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