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.