Chapter 5: A day of reckoning

The home stretch!

It doesn’t seem to matter what the task over the years, study, planning or just writing, “think at night, do in the day” has always served me best, so the floor of our room had various clothing and riding paraphernalia neatly laid out including a pre-packed and pretested jersey. Barring the fact that I had forgotten my mobile’s code, rendering it useless for the Strava updates, all went to plan, stuffing ourselves with long burning carbs for breakfast and joining the start line by 6.40am.

Very shortly thereafter we were off down Falls in the semi-light, but the “new” bike felt a lot foreign, so being tentative meant even Lloydy was getting away from me as the pros were humming past, cutting corners at 60, 70 and no doubt more. No problem, stay in control, let them go, it’s a long day.

We managed to regroup as we rolled over Fall’s lower crests and valleys, tagging on to a few riders as we went. Mount Beauty came and went and soon we were rising toward the first real test of the day. Tawonga Gap is by no means challenging, it represents pretty much an opportunity to set the rhythm being very similar to climbing Kinglake. Lloydy eased up for me near the top so we could “rest on the bike” down the other side rather than stopping, which saved 15 odd minutes compared to 2011. The fact that the previous attempt had actually been some 30 seconds quicker told me not only was I managing to quell any nerves, but I had clearly gone out a bit hard last time for an average level of fitness.

As always, knowing what lies ahead provides at least some measure of comfort and the plan was to be up and over Buffalo, back on the relative flat by 11.30am. That was until we started the climb some 22 Ks before I had planned.
With plenty of company, off we went and as we neared the half way mark some 10ks in, Lloydy was creeping away again but I had no plans to match his pace, just try to keep him in sight. As the foliage thinned, the day cleared and again the gap narrowed as we scored the second of the Peaks, with only a short cruise to a well earned stretch and much needed water some 94Kms in. Buffalo was clearly no Hotham and the hour or so saving for the 2013 route meant we were tracking extremely well compared to the 13 hour cut-off. On the way down the view was truly worthy of the word awesome but the sun was already burning off any moisture that dared surface and most importantly, the bike was now handling me well.

Had the mobile been functional I expect I would have been bought to tears much earlier by my daughter’s text which read:

“Ok dad you have about an hour and a half to get to the top of this incline, the biggest of the day, after this you get to relax down the other side!! So get up it, just stick to the time you want, and with Lloydy, and you get a bit of a breather on the otherside :) I believe in you 😛 xx ride safe pse. 10.05am

How else was I going to respond to that?

You see, she had some fair idea of what it takes to overcome the mind game having come off on Day 3 of 2011’s Great Vic. ride. She had to coordinated the repair of her bike, on a badly twisted ankle and fronted up for 114Kms the next day, completing it in blazing heat. Hardly Herculean perhaps, but enough to understand.

The legs were feeling it as we headed towards Porepunkah but we managed to
settle into the high 20’s, and the designated lunch spot before 12.00, 120Ks in the bag. With no need for the change of clothes we had forwarded on, it was more water, more food, more stretching and some shade. For 3 Peaks Bicycle Network Victoria had organised a crew of elite riders “The Domestique” to lead out at various time intervals with the “Lantern Rouge” being the last to finish at the 13 hour mark. Kevin, whose face I recognised from one torturous “Tour De Eltham” years earlier was set the 10 hour 30 minutes job, so given we left 15 minutes before his planned departure, we were tracking well ahead.

There comes a moment when your potential ignores the probable and as chance would have it, the 20 odd Ks to Oven saw us tag on to a group of 30 year odds who were punching out a respectable 35kpm on the flat. Buoyed by our time in hand perhaps, (which makes absolutely no logical sense) and a misplaced sense of duty, we started to share the rotating, with Lloydy upping the pace to over 40. Now, with over 100 Kms to go, the last 30 odd up hill, on a day that was well over 30 degrees, the inevitable resulted.
An average of some 37Kph for 19 Ks was to take its toll as we headed East, for the long route back to Mount Beauty.

The first water stop couldn’t come quick enough and half a bottle poured over my head was bone dry in 10 minutes. It was open, bare and blazing, some Garmans reading towards a reflective 50 degrees.

The frustration of pack riding was too much to take with slow down hills and quick ups, so I found a pace that let me make the most of the contours, chopping and changing with small groups along the way.

The first road sign I noticed said “MB50″ and some significant time later as we all started to melt, the next inverted triangle on a post came into view. The thought: “OK, keep going, 40 to go” briefly crossing my mind.
“MB45″. Ssshhhit! Happy Valley Road be buggered!
And on, and on, and on it went, with speeds getting into the teens for extended periods, to which the only response was to suck down another sickly goo to get back over 20kph again.

“Come on dad keep powering through! Don’t stop your momentum you’re doing really well! Just make sure you’re not going at it too hard, the aim isn’t to do it the fastest, just being there at the end is the goal! You can do this! Xx 2.04pm”.

The 4K rise over Rosewhite Gap was a welcome relief, not so much because of the break from monotony, but more due to the fact that the foliage thickened providing some much welcome shade, despite the gradient.

We had bedded down for the weekend at a really homely joint, “The Mogul”‘ high up on Falls and were sharing it with a crew from The Freedom Machine (TFM). It was these legends that had made it their goal to provide unofficial drink stops and support throughout the day. As we cornered one more bend, it was their big green and black van that came into sight, with a dehydrated line trailing back down the slope. Lloydy and I regrouped and pushed over the top, on through the next rest area in the blistering heat, still heading for the start of the Falls climb.

We agreed we would pause for the last time at Mount Beauty, but diverted from the official stop and took up residence on the floor of the air conditioned Caltex Station, Mars Bars and Cokes in hand.

“Wow dad, base of falls at 3:45 is amazing!”.

I decided it was time to dump the rain jacket I’d been unnecessarily carrying for the last 200Kms and we set off after what was probably the biggest stop of the day, to tackle the 3rd. Peak.

“Keep pushing dad, so close now!!! Just the falls incline to go!!! 4:13 PM”.

With the comfort of knowing I had some 4 hours in hand to complete the next 30 Kms, I saw no need to stretch myself, but the pace was solid and again the TFM guys watered us after some 12-15Ks climbing.

A few plateaus and hollows followed before we commenced the last push to the top. One of the true measures of character (or insanity) are those 3 Peaks repeat offenders who seem destined to die on their bikes wearing their “2010, 2011, 2012 Finisher” jerseys, so it was great comfort to gradually edge past one so obsessed, as we forged on. Lloydy had visions of some form of sprint finish but managed to restrain himself once more as the temperature and gentle mist started to fall in the rising altitude. I was happy to grind on at 10-12kph, not tempting fate, despite 2011’s near miss fading to the back of my mind.

A short sharper rise, a few familiar bends, and the village came into view across the ridge. Despite my stated intentions, the pace quickened just a little and we saw our wives and co. cheering us in, side by side.

Whether it was Jamie’s last text, “…you’ll smash it…”, my daughter’s blind coaching, the company on the long training rides or my wife’s and my son’s understanding that I needed and moreover “Wanted” to do this, the support I received over the last 12 months was an enormous inspiration.

At times during the last few months I had the distinct feeling that Lloydy’s commitment and approach was as much about me finishing as him clocking up his 3rd scalp and for that, and the focus and drive it continues to foster in me, in all things, I am extremely grateful.

Would have been nice to complete it on the normal route though!

Chapter 4: Contented?

Perhaps more resigned to the fact that I had cheated the sag wagon and had the chance to share the bitter disappointment with many others.

The Monday I was tired but fine, being driven home by a 17 year old on learner’s plates, it was the Tuesday in the office that frightened me.

I don’t think I have ever experienced such a dramatic low, and hope never to again. I assume it was a combination of emotional and physical exhaustion that led to such a depressed and dysfunctional state that at the simplest task I felt like breaking out in tears. Not pleasant at all.

On waking the next morning it was like I had emerged from quick-sand, a somewhat fantastic creation you have heard of, but never experienced first hand.

Late 2011 In hindsight, I had set myself up to under-achieve, doubting anecdotes, over-emphasising the gradient of hills, setting timeframes with no room for error and just simply not enough training. The training guide was talking 200-300 kms per week regularly, which I chose to read as “100-200 kms should do”, even trying to justify 6 or 7 hours on the mattock and spade as training on one particular weekend.
I knew what was not enough by this stage, and given the commitment that was going to be required, I decided that my daughter’s final year of schooling should take priority, so 2013 it would have to be.

I’ve always found great motivation in keeping my word, so as soon as March came, I started suggesting to fellow FOBs that I needed to train for 12 months and decided “10,000 Ks on the bike and 100 Ks swimming” had a big number ring to it. That coupled with a special BMC gift to myself (courtesy of Peak Bike Hub Heidelberg – PBH) for my 50th and it was time to get truly serious.

Starting with the Otway Classic, ridden in 7 1/2 hours due to a heavy cold, rather than what should have been 5 or 6 hours, I tried to chip away at the big target.
April was still fairly casual, as was May, until I fired up the Garman for the first time and then found Strava.
What a difference a bit of information can make. Not just logging the total, but segment times to compare my best performance with anyone on the same route and more over, cadence was to become my master.

Sharing the data with Hutch one day he described his “sweet-spot” as 94-96 rpm and given my average at this time was in the high 60’s it seemed a little fanciful, but did stretch my comprehension of what it might take given his 2 successful 3 Peaks rides and his dominance on our FOB rides.

June and July were pretty ugly months weather wise but up at 5.45 of a Saturday had now become a ritual and later 5.30 so I could squeeze in a south bound Kew Boulevard before our usual 7.00am Hawthorn start.
There was many a morning where I was joined by only one or 2 others and a few where I was the only silly bastard in the rain. Ian partnered me on a few of these occasions with his very genuine enquiries helping to refocus my efforts on the grand targets.

The problem with good data is it doesn’t lie and it was becoming very clear that I was just not getting in enough Kms despite the weekend consistency so Wednesday morning, often with Dennis, started to get a look-in also.
Trawling the Net for longer rides such as the Great Vic my daughter had completed the year before had not proven too productive and it wasn’t until I read the fourth bullet point on an FPA email (that would normally have gone to Junk) that I first heard of Future 2.

Now at this stage, 8 years into riding, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d ridden 2 days in a row, I just didn’t do it, too many excuses about needing recovery time etc etc and in my defence, plenty of work around the house needing doing. Lloydy (and Nunny) had set the bench mark with Paceline (on behalf of Baker IDI and the Victor Chang Institute) with 8 day rides between state capitals, so 9 Days from Sydney to Melbourne seemed like it just may be a possibility to get the Ks up.

Once again I decided I’d use my word (and peer pressure) to my advantage by asking if any of the FOB’s would like to join me and when Keats said he’d ride the Canberra leg, I had no choice but to sign up. The 2 previous Future 2 Classics had emulated a competitive 1950’s route from Burke to Sydney that Ray Griffen’s dad had completed, all in an effort to raise funds for disadvantaged youth. The 18 of us completing the whole journey, each had a $3000 target and it was only when a few close colleagues offered up some significant support that I started, quite emotionally, to feel the responsibility and faith they were placing in me.

In talking with Ray just to gauge the scale of the event, he suggested my current routine and three or four 150km training rides should be enough so I set about upping the Ks.  A particular August Tuesday sticks in my mind primarily because the forecast sunny 17 degrees was 4 or 5 above the average so I took the opportunity to get some hills in via the Dandenongs and despite an alternate route, ended up in Dandenong itself via Stud Road. On to Frankston it was, via one of the most boring roads I’ve ever ridden, only to be confronted by a seasonal head wind back along the bay that had me down to under 20 kph for much of the way to The Sandbar. An optimistic 3.00pm
finish ended in the dark around 6.00pm, but another 160ks was in the bag.

So I can only recommend the ride, as the Future 2 Classic 2012 was one of the most rewarding experiences you could have on the bike, but the people, their character and the total devotion of the support crew to a great cause was an honour to be part of (see my poem, Wheel Classic No. 3).

Such was the satisfaction in completing the 1200 odd Kms that the first text to Lloydy read that I no longer needed to finish the 3 Peaks ride, bringing an understandable response. Finally the “Need” had given way to “Want”.

Dennis’ Around the Bay No. 10 in a row came and went, as did Kinglake, at a pace I could have only dreamt of 12 months earlier but in the remaining months of the year I did let the momentum slip a little.

Over time there have been a few deliberate but torturous starts to the holidays and coupling the PBH “Tour De Eltham” to a Kinglake ride provided the standard I felt was necessary, just under 1500 metres in 84 odd Kms, twice
between Christmas and New Year. It was clear some time back that I was never going to swim the laps I’d hoped to, so the new measure became 1250 Kms for each of January and February, a theoretical 300km per week.
The Monsaalvat-Kinglake route of a Wednesday and riding most Saturdays and Sundays became the norm, along with plans to target a few weekends away as an opportunity for a bit of variety and that big anchor ride for the week.

Strangely enough it was 2 different Richards that provided great support on each of these 150K+ rides, one an FOB (Nunny) to Maldon and one a tennis team mate to Cape Paterson. In fact I later realised it was tennis Richard that I’d been able to share 3 of the 4 biggest rides with in the last 4 months or so, unexpected, but greatly appreciated.

The weather had become frequently stifling and on returning to the working week Lloydy and I started to squeeze in a few sweaty Kew Boulevards of an evening, getting near to exhaustion on a few occasions. As the process of abuse
continued, with lettuce and tuna for most lunches, the weight started to fall off and given I had no intention of trying to push more than I needed to up the hills I was deliberately doing no work on my upper body so was quite
appreciative of my learned son’s assessment of my “old man arms”.

Soon it was time to start the count-down and “only 3 more weeks” seemed manageable. As had become the catch phrase for my daughter’s final exams, “ride over the top” took on serious meaning as I resisted the desire to slack off from taking hold. Being a little concerned that my regular Kinglakes were no “back of Falls” I’d decided Donna Buang represented a fair challenge, so after a standard 100kms on a Beach Road Saturday I planned the big hill for the Sunday before 3 Peaks. All went well until Saturday’s 95K mark but as I stood on the pedals to pick up the pace nearing home the “hanger” capitulated sending the whole rear “ball-sack” of gearing and cogs into the back spokes, with momentum promptly driving them between the frame and remnants of wheel, fracturing my much prized BMC’s frame.

12 months of training, one week to go and I had no choice but to find another trusty steed, “by gosh what a nuisance” (or something of a slightly less palatable nature) crossed my mind. As luck would have it there was still
enough time to fit an alternative and Lloydy had a spare Colnago lying around (as you do) so I quickly accepted his offer to trial it on Donna Buang. Given we are pretty much the same size it felt very close, but different, so after 18 odd Kms downhill I had no breaking strength left in my hands.
After a quick 20 Kms on the Wednesday, “Sean the bike god of Heidelberg” set about recycling my bars and seat from my box of BMC bits on his shop floor and fitting me to the adapted vehicle. The difference was remarkable, yet again, best described as like riding out of there on your favourite lounge chair.

So that was it, no further plans for last minute cram rides, no nerves, just a dull wait for the long drive to Falls on a hot Saturday. Oh, and a longer ride, on an even hotter Sunday!

Chapter 3: 2 & 1/2 Peaks


It continues to surprise me 2 days later, the range of emotions that you can have during this sort of ride. Starting with that standard early Saturday morning feeling of “have to do” not necessarily “want to do”.

However, we queue jumped beautifully and bought ourselves an extra 25 minutes or so.  I passed Lloydy on the way down Falls in the rain and with intense concentration trying to hold my line under heavy braking around the sodden bends and the last I saw of him (and the others) was 15 minutes later as I took off the jacket for the first of 8 or 10 occasions.

Having driven in through Tawonga Gap, I knew exactly what was in front of us, pretty much Kinglake, give or take.  The guys back at Banool Lodge were tracking our process courtesy of fitted electronics and readers and at some point, it may have been here, I was in theory 30 secs in front of Lloydy & Co.

After training, all I could do was plan for “no surprises”, so the map was my master in the lead up, and told the first lie leading to the start of Hotham, reasonably flat orange section but not totally.

Planned to start Hotham at 10.15 and left Harrietville at 10.07, so on track at this point.
Again the first 18k had its moments, but I didn’t even notice the (short) 11.8% “Meg”.  CPR Hill (or something like that) was appropriately named, after we had given back about 100m it was brutal and with the first stab of a cramp in my quad I decided to joining a walking pommy (not Lloydy) with a gradient reader who said it was 12%, then 13%, for about 500 metres.

Back on the pedals, and with only one more 100m walk and Hotham – the bastard – was done. But it had done plenty to the legs.

I hadn’t quite realized how much emotion I had expended in setting it as my goal, just to get the chance to go down the other side, with the obvious result.

While the concept of down-hill appeals, after 2 hills in the legs, even the gentle rise to Dinner Plain was plenty to drop me below 20ks.

There was talk of Yellow cards at 2.00 if you were still there and Red at 3.00, but I didn’t really care by this stage and just thought of getting to the start of Falls, so I left at 2.08, less about 3kg of
wet jackets, knicks etc.

The next 13ks in 19 minutes was a dream but again, even small hills were a big problem and Lloydy texted me leaving Omeo, just after I had a flat, 13km behind.

The crowds at the stops were thinning, and I noted an increased volume of “sag wagon justification”, as I pumped the repaired tyre from 30 odd to 110psi.

As far as I was concerned the next 30 odd Ks came at little cost, not easy, but it was all a bonus and when asked by a photographer, I guessed there was about 10 people behind me.

I felt the time battle was being lost but this section truly put paid to the unofficial blurb (Lloydy), which suggested “at no point will you be enjoying yourself”.  I’d go back to ride this part alone, 25 degrees, bit of a breeze, open farming land giving way to the classic bubbling brooks over exposed granite, looking down from a notched, fairly flat path into the side of folded green hills… but still only about 25ks max.

Expecting to be stopped at Angler’s Rest, a grumpy cop was telling a Bike Vic bloke the road was to be closed at 7.00 not 7.30 as publicised.  So I asked him what happened if you got half way and he said turn your bike upside down and we will pick you up.  This implied the opposite, but with “1hr 22mins to do 44kms”, including Falls, it was an unlikely equation by this point.

In my mind, with 186k down, 200 was a magic figure so I scooted across a gap filled timber bridge, and made my first mistake, only half a water bottle left.

At 195km expecting to be stopped again, they let me turn up Falls, and I had no misconceptions, 8km at 5 kmph walking, equals about 90 minutes with a bit of luck.  One bloke went about 100m around the first bend and came straight back down. 3 or 4 others were just standing and looking, to which I suggested they start walking, “only 8k of this to go”, and bugger me, they did start.

While a huge frustration to anyone I walk with
casually, my 5.5kmh pace, touching 6 at times was an huge advantage for the
first time in my life, and I would guess I passed more people walking than I
did  in the saddle, but thought I’d try
to bring them back to life with the mandatory, “passing”.

I’d recon I got in and out of the saddle 15 or 20
times, drizzling rain, jacket on and off, but some were walking regardless of
the gradient, and a few in bare feet, with no tops, as a motorbike went past to
say the sag-wagon was 10 minutes behind, I figured the more I passed the longer
it would take them. The worst was out of the way and to his true credit, the bearded
legend on the bike came back again and half filled my water bottle.

At this point, and for the first and only time during
the last 12+hrs I had the fleeting thought that I might actually make it, an
absolute bloody luxury.

from there, any rise and I was below 10ks and myself and one other coasted into
a sea of flashing lights and 60 odd others at Trapyard Gap about 7.40pm, 90% of
the distance and about 300m below the top, but all done and relatively content.

Chapter 2: Getting Serious


Iphoto2 swallow heavily, the allure is there, the mischievous banter has long subsided. Talk is no longer cheap, to stay in the hand, requires commitment and it is made, with abandon, nervously, begrudgingly, full knowing once made there is no reneging.

But let me play that hand for just a while so as to convince the soul and the body of the possibility.

Time triggers the need to prove the lie or realise the truth. 90 days is all that stand between the greatest challenge and the best the challenger can be. Targets are set in times and in sum but how much is enough before the mind will cry enough?

The stare in the mirror is not familiar, what are its origins, where does it hide? But there is a need to prove the limits of the character, to expand the deeds to the incomprehensible of not so long past.

After all, it’s just a bike and few hills (perhaps mountains more correctly), but will they force me from the bike? For if not, the day is mine to choose the pace, and not a soul can decide except for me.

Chapter 1: It’s not about the Peaks!

I remember the first ride vividly. As you would when you’ve sat on a cane lounge in the kitchen, trying to recover for an hour and a half, just concentrating on breathing, unable to rise.

At 42 I’d decided it was time to shape up. Not that tennis, the occasional game of cricket or golf and a few swims over summer had seen me turn to jelly, but there had to be consistency of effort. So when I heard that a good mate Dennis, had been riding on the weekend with a few blokes, and after reading Armstrong’s books on a flight back from a NZ conference for a bit of perspective, bravado got the better of me. I dusted off my old clunker that we had bought as newlyweds some 15 years earlier and thought I’d get it checked over by the local bike shop.  It didn’t take many weeks for me to understand the look of distain on the mechanics face that day, but at the time I thought he was just being arrogant, with a price to match.

Clothing? ” Oh just a tee-shirt” was Dennis’ advice, (on a sub-10 degree May morning mind you), needless to say my fingers were purely for aesthetic value not too long after leaving Hawthorn and at what seemed a hectic pace, my legs were beginning to buckle.  After stopping for me opposite the Royal Brighton Yacht Club, the guys raised my seat some 2 or 3 inches, but by that time the damage was done and given my next memory of the ride to Black Rock is from the couch, I assume I just plodded on for the remainder of the 40kms.

Despite investing in a discounted bike the next Wednesday, it could well have ended shortly thereafter, as with many a resolution, if not for Dennis’ calls of a Friday night, confirming the early torture would continue.

Around the Bay in a Day became the common focus with each of us keeping the other honest over the years and my desire to plan ahead saw the inclusion of a few Kinglake (then Otway) rides to compliment the standard training and longer jaunts to Frankston as the day neared for the FOB’s (Fat Old Bastards).

By 2010 the 8-10 originally riding “the Bay in a day” had peaked then dwindled and while Saturdays and Sundays were still going strong a few were up for a new challenge.

For some of the better riders talk of “3 Peaks” began and when the question was asked, I foolishly thought why not, it’s just another ride.

But then time came to get serious, and one particular evening that December, perhaps too serious I became.