The Final Leg

Posted: November 24, 2010 in The Journey

Things were looking bad. We were late. The panicky first leg had put our nerves on edge and taken a lot of strain on Phil. When we arrived at the rest stop I rushed around trying to manage the situation and get us ready to go again. I’m surprised Andre and Brendon didn’t give me a smack in the face the way I was going, but we managed to get Phil some shade to rest and pull together for the final leg.

We emptied every drop of petrol we could find into the Polaris, which got us up to a half tank. The journey was much shorter than the previous leg, but it would be close. If we got lost again we could easily run out of fuel. We were also feeling the pressure of the other riders – they weren’t able to finish until we arrived at Carnival City. The tradition is that they wait for all riders, and Phil already had a spot booked at the front of the crowd to lead the pack over the finish line with the other disabled riders.

We regrouped, calmed down and considered our situation. We had driven the route before, so it shouldn’t be difficult. The rest of the pack could sit there till sundown if need be, finishing the journey was the most important thing. Cowboy insisted we leave quickly, but we took it slower. Better to finish last than not finish.

Strapped in, with a bucket of cold water dumped over his head, Phil drove the Polaris out and followed Cowboy and Brendon in the Rhino on the last leg of the race. Paul followed us on his bike, ready to help us in case of disaster. We immediately calmed down when we saw familiar landmarks, and noticed that we were easily overcoming obstacles that had challenged us last week. We both laughed at how we had previously struggled with such trivial parts of the course.

Over a steep hill, we were back on dirt roads, pushing the quads as hard as we could to make up time. We followed closely, sometimes driving into the dust cloud behind the Rhino instead of waiting. This was almost the end of our race.

Brendon, Paul and Cowboy examine the dead RhinoSuddenly, metres ahead, we heard a loud bang. The Polaris was still going about 50 kilometres per hour when out of the dust cloud we saw the Rhino braking hard, almost at a standstill already, right in our path. Phil turned hard to the right. Brendon and Cowboy were leaping from the Rhino, and Cowboy ran in front of the Polaris as we swerved. We just missed hitting the Rhino, and Cowboy barely made it out of our path as we braked hard and came to a stop a few metres in front to the Rhino.

Cowboy pulled off his helmet and threw it at a nearby wire fence, running up behind it and kicking it. He was fuming mad, like the fuming engine of the Rhino. The Rhino had died for good and no amount of mechanical wizardry would start it again. A hole about the size of a CD had blown in the side of the engine. Brendon and Cowboy had barely escaped without burns.

There was no choice, we had to carry on. Phil and I left Paul, Brendon and Cowboy to deal with the broken Rhino while we pushed ahead, trying to make up time and finish. They weren’t far from the rest stop, so help could come and get them.

We followed the trail, comfortable that we could make it because we’d driven the track before, until suddenly it changed direction. The up run was different from the down run, and the course deviated. So much for knowing where we were going.

Slowly but surely we made progress. We entered a sparsely wooded area with lots of markers conflicting with each other, and took a few wrong turns before finding the track again. Shortly after that we hit a steep hill which ended at a river, with a lot of riders on the other side egging us on.

One of the many water features in the final legWe drove through the river. Water sloshed in over the sides and covered our feet. It was a highlight of the journey, and seeing a crowd of riders on the top of the hill ahead meant we weren’t lost, we weren’t late. We could still make it.

Shortly after the river crossing we reached familiar territory as the route rejoined the one we’d taken a week earlier. Our spirits were up, and we laughed with relief every time we spotted familiar markers. We were certain we could make it now. Phil started estimating how far it was from the end, but we were still aware that our petrol tank wasn’t as full as it should have been. It was approaching empty, but Glen assured us (when we passed him) that we had enough to make it.

At a junction shortly after crossing a railway, we spotted a bike rider and pulled over to ask him how far it was to go. He pointed at the horizon, and sure enough, we could see the familiar “big top” shape of our destination. With a sudden burst of energy we drove onward toward Carnival City.

But it wouldn’t be true to form for us to easily make it to the finish line. Maybe it was the relief of seeing the end in sight, but we missed a marker and took a wrong turn. We saw a cloud of dust in the distance, assumed we were on the right path and pushed ahead. After a few turns the cloud had dissipated and we were lost in the tracks just outside of our final destination.

Just a small detourWe tried a few paths, but they all ended in dead ends. We were so close that we could see the highway that passed by Carnival City just ahead. There was no way we were going to spend half an hour back tracking to find the route. With all our fuel almost gone we pushed off the path making a direct line for the highway. We went over steep terrain that would have stopped us a few days earlier. We reached the highway and we knew we were almost done.

But before we drove into Carnival City, we remembered that the entire pack of riders was waiting across the road. Driving down the highway, using hands to signal turning, we turned and met the head of the pack. Word went through the crowd that we were here, and we were conveniently at the front where we were supposed to be. Getting lost right at the end was a fitting way to finish our journey which had been marred so early on by a navigation error.

With a signal from the organisers we revved our engines and drove ahead to the traffic lights. Across the intersection we could see hundreds of people crowded around the finish line, clapping and cheering. The sound of a hundred engines enveloped us. We were there, we had finished. The marshals stopped the traffic and we led the pack into Carnival City. We finished Quads for Quads!

The End of the Road

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