Around 6 weeks ago I made my first blog post about a long ride I planned on doing. I wanted to capture some of the information pertaining to the ride and some of the fears that I had. This follow up will describe the ride in detail.
The lead up to the ride did not go as planned. I was not feeling the best for the preceding couple of weeks. It was not anything that came close to resembling man flu, but it was enough that I didn’t want to do any long rides and make it worse. I was still confident though as I had a good ride before feeling off colour and given most of the ride would be mental, I was looking forward to the challenge.
In the last week before the ride I jokingly texted a mate of mine, hereafter referred to as Dazz, “fancy a casual 850km roll?” Given that he had just returned from 6 months working away and had not done any riding, I naturally assumed that the answer would be no. To my surprise, he said yes and the adventure took on a whole new meaning. I have spent many hours riding with… actually no, I have spent many hours slowing Dazz down whilst we were both on bikes. A lot of our training was in the lead up to participating in public events like the Tour Down Under and Amy’s Ride or just casual rolls through the southern Adelaide hills. The opportunity of sharing the adventure with someone who I had ridden with so often in the past was awesome. It also made my wife feel more comfortable knowing that I wouldn’t be alone at night on the country roads. Double win!
The day before we set off was very hectic. We were over in Adelaide for my mum’s birthday and took the opportunity to catch up with numerous friends. I also was able to see Kristof Allegaert as he was taking a break from the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in the heart of Adelaide. By the time we made it back to where we were staying, it was already close to tea and there was still plenty of preparation that had not been completed. The evening thankfully went quite smoothly with no real issues that popped up to add stress to the situation.
Trying to sleep did prove problematic. I was able to get to sleep without too much of an issue; however I kept waking up in a panic thinking that I slept through the alarm. In hindsight it wasn’t too much of a problem and once we started the journey into the unknown and rolled out of the driveway it was no longer an issue.
I find riding to be an amazing way to release stress. It takes me back to when I was a kid and it was my only way of getting anywhere quickly without needing mum or dad to drop me off. I still hold the memories of riding with my friends during my childhood closely. The sense of freedom and adventure, I have never lost them and I hope I never do. The simple pleasure of pedalling away for 10 minutes to get to a friend’s house is no different to pedalling for 2 hours to sit down and chat to someone. The destination may be slightly different, but the journey is the same. The wind in your face, the joy of coasting down a hill, the sights, sounds and smells of nature all contribute to the overall experience.
The early part of the ride was full of anticipation and self-doubt. What were we doing? Would we make it as far as we planned? I didn’t let these fears be known to Dazz, and if he had the same questions, he kept them to himself. I assumed neither of us wanted to be the one who would potentially fill the other with doubt. Doubt is like a cancer on a long ride. It can start out small and in a short amount of time, it can grow to the point where you can’t go on any longer. The more you let it consume you, the more it wins. The key is to not be afraid to have an internal dialogue with yourself, “you’re not ready for this”, “Yes, I am. I rode xx kilometres without any issues only a few weeks ago”. “The wind is too strong” is answered by “No, it isn’t, and I am about to make a turn in a couple of kilometres so it will become a tailwind! Bring it on!” The mind is a powerful thing and the more you keep the negative thoughts in check, the more successful you will be. Not just at long distance cycling, but anything.
The night was warm and dark. The moon was only a small crescent and did little to light our way as we ventured into farming country. I am sure that from a distance our bike lights looked like wandering stars along the black horizon. A couple of times we pulled over and switched our lights off to take in the Milky Way. There is nothing like looking out into the galaxy to put some perspective on the small things that may be troubling you.
Despite the stops, we were making good time and it wasn’t long before we had ridden through the last town before we would get to take a break whilst catching the ferry across the Murray River at Wellington. The stars seemed to not be as prominent against the pitch-black backdrop and I put this down to fatigue starting to set in.
We continued to ride on and I was concerned that we were going a bit too hard. Whilst the heart rate and perceived exertion was where I wanted them to be, I felt that we were writing cheques that would have to eventually be cashed. I also was a bit disappointed to only have drunk one bottle of water after 3 hours of riding. I normally get through a bottle an hour, if not more, given I am a sweaty kind of guy. The lack of fluid intake has been my downfall many times before, and is an indicator that I was not focussed and working harder than I should have been.
The first signs of daylight started to appear on the horizon and it wasn’t long before there was enough light to make out the clouds that had been responsible for shielding us from the wonder of the Milky Way. The blackened clouds speckled across the ever-lightening sky looked similar to the markings on some of the cows we passed. At least we could now notice the livestock, which had probably been wondering what the bright lights were silently roaming along the road mere metres from the fence that separated them from the noisy trucks that usually traversed the plains.
We made it to Wellington and the ferry had just docked, so we lost little time in boarding. I sent a message to my wife and took a couple of photos and savoured the cooler air. It was only another 10 kilometres or so before we would make it to Tailem Bend for breakfast. I was looking forward to it as I had now finished both bottles and with the daylight feeling warmer with each pedal stroke, I needed to replenish my stocks sooner rather than later.
We pulled into the roadhouse and set about getting some breakfast. Dazz was feeling a bit off colour and started the process for getting picked up ahead of schedule. Given he had done only a couple of short rides after returning from his travels, riding a hundred kilometres was a good showing. I had planned the ride expecting to be alone for the whole journey, so having him there was a definite positive for me. We grabbed a good feed and set about riding to meet Dazz’s wife a couple of towns away. She made good time and actually met us ahead of the planned pick up point.
As we had stopped a bit longer for breakfast and then for the pick up, I was now quite a bit behind schedule. I arranged to meet my wife at Coonalpyn for lunch. I had recalculated where we would be crossing paths and let her know that whoever made it there first would wait for the other one before sitting down for lunch. I actually thought she would pass me about 10 kilometres before I made it to town, so set myself a challenge to reduce the crossover point by as much as I could. I actually rode quite well, whilst still feeling like I had plenty in reserve and made it to the township ahead of her. Whilst this can be seen as a bit of a success, due to the delays and constant headwind, I was still a couple of towns short of where we originally planned on meeting for lunch. If I felt good I could try and make up some more time once I got going again.
Following the welcome break for lunch, I promptly set about trying to get into a rhythm without pushing too hard. The day was getting warmer so I decided to stop at every opportunity to refill my bottles, as I had noticed a couple of smaller towns that the highway passed through did not have any shops open. As I hadn’t prepared for filling up with potentially unclean water from a random tap, and this was my first long distance cycling attempt, I was happy to take the time to get bottled water to guarantee that an upset stomach wouldn’t cause the end of the adventure.
After scoping the back route between Kingston and Edenhope and deciding that the route was too unsafe for my liking, I decided to ride along the Dukes Highway, which is the main route between Adelaide and Melbourne. The road had been busy most of the morning but now the traffic had greatly reduced. I did not have one issue as I rode along on the wide shoulder. Given the quality of the road, cars and trucks had plenty of room to give me a wide berth.
Riding along the shoulder requires a great deal of attention. There is a large amount of debris that finds its way into the metre wide bit of bitumen that rarely sees a vehicle. It could be the remnants of an animal that was in the wrong place at the wrong time or bits of metal that separated from truck tyres at 100 kph, leaving sharp tyre destroying ammunition waiting for the right time to cause mayhem.
There were a number of times I found myself slowing down so that I could move into the main driving lane to avoid a major chunk of debris. I began to look forward to being able to venture into the driving lane. The advantage of being in the through lane is that the road surface is so smooth. The millions of kilograms of vehicle weight helps smooth out the tiny gaps of the rough chip seal that is preferred when constructing country roads. Unfortunately the shoulder, due to the lack of heavy vehicle traffic, is effectively brand new in comparison. This leaves a road surface which cyclists refer to as being a “dead”. Essentially, you pedal and feel like you go are going nowhere. Moving onto one of the two black channels on the main through lane makes the ride smoother, faster and considerably more enjoyable. However when you are enjoying the benefits of the through lane, you spend so much time looking in your mirror, worrying about traffic coming up from behind, that it detracts from the enjoyment of the ride. There were also a couple of times that I needed to move into the shoulder, not because of the traffic from behind, but because there were vehicles conducting overtaking manoeuvres ahead.
At the next town I pulled into the service station and took a good break. I was starting to feel the heat and the effort from the day. I knew that to continue on and get through the last 5 hours of riding I would need a good feed and to refill both of my bottles. I bought myself an orange juice, coke, packets of chips and an icy pole. They were all gone in no time at all and it wasn’t long before I was back on the bike. The wind had dropped a bit so I kept pushing on, hoping to reduce the amount of time it would take to get to the second last stop for the day.
The sky was starting to change and it was only a couple of hours before it would be sunset. I am not sure what it was, but it was around this time that I started to fall in a metaphorical hole. I was riding along at a similar effort but noticed my speed and heart rate start to drop. I had an energy gel and a piece of fruitcake and waited for them to kick in. After about 20 minutes of riding at a lower effort, the situation hadn’t improved. I have had this feeling a few times in the past and was always able to get an additional kick from a small feed. I took a no-doz hoping that this would help.
My shadow grew longer in front of me as the sun was getting lower in the sky. Unfortunately the shadows were an impending sign of the end. Not only the end of the day with the coming night, but also the end of my ride. I was at a loss to work out what I could do to improve my situation. I could feel my forearms and lower legs start to feel cold, despite still putting in a decent effort. To be honest I was probably looking at my Garmin a bit too much, as I was working harder than I probably should have been. Perhaps having a big meal at Bordertown would give me the kick I needed.
I knew Bordertown was close as the pavement started to rise and the trees that surround the final kink in the road before hitting the town grew larger in front of me. The shadows cast by the trees made the air considerably cooler and I was looking forward to getting into any restaurant to get out of the cooling afternoon air and fill up on some food. I was still undecided about whether I could continue on after not feeling any better as I got closer to Bordertown.
I went into the local Italian restaurant to grab a pizza and a drink, well a couple of drinks actually. I couldn’t decide on lemonade or coke, so just got both! I texted my wife and let her know how I was feeling and that I would be a bit slower for the rest of the ride, which meant I would still be at least four to five hours away. She offered to come and pick me up and I was torn. I desperately wanted to ride the whole way. If I did I could always wake up tomorrow and make a decision on whether I continued the whole way to Melbourne. If however I pulled out now, that would be it. There would be no point in riding tomorrow. However, if I rode on and then got worse, I may be in an area with no phone reception and would be essentially stuck, crawling along until I made it to Edenhope. The roads moved from being a main highway with regular traffic going past, to backcountry roads where there would likely be no or little traffic at all. Good for not getting hit by a car, but bad for being able to signal for help if it was required. I relented and took my wife up on the offer of being picked up. I knew before reaching Bordertown that this was the likely outcome, but admitting it to myself still was not easy. We would both head off toward each other along the same road and wherever we crossed paths, well that would be the end of my ride.
I managed to get through my pizza and also drink the 1.2 litres of soft drink, if this didn’t make me feel better nothing would! Given the end of the day was close and the weather was noticeably cooler, I put on my gilet and got moving. The roads were noticeably skinnier with no verge available. It was these types of roads, which made me change my plans and head along the main highway. The advantage of the back roads is that there are only a handful of cars that pass me. The disadvantage is that there is nowhere to go except the dirt if they look like they are going to pass a bit too close.
I could see the sun setting between the trees. I had ridden further than I ever had before and I knew it, both from a physical and psychological perspective. I knew the day would soon be coming to an end and despite not having much left to give (I still couldn’t get my heart rate up despite the perceived effort), I was saddened. I had let a few people know about the ride and was disappointed to not complete it. Sure, there is valour in trying to complete something, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to just talk about what might have been, but rather about what was. I committed to something that now I would not see through. Even now, three weeks later, I am still disappointed in the fact I did not ride the whole way. I have taken plenty of positives from the ride, which will help me when I set off on my next adventure. The same mistakes won’t happen again and that will only help me in completing the next challenge I set. However in the end there is the little ride between Adelaide and Melbourne that for now will be put aside, but before the end of 2017 will need to be completed.