. He changes his mind.
A group of people are talking to Hans about the danger involved in this race. Hans says that the first expedition ever to cross Australia, that of Burke and Wills in 1861, didn't know what they were doing and died on the way back. We are to be the first bicyclists ever to cross the continent through the center, Hans says. If we make too many mistakes we'll die, too.
I walk around and meet some of the racers, a few of whom I know already. It's good to see Elaine Mariolle, an old friend Elaine is business-like and focused, perhaps sensing how difficult it will be for her to compete in a race which offers no separate category for women. Perhaps this is why only three women have entered, and one of these on a tandem with her husband.
But Elaine used to finish among the top male competitors in the Race Across AMerica, which she won in record time in 1986. She might have a chance.
Hans came up to me that night with his wife Hannah in tow. He was making the rounds and chatting with the riders. This was to become his trademark method of communication: He never stood before the group as a whole and made announcements, but would bend the ears of a few riders at a time, relying on the rumor mill to pass around the next day's start time, or some information about the course ahead he learned from talking with a local.
This Elaine Mariolle, Hans says to me, she's not the kind of woman you'd just go up to and ask for a fuck, is she?
I suppose he meant to say she had a very serious race face on, but I was flabbergasted. Hannah turned bright red as I agreed that she was not this sort of woman, and neither, I hoped, were there any women at all for whom this would serve as an appropriate greeting. Hans moved on and I can't bring myself to mention to Elaine what he has said. I feel a twinge of guilt for having told Elaine about this race a year ago, and for encouraging her to participate.
John Stamstad shows up at dusk. His flight was late. He had missed the first day.
He asks how to find the lighthouse so he can go out and ride the course in the full moon's light. You don't need to ride it in order to be eligible to win the race, Hans says, but in order to be eligible to become the first person to ride across Australia you'd have to ride it. John said he wanted to ride it, so Hans got one of the four wheel drives to go with him.
By morning, Eric Nordenson has done yet another Ross Perot. He gives me a few tires (folding Ritchey MegaByte 2.1's -- the best for loose sand!) and best wishes as we get ready to start the race without him. He looks relieved for himself. He looks worried for the rest of us.