Lesson on the Clyde.

I think I can make this.

Astride a small wooden seat beside the Clyde river, I sat squinting into the weather radar app on my iPhone. Performing a complex mental trajectory plotting of exactly where my own route would be transected by the rather intimidating lava-lamp of red and yellow pixels moving from left to right across its screen.

I had leaned my bike off the Kings Highway some 6km out of Batemans Bay where a thin sealed road looped back around and down to a small green, dew-spangled park next to the bridge I had just crossed.

My intended journey would take me onwards winding through the Monga National Park for another 20 kilometers or so before climbing 781 hairpin meters up and over the top of Clyde mountain. From here it would be an easy undulating 18 km ride down to the township of Braidwood for a coffee, perhaps some cake and then a straight ride home.

The road up over the Clyde and the sections on either side of it are notorious for road accidents, and this would be my first ascent on a motorbike. In fact it has been estimated that over a 10 year period an average of about one crash occurs every four days.
I had made many trips in a car, often noting other bikers threading the corners with easy grins and throttled, frosty coolness and had always dreamed of stealing their feelings of such an experience.

Now I was living the dream.

Only it felt more like mild-nausea, and needing-to-pee, and anxious anticipation of the climb. Worse still, bad weather was expected to flop over the escarpment, which is why I had pulled down to the park to assess the situation.

A small corner-store sat opposite the park. On the porch, the lanky apron wrapped owner had been leaning up against a rusted fridge next to the entrance watching me stoop over the iPhone.
After pulling on my rain gear (just in case) I walked over to use the toilet and buy a cup of hot caffeinated courage before heading on.

Dave commented on how much he admired my bike, and said that he had always wished he had taken up riding when he was younger, and how lucky I was to be able to travel this way. Maybe it was just the warmth of the brew, but I felt just a hint of frosty coolness throttling up in my chest.

It wasn’t long before I threw my leg over the bike, and swung out onto the road. Actually after my ego massage from Dave, I wasn’t so much riding my bike as swaggering it. Living the dream.

Dave had thought there would be plenty of time to top over the Clyde before the weather closed in.
Boy was he wrong.

I had the road to myself. The sun was warm on my back, and with visor up I glided lazily amongst stands of plumwood trees, soaking up the rich loamy smells of the damp ferns and Monga waratah.

The National Park is mostly ancient temperate rainforest, and fossils found in the area link back to the great continent of Gondwana which included Africa, South America, India, New Zealand and Madagascar. Pollen closely related to the plumwood trees has been found in fossilised rocks collected from the receding Antarctic ice shelf.

Approaching the Clyde I could see low cloud ahead through breaks in the canopy. Florescent yellow roadsigns warned of the path ahead with snakey arrows and low numbers. But Thumper moved confidently up the hills and I was sure it would only take 10 minutes of so to make summit.

14,000 years ago the Yuin and Walbunja people moved through this area hunting, camping and making fishing trips down to the Clyde and Deua rivers.
It was a busy place, and there are probably artifacts from their passage remaining to this day amongst the rocky outcrops that I could just about stretch way out and brush my gloved hand up against as I corner. If I dared.

Much later the Aboriginal people were employed to work in the timber trade and gold mines that splinter the area.
Around 1900, much of the timber that was used to build my home of Canberra was felled from this area.

On the second bend I rode into the mist. For a few moments it was beautiful. Everything was quiet and softened by ephemeral whiteness.
But two or three corners later and it was thick and muddy grey and incontinent rain fell hard against my visor.

I slowed down to match the deteriorating conditions. I should have stopped right then. But, with a prospective dumbness I figured it wasn’t much further to the top, and then down to a warm fire and coffee in Braidwood.

And then things got dangerous. The temperature had dropped markedly and my visor totally fogged up. Flipping it up only resulted in my glasses instantly fogging.
Two or three cars had caught up behind me now and I could sense the warm, animated occupants within as the sound of heavy metal on the radio drowned their windscreen wipers, and their de-misters, and their curses for the bike rider slowing them down.

I could just make out the white line marking the left side of the road, and used that to guide me round the curves. The cars were right up behind me now, egging me on. I didn’t want to risk pulling off to the left in case there was no left, and I were to fulfill a long curving trajectory of stupidity ending abruptly in some wombat hole in some gully far below.

My legs clamped the bike like a limpet. My muscles were all tensed up. I was shaking, I was cold, and could not see. The headlights of oncoming cars lit up my visor like the star-gate scene from ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ leaving me to ‘remember’ where the white line had been leading.

I know the smell of fear. It smells of wet leather and eucalypt (and perhaps a trace of urine).

Just before the top of the Clyde there is a small rock cave known as ‘Pooh Bear’s Corner’. It was actually the location of a munitions store during the Second World War that could be detonated to prevent the enemy crossing from the coast to the national capital.
But these days the cave is decorated with stuffed bears and other novelties left by passers-by.
My plan was to pull over an take a good look at the cave. Driving past all these times I had never stopped and was keen to get some photos of this local icon.

I did not stop. I never saw it. In fact for all I know, I may have ridden right through Pooh’s cave leaving a massacre of stuffing and bear parts in my wake to deeply traumatize a whole generation of holidaying children.

One final climbing corner and I made the top, at the exact moment the cloud broke and the rain settled to a mocking drizzle. I pulled over at a safe spot and collected my thought for a moment.

I of all people should know better than to push on into a dangerous situation like that.
Poor visibility, slippery road, a relatively inexperienced rider.

This was my lesson: as the internal film of each moment flicks by, each individual frame seems OK and so we think…..just one or two more frames seems reasonable to peruse.
The promise of a familiar safety that is a long ways off ( ie my favourite coffee shop in Braidwood) confounds and contorts the actual safety which was immediate and absent.

So I pressed foolishly onwards. Riding the clouds. Riding my luck.

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