Blackwood 1000 – Ride Report – J.P. Quinton.
Good stories rely on conflict for drama and tension. If conflict does not occur during an event, you’ll need to fabricate the drama. If you’re easily offended, do not read on.
Tony Gillespie is the president of Audax WA, and designer and organiser of this years Blackwood 1000. I asked him the history of the event and what he had install for the 2013 edition.
“The Blackwood 1000 goes back to around the first world war” he says. “To qualify for the event you needed to be a porno star. Riders would service bereaved widows who would in turn feed and house the athletes. There was a symbiotic relationship between the townsfolk and the participants. This knowledge has been lost for quite some years until I stumbled on an old diary at the Battye Library.
I want the route to go up and down and be as wet as possible. I’ve been praying for rain for weeks. My palms are all calloused, look.” I can’t help noticing his Dali-esque moustache as he reclines on his leather couch in his self-designed Singleton home, the departure point for the ride. It’s unusually cold for this time of year and he pulls his bicycle themed blanket up for extra warmth. In the background his wife and son put the finishing touches on whatever he’s roped them into.
The 2013 Blackwood 1000 promises to be the toughest course ever in the history of Audax Western Australia. Starting some 100km south of Perth city, riders will venture east rising out of the Swan Coastal Plain and onto the Darling Scarp. Along pocked, mummy-like roads they’ll traverse 390kms on day one, 330kms on day two, and 280kms on day three. Climbing? Did I hear you ask how much climbing? Just a little. 10,000 metres to be approximate. That’s the equivalent of climbing Mt Ventoux six and a bit times. Early registration for the event was promising, but in typical Audax style the majority of the sissy’s pulled out, leaving only ten nervous starters. Seems once you become a member there’s no need to ride anymore. Let’s take a tongue in cheek look at the participants profiles.
Tony Gillespie: retired bush tracker. Had a gut full of the profession after the merger with the Diviners Union. Realised there was no future in tracking once satellite and infra-red technology became more prominent. Took up teaching in the 1980’s and has been cycling around in circles ever since.
Rum n’ Raison: flower arranger. Rum’s genes prevent him from ever having more than 0.05% body fat. Wears prescription Ray Ban’s that some people think he wears for style, but really needs them to see. Currently works in Kewdale.
Fred Treehorn: jet setter. Fred’s real name is Frank, but he doesn’t like to be Frank. Frank’s childhood dream was to be a woman and he has moved to Australia to pursue that dream. He says he likes cycling, but we are yet to see any evidence of this.
Geoffrey Rushing: ex-SAS hard man. Geoff once snapped the neck of the German Shepard guard dog he had spent four years training. He secretly hates everyone but is a really nice guy. He likes to carry way too much stuff in order to level the playing field. Geoff now works in Kewdale.
Wayneo Hickyman: transport expert in Kewdale. Wayneo arrived in Australia in a leaky boat inside the hold of a Qantas 747. He has spent the last decade riding his bicycle to avoid immigration as he knows they are real lazy. Wayneo is the biggest advocate for the old ways of the Blackwood 1000, as you will find out if you keep reading.
Big Dave: little is known about Dave other than he was born at the now demolished Kewdale Hospital. He especially likes starting things, and Collie.
Greg Waters: a draftsman’s draftsman. Greg is an enigma until you see him. He enjoys riding 3.7km ‘hotdog’ circuits until he falls off his bike, asleep. Greg is a real sissy. I once found him reconstructing his prosthetic knee in Kewdale, weeping like a willow. He dislikes riding in the rain and was not amused by Tony’s rain dancing.
Danny Rock: all you ever hear about this Danny guy is how fast he is.
G Wang Up: built Kewdale. Wayne has been training for the Blackwood 1000 for a few years now. He rides a ‘Giant’. He sometimes gets Greg’s knee disease.
Myself: like Rolf Harris I was born in Bassendean.
Spag bol, apple pie and cream, meteorological surveys and sign ins all took place the night before. Nerves made some of us quiet, some of us noisy.
In the morning the house was chaotic. Everyone scrabbling to get dressed, eat breaky, go to the toilet, pack food, pack bag, remember to remember to do certain things. At 5am Tony’s shed bulged with bikes, riders and support crew. I was too busy mucking around with my lights to remember what speech was made.
This was one of those moments you imagine for quite some time. The space time continuum catches up with your imagination and there’s no holding back. How you act is now out of your control as it’s no longer a projection of your thoughts. The event is happening. Someone suggests we all gather at the base of the driveway. One rider takes that as notice to head off, the second rider follows, and then the third. No group photos happen. Goodbye. Goodbye. We’re now mobile ego’s powered by our own engines, directed by a small cue sheet, characterised by our own bullshit.
Halfway to the railway line, 5km in, Geoffrey pulls over to make a phone call. He’s forgotten his chain. Riders begin to string out immediately. Danny is off the front and we never see him again. He withdraws approximately eight hours later with a sore wrist. Who knows what he got up to in Dwellingup.
The sky is a reef of clouds and we head due east with a favourable tailwind. The sun rises from behind the scarp. Having stopped for the first of about 1000 urinations I join Geoff as he tells me wars stories. I ask him why he does long distance cycling. He says he likes the adventure. I ask him what psychological traits all long distance cyclists share and he says mental strength. We dog leg across the highway and he thinks out aloud and says it’s too early to stop at the servo and grab an ice cream. I stop again to wee. I’m very nervous. My stomach is like a butterfly enclosure. A gel and a banana. The hill from the scarp is long and steady. I watch my heart rate closely to make sure it doesn’t rise. At the back I wonder what is going on ahead. I already know and I’m glad not to be part of the nervous overexertion. Inertia leads us to try to ride together even when we shouldn’t.
I catch a glimpse of Wayneo and Tony and Greg departing as I reach Dwellingup. Geoffrey gets his card signed at the servo. The roads rise and fall, rise and fall as we pedal in reverse direction to a well known 600km route known as the Quindanning Pub Ride. AFL Grand Final day and waves of bogans in their cars belt by. Many have trailers with more cars on them. Somewhere tonight there will be a car fest, with more cars, and cars. Here, orange pea gravel lines each side of the road. Black boys and gum trees, the occasional white tail black cockatoo squawks.
I ride alone and wonder if I’m the most unfit and will be at the back for the next 900km’s. When I reach Quindanning both Geoffrey and Greg are absent. Greg’s wife Sharon, wearing a red flannel shirt, takes photo’s at the entrance of the driveway. The rest of the dudes are inside tucking into free coffee and biscuits. The water tastes like dirt. Turns out I took the incorrect route and arrived there before Greg and Geoffrey, which should not have happened. I take off slowly and see Greg on the way out, immediately I begin to feel bad thinking maybe he’d waited for me. I ride slowly so they can catch up. My plan is to ride slowly and break as quickly as possible. Greg catches me soon after, we will ride together virtually for the next 900km’s.
We are deep into wheat belt territory. Granite breakaways provide windbreaks. We take turns at the front. Our nerves begin to settle. We enter different phases of the ride. We ride in bubbles. Inside one bubble can be another bubble. Sometimes you burst the bubble and gain perspective, mostly your head is down and you’re in a bubble. Each bubble has it’s own ozone, atmosphere and flavour.
The terrain to Darkan rough, the weather windy and overcast. I predict that Fred Treehorn, our visiting Dutchman will not finish the ride. The roads are too rough. It takes years to learn how to ride them effectively. You need to float and punch. Also, he’s too pre-occupied with the hills, how many there are and how big they might be. In the words of Greg, Great Sage, equal of heaven, “stick it in the Granny ring, and hold on for dear life.” Apparently that was not a euphemism.
The roads empty as bounce-down happens at the MCG. Just before the shop at Darkan, Rum and Fred join us. Inside the football is on. Halfway through the second quarter Fremantle are yet to score. I drink too much choc milk and feel like spewing. Tony rolls in, his eyes blood shot, declaring “I’m fucked.” Greg takes off. I say to Rum and Fred we should cooperate in the next 60km section to Collie as we’ll have a block head wind. Fred and I work together for 40km until Fred is rooted. His face drips with sweat. Ginormous coal mines run to the south. I drag Fred’s slow ass into Collie where we catch Greg. Motoman Glenn rocks up to supply our drugs, but the fellas behind have taken all the good stuff, bastards. I settle for a quick shot of EPO and plough on.
At Collie we’ve been riding for twelve hours. The Dockers miss out. Typing this now I’m calm but at the time I remember being in some kind of low level frantic-dom. To pause too long was to send the legs to sleep. Every extra hour gained tonight would mean more sleep, better riding tomorrow.
Departing Collie I somehow drop Greg and Fred. I have a tailwind and plan to make the most of it. To be off the front is to be in pain, and alone. Keep eating, keep drinking. Still 140kms to go today. Prior to the ride I installed the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur incorrectly, and am determined to arrive a little early to fix it. Glenn passes again and I ask him if he has any pliers. It’s dark by the time I reach Boyup Brook. Inside the town hall kitchen it’s warm, even hot, and a lovely dinner awaits.
Fred and Greg rock up as I finish fixing the bike. We eat together in good spirits. We leave as Rum n’ Raison arrives, mumbling some strategy to himself. We ask him if he wants us to wait but he says no. The stretch to Bridgetown is relatively easy. In the town, you’d think there’d be more than one bridge there but there isn’t. Go figure. We say goodbye to Greg there and ride on in the pitch black. Soon after Fred the flying dutchman cracks like a fake leather seat in the desert sun and I drop him on on the first climb and roll into camp just before 11pm.
About an hour and a half behind are Tony, G Wang Up and Wayneo. Wayneo, as is custom, immediately takes all his clothes off as soon as he enters the town hall. He finds himself a pew at the table and declares:
“Where are all the frisky widows?” Only Tony is amused, slurping some white soup. Janice, one of the support staff asks “Do you always take your shirt off at the table?” To which he replied “why don’t you take your shirt off?”
“I only take my shirt off for Wayne.”
“My name is Wayne. Wayneo Hickyman.”
“No. My husband, Wayne.” True story.
While all this is happening my plan to get as much sleep as possible is
being cruelly thwarted. Press play on the violin soundtrack. After a shower I climb the bunk bed and pull the pillow over my head. Half an hour later Frank Treehorn enters the room and immediately starts snoring. Another half an hour after him Big Dave rocks up, collapses on the bed and thinks there’s some kind of snoring contest of chainsaw proportions. All the trees for about a 5km radius quake. Reminds me of the little parable when the first axe enters the forest and the trees say to one another: “the handle is one of us.” Big Dave had to be picked up in Collie, much to Janice’s chagrin. In any case I retired to the couch in front of the wood fire.
A couple of hours later we’re all up doing our thing. On the road by six I’m riding next to Frank and quietly eating humble pie as it seems my prediction of his DNF will not come true. My obligatory ten urinations to everyone else’s one ensures we all ride together which is welcome as we had hardly seen each other. One time I stop to wee and happen to stop right where a roo took its last breath some two weeks earlier.
The skies are overcast. At camp someone says “you’ll definitely need a rain jacket today” to which I stupidly ignore, donning only a vest, jersey and arm warmers. Riding with Tony, his tracking nature kicks in. We see some tyre marks in a patch of gravel. He stops. Tastes the dirt. Looks poignantly up the road, sniffs the air. “Men,” he announces, “I’ve counted 6,543,947 black boys. Greg is two km up the road. Ride on.” He listens to John Butler Trio a lot and operates on another level.
“Are you still a member of the trackers and diviners union?” I ask, spinning uphill.
“No, oh shit no. Those diviners are a weird mob. You don’t want to go riding with them, trust me, they ride around in circles.”
Sure enough however, about half an hour later, up on a crest, we spot a figure. Greg. There’s no mistaking his wedge tail eagle wing-like cadence. To suppress pain in his knees he often finds the hardest gear possible, stands and kind of ‘walks’ his way up the road. Takes us a little while to finally catch him. Tony and Wayneo reminisces about Brest-Brest-Brest. Speaking of qualifying for the event I ask Tony “why don’t they ride Perth-Albany-Perth (P-A-P) rather than Albany-Perth-Albany (A-P-A).”
“They do” he replies. “It’s P-A-P.”
“Oh O.K. then, I’m in.”
Tony drops a little way back with Greg. Wayneo and I ride two a breast for a while. I miscalculate our next stop by 10km, so when the winery doesn’t materialise, we get a little annoyed. This first 100km on day two is very hilly. We are half way. The view at the winery is lovely and I’m keen to keep cracking. A cup of soup, a chicken roll, two muffins and a cup of coffee. Everyone is there bar Rum and Raison and Geoffrey, who have a late start. The view is great but with 230km to go that day I wasn’t sticking around to smell the boronias.
At 11:20am I depart bidding adieu to Rum on exit to the winery. This is where the big sissy’s were separated from the lesser sissy’s. Geoffrey withdraws out of sheer exhaustion. His eyes more bloodshot than a Rasterfarian after a cop has let lose with capsicum spray. Next to withdraw is G Wang Up having spent too long sitting close to Greg and catching the knee disease. Meanwhile up the road I pause at a sweet potato shaped part of a river and for a second stop and absorb the quietude. This was the antithesis of the frantic bubble we’d work ourselves into. The banks are lined with trees that cast shadows on the water. On the surface you can read cracks in the clouds, a goose or two. Speaking of gooses, I am shortly joined by Greg asking “everything going alright there James?” “Oh Yes, Greg, splendid.” We have a tailwind paired with constant drizzle. Greg sports a rain jacket. His groupset gets a thorough working out, crashing through gears on each rise. You see a flat stretch up ahead, think oh, I’ll slip into the big ring for a spell, which you do. You then take about two revolutions and then return your front derailleur to it’s rightful place. Up and down, no rhythm.
15km out of Koji, Glenn the Motoman catches us dishes out some much needed CERA and takes some photos. In that brief stretch of highway, I think I am correct in saying that all those who were still riding had the hue of their ride altered significantly. Firstly, the clouds burst their waters. Secondly, the temperatures dropped about 5 degrees to just below 10C. Thirdly, everyone was forced to ride on will. Glenn directs us to a deli in town. I pull up outside and like a geriatric with a recent hip replacement attempt to swing my leg over the saddle, unsuccessfully. I almost fall. A couple of blokes with their kids are watching from inside tucking into some fish and chips. They don’t get lycra clad loonies here often.
“Going in the Tour de France, are ya?” “Yeah mate, just training for next year.” “Where ya come from?”
“Fair dinkum. How many k’s ya doin?” “A thousand.”
“No bull. Where ya finish tonight?” “Donnelly River.”
“About 30km’s west of Bridgetown.” By this time I’ve selected a choc milk out of the fridge and began my transaction with the owner.
“Have a good ride then eh?”
I sit out front on a wooden bench and start to freeze my tits off. Literally. Greg goes up the road to the servo. Wayneo arrives with his Brest-Brest- Brest gilet on. I’m shivering when Glen parks on the footpath and begins a conversation with the chaps from inside.
“I’m not riding anywhere,” says Glen, “I’m following these blokes.” Glen looks like he’s waltzing around in a mobile sauna with all the gear he’s got on.
“What, doing a 1000km?”
“I thought he was joking.” I’d had enough and had to leave before my testicles applied for a visa to another body. They were like black pearls inside a shrivelled wanton dumpling. At the centenary park young girls were taking advantage of the free BBQ and shelter, facilities rarely seen anywhere else in the world. Departing Koji a wattle bird saw fit to defend his territory swooping multiple times. This was an omen. Koji to Boyup Brook is 85km of dead road with about 500m of flat. On both sides of the road are farms, open grazing land or wheat crops. The tailwind we were previously enjoying was now a head wind. Gusts rock us to the right. If it wasn’t raining, it was drizzling right into our faces like a Guantanamo Bay torture technique.
For me, what had been a bout of frozen discomfort now had promoted itself to a case of mild hypothermia. I simply could not get warm. To get warm I tried to ride fast but couldn’t get my heart rate over 150bpm. If I coasted on the downhills my heart rate dropped quickly to below 90bpm. My body was shutting down.
When I ride to get warm I leave Greg behind. Once alone I became a dead tree in the middle of a flooded paddock. I look grey and sick. No galahs nest there. White ants have been and gone. It is now I have reached the point that gives part reason and meaning to long distance riding, for me. When the riding becomes difficult I no longer get negative. My mind and my heart gravitate toward loss and death and absence. When I am searching my soul for answers I feel closest to those who are no longer here. My throat clenches up. A piece of dust gets caught in my eyes that makes them water. When you feel like giving up you open up conversations with the dead. What the revenant whispers without voice sparks determination. Resolve. You can almost reach out and grab partial answers to the questions you want to ask. The no longer living say you’ll embrace us soon, until then, embrace the absurd. It’s in this way, I’ve never not finished a ride. I’ve never begun one. It’s simply a way of accessing a state of mind not possible with your knuckles against your forehead.
The sun sets and the skies clear momentarily before Greg and I rejoin and pedal into Boyup Brook. Before this Fred/Frank came past us on the back of the motorbike. He had withdrawn. He gave me a tiny wave with his arms tucked behind the driver. There were five left. These five would finish the ride some 24hrs later. The biggest pressure was on Tony, who designed the route and whose integrity forced him to finish. This stretch from Kojonup to Boyup Brook was not funny. We had battled the big fish in our tiny dinghy’s. The Old Men and the Road. Perry Raison, with his limited body fat was freezing too. Greg and I did a couple of laps of the town trying to find the town hall in the heavy rain. Wayneo caught up to us in this process.
The town hall was like a party. Everyone was warm, happy, well fed. They had the ovens on with the doors open. My head was spinning and I was delirious. “I feel like a different person,” I announced, smiling, trying to hide the fact I was about to pass out any second. At the table I look to my left at Greg. He’s dried his glasses and is staring a hole through the salt shaker. He is elsewhere. I look to my right and Wayneo is half asleep, idly cleaning his teeth with a spoke. I ask him a question but he doesn’t hear. What? Doesn’t matter. Frank is talking a hundred miles an hour trying to explain why he pulled out. When I stand my head feels like it’s attached to a hot air balloon. My brain can operate ok on the bike, not off.
Going from warm inside to cold outside with open pores is one more hurdle you have to switch off from to get through the next thirty minutes. My head still swims as I notice the same half log from the night before. The same blue ‘RV’ road sign. There are no stars. The rain does not stop. 70km to bed.
We say goodnight to Greg in Bridgetown again. At the top of the hill I try to turn the rear light on the back of my helmet without taking it off. I ask Wayneo “is it on?”
“Yeh, no.” It comes on for a second, goes out again. “Now?”
“Yeah. No.” Wayne finds a tree to stand under. A little comfort he takes even though he’s soaking. This is when you really get to know other riders purely by the shared activity. In the pitch black a barn owl has dinner by the side of the road. He spots us at the last second, hunches to take off, we pass and he continues eating. A light on in a warm house. Forest and not forest.
Shelter and no shelter. At the house the shower I have been dreaming of has to wait as Frank is in there. I am the only ‘rider’ left in this house. The other four are in the other house. We have soup. I go to sleep on the couch again watching the flames curl in the fireplace.
Awake before my alarm and have another shower to get the body warm. While I’m brushing my teeth Greg peers through the fly wire saying “hello.” As we leave Wayne is on the other verandah and he says not to bother waiting for him. My computer says 5C degrees. We putt along slowly, satisfied to be moving, a tiny crack appearing at the end of the tunnel. The sun rises, the sky is mostly blue. Yellow light reflects off the smooth surface of the great trees. On top of a hill we stop to have a nature break. I look back the way we have come. A thick layer of fog presses against the road. Then, like a black dildo emerging out of a golden shower, the silhouette of Wayne heaving and pulsating on his handlebars. He cruises casually by saying “no time for that, we’ve got a ride to finish.” I didn’t realise it at the time, the significance of the moment too monumental, to great to comprehend, but that image and the associated metaphor sums up the Blackwood 1000 for me.
A longish descent to Nannup and it rains for the duration of our stop. We begin again when the rain stops, shivering with cold. The Nannup-Balingup road is a kind of Hobbit wonderland that traces the river. The drive is offset from the flat banks and takes in every steep gully, every non-flood plain cliff. A motorbike pulls alongside informing us here’s a peloton of bikes coming. Wayne seems to think they’re bicycles and he’s going to tag along. But Greg and I, like a pair of big girls blouses, pull over and let pass what only turns out to be ten or so bikes. We notice a very fit looking woman run along the road, probably staying at one of the many chalets. She has the glint in her eye of someone running on endorphins, a chemical we are not sure we have any reserves left.
Through Balingup and onto Kirup we overtake Wayne sitting at a cafe eating muffins. We tolerate some more highway before riding as a threesome on our first flat stretch since ascending the scarp some 800km earlier. Wayne points out a buzzard behind a tree. Classic wheat belt views greet us climbing some hills as we begin to hammer the penultimate nails in this epic spin.
At Gnomesville we stop for a little while and my bowels go into overdrive. At a roundabout there’s a sign for public toilets so I head off post haste and ride about 1km and see nothing, but thankfully Sharon is taking some photos across the road from a pine plantation where the annoying bib short twist takes place. The other chaps cruise on by the public toilets another 500m ahead. Sharon hands me a rack of nurofen to give to Greg but I eat em all bar one. Then my front light comes lose and I pull it off and try to put it in my back pocket and when I do all my food goes flying into a ditch. A car stops thinking I’ve crashed, but I haven’t, I hit the gas to try to catch up and I’m doing well until a 50 carriage cargo train hinders my progress. At the intersection Wayne is waiting and he relays a message from Greg: “tell sissy boy to hurry up.”
We have a hearty tailwind as we see flat paddocks to our left and granite outcrops and the scarp to our right. Wayne and I work well together to catch Greg. We knock off the 35km to Harvey in about an hour. The beast I’d been keeping quiet is unleashed and poor old Wayne and Greg have to hold on by their fingernails. My quads feel like someone has threaded through a ganged hook with sinkers attached onto them. Wayne stops briefly at the G-Spot icecreamery. At the entrance to Harvey the monarchs are performing random breast tests. We slip through unnoticed.
At Harvey we have 100km to go. I almost have to puke as Wayne and Greg hug and kiss their partners, Allison and Sharon. Allison redeems herself by generously buying coffee. Sharon too had grabbed me a choc milk and roll for which I’m very grateful. I should also note Allison rode 200km out to the winery and back on day two, no mean feat.
We decide to finish the ride together. On our departure from Harvey Wayne tells some kids on BMX’s to get a real bike. We putt through Yagan country chatting about all the long distance rides Wayne has ridden including a Giro de Tasmania of which he was the only finisher. I stop to wee about a hundred times. Wayne complains but it’s more annoying to be the wee-er. Twilight, and Greg and Wayne chat while I suck their wheels. My new nickname is ‘sucky wheely.’ Smooth road into Pinjarra and we crank up the pace a bit. At Pinjarra Greg declares he is absolutely rooted. We have 35km left and slowly inch our way through wetlands to the freeway.
About 2 hours behind us Tony has reached Gnomesville and Rum and Raison is having troubles with a blown tyre. Tony picks up a gnome, kisses it, and turns into one. Strange.
We pull back into Tony’s driveway in Singleton at 7pm after riding for 13 hours on the final day. 62 hours altogether including breaks. We shake hands. There is no group photo. There are no trophies or podiums. Our bikes look tired. We have a hamburger and chat merrily.
Four hours later Tony and Perry arrive. During this time Wayne and I have pried our eyelids open with matchsticks. Greg has gone home. The afterglow has worn off a little and it seems maybe a bit strange to go out to the shed and shake their hands. I think of giving them a tonguey, but decide not to.