“Cordial, that’s her name,” smirked Kayden, as his buddies sniggered concomitantly.
“No, it’s Cordelia”
“Yeah, Cordial” and the remainder of Kayden’s posse sniggered again.
Cordelia rolled into the car park on her trusty hardtail and confirmed her presence, before Mr ‘Ev’ Evans continued checking attendance. The new teacher marked off a number of boys before arriving at an unfamiliar name:
“Eeeuuh,” protested the smallest member of Kayden’s posse, “It’s Ai – dan, not Ad-i-an.”
“Sorry,” replied Mr Evans, “it’s spelt A. D. I. A. N. – Adian”
“Eeuuh, that’s not how it’s said, it’s Aidan.”
“OK, settle down. So that’s Aidan, plus Brayden, Hayden and Jayden…”
and the three remaining boys grunted reluctantly at the teachers.
“Alright guys,” advised Ms Symonds, “we’ll start today on the skills track and the pump track, then we’ll go for a free ride, maybe right to the top today. Oh, and there’s a little surprise for everyone today.”
“That’s gay,” muttered Kayden under his breath. “Why can’t we just ride?”
It was futile to engage with Kayden, so the teachers led half the group to the skills area and the other half to the pump track. One group of students sized up the skills track: balance features, cornering challenges, a little rock garden, a seesaw and one final drop. The students laughed, stumbled and strained their way around the skills track with varying degrees of success, while Ms Symonds offered advice at various obstacles,
“Throw your bike forward off the drop,” she reminded them as they filed through the final obstacle.
“That’s it Matty”
“Exaggerate the throw Cordelia, so you don’t land on your front wheel like that”
Thud, whack, ouch!!!
Stuart crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs and metal. His full rigid Malvern Star offered no shock absorption from the half metre drop and even the WD40 his Dad had sprayed all over the chain upon arrival couldn’t save him. He dusted himself off and assured Ms Symonds he was ok to continue amid a cackle of mocking laughter from the posse.
“He rides like a girl,” Kayden muttered.
“Kayden, don’t be sexist,” Ms Symonds admonished.
“What, I didn’t say anything about sex.”
“No, sexist, when you make bad comments about girls or women.”
“So what, there’s no girls here anyway.”
“What about Cordelia?”
“You mean Cordial?”
…and the boys laughed on command.
Stuart limped away from the obstacle course to put his bike and his pride back together.
“I didn’t do it properly either,” whispered Cordelia sympathetically, and Stuart’s rosy blush turned bright red.
Hayden and Jayden had excused themselves from the skills session and were obsessing over the positioning of their GoPro. Ms Symonds wondered when they’d ever do anything worth posting to their much-hyped Youtube channel.
“Yes Matty,” she complimented as he negotiated the drop.
“Yes, that’s it Cordelia” and the students bounced off the drop for the last time.
All except one.
Stuart picked his way through the skills course on his unforgiving retro bike, before nearing the final drop. Ms Symonds moved her hands instinctively towards the first aid kit, and the remaining students held their breath. The rigid front forks inched closer and closer to the edge of the drop while Stuart’s eyes widened in terror.
Would he make it?
Then something snapped and the terror disappeared. Stuart slammed down on the pedals, and with two strokes his front forks took flight. He leaned back, and with a strength belying his skinny arms he thrust the bike upwards and forwards.
His front wheel remained airborne and his back wheel finally left the boards. Arms extended and weight back, the bike flew down, down, down towards the dust. From tangled mess to perfect landing, Stuart had nailed it. A casual thumbs up from Cordelia turned his cheeks an impossible shade of red. He could always blame sunburn. Yep, he would blame sunburn.
Meanwhile, Ev was guiding his new students through the pump track.
“Look through the corner,” he said,
“Where you look is where you go”
Rider after rider rolled the bumps and swept through the turns. Some smoothly, others with a grating screech of brakes.
“Brayden and Adian can you not skid around every corner!”
“You churn up the track, you damage it for everyone else.”
“Well, are you going to repair it?”
“As if, that’s so gay.”
Ev focussed his attention on the more receptive students, before realising one was missing.
“Kayden, are you going to join us?” he enquired. Kayden instructed the teacher to talk to the hand, while the other clutched his phone.
“I need it now,” he was saying, “hurry up and bring it…”
Kayden didn’t lower himself to skills sessions. His Santa Cruz Megatower 29er wasn’t built for technique practice or advice from ‘gay’ teachers. The brand-new, shiny, super expensive machine played the supporting role on his much-hyped Youtube channel.
The teachers swapped groups before deciding it was time to ascend.
“What about the surprise?” asked Matty.
“Ah,” the teachers looked at each other, “…we’ll tell you when we get to the top.”
“Tap out a tempo on the climb, take your time, and we’ll meet at the start of Sidewinder. TJ, can you lead?”
“Wait!”- Kayden wasn’t ready.
“What’s the matter Kayden, are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m waiting for my Mum. I need my other GoPro.”
“When will she be here?”
“I dunno!” Kayden snapped.
Again, discussion was futile, so Ms Symonds waited with Kayden and Adian, while Ev started the climb with the rest of the group.
Cordelia tapped out a rhythm on the long, slow climb, and the hill sessions she’d done by her house seemed to be paying off. Behind her, Stuart was puffing and panting on his heavy metal frame. Ev sensed a greater motivation in Stuart today – maybe it was the blonde ponytail up ahead.
Back at the carpark, a young boy stepped out of a late-model Hilux with a confidence Ms Symonds recognised. He walked to Kayden and thrust a GoPro into his hand.
“You might be riding with us soon,” remarked Ms Symonds in a friendly, off-hand manner.
“Nah, this is gay,” replied the young upstart, before being summoned impatiently by his mother,
“Get in the car Zayden!”
With his second GoPro attached, Kayden granted Ms Symonds permission to begin the climb. It wasn’t long before they caught Jayden, Hayden and Brayden, who were already pushing their bikes up the hill. The teacher was forced to dismount and listen to the posse whinge about the heat and the steepness of the climb,
“…they should put a chairlift in,” said Adian.
Ms Symonds distracted herself from the drudgery of the hike-a-bike by examining the bikes the posse members were riding. She was very happy with her Giant hardtail, especially after the dropper post had been added, but she was amazed at the machines in the hands of the 14 and 15-year-old boys. Kayden led the hike with his Megatower, while his minions trailed on Commencal , Canyon, YT, Nukeproof…all new, all carbon fibre. Ms Symonds began calculating the combined cost of the posse’s bikes, and how long it would take her to earn that much money. She stopped when it got too depressing.
“Now we can have some fun,” Ev assured them at the top of Sidewinder “…and I’ll be filming you guys on this trail, then on Taipan, Billy’s Bobsleigh and Sewerside, and the final edit goes into a video we’re going to show at the presentation night.”
“What, in front of everyone?”
“Yep. Classmates, parents, teachers – everyone.”
“Sick, cool, great…” they replied, with excitement and a hint of nervousness. The pressure was on.
“Send it!” and they were off.
Kayden’s posse had forced it’s way to the front of the convoy and led off with hoops and hollers and skids. They popped over the little jumps and sent dust flying from every corner and berm. Dom and Paddy followed and pulled off a ‘turnbar’ and ‘one foot’ on the little kickers in a determined effort to star in the video.
Ev knew some of this footage was usable and was even more excited when he reached the end of the trail and turned around to see Matty pull off an ‘ET’ on the big jump which concluded the trail.
“YEEEEUUUUUWWWWWW” they all screamed as Matty skidded to a halt.
“Ev, is that going in the video?” Matty pleaded hopefully.
Next was Sewerside. Starting beside the stinky water reservoir, it was steeper, a bit more technical and a whole lot of fun for anyone light on the brakes.
“Relax, and keep your hands off the brakes as much as possible – just like Tracey Hannah,” Ms Symonds encouraged.
Off they sped, twisting and turning their way through the top technical section over rock gardens and drops. Jayden was the first to fall at the rock garden, followed by Hayden on the second drop. Only their egos were bruised, so the group careered its way down the hill straining to make their way onto the final cut.
Then it appeared.
“Nooooo!!!” screamed Stuart. A startled wallaby stood dead still in the middle of the trail, rooted to the ground. Stuart was going way too fast to stop and somehow threw his bike from side to side to avoid the poor animal and scare it off the trail into the bush. He returned his bike deftly to the trail and hung on with sweaty palms and gloveless fingers over the rocks, drops and gravel at the bottom of the trail.
More great footage, thought Ev.
Cordelia was beaming.
“Stu, you almost hit that wallaby”
Stuart was embarrassed, and mumbled,
“I just tried to get out of the way.”
“Yeah, with a tail whip – that was so impressive.”
This was the best day of Stuart’s life.
During the traverse to Taipan, Ev suggested to Kayden that he and his buddies contribute their GoPro footage to the presentation-night video. Even through his designer sunglasses, Kayden could be seen rolling his eyes.
“Nah, this is for Youtube – not for some gay school video.”
Discussion was futile.
Before sending the excited teenagers off Taipan, Ms Symonds reminded them to concentrate on their technique. They were getting tired. Plus, technique equals speed,
“…just like Jolanda Neff.”
“Who?” blurted Kayden.
“Jolanda Neff, world champion, world cup champion, she’s a Cross-Country rider from Switzerland, and she won a lot of races with strong technique on the descents…
“What, some chick!!” Kayden
“Yes, some chick who would beat anyone here, including you”
“As if,” and Kayden trailed off to his boys to issue orders for the impending descent.
“Don’t forget to smile for the camera,” Ms Symonds told everyone, and they were soon hurtling down Taipan.
Ev let all the riders glide onto the trail hoping to capture the kaleidoscopic train wind its way down the descent. The juxtaposition of vibrant colours on red-grey dusty trails enhanced the footage, and the beginnings of the final cut were coming together in his mind.
Brayden soon hit the deck after an ill-fated attempt to skid around a berm, and the camera focussed right on him as Ev turned his head to negotiate the corner.
“Smile,” he said as he whizzed by. Brayden didn’t see the funny side. Could he include that in the final cut? Ev asked himself, just before he witnessed something astonishing.
Cordelia was cruising through the flow trail with her distinctive blonde ponytail swishing around the turns, when he saw it;
A metre long.
Just 2 metres in front of Cordelia.
A taipan. Smack bang in the middle of the trail.
Ev was helpless.
Cordelia spotted the snake just in time.
Instinct took over.
Down, back, up..
In one deft movement she bunny-hopped the world’s third-most venomous snake before pushing into the next jump and flowing around the berm. The snake slithered off for cover and the newby teacher exhaled. She’d saved her own life, and probably his.
That was close.
Only two people had seen it. Soon, the entire school would.
Students and teachers soon found themselves at the top of the final run: Billy’s Bobsleigh. Tired, thirsty, sweaty, dusty, hungry and happy, they took in the amber glow of the afternoon sun and sipped from water bottles.
“This is it,” Mr Evans declared.
“Your last chance. Everyone has footage, but the final cut hasn’t been made. Now, remember to be careful and concentrate, and think about one thing:
The students gasped.
Yes, Drop Dead. The highest drop on the the hill. Wooden boards which followed a berm then stopped abruptly. Nothing but fresh air.
Remember, you can take the ramp to the right, or take the drop. It’s entirely your choice. You’re all capable. It’s the same technique you’ve been taught, just higher…
“A lot higher,” – said Matty.
“Yes, a lot higher,” confirmed Ms Symonds.
“If you take the drop, focus straight away on the little jump just after you land. Now, I’ll ride down first and wait at the drop. I’ll watch you down the trail, then hide under the drop and film you all go past. No matter what you choose, you’ll be on film.”
As Ev set off to position himself for filming, he heard Kayden barking orders at everyone. he gave the signal, then pressed record.
The smiling students cruised up and down the embankments which gave the trail its name. The first bike approached and Ev recognised the distinctive whirr of a bike he wished he could afford. He heard the violent screech of disc brakes as the rider succumbed to fear, and Brayden’s Canyon Strive rolled tentatively down the ramp. Three more carbon fibre contraptions repeated Brayden’s efforts, then the remaining students threw their bikes to the right and down the ramp.
Thud, whack, ouch!!!
A bike crashes to the ground in a tangle of limbs and metal. Ev peeks out expecting to see the trusty Malvern Star sprawled all over the trail, but instead he spots the shiny Megatower beside its owner writhing in pain. Ev zooms in cheekily on the whimpering Kayden, and while he decides whether to leave that shot in the final edit, he calls,
“Kayden, get off the trail!”
But it’s too late. Kayden submits to the pain and can only look skyward. The final rider whirls down the trail. Ev hears the tyres grip the berm and roll onto the boardwalk. He points the camera at the ramp to the right but at the last second senses the bike approaching the drop.
Is this it?
Is someone finally going to take on the drop?
Before he can mentally prepare for a mid-trail rescue of a broken-boned teenager, he sees it.
The front wheel separates itself from the wooden board and there’s no turning back. The back wheel follows and bike and rider fly out into the bright blue sky and fill the frame of the camera. It’s magnificent. The tropical afternoon sun dances off the frame of the bike to backlight the rider perfectly. The lens tracks the bike as it plunges toward the rocky trail with rider still in place. The danger is not over. The landing has to be stuck, and this is no mean feat from a drop of such height.
The rider sails over Kayden and his Megatower, and with perfect technique the hardtail lands gracefully on the trail and two slim legs cushion the blow, before sending the rider high up into the next berm and sailing over the ensuing jump.
Ev is already anticipating the reaction of the entire school body when they watch the footage on the big screen, and he runs out to catch the final shot. He points the lens at the long blonde pony tail as it snakes its way effortlessly down the trail.