Blackwood 600 Ride Report

I’ve been frustrated lately. For about the last six months in fact. The manuscript for my first novel sits on the desk of a couple of editors. Each day I wait to hear if they’ve decided yes or no. The waiting goes on long enough that eventually I wish they will say no so the agony can stop. My impatience turns to anxiety to stress to indignation. My indignation jumps ship and turns viciously to other perceived injustices I can identify. Identify I do. Powerlessness can lead to irrationality.

I’m indignant at Australia’s government and lack of action on climate change. I’m indignant at my fellow citizens for their lack of action on climate change. Those who shake their heads from their 4 x 2 houses on 1000m2 blocks with two cars in the garage. I’m indignant at climate change deniers who’ve never read a scientific document.

I’m indignant at myself. Am I wasting my life? Is my indignation unfounded? I’m indignant that being indignant is undignified. You won’t find any moments of clarity, or optimistic crystallisations in this ride report. Australia’s lack of action in regards to climate change prevents any such niceties. Our history is destroying our environment is deplorable.

Motivation differs. Many people were driven by fitness. Many people begin to wonder very quickly why they do audax rides. The drop out rate is high. On this ride I was driven by anger. Anger at myself and the world around me. I wanted to ride alone, to explore the dark areas.

Would a 600km ride cure my anxieties? Would cycling for 33 hours or so put a muffle on my anger and frustrations? Would the body teach me something I haven’t been able to think through?

Not likely when the route goes through the biggest environmentally devastated area in Australia: the wheat belt. Anyone who thinks clearing 90% of the state’s forest for poor quality agriculture soil is deluded. And if you think Australian farmers are feeding the world, consider this: per hectare Germany produces more wheat each year than Australia. The soil we burn vast tracks of ancient vegetation to get to is so unsuited for agriculture, we need an area the size of European countries for it to be profitable. And they still want more land! The one’s who most vehemently deny the there’s a problem are usually the ones who have the most to lose.

The Blackwood 600 goes from Singleton to Dwellingup to Quindannng to Darken to Boyup Brook to Nannup to Balingup to Gnomesville to Harvey to Singleton. We get to see bits of forest that were left because it was too difficult to drive a tractor over.

We leave at 6 am and I take a wrong turn and end up at the back of the group and ride alone to Darkan, some 170km away.

From Darkan to Boyup Brook I ride with Ruth and Steve. Conditions are perfect. The flocks of birds that once turned day into night exist only in my imagination. My left leg is in so much pain I consider withdrawing. Perhaps the pain is in my imagination. Ruth says at the top of the hill we stop to put on warmer cloths and ‘light up’. The climb goes around a bend and continues on a for a kilometre or so longer. Shadows grow longer. ‘Bet you didn’t think the hill would go that long’ I say and ride off, alone again.

The Nannup-Ballingup road is unique in the south-west. It follows a small river that twists and turns sharply. It’s heavily forested but not without over clearing. On a clear day riding through here is tough as it’s not possible for the road to follow the contours of the gullies as they’re too steep. Instead the road goes up and over each crest with a series of about 20 short sharp climbs. It’s impossible to get a rhythm.

On a clear day you gain occasional glimpses to the rapids below. Cute cottages and wooden railed bridges break up the forest. You can charge down each hill looking up to the next climb.

At four in the morning in pitch black and freezing cold I was to experience a different road. Thick fog reduced visibility to about ten metres. Lights on high beam, kangaroo eye reflectors were the only indication I was on the road. There was a waxing moon setting out to the west that offered no illumination, the fog was too thick. The trees cast no shadows.

On the road surface, dark patches came toward me. If there were a rock I probably didn’t have the time to avoid it, so I had to slow down. It was like I was in a nightmare. Basically a white haze on a black surface with a red dot to my right and white dot to my left every two hundred metres. No white line in the middle to follow. It felt like I was riding through the darkness of my mind like an endoscopy.

Slow cold, so dewy, droplets fell from leaves. Fell from my helmet. Then froze. A white web of ice all over my body. If I stopped to wee I started shivering. The water in the bottles made me colder.

I’d ridden the same road twice before. I thought I recognised a fence. Maybe 10km to the highway. Ride on. Darkness. After another 15 mins I realise it’s not the bend before the end. Ride on. Wearing long leg bibs, two pairs of socks, shoe covers, base layer, jersey, arms warmers, gilet and soft shell jacket. A kangaroo hopped out in front of me, trying to commit suicide.

A flock of red tailed cockatoos cried in a tree above me. Black cow sumped in the way, strafes across my path as I approach.

When the earth tilted enough to let light in to this side of the world fog pockets filled the valleys.

Don’t take this to mean a sense of positivity came over. The fact that a tv show you were thinkin about the other day miraculously comes on as you’re flicking through the channels is no prophetic omen you’re doing things right. The major signs are that the ice is melting and a billion people are set to be displaced by rising sea levels. Ride on.

As I got closer to Singleton a sense of achievement grew inside. At a set of traffic lights I looked at the time. 2:30pm. At 3pm it’ll be 33 hours since I departed. As fast as I could, I rode the final kilometres along the highway. People looking at me like I was shitting glass. Big jacket sticking out of back pocket. As I turned off the highway a Commodore drove up behind me and got irate because I was riding on the road and he didn’t have the chance to boss me off the rode. Didn’t he know I’d just ridden 600km?

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Oppy 2015 – WA – Ride

One of the psychological tricks to ‘a ride’ is how you gain perspective on what that amounts to. A ‘good’ ride or a ‘bad’ ride can be determined by the literal/material elements that constitute the sequence of route planning, getting ready, leaving home and returning, and everything in between. That sequential array can go splendidly and the stars can align – no flat tires, don’t get lost, strong tailwind – and you get home concluding yes, ‘that was a good ride’. We/I belted along, felt strong, had a few laughs, some coffee and returned home safely, without injury. A ‘bad’ ride involves something like a torn tires, five flats, a terrible headwind that switched direction when you headed home, a crash, bearing busting precipitation, cold, inconsiderate drivers and so on. The trick I’m talking about is convincing the mind that those ‘bad’ rides are in fact the ‘good’ rides. Uneventful rides are generally forgettable. Uneventful rides rarely test our resolve. My contention is what we mostly consider ‘good’ rides, uneventful rides, are the ones we learn little about ourselves.

On a metaphysical level, the delineation between riding and not riding, or the ride/not ride state is insignificant. The most obvious marker for being on a ride is being on a saddle and turning pedals. But on a metaphysical level this has no bearing. We don’t usually consider the time off the bike eating and resting as somehow not part of the ‘ride’. How we carry ourselves mentally throughout the ride is important. If you allow the circumstances to gain the better of you, you may not finish the ride. This is bleeding obvious, but if you stop riding, you can not expect to complete the ride. This admonition can take on great significance half way through a 400km day into a headwind.

On long Audax rides we often praise or criticise ourselves and other riders on a attribute basis, not a moral one. We save the moral inquisitions for friends and family. Riders are either strong, or determined, or fast, or slow, or steady. These attributes can be generally said to cross over into our lives off the bike. If this proposition is accepted then this is the testing ground in which we are constantly assessing ourselves while ‘out riding’.

One of the benefits of cycling is that we can still think while doing it. We run scenarios through our minds like repeats of television shows identifying where we went wrong or how to address an issue with someone. In concert with these thoughts is the generated association with our bodies. Through our bodies we ‘exercise’ those thoughts. Often by the end of a ride we feel better about a certain issue and maybe ourselves and others. In fast group rides or longer rides we can enter a state of mind where we are kind of ‘not thinking’. This meditative state is usually achieved, in my experience, through paying close attention to detail. Mindfulness to the minutiae leads to a dreamy-world of time distortion where an hour feels like five minutes. Ironically this state can be achieved during intense physical exertion or unavoidable exposure to inclement conditions. A level of tiredness usually helps. Perhaps it is because Audaxer’s spend so much time on the bike that the recognition that “this is a moment” takes place. Occasionally we feel attuned and at piece with our surroundings.

It’s this notion of tiredness that brings me to the Audax Oppy ride held on the 28th of March 2015. I’ll keep it brief because there’s a few points I’d like to make about ride reports in general. Ride reports are not stories. Stories rely on conflict and adversity in order to be interesting. A good or pleasant Audax ride is uneventful. Everything goes to plan. No one crashes or dies or cries. Interesting stories are the opposite to the way we’d like Audax rides to unfold. To make a ride report interesting you need to invent certain elements. This can get you in trouble with offended parties or ensure your report is rejected from being included in the clubs quarterly. A great loss to all. Anal sex. As Barry Humphries has said, “if it amuses me, it’ll amuse others”.

Four of us set out to ride a touch over 500km in the twenty four hour period. We didn’t plan on any sleep but instead to take longer breaks to stay in line with riding the mandatory 25km in the final two hours. Our route – entitled the ‘Tony Gillespie Celebratory Route’, after Western Australia’s outgoing club president – would head south east from Perth. We rode down the freeway into a slight headwind, chucked a left at Lakes Road and then up the rolling Del Park Road to Dwellingup. From Dwellingup we headed due east to Quindanning Pub where I raided the cookie jar. Further east we found the turn off to Darken where I started to tire. I hadn’t ridden much in the previous 4 months and the more my back muscles and legs protested the more I drifted mentally into the territory of “treat this as training”. Having found a rhythm we soon discovered the Darken servo shut, putting an end to our hopes of pasta. 60km to Collie where the road was filled with fellatio and cunninglingus; a kind of ritual in these parts. Must have something to do with mining and smelters.

At Collie we waited an hour in the warm confines of the McDonalds. Perry, Steve and I all agreed it was the best McDonalds we ever had. Maybe this was the most transformative aspect of this years Oppy? Greg, with his metaphorical blinkers on, couldn’t quite grasp the notion of finishing together, at a certain time, and decided to “soft pedal” off into the darkness. We never saw him again.

Good old Mornington Rd has taken on a semi-mythical status among WA Audaxers as one of the most enjoyable  around. The surface is smooth, there’s hardly any cars and there’s good forest wither side to protect you from wind, even though there wasn’t any at that time. Perry touts the road as his favourite despite the fact the first time a ride was to include it, he rode around in circles for an hour on a freezing cold Collie night trying to locate its coordinates. He gave up that time and now is quietly pleased with himself every time he discovers the road is still there. He had employed his headlight on this stretch often illuminating roadside shrubs whenever a rustle was audible. He’s a touch paranoid about bounding two legged mammals after having a run in with them last year. This meant when the descent started, a gap, like reality and a politicians promise, opened up between Steve and Perry and I.

Water bottles filled at Harvey there were no more hills to worry about, just growing tiredness and we all appeared to go through episodes of apathy. 100km to go at the Forrest Hwy toilet block where some German tourists asked what we were doing and then dutifully appeared unimpressed by our efforts. Two areas of lights along the hwy. The second, at an overpass, marked the beginning of the freeway bike path. I was a long way from experiencing a kind of misery, but I wasn’t having a ball either, to be honest. Each distance marker was acknowledged and measurements of effort distributed accordingly. Recently I’ve ditched the cycle computer to focus on where I am at, so the off-ramp signs were analysed over and over. At one point my internal monologue went something like: “Perth: 71km, Safety Bay Rd: 15km. I could make it to Perth easily, but I just can’t be bothered riding to Safety Bay Rd.”

Perry and Steve were snacking on pancakes from Hungry Jacks when I arrived. Yes, we ate a lot of shit on this ride, but these were our only options. Shit. The store is open 24hrs but only the drive-thru overnight. I was forced to stand around for ten minutes while the tills restarted, but who am I to complain? People are dying in hospitals.  40km to go. Only 40km of 500km. The longest both Steve and I had ridden in 24hrs. All we had to do now was get on and pedal. Sunrise as smoke from some bushfire filled a trough where the morning before a horrific accident had occurred. We were early so I putted along like some geriatric in a flat-batteried golf-cart.

In Freo some triathlon event was being held, complete with roadblocks. We took some circuitous route to the cafe and sat beneath the pine trees and shook hands and congratulated ourselves and I know I didn’t wonder what all the unvocalised winging was about: I was rooted. Soon after the sissy’s from the other team arrived, looking fresh from showers and sleep. They rubbed it in by having enough energy to smile. Across the park a myriad of triathletes of all shapes and sizes pounded and/or square pedalled up and down the Esplanade. “That looks like Hell” I thought to myself.

Bunbury 600

Bunbury 600

You can think of Audax rides a little like racing car driving. Some riders run a multiple stop strategy, some riders a no stop strategy, some riders a couple of stops strategy. Some riders will refuel; the equivalent of a wheel change, some will stop for an hour to what amounts to a full service. Some riders carry a boot load of clothes and food, some will closely examine the route sheet figuring out where to buy food. Some riders ask their girlfriends or wives to drive around after them with food and clothes, in exchange for cunnilingus. Most of the time you don’t need that much gear, but it doesn’t take much for everything to fall apart. Haven’t packed a proper rain coat and you slow down pretty quickly when you freeze on a descent. Get two flat tyres and the idea of sitting roadside hoping a patch will work isn’t that appealing. These trials don’t seem like a big deal when you imagine them from your couch, but if it’s 11pm and 5-7 degrees outside you quickly discover if you’re unprepared.

For most riders doing their first 600, simply finishing is the goal. After a couple of successful completions you figure out where you’re strong, where you could do better. Most beginners tend to break too long and too often. Some veterans like resting long and often. After a while you set yourself new goals, new challenges beyond just finishing. My aim this time was to see what happens. Having completed a 1200 six weeks earlier, I didn’t know if my energy reserves had been restored. They weren’t.

It was great to have some new faces line up for the Bunbury 600. Unfortunately I didn’t get to ride with them for very long. May be they have the bug now and will expand their long distance goals? The route was from Perth, east for a bit, through Serpentine, south to Yarloop, through Australind (yes they are good kebabs Danny) to Bunbury. This was the the end of the first 200km. Two riders stopped here. They were to skip the middle 200km and rejoin for the final 200 back to Perth. The conditions up until this point were superb. Strong tailwind, overcast, mostly smooth roads. Scarp to our left, grazing cattle either side. Tony was cruising around in the support vehicle, listening to John Butler with his arm on the window sill, offering words of advice and the odd sticky bidon. His enthusiasm knows no bounds and is infectious.

Back up a little. From Perth the riders split up into three basic groups. The fast group, the medium group and the cautious. At the back of the field was Greg, running a ‘no stop’ strategy. He didn’t even bring a change of clothes to have a shower at the back packers. The middle group, consisting of myself, Sean and Perry rolled along nicely. ‘Light em up’ Rob was clever to stay away from me so as to avoid being characterised in my report. Up front was where all the action was taking place. Guido, a fast, strong rider I’ve never ridden with before, had dragged a couple of newbies with him to Pinjarra, the 100km mark. All good. You’d hope anyone signing up for a 600 can squeeze out a 100 before breakfast. It’s usually after the 100km mark your endurance begins to be tested. Another little test Guido seemed to be running them through was navigation. After Pinjarra they missed a turn, rode a extra 6km down the road, retraced their steps and caught up to where I was taking a piss. They overtook me at 37km/h and I thought sweet, sprint to catch up, sit on and watch my heart rate go back down to 120bpm.

One of the new guys was struggling at third wheel, but then, to my amazement, he goes to the front for an all out pull. About 2km later he drifts back, rooted. Guido goes to the front for a little bit. Then another new guy in yellow has a short pull before drifting back and asking if I was doing the 600 or a local out for a cruise. Perhaps I looked too casual. We turned a corner into a head wind and both of the new guys fell off. Guido and I rode through Yarloop and took turns to the highway together where I dropped off to take it easy.

Fast forward. Guido rushes through Bunbury. The rest of us restock. Greg rolls through without even cleaning his glasses. I caught up to him on the other side of Capel and we rode together into the dark to Collie, the temperature dropping significantly. Must have been bonfire night as heaps of people were out toasting marshmallows under the stars. Over a dam bridge, fire light in the distance, owls hovering overhead. I get to thinking; you don’t see your home. Your head is full of issues. I’m sure if someone came from overseas they’d be much more descriptive. They say once you name something you don’t see it properly anymore. Having done a fair few of these rides in the south-west, I guess I’m slowly starting to call the area home; you see details, but you underestimate their significance.

Thanks to Greg’s meticulous planning and route knowledge I now knew we were on the steepest part of the route and would soon cresting the highest point of the ride. I prefer not to know about these things, but some people like to break the route down. On the main drag in Collie Tony waited for us with warm soup, camp chairs and encouragement to take a dump on the steps of the council chambers. It’s here that Tony tells us that at 325km Collie would have made for a preferable first night rest stop. But the first day distance might have put some people off. Spanner in the works occurs when his first accommodation preference is double booked and in great haste he must try to find a last minute alternative.

Now, if Bunbury is a shit hole, then the Wander Inn Backpackers must be the lower intestine. In all my travels, and I have stayed in many, many hostels, this was easily the worst. Tony seemed to take great joy in telling me and Greg that, as ‘hard men’ of Audax, he didn’t think we’d mind joining in ‘jumping on the grenade’ with him. The latter meant sleeping in a room with about eight other 20-30 yr old boys who seemed to have been living there for a about a month, their stinky clothes and belongings all over the joint you have to kick out of the way to get to your bed. Half a dozen of them were sleeping off their hang overs at five in the afternoon when Tony ‘checked in’.

At least I had that to look forward to as I changed into warmer clothes, the temperature dropping to 5 degrees in Collie. 80km to Bunbury and Greg and I had a good ride together on what must be one of the best roads in the south west; Mornington Rd. A quiet, smooth mining road that rises a few times before falling off to the Hwy. A light on in the middle of a paddock and your ask yourself what living in the country would be like.Greg and I knew our way there having done the same route for the Opperman earlier in the year, an event now known as Subway-gate, due to Tony’s nauseous insistence that “you blokes go on, I’m just going to have a nap outside for a while”.

A major lightning flash exploded on the horizon over Bunbury, symbolic in retrospect as we were pedalling by a power station. At about 11:30 I said goodbye to Greg and he turned around, back into the night to take on the final 200km back to Perth. The Wander Inn might be a cesspool, but it does make miracles happen. I walked into the backpackers and was getting my bearings, (having been openly laughed at by some of the inhabitants, as I must have looked like a large black dildo in my cold weather outfit) when to my amazement Perry was in room 20 getting his clothes together. This made no sense because he was behind us when we left Bunbury for the first time, we didn’t see him in Collie, and he didn’t pass us on the way.

I popped a sleeping pill hoping it will kick in by the time I had a shower. The room was as Tony described it and the lingering smell of beer breath and well worn nylon socks tickled my nostrils. I entered the shower like a overly nurtured silver spoon fed teenager sprinting across coral reef. There were three hooks for your clothes, hair all over the basin and toilet cubicles just big enough to bang your head on the door. I set my alarm for five am and let the pill work it’s magic. Three hours later I was woken by a snoring competition clearly won by the guy below me impersonating darth vader with double bronchitis. After trying to go to sleep twice I thought bugger this and started to get going. I walked out the front to try to find the kitchen when the door locked behind me so I had to walk out onto the wet street (in just my bibs) and reenter through a hole in the alley fence. Gross kitchen located, I quickly decided just to get going hoping an all night servo would have coffee chill. I packed my bag and put it in the room with the key for Tony to load in the morning.

On my way out two of the new guys were rolling in and I said good morning. The stretch from Australind to Forest hwy along the estuary is one of my favourites. The night sky clear although evidence of consistent rainfall that Greg copped. A long straight road heading into Yarloop, the high beam headlights of a car shine bright for 5km, the glow of the refinery over the horizon, the direction I’m headed. Through a dairy farm I have to pick a gap through cows crossing the road. Although the road was covered in shit, I was happy to be out of the hostel. And then…classic…a fist pump with no finishing line in sight; I’d forgotten to turn my alarm off. Like some friend or loved one thinking of you from the other side of the world, I kept getting these little thoughts that made me chuckle and I thought it was perfect revenge to get back at the snorers. Poor old Tony told me later that he’d practically jumped on two grenades as he had to lie in bed with his fingers in his ears trying to sleep. To his amazement no one else in the room seemed to be effected.

With little sleep I struggled home. I was stiffer than a sunbaked biscuit. I had no energy reserves and was running only on what I ate. I struggled to ride faster than 25km/h and couldn’t get my cadence over 90rpm. For some reason you get into a frame of mind where you’re always pushing the pain barrier. To make things worse I got a flat tyre at the start of the freeway that I couldn’t be bothered fixing, but of course had no choice about. Heaps of casual Sunday cyclists were out having a good time in post-Giro glow, whereas I was in a world of pain. Rolled into Deep Water Point solo, and to no reception, and felt like John Eyre walking into Albany having just walked across the Nullarbor. I need a significant other with a driver’s license, I guess.

Col De Lussette and Mont Aigoul

“Would you ever take performance enhancing drugs?”

“Like most things, I’d try it. Just to see what difference they would make.”
“I’d try testosterone.”
“Apparently EPO doesn’t really do much unless you’re already fit.”
“Really?”
“I’d never take drugs in a race though.”
“Oh me neither.”
“Unless it was in the Tour.”
“Yeah, of course. Testosterone and EPO in the Tour.”
“Testosterone in Giro.”
“And the classics.”
“Well you want to win.”
“Probably in the local club race too, just to make sure.”
I want to go deeper. I want to go harder. I want to push myself. To see how hard the body can go. To see if I can push my body beyond the pain threshold. They say it’s mind over matter. Often it’s the opposite.
Today we have a big day of riding. Starting in Le Vegan we climb the Col De Lussette, then Mont Aguail. Then descend for about 30km back to Le Vegan. From a 75km ride back to Montpellier through rural France and two medium sized climbs. The distance would be no problem for me, but I’m still a baby in these mountains. Let’s face it, living in Perth, I’m a flatlander.
We depart Le Vegan slowly. Before too long, begin the first rise. The day before I’d been trying out a pedalling technique called ankling. This works, but my left leg is a little inflexible. Already I could feel it stiff. Also, I’m a big sissy. When you want to go hard, often the opposite happens. It’s difficult to visualise going hard or doing well in a place you’ve never been to before. These mountains demand respect. If you attack the mountain the mountain will attack you.
The scenery is stunning. Shane rides away. The switchbacks are regular. He disappears. I’m frustrated. Annoyed. I feel like a beginner. Like this was my first ride ever. I begin to blame the borrowed bike. Too heavy. Too big. I’m negative, but thankfully for the world, there’s no one to share it with. There’s little to do other than settle in as much as possible, wait for the summit to arrive.
At the top Shane is waiting. He’s happy. He has climbed faster than ever. Two days before we moved his seat back a little. Seems to have done the trick. His forehead has a line of dried salt. When I arrive I see he has dropped 20 euros on the ground. I stop over it and pick it up. Put it in my pocket without saying anything. We are surrounded by thin woods. We cannot see Mont Aigoul but that’s our destination.
The start of the climb to Mont Aigoul, two old ladies in team kit riding casually. We overtake them into a head wind. Shane rides off. Shortly afterward the ladies catch me again, see I’m struggling. ‘Grab my wheel’ she says, ‘don’t worry about taking a pull.’ Granny draft, nothing like it.
The final bend up to the summit of Mont Aigoul, the wind is gale force. A motorbike rider drops his machine in the carpark. His friend struggles and runs over to help. I am blasted up to 3 meters across the road. Forces me over to the shelter of the cars. There’s Shane. ‘The cafe is up there,’ he points. We walk into the wind holding our bikes. They fly horizontal next to us, whistling some alpine tune.
In the cafe an old friend of our’s doppleganger serves us chips and coke. We laugh, and laugh. Shane’s laughter ends when he empties his pockets and realises he’s lost 20 euro. This makes me laugh on the inside. He’s really annoyed with himself because he had lost another 20 euros a week before and this was his money decade. We’ve already ordered. ‘Got any money’ he asks? I pull out the sweaty blue note. ‘That’s mine’ he exclaims. ‘Sure is’ I say.
Shane explains his idea for a mountain with tunnels than turns small hills into high category climbs. ‘Perth needs a mountain’ I say. Luckily for me, Shane has the answer. We are good like this. We solve problems that don’t need solving. There are millions of problems out there already that do need solving, but we are unless in that regard. That’s our problem. Shane nearly buys some woollen socks made of polyester and cotton.
On the descent our good friend Richie returns. Every unsuspecting rider and pedestrian gets a blast of Richie as we pass. Even dogs. “RRIchchies.” “Alle Richie.” The sun is out and bees smack into your sunnies.

Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.

 

These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.

 

Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.

 

At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.

 

I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.

 

There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.

 

White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.

 

On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.

 

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Draft RIDE REPORT: QUINDANNING PUB LOOP 2012

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From Left to Right: Perry, Rob, me, Tony, Adrian and Wayne.

Having completed a 4000km ride from Darwin to Perth in mid-August, I kept my eye out for a challenging ride around Perth. The Audax 600km, two day ride tickled my fancy so I emailed Adrian, the organiser through their website. He was very responsive and supportive. “If you’ve done the five dams, it’ll be easy. It’s all mental anyway,” he said. 260km was the longest ride I’d ever done. And that was just one day. This was 300km two days in a row.

So, in mental preparation during the week leading up to the ride, I tapered off riding completely and forced myself to a strict regime of ice cream and couch.

Sure enough, as is the want of the universe, the big day came along. Was difficult getting to sleep as I forced myself to bed as early as possible and woke up a few times with images of bikes in my head, but then the alarm went off and it was time to go. My sister, who I live with, was dropping me off, but she decided to go out the night before so dragging her to the car was a bit of a task. I actually felt nervous as we crossed the narrows. Imagining different scenarios, and visualising “keeping on going” after 200-300 km had merged into a ball of energy in my stomach that just wanted to get going and get this thing started.

At Adrians house, beginning to unload their car Janice and Wayne, keen as mustard at 6:35am. Not long after Adrian strolled out in his ugg boots offering coffee and toast inside. I’d seen who turned out to be Tony riding along South St and he arrived soon after having already ridden from Singleton. Then Rob rocked up, and Perry. That was all of us. Jeez, I thought to myself, no wonder Adrian sounded so keen on the phone. Adrians supportive wife Veronica helped by toasting bread, making coffee and calling us nut cases. In the support vehicle, Janice and Veronica were going to meet us in York, Pingelly and Williams. And then on the Sunday, somewhere between Williams and Dwellingup. After a photo or two we were off.

The forecast for the two days was for the most perfect riding conditions you could wish for. Clear skies, low to mid twenties and little wind. I didn’t talk too much to begin with but once I started chatting to Tony it soon emerged he was the guy I dropped a few weeks earlier when I was riding around Golden Bay. Poor bloke got sucked in riding his heavy fixed gear, when I was cruising along at 30km/h and then slowly ramped up to 40km/h for about 5km. I don’t mean to say this to show off, and I don’t think Tony was offended, it was just a nice coincidence to be riding with someone you had a brief interlude two weeks earlier.

Perry and Wayne unhitched from the group at the Welshpool Rd road lights but by the time we reached Kalamunda road we were back together again. However once the road tilted upwards the group splintered once more. Everyone was riding pretty conservatively, simply making it up the Darlington Hill as a matter of course. Going in to the red at all this early would be a big mistake. Adrian was chatting about Paris-Brest-Paris which I enjoyed as it’s a ride I’d like to do one day. We decided to fill our water bottles at Mundaring and I did that as quick as possible but by the time I emerged from the little dunny, no one was around so I took off as quick as possible thinking they’d left. After about 5km I realized I was in front and soft-pedaled to Wooroloo. I also realized in my efforts to clean the bike up for the ride I’d pushed some grains of dirt into the bottom bracket bearing threads which, in past experience causes an annoying clunking sound. Would either have to wait until Williams to fix it or put up with it. Only a five minute job, but as usual when you have a break you always forget to do everything and you don’t remember until you start riding again and then you say you’ll fix it next time you stop ad infinitum.

Bakers Hill was just up the crest. We were at the peak of the scarp then and a good time for a fill up. Excellent bakery too. Wayne had well and truly dropped off at this stage and arrived twenty minutes later. Long enough for Perry to down a litre of choc milk: “I don’t mess around.” The bakery was so good I was sucked into seconds and added a chocolate donut on top of a shepherds pie and a thick winners bar with a coffee chill. This was a big mistake as the donut sat like the ball of nervous energy felt early in the day: big and heavy in my gut. Problem was the donut hung around for way too long. Each sip of water attempting to wiggle its way around the gooey dough.

After reinserting his little silver radio into his pocket, (brought along to listen to the grand final) Adrian must have felt the opposite to me because he blasted away from Bakers Hill toward Northam. I couldn’t really figure out where he was coming from and not knowing his riding abilities from a tin of chamois cream I thought either he was trying to drop me and make me suffer or was kind of drilling himself as he went along at 35km on rough roads into a slight headwind towards Northam. Later Tony would inform me that indeed, Adrian is half bull. We were well and truly in wheatbelt country now where most of the trees are in water courses.

In York we were warmly greeted by Caroline. Then Perry rolled in, then Rob, then Tony. The footy was half time and the game was close. Everyone except Perry seemed over the ride already. The comfort of the café and the realization that we had 200km more to go that day sunk in. The visual monotony of the wheatbelt had begun and you either had to chat to your riding partners or start talking to yourself.  Veronica and Janice arrived and soon after Perry took off somewhere. Thinking he had headed toward Beverley I left about five minutes later. Was quite good actually because I’d never ridden from York to Williams before and I could roll along at my own pace while my stomach felt like exploding. Not far before Brookton Veronica and Janice overtook me in the wheezing blue station wagon and then about a km or two up the road stopped to offer a coke and some fruitcake. Perry caught up soon after. Janice was pontificating about how many loafs of bread were potentially in each field. Not sure how the other riders we feeling but it was still too early in the ride to be truly enjoying the scenery. Only twenty km’s to Pingelly where soup awaited.

We overtook an elderly gentleman on a bike on a small hill leaving Brookton which I mistook for Wagin. He must have thought the local bike shop was having a sale with all these cyclists around. By the time I reached Pingelly the donut had really entrenched itself and I was feeling awful. But other than that the stop at Pingelly was really good. Perry commented about how lucky and privileged he felt to have a support crew and while holding back spew while trying to force soup in I wholeheartedly agreed. After dinner it was time to rug up and “light up” as Rob would say. Rob; the dark horse. More accurate at measuring out his energy than a digital scale. The guy was in for the long haul. He took as many turns at the front as a cart does with a horse. He donned his bandana across his face like a belligerent bushranger and rode on. The chilly night settled in.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. We stopped at one point for a nature break and then after that splintered up a bit as Adrian went a bit mad again chasing the support vehicle to let the them know we’d catch up with them in Narrogin. In the process he got a flat tire, and we all kind of limped into Narrogin like stray dogs. In the confusion Janice had forgotten to turn the high beams off and was held up by the boys and girls in blue. They refused to eat Adrian’s ANZAC biscuits that were tremendous. Perry was already on his way to Williams by now and after a couple of hills and a nice slow descent we joined him just before 10pm. For hours you dream of the moment you dismount, thinking what bliss it will be, but when you dismount you wonder what all the fuss was about.

Evidently Adrian was having the opposite experience. Stoically he kept his rear end injury to himself for the latter half of the day. Perhaps in order to avoid nicknames like ‘rear end reamer’, ‘the rump stump’ or ‘Rudolph’s other end’ or perhaps in the hope that by keeping it to himself he might come good by the morning and be able to continue. Sadly, he was not able to go on. The broom wagon came and swept him up during the night as a warm bed and reverse cycle air-conditioning enabled his mind to think clearly above the heroic war-cries of his pulsating quads. For the men that were left we tossed and turned all night knowing full well another 300km awaited at 7am. Rob made sure I didn’t sleep too deeply by rumbling through his nose all night.

Gallant Wayne crunched through the gravel driveway at 11:15pm, like a lone wolf falling into the arms of his waiting, beloved, she-wolf. Poor chap was gone again by 6am just before Tony tucked into some bacon and eggs at the servo and Rob and I had some wheatbix.

Fortuitously, however, as they say in Williams: ‘the weather was fucking perfect.’ No other way of putting it. A slight easterly and a touch warmer than the day before the suns rays licked our tender back muscles. Here Tony showed his experience. He may have been slightly buoyed by knowing he had 50 odd kms less than us to go, or maybe he’s always like that, but his long solid turns at the front, occasional rotations of the head side to side (to remind us to keep an eye on the views), and more importantly keeping the conversation up, he held us together. Just little things. Small talk keeps you out of your own head and before you know it another 20km/half an hour has passed.

I was conscious not to get my heart rate over 150bpm minute all day to try to make it to the end. Also I was not going to over eat.

Not long before the Pinjarra/Marradong Rd the support vehicle was waiting for us at the top of the hill. These little breaks made all the difference. A stretch, a bite to eat, a wee, a quick chat. Afterwards, a few km’s to get back into the swing but energy slightly higher.

The next section was the toughest of the entire ride. I guess in some ways you’re better off not knowing what’s ahead: you’re less apprehensive of difficult sections. But 100 hilly kms lay ahead all the way to Waroona. My cranks were still making noise and my ankles were swollen like buggery but you had to just keep going. Hill after hill after hill. Impossible to find a rhythm. As I was riding a 53/39 the lower cadence was starting to wear thin too. Long sections of cadence as low as 50rpm isn’t much fun as you like to switch between lung work and muscle work. Perry was gone like a flatulence and Tony, Rob and I battled along.

If Pinjarra was a candle, we burnt it at both ends on this ride, as we would do a 100km loop around it heading the wrong way home. At Dwellingup we were 20km from Pinjarra and then 5 hours later we were 10kms from Pinjarra on the opposite (western) side.

Really good sandwiches and refuel at Dwellingup and we headed south along Nanga road. Up the third or forth steep rise I began to lose patience. Willing the day over. So close yet so far. Motorbikes whizzing by like birds. Every muscle in protest after the short break at the deli. When you reach a milestone it takes a little while to switch gears to the next milestone and my lovely chicken and avocado sandwich was preventing any swift gear shifts. I imagine Wayne’s massive hamburger prevented any new found enthusiasm from emerging rapidly as well.

We all caught Wayne at the Waroona turn-off. He looked like the way I was feeling: over it like the sky is over the earth. “You guys go on, I’ll only drop back anyway,” he said, as images of tents along the Murray River were still fresh in our minds. Problem with mobile phones is, if you’re thinking about quitting, they make the process one step quicker. We would learn later from Janice that Wayne had ridden through a real rough patch. But he had made it to Waroona, where Rob Tony and I stopped for coffee. The scenery was excellent above Waroona and the descent back down to south west hwy possibly the longest in the south-west. Views out over the swan coastal plain were uplifting as finally we had visual clues this epic pedal would terminate.

After about 30km on the flats my legs started to feel good again. Nevertheless, we rounded a bend before us a massive dunal hill stood towering above. Oh fuck, I thought, here we go. Funny though next thought I had was well, come on then. Felt like the bodiless Black Knight in Monty Python: “come on then I’ll take you on” or “had enough hey” when surely the hill would have broken me. Thankfully we took a side road that was hidden from view at that moment.

I asked Tony if we could stop at 40km for a stretch and he said there was an ice-cream shop about 10km up and perhaps we should keep going until then. Not a minute later Janice pulled over in her car and as we stood around chatting mosquitoes attacked us. As mentioned earlier, Wayne had rung Janice and it didn’t sound good. He said he was utterly exhausted. I said if he wasn’t utterly exhausted he wasn’t human.

The lure of ice-cream spurred me on and all of a sudden my legs returned like boomerangs. Ah yes, 35km/h again. Sadly, however, just as my body was coming together the bike was breaking down and over a small hill a spoke in the front wheels snapped. Very odd after 500km of riding. Perhaps it had been knocked in the car. The ice-cream was excellent, and once a brake pad was removed there was enough clearance for the heavily wobbled wheel to rotate without rubbing.

Over the Dawesville Cut, through Mandurah and back toward Pinjarra, we’d seen the most of it. The obligatory object thrown at us in Mandurah let us know we were in the right place. A mighty healthy southerly was witnessed in the white flags of some car sales yard and we knew all was well. Rob was keen to “light up” at Paganoni road. I’d stupidly left my lights in the car as I thought we were catching up with the support car again (Janice had driven back to Adrian’s and got her car) so luckily Rob had some spare lights to lend me. Tony was heading home from here and you could sense his elation, his endorphins and joy. A very strong rider, humbling in his strength.

Only 45km left for Rob and I. The freeway bike path nice and smooth, I decided to ride all the way home to North Perth so another 15km for me but it was smooth sailing. Was too tired for reflection as I looked out across the water to the line of streetlights along riverside drive. The whole point of riding is to live, not reflect.

Thank you to Janice, Caroline and Veronica.

Here’s the route:

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/139257571/