Chapter 1: To Say Nothing of the Dogs
Cooks River Bike Path – Rookwood and road bridges – Whistling sinuses of an invalid – A gentle canal coast – The hard-headed bullmastiff.
There was me and my penny farthing and a thirteen mile bike path along the Cooks River. I packed a hamper, laced up my KT26s and set out on a bum-numbing penny farthing ride along this route as a fun, leisurely, different way to see the world. I needed some fresh air for my clogged sinuses, and a little outdoor-time to decompress.
Bike paths – or what I like to call ‘recreational trails’ – are a wonderful modern phenomenon allowing public access to public landscapes for all manner of people and outdoor activities. They’re important for retaining and restoring corridors for native wildlife too, who use these trails in kind of the same way as us humans on daily commutes.
I love dogs. I love bicycles. I knew I’d experience people and dogs and bicycles on this adventure. I suspected and discovered that it’s hard for people not to smile at a penny farthing. And how could this not be a good thing?
What I find particularly interesting about recreational trails is people riding bikes and people walking dogs together among the loveliness of the outdoors. Sometimes recreational trails just don’t seem big enough for everyone – we’re living in busy times but we need to share these valuable public resources.
My adventure began among the tombstones of Rookwood Necropolis where rivulets flow into culverts and drains at the headwaters of Cooks River. I mounted my penny farthing nursing a sinus headache. My ankle was a bit sore too, come to mention, but it was time to get on with things.
I contemplated if my wonky-wheeled contraption welded together from old bike-bits and water pipes could carry me the distance to Botany Bay; where in the end not much at all would be waiting. It was all about the journey though – a little jaunt down the Cooks River would suit me to a ‘T’. The sun was out on a fine autumn day, an excellent day for hanging out the washing.
I took a big breath and pressed down on the pedals; my penny farthing’s spokes and bearings groaned into life. Cold air hit the back of my nostrils and like a choo choo train released from its blocks we slowly chugged away from the platform. My left sinus cracked which eased the pressure inside my face, and the world instantly seemed like a less worrisome place.
Once a couple of miles out of Rookwood and across Centenary Drive, through Strathfield’s suburbia and golf links, and under the first of many road bridges at the Hume Highway, I began to relax into my environs. The recreational trail rendezvoused with a concrete canal where I dropped down into the course greyness, into a channel of three planes with the little Cooks River stream flowing through, and stepped onto the back foot-pegs of my penny farthing. I coasted down the slightly sloping canal under the breath of a cool tailwind.
Did I say I love dogs? Soon after hauling out of the canal, ahead on the trail I saw a dog and master heading in my direction. The dog was a stocky, block-headed bullmastiff; its owner, also stocky, looked like a retired rugby-league player, or maybe a hard-skinned wharfie. Together they struck an imposing sight, yet seemed like a jolly pair just the same. Our paths were set to cross at a pair of bollards fixed across the trail.
The bullmastiff had its gaze intently focussed on me. As we crossed each other I turned to see its head slam square into one of the bollards. A metallic ‘ting’ resonated at the clash of skull on pipe and sang in the air before dissipating up the valley. I reckoned the dog would have taken such a knock in its stride but the look of perplexity remained on its face right through our interlude. I watched it like a before-and-after animation scene and laughed so hard I had to concentrate to stay upright on my penny farthing.