Inverloch – the E280.

Greatness is a road leading towards the unknown. – Charles de Gaulle.

Yesterday I managed to do what I had previously feared I would be unable to do.  Today I feel pretty good about it!

Yesterday was the Annual Ridewiser Enduro 280 km challenge, from Mordialloc to Inverloch and back again, which has been the focus of some intensive last minute training for me over the last few weeks.  280km was further than I have taken a bike in a single day, so the distance itself was daunting.  Avoiding the main roads as much as possible the route took in many secondary and tertiary back roads, including several sections of dirt and gravel.  Here’s the route: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/84626623/

But equally as daunting as the route and the distance is the company I would be keeping.  This ride is pitched at A and B grade club racers only, and the pace would surely be on from the start.  Would I keep up, or would I get spat out the back and ignominiously scooped up by the sag wagon?  I was apprehensive. I’ve wanted to do this ride for the last three or four years.  Perhaps I’d have been keen to do it earlier than that, but I hadn’t heard of it, and the way I was riding back then I wasn’t about to get invited.  This year, for the first time, desire and timetable came together perfectly, and I registered about a month ago.

We met for a coffee and a pre-ride briefing at cafe in Mordialloc.  But even before the briefing there had been comprehensive ride notes emailed out.  Crowie has done this a lot of times, and there can’t be many people out there in the wide world that know how to organise a ride like this better than him.  This was seriously well planned, down to every last detail.

Mr. Robert Crowe OAM: cyclist - and loving it!

With the coffee fix taken care of and the last minute instructions delivered, we were off.  A gentle roll from Mordi down to Seaford to warm the legs up, and then a left turn.  Once away from the oh-so-familiar Beach road the pace started to pick up just a bit.  From Seaford there followed a bewildering sequence of twists and turns, as we left the main roads behind us.   And soon the gravel sectors began.

That's me, having a blast on the clay.

Some were just small sections of roadworks along a straight section of bitumen, but others were full-on dirt roads.  Some clay, some loose road metal, and I think we hit just about all of them at 40km/h, and when you hit the loose stuff at that speed, here’s what happens:

All the lights go on!  Every nerve in your body goes to full alert, and every ounce of concentration goes to the business at hand.  The handle bars are shaking like a jackhammer in your hands, the wheels are dancing across the road, and every tiny drift of gravel threatens to turn your world upside down.

The first of the flat tyres was there on that first gravel sector.  After that the hits just kept on coming.  Flat after flat claimed rider after rider, and both the Sag Wagon and the motor bike riding support were working overtime swapping out wheels or helping with tube changes, and bringing riders back to the bunch.   A few riders left some tiny bits of skin on some of those dirt roads, but none so bad that they couldn’t keep riding.

Closing in on Inverloch we turned left for the biggest climb of the day, up to the top of a hill called Krowera.  Seven or so kilometers of mostly up.  If they  were giving out KOM points down to 4th place, then I’d have scored!  What we didn’t realise as we topped the summit was that more skin had been lost on the road behind us, and we sat and waited for five or ten minutes before the back markers came through.

Waiting at Krowera summit.

My own flat came a little later, just near the end of the last gravel sector.  A frantic tyre change followed, and then the  long haul back to the bunch.  I was joined by one other rider for the chase. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn (my fault) and we added a short sharp climb and an extra kilometre or so to the chase.  Even when the motor bike finally found us to pace us back there was no way we would catch the bunch before the lunch stop at Inverloch.

A note about motor pacing:

It is awesome.  It is like heroin on a bike, and I want more.   You sit behind the motor bike, protected from the wind, cranking along at 50+ km/h, and it feels nearly effortless.  Unfortunately, sitting behind the guy behind the motor bike isn’t so great, and it’s easy to drop off the back if you’re not careful.  And damn near impossible to catch back on if the nice man on the motor bike doesn’t slow down for a moment.  I’ve never experienced this before, and I didn’t realise how hard it was for the rider behind to stick to your wheel when you’re floating along behind the motor bike.

The two of us and the motor bike arrived in Inverloch sometime after the bunch.  No-one would give us a straight answer as to exactly how long that ‘sometime’ was.   Oooh, about half an hour was about the best response I could get.  Couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, surely!

Lunch was great, but even greater was a fresh change of clothes.  Of with the sweaty stuff, on with the clean, dry lemon-ie fresh stuff and it could have been the start of a ride, not the middle of an epic.  Not long out of Inverloch came the last big climb of the day, and it’s one that I’ve done lots of times in years gone by.  I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t seem to be nearly as steep as it was when I first did it five or six years ago, but it’s still a climb.  This time they could have been giving out KOM points down to the first 10 places and I think I’d have missed out.  Blame it on the chase before lunch.  Or lunch.  Or something.

Half way up the last big climb and drifting backwards through the bunch...

Missing out on the KOM points. Bunch? What bunch?

After that it was really just the long road back home.  Sure, there was some good stuff.  The road from Beena to Poowong must be one of the prettiest in that part of the world, and the road from Poowong heading north had its own magic.  But after the 200 km mark I for one started to see less of the scenery, and more of the strange inner workings of my body and mind.

Shoulder cramp.  Ouch – go away.  Thirsty.  Song stuck in my head – get out!  Legs are tired, surely I can’t keep doing this.  I’ll miss my next turn at the front.  Tired, tired, tired.  Sag wagon.  What a seductive thought.  But NO, imagine the disappointment.  Keep pedalling.  Pedalling.  Why am I doing this anyway?  What am I trying to prove, for goodness sake?  And then, just in time, a scheduled rest stop at Koo Wee Rup.  A cold can of soft drink, a bottle of water, a slice of fruit cake and all was well with the world again.  Back on the bike for the last 50 km home.

The support van, and the amazing Leanne.

And so it was, as the shadows lengthened and the long day drew to a close, a couple of dozen cyclists made their orderly way back up Beach Road.  To the casual observer we would have looked just like any other bunch of cyclists, I suppose.  Except that maybe the flashing yellow light on the Ridewiser van might have alerted those passers-by to the fact that we were somehow different.  Not just a group of riders back from a late afternoon cruise down the bay, but a bunch of heroes back from an epic day, doing battle with roads, hills and inner demons.

Or maybe we were just a group of cyclists.

I wonder why we did it?

Happy ending!

Lest you didn’t already sense it from my previous words, I should state this clearly for the record.  This day wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing skills, knowledge and experience of four people:

Crowie, Leanne and the amazing Andy LeLievre on the motor bike.  That’s three.  The fourth is each of the other riders pictured above, behind whose wheel we all sat many times during the day.

It really did happen. Average speed I'm told was 32km/h.

Photo credits:  none of the photos in this post are mine.  Many come from Crowie’s phone, shot over his shoulder as he rides along.  Others have been stolen from the Twitter feeds of fellow riders.  You know who you are.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Spring has sprung « bikenarian

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