For David and Adam
When I was 15, in January 1983, David Owens, Adam Garnett and I somehow convinced our parents it was a good idea to let us ride our bikes from North Ryde to Terrigal on the Central Coast for a week’s camping trip.
We met at 4 am on the corner of Twin and Badajoz Roads. There were a few parents in pyjamas and bathrobes checking we had everything and ensuring our commitment to safety. We tore ourselves away as quickly as possible, minimising hugs and kisses. Grateful they cared enough to get up at 4 am to see us off, but determined to get away before being too embarrassed, before the affection that existed between us and our families was exposed to each other. As though familial bonds could somehow make us appear weaker in the eyes of our friends when the truth was they had the opposite effect.
We made our way towards the highway. Adam joked about the full breakfast his mum had made him eat despite him not feeling hungry. The boys set a cracking pace and it was clear I was going to struggle to keep up. The idea of the bike ride had been romanticised in my mind, a boy’s own adventure. The reality was more arduous. Both David and Adam had done some training or perhaps they’d just used their bikes more than I did. I figured my general riding around would be enough preparation, but it wasn’t. Within a few minutes of setting off my legs ached and my lungs fought to catch my breath. The boys adjusted their speed to make sure we stayed together, but they kept me at the edge of my ability, pushing to keep us on schedule, ever encouraging to ensure I wouldn’t give up or burn out.
Although I was lagging I wasn’t the first to pop. When we hit the 3M building at St Ives and joined the Pacific Highway, Adam stopped us and wretched his guts up. ‘Are you ok mate? Should we go back?’ I said, concerned about Adam, but wondering to myself how I was going to make it through the next few hours feeling spent from the first 20 minutes. ‘No’, Adam said as he wiped his hand across his mouth. ‘It’s just the bacon and eggs my mum made me eat before we left’. He took a few sips of water. ‘I told her there was no point! I’ll be right now. Just had to get that out.’ ‘Are you sure?’ David asked. ‘We’re not stopping,’ Adam replied. David took a good look at Adam. We deferred to David for all things concerning health and safety and the outdoors. If he said ok, it meant he’d evaluated it, assessed it fully. ‘Ok, let’s go, but you have to tell us if you feel sick again.
On we pushed. As the morning broke the traffic grew. It slowed us down, allowing me to keep up. We hit a steady rhythm, mostly keeping to the road but occasionally moving to the footpath as our parents had asked. Sticking to the footpath was never an agreement we were going to keep. It seemed more dangerous to dodge cars reversing out of their driveways than it was to ride close to the kerb. We’d said what we had to say to convince our parents. We would honour that agreement as best we could but we wouldn’t do it blindly.
When we hit Hornsby so did the semi-trailers. The multitude of trucks hadn’t been part of our plan. There was no footpath at this stage and we had to weave our way around potholes on the shoulder of the road, keeping an eye on the trucks and never straying into their lanes. We made a pact not to tell our parents how dangerous it was. We couldn’t have them thinking they were right.
Bikes weren’t allowed on the freeway so our plan was to ride to the Hawkesbury River station, catch the train to Gosford and then ride the last leg from there.
It’s a fast and winding road from the Highway down to Hawkesbury River. The speed caught me a little by surprise. The boys both tore off ahead and I didn’t blame them. We had agreed to meet at the bottom. We all tore down that road as fast as we wanted, as fast as our bikes could go or we dared let them. It was both terrifying and totally exhilarating. I don’t think I’ve ever moved as fast on a bike, never felt as blissfully free as I glided through that crisp morning air. It was all inertia. I couldn’t peddle fast enough to keep up with the speed of my wheels so I just cruised, keeping an eye on the road for holes or bumps, my body moving left and right in harmony with the bends. I half expected to see David or Adam flung to the side of the road. As fast as I was going I knew they were going faster.
We all made it safely to the bottom, excited and elated, our exhaustion evaporated in the rush of adrenalin. Though it was a welcome relief to avoid the freeway and catch the train across the Hawkesbury River into Gosford, we also felt a little cheated. After our downhill conquest, we were ready to take on the world. The freeway would have been an easy challenge for us.
The final leg to Terrigal was an easy pace compared to our cracking speed at 4 am. We cruised into the camping ground around 9 am, my older brother waiting with a carload of our gear. What had been a 5-hour adventure for us had been an easy 1-hour drive for him. We were all happy to have someone there, waiting to acknowledge our achievement.
We made camp, sorted out provisions, appeased the fretful parents with a phone call and made for the beach. Some friends joined us a day or two later and we spent the week cycling to the beach and back, making rudimentary teenage meals, talking into the night, unconsciously cementing our friendships.
At the end of the week, we readied ourselves for the trip home only to discover a train strike meant we couldn’t ride home. Parents were called and lifts organised. I was a little relieved not to make the trip back on the bike. It would have been one last adventure, but exactly how we were going to make it back up that giant hill, from the Hawkesbury to the Highway, none of us had planned. We were probably all secretly relieved the brilliant week away was ending with an easy drive home. In my case, it was a short drive to join the rest of my family for another week’s holiday by the beach, where I would be grateful for a real bed and home-cooked meals.
Both David and Adam are gone now. David was 33 and taken too early by leukaemia, and just last week, Adam unexpectedly died at the age of 49. Only my memories remain of that handful of hours we challenged ourselves by racing off in the early hours of the morning. Only in my mind is the laughing, the screams of joy, the quiet moments and raucous exchanges. We shared something intangible with our experience together, something that remains with me, now my friends are gone, something that will always travel with me and bubble to the surface when I need it most.
Author – Road To Nowhere