I’ve been living in Darwin for a couple of months now, with the other half having moved up here 6 months prior to that. Whilst I was sad to be leaving behind friends and family in Melbourne, I was excited about starting something new with the knowledge that my old home would never be that far away, and re-visiting my favourite rides would only require a plane trip. I’m now at an age where plenty of friends are getting married, several of whom had booked our presence well before we’d decided to make the big move. And so it was that I found myself purchasing a ticket to Tullamarine for the Anzac Day long weekend, to head to a good mate’s wedding, one I was certainly not going to miss out on due to geography.
The great thing about Hells 500 is the awesome rides that eventuate out of this collective. Sure, you could do any of the same things off your own bat, but I get a real kick of sharing in the fun. And if nothing else, Hells 500 are great at spreading rumours and suspense. As it turned out, the latest bite of torture would be a group HRS effort. The High Rouleurs Society is explained here and I’d completed both the Limit and the Journey on previous occasions. The difference on this occasion was that Andy V B had put a twist to it that had massive appeal to me (and something I had thought about before). A group HRS effort where everyone would start at the same time, in the same location where possible, do separate or group rides anywhere you fancied, with everyone meeting up at a pub afterwards. Cafe breakfast, big fucking ride, beer. Perfect! When I looked at the dates I realised I would be in Melbourne the very same weekend!
Having completed an HRS by the Journey before, I was aware of the challenge that it can present. In fact, I would argue that it is a more difficult undertaking than the Limit. Trying to slot a decent night’s sleep in can be problematic, and riding to a time limit does not afford much time to enjoy long breaks. I haven’t yet written about my first HRS Journey, but I’ll mention here that James and I got a very good sleep overnight, but utilised almost the entire 36 hours to complete the challenge.
And here I found myself contemplating another massive ride, with little time, next to no training and I’d only be giving it a crack because I had a wedding to attend in I’ve the same city. So the scenario was set: 10000vm, 400km, 36 hours, party. Surely there needs to be a new category; one where you do something most of your friends consider rather daft, and somewhere in that crazy challenge, you have to spend time doing something so far removed from that challenge that it baffles everyone you know. I think I’ll call my latest “wederesting”.
Before you start throwing me too many accolades, I did have some rather fortunate circumstances that played in my favour. Flying in on the Friday night, I stayed in Hawthorn – a stone’s throw from the initial met-up. The wedding was in Kallista, in the Dandenongs, and I’d utilised the hills here for a previous HRS ride. On the Saturday night, we stayed at Donna’s cousin’s new place in Belgrave – a 5 minute drive from the wedding venue. And most importantly, Donna’s support made it all possible, doing all the little errands I was too selfish to do myself and making sure that I got to the wedding on time, not dressed in Lycra, and had everything I needed for the ride.
Back to the narrative itself now. On the Saturday morning I rolled mostly downhill to Three Bags Full in Abbotsford. The early chill I did not find in my favour after residing in Darwin for some time already. But riding through familiar surrounds was such a pleasure, even if I had not been gone for very long. Of my cycling friends in Melbourne, I had only told one of my intentions, so I think it was quite a surprise when I entered the regular side entrance of the cafe, with a wry grin on my face, as though it was a regular thing to do, but really wasn’t. Somewhere in all the surprise from all that saw me, I explained that I was in town for a wedding, but would have a bit of a go at an HRS, with no preconceptions about actually succeeding (this is actually true, and I usually have this attitude of all my rides – failure doesn’t matter, and it’s not even really a thing, because regardless, if you’ve tried really hard, you’ll still have completed a great ride).
|Coffee and Grey Stripes|
I’d really missed that cafe – familiar staff who know my name, but I never learned theirs’, great food and amazing coffee. I could easily have passed the whole day drinking coffee, ordering more food, talking shit and drinking more coffee – all with the occasional peak outside to check that bikes are still leaning against the bricks. But it was clear that everyone was charged up for this, and had set out plans far more calculated than my own. And so just after 8am, a large contingent of riders set off from Abbotsford, with varied paths but the same goal.
Some of the rides I have most enjoyed had very little planning other than a vague idea around what the time restraints should be, and a general notion of the route that should be taken. This is the strategy i chose to employ on this particular weekend, and again, it was one of the more enjoyable rides I’ve completed. Splitting from the group at the end of Studley Park Rd, I doubled back to the boulevard and found that I had Jarrod Stonham for company for an hour or so. My initial plan being to lap around the boulevard and side-streets, revisiting the regular routes of RFWYA. Perhaps not an exciting option for Jarrod, but I was pretty stoked to be riding all the little cols again, and found them much more enjoyable at a far more sedate pace than would be consider my normal on a Tuesday morning. Some of the Dutchwell Flyers were employing a like suburban route, so I found myself coming around Nick, Casey and Phil on a couple of occasions, and rode a hill or two with them before setting off elsewhere. I really like this about the challenge of the Journey – you can elect to start and finish at your house, go to your favourite pub, see you family and know what food options will be in the middle of the night – I think this is really fantastic.
Not being entirely sure of what exact route I would take, I was happy enough watching the kilometres and vert creep it’s way up in the inner suburbs, before deciding it would be a fantastic idea to visit some other Hells 500 riders that were not at the cafe that morning, hopefully did not realise I was in Melbourne, and were undertaking a somewhat different challenge at the same time; a traditional everesting in Warrandyte. George, Christian and to my surprise Peter, a rider I’d met on my local bike shop ride, were busy lapping Warrandyte/Kangaroo Ground Rd. This didn’t seem to far out of my way, or too far away from Belgrave, so I headed in that direction. Being back in the green wedge was just as fun for me as the boulevard, but of most note was the exchange when I encountered the riders on their descent. If you’ve ever done an everesting, will hopefully have experienced that moment when a cyclist becomes visible and you wonder if you know who they are. A sherpa may creep up on your shoulder, or you may be squinting into the distance on a descent to try and recognise a helmet, a riding style or a bike. Likewise, as a sherpa, you will spend time trying to find the everester. I had the upper hand on this occasion (although I must admit I didn’t pick Peter descending 200m in front of the others, but did wonder as I’d seen a Lapierre with disc breaks), but George and Christian I identified with enough time to contemplate a safe turn around in the traffic. As I recall it, George began his squint into the distance, trying to work out if I would be someone he knew. I’m not sure if he recognised my face first, or my bike, or my majestic as fuck riding style, but he did make the realisation as he descended past at speed, calling out my name. Reunions like this are just fantastic, and whilst i’m not always great at keeping a surprise a secret, it really is worthwhile when you have these funny moments.
The Warrandyte group were just coming into a 30 minute break, so I utilised the time to get some food and drink in myself. Rolling a quick lap with them, it was time to head onto the “Nongs” to go and get my party on. At this point in time, I realised that I was going to have to ride reasonably quickly to make it as early as I said I would – 2pm seemed reasonable and would allow for a catch up with our host and some lunch – win, win. But by the time I’d made it across to Lilydale, the realisation dawned on me that it would be closer to 3pm by the time I’d be getting stuck into pre-drinks. No good. No good at all. Not only that, but with about 130km in my legs, it was thus far the longest ride I had endured since leaving Melbourne two months prior, and this does not take into consideration the vertical accumulation. It appeared as though riding hills well required you to ride plenty of them, and in Darwin, there are few. I’d estimated it would be sometime well after 3pm that I would make it to Belgrave, and that that would be okay, but to be sure I’d set myself a goal of holding an average of 200 watts up the 1 in 20. I was pretty sure that this would give me an approximate time of 20 minutes up the climb, which turned out to be quite accurate, but the confidence I had that this would be easy to sustain was far from the reality. I have never laboured up that climb in such a fashion – sometimes you are just shit. Making matters worse, when I did reach the top, I was flagging pretty badly, and was in doubt of making it at all. Knocking down some blocs at the top of Sherbrooke Rd sorted me out enough to make my way down the long hill to Belgrave, and fortunately little navigation was required to reach Esther and Dave’s place.
Whilst my climbing legs felt well and truly gone, and my spirit somewhat broken, I was relieved to see that some talents were not entirely bereft of me. Upon entry I was handed a beer, and within 10 minutes had managed to have a shower, comb my hair, put on my suit, eat a slice of pizza, put on my shoes, tie and cufflinks and get into the car for the lift to Kallista. My gosh that beer went down well, and damn I was looking good. With the first excitement of the day over, I took my planned departure of the ride and drank many more beers at the wedding.
Back in bed in Belgrave by midnight, I was unsure as to how I would proceed the next day. I’d covered about 150km and 2500vm – leaving me 250km and 7500vm to complete in 18 hours. And I wanted to sleep. And I wasn’t going to ride drunk… although the thought had crossed my mind. I set an alarm for 4am, but woke at 3am anyway, pfaffed around and was eventually back on the bike some time between 3:30 and 3:45. I’d sobered up and took comfort in the knowledge that 3 hours sleep was far more than the total amount that I’d gotten on the Melbourne to Adelaide ride. Rugged up against the cold, I warmed up with a few slow repeats of the steep Belgrave street I’d stayed the night on (however brief that may have been). Surprising to me, I wasn’t feeling all that bad. Whilst very slow, I wasn’t feeling too tired to ride, and although I hadn’t eaten, the recent celebrations clearly left me with enough carbohydrates to mostly fuel me through the early hours (ahhh, dessert buffet!). Prior to 5am, I’d made ascents of Terry’s Avenue, Mast Gully and Hughes St – 3 rather challenging climbs, 2 of which James and I deliberately avoided on the last HRS.
I had an almost surreal experience ascending Sky High just on dawn. I was now feeling pretty tired, cold and ready for a hot breakfast, but I was pleased to see the gate open and a clearing in the fog to get a view of Melbourne. Not only that, but the cleaner who had obviously opened the gate for an early shift, was also playing Pink Flloyd. It just felt like one of those remarkable moments that you couldn’t plan that well. One last, long, cold descent into Belgrave, and I was inside and warm to the others just waking up at about 7:15. I’d knocked out another 60odd kilometres and happily another 2000 vertical metres. But I was exhausted. An interesting predicament I found myself in. One which I contemplated for at least an hour whilst I ate breakfast and generally wasted time I didn’t have to spare.
Eventually getting back on the bike sometime around 8:30, I realised I’d been riding with a loose headset (assembling your bike when you are tired at the end of a flight is unwise, in my learned opinion). Sorting this out I was aware of more wasted time, but really wanted to keep trying. I’m by no means the most experienced or knowledgeable rider of the Dandenongs, but having completed the second day of the last HRS largely in the area, I knew enough roads to accumulate kilometres and vertical gain without making it too strenuous and hopefully not too boring. I threw in some repeats of Hughes St and variations of the Devil’s Elbow extending back up to Sky High to make efficient work of the remaining target. Jarrod let me know he was heading back out to the nongs to ride with whomever he could find, so I went to tee up with him at the Mt Dandenong Bakery. On route, at the top of the 1 in 20, I bumped into Anthony and Karl (riding separately… it’s so easy to bump into people you know up there), but kept the catchup to a minimum, knowing I had a long way to go. I still had a long way to go, and Anthony remarked that it would be difficult, but if anyone could do it, it was me. I was grateful for his positivism, because at that point I really wasn’t feeling anything like the climber I was when I left Melbourne. Riding with Jarrod for perhaps an hour in the half was the most positive thing for my ride so far. He didn’t push the pace hard, but maintained a speed that I was capable of matching, but up until that point was unwilling to try. Riding the David Hill Road loop and continuing up The Wall on Jarrod’s wheel turned out crucial to success – not only because I started to ride faster, but because I was then more willing to push through the pain of heavy legs.
Jarrod left me without about 4000vm to go over about 120km in about 7.5 hours. The distance would be easy, but we agreed that “repping” would be the most likely way to make it. And I was now mentally ready for this – I’d been saving some climbs for last. Perrins Creek Road and The Crescent are two of the most enjoyable pieces of road to ride in the entire area. They are certainly my favourites, and are suitably inclined for someone of my inclination. And whilst they can be cold and wet, they tend to hold some semblance of warmth throughout the afternoon and I was confident that both would have dry descents. I was correct, and started climbing one after the other, estimating my total vertical gain versus elapsed time for each repetition. As boring as this may sound, I was really enjoying the monotony. The climbs are just that perfect, and when I started to work out that I was on track to finish, I pushed a little harder and was riding at about 600 vertical metres an hour, including the descents. (Looking at my Strava file afterwards confirmed that I was actually able to do some basic calculations despite the fatigue, something I’ve usually struggled with after remaining awake for far too long). I was eating and drinking well, and really cranking out the laps (not KOM cranked laps – but I might tell you about my Crescent experiences another time). I didn’t leave the area until about 6pm when I decided it was getting a bit too cold, I needed some more food and a water refill, and with only 800vm to gain in the last 2 hours, I had it in the bag!
How wrong I was. The next plan was to stuff down some 7/11 treats (an icing sandwich – thanks GP), fill up my bidon (I’d only been carrying the one all day, by the way), and then start lapping side streets around Vermont and Forest Hill. However, whilst the distance was still obviously going to be attained, the vert was suddenly looking like a far-off horizon. Looking intently at my Garmin, and then over my shoulder, I couldn’t help but feel that I was being cheated. Some riders seem to have magic barometers that record every flutter in elevation change. Riding a bike with decent vertical compliance? Fart, and you’ll be good for a couple of metres. As the 36 hour mark approached, well over 400km, I was now very dehydrated after pummelling repeats of whatever streets were giving me more vert for an hour. I looked down at 8:05pm, and truth be told, the Garmin read 9900. Exactly 100m shy of the mark. Fair to say I was deeply frustrated, but also happy that I had done it. To get that close at all was achievement enough for me, and I had some confidence that I had indeed well and truly made the target.
Satisfied that I could now head back to the city, my lower back really started to seize up and every bit of pain in my body made itself aware. I suppose I’d been pushing through what would be sensible, and the lack of conditioning amplified the results. It was most certainly a limp to Temple Brewery. And upon arrival at 9pm, I found a small, motley assortment of riders out of their Lycra, and enjoying the last of the food and the last of the beer! Fuck my life. And I had been looking forward to that beer since the last one had worn off some 18 hours earlier. Next time.