Towards the end of last November – as I was getting back on the bike and starting to ride (very slowly) again, I heard about the Scody High Country Cycling Challenge: based out of Mansfield, it’s a weekend of cycling in the Victorian High Country. The main offering for Saturday was a 165K pedal that included Mt. Buller (16Km of climbing, with a 6% average gradient, & the last Km or so is around 12 ~ 13%).
“Now there’s a good medium term goal” was what I thought at the time. My eldest son, who’ll be 15 in August, said he’d like to have a go too. Perhaps a bit much for a 14 year old, so I entered the Saturday ride, and signed both of us up for Sunday’s 125K roll from Mansfield to Whitfield & back.
Wind the clock forward to the Friday of this weekend just past, and I’m packing the car, collecting my wife & kids and we’re on our way to Mansfield. A buddy decided at the last minute to enter the 100K ride – Mansfield to Mt. Buller and back (he must have known something I didn’t).
Saturday started out a little cooler in the hills than it’s been in recently Melbourne (in other words – I hadn’t packed the right clothing), and there was either fog or low-lying cloud covering everything as we lined up for the grand depart at 8:30 with a few hundred others.
And we’re off!
Mansfield to the bottom of Buller isn’t a tough ride, but it does rise a few hundred metres between Merijig and the entrance gates. I lost David soon after the start (it happens, we’d arranged to meet at the bottom of the mountain and again at the top so I wasn’t troubled) and fell in with a group doing a comfortable pace.
Then my Garmin started playing up. for no obvious reason it would stop recording data at random intervals. I stopped a couple of times to mess about with it, and turning it off and back on seemed to work, but it drove me mad until the ride on Sunday when I simply started ignoring it.
All riders tackling Mt Buller were given a timing chip to attach to their bikes, with sensors at both bottom & top to record everyone’s time. I started the climb feeling OK, but more like a 3 or 4 of Mountains than a King.
The theory of climbing long hills is simple: find the right gear, and work on keeping your cadence as high a possible while not letting your heart rate get out of control. Stay out of the hurt room, keep yourself under control. And unless you’re being paid to race, let that skinny bloke go – no matter how hard you go, he’s still going to beat you. I was doing alright, maybe half way up, in a good rhythm and not too far into the pain box when a group of guys I’d been chatting soon after we left Mansfield went past me. I passed a few people, a few passed me, but this little bunch rolled by chatting – about the politics of Timor Lest.
I know that there are lots of people who ride faster & stronger than me, but come on, politics while pedaling up a mountain? Were they using different gravity to me?
I was almost at the really hard bit (the last few Km) when I started chatting with someone from the Mansfield Mt. Buller Cycling Club. Local knowledge! He didn’t have much advice for me, other than telling me how tough the last section was (I already knew, I’ve done the climb once before) and that his best time for the descent – 16Km – was 16:10, call it a 60Kph average. Now I might not be a brilliant climber, but I’m pretty good at dropping like a stone, so here was a challenge I would get my teeth into.
Did I mention the last section is really though? That I felt like throwing up?
A quick rest at the top, a regroup with David and a few other people I knew who were riding and it was time for the descent. Only one word needed here: FAST. Maybe two: FUN seems an appropriate description too. Water streaming from eyes as I made the best line i could from bend to bend. My Garmin gave out about a third of the way down, but I did manage to record my time for the trip, if not the speed: 19 minutes, and I can see all sorts of places where I could pick up time: the sweepers were easy, it’s the hairpins & blind corners that I need to work on. Maybe 16 and change isn’t as hard as it seems.
The rest of the ride was a slog: I had to make the turnoff to Jameson – 30K away – in just over an hour. That distance on a flat road would be easy. On tired legs (remember the 16K climb?) and up & down road with a headwind made it hard. I spent most of the hour guessing how much further it was (Garmin playing up) and what speed I had to maintain to make it.
At 12:59 I rolled around the corner – made it by a minute!
100 down, 65 to go. One of the challenges of an out & back course (this section was 32K or so each way) when you’re feeling about half past dead is keeping yourself going top the turn. If it’s a loop course you don’t have a choice: you’ve got to ride to the end to get to the end. With an out & back you need to play mind games to keep yourself going, and not turn early.
I struggled for about an hour playing “what’s around the next corner?” and “I wonder what’s over the next hill” but I’d had enough. I didn’t make it to Jameson, I turned for home maybe 10K early. My tail between my legs (not easy on a bike) I rode back towards Mansfield, struggled over the last few hills and back into town.
The beer I had at the Delatite Hotel was exceptional.
After a shower, food that didn’t come out of silver paper and wasn’t in gel form, some clean clothes and another beer I started to feel human again.
I mightn’t have managed the 165K I set out to ride, but I’m still content with the 145 or so that I did ride, and the 2,100m or so of altitude climbed. Yes, just over 2K of UP.
To be continued …. With Sunday’s ride.