A wheelbarrow ride through Collector's streets seemed like a good idea at the time
Ahead I can see a deep pothole in the road. Now, if I was in a car I wouldn't be too worried about hitting it - it might just result in a little bump, but I'm not in a car. I'm in a wheelbarrow. Yes, a wheelbarrow! To make matters worse the only protection I have if I'm catapulted out of the barrow and onto the bitumen is a dilapidated akubra and a khaki shirt.
It's soon clear my warning is to no avail. We're moving far too fast for my ''pusher'' Gary Poile to take evasive action.
I clench my teeth, grip onto the lip of the barrow tightly and brace myself for impact. With an almighty thud the wheel plunges into the pothole and as it jolts abruptly up the other side my body ricochets backwards and forwards like a rag doll. I can almost taste the amalgam popping out of my aging fillings and both legs seem permanently under my torso. As for my back? ''Ouch,'' is all I can whimper.
''Sorry about that,'' Gary says, as he continues pushing me at pace past the town's main street.
Now I'm sure many of you are wondering how did your (reasonably) sane akubra-clad columnist come to be cavorting in a wheelbarrow through the streets of Collector. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. It really did.
Just an hour or so earlier, while snooping around Collector trying to find giant pumpkins to photograph in advance of the village's annual pumpkin festival, I bumped into Gary Polie. As the president of this year's festival he was out erecting welcome signs for the throng of pumpkin-munchers expected to arrive in town this weekend.
Now while I was well aware of the coveted heaviest pumpkin competition (did you know the world record is more than 800kg!) and pumpkin rolling challenge, I'd never heard of wheelbarrow races in which competitors have to push a load of pumpkins around a course. In explaining the concept to me, Gary also revealed that he has a secret ambition to get a place in this year's wheelbarrow time trial - a prize that has always eluded the festival stalwart.
''With everyone in the village saving up their prized pumpkins for the competition weigh in, there's actually a shortage of pumpkins available for weights in the wheelbarrows,'' Gary explains, although, ''we should be getting a trailer load in the next day or so''. Wanting to help Gary get a jump on his competitors, I foolishly volunteered to be his ballast for a practice run.
It started okay on the grass near the oval, but determined to get himself into some form, Gary soon was pushing me up hill and down dale. It might sound like fun getting chaperoned around town inside a wheelbarrow, but with cars whizzing past and some steep hills, it's not as pleasurable as it seems. If it isn't hanging on for grim death on the downhill stretches, it's trying to avoid the sweat dripping from Gary's brow on the steep inclines. Further, it's not only dangerous for the cargo in the wheelbarrow, but also passing traffic. I reckon we almost caused at least two accidents with drivers rubber-necking. You'd think it was the first time they'd seen a camera-clutching Canberra Times columnist being propelled around their town in a wheelbarrow.
On Goulburn Street, we bump past a scarecrow resplendent in an ACT Brumbies jersey sporting, of course, a pumpkin for a head. ''By Sunday, almost every house in the village will have a scarecrow out the front,'' Gary puffs as we reach the summit of the hill. ''The scarecrows are monitored by scrutineers for several days prior to judging and if a bird lands on it, that scarecrow is immediately disqualified for not being scary enough.'' .
Up atop the hill is a home with a number of pumpkins proudly displayed out the front. We stop for a break (read: Gary is out of puff again) and admire the pile of pumpkins, which we soon discover are the fruits of hard labour of Jonathan Taylor and his two boys Elija (7) and Micah (4). The fact I'm admiring their display from inside a wheelbarrow seems lost on the kids who proudly puff their chests out as they say, ''look at our pumpkins, look at how big they are!''
''We're no chance for the prestigious title of heaviest pumpkin but we might have a showing in one of the junior categories,'' explains Jonathan, who is more than happy to partly reveal his family's secret to growing big pumpkins. ''It's all about lots of water, egg shell and coffee grounds.'' As to the exact proportion of each, well, of course that is more closely guarded than Colonel Sanders' secret recipe, smirks Jonathan.
By now it's late afternoon and Gary has been pushing me around town for a good two hours. His arms are shaking and my legs are still squashed in the tray of the wheelbarrow, tucked up under my body in a position only a yoga master or a contortionist would even attempt. In fact, I can't really feel them anymore.
We decide to call it a day. It's been thirsty work so Gary wheels me the short distance across the road to the Bushranger Hotel. Celebrating 150 years, this quintessential village pub is known for its colourful history. ''We had a horse in the pub once and even a motorbike, but never a wheelbarrow,'' says publican Norm Betts as Gary wheels me up to the bar. ''I've seen it all now,'' quips his wife Dianne, shaking her head in disbelief.
I shout Gary a drink - heck, he deserves it, he's probably shed two kilos in sweat - and in doing so I officially become the first person to ever order a drink from inside a wheelbarrow at the Collector Pub. In a village that gives away cash prizes and pretty ribbons for such achievements as the most unusual-looking pumpkin and scariest scarecrow, it's a lofty title, and one that I drink to.
On the way back to Canberra, my legs still aching from being couped up in the wheelbarrow, I stop off at Lerida Estate for a stretch. Just beyond their knock-out cafe overlooking a filling Lake George is a pumpkin patch brimming with orange giants.
I scramble down the laneway to get a closer look. Within a flash, proprietor Jim Lumbers has dashed out of his barrel room to check who is snooping around his prized patch.
I soon discover why. After taking out 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize at the 2010 Collector Pumpkin Festival, Jim was beaten last year by a 420kg giant from Goulburn grower Ken Ryan.
Apart from the sheer size of the pumpkins, the most noticeable feature of Jim's patch is a massive slide mark down through the middle of it. It's reminiscent of a croc slide mark from up in Kakadu, only there's no crocs in Lake George. ''One of my best hopes literally slid off the patch last night and ended up a bit worse for wear amongst the vines down below,'' Jim laments. I make the mistake of suggesting that perhaps his wayward pumpkin was practising for the pumpkin rolling competition. But for Jim it's no laughing matter; he's hell bent on winning back the title of the heaviest pumpkin at this year's festival.
For months on end, residents of Collector have been awoken at an ungodly hour by the erratic tolling of the bell at the Catholic Church. Thinking it was kids playing a late-night prank, pumpkin festival head honcho-come-wheelbarrow pusher Gary Poile recently staked out the church to see if he could catch the culprits red-handed. ''Within an hour, I'd discovered the perpetrator - it wasn't a group of kids after all, rather a mischievous possum,'' laughs Gary.
The main festivities tomorrow will be near the church, so keep your eyes out for a musical-minded possum. Perhaps the National Carillon could hire him for a Sunday afternoon session at Aspen Island?
Got a comment on today's stories or an unusual photo? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.