Richard Kelly

Richard Kelly is a retired business analyst, married with three adult children, one dog, devastated by the way his home city of Melbourne was laid waste. Convinced justice will be served, one day.

For reasons I can’t explain, I said ‘Yes’ when asked to join my daughter for a weekend cycling in the Victorian High Country. My wife and I would do a little gentle ride on Saturday, nothing too severe, then on Sunday I’d join the others and tackle a long, but steady, climb to Falls Creek on Sunday. I can handle that.

But some local information acquired on the drive up from Melbourne forced a change of plans. Roadworks meant Falls was out of the question on Saturday, but open on Sunday. Long story short – we rode up Mt Hotham (an ‘HC’ graded climb – the toughest there is) on Saturday, and backed it up with Category 1-rated (the second-toughest) Falls Creek on Sunday. Each of the climbs is 30km long. What could go wrong?

I’d ridden neither of those climbs before, and I suppose I ought to have been feeling some nervousness. But as we set off from Harrietville to Mount Hotham I was calm and looking forward to the prospect of being out in the mountains and giving the lungs and legs a good workout. The forecast was for perfect weather.

I’ve done other (slightly) easier climbs before, and I knew that I’d be able to get to the top, sooner or later.

Two hours and 44 minutes later, I was pulling up outside the pub at the top of Hotham, for a well-earned lunch. As times go, fairly ordinary. I had only stopped momentarily three times to put eyedrops in. And once for a pretty bad cramp in both quads. My companions were generous with their encouragement and patient with my slowness. What a wonderful lunch we had, sharing the satisfaction of making it to the top… only to do it all again the next day.

The next day was harder, on tired legs, even though the climb itself is statistically, technically easier. A single rest, four km from the top. And companions so confident, after yesterday, that I’d make it that they left me to tough it out solo, while they powered on ahead. Or perhaps they were fed up with waiting, and couldn’t care less if I made it or not. I’m sure it was the former. Right guys?

Metaphorical mountains to climb abound in our senseless world these days. Everywhere one looks there are threats and injustices that need to be exposed, overcome, judged, and neutralised. No sooner is a peak crested than another, higher ridge appears in the distance.

What are the metaphorical HC (‘hors categorie’ in the french cycling jargon) challenges facing us today? What qualifies as the hardest, most threatening to our way of life, most intractable problems that we ought to be trying to do something about?

We seem already to have crested, for the moment at least, the mountain called Misinformation – the Albanese Government has shelved this appalling bill even though variations of it continue to metastasise around the world. It would have made anything the government said, from federal to state to local council, by definition infallible and immune from charges of misinformation, while using vague and circular definitions of ‘harm’ to effectively be able to charge anyone for virtually anything they said. So let’s say that we’ve ticked that one off. Of course, just like cyclists come back for more, there’s nothing to stop a future attempt to get this bill through parliament.

What about Mount Repentance? Only the most well-trained cyclists can attempt it. Those who have tried and failed other climbs. Those who admit fallibility and know the limits of their lungs and legs. Is anyone ever going to say sorry? Sorry for denying you the chance to kiss your dying father? Sorry for ruining your business? Sorry for putting your toddler years behind in their speech development? Sorry for taking away your prom night, your wedding? Sorry for that sudden death that left the doctors baffled? Sorry for the Guillian-Barre, the Bell’s palsy and the myocarditis? Talk about HC, which in french means ‘beyond classification.’ Mount Repentance is a whole new category, beyond the beyond.

Mount Gullible looms all around us – but it’s hard even to find the valley route to navigate to the bottom of the climb. It sneaks up on us – and before we know it we’re rising up out of the valley and noticing our breathing becoming ever so slightly laboured. One hairpin turn after another seem to get progressively more ridiculous, and ridiculously hard to push through.

The trick is to laugh at the things we’re told to believe. That a man can breastfeed a baby. That humans can control the weather. That the globe is boiling. That a sand-filled skate park will stop a respiratory virus. Laughter will get you through, up and over Mount Gullible. When you turn to look back though, and survey the view, the sad and sorry sight of those still grimacing up the climb, still trying to make it make sense, will choke the laughter in your throat.

Mount Zero seems, bizarrely, to start at the top. Suddenly the wind is rushing past your ears, the bike is gathering speed into the corners and you’re on the brakes, racing to the bottom, which never quite arrives. When will the climb start? All this way we’ve descended! What a waste of effort and time, and what a heist of money, only to have to climb back all the way to where we began, somehow, someday, with fewer and fewer permitted resources. Feeling ever colder, ever more tired, less well nourished, less determined with every metre of descent. How do we turn this bike around?

But the most epic, most feared, most daunting, most whispered, most denied ascent is Mount Forgiveness. When you catch a glimpse of its summit it appears impossible. Impossibly high, impossibly steep, a rocky path, not smooth bitumen. No place for a fancy race bike, or a fancy bike racer. Endurance athletes only. And for many, even among those who try, it is unattainable.

Legend has it that the summit seen from the valley floor hides a secret. That instead of a snowy, treeless summit, the mountain opens up to a sunlit plain, bright and lush and teeming with life. Far away, higher up, and farther in, from the relative foothills of the other peaks. Some who make it to the plain never turn back, are never seen again climbing the lower slopes with the rest of us.

Do you dare look for the pathway to begin the ascent?

Republished from the author’s Substack

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