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: