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Reviewer/Tester
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There was a hot wind blowing through the trees as I pedalled into the start of the trail. The temperature was 40 degrees in the sun, and not much less than that in the speckled shade of the gum trees that lined the creek.

Everything was dry and hot. The creek had become a series of small pools filled with brown and brackish water. The only sounds were the cicadas singing and the wind rustling the leaves in the dry gums.

Sweat poured off me, but I was happy to be out here on this old trail again. Pedalling the 29'er was quite hard on the uphills because of the hot westerly headwind. I had geared a 32 - 20 setup which normally would have been fine, but the damn hot wind was sucking the energy out of me.

My plan had been to ride along the creek to a small deep waterhole and have a swim to cool off, then ride back home again. However, I was only about halfway to the pool, and was already feeling the effects of the dry heat.

I decided to go on, thinking about how nice the cool water would feel once I reached the pool.

I was about 3 miles from the trailhead when I noticed the smoke. It was gradually increasing, the acrid smell of it filling my nostrils.

The bright sun was slowly turning an eerie orange colour as the smoke drifted across the sky. I stopped the bike and listened. There was a strange and frightening sound coming towards me through the trees...a crackling roaring sound.

Small pieces of ash and half burnt leaves began to fill the air, and the hot wind got stronger, blowing directly towards me. I realised that it was a bushfire, and it was headed right for me !

Thoughts raced through my mind, but I tried to stay as calm as possible and think this through. I knew that I didn't have much time, as the heat was now very noticeable. I spun the bike around and started pedalling flat out back down the trail.

I had several advantages with me now. I had a hot tailwind, I was going down a slight incline, and I had the added incentive of the fire right behind me. I spun out of the gearing easily, and wished I was on a taller gearset.

For the first mile or so, I actually thought that I was going to make it.

It wasn't to be.

On both sides of the trail I could see flames, and the smoke was thickening. I was facing certain death, and I knew it.

My only chance was the creek. If I could just make it to a decent sized pool of water, I had a slim chance of survival.

I pedalled furiously through the choking smoke, hardly able to breath. There ahead was the pool I was looking for, a small brown puddle in the once-flowing creek. I rode straight down the bank and crashed into the warm brackish water.

It was only just deep enough to cover me. I was panting and unable to hold my breath, so I ripped the drinking tube off the camelback and stuck it in my mouth. I sucked hot air into my lungs.

I closed my eyes, and dipped my head under the water.

Now I had to stay still and calm. The water was dirty, brown and warm. I lay in it as the fire roared above me. The soft foam grip on the exposed handlebar bubbled in the heat as the flames swept over the half submerged bike.
Small animals scuttled and ran, only to be fried in the wave of flames and blistering heat that swept through the hot dry bush around me.

The question in my mind was....how long? How long could I survive in this shallow pool of water.

The minutes dragged slowly by. My heart was beating hard, it was so difficult to breath through the narrow tube. I had to hold my nose to stop the water rushing into my labouring lungs. I knew if I raised my head out of the water I would probably get burned.

Calm.......... calm I thought..I must stay calm and not panic. If I was going to survive, I had to stay completely calm. I concentrated on breathing. No thoughts... just breathe... Slowly, in and out, in and out, listen to the sound, breath slowly, calmly...

Time passed...very slowly. I decided to raise my hand out of the water to test the air. It felt hot. I pulled it back down, and waited.

After what seemed like hours, but was only about 15 minutes, I decided to have a very quick look.

I lifted my head out of the pool. Thick smoke, burning trees and bush greeted my eyes. The front had passed over me. I was alive, but still had to get out of this place. The small pool of water had saved my life.

My bike was half in and half out of the pool. It was covered in ash and felt hot when I touched it. I stood up, dripping. The heat was still intense. I had to get out of here. I splashed water on the hot bike to cool it off a bit, then carried it up the bank of the creek to the trail. All around me were small fires, left by the flame front as it swept through the dry bush like a ravaging red monster.

I leapt on and pedalled flat out towards the trailhead, chasing the fire front down the trail. My clothes dried out quickly in the heat, and I felt singed by the falling embers from the trees as I pedalled for my life.

Finally, on the last of my energy, I burst out onto the dirt road in the smoke and heat. Just as I did, the rear tire flatted. No time to fix it. I cut the tire and tube off the rim and got back on the bike. I had a mile of pretty smooth fireroad to negotiate before I hit the main road out. The rim skittered and slid around crazily as I pedalled along the scorched dirt road.

Just as I got to the T intersection, I saw a large bushfire brigade firetruck coming towards me. They stopped and asked if I was ok. I replied yes, but needed some water which they gave me. I took a couple of big swallows and then poured the rest over me.

An hour later I was being treated for minor burns in the local hospital. I was alive.

I had some blisters on my arms, my lungs were in a bad way, and my back had been burned in places by the falling twigs and leaves. There were no hairs left on my legs or arms. My helmet had saved my head.

The bike had some blistered paint and one of the foam grips had disintegrated in the intense heat.
The rear rim was buckled and scarred, but intact. The rear brake cable was a mess but still worked ok. The bike and I had survived.

...........That was my Christmas here in Australia.


R.
 

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Big Wheel Homer !!
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1,752 Posts
It's just too dangerous down under for me. If the insects, snakes or numerous other poisonous creatures don't kill ya, it sounds like the bush fires will. I'm glad your ok and escaped with only minor injuries. Great read, keep it up.

Steve
 
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