There is nothing like waking to the sounds of a branch breaking to startle you from your slumber. At least that's what I thought it was. I looked around to see two humps in the bunk. The oil heater had dried most of the kit after it's scrub in the shower the night previous.
I peeled back the drapes to reveal a truly perfect day. A bright blue cloudless ceiling outside. Pulled the bibs over the shoulders, zippered to half mast and walked in just socks to the General Store for breakfast. I ordered my standard breakfast of everything on the menu with cheese. Today was a big day, and the first 80km was all dirt, a solid 45km of climbing without points for refuelling - at least according to the map. There is a small fountain of water just short of the top of Mt Skeene. To get to that point in a semi-hydrated state means carrying 4 bidons. It's a solid 5 hours in the saddle ascending to the top.
Day one was a good ride. Today's effort eclipses yesterday like the moon does the sun.
If you care to add an extra element of 'epic' press play and read on.
It was about 8am. I sat in the sun on the park bench of Gerrans Reserve waiting for John and Dan. The sun was like an extra layer of warmth and where you'd otherwise pull on your arm warmers, the radiance was enough to keep the chill off. 2 minutes down the road and I knew we'd already have a sweat on so they stayed in the bag.
Along the first section of dirt the traverse is lumpy. Galahs, black and sulfur crested cockatoos, kookaburras all flew by and John was first to spot the mob of Kangaroos staring on at the trio of bikes passing by.
The climbing begins and it doesn't stop. Gradual, then steep. Sandy then rocky.
At this point we all 'ride our own race'.
According to Bryton this was a HC (Hors Category) ride. Anyone who has covered the distance would concur.
John and I both were riding 10kg tractors in comparison to Dan's featherweight cross bike - now with even lighter handbuilt stans/alchemy wheels. Alloy wheels also meant he could slow on the descents without fisting the levers.
I was tapping out a steady turn of the pedals and figured Dan would be sometime behind. Afterall he doesn't get time to ride or commute. Of the three of us he was the most ill prepared physically - but without making a whisper he rolls alongside to match tempos. Unbelievable. Can't even imagine how fast he was uphill in his prime. He may have never beaten Cadel in a MTB race, but he musn't have been far off.
We got talking about how long John might be behind us. Dan and I knew we had a break ahead of us where we could stop and refill. There was that section, then the other bit, a flattish section, then up and across a ridge, another deviation all mapped in our head. John did not have this mental map, and that taxing of the unknown might have been part of the reason he was lagging a little. In the distance what looked like a rat skittled along the road and stopped. We approached and it sat in the shade. On closer inspection - a bilby! Another first.
Finally the last and roughest section before water appeared. The road is rutted and reminded me of technical climbs on the Yarra trails. It washes off any speed you had and is a bumpy slog. We sat in the shade, pulled on every garment in our packs and waited.
I knew for certain John would be stopping to take photos along the way. Had he not have been on board I would have stopped and taken more of my own, but since he was I let my eyes be the lens and my memory the film.
We waited some more. I took a few photos and in the spirit of the original Woods Point ride, we made sure John would have a warm welcome when he did arrive. It couldn't be that much longer.
45 minutes later he came into the distant and I shouted out to him that water beckoned. He had some metal in his ears and couldn't hear a thing, saying it helped put me in a good state of mind for the climb. He was muscling the bike up the hill, then he hit the rocky section and nearly came to a halt. Our impromptu road sign had the right effect and he started laughing. I had intended to hide in the bushes and jump out but felt it might not be in the spirit, or misinterpreted if he was struggling.
After another few minutes, munching and drinking to replenish the stores we set off again, with the steepest and now hottest section ahead. It really kicks up all the way to the top, and the lookout isn't even the true top.
Not fully spent, but it was a sharp reminder that this day is truly adventurous. John got his salty nuts out and shared them around. Still a long way to ride to Licola where it is still another 90km+ of a bitumen rollercoaster.
Here's a great rear view of the descent I double pinch flatted on last time. It has quickly become one of my favourite parts of Victoria.
Step into my office.
If you look closely at the bottom of the shot above you can see the glistening of dew from the clouds which were laying on the mountain top earlier.
For the sticklers, the GPS said we were at a maximum elevation of 1563m at this point. Unlike the GPS capability of mobile phones which use network triangulation (which if you are a Vodafone user like myself is like breasts on a bull), the BRYTON has a geniune GPS whatsit inside. I'm sure Garmins have something similiar. The unit calculates altitude using barometric pressure which would explain variances while you are riding along the flat. GPS' are a great reference tool, but not one to live and die by.
Time check wasn't favourable. We had a lot of ground to cover and to make the pub in time for dinner we had to make the General Store in Licola before close. No lunch would create a chain reaction of moaning and a lot of groaning from more than just the stomach.
Some lessons take longer to learn. I eased off the anchors and let the machine gather speed trying to float over the rough stuff ala Hale style. No good. Rocky patch. Pssssssss. Down to no more spare tubes. After a lightening change and more trepidation we continued on the descent.
The route takes you through a goregous patch of rainforest with a canopy of ferns, then becomes exposed again an is a series of rollers which sap the stores. Officially, we were all starting to feel the day in the legs. In the distance was a black object. 'FARCK - see that!' Then it moved. The infamous mountain cat?! Surely not.
As we got closer it moved across the road and revealed itself to be a calf. False alarm, but it still got the adrenalin going. The descent to Licola has to be one of the best in the world and it was nigh. 17km in total, the top half unsealed, the bottom half is like a waterslide with washing liquid thrown on it. There was discussion about when exactly the general store in Licola closed. 3.30 or 4? Either way we were cutting it super fine to make it for 4pm. I'm a fan of descending full tilt as is UpDave and said I'd get there with what speed I could. The wind sweeps over the exposed parts of the mountain from the valley below and was belting us around, and the majority on inside turns are banked like a velodrome. Don't even touch the brakes, just lean in and rail it. The bottom section is less steep and more like the bends of the Great Ocean Road. A massive brown snake crossed the road in front of me and then into the long grass, and as much as I wanted to stop and check it out I knew time was definitely against us. Hammer on!
As I rolled up to the store the owner was pulling in the A-frame sign. 'We are closing love' - I told her two hungry men were just behind me and convinced her to stay open for another minute. If we didn't get food here it would be a painfully slow ride to Rosedale. It had been a slow day at the General Store and something told me the owner wasn't in the mood for a late afternoon rush. After all, this is Licola. I put on my best please and thank you's and ordered for all of us.
Microwaved pies, chips and candy with coke. Even a bourbon for Dan. Lunch of Kings.
We sat in the shade for sometime and digested lunch and what had happened to this point. To say we would have been stuffed if the store was closed would be an understatement.
If you only rode from Licola to Rosedale it would be a highly enjoyable ride. The wind was now a southerly and a strong one at that making it slightly less enjoyable. Again, Dan and I knew what lay ahead. A series of climbs and descents of a few kilometres in length, then more of them. Last time UpDave said the last 90km was more or less flat, and it is - when compared to the Himalayas.
The big fella was starting to hurt now. He'd been talking up a few of his past rides and his tour, but this one was was putting some perspective on them. Since he wasn't crying it was appropriate to heckle him as he layed on the tar like a lizard. We crested the top , then down again, and then along the valley encountering a massive monitor lizard. Unfortunately it had been killed on the road.
Whatever John ate for lunch kicked in, and he put in a brief spurt of speed. I shook my head and looked at Dan. 'He's going to pay for that'.
It's not small secret that I'm a fan of going as fast as I can downhill, which is why I like climbing. Physics demands the dividend of a slog uphill is something of equal altitude loss, but at three times the speed. So it was that on the final twister of the day John had rolled off ahead and I just 'had' to reel him in and fly past in an aero tuck. John didn't know I was approaching and took the bend W I D E. My eyeballs peeled back and I screamed 'P R O L L Y !' and got more than a handful of brake, locking the rear and flipping the bike up and then sideways. A plume of rubber surely is what Dan tasted on his way down as well as watching the visual of a near spectacular high speed dismount. I snuck around John's side and continued down to the bottom and 'slowly' back up the other side. By this time my heart had crawled somewhere just below the tonsils.
The climbing was done for the most part. Scoffing an entire packet of sour worms at lunch had caught up with me, and the adrenalin from the close shave had worn off. I was flat as a tack as illustrated below.
Our new problem was having a meal other than beer and potato chips at the pub. We decided to call in advance to see when the kitchen closed. Fortunately Dan had reception but directory assistance didn't have the pubs number.
We rolled turns all the way to Heyfield and got word that the pub would keep the kitchen open for us no matter when we rolled in. With a massive sigh of relief we eased off the pedals and enjoyed the final hour of golden light. Both John and I wanted to stop in our minds, but all three of us were heavily taxed and getting to the endpoint and the first beer was of highest priority.
The Princess Hwy appeared, we turned onto it and down into Rosedale. In the distance was the pub and the speed had miraculously increased, like horses bolting for home. I knew what was coming. Prolly was sitting in anticipating or so we thought, Dan made the first semi-attack and I followed with an all out effort - the sprinting for signs had begun.
It was just after 9pm. We were greeted at Rosedale's Hotel by a large man in a flat cap with a euro accent. First the drinks. Two radler pints barely touched the sides.
Lambros, our Greek host gave us a run down on the menu. 'Tonight, my wife will cook for you.' This could go either way I thought. 'She will make you a salad. Egg, cucumber, carrot. You like meat?' Three nods. 'So, she will make for you some pork, beef, and sausage, maybe some mash potato and fried rice' Lots of head shaking. 'You boys go upstairs take shower, and when you come back it will be ready'.
The hotel really has to been seen to be believed. All the walls are purple, the decor is hilarious and the hospitality as warm as an open fire. The shower has hot and the pressure was good. We all had our own room, cleaned up and went back downstairs.
This part of the spread that lay before us. Vegetables taken straight from the garden out back. When our host discovered John was from Texas he asked 'Texas? You like country music?' and before we knew it the jukebox was on with some boot tapping tunes.
Great food and musing over what a ride it had been was the perfect end. We closed our doors behind us and hit the hay for another big dusty day in the saddle.
Or so I thought.
I woke up, got dressed and walked down the hall to wake John. He hadn't slept at all. He'd been doing intervals of the bowel variety. He wasn't crippled like Scooter was from the Cannonball due to food poisoning, but he wasn't in any shape to continue.
That draws this story to an unexpected close but I know John will be back for more. Once you get a taste for days like this, it's hard to go without. In fact I hear he's off on a long ride this weekend as we speak. Lucky bugger.
If you made it this far, thanks for stopping by to read the story and thanks to John for the imagery.
Ride safe / Get dirty.