Tag Archives: 3-peaks

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.



Blue Stratos 3P writeup – a near perfect day

My entry into the 3 peaks ride was not entirely conventional. I was volunteered. Ravi bet me that if I’d do a midwinter swim, he’d ride the 3 peaks. Someone chose to interpret this to mean I was riding it too as part of the bet, and entered me on the ER spreadsheet. That wasn’t part of the deal, but once my name was on the list, it didn’t quite seem right to take it off, and I signed up. The bet fizzled, but I’m happy with the outcome, as I’ve now ridden the 3P.

I’d heard that last year some ER entrants trained so hard and extensively, that they were in deep doo-dah with spouses before they even started the 3P ride, due to their being always away on the bike. My training wasn’t much like that, I just commuted almost every weekday, pushed a bit harder on the tandem days, plus did a couple of fluffers and added a Sunday ride for a few weeks.

A few people had asked me, what bike are you going to use? I’m sure they were expecting that I had some exotic carbon steed squirreled away for such things But no, my 1982 regular steel tourer that I use for commuting is really the only bike remotely suitable from my stable, the other choices being a single speed, tandem or MTB. So my tourer was going to be it, but maybe I could shave some weight off. I checked my wheel bearings – heavily pitted, perfect excuse – so I nicked Pink’s wheels, which are a bit lighter than mine, and much newer. Off with the rack and mudguards, attach a lighter pump, add some Conti 4 season tyres at half the weight of the traditional touring tyres I normally use.

I’ll need food, waterproofs, warm stuff that I might need to take off and stash…..instead of my usual large commute bag that goes on my rack, I’ll use a framed 4 litre saddlebag, that’s not too heavy. Voila – my bike is down to….12.0kg. OK, so it isn’t exactly light, but does have a ridiculously low bottom gear, to help me twiddle my way up hills. The MTB triple chainset has a 22 tooth inside chainring, which looks pretty silly driving a 28 tooth rear, but it does make climbing easier, if slow.

There were a few hiccups in the approach to the event. The Friday in the week before, my rear gear cable snapped. Easy enough to fix, though it takes a few days of fiddling to get all the gears changing OK again. I was glad it failed then, rather than wait a week and happen on the 3P ride. Then on the Tuesday, I was playing canoe polo, and managed to crack a rib in the charge start – got a kayak in the chest which somehow managed to get under my life jacket. Not too bad to ride with though, fortunately, at least with a bit of Nurofen in me.

I was unsure about nutrition, and had left most of the decisions here till late. For the typical 8 hour UK cold caving trips I used to participate in, I’d go for the full cooked English breakfast, the works, plus 2 Mars bars jammed in my caving helmet. It worked great for me in those days, but somehow I didn’t think this would quite work for 3P, with its greater duration and intensity – plus on 3P the Mars bar would melt and mess up my hair. Pink cooked up some homemade cocaine bars, they seemed good, so I’d take 24 of them, at 50g each it should be enough. Someone suggested peanut butter sandwiches, now we’re talking my language. I made up a loaf’s worth. I’d tried a gel once, a freebie from the Highland Fling – it seemed OK, so Pink visited the LBS to get me 6 of those, maybe they’d work some magic towards the end. For drinks, I’d never used powders of any kind, electrolyte sounded more like something a battery would need, plus fiddly, so I’d stick with water.

So there I am, lined up with 1800 cyclists, in the clear cool dawn. Funnily enough,my saddlebag seemed to be bigger than any other bag I saw. I munch a peanut butter sandwich, on top of the 6 weetbix I’d had earlier – never too late for extra carbo loading, it is all going to get burned off soon. I was in the last start, based on expected pace (or rather, lack of it), well behind any other ER rider. Even at the back there were no other bikes like mine in sight – but a dazzling array of carbon of every brand, with the odd titanium bike. I even saw a Cannondale racing tandem, with a blind stoker, brave souls. It was pretty exciting for me, I’d never done anything like it before, it was well outside my previous experience. Unlike many of the things I’ve done in recent years, I really didn’t know if I could finish it. I had the 12 hour and 13 hour schedules taped to my stem. I really wanted to make all the cut-offs, and finish within the 13 hour limit, but was worried about cramps, which I get rather readily, and have stopped me before on much lesser rides.

Our group had to wait a while to get away, I crossed the start line at 7:15am, more than 15 minutes after the leading groups. Descending from Falls Creek was a blast. I’d decided to take it easy, assuming that there would be many doing strange things and taking unexpected lines. But I do rather like descending, and my tourer with its long wheelbase and springy forks soaks up bumps and descends like it is on rails – even holding back I overtook hundreds of riders. I had a jacket on, but even so my teeth were chattering lightly before I reached the warmer valley air. I gather more lightly dressed riders like Finchy were really cold by then, and getting full body shivers making it hard to control the bike.

The first proper ascent, Tawonga Gap, was no problem, but I climbed steadily, its a long way to go yet. There was a regular trail of dropped gear to follow – most people’s pockets are so full, things keep falling out. Over the top, and packs form; I pick one that suited me. There is a light headwind. The group works well, with people taking turns, and gradually grows. Its social too, we chat, the weather and views are stunning, there is no car traffic to worry about. I’m really enjoying the riding.

We run down smaller packs ahead, who join on, and we get faster riders joining too from behind who start leading us out, the group gets faster…. At about 5km from the 75km rest stop, the increasing pace now around 35km/hr starts to feels a bit much for me. I don’t want to overdo it, so pull off to the side for a “light nature break” – far quicker here than waiting in a queue at the official stop. I gather Flash and a few other ER’s passed me, thinking I’ve had a mechanical. I ride solo at a comfy pace for a couple of minutes, drink a fair bit, then join another group going at a steady pace. Remembering Norman’s mantra of “just keep riding”, at the rest stop I grab a bit of free cake, refill water bottles, and get straight back on the bike. I unwrap the cake while riding, and munch away – yummie. I’d never ridden this continuously before, had always stopped for much longer, but it seemed OK – I’d do this for every stop except lunch.

The first part of the Mt Hotham climb was just a delight – the views were stunning, I just seemed to get in a groove and the kms fell away, I was working, but it was fun. I started to pass people, some now were wearing “3 Peaks Finisher” shirts from previous years – this had to be good news for my prospects. I could see from my crib sheet I was ahead of 12 hour pace, and steadily increasing my margin on that pace. It seemed good, I didn’t expect to retain that, with the monster hills at the end likely to hit me harder than others, but the more time in hand the better. I did most of the climb in a group of 4, the others keeping a really steady pace – I mostly listened to the others chatting. There was an extra mid-station rest stop I wasn’t expecting, the others I’d been riding with stopped, but I skipped that one, regretted it a bit later as I ran out of water well before getting to the summit, but it wasn’t too bad. I proceeded solo for most of the rest of the climb. I was eating one of my monster supply of cocaine bars every 30 minutes or so, determined not to run out of fuel. There’s a flatter bit, and it steepens up again to the top – I was going better than fine, it was cool up there as I like it, and the views just got better and better. The photographer near the top said mine was the best smile he’d seen that day. I was surprised I was enjoying the ride so much, based on the stories of previous years, I’d expected it to be strictly retrospective enjoyment. In the ER write ups for last year I didn’t recall anyone having said they’d really enjoyed it at the time, but then they’d had an inferno, whilst our weather was just perfect. I passed Jenna near the top, she gave me a grin that looked a mite forced – we exchanged a few words and I pedalled on. She was going through a low patch there, whilst mine was to come later.

The main lunch stop was well organised, but not all obvious to a newby. I’d arrived pretty dry having had empty bottles for a while, so drank lots, and collected my valet bag. I didn’t bother with the free veggie roll, though I gather it was good – just ate a peanut butter sandwich, stuffed 2 more in my pockets for the road then loaded in another 8 cocaine bars and some gels into my huge saddlebag, and popped an anti-cramp magnesium tablet. I’m not convinced the magnesium tablets are that effective for preventing or reducing cramp in my case, but they don’t do harm, and one can hope. I sorted out the return valet bag (I’d put a spare saddle into the valet bag, in case of comfort issues with my new SMP Stratos saddle, and the unused spare needed to be sent back). After a brief chat to other ER’s, while sat on the grass, I was off after 15 mins or so. The descent was fun, the road was open and I was able to let-er rip. Cruising on, again I was able to hook up with groups going at a suitable pace for me. Sometimes I was with ER riders, but I tried to ride to my own rhythm, so didn’t stay in a group for long. The distance was creeping up, I was feeling a bit tired by now, but going OK. Suddenly, Zap! A really sharp pain on my forehead – I reached up and flicked an insect off – I’d been stung by a bee. Fortunately I’m not allergic, but I’m a bit more awake now. It throbs a bit, then gradually subsides.

I pulled into the Omeo rest stop for more water. Philby was there, apparently “lounging” on the soft green grass in the shade of a tree. He looked mighty comfortable (apparently he was trying to sort out “hot foot”, but I couldn’t tell that). I imagined he was dipping into some luxury wicker food hamper, just out of sight. I was pleased to see him – we’ve often ridden at similar overall speeds in some lead-up rides, so he was my reference rider; I took it as a sign we were both going well. After a few tongue in cheek words along the lines of “get a move on you lazy… “, or something to that effect, I hopped back on the bike.

Out of Omeo, there’s a long steady hill, not too steep, with a bunch of 6 or so ER riders riding in a group ahead. I drop into a low gear and spin. I gradually catch up and pass a few. I know this road, as I’ve done a lot of white water kayaking around here, and have previously camped at Anglers Rest, the next rest stop. The road is quite flat, but it has many tight corners as it traverses the many ridges running down the side of the hills, beautiful views yet again. I’m riding OK, doing around 30km/hr or maybe a bit more, and pass some more riders. After a while I look around, and there are 6 or so riders slip-streaming me including Boycey, many of those I’ve passed are tucked in behind. Apparently they’ve been there a while. I beckon some on, and we start a rolling group. This group was fantastic, a blast, everyone taking turns, with neat transitions. The multiple tight corners making following the wheel really fun, banking right over to a really steep angle to take the corner with no braking, with the dry road adding to confidence. We chat a bit, everyone is really enjoying the ride, the pace rises a bit further, and before we know it we’re at Anglers Rest. There was a gaggle of ER’s there, but I didn’t fancy stopping while I was on a roll. I still had plenty of food left on my bike, and don’t need to access my Valet bag to top up, so fill my bottles, pop another anti cramp tablet, and ride out.

Approaching the final climb, I was feeling more tired. I ate another cocaine bar, getting a bit tired of them now, but I stuff it in. Then WTF corner – well it is steep. I drop into bottom gear and start the crawl up. I get up the first ramp feeling OK, but then it starts, my quads start to twinge – early warning signs of cramps. Then the right calf starts to twinge too – once one muscle starts to go it seems to set the others off. I try various things, changing body position, gears, cadence, all that stuff, but it gets worse. It had to happen some time in this ride, I guess. I need to avoid full spasms in both legs that I know it will readily progress to if I don’t manage it properly – this is incredibly painful, and with the damage it causes to muscles, hard to recover from. Just before the cramps go to full spasm I hop off the bike, and start walking. I dare not stop, the walking helps. A few minutes later and I feel I can jump back on the bike, the legs feel as if there’s still plenty of strength left in them yet, but I only get 30m and the cramp twinges start again.

The next 9km, were the same – on off, on off. Riding I’m doing 9km/hr, but I’m hardly getting any riding done. Walking I’m doing 5 km/hr or just under. Loads of riders pass me, including many ER’s. There are other riders stopped for cramps, several ask if I have any anti-cramp tablets, I have plenty so pass some out. I’m a mobile dispensary. These riders seem to recover and pass me – evidently the tablets work better for them than they do for me. I’m not enjoying this bit like the other parts, but it could be worse, I’m still making progress, and I have heaps of time in hand. Finally I get to the rest stop. I need this one, and stay a while. Philby rides by. I eat another cocaine bar and a gel. I think having to walk so much has cost me 30 or 40 minutes.

Nick, Bullet and Boycey ride by, and my legs feel OK now, so I hop back on. They are about 100m ahead, and the road is still climbing, but the gradient is modest. I catch them,and ride with them, fortunately with no signs of return of cramp. I gulp 2 gels. The road is good, the views improve and I’m heartily enjoying the riding again. Boycey drops back a bit as we approach the top, Nick and Bullet wait, while I ride on. The views across the top are magnificent and dramatic, the light is a photographers delight. There are deep grey rain clouds on one side, and rain in the distance, and clear on the other side, with bright sunlight streaming onto the trees, a mix of burnt grey masts, and new growth. Plains in the foreground, with rock outcrops, mountains in the distance, stunningly clear. I’d love to have had my SLR camera on hand for it – another time. It isn’t far now, there’s a bit of a headwind, but not too strong, my legs feel sound so I push a bit more, and pass some riders. The lake comes in sight, then unexpectedly Nick and Bullet come flying past me, going like the clappers. Nick is working like a demon into the headwind, Bullet is tucked tight in behind. Dammit, how is Nick doing that after all this climbing! They must be doing 40km/hr, into the wind. I sprint to catch them before they get out of reach, manage to do it, and tuck in.

We go round the lake at high speed, thanks to Nick’s efforts, and then we are rolling down the hill to the finish, there’s a very big crowd of riders cheering us all in, and many ER’s cheering at the finish line having been back for hours. I’m really pleased with my time of 11:13, and everyone else is really happy with their performance. I queue up for my jersey and some free lasagne – the food hardly touched the sides, but was great, and we were to have a bigger meal later. There’s a few other ER’s coming in after me, I wait with the others and cheer them in. The atmosphere is fantastic – on to the post ride dinner/party.

I’d only seen 2 other steel bikes in the whole ride. My old bike had done well, and what a ride – near perfect!

Blue Stratos

Stats: 235km, 11 hours 13 minutes, about 4500m vertical, no Garmin/Strava, no heart rate monitor…..

Nutrition: 3 gels, 14 Bidons of water, 11 cocaine bars, 1 piece of cake and half a loaf of peanut butter sandwiches.

Medical: 3 Nurofen and 6 anti cramp tablets.

PS As I rode to the city on the OTP on Friday on the same bike, there was a loud “ping”, and my handlebars came completely loose. I was going very slowly at the time, just coming up to a set of red traffic lights, so I was able to stop without problems. Examination revealed the head of one of the two quite substantial bolts that hold my handlebar onto the stem had sheared off – pretty unusual. The remaining bolt was sort of holding the bars in place albeit with lots of free play, it would have been difficult to keep control if I’d have been at speed. Again, a well timed failure – just as well it didn’t happen on one of the 3P descents.