Category Archives: Other Ride Reports

Reports about any non-commute ER ride

2020 3 Peaks Ride Report from a Debutant – The Hell of The South?

Thought I’d get this out tonight before DOMS Day 2 post-ride….

Just how cold was it?

Fretting over the conditions started a week out when long range forecasts predicted cold and fairly wet. Paparazzi gave us all the willies, talking about riding head-to-toe in neoprene (or was it merino?), prepping for the equivalent of a Canberra winter ride. Highlander lamented not finding booties, and Danny the Boy’s vegetable intake would assuredly ward off cold better than any base layer could. But as the days passed by, the forecast steadily improved and by Saturday morning the forecast rain had disappeared entirely, replaced with merely “Cloudy”. Cue rejoicing and elbow bumps all round – we’d worried and prepared for nothing! But damn the evening updates…. By 5pm, rain was back on according to both BOM and the Norwegian experts, and whatever would be would be….

6.30am at the start line was 6 degrees, with occasional faint drizzle. The best advice I got pre-ride was to put newspaper down my jersey, supposedly to dump it at the bottom of the descent of Falls. This kept me toasty on the descent along with my 4 other layers (base, jersey, gilet & rainjacket) but I folded the TV guide up in Mount Beauty to keep it for Hotham, and this I believe saved my ride. 1,314 people started this event and almost 250 DNF – almost 20%. Most of these will have abandoned at Dinner Plain after descending from Hotham in 4 degrees in rain and fog. Riders arriving at Dinner Plain were directed into the First Aid Hut to warm up. A sobering sight that will stay with me for a long time was the scores of shivering under-dressed riders, chattering teeth making them mumbling MAMILS, putting bin bags and blankets on, and slugging hot chocolate, to try and warm up. It was biblical, but my phone was out on the bike so no pics and I note too that this scene hasn’t made the official Peak’s video.

I had put both the newspaper back in and the rain jacket on at Hotham summit and wasn’t especially cold arriving for lunch, but leaving the hut after eating my wrap was another matter. Relatively dry under my jacket to that point, I forsaked my full change of kit in the valet bag and left that to find its own way home. Now wet gloves back on, I mounted and headed off on to the 1km long “gravel section”. It was smooth, but the rain now made it like riding through a deep muddy puddle for 3 minutes in low visibility. Temp remained stuck at 4 degrees. I was shivering like a junkie in withdrawal, so violently I thought I’d lose control a few times and it served to coat me in mud. No pave, but we all looked like Roubaix riders, and I’m not talking Rhodes! Then the drive train and discs protested for many kilometres to come… my kingdom for a rinse and lube! What else could I do to warm up? I then remembered the headband, down around my neck since Mount Beauty and moving that that up around my ears added surprising warmth and comfort and in time I settled down.

“Suck Wheel”

Good advice, but the low number of riders this year (down on previous years and well short of their 2,000 cap), and the many dropouts, meant it was mainly single riders after Dinner Plain to the Finish. This was effectively a solo ride for me, but for a train from the bottom of the Tawonga descent to Harrietville for 20km or so, which started as 5 riders and grew to 50-odd. That just wasn’t available for the run to Omeo or then on to Anglers Rest.

Mind Over Matter

There were stiff mental tests in this ride, the first for me wasThe Meg, earlyish on the first third of Hotham. Signposted, and well-flagged in advance, this “only” 300m section with grade from 10-13% really hurt, and had me questioning if I had what it took to get to Hotham’s summit, 25km or so distant. By the end of Hotham’s first third, 10km of climbing, my mind was looking for excuses to pull over for a breather. But entering the false flat 10km section, I convinced myself to keep going, at least until the last third when I knew it would ramp up again. There was a (apparently new) rest area before the last 10km of Hotham which afforded the mental re-grouping and I put in some music to get through the last third. Climbing now into the cloudbase, it got cold, and eerie with the visibility down to 50m or less – but perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. I couldn’t see the road rising off into the distance. CRB Hill (1.1km at 10% but it didn’t hit me like The Meg had) was tough, but I motored on and summitted as the rain came. Others behind me later reported sleet. Can’t comment on whether it’s picturesque or not!

After the shivering subsided, I motored on to Omeo, and left the newspaper in situ for most of this trip. This was the biggest surprise to me. I expected a big descent after Hotham but really it was just a gradual loss of elevation and with some climbs in there too, before a long drop into Omeo where as if by magic, a temp of 19 degrees fleetingly appeared on the GPS. Definitely a rest stop to linger at!

Leaving there led to the most scenic bit of the ride. After a decent climb there was a winding flat road along an escarpment and the sun came out for at least 20 minutes, and visibility opened up. I cruised this with little company and really enjoyed it.

The next test, the one most feared, was The Beast. WTF Corner and into Back of Falls: 10% average for the first 10km. Grinding at 6-7km/hr with tired legs, thankful the photographer wasn’t too far up the initial hill (“at least get past the photographer”), the gradient those first 2-3 km hardly relented. The 100m distance indicators on the GPS ticked over painfully slowly, in and out of the saddle (‘Don’t Stop. Don’t Get Off”) but soon I was bargaining with myself to make it 3km, maybe 5km and then either pause or walk a bit, but then there’d be a slight dip – yes even 7% was enough to give respite and convince you to make it to the next corner, to another ramp, and so on and on. And on. Now I started to understand why the timing guides (now washed off the top tube) allow ~1.5 hours for the 13km between WTF and Trapyard. 5km in, it eventually started to relent a little with some flat and even a short descent, but then, BANG, up hard again. Will it ever end? But hang on, I’ve done this for 6km now, 60% of this tough 10km done, keep going, activate the glutes, in and out of the saddle, don’t stop, don’t get off, one more corner, all this training, and then finally, it did ease off and a relatively soft run into Trapyard was an emotional release to realise this was going to happen.

In hindsight, I could and should have kept going without stopping at Trapyard. Water was low but not much needed at this stage. The Coke there didn’t agree with all the other bike fuel I’d been eating and I took off, now climbing again into the low viz. Jacket back on as temp was back down to four degrees for these last 20km. I was searching for the Mount Cope sign that we had ridden out to the day before and eventually saw it through the gloom, when only about 20m from it. Another mini celebration. Push on, no dam waters to sight in the fog, but this was the home stretch. Think about the hot shower, nay, DREAM about the hot shower… not long now……. Where’s the bloody dam wall… one last small climb, and don’t crash on the last corner. Quite the emotional release to roll in under the banner at 6.30pm, and I choked up, taking it in. One hell of a ride.

Ride Stats

Ride time 10h22m Elapsed Time 11h33m so a surprising 1h11m in rest areas or wardrobe changes on side of road. Total climb time 4h46m including stops on Hotham and at Trapyard. But all in all, both body and bike held up.

What would I do differently?

  • Wouldn’t be hard to trim 30 mins or more off rest stop time, and even that’s still a long way off Blue’s 8 total mins stopped during his sub 10 effort!
  • Work on my descending: I was cautious down Falls given the crowds but Tawonga was only slightly damp and not as technical as forecast (though they said last year was the first time someone hasn’t done their collarbone on Turn 5). Hotham’s descent though was no place to pick up time this year in the horrid conditions there.
  • Waterproof gloves. I went through 3 variations of normal gloves: Long, short, then short with dry liners that I’d saved for the home stretch. Breathable waterproofs though would save a lot of faffing.
  • Join one of the Bicycle Network waves to maximise chance of trains…. I was within 5 mins of the back of the 10 hour group for the first 70km until they left me for dead on Hotham. I then tick-tacked with the 11 hour group and probably could/should have stayed with them. But thoughts had turned to making sure I finished rather than time-setting, and hence lingering in rest areas.
  • Make sure the sticker covering the cleats are indeed stuck in on the soles of the new MTB shoes you buy! My booties performed well, but could do nothing about the muddy puddle coming up from the road entering the shoe via the cleat!

Will there be a next time? Why would anyone put themselves through this? Especially when they now know what lies in store? Better ask Highlander what’s made him do it 5 times now… I have until Wednesday 9am to sign up cheaply….


Pine Tree.

The Fails Creek Report

Well having read the wonderful report from Highlander there isn’t much to add to the overall Falls weekend – a hugely successful weekend from team ER and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with outstanding company. A truly memorable experience. Thanks again for organising the lodgings Sat Nav.

The ride – well that is a very different story. Not being able to sleep the night before due to sincere concerns of being able to complete the challenge ahead (and having asked the group every question I could think of – twice) I finally pushed Ridley (my new bike bought 5 weeks earlier with a mid-compact 11-28 Di2 set up) out of the lodge with Highlander and headed to Wave 3. The anticipation intense, the threat of rain real but the adrenaline and excitement as the riders rolled out was immense – what an experience, especially as I crossed through the starters arch. I felt good, this was going to be possible if I didn’t take off like the eager puppy I have been in past rides (and tried to learn from the mistake)

Conservative and steady down the decent to Mt Beauty was my strategy but not one shared by a significant amount of riders – racing lines emerged by inexperienced riders and some felt compelled to use slim passing lines to nudge their way through corners and past riders, a rather white knuckled experience for a newbie like me. Beautiful decent and great welcoming into Mt Beauty – now the ride began. Time to strip down out of the warmers and prepare for the climbing.

I seemed to have made some early progress on the team so hit Tawonga Gap on my lonesome. I thoroughly enjoyed the climb and felt I was making good progress in good time and felt very strong as I hit the summit. No stopping at the rest stop (great advice Highlander) I did my part to earn the Bicycle Network promise of a free beer by not crashing on the famous crash corners and hit the flats ready to find a peloton to hitch a ride on. Alas it appeared that in searching for groups unsuccessfully I had created one without realising, and the tail was very happy to sit on my wheel without sharing the load. Single file was the play due to the headwind that had greeted us. But finally a peloton came past which I joined on to and rode the final km’s into Harrietville, slightly faster than desired but good to be on board. First fail – not hitching a ride to Harrietville.

After a bottle re-fill, refuel and a stretch/walk around Highlander and the 11hr group arrived to do the same, and strong encouragement of taking on fruit cake (good suggestion) was provided. Needing relief but not wanting to wait Highlander and I pushed out, although I had no idea that moment away began the Mt Hotham climb. I left Highlander at the base of the climb for some brief nature appreciation and then commenced the climb.

Overall I loved Mt Hotham – it does go for ever, I agree, and by the end the pain has set in. The first 10km were great, felt great, no cramps and didn’t get passed by any official riders. Stopped to help a rider who randomly hit the deck for no obvious reason and smashing his seat in half. Second 10km – what a great section but does seem to go on. Third 10km’s – ok that hurt. It lived up to its reputation, I thought I had conquered it only to drop into the valley and have to climb up again and that snake route to the summit seems never ending. Unfortunately 3km from the summit sudden CRAMP!! Both legs shot out straight and getting out of the cleats was a close call – cramp zone was muscle hugging the kneecap in the inside – never had this cramp before. 8 mins straight it cramped with no relief, causing me to look like I was doing some strange serenade dance to the mountain tops. Massaging the legs to attempt to gain relief a rider pulled up next to me, put four white tablets in my hand and said “take these immediately with lots of water”. A quick confirmation question proved these to be salt tablets and down the hatch they went. So much encouragement provided by passing riders “mate you are almost there”…”all the hard work is done”……cramping stopped, no power muscles effected over the top I went through the arches, what a feeling!!!! Favourite part of the ride. Wasn’t aware however that the Dinner Plains stop is actually quite an effort away.

Pulled into Dinners and tried to work out the lay of the land. Parked as far away from the action than I possibly could (by accident – fresher error) and commenced refuel, sat down to admire what was happening around me and bag drop/swap. Thought I would wait for Highlander and I was extremely excited to find him and so good to combine with him once more. I tried to get the wrap down the hatch and recharge the garmin when the 12hr rider call came over the speaker and the decision was made to get out there with them. My food intake to this point had not been great – just didn’t seem to have an appetite but still had good energy. Butt was KILLING due to new seat so Nurofen Plus now joined the party.

The next section I don’t remember too clearly. We started with the 12hr group which was awesome and mainly downhill and rollers is what I had expected – they did plenty of work and we were making good time. There were some royal dickheads in the group (non-official BN riders) who thought they were heroes but couldn’t hold a wheel or line. Highlander cracked it at one point and went off ahead of the group but we soon caught as the headwinds increased. Finally some knob jockey decided to cut us off the 12hr riders and dropped off the back, we couldn’t catch them again. The ride took a bad turn for me here – energy starting to go and pain had set in permanently, the heat took force which is never a good omen for me (heat and wind) and when sneaky peak hit unexpectedly my mind moved to a very negative space. I had underestimated the “easier” sections and no rollers of note and not much downhill. Plenty of wind.

With Highlander ever encouraging we pushed into Omeo and O-M-G it was good to arrive. Water refuel and an attempt to eat something that tried to resemble a scone (I was still trying to chew that thing as we rode off and had to spit it out so no food on board) while bumping into a friend I had not seen in 11 years we were off again. Highlander assures me this is the section of rollers, not the past section. With new found confidence I am ready. Butt on fire – I could hardly sit, inner abductors now cramping at regular frequency (but not effecting power and very manageable when not cramping) and doubt set in my concern turned to Highlander finishing. As I questioned Highlanders definition of rollers I voiced just how much pain I was in. Extremely stubbornly and very admirably Highlander kept me on his wheel and reassured me “mate we are going to finish this, we are going to cross this together” Highlander finally understood that I was officially broken, the game had changed now and extremely reluctantly and hesitantly Highlander started to head off solo. With the game now changed Highlander the machine was locked in once more and the trailblazer was off with many trying to hitch a ride on his wheel. My game = how long can I last. I still had so much time, perhaps I can do this  – I will make it to Anglers and re-evaluate.

I hit Anglers, smashed a cold coke (sorry no beer Z man) with some more Nurofen and questioned – could I do this. I had little in the tank, my legs were cramping every 15mins and I couldn’t sit on my seat. A fellow rider said – you know you can walk up Falls and still cross the line given the time, we are so very far ahead and with that decision made…….bring it on WTF.

As I walked across the bridge to see a fellow Turra rider bleeding (but he was fine) I tried to clip back in and roll on….but couldn’t get into the pedals as many others also struggled with. The mud created by the water stations had completely filled in the cleats so when you could get in you couldn’t get out. Finally water from bottles used to clear the mud and I was away. A slow 10kms to bottom of WTF I turned left and there she was in all her glory…WTF. Beloka you got nothing on this. I hit the first stretch, legs screaming and cramps lining up for complete leg domination, turned the right hand corner and whack – 6 cramp bonanza!!! Time to commence operation walk across the line.

Well the walk went on for a lot longer than anticipated – that hill just never eases up. I tried a few times to re-saddle but each time no joy and now my energy levels were shot. I thought I’d wait until the gradient reduced (wow that took longer than I thought) and I was depleting further with each step. I finally remounted, make it 1km and now my back and ribs decided to join in on the cramps – 8 cramp fiesta but this time it seemed to hit hard and next thing I knew I was passed out up against the bank. Not sure how long I was there for but when I came too I wasn’t cramping so that was a win. A bit scary at this point.

Finally I reached the top of WTF – finally. Legs were ok again, my butt wasn’t screaming as I had just spent an hour walking and I was ready!!! Tried to clip into the cleats, no joy. Tried to clip in again…no joy. Thought this f’ing mud so got off bike, cramped (yay) and then checked my cleats. Well I didn’t have any cleats left – they had worn down to the base plate from the walking. I guess they are not made for walking. I thought this was game over but I wasn’t going to let that stop me so away I went unclipped (ironic given convo’s of the night prior). 1-2km in unclipped I came upon a couple who were on the side of the road offering hugs…I said “Not keen on a hug unless they come with a pair of cleats”…….and would you believe it, he had cleats. Only one set on him by they were the right ones. Excuses removed and the thought of this story as I crossed the finish line priceless – I was locked in, until Damian says “you sure you want these though mate, the next section is exactly the same as what you have just come up until you get to Trapyard Gate”…….officially bummed again.

Determined, stubborn and slightly delirious I pushed on – I thought, I just keep pushing and pushing to get to Trapyard Gate and the rest is easy from there. I called back on the confirmations that once you’ve made it there you’ve made it!!! It was a slow grind as I passed many upside down bikes and when I hit the next climb I thought – is this it. Lets do it. I commenced the climb and only 200m in a marshal came up behind me on his motorbike – “buddy how you doing? Feeling ok?” Feeling light headed and close to breaking point I responded “I’m feeling dangerous, bring it on – ooorah…..but have entered the pain locker” to which he responded “well I just wanted to let you know that the last SAG wagon is 1km down the road” Confused by this statement I asked “well what does that mean if I don’t get on the SAG Wagon” to which he responded “well then you are on your own”…….GAME OVER!!!! Doing the rest without a safety net and really knowing that only a miracle and the promise of the home stretch being truly easy coming to fruition would have allowed me to cross in time (if ever) as I had absolutely nothing in the tank left and now rain had set in with darkness approaching it was a no brainer. I made the call and was handed a cold coke and I admitted defeat at the foot of Trapyard Gate.

35 mins wait (with some very lovely and positive messages from my wife, PD and Highlander) and I was on the SAG Wagon and at Trapyard gate at 7:08. I could hardly walk and conversation was not a possibility much to the dismay of the gentleman next to me who wanted to share his stories of woe. Driving the rest of the course I never felt more relief that I did not try to conquer it – there is plenty of work left in the first 10km of the 20km return. Passing riders who we could see would not make the 13hr time was heart breaking but I was so glad I wasn’t with them. I finally reached Falls as the last wave of successful riders came in and one step off the bus and I projectile v’d with violence!!!! Highlander found me after waiting in the freezing cold for hours (what a legend) and we walked back to the lodge where I tried to eat but couldn’t so hit the bed hard.

Falls Creek 1 – UNick 0. Lessons for me – don’t ride a new bike to 3 Peaks, actually do long training rides for the event (and lots of commuting) as fitness is irrelevant to cramps, do not ride a mid-compact 11-28 on WTF, cleats are not made for walking, and I think I need to drink my fuel not eat as eating does not work for me (I don’t eat enough).

I was so very gutted to be so close and not finish but I know I gave it everything that I had – I will be back and I will cross that line. When, well that depends but one day I will complete the right of passage to the ER’s.

Massive thanks to Highlander for being the legend that he is and the awesome Peaks team for being such champs.

Thesis over.


3 Peaks 2017 Ride Report

A small contingent of ERs headed down to Falls Creek, once again, to take on 3 Peaks. There were 8 of us in the ER lodging. Chris Houlihan (Hotlips) was there with 3 mates (Andrew, Mark and Trev) who had joined ER to prepare for this ride. UNick, Danny, Pigeon and myself made up the group. There were a few other ERs scattered around the village we would bump into over the weekend. I saw Laura, QT, and Gazza and I think some others may have been around too.

Nick and I decided to go down on the Friday and we took a fairly easy trip down. Nick did all the driving. Perhaps he was worried we’d end up in Adelaide if I took the wheel! Hotlips and crew also went down on the Friday. Danny and Pigeon came down on the Saturday. Apparently they only stopped 10 minutes on the drive down to refill water or something like that in a dry run for Sunday.

Of the 8 of us in the apartment, 3 had done this ride before while 5 were new to the experience. Friday we chatted about what to expect on the day. Saturday brought rego and a short ride to make sure bikes were ready to go. Then we had to consider the weather and plan our valet bag strategy. The weather was threatening at least some rain. Danny and Pigeon were going for limited stops and no bags. I think the rest of us were a bit more conservative with stuff to handle a wet first half.

Sunday morning brought further questions. Base layer or not, arm warmers or not. There had only been a few drops of rain overnight and cloud cover made it almost warm. Pigeon was going light but I decided to go with gilet and light arm warmers. It was certainly a lot warmer start than 2015.

Just a week before this ride a few of us had done the 170km Orange classic. Was that a good idea? While my legs seemed ok, I did get a cold from the Orange effort which was a pain. Nevertheless I seemed ok on the day.

Nick and I started in wave 3. For me this was further up than 2015 and that helped. Andy snuck into wave 1 and I think Danny was at the front of our wave. I would not see them on the ride. The descent to Mt Beauty was a little chaotic. Holding your line is a foreign concept to a lot of riders but everything settled down soon enough. Nick was off ahead of me and I settled in for the day’s work. Tawonga was no problem and I skipped the rest stop. I’d decided to use a 1L bidon on the front holder and I think that worked well through the day. I don’t like the feeling of running out of water or having to ration on a long stretch.

Whereas I had done the run to Harrietville almost solo in 2015 after starting further back, this year I found myself in the group with the four 11hr riders. That was wonderful. The 11hr leaders were very encouraging, and even began to organize things into a rolling group. The leader was a bit touchy feely to let you know he was coming alongside.

I arrived at Harrietville very quickly and felt very good. I left the rest stop with the group and onto Hotham. I soon lost the 11hr group. Not unexpected as I’m not the fastest up a climb as most of you know. I found Hotham a lot more reasonable on the second serving. 2015 had been a big challenge but I think knowing how long it is helped this time around. It still goes on forever but you know it will end.

I don’t remember where, but at some point on Hotham a rider wearing a 12hr tag passed me. I called out to him
“12 hour guy, are you on schedule?”
That was a bit of a shock as I thought I was going along better than 12 hr pace.

I had one small inner thigh cramp on Hotham but it wasn’t too bad and I rode through it. Into the Hotham village and I set off for Dinner Plain as fast as I could. I’m efficient in the rest stops now. I got my bag, dumped gilet and warmers, and grabbed my roll. Chicken is now an option and I found it easier to eat than 2015’s veggie roll. Good to have real food. Sun cream and pretty much, ready to roll. Nick tapped me on the shoulder and it was good to see a familiar face. Unlike me, he hadn’t been passed by the 12 hour group and seemed pretty relaxed. But they had arrived at lunch and soon the call went out that 12 hour riders were leaving in five. I wanted to get out ahead of them so Nick and I left the stop. Even so, they soon caught us. We hung on for a while until some guy wearing boardies and with his undies showing dropped in in front of us, then eased up, which split us from the group. That was a bit annoying as soon the 12 hour group would pull away from us on a little climb down from Dinner Plain. Known as “sneaky peak” apparently. Well named.

Nick and I kept together to Omeo but Nick was beginning to suffer along the way. After a quick water stop at Omeo where we tried to get a dry scone down, we set off to Anglers. I’d told Nick that it was sort of rollers after Omeo but in reality the run to Anglers starts with a bit of climbing. At some point, Nick informed me

“Highlander, FYI: Not fucking rollers”

Fair call. Nick continued to suffer and at some point he told me to go ahead. That was hard and I resisted for a while. I wanted to help him get to the line but my positive thoughts are surely not enough when your ass is really hurting. I decided to push on and hope Nick would make it through.

I got to Anglers Rest and was relieved to see the 12hr rides there. I just refilled water and went out ahead of them. I just made it to WTF before they gathered me up again. I was determined not to walk up the back of Falls. Strangely this time nobody was walking around me. The climb was too long, however, and I hopped off. I got a lot further than 2015 but I guess it’s still unfinished business for me. Got past the photographer at least. I eventually got back on.  As I went further up Falls I started to see riders in the ditch huddled in space blankets.  A bit freaky.

The last time I’d arrived at Trapyard they had run out of coke so for 10km I had been longing for that coke. It’s one of those tiny cans and I quickly drank a few swigs only for my stomach to violently spasm. I’m not sure I ate very well on this ride and my stomach was letting me know.  I had felt that Trapyard was close to the summit of Falls but there are in fact 10km more to go. It’s a long hard 10km but I eventually got to the lake section.

The rain finally came in this section but it was short and not a problem. At some point I passed the 12hr riders who had pulled off to make sure they hit their mark. Shame on them for scaring me throughout the day.

I got to the finish in 11hr46m which I was happy with. I met Gazza over the line. He had done a sub 9. Wow! He kindly bought me a beer. I set about finding out how Nick was going. Nick had decided to jump on the last sag wagon going. That would be a hard offer to knock back and it was a wise decision in the circumstances I think. He had pushed himself to just shy of Trapyard gate. When he got back to Falls, he sent me a text “I’m spewing”. It wasn’t metaphorical. He had nothing left to give and you can’t really ask any more of yourself than that. Better to live to fight another day.

Andy and Danny had done sub 10 and sub 11 times respectively. Hotlips, Mark, Andrew and Trev all made it home with Trev maximising the value of his entry at 12hr50 odd.

We retired to the apartment for a filling meal cooked by Andy and Danny. Those stairs up to the apartment do test you. A night of recollection, post mortems and lessons learned.



G2GGVG 2016

An Epic Ride Report for an Epic Ride

After days of anticipation, the time had finally come for me to tackle my first big ride with ER  and my longest ever ride. Time to see for myself if all the horror stories about the ride were true, having to deal with thousands of occasional riders at the start, how steep is the Bulli Pass climb, how narrow is the Bulli Pass shoulder and most importantly….will I actually make the distance?

As the elite (short and round category) athlete that I am, my advanced preparation included

  • Laying out muesli bars in advance so that my 4 year old son can eat them whilst I am not looking
  • Carbing up on a mixture of beer and schnapps
  • Being out way past my bedtime the night before (must have been at least 9:30pm before I got home)

As the morning arrived, I woke with plenty of time to get to Gordon. As per a usual OTP morning, some home procrastination left me needing to sprint the St Ives Alps to meet the 5am rendezvous. A quick dash along Park Avenue, stopping by Lucy in the final stages of a preparation, a promise to make sure everyone waits, and then I see them. More ERs than I have ever seen before. Some I know, some I don’t. A glimpse of the famous tandem that propelled blue and pink to 100km/hr and before I knew it bells were ringing and we were off. My timid calls of “wait for Lucy” went unheard and there’s another promise broken…..

The procession down the highway was more of a gaggle than a peloton, spirits were high, jokes a plenty, and a fast pace controlled by the tandem on the declines and whoever else on the inclines. Before too long the familiarity of the highway was replaced with Blue’s magical mystery tour, taking us through the dark corners of darling harbour, the back streets of Broadway and magically appearing at Sydney Park  somewhere around the official start time. This was a good thing as the vast majority of us declined an official start and circumvented the park in its entirety. However, after magically staying together from Gordon to St Peters, the group was split at the last set of lights into St Peters and I watched the tandem disappear ahead. My only thoughts at this stage was where’s Manga??? The man who had promised to keep me company on a slow return trip. I looked at the fast and skillful  riders surrounding me and hoped that my legs would keep up.

Now on the official Gong ride, the trip done the Princess Highway was like riding through a ghost town, where were this other cyclists? Had we gone the right way? Did we beat the start? Who knew, but the police were out in force to keep us on the right side of the traffic cones. Before too long, we caught up to the tandem and a few other ERs. We enjoyed a leisurely few kilometres as a big group, enjoying a good laugh and enjoying a beautiful morning on the bikes when suddenly WHHHHHOOOOOSSSSSHHHHH, Highlander flies past us all in pursuit of the highlands. Dragon quickly whispers in my ear, “don’t let him get away”. At first, I thought Dragon had my best interests at heart, it was only a few hours later when we arrived at Wollongong that I realised Dragon’s No 1 priority was getting to the Westpac hospitality tent before all his colleagues at his food. Never one to say no to a challenge, I sprinted off to catch Highlander, with Dragon in tow.  As it turned out, there were a few more ERs in tow as well.

As the ride progressed into the shire, Highlander and Dragon and a few others started to disappear off into the distance. Myself and an ER unknown to me (but I am sure I have met before), riding a pale blue bike started to increase the pace. Before I new it I was alone without ER support but the pace was good. Soon I caught up to Dave (Top Gear?) and his mysterious riding partner.  The mysterious riding partner kept a high pace as the three of us kept rotating at the front, the speed was blistering and up the climb into Waterfall, Top Gear hit Bottom Gear, I slowed for a gel and our mystery colleague disappeared into the sunrise. Dave and I took the opportunity to relax a bit and slowly Highlander came into focus ahead of us.  For a short time we were actually ahead of Highlander and then we found a much needed rest spot. To our surprise, there was a haggle of ERs waiting for our arrival. I was happy to be reunited with Manga who had promised to climb Bulli with me. Spirits were high as we re-filled water bottles, creamed ourselves all over, and rapidly departed leaving UNick in the bathroom.

The talk at this point was of slow escorts down the decline into the national park. Luck was on our side as all the coppers were taking a well-deserved coffee and doughnut break, leaving us free to tackle the descent at rapid speed. As it was my first time down this slippery slope, I decided against ludicrous speed and actually used the brakes here and there. As we surfaced at the bottom, Manga admired the road surface and I admired the scenery of the Royal National Park, almost as good as the North Shore. It got even better when we passed a road marking showing that we left the shire. As a group of 4 or 5, we cruised through the National park. This was some good riding which suddenly popped us out at the beautiful Otford Lookout. A quick stop, photo opportunity and we decided that bananas were high on the agenda.

As we rode off, we realised that the wind had picked up whilst we  were in the park. The undulating coastal rode was tough, riding into a strong southerly made it tougher. Whilst I took my dose of HTFU, I heard more stories about the miraculous bay ride some of the ERs had completed only a few weeks before and how that is the only definition of what should be considered windy. The scenery was beautiful and we rode straight past two pubs. Not sure why we didn’t stop for a beer. After all, it was 5pm somewhere in the world. As we continued on our merry ways, Boycey grouped us together for a team shot over the sea cliff bridge (or whatever it is called). Stay tuned for more information.

We continued along the undulations until a late call of “Bananas” directed us to the next stop. At this moment, UNick took his revenge, organising a quick group getaway whilst Top Gear and I were still enjoying a well-earned banana.  I work hard over the next few klms to catch the ER group. Top Gear wisely takes it easy and digests his banana carefully. We are now heading into a strong headwind along the coast and it is hard work to catch the group, so as Murphy dictates, as soon as I caught the group, I was quickly thrown of the back unable to keep up with those experienced HMAWOTN. Luckily for me Manga sees my distress and decides to keep me company. At this point, I rephrase my lack of energy as “a strategic slow down on the hills to conserve energy for Bulli”. Manga patiently slows for me at the top of each hill, and soon Dave has caught up to us. Finally we get through the last of the undulations and arrive alongside the suburban beaches of the gong. A few klms riding along beachside cycleways soon gave way to a poorly marked main road. Of course we missed a turn somewhere and were left to find our own way through Wollongong.  Some silly buggers had even followed us into the abyss of nowhere. Dave and Manga had a quick conference and soon appeared 1km away from the finish. A slight uphill, round the bend and the finish was in sight. As I raised my arms in glory through the finish, the poor chap attempting to overtake me on my left hand side got a pleasant slap in the face. I guess that 1m clearance rule should apply to cyclists too.

We grouped up with some more ERs just past the finish line, learnt that Dragon had gone straight for the free hospitality, UNick had gone straight for a message and the rest of us were left debating when is the right time to go for breakfast and if anyone actually knew the way to Bulli. Time for a quick photo shoot and we were off. We decided to follow Scotty as he displayed the most confidence in Wollongong geography. Our trust was well placed as we soon rolled into the Bulli Café. The owner, quickly sensed the situation and we saved his customers from too much lycra by offering us a special deal on bacon and coffee. The only condition being, we had to wait and end around the corner where none of his customers could see us. Luckily, their coffee and bacon was brilliant, the service was might find, so no one seemed to mind anyone. Now all we had to do was wait for Dragon who said he would meet us there no later than 11. We waited, we waited and we waited, and decided to leave without him. The brave bunch tackling Bulli and the return was Highlander, Pigeon, Boycey, Wilson, the Teflers (both Matt and Scott), UNick and me. What was I thinking that I could keep pass with this bunch.

A short time later we arrived at the base of Mt Bulli, the hill of hills, the road with no shoulders, the nemesis of many an Easy Riders. As the gradient raised I quickly shifted to my lowest gear on the hope that if I cruise I might make it to the top. One by one the ERs went past, then the hero riders who could ride, and then the hero riders who could not ride. The last one of these overtook me at pace, just as the first 20% ramp came into sight. “Oh Sh1t”, I heard him say as he rode past, obviously he didn’t do any research into what he got himself into. I continued in my low gear at a steady pace, only tried once to find another gear which wasn’t there and soon re-overtook the last of the hero riders. First 20% ramp complete was a chance for a breather. Highlander and Boycey were in sight ahead of me and I could maintain a constant distance between us. This was a bad strategy, for as the shoulder disappeared, the cars starting queuing behind them and then I had to deal with the second 20% ramp whilst getting a good mouthful of exhaust fumes. Just as I was starting to die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning (it had nothing to do with 3.5klms at an average of 9%), I could see the signs indicating the top of the climb. This was the time to get out my seat and just manage to pedal. Slowly, slowly, slowly I rolled over the crest knowing I had conquered the mountain of Bulli. Smiles all round at the top of the hill, time for a quick drink and we were off.

Boycey led us onto the freeway and I had my first taste of cars flying past at 110klm/hr. It wasn’t even less pleasurable than I would have ever thought it to be. With Boycey out in front and a tailwind behind us, we had nothing to worry about. We were soon cruising at twice the speed of AFFT (Average Fat Friar Tuck) speed and the klms were flying by. After what seemed like an eternity, Boycey handed over the lead to Wilson who maintained  the same crazy pace, the only difference being that Wilson hit all the sticks so they gave second wheel (yours truly) something to bunny hop over at high speed. As we continued along the freeway, we all took turns at the front, rode like the wind, enjoyed the scenery and had some fun. Then a busted up Commodore sped past with some lout yelling something out of the window. No idea what he said but I am sure the meaning was “welcome to the shire”. Strava later told me that we had traversed Wilson’s Wonder Sprint. The things people will do to get their own Strava segment. Soon the fun was over and we found ourselves back in Sydney Traffic.

Scotty showed us the way to the servo stop and gave us a wonderful tour of the backstreets of Sutherland, this tour amazingly got us to the right spot and were soon going over the Taren Point Bridge. I had a big smile on my face at this moment as the reality that I might just actually make it sank in. My legs were still moving and I was still breathing, two good signs when you are riding a bike. UNick, Wilson and I soon had an interesting discussion on which right was right. We agreed that our right was wrong but we could still go right and then go left later and that would make everything right. Scott, Boycey and others showed their disrespect for our logic by riding past and just turning right in the right spot. Sometimes, people just look for the simple option. All this discussion on the difference between right and right was far too much for Scott’s bike. His rear derailleur cable snapped at Kogarah leaving him with two gears. Hard and very hard. Scott, being a true HMOTN, was undeterred and continued to lead the way. We soon exited the shire, and a huge sigh of relief was had by all. Before long we were back at St Peters and battling hard against the Sydney Traffic.

Navigation by committee was working well and we soon found ourselves smack in the middle of the George St. The good of the situation was this was one of those places were 8 cyclists could travel faster than a Lamborghini. Some quick thinking detours around some well-established detours got us back to the bridge and we were all relieved to be back on familiar ground. Even more exciting was the prospect that we just had one little highway to go before we arrived at the pub. Strangely, the North Sydney climb seems harder than normal after 180+ klms. As the pub neared the pace quickened. We lost the Teflers along the way. A major hero ride by Scott to travel from Kogarah to Chatswood with two gears, seriously tough effort. Spirits were high as we arrived at the Greengate although there was one small problem, the traffic would not let us across the road. DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW CYCLISTS NEED BEER! We transformed from ERs to frogs with bikes and we dodged our way across the highway. Jugs of beer quickly spread around, and the amber fluid went down fast. We were soon joined by some more happy drinkers in ER kit. Not sure exactly how they got to the pub but they bought more beer so all was good. Laughs and chuckles all round and the celebrations of well enjoyed round. Gordon to the Greengate Via the Gong, tick!

The last leg was the strangest, Greengate to the Gordon. Didn’t seem as hard as the other way. Still don’t understand why the return trip was only 1.4klms when the way there was 204klms. Lucy came to my rescue to help me tackle the St Ives Alps and get home. We all love our bikes but after 200+ klms and 4 beers, nothing tackles those hills better than a ute!.

Big thanks to all the ERs that I rode with during the day. I always had great company along the way and the riding was in awesome spirits. The teamwork on the return trip was superb and definitely a trip to be done again.

Looking forward to next year

Friar Tuck!



Paris-Roubaix challenge – Ride report – 11 April 2015

With the numbness in my body slowly subsiding & my eyeballs finally stopped rattling around my skull, I thought I’d give a ride report to share the exquisite pain endured before during & after this iconic race/ride. Rightly called the ‘Hell of the North’. It was a very tough ride & I feel Like I’ve been riding on a jackhammer for 4 out of 8 hours. The race was 165 kms of which 52km is cobbles – 27 sections rated from 3 to max 5 stars in difficulty. We also did an extra 5kms when following a bunch of Scotts who took a wrong turn.

But firstly my thanks to all who helped me have a crack at the ride. A leave pass from my beautiful tolerant wife who came to watch (shop), another stunning performance by my Giant bike, my old school mate from London who brought my bike to Roubaix, Brownie built wheels that withstood the punishment (unlike me), mtb training from Briony, Admin, binners & Zlatko’s bridge, advice & encouragement from many & disbelief that I’d even survive from others. Having a fellow ER & hobbit –  Highlander join me to share the pain was special & an added bonus.

Although reasonably fit, my preparation was hampered a bit by sore shoulders I’ve had for the past year & annoyingly in the last 3 months has extended to my left elbow & although I can push down I have been unable to lift anything heavier than a beer with it. My main fear was not being able to hang onto the bike as that is a common reason why many do not finish. I also hadn’t ridden for 4 weeks & ate & drank lots of good uk & dutch & french fare. I gained 4 kgs.

Advice from an aussie pro-cyclist who had ridden it was ‘try & hang the f**k on’ – and then he went on to explain he didn’t finish it. A Dutch pro-cyclist I also met said ‘after ze 1st 2kms of cobbles ze will be wanting to make peace with your god’. Encouraging stuff given we had 50km of it!

Anyway excuses out of the way, I was determined to give it my best shot.

Now the Paris-Roubaix pavé consists of centuries-old farm tracks where uneven cobblestones stand proud with jagged edges, while many of the cobbles are missing, leaving gaping holes perfect for buckling wheels.  It all adds up to a very bumpy ride, especially on road bikes. Mountain bikes would of course be more comfortable, but they have suspension & they’re rather frowned upon.  There were lots of these though & around the 80km mark I got bumped off my bike  by one who had swooped up the bank & tangled his handle bars in mine & I landed heavily on my left side & my handle bars got twisted, my hip has a huge bruise but worse I think it broke my timing chip.

This is the 3rd year of this ride & last year 1,500 riders started, but only 900 finished.  300 were never seen again presumed buried in the infamous Arenberg Trench. Of all the cobble sections that one was truely a nightmare – wet, slimy boulders with bikes flying in all directions. We followed an ambulance down the track to pick up one of two people who had i later heard had  broken their legs. 2/3 of the riders bailed before half way & rode down the spectator path. My mtb training held me in good stead & I gunned it (12km/hr) down the middle. I was amazed watching the wheels on the bikes in front of me slip 10-15cm to the side each way every few meters.

What Bike & wheel tyres?

We tried hiring bikes from 3-4 different European/UK sites and soon as you mentioned paris -roubaix they turned us down, I suppose fed up with only getting a pair of ‘Bucky’ handlebars back at the end of the race and not much else.  So we decided to take our own bikes – mine a Giant Defy Advanced 3 (2012 model) and Highlander his Trek Domane (2014 model) which were both supposedly up for the task. Double tape for the handle bars, double gloves, & double nicks to cushion the blows, but most importantly we needed wheels that would withstand such a brutal challenge.

Queue Brownie, some Belgium beers and a ‘grand design’ plan to build wheels fit for purpose. We learned a whole new vocabulary about tubes, tubeless and tubular with a min of 32 spokes, and ‘panzer’ treads etc.  We chose Mavic Reflex wheels with 36 spokes and Vittoria Corsa SC 28mm ‘tubular’ tyres. The wider the better to try and not get caught too much in the crevices and tubular to minimise pinch flat punctures of which stories have people getting 11 or so of these. Thanks mate as we had no punctures & I really punished them by riding every section down the middle.

Race day: in ER lingo the PARIS-ROUBAIX for me was slightly more strenuous than a 3 Peaks challenge, but with 50km of it on rubble only fit for a mtb. Unlike the 3P though I feel like I’ve been run over by a French tractor, & my thumb & middle fingure of my right hand are swollen & feel like a hammer has hit them & I cant grip anything with it. Ironically the pave therapy seems to have fixed my left elbow. The race does not ride from Paris but starts well north of this at a place called Busigny. It does finish in Roubaix though.

Conditions were fine all week but on race day the nightmare unfolded & it rained, was a bracing 7 degrees and winds hit a gusty 25 knots. I was up at 4am & rode through Roubaix in nice weather to catch a 5am bus to Busigny. But 4 kms from busigny it started raining. I met Highlander at the start line at 7.30am. I wore thermal socks, booties, leg & arm warmers, long finger gloves & a waterproof gillet with zip back pocket so phone, pumps etc did not fly out. Some riders were just wearing shorts, thin tops and track-mitts in hardy Belgian (Flash/Turnip) style.

The first few kilometres took us through the streets of St Quentin and out into the rolling countryside of northern France. After only 12kms we hit the first pavé & we went from cruising along a wide tarmac road to suddenly hammering down a rough track just two metres across with bottles and pumps flying off bikes and bouncing around on the cobblestones. We heard cursing in 20 languages & added some Aussie of our own. Lots of riders got punctures and were forced to stop and every time we hit pavé another few tyres would go and there must have been a rider fixing a flat every 100 metres. I saw 4 riders crash during the day – 5 if I could’ve watched myself come off. I was travelling at 20km/hr – but luckily had double niks & a good jacket on so only had bad bruising. There must’ve been many many crashes as everyone else i spoke with either had one or saw lots.

Meanwhile, riders still moving started shaking their arms to try and counter the shockwaves coming up through the forks and bars. The pain and punishment metered out by the jagged stones was relentless. My elbow hurt real bad & had gone numb and I was struggling to hang on. Repeat the above for 20 more pavé sections.

After about 70km, we hit the Arenberg Trench – one of the longest, hardest and most famous treacherous sections of pave on the route.  One pro rider once famously described this as like “riding across a ploughed field, covered in rocks that had been dropped from a helicopter”. Just add water & it was like a slippery slimy rocky river bed.

The cobbled sections kept on coming, and the constant switch from tarmac to pavé to tarmac and back again felt like interval training.

At 85km we stopped for lunch & was looking forward to some French cuisine. i was starving & could’ve eaten a meter long baguette. They only had quartered oranges & waffles in plastic packets. I inhaled 8 of them.

At this stage both highlander & i thought it wasn’t too bad after all & the rain had stopped.

I was wrong & the relentless pounding started to wear me down. Highlander though was still strong & it was good to have him with me. I cramped up bad & had to get off to stretch. Both legs cramped on every stroke for the next 40km & i was starting to doubt I’d make it.

I had one last card to play- the Z card. As we rode through the pretty town of bourghelles i spyed a pub & rode up the footpath into it. Highlander came back to find me ordering 2 belgium Leffe beers. They worked & the cramps dissipated.

With 20km it started raining with gusty winds that at one stage blew me off riding along the crown & into the tyre rut beside it. We then hit the other famously long and hard pave section the Carrefour de  Arfour which wasn’t too bad but at 3.7kms long was very very tiring.

With the Carrefour done, it was just 15km to the finish with just one last stretch of pavé and the ride finished with a half-lap of the legendary Roubaix Velodrome. To my delight my wife, and mate & his wife were there to cheer me in. We were exhausted but elated.

A little swoop up the concrete banking & the intention was to finish together so I stopped peddaling so we could join up but heard highlander say thats not a good idea so dropped down to finish over the line. Before i got off my bike my mate handed me a Belgium beer & it tasted so good. A kiss from the wife & then I visited the open shower cubicles where all the greats have a plaque on them. I was in awe.

We’d covered the course (& it covered us) in around 8.5 hours. The weather was not ideal but we hadn’t punctured and we made it safely. Highlander had to leave with his tour group whilst my mate had booked us into a restaurant over the border in belgium. I could hardly sit down on the train to it & was very very weary.

Blue & pink we saw a tandem doing it so you’re up next. Satnav there were quite a few fixies so book that trip now. The most bizarre though was a cycle scooter. Two normal bike tires with a flat section low down between for one foot & the other pushes like a scooter. No idea if they made it.

The next day we followed the professionals which was a real treat although they got it easy and had good weather. We got a picnic lunch, wine & a great spot on the arenburg trench. I grimaced every time they hit the cobbles & watched one riders wheel break in 2. If only he’d used Brownie I thought. Another rider broke his collarbone & rode one handed the last part.

The next stop my mate had lined up was a pub in a lovely town where he’d stopped in yesterday to have a beer whilst hoping to have seen us go by. Guess what – the same pub I had played my Z card at & we missed each other by just 20 mins!

The Last stop was the roubaix velodrome where we caught the tailenders arrive.

I’m ever so happy.

See you in a few weeks.


Le Dopey

Steelie Day Out

And so it is written that SatNav had cycled up Mount Sinai and had returned with two tablets of solid steel.

“I have been to the mountain” he cried “and I have heard the word of the disciple. Go forth good people of the steel, and Conquer ETTALONG!” He cried, and the people rejoiced for many of them had never been to Ettalong but had heard tales of its great beauty and excellent fruit toast.

Not for nothing is it known as Etta-LONG and so I did a quick audit of my personal fitness, cross-checked the vertical climb charts of some Ettalong regulars, and realised that while Steel is real, I was going to park the single-speed steelie at home and trot out the regular alloy bike instead. With its clear lacquered finish it is still a celebration of all that is metal and so I would “fake it” in order to make it all the way.

The day dawned and it was GOOD DAY indeed. Some light cloud cover, a little rain overnight to bring the temps down. Meeting Binners early in Chatswood, we were joined by his mate Ben. We rolled up to Turra for the off. Ben, who is an oncologist and so a total super-hero in my books, unfortunately got called into work. Seemingly “some prick” hadn’t made it in today. Disappointment was written all over his face as he turned south back down the highway.

The turnout at Turra was excellent and about 20 of us set off up the highway. The pace was pretty good with VD and WBA up the front and SatNav ranging up and down the side checking everyone was okay. I settled in three rows back and (I’ll admit) tried to coast as much as possible. This strategy was paying off, until we encountered some hills.

The old Pacific Highway is lovely. It was getting more rural. There were some beautiful descents and challenging climbs. We had a re-group at Mt White and then about half the group split and headed back. We didn’t know it at the time but we had lost 2-3 along the way. Sorry guys. Glad you made it back okay.

That left six of us, with VD again leading from the front and the rest of us slotting in behind. Highlander and I battled for Lantern Rouge honours. It was great to have his company for a while but I eventually solidified my position as LR. VD peeled off at Calga and we definitely missed the nice hole he punched through the air for us.

The road was beautiful now as it headed towards the central coast. Windy with not too many long climbs. There were cool mossy corners. We had some helpful attention from a red cop car which shadowed us for a while. This was reassuring as there had been the occasional motorbike totally going for it through the tight twisty stuff.

Eventually the descent into West Gosford came up. We were on the main road now. Making the descent was a lot of fun on a bike but I do love driving down that road so I was undecided what was more enjoyable. Certainly it’s more fun in a car on the way up.

From there it was pretty but the headwind was strong. My legs were really starting to pack it in. We had a great group going with Zlatko in the lead. DtB offered to take the lead and I couldn’t hang on. We splintered and I fell back. Luckily Ettalong wasn’t too far off.

We got to the café with 12 mins to spare to be greeted by B1|C and Murray who had been on their own epic adventure. Happy Luke had taken the time to order ahead from the road but even so the café was in disarray. My order of a strong flat white somehow became a very hot flat white. Exiting the café with only a minute before the ferry it dawned on me. I now had a very hot drink in one hand and an almond croissant in the other and it was too far to walk to the ferry. I was going to have to perform a circus trick if I wanted to take both with me. I took a couple of scalding sips of coffee and ditched it. Later, Zlatko demonstrated how to deal with this situation by riding one handed and pulling a croissant from under his jersey. (And no, that’s not a euphemism.)

We duly got on the ferry. It’s a beautiful trip across if a bit rough today. We were standing and stretching and getting fairly tossed around. We joked about getting a KOM on the ferry. Magoo has it already apparently.

Our numbers had increased thanks to B1 and Murray. B1 offered to show us a way out of Palm Beach that didn’t involve the busy main road. It did involve rather a lot of hills though. By this time I was really struggling but the ERs were looking out for me. B1 offered another hilly deviation but this time I decided to take my chances on the main road. It was a case of I’ll take the high road and you take the low road and we popped out at about the same time.

Back on the ferry Zlatko had mentioned going for a beer in Manly. This worked in well with where I was going and I figured seeing as I kinda missed out on coffee at Ettalong perhaps alcohol would quieten down the little voice in my head that kept saying “coffee coffee coffee”. So after the main group split off to Church point and Happy met up with family, Zlatko and I fluffered down to the Bavarian Beer Café in Manly, the Z-man being the only ER to actually complete the full Steelie Day Out on a steelie. Chapeau.

It’s no surprise that a nice guy like Z had nice friends too. They were good enough to speak English just for my sake. Apparently they meet there every Sunday for Oktoberfest. “Starting early this year?” I asked. “Oh, we like to celebrate Oktoberfest all year round.” One of Zlatko’s friends replied. What a great tradition.

A quick Paulaner Pilsner and some hot chips and I was off. The rest of the journey home was a dreamy, slightly inebriated cruise via Balgowlah and then down onto The Spit. Just before Parriwi I sidled up to a couple of Rapha boys. They turned in perfect sync and both gave me a sneering look before they took off. I felt like yelling after them “I bet you haven’t already got 140 kays on the clock, smartarses!” but I didn’t have the energy.

I got home about 1:00 expected to be feted as the returning hero but there was no one home. The dog was happy to see me though. Man’s best friend, truly. Jason, I’ll send you a photo if you’d like.

All-in-all, a great day out and an epic ride. Thanks SatNav for organising and for everyone who took leadership on the day. It would’ve been great to do it on the steelie. Maybe next year.

Audax Ron Gehring Memorial 400

Everyone knows what it feels like when you attempt something challenging for the very first time. There’s the anticipation, excitement and preparation as well as the emotional highs and lows associated with success and failure.

Although this is my first crack at riding 400km, it has been an interesting journey that coincided when I started commuting with the Easy Riders about the middle of 2013. When riding with so many crazy, insane, mad (sorry, I mean passionate, keen, dedicated) cyclists, it’s easy to get a bit carried away by doubling your average km/week.

It’s 4.5km from my place to Gordon Station, the start of the Audax 400 ride last Saturday. The 6am start means waking up at 4:30am for breakfast, equipment check and arrive at Gordon Station at least 15 minutes before the starting time.

On arrival, Malcolm the ride organiser informed me that four people are doing the 400, Bec, Howard and Hugh.

At 6am, the 200 and 300 riders took off but the 400 group was slightly delayed. Howard informed us that as they were unloading their bikes, one of their bikes fell on top of Bec giving her a headache. Being clobbered by a bike is not the ideal way to start a long ride.

The four of us rode together through Bobbo to Mt Colah. It was very foggy and difficult to see clearly as my glasses kept fogging up. The descent into Brooklyn was taken cautiously taking into account the conditions.

On the climb up Mt White, some 6-7 cyclists blew past and Howard and Hugh took off in hot pursuit overtaking them. It’s insane as we’re only about 30km o into our ride and these two guys on bikes carrying everything required on a massive ride dropped a bunch of riders training for the Port Macquarie Ironman event.

The ride from Mt White to the Corrugated Cafe, (Check Point 1, 9:35am, 78km) was pretty good. Along the way, I rode past a young female rider that I thought looked familiar but as I can’t remember where or her name we exchanged greetings on several occasions on passing. As I was waiting for my bacon and egg roll, this young female rider pulled up at the Cafe and Alison told me that we have done an Audax ride a couple of weeks back. She’s out on a training ride through Wiseman.

I was rather surprised when Bec and Howard arrived later at the Cafe, they got their brevet cards signed and rode off. I assumed Hugh must be way ahead of the three of us.

Although I’ve had the Garmin 800 for 3 years, I’m using the navigation for the first time and so far so good. I’ve loaded the wrong file GPX instead of TCX, so no turn by turn and cue sheet capability which is not ideal.

After breakfast, Alison and I rode together until the Wiseman turnoff and I’m back to riding solo all the way to Broke Village. A motorbike rider came off big time at a 25km/hr corner and police and ambulance were in attendance. As I rode past, the line I took going through that same corner on the descent was dreadful.

Although my legs were feeling okay, I was feeling quite uncomfortable due to the pressure on my lower back. Here I was in the middle of nowhere, still a fair way from Broke and feeling distressed. It’s going to be a very long and unpleasant day in the saddle.

Despite the discomfort, the scenery around this part of the Hunter region is truly spectacular with lush green paddocks and grape vines everywhere. Oh, the roads are in pretty good nick too with very few potholes.

Imagine my relief when I arrived at the Broke Village Cafe (CP 2, 1:30pm, 157km) finding Hugh, Bec and Howard still having lunch. My energy food of choice was a steak sandwich with the lot. I’m also glad that at the hottest time of day, we took our time over lunch and chatted. Hugh and i used to do the Saturday morning Renegade Cycles Rides starting from Lane Cove.

Bec and Howard are arguably two of the most experienced Audax riders in the country having completed numerous 1,200km events in Australia and overseas. The trio completed the grueling Sydney to Melbourne 1,200km in November 2013. I felt pretty special riding in such esteemed company.

The four of us rode pretty much together, chatting and enjoying each other’s company all the way to Cessnock. That long lunch allowed my body to make an amazing recovery. My lower back felt great and I felt comfortable on the bike.

Lesson 1

In my haste packing those individually wrapped homemade energy bars into the pouch attached behind the headset for easy access, I didn’t put them inside a zip-lock bag. All that bouncing around inside the pouch turned my energy bars into on sticky gooey mess of almonds, shredded coconut, powdered egg, honey and baking paper. When hungry, you don’t let good tucker go to waste, I ate that gooey mess and spit out the baking paper where possible.

Arriving at Cessnock, (CP 3, 265km 5:30pm) we had fried noodles at a Chinese Takeway. I had beef in black bean with rice noodles. When I felt hungry shortly afterwards, I should have had it with rice instead as refined carbs does not last as long as whole grain. So, I stuck my fingers into that sticky mess for more sustenance.

For those who are wondering whether I took along any energy gels, Yes, I figured that all I’ll need was 6 High 5 gels. I figured that I won’t need any gels for the first 100km and then 2 gels for every 100km. There’s a fine line between carrying too much stuff and not carrying enough.

Before too long, the four of us settled into a workable ride routine. Howard and Hugh are the strongest riders followed by myself and Bec. Bec may not be the fastest rider, but she’s like a diesel engine that just keeps on going all day. After each rest stop, Bec would head off first and the three of us riding at a slightly faster pace would catch up and regroup after each decent climb. I refined it a bit more by heading off shortly after Bec and let Howard and Hugh catch up with Bec and I.

Lesson 2

As we were approaching Wyong, whilst trying to put my Garmin cable into my back pocket, it fell out. By the time I retrieved it, Bec’s flashing light was disappearing over the crest. Off I went in hot pursuit, but by the time I got to the crest, no flashing light. Peddling furiously to the next rise and still no sign of Bec. Howard was riding behind me and he hasn’t caught up either. My Garmin navigation stopped working as well. Having lost touch with Bec, Howard and Hugh, and in a mild state of panic, I followed the signs to Wyong. I waved down a taxi to ask the driver for directions. As a guy got out of his car in the driveway, I asked him for directions as well. Eventually, I rode into Wyong (CP 4, 325km, 10:15pm) stopping at a Pub opposite the train station. The first priority was food. The Pub stopped serving meals at 10pm, so they suggested Macca about 2km down the road.

I left a message on Malcolm’s mobile and he rang back and provided me with Howard’s mobile number. I rang Howard and left a message before riding to Macca for something to eat. Just as I was about to start eating my Angus burger, Howard rang and they were at a Servo Restaurant on the Freeway not far from Wyong enjoying Sheppards Pie and Roast Pork compared to my Macca meal.

We arranged to regroup at the Ourimbah roundabout. Our arrival was within 5 minutes (11:05pm) and it was a huge relief to rejoin the group for the 77km ride back to Gordon. Bec, Howard and Hugh really looked after me making sure that I’m always riding with someone.

According to Audax rules, it’s okay to get lost but you must get back on to the official ride route and cannot miss any climbs. Otherwise, the rider is disqualified.

In hindsight, all I had to do after picking up my cable was wait for Howard and I wouldn’t have had all this drama.

The final 77km from Ourimbah to Gordon involved climbs up Dog Trap, Mooney Mooney, Pie in the Sky and Bobbo. We regrouped at the top of every climb and stopped at Cowan to refill water bottles, eventually arrived back at Gordon Police Station (CP 5, 405km, 4:40am Sunday).

After a quick round of congratulations it was time to ride home for a well earned sleep.

My Garmin showed 409.5km, ride time 18 hours 20 minutes, total time of 22 hours 45 minutes.


I ate 3 soft boiled eggs, cleaned up before going to bed. Got up at 8:30am for breakfast as I woke up starving. Mowed the lawn which was fantastic for getting the lactic out of your system, had lunch with my better half before going back to bed. Commuted to work on Monday feeling great!

Dora’s 3Ps Report

My alarm goes off, it’s the morning of 3 Peaky
I’m nervous, jumpy, my voice is a little squeaky

If I’m  a website, then I’m ‘
My prep has been scratchy, infrequent, training sessions far too few

I’m feeling a little light headed, out of touch
A quick scan of my roomies reveals much:

Admin is chatty but saying nuthin
DtB is focused, prepared and on the button

Philby is packed and ready with the dispensary
Jenna is calm, centred, relaxed – her mind clear and free

“Oh, God” methinks “if you do exist – help me please”
“You see, I’m having a little trouble with these dodgy knees”

Hmmm, better rely on what I control …
I pack my kit with two Voltaren and two Panadol

Toast, tea, one last nervous poo then down to the start line
The sky looks clear, the day promising to be fine

With hundreds now arriving the adrenaline really starts to pump
The crowd builds, self-sorts into various waves, ready for the jump

The first descent is looooong – lost lights of red & white litter the roadway
I focus on Drastic’s descending tips, look through the line and lean in – don’t sway

It’s cool, I’m shivering, and the 5.2’s new brake pads are not yet properly seated
I finally hit the bottom, shivering violently, all reserves of body heat totally depleted

On the flat, pedalling evenly, it’s time to warm up and decide on the game plan
It’s simple, one milestone at a time, take it very easy and ride as far as I can

So I settle into a careful rhythm, comfortably within my limits I’m Harrietville bound
Along comes a speedy train to which I attach my wagon, my heart starts to pound

Blue is in the same pack but prudently peels off for a comfort stop
At Harrietville I stop for water, Hydralite refill and a Voltaren drop

Now’s it back in the saddle with a singular new objective, make it to Dinner Plains
All good for now, feeling fairly fresh, with minimal knee aches or pains

Tawonga. That’s a hill. Then Mt Hotham. What a climb – a gift that keeps on giving
By the time I get to DP I’m hurting.  I feel more like dying, less like living

Its hot now, and I’ve been in the saddle for 5 hours plus
But I daren’t stop too long, quick feed, wee, bag drop, water, another Voltaren, no fuss

Back in the saddle I feel good again enjoying the undulations and changing scenery
I’ve got a good pattern going, spotting other riders, not chasing but maintaining the distance between them and me

The pain is manageable, speed is poor but maintainable, I’m feeling OK as Omeo approaches.
I bypass the water stop and push on through finding camaraderie with other slow coaches

The long weaving run into Anglers Rest is a blast
Slightly descending with turn upon turn, very fast

I arrive at Anglers and think to myself “Sh#t, I might be able to do this”
I reach for my medicine kit, faceslap “OMG, you’re taking the piss”

I’m out of Voltaren and the others have all worn off now
Grimly I opt for the Panadol determined to plough on somehow

I set off and ride out for the back of Falls thinking ”How bad can this hill be really be, to be fair?”
Turning WTF corner I look up, the hill is the winner, stragglers walking or stopped everywhere

The Panadol is doing nothing, the hill is 9% and my knees are screaming
I’m panicking, decide to a walk a bit, of the finish line I’m no longer dreaming

I’m limping badly, and fella stops “You all right mate”
“Knees buggered” I say, but I swear this guy was sent by Fate

“Have this” he says and passes a tiny bottle titled ‘Medi Rub’ on the outside
“Slap it on all over your knees and you’ll be able to ride”

Well call it a placebo or whatever it was enough to do the trick and pass the test
Just enough that I could get back on, grit my teeth and grind for Angler’s Rest

I struggled in to the checkpoint and stopped, almost fell off my bike – man it hurts
I toddle up the medic station and put my best case forward to the nurse

“What can you give me for pain” I says fluttering my eyelids, full of hope
“Hmm not much” she says “No, nothing, nope”

“I’m half an hour ahead of the Rouge, I reckon I can finish” I say
“Anything will do, just to take the edge off, don’t let it end this way”

“All right, that’s the spirit” she says “I’ll see what I can do”
Rifling through her handbag she finds one Panadol, now two

Elated I scoff them and jump back on my bike determined to get Falls Creek
By now its 10 plus hours on the bike but feeling more like a week

Slowly the forest diminishes as and the trees give way to snowline scrub, the hill flattens out
A small passing shower, the sun reappears making a rainbow “It’s a sign” I hear my inner voice shout

I’m cranking along slowly, not sure if I’m inside time as I pedal round the lakeside home
Another guy passes and answers my inquiry “It’s 7.45 pm” he says checking the screen of his phone

Down into Falls and I see a steward “Almost there” she says, now I can hear the crowd
Round the corner the finish line appears and damned if I’m not proud

12 hours 50 mins on the clock as the sun sets over the hill for the night
There is Stealthy and SatNav, grinning back at me, I must have been a sight

The last one home of thirty ERs time now for a hot shower, a few laughs and a cold beer
For this day I was the winner having conquered three hills, some pain and a little fear

3P reporting

197km, WTF should be around any one of these corners now.

I don’t feel too bad and I am tracking well, I think. I don’t have any schedule taped to my handlebars (I prefer to do things on feel), I only have a vague idea that a sub-9 looks good but I find little confidence in that. To come, was what everybody had been talking about, the only thing some would talk about, the only thing some wouldn’t talk about – the climb up the back of Falls. A 35km climb to finish the Scody 3 Peaks Challenge.

The day, as with all my previous endurance events, had had its fair share of ups and downs and I am not talking about the two previous mountain passes or endless number of undulations in the valleys below.

It started with a WTF of the scary kind.

Heading from the start at Falls Creek down the descent to the base of the first climb, Tawonga Gap, my bike was shaking violently and I was really struggling to stay upright. I had felt cold waiting for the 6h45 start but I didn’t realise just how cold. The wind chill obviously made things worse but I ain’t never had the shakes like that before.

I couldn’t wait for the road to stop it’s never-ending plunge into the depths of the Victorian Alps. The first ascent could not start soon enough where I could get the temperature somewhere above frozen solid!

One advantage to my shaky start was that there were now a lot of carrots ahead and I had to keep in mind that it was a long day and the five or so minutes lost would not make that much difference to the overall.

So, heading up the first climb I immediately started to feel better, I was starting to move up the field too but just as my confidence started to recover, a rider came up behind me, quick! I felt relieved though when I saw he had race number 1 (must be famous) and after a quick chat understood he was tasked with leading the 8hr pace group. Bonus. All I had to do now was hold his wheel for the next 200km or so. Simples!

Up over the top we went together and my descending was back to normal now that I had little warm glow about me. I caught a quartet ahead and we started to work well together, however no.1 had not followed and it was obviously not his day.

Our group got bigger and the pace picked up nicely to above 40km/h as we made our way to the second climb of the day, Mount Hotham.

At the base of the climb, I soon moved off the front with one other guy who was setting a solid pace up the opening shallow slopes of the climb.

I don’t particularly like these shallow climbs and actually prefer it when it gets steeper, so I was happy to just sit on the wheel and get paced up this opening sector.

We caught up with a couple of guys, so we were obviously doing OK although we weren’t breaking any records.

After a little flat section we hit the first of three pinches that pinched up to around 10% plus and I immediately felt better, dropping my group and soloing my way over the top and on to the lunch stop which is just on halfway.

A quick stop to refill the bottles and load up the pockets with a few more tasty treats and I was back on the road. Just one more climb to go, how hard can it be?

I caught a couple of guys and we were working fairly well together now but the temp in the valley was starting to hit the 30’s and I was sucking down the juice a little too rapidly.

With over 20km to go before the next water stop at Angler’s rest, I was running dry and starting to bonk. Fortunately one of the guys in our group had some spare water which saved me from hitting the wall.

Refuelled and ready for the final climb, our group was now only 2 as we left Angler’s and headed to WTF corner where the final climb starts.

Making the turn and looking up the wall ahead, I immediately dropped my companion and settling into my pace. 9km I was told before it flattens out a bit, so time to break this up into 1km sectors with a swig of water to celebrate the passing of each sector.

I was starting to pick up some places now too as others were starting to pedal squares. I was feeling really good but was mindful of the odd twinge here and there and just had to keep the pace controlled and just under cramp-threshold.

A quick refill of the bottle at the final water point before cresting the summit and charging over the final undulations of 10km or so to the finish. By my calculations even a sub-8hr might now be on but the headwind to the finish was going to make that a bit tricky and in the end it was.

All up an amazing event with stunning scenery. The perfect conditions on the day ensured everyone had a great day.

Well done to all!