Katoomba ride report

5:30 AM Top of Kisso. Assembled: Van Diemen, Wilson, Andy Hulme, and this B1. Damp mist and streetlights add atmosphere to the slight buzz of adrenaline of apprehension: This ride hurt me last time.

Pacific Highway, Fox Valley Road, Commenara Parkway onto Pennant Hills road, all prelude, still searching for the all-day rythm when Andy flats, barely 15 minutes in. He swaps tubes in a pool of light from Van Diemen’s bike; mist floats eerily in the beam.

We roll through Cherrybrook, Dural and Rouse Hill, in and out of the fog, before hitching a ride with a bunch rolling along Windsor Road. It’s a handy tow for the 15 kilometres into Windsor. We play Lantern Rouge to a single file of thirty bikes snaking along the Hawkesbury Valley Way, a massive concrete structure apparently floating over the paddocks below; red blinking lights and the whole bridge disappearing into the grey gloom ahead.

Through Richmond and across the Napean — the river pools and shoals up here, rushing through constrictions and Sheoaks; the locals are out casting for bass along the banks. We stop in the car park for a bite to eat and to steel ourselves for a thousand metres of climbing.

The pace has been solid, Van Diemen — the engine room — the driving force behind our 28 or 29 average for the two hours to the escarpment. But soon, after the next short stretch along the river, the big chainrings are dropped, small cogs swapped out for bigger cogs — then the biggest cog — as we tap up through the gums and the bellbirds to the bright blue sky and Hawkesbury Heights.

The view here stretches from the north end of the Sydney basin to the south — velvety plains as far as the eye can see, still swathed in morning fog — and the city skyline far away on the horizon. But all we see are metres gained; we roll through the carpark without slipping a cleat, eyes fixed ahead, and up. Andy H slides his helium-filled Baum to the front and takes control of the long drag to Springwood.

Nine o’clock when we roll into the village and Van Diemen’s keen for eggs and bacon. There’s a moment of dissonance, a disconnect between my memory of this place — the heat and the gravity and the relentlessly crushing effort — and the idea of settling in for a gentlemanly breakfast. Vestigial traces of urgency vanish with the first whiff of toast and coffee.

Full plates of food are delivered — and demolished — quickly. Coffee is loaded like avgas. We pay our bills and fill our bottles. Wilson rolls out on the front, towing us towards Katoomba.

In December, this section of the ride just would not end. One elevation after another, grinding relentlessly upwards. Whenever I lifted my head to steal a glance, squinting through the heat and the sweat, I’d see Fore waiting, patient and stationary at the top of the rise. He seemed to float magically from one crest to the next while I laboured away on my cranks.

But these are quiet reflections, ripples. Wilson’s tapping out a pace that’s ever so slightly quicker than comfortable — but it’s sustainable as long as I float through my gears, spinning more and forcing the issue less. The mountain won’t be bullied into submission. I trade heart rate for lactic acid. An occasional “ease up, big fella” goes neither astray nor, thankfully, unheeded.

We roll through Leura two and half hours after leaving the Napean over a thousand metres below — almost before realising the climbing is done — then coast down the back streets of Katoomba to Echo Point and stand in the clouds with our bikes and broad smiles.

The clouds lift, revealing Katoomba’s rough stone bluffs. When Van Diemen points his Colnago down the hill, he takes off like a missile and one by one we file in behind, pushing big gears and hunting for the slipstream. The upper mountains are dispatched in half an hour, then the long drag out to Hawkesbury Heights and the quick, hair-raising descent through the hairpins to the river.

We stop for cold drinks opposite the airforce base in Richmond, watching a Piper Cub doing touch-and-go’s on the runway.

The rest is business, pulling turns to the east. Rouse Hill, Castle Hill, Pennant Hills, all pass quietly as our legs carry us back towards Hornsby.

It’s 3pm when I tuck into a caramel sundae with Van Diemen; the Andies have rolled on for home. The sweet, cold ice-cream is a little celebration I won’t pass up: just over two hundred kilometres on the clock and a halfway decent climb by any standard. The sundae is sticky and delicious. A thought occurs to me as I’m turning the spoon upside down in my mouth: right about this point in ride, in 21 days time, we’ll just be starting up the back of Falls.


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