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.
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.
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!