An Incidental Touch of Inspiration

Cooks River

Sometimes the simplest occurrences can be the most inspiring, and they can pop up when you least expect. Like this conversation I had on the train last Wednesday afternoon:

I wheeled my bicycle onto the train at Berowra Station, puffed after a 14km pedal up the Old Pacific Highway. The doors beeped closed; the train lurched forth. The rocking carriage had already swayed me into a customary doze on the rail-leg of my usual commute home, when a lady in the seat opposite looked up.

“Nice bike,” she said. I guessed she was in her early fifties, neatly dressed with a pleasant, open face. We were the only two people in that part of the train.

I normally prefer a quiet trip home and this was especially the case last Wednesday because I had been away at work for three days. I was quite tired. But how could I ignore such a nice compliment? “Thanks, she goes good,” was my lame and bumbling response.

“Have you been watching the Tour de France?”

“Yeah, here and there, where I can.”

The train whooshed past Mount Ku-ring-gai. Being a seasoned train commuter, I have noticed my incidental conversations with other commuters sometimes have long gaps between dialogues. I suspect this phenomenon is not exclusive to me, but in this conversation it was definitely me who was slow on the uptake.

“Do you do any touring?” the lady asked after several minutes, presumably noting the panniers on my bike.

“I try to when I get the chance, but mostly I commute. It’s a lovely stretch of road from the Hawkesbury River up to Berowra.” I took a swig from my water bottle and looked out the window to see Mount Colah whir by, pleased to have picked up the thread with a little more animation.

“Yes my father does a lot of touring. He recently finished a ride up through South Australia to Uluru. About 2,300 kms I think it was.”

I hung on this tantilising revelation for a few minutes. It wasn’t about my languishing conversation this time, nor was it about the solace I strive for on my train trips home. Sure, the train was screeching and rattling over the railroad switches adjacent to the Hornsby Train Depot. But did I hear rightly? Did she say her father rode a bike 2,300 kms? If so, given she was older than me, what age would her father be? I had to find out. “Um, if you don’t mind my asking: how old is your father?”

“Seventy-two.”

“Wow!” I said as the train slowed in to Hornsby Station.

“Yes, he’s quite an inspiring fellow, my father,” she said as she stood and made for the door. I was left scratching my head as the large entourage of new passengers boarded and rummaged for standing space around my bike.

Yes, the Tour de France might be in the first week of a long campaign and, yes, there might be a couple of quadragenarians in the race. But at 44 there is hope for me yet. I will never don the maillot jaune, but there are still a few decades of bicycling left in my legs and a world of roads on which to do it. I smiled quietly to myself.

The doors beeped closed; the train lurched forth. I was swayed back into my train-commute doze, in silence, possibilities swirling around in my head. A seventy-two year old father rides 2,300 kms – what an inspiring fellow indeed.

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