I awoke with a start, the sound of my alarm muffled by the pillow wrapped around my head.
“Drew! Turn that flippin' thing off!” my sisters voice permeated my fuggy head.
I groped for the offending noisemaker and managed to get it to desist. I lay there a moment longer, my brain trying to assimilate some odd feelings and the fact that it was supposed to be awake. I sat up with a start, pillows and bedclothes scattering in all directions, the pull of something attached to my chest producing a reflex reaction.
“Drewww!” Jules moaned from the other bed.
“I've got tits!”
“Shush! You want to wake the whole house!” my sister hissed.
“Of course you've got boobs, you are a girl.”
I'm sure she mumbled something else as I stared at my chest.
“Come on Drew, I thought you were going for a ride with that Erin woman?”
“Its gone seven” Jules mentioned
Must have been a dream. I felt my chest, yep the falsies were still there, no feeling there at all, not like in the dream, they were real. Bum! Seven o'clock.
I scurried out of bed and was soon kitted out in my borrowed cycling kit. Mrs W did me a light breakfast, tea and some toast and jam – enough to keep me going for a couple of hours as long as it was steady. I left the house under grey skies just after eight, the girls all still in bed. Geez, its cold! I'm glad Erin had plenty of spare kit.
I was a bit surprised when I turned the corner into George Street and was surprised to see several other people already waiting outside Erin's Cyclery. I thought it would just be me and Erin going. I pulled up a little way up the street to wait for Erin to arrive, I get a bit nervous meeting new people, and being abroad and looking like a girl doesn't improve that state. I'm not sure whether any of them saw me but they stood around casually chatting with occasional glances up the street or at the sky.
They looked like a typical group of club cyclists from back home, a couple of what Mum calls boy racers, all posh kit and no talent, three older blokes and a lad of about 17 or 18. As I watched another couple of riders rolled up to the shop, that Diane woman and the bloke she was with the other afternoon, what was his name? Dez? Den? Oh that's right Derek. Just then a pickup came around the corner, I recognised it as Erin's, she tooted as she passed the shop then turned up the alley to go round to the back of the store.
It was only a couple of minutes later that she returned to the storefront pushing a gleaming Colnago. Hesitantly I scooted across the road to a position a bit closer to the group.
“Sorry I'm a bit late, just need to wait for one more” Erin told the others.
“Someone new?” one of the old blokes asked.
“Yeah he er she's just visiting for a few weeks” she looked my way and spotted me sort of hiding behind the others.
“Gaby, what are you doing back there? Come over here girl”
I carefully pushed the GT along and joined Erin at the centre of the group.
“Everyone, this young thing is Gaby Bond, she's over from England on a school exchange.”
Erin did the introductions, I'm terrible at names but I was right about Diane's friend being called Derek. There were cheerful greetings from everyone which I shyly returned before Erin went on.
“Be nice to her, she's not used to our style of riding, so look out for her” Erin gave me a wink. As Erin knows all about me it was obvious that she was planning something so I stayed schtum.
As if that was some sort of signal everyone prepared to set off and in just a few minutes we were bowling south out of town two abreast at a steady fifteen mph, I was sat next to Erin.
“So how far are we going?” I asked slightly nervous.
“Depends on ole man weather, we'll make a decision at Waynesboro, if its okay we'll come back through the National Park, otherwise we'll just head on back to Grottoes direct.”
“I thought it would just be us, I wasn't expecting all these other people.”
She grinned, “These are my best customers, the all season guys. We go out just about every Saturday all year, we pick up a few extras when it's warmer, maybe twenty, twenty five in summer.”
Back home a lot of the clubs near us get more than that in the winter – I suppose things are a bit different here.
“So you been out since Monday?”
“A short ride on Thursday, just down to the school and back.”
“How was the bike?”
“Its incredible!” I enthused.
“I have a confession to make about that”
“Well yes, it is my bike but it's actually too small. I bought the frame and built it up before I knew too much about sizing and stuff, this one is my usual ride now its two centimetres bigger so I'm not so crunched up”
“But you run the shop”
“I know, I know. I come from a mountain bike background; small is beautiful there right, so I thought road irons were the same. Always wondered why it never felt right. It was young Diane there that put me right.
By now we had rotated to the front of the bus and I pushed harder to keep the pace up. It seemed like eternity but Erin finally signalled for us to swing off. We made good time and the pace quickened some, not uncomfortably but by the time Waynesboro appeared in the distance we were snicking along at a steady 20mph. Erin moved along the bus to chat with her friends and make a decision on the rest of the ride, this gave me the chance to talk to some of the other riders. Although the accents were funny and some of the terminology was a bit strange, they were typical enthusiasts.
Being the ‘baby' of the group in both age and stature, they were keeping an eye out for me, but really they needn't. From what I'd picked up so far, only Erin and Diane were of a level that might shade me, the others, unless they were talking themselves down, would pretty much all manage sixty minute twenty fives but no better. I smiled to myself and tried not to look smug. Erin found her way back to me as we hit the Waynesboro sign.
“It's looking pretty reasonable so we'll go up into Shenandoah, we'll take a break at Turk Mountain then head on home.”
“Mountain?” I asked in a slight panic – visions of Mum in the Pyrenees last year came to mind.
“Don't worry, the climb is long but it's a steady grade, once we get up there it rolls up and down some but nothing too bad.”
Our little bunch avoided central Waynesboro and turned around to a more northerly direction, the weak sun now behind us. The hills that had followed us on our left for the last hour now became our target. We passed a couple of signs for the ‘Appalachian Trail', isn't that what Jules' book was about? Whatever. The long drag reminded me of a cross between the Pennines and the area where Appollinaris are based in Germany. The traffic, not heavy heading south was even lighter now, one or two huge trucks loaded with timber heading downhill but still we climbed.
“You okay?” Erin enquired.
“Great so far” I took a sip of water.
The pace had dropped back to about 15 mph.
“We usually have a bit of a race from the next summit to the cabin, you up for that?”
Hey, why not?
“Okay then, Frank will shout go, and we'll show this lot some real riding huh?”
She wasn't listening; rather she had pulled out her mobile and was making a call.
“Paula?… Erin, ten in say thirty minutes… yeah that's fine… uh huh… really?… much?… well okay, see you shortly bye!” she glanced over as she re-stowed the phone. “Just ordering coffee.”
I managed to do a few little stretches as we went through a dip before the last bit of up to the start of the ‘race' at Jarman Gap.
‘Jarman Gap 2175 feet' the sign proclaimed and I'd barely passed the sign when a shout of ‘go!' went up.
Initially it was a bit of a free for all, the two poseurs obviously fancied their chances and quickly took front place as the pace climbed to over twenty five mph. I tucked myself in behind Erin and Diane and left them to it. The road switched about a bit and started to climb once more and the bravos almost in unison dropped off the pace. Derek and the older guys took up the slack and I noticed the other member of our party, Aidan I think his name is, watching things carefully as Diane eased forward.
I watched carefully myself, especially when we passed a sign for the footpath thing that said ‘Turk Gap 3 miles'. Erin's backward glance was enough of a give away and I changed down a gear in readiness. Right on cue she made the move, I was glued to her wheel and we picked up Aidan and Diane on the way through. I reckon Erin has been watching videos of Mum, as so far this was classic J Bond stuff. I decided that I wasn't going to play along, I had other plans! When about half a mile later she motioned me through I shook my head no and feigned tiredness, instead letting first Aidan and then Diane past me so I ended up fourth of four in line.
Aidan was obviously a bit more savvy than he looked as he soon made room for Diane who immediately launched into a suicide run for home – with two miles still to go it just wasn't going to happen! Her constant backwards glances confirmed her lack of experience in these things and the small gap she had opened stayed at a constant ten metres. Erin and Aidan were watching each other and supposedly a spent force I was forgotten. I dropped back a bike length – far enough to be out of earshot but still just in their combined slipstream.
We came around a bend and our destination hove into view about half a mile away across a small valley but nearer to a mile by road. It was a slight rise for the last half-mile so I needed to make my move soon. Up ahead Diane was tiring fast and the others were watching each other closely; I saw my opportunity just ahead, a small dip in the road. Most people will ease slightly through the down slope then power out, I was relying on my companions doing just that.
I checked the road behind, good no traffic, a quick look ahead, clear, excellent. A last backward glance, a change down and I streaked past the others, bit early but the element of surprise was enough. I assumed a tuck and as I hit the dip I changed up to power down and use that momentum to climb back out. I settled my breathing and got comfortable. Sunday mornings on the A1 found a purpose at last, I tucked lower as another log truck headed the other way as I started the last drag to the cabin. Half way up I risked a quick look back under my arm, hah, they were toast!
My bike was already parked outside the ‘Turk Gap Cabin' when first Aidan then Erin rolled in followed by Diane a minute later.
“I enjoyed that,” I mentioned in the flattest voice I could manage given my lack of breath.
“Where huuuuh did you huuuuh learn that?” Aidan asked propping his bike up.
“How huuuuh?” was all that Diane could muster
Erin just grinned at me as she caught her breath.
“Lets get inside, it's a bit nippy up here” she shooed me towards the door.
“Right on time Erin” a pleasant woman's voice called out, “first agin?”
“Not this week Paula, got beaten by two of these.”
“You finally did it then Diane?”
“Nnot me Paula,” Diane replied, “Aidan and young er Gaby here”
Paula looked towards me and seemed to see me for the first time.
“How did a slip of a thing like you take these three? these two, “ she indicated Erin and Aidan, “ride for the state team and young Diane should make it this summer too”
I blushed with some embarrassment.
“Its in her genes Paula, never guess who her Mom is?”
Paula studied me for a moment.
“Well she looks a bit like Angelina Jolie but she aint old enough”
Aidan was sharper than he looked for sure.
“Jenny Bond” he stated
“Did someone mention Jenny Bond?” Derek asked as he led the stragglers inside.
“Gaby is only her daughter!” Aidan announced.
“Geez if I'd known we had royalty with us,” Frank started, “I'd have cleaned my bike!”
I joined the laughter that set off.
“Get y'all sat down and breakfast will be right out,” Paula stated
“Breakfast?” I asked Erin as I removed my thermal jacket.
“Yeah, you don't think we climbed up here just for coffee do you?”
“Well…” to be honest I could murder beans on toast with an egg right now. “I um didn't bring much money,” I whispered.
“Don't sweat it, this ones on me, the lesson you just gave us pays your share twice over.”
“I'll let you into a secret Gaby. Today is the first time this winter anyone has beaten me up here. Young Aidan has been threatening to do it and it's been close a time or two, but this morning you annihilated the both of us. And not because you are stronger than us but because you used your head, somehow you knew what we would do before we did. I've been up this hill forty, fifty times and I always ease off at that dip, somehow you knew that.”
Paula was back and distributing ‘breakfast', the other riders were listening to Erin.
“Well its not rocket science,” I started, “everyone eases off through dips like that.”
“But you didn't” Aidan pointed out.
“Well I saw it as an opportunity, you and Erin were so busy watching each other that you'd forgotten I was there.”
“But you were tired, you looked terrible after we broke away” Diane interjected.
“Oldest trick in the book” I grinned.
“Well I'll be darned” one of the bravo's, I think his name's Rob, chuckled.
“For a young un you sure have an old head” Frank added.
“Well she's the British champion for her age group” Erin offered.
“Not just a pretty face then” one of the other ‘oldies' allowed.
I just blushed and ate my waffle.
“Hey Erin, guys. I just spoke with Marty up at Blackrock, says it's snowing like crazy and the road back to town is already closed.” Paula brought another jug of coffee.
“Dammit, I thought we'd miss it, must be moving quicker than they forecast.” Erin stated
“What does that mean?” I asked in my ignorance.
“Well it looks like we've got a long ride home ‘stead of less'n an hour” Rob advised.
The words were barely out of his mouth before the first flakes of snow hit the window behind his head. This was not looking good. Only Thursday I was wishing I was home because they had some snow, now I'm stuck in Appalachia land wondering how I get back home to Grottoes.
“We'd best get a move on” Derek mentioned with a worried look out the window as another log truck headed Waynesboro direction.
“Now y'all finish up that food, I ain't slaved over the stove for you to up an leave it all. I got the bus out back, you can take that down and one of y'all can bring it back up when the weather clears, how's that sound?”
I have to admit, it sounded better than a long cold ride back on a bike.
So that was that. My first proper bike ride over here and we end up baling out due to bad weather. The bus turned out to be about the size of our school minibuses, we got ten bikes and us inside with a bit of spare and with Frank at the wheel we set off back to Waynesboro through an already white over countryside. There was a little blowing around when we got back to Erin's shop just after one but nothing to what was up in the hills.
I was barely back in doors at the Walters residence when Brit accosted me.
“Shower, dress, we're going shopping!”
“Shopping,” I groaned, “I only just got back”
“Well Mom's taking us to the mall at Harrisonburg, so git!”
I can hardly say no can I? I peeled my cycling kit off and spent ten minutes luxuriating under the shower nozzle. Hmm, maybe I'll be able to buy some more clothes, not that I really want to spend much on girls stuff, hey I could buy guy stuff!
At least my jeans were washed, no way am I going shopping in a dress! I needed warm so I decided on a ‘layered look', warm yes but the down side was that it emphasised my um assets!
With Mr Walters dipping out, there was a bit more room in the Caprice and the corner I found myself in was very conducive to sleep. It was only about a fifty minute drive but I caught just enough zeds to make me at least feel a bit more human.
Mrs Walters had stuff she wanted so we split up after arranging to meet in the food hall later.
“So Gab, we need to get you some clothes!” Brit declared.
“I'm not buying much” I stated.
“Deb and me got you into this so we'll get you out”
“What my cryptic sister is saying Drew, is that we get a fairly generous clothing allowance each month and this time it's all yours”
“Exactly how much are we talking?” Jules enquired.
Brit nodded to her sister.
“Four hundred dollars?” it sounded like an offer rather than a final figure.
“That's nearly two hundred pounds” I gasped.
“Tell you what, lets go shop and see what the bill comes to.” Jules took control on my behalf.
Two hours later and I was shopped out. Not the girls though. Oh no, I was dragged around more stores, the place wasn't Meadowhall but it was big enough. I somehow managed to stop them buying everything in sight; I got a new pair of jeans and a few tops that I'm sure one of the girls can make use of later. Of course there was more than that, more underwear and hosiery, a dress that I made the mistake of saying looked cute, two skirts for school and some girls PJ's. Then there was a pile of cosmetic type stuff – geez. I did manage to get some more memory for my camera in a place called Radio Shack but there wasn't really anything else I fancied getting for ‘me'.
Lets face it, when it comes to shopping malls they are all much of a muchness. Even the shops are similar, maybe different names but in our global economy even the fashions are pretty much the same. The sizing was the only major difference, excuse enough for the girls to get me trying stuff on – it was not funny!
With the new jeans I have just enough stuff to return to being Drew, trouble is, everyone thinks I'm Gaby now, at school, the diner, even Erin's biking mates. I felt an urge to lash out at someone, anyone, Maddy was top of the list as she ‘packed' my case, but really it was down to me – I should have packed earlier and done it properly. The drive back to Grottoes was uneventful until we were about five miles from town when we hit the snow. Not literally but the road was covered and the white stuff was continuing to fall in big wet flakes.
The phone was ringing as we got in the door – Dad!
Maddy Bell 20.04.05 © 2005
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