Friday, May 5, 2017

Barrington Tops

Well, the big day had finally arrived! After two and a half months of pretty solid training we were feeling up to the challenge. In spite of this, we still had that fluttery feeling in the pit of our stomachs that comes from the fact that you don't really know what you are in for. This feeling is the reason I do these crazy rides, looking for that uncertainty, that "can I pull this shit off " challenge.

 With 227km(141mi) and 5000vm(16 400ft) of climbing this race definitely had the required "will this bury me?" factor. It is very easy to read these stats but somewhat harder to actually grasp the gravity of those numbers. The only thing we knew for certain was that it was going to HURT!

We rolled into Gloucester the afternoon before, driving down the Thunderbolt's Way, a road I had read about on my brother's blog over the past few years but had never been along myself. The New England tablelands were awash with bright Autumn colours as the leaves turned and prepared to fall. It was a stunning drive.

Walcha, NSW

Food was sourced from the Roundabout Inn (so named because it was next to a roundabout! #obviousAussienamingconventions) and the competition was eyed up. There seemed to be some rather confident chaps who were doing the ride on hardtail mountain bikes and were expecting a mere 11 hours to complete the ride! I was just hoping to be back before the pub shut for the night! Were we out of our depth here? The pre race psych had begun.....

Our accomodation for the weekend was on a mate of Shane's place. It was a shed on a block about 20km south of Gloucester. Actually, a very well decked out shed with a magnificent view as it turned out. It was a pleasure to roll the swag out on the manicured lawn.

Being 20km out of town meant we were up early for the 6am start. The only glitch for the morning being that one of our Spot trackers wouldn't fire up. No problem we would run with just one.

Oh, and the Rapha coffee van that had been brought all the way from Sydney couldn't make coffee....

The start was a leisurely affair with people rolling out when they were ready/felt like it. We watched a group leave then at 6am thought "lets get this show on the road". A group of others clearly thought the same because all of a sudden we had a peleton sucking our wheels. 

We cruised along at a quick pace but it felt quite easy.

 Chatting away with new peeps we noticed that Jason English (world 24hr solo champ the last 7 years in a row) was in the group, out for a training ride on his dual suspension mtb no less!

Jason in the yellow stripes chatting to Shane. Gypsy signalling everything is cool.....

The road twisted it's way through quiet farming countryside with green pasture, crossed a few fords, with the odd farm house dotted on the hillsides.

 Even the horses were getting into the spirit of things and racing us from inside their paddock! With a temperature of about 15C it was perfect riding conditions. But that climb still lurked ahead.

When we finally hit some more open dirt road the view opened out over grazing land. Fog was still clearing from the slopes and now filled the hollows. It felt a bit like low flying at times.

Until Shane slashed his front tyre on a faaast downhill left-hander that is. We stopped to put a tube in and were passed by quite a few groups, all absolutely flying down the hill. It was weirdly impressive to hear how much noise skinny gravel tyres made as they crunched past us at speed.

Tyre fixed, we remounted and spun onward, hooking up with some new ride buddies. It turns out a couple of them had ridden from Canberra to Sydney then caught a lift up to do this ride! And they didn't come the easy way, taking in the ride the kids and I had done just after Christmas but in the uphill direction!! They did admit to perhaps biting off more than they could chew but they were chewing like hell and still looked strong at about 40km into this ride.

All too soon we came to a little bridge that led to the first big climb of the day. This climb was 1190 continuous metres (3900ft) !! 

There was nothing else for it but to click down the gears and spin at one's own pace.........for a looong time.......

Strava tells me that I began this climb at 2h 55m into the ride and finally topped out at 5h 15m! Yep, 2 hours 20 minutes of non-stop climbing......because we didn't stop. There was no time for stopping if we wanted to finish this thing today!

We crossed over Barrington Tops and the temperature plummeted to the point where I needed to put my spray jacket on ala Tour Divide style. Thank goodness it was a nice day as this would have been very unpleasant in the wet.

Too much energy!! The training clearly paid off for Shane!!

We then enjoyed a fast downhill on well maintained forest road. There was a bit of holiday traffic and in true Aussie fashion, they all blasted past us without any thought of slowing even just a little. What is it with Australian drivers? They are the rudest, most inconsiderate drivers on the planet (confirmed by multiple international racers in the Indy-Pac Wheel Race). 

We emerged from the darkest section of the ride -from a pine glade- to be greeted with sweeping views to the south and west. 

We had made it to the big descent above our lunch stop at the Moonan Flat pub. After a few quick photos we bombed down off the mountain at maximum speed (about 70km/h for me) and apart from the thick dust at times this was a hoot. There is nothing like 70km/h while wearing some lycra and a small foam helmet to get your attention and let you know you are alive. Hell Yeah!!

The last 5km into Moonan Flat were, well, flat. Then we enjoyed some sealed road for the final kilometre to the pub. 

We arrived to a bustle of bikers oiling chains, munching lunch and stretching out in the beer garden. We quickly found a table and had two steak sandwiches on order. Initial thoughts of buying two each were soon banished when they were delivered and proved to be huge and coincidentally, exactly the size of the massive hole in our stomachs!

We spent about 50 minutes at the pub before getting on the road again. The legs felt pretty good considering they had about 110km(65mi) and 2000vm(6600ft) in them so far. We decided to just cruise to let lunch settle before we would pick up the pace again.

Cresting a rise, there were some nice views to the Northwest over "Ellerston", which is a secluded property built by the late Kerry Packer as his country retreat. I see it all the time when at work as it is on the Brisbane to Sydney track and it looks like a small resort from the air with polo fields, golf course and many buildings. Rumour has it he had the polo field is heated so that the frost would not make the grass turn brown during winter! Kerry loved his polo AND had serious coin!

We cruised down off the hilltop, taking a gentle left corner which had a small concrete causeway at it's exit. There was a small amount of water running across the causeway and as we were riding two abreast Shane decided to lift his front wheel so as not to splash me. Unfortunately, all I saw out of the corner of my eye was his front wheel go up and up and then it exited backwards! This was quickly followed by an ooomph as he went off the back of his bike, crashing down on the concrete on his left side. Slightly winded by the impact I lifted his bike off him then helped him up off the ground as he was lying in the middle of the road, around a blind-ish left hander.

He did a self assessment with his left elbow being of most concern. It was swelling up quite quickly. There had been a few cars cruising through the field of riders giving support and cheek and one of these came by now. Shane was trying to figure out whether or not to climb in but he was getting angry with himself now for making what amounted to a silly/nothing mistake and decided to press on and see how it went.

As we climbed gently toward the next big climb of the ride he could only hold on with one hand, not a good look with 98km(61mi) to go! I had neglected to put any Ibuprofin in my kitchen-sink-like kit but one of the other guys had some anti-inflammatory pills. 

I had no idea how much pain he was in, nor if anything was broken but there was no stopping him as he wanted to finish this ride. After all the sacrifices over two months of training and then getting a 3 day leave pass from the family to do the ride, there was too much invested to just give up. Despite being busted.....

Busting out the climb with a busted arm.....!

Very soon we came to the second big climb. This one was only 800 or so metres.....a doddle after the first big climb.  WRONG!

This climb was so steep the road had been sealed to stop erosion. It went straight up the hillside with absolutely no respite. I was in my lowest gear, sometimes spinning seated, sometimes standing to use some different muscles but the climb went on and on. I saw riders walking and one guy was catching up to me, then stopping, then he would catch up a few minutes later again, only to stop again. This climb was a killer. Shane however just kept pedalling, one-handed, spinning (later, riders said they wanted to get off and walk but seeing Shane still pedalling with his busted up arm they gave themselves an uppercut and pressed on)

The road still climbed until we crossed into Tomalla Station where it began to reward us with long, flowing sections of downhill farm road. We passed by eucalypt plantations, burnt out plantations and even a "resting" wombat.

Eventually we reached the water resupply point at the 152km mark. We had limited out water uplift in Moonan Flat so that we didn't carry any excess weight up the big climbs and it looked like we had judged it almost to perfection as Shane was just out and I had about 300ml left(10oz).

We had a reassessment of how we were travelling here. The road going forward was a bit rough and consisted of many small pinch climbs and steep descents. Just what you don't want when you only have one good arm......

It was decided to press on, despite having a sag wagon on hand that could have bumped him to hospital. Hard!

The trail immediately plummeted down a 15% grade which must have been very painful but there wasn't a complaint to be heard. The next one and a half hours was slow going as we were starting to feel all the climbing by now. As darkness fell I was falling behind on the climbs. All I could see was a red tail light whizzing up the climbs and across the ridge lines! Shane was hauling arse!

He would stop at the top to take a drink as he couldn't drink while riding and I would catch up, then we would do it again. At about the 180km mark we were both pretty stuffed and were both happy to call it off. 180km amd 4000m was still a pretty respectable achievement, right? Coach Brian had been cruising around the course for the day with Noel, his brother and now he delivered an uppercut to us both. "We had this, we were still looking strong" were his words of wisdom. Ok, lets keep chugging along then.

Some spots of rain started to illuminate in my lights. I put my spray jacket on and kept trudging along. Eventually we dispatched the last two pinch climbs (200m each) and were finally on sealed road again somewhere around the 200km mark. The Cannondale Slate that Shane was riding was a weapon on this ride while my Muru BNT with mtb tyres was like riding, well, a mountain bike. I was busting my chops on this sealed section of road, heart rate up like I was in a one hour xc race, not 11 hours into an epic, just to try to keep up but I was being a one armed bandit!

About 15km from the end I was pretty spent so we had a quick stop to down some energy drink so we could finish this ride. The ground was wet for this last section, indicating that we had dodged a really heavy shower. Lucky. This, I could not have dealt with.

We rolled into the Roundabout Inn at about 20:45, just before the restaurant stopped cooking for the night. We ordered two of the best pizzas I have ever tasted and washed them down with an icy cold Murray's Angry Man.

We had done it!! 227km/4500vm in 14 hours 45 minutes total time and about 12 hours 45 minutes of actual moving time. 

We chatted to the organisers for a bit. Apparently 80 riders had registered. 49 had started and from what we could tell, 26 had finished. We were the last finishers. Last? Yes but this ride had not beaten us. We were a bit beat up and dazed but still standing.

A huge thanks to Shane for entertaining this crazy idea of a race, for training so intensely and for the company throughout it all. Finishing the last 98km with a busted elbow (yep, broken!!) in far better style than I did was inspirational. The scenery was an ever changing, amazingly diverse display of  a part of central New South Wales that I have never experienced before. I will most definitely be returning to do some more exploration. You too can recreate the ride yourself as Graveluer have posted the .gpx up on their FB page for all to use.

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Most of the photos on here are mine but most of the ones with riders in them are by an array of  gravel fans. They are (in no particular order) Jason Parker, Paul Lobb, Noel and Shane Pearse, Crust Bikes, Rapha and Photogranja. Thanks to these awesome peeps for the photos. If you would like to know who was who, just shoot me an email at the usual address.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Little Ride In The Countryside

I have managed to talk a mate into some crazy all day ride down in country New South Wales. We have been in training, reasonably solidly, so that we don't embarrass ourselves too much.

But when an email like the following comes from the organiser I really do have to think twice about this insanity........

Unashamedly this email is to help you ask whether you are up to Thunderbolt’s Adventure. It’s not going to tell you whether you’re ready for it, that’s up to you. If you’re not 100% sure then you have some questions to ask and preparations to do (or gracefully bow out).

We’ve already had a few decide they won’t ride because the more they researched it the more they realised it wasn’t the right time for them to undertake such a big adventure.

If you’re not sure then sit this one out and we’ll let you know when another adventure comes along that isn’t as big as this one. You may want to still come to Gloucester and ride the Barrington's on your own, we can provide ideas on what route to take. There’s a 90km with 1500vm route available that we’ll publish.
I'm going to sit this one out

Please let us know if you no longer plan on riding

We are all adults, it’s totally up to you to get around the route and make it back to the pub afterwards.

There is no room for error. This isn’t a grand fondo. It’s not even the 3 peaks challenge. It’s further, higher, self supported, remote and you have to navigate mostly on gravel roads that could get washed out.

Long distance
The route is shaping up to be about 230km (we did say at least 220km in the advertising 😃 ). You will have wanted to have ridden over 200ks on the road. This isn’t the ride to push your longest distance. Even the flat sections of this ride can be slow due to the surface. Think you’re going to average 25kph? I doubt it. Most fit normal riders will be lucky to average 20kph with the dirt and the climbing. Remember your bike is going to be heavy. It’s going to have extra water, clothes and lots of food on it.

A lot of climbing
There will be over 5000 meters of climbing. That’s a heck of a lot. If you haven’t done that much yet, there’s a good training day for you. Those who have done lots of big climbing days will tell you that when you’re not up for it you’ll hit a wall. If you start walking all the hills, your time will completely blow out. There’s often no coming back and the flats will get hard too. An all day climbing base speed of 500vm/hour would be a starting point. That’s 10hrs of climbing alone.

You have to navigate
There will be no signs, no cheer squad or markers of any fashion. You won’t even be given a map. Do not reply on those around you to help you know where to go. Over the whole day you’ll likely end up out on your own. You should prepare you own maps and route notes. If you haven’t done this before, don’t learn on this ride. Remember there’s no mobile coverage. Make sure you know how long your devices will work if using electronic navigation. Make sure you’ve tested offline modes in GPS apps etc. A standard Garmin will likely need topping up with power during the ride. Unless you know how to save power on your phone, it too will die. Take a charging battery and backup navigation method.

Self Supported
You can’t pull out early if you didn’t bring enough spares, or get that weird mechanical that requires a special tool and replacement part. One of the joys of travelling through these remote areas is being self sufficient. It’s finding that right balance of having enough of the right gear clothing and supplies and the knowledge of how to use them, but not too much so you can keep travelling. You can’t top up your food with the exception of Moonan Brook Pub (I doubt they sell gels). In the end it comes down to you. Did we say there’s basically no houses or locals who you can rely on?

Most will be racing themselves for the adventure. Challenging themselves to see how they go. We aren’t providing timing or a podium. If you want to race other riders then make sure you run Strava on the ride. Someone will create a segment for the whole ride and you’ll be able to see how you went by looking at the leader board. You’ll also see riders trickle at the pub afterwards as in and gain bragging rights as you share stories of the adventure.

Eat & Drink (you can be merry later)
You will eat a lot. You will drink more than you think (if you’ve brought enough). Don’t turn up with a few pockets full of gels and a couple of bars and think it’s just like that 100ks you do but a bit longer. You’re out all day and some of the night. You’ll likely end up struggling to eat food during the ride (probably on the second big climb) eat anyway. Have a variety of food. I like real food. You’ll hit a wall if you get low on food. You’ll also drink more than you think. 2 bottles won’t cut it, find a way (and test it) to carry more. You can get water top ups at Moonan Brook at about 135ks in. Otherwise there’s no water, unless you want to drink whatever chemicals the farmers have sprayed on the land mixed with cow shit.

You’re By Yourself
Groups will possibly form. They’ll also break up. Don’t think you’ll tag along, it’s not that kind of ride. Choose to ride in a group if you like, but make sure for you own sake that you have everything you need. That you can take care of yourself. It’s not your fellow riders job to carry the beacon, or make sure you’re eating.

Open roads, no signage
We are just a bunch of people who’ve met on the internet going for a ride. The roads are open. There will be cars (along the first half at least). Normal road rules apply. You can’t just roll through intersections or ride more than 2 abreast. Drivers will not know that you are on the roads until they see you. If you’re uncomfortable with this, sit this one out. There won’t be signs warning you of steep descents or loose surfaces or corners without guardrails.

Alpine Weather
There is 1200m elevation difference between the start and the highest point. It could snow. It could also be very hot on the long exposed climbs. Don’t rely on the forecast. Further you won’t be able to grab that gillet from the support car. Take more clothes that you think. There’s nothing worse than needing to stop for a while and sitting in the rain freezing. The Tops has it’s own weather. I’ve seen it sunny and 28C at Gloucester and have been in cloud with sleet on the tops. Bring your jacket...

Farmers, tractors and cows
There’ll be farmers with tractors and possibly even dairy cows crossing the road. Don’t be silly. Be respectful and wait your turn.

Test Everything
Have everything dialled beforehand. Make sure you’ve riding rough gravel roads with your bike fully loaded. Don’t wear new shoes. Every piece of gear and way you use it should be tried and tested. If you haven’t done a long ride in those bibs then do one beforehand. You get the picture.

The Decision to Ride
It’s up to you to decide if you’re up to the adventure. It’s constantly up to you to continue to ride. If you’re uneasy about a section, you can return back another way, or re-trace your route. We’ll see you at the pub. There are surely other potential risks and hazards that haven't been outlined here.

Look after each other
We are all lovers of cycling and doing adventures. Look after each other. Respect each other. Have a laugh. 

Ahhhhh, how bad can it be?

I rode much bigger days than that during the Tour Divide on a much heavier bike. Right?! I have a dynamo hub, lighting and a cache battery to power us into the night. Right?!

The only resupply point on the ride is in Moonan Brook, at the pub. Mmmm...looks inviting.....

Really, how bad can it be......?


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fitzroy Falls To The Valley

As you may have noticed over the last year or so, I have been a bit slack in keeping this blog up to date. While I have been doing plenty to blog about, well, doing that stuff takes up a lot of time and I have no time left to blog about it. Vicious circle eh?

In that vein, this post is a little late as the ride occurred waaaay back on the 28th of December. 

We were all down in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales for Christmas and having our bikes with us I was keen to do something a little different. Different to riding single track that is. I happened across a map of where to ride in the Southern Highlands and one ride lept out at me. The Fitzroy Falls To The Valley was a point to point forest ride with a net altitude loss of 500 metres (1650ft). 

I thought "that sounds pretty easy, especially as the kids haven't done a lot of riding lately"......

So, a few days after Christmas we catch the "Mum" shuttle to Fitzroy Fall carpark. Well, almost to the carpark. The trail heads back 300m in our direction so we just hopped out at the first turn off the sealed road, Gwen Rd and proceeded to kit up.

The road started as a rough sealed affair but very soon turned to dirt. Almost immediately we were at the Twin Falls lookout. There were a lot of people there, including a dumb German tourist who had to ignore the fence and stand right on the edge of the 1500ft drop in her thongs (flip flops to everyone else). No wonder they take a header off this mortal coil at times......

We quickly moved on so we didn't have to witness any sillyness. Well, apart from our own ride that is.

The trail consisted of the usual sandstone/sand mix that is found everywhere along the Great Dividing Range. The undulations weren't too steep and the kids chatted away, Chatting = good. Silence or whinging = bad.

We popped out onto a quiet back road for a while before plunging back into the bush on a fire road.

After dodging a bunch of four-wheel-drivers we had a little trouble finding a link track. 

Luckily I had downloaded a gps track of the trail but even with that to go on the link was really hard to find. Once we found it though it proved to be a very pleasant little section of single track with the odd downed tree that needed skirting around.

This link simply let us cut across the hypotenuse of the fire road network thus saving a little time. We soon met three other mountain bikers who couldn't find the link and had gone the long way. Win!

More good fire trail ensued. While it rolled up and down, there was no whinging so it must have been ok. It passed close to the edge of the escarpment in a few places which provided us with some glimpses over Morton National Park.

We soon came to the fun bit. Griffins fire trail drops off the escarpment something like 500m vertical. Well, not vertical but in a very business-like manner (5.2km). 


The forest changed almost immediately from the typical dry sclerophyll forest that is the Aussie "bush" to something much more tropical like. We liked it!

This was a brake burning descent and my climbing senses were tingling. This happens whenever I ride down a road that is too easy, too steep. 

I have been caught out with some massive climbs over the years shortly after a road tips steeply downhill. But today was meant to be about descents, right? This ride had a 500m net drop, right?

At the bottom of the descent the trail followed Yarrunga Creek. It was a pleasant rolling ride but the increase in temperature here in the valley was noticeable. It had gone from maybe high twenties to almost mid thirties Celsius. Not ideal and Miss 14 started to whine a little.

Griffins Farm turned out to be a nice flat area alongside the creek that would make a great campsite in cooler weather. We checked it out while Miss 14 rested. 
I must pencil in some bikepacking around here.....

Now, there WAS one climb in this ride that the brochure mentioned but it was only 150m (500ft) and one that I thought the kids would have little problem with. The issue was that someone was getting "hangry" and wouldn't do anything about it. "I'm not hungry" was shot back at me when I suggested (several times) that she eat something. Arriving at the creek crossing, where the climb out began, I enforced a sit down rest break to try to restore some equilibrium to a short person because frankly, it was starting to piss me off! 

When you are deep into a ride, self rescue is the only option which I thought I had taught the kids over the last few years. You can't give up because there will only be embarrassment at one's weaknesses if you can't get yourself out of what you have got into..
No folks, I was not happy!

After a respite it was time to get the ugly bit of the ride over and done with. This first entailed crossing the creek and the kids excitement at this bode well for the climb.

That excitement quickly fizzled though. Why is it always hot as hell when you are climbing. No seriously, why does the wind stop and the sun seem to beat down upon you?

The next 1.5km and 500ft of climb were hot (my Garmin said 38C/100F and our progress slowed to a crawl. Well, actually it stopped altogether quite a few times. I ended up pushing Miss 14's bike quite a bit as she could only barley walk up the hill. When I offered the same for Will he said "No, I am going to do this" and wouldn't accept any help. 
Bless his little cotton mtb socks!

Some more sitting seemed to help......

National Parks Dept rangers passed us in a ute and asked if we were ok, had plenty of water. Yes, we sure did. That might have been the problem as the kids were hauling 3 litres each from the start of the ride. They would still have at least half that now and it would be dragging them back but you can't bring too much water with you in Australia!

Eventually we crested the climb and exited the National Park onto Jack's Road. There was much rejoicing!!

The road became a little more civilised now but I think the kids were cooked. I HAD forgotten about their relative lack of fitness. Three weeks of sitting around in the air conditioning since finishing school had turned them into marshmallow. Even the sight of an Echidna crossing the road did little to excite them.

The 13 kilometres from here took about 50 minutes even though they were for at least half of the ride on sealed road. We arrived into a very hot Kangaroo Valley township and headed straight for the pub for a jug or two (or was it three?) of squash(soda) and something to eat.

Despite the whining, the heat and that one bugger of a climb the kids did actually do really well. The ride was a solid  38km(24mi) with 500m climbing but thankfully also 1500m descending.

It is a ride that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the area. In cooler weather it would be a doddle. The views and sights along the way make for a pleasant few hours in the saddle. Maps can be found at the Southern Highlands Visitor Centre in Mittagong or below from Strava.