I'm going to apologise in advance for the lack of pics... was a bit busy though!
But I seem to have skipped to the end...
After the BigHuRT there was much talk about 'what's next'... with various plans being made for Tour Divide, Colarado Trail Race, Arizona Trail Race and a whole bunch of other random bikebacking adventures overseas it was generally agreed that more events at home were a necessity.... even if for no other reason than to train for these iconic overseas races.
Enter Ryan Hawson - he was pretty quick off the mark with the suggestion of an event on the Great Dividing Trail in Victoria. The ride would start in Bendigo and run through Castlemain, Daylesford, Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh then back to Daylesford and finishing in Castlemain. In a fit of enthusiasm and peer pressure I signed up last year and then promptly forgot all about it!
Well, forgot is the wrong word... perhaps failed to engage is a better description? I knew it was on... I had booked flights but I hadn't really gotten into it - studied the route (think I only downloaded it the day or so before the ride!), worked out a 'strategy'... decided what I was going to take etc. Luckily Ryan had posted a little set of cheat notes onto facebook so I entered these in as waypoints on the GPS file and promptly forgot about it.
Luckily Fenz had remembered and this was structured into my programme so at least the legs were ready... and with two weekends on the trot putting in big hours bikepacking I reckoned I'd be able to handle most stuff. Hmmm. Well, at least with a couple of weekends of riding in truly awful weather in NSW would prepare me for a standard weekend in Victoria!
I flew in Melbourne and caught up with Ollie (yes, 2012 TDR winner Ollie Whalley) and Ross Cairns at the airport as we were all getting a lift with Ryan to the Bendigo Bush Cabins where we were staying before the start. Best of all, this was also home to the Bush Pig Inn - awesome. Spending the night before a big ride in a dodgy pub... those weekends riding out of Lithgow were really paying off!
To say the nights sleep was sh*thouse... was probably overstating the comfort - Victoria was in the middle of a heatwave there was a room full of carb loading mountain bikers as well as about 10,000 mosquitos. I remember lying there wondering if anyone would notice if I just slippe dout and started early? Its what Stamstad would have done...
Finally the various alarms went off and it was time to go. Some last minute bike fettling and we were all off for the short ride to Bendigo Train Station and the 'Grand Depart'. the Coles at Bendigo ended up with a hoard of hungry MTB riders scouring the aisles looking for breakfast and trail provisions... my person win was noticing that the cheese and bacon buns had just come out of the oven and then ignoring the protestations of the bakers ('they're too hot!') and scoring some fresh warm brekky!
Finally it was time to depart - BigHuRT in 2012 had 7 brave starters and there were 16 'official starters for GDT 13 - looks like the bikepacking / ultra racing scene in Aust is alive and well! (there were supposed to be 17 but a pre-ride shakedown incident incident involving a sleeping bag, a front wheel and a lengthy hospital stay resulted in a man down before we even started!
Perhaps it was in anticipation of what was to come but the first 2km of neutral start was pretty cruisey - even to the point of when we hit the actual start point it required some prompting for it all to get underway! Probably the most relaxed start to any race I've seen!
Anyway, once we were underway it didn't take long for a couple of groups to form. Ollie, Ross, Ryan and Liam quickly gapped the rest of us and disappeared whilst a second group including the single speeders, Courtney and Beth and a a few others settled in to enjoy the next 380km, behind us was yet another group with the few Cyclocross nutters and others. All in all a fairly typical start to an event.
I rode along pretty happily with the group and managed to survive the suicide overtaking move as one of our number attempted to make an early break and chase down the lead group. At this this point I was feeling pretty good and was really just happy to go with the flow.
The GDT out of Bendigo to Castlemain is pretty amazing - a combination of single and double track that just seemed to go on forever with enough pinches to make it interesting but nothing really to taxing. If this was the GDT ride then how easy was it going to be?
Our little group kept together for the first hour or so but somehow without planning it I found myself alone out front about 1/2 way to Castlemain. Figuring I'd be caught I just kept riding and enjoying the trail. It was pretty amazing riding - mostly double-track following an old water race with the odd steep pinch but easy to ride with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
As the trail got closer to Castlemain the navigation got a bit more difficult - lots of criss-crossing trails and whilst the GPS was stored in the trusty Garmin... sometimes it takes it a couple of hundred meters to work out that you're going the wrong way! Added to this was some nasty thorny bushes (at the time of writing I still have some of these embedded in my knuckles somewhere!) so I was feeling a little frazzled as I rolled into Castlemain.
Still feeling good I just refilled with water and headed out on the trail to Daylesford. This next section of singletrack was a bit of a nightmare - some steeped sections and multiple choices of track that all went roughly the same way. Annoying. Multiple navigation mishaps saw this section take an age and I was pretty glad to be back out on the gravel roads. Although with the gravel came some hills!
I caught Aaron about an hour later and we pretty much rode together all the way into Daylesford - some of the steeped pinches here saw me engage the 'walking' gear on the Sheep and the temperature had climbed well into the mid to high 30's.
After not seeing any obvious 'fast-food' type outlets is Daylesford (apparently it's Australia's Spa capital - lots of lovely looking cafe's but not much in the way of 'feed smelly biker quick' stuff). I found myself at the local Coles and here I caught up with Ryan Hawson (the organiser of this excellent adventure). He wasn't in a good way - a dose of man flu and a bike that refused to change gear had him contemplating pulling out so we chatted a bit while I wolfed down Gatorade, Coke, Choccy Milk and some Baker's Delight Pizzas.
But, if I did have a 'strategy' coming into the event it was to maximise the time on the trail and minimise the time spent stopped in town so despite feeling a little weary (we were over 100km in at this point) I jumped on the bike and headed off into the heat. This was the beginning of the point where some time spent 'engaging' with what the course had to offer would have been useful!
Ryan had noted that we should only count on resupply at the major towns on route as there was little in the way of services between them. Surely I'd be able to get water right? Hmmm. I was carrying two bottles and a 2l Camelbak bladder - surely that was going to be ok for the 80 or so km to Ballarat?
No was the short answer.
The first part of this track was amazing - about 30km on old rail and 4wd track. Heaps of fun and some amazing scenery, The other benefit was that this was mostly in a pretty dense forest which shielded me from the heat of the day. Once out of the forest it was a different story and it got HOT. I passed a toilet block outside of Creswick but figured that I'd get closer to the main part of the town and still had two bottles left and about 40km to go. I reckoned I'd be fine.
Well, not so much. Turns out we pypass the actual town and the combination of tight twisty singletrack and more nav dramas saw the next section of single track (25km or so) take the better part of 2 hours. Adding to this was the heat which hadn;t really dissipated despite it getting late in the day. Luckily as I crossed a major road I saw a house a few hundred meters off route and rode down to beg for water. I suspect they let me refil and get on my way simply to remove the smell from the front yard!
I pulled into Ballarat at around 7:45pm and pretty much ordered the menu from Maccas and gave myself about 45 minutes to eat, give the GPS battery a charge and generally get my head together. I eventually rolled out into the dark at 8:45 or so and once I managed to navigate out of town settled in for a good night stint.
This was a really pleasant part of the ride for me. The heat had come off (although it was still better than 25'!) and the combination of Supernova dynamo light with a backup helmet light (Exposure Diablo Mk4 on low power) meant I could pretty much keep motoring for as long as I wanted. I motored through Buninyong without stopping to sample the delights of the 24hr Service Station and settled in for the long road ride to Bacchus Marsh.
For Tour Divide, my rough plan is to sleep for about 6 hours a day, have a couple of hours in food and resupply and ride for 16 or so. On this schedule I would be looking to bivy at around 11pm or so. Well 11 came and went and I was still on the road and to be honest I was feeling pretty good. Midnight came and went just before I rolled into town. I ended up sitting at a 24hr service station at about 1pm wolfing down a warm(ish) sausage roll and yet more chocolate milk.
Despite the stimulating conversations with the (mostly drunk, stoned or both) people who are at a service station at 1 in the morning... It was time to move on. I was still feeling physically ok - a bit tired but not drastically so and began to think about just riding through the night and keeping on. A quick check of trackleaders revealed that somehow I had passed Ollie and Ross on the road somewhere (they'd bivvied early) although it looked like Justin (another single speed rider) had made some ground.
The town of Bacchus Marsh is pretty much in a depression... big hills no matter which way you go and Ryan had warned us that we'd be climbing more than 1000m in the first 18km out of town. Ouch. By the time I crested the first hill out of town I'd decided that although I was still awake and feeling OK I should probably try and have a bit of sleep - firstly part of this event was TDR shakedown and I was conscious that most of my previous trips hadn't involved camping and the associated process of setting up and breaking camp. Also, while I was feeling good at the moment I wasn't sure how I'd be feeling in another 10 hours or so!
So I stopped. This is not WWSD.
After a fitful three hours I was once again on my way. And I felt like crap.
Despite having plenty of food on hand I really didn't feel like eating and in packing up I seemed to have left my legs back at the campsite. On top of this there were more pinches and pushing of the bike to come. On a positive note I did pass Justin up the road a little - apparently he'd continued on until about 4am. Liam out front hadn't bothered to stop and was powering onto what would be an amazing finishing time of under 26 hours. Machine!
I finally crested the last major part of the climb at about 7:30 or so. I was feeling ok-ish but the dead feeling in my legs hadn't gone away (similar to the feeling after the long day I'd done around Sofala a few weeks ago).
This next section was simultaneously fun and terrifying. About 10km of singletrack cut into the side of a cliff. Not as bad as the Roaring Meg section in Southern Brevet but most of it was less than 1.5m wide and when you've got 800mm wide bars... the margin for error is uncomfortably small. I was pretty slow through here and was just waiting to be caught by the guys behind.
Once off the cliff the soul destroying part of the ride began... back onto the GDT proper and in the valleys around Blackwoods. I was feeling the heat and not really eating like I should have been - added to this was some truly awful hike-a-bike - almost too steep to push... add to this 30+ degree heat, blowflies and general tiredness and I was pretty much over it!
Oh and once again I had forgotten to refill with water.
Justin caught me about 10km from Daylesford and the whole competitive thing took over and I lifted the effort rate and managed to drop him and Will (who had to work and had joined the route in Ballarat) on the way into town. Note to self... playing racer boy on no water in 30+' heat after more than 280km of riding is silly.
I figured that my only hope of holding onto second place was to have a quick stop... so once again into Coles, two Gatorades, a 1.25l bottle of Coke, Large choccy milk and more water and once again I was on the bike and away. Hmmm should have taken notice of the dizzy spell when I stood up. But hey, it was under 60km to go... how long could it take?
Whilst the first 15km was on road... the downside was the baking that was occurring - no shelter and the temperature was climbing to the 40's. Justin and Will caught me about 10km out... I tried to lift but as it turns out Justin was pushing an enormous 38:20 ratio (compared to my 32:20 or so). They quickly disappeared into the distance.
You know when things are going your way it just keeps going but when things go south... it happens all at once? Well my rear tyre finally gave up the ghost and I stopped to put a tube in. Then of course pinch flatted at the bottom of a downhill section. Yup. I decided then to just slow down (and preserver my last tube) and just focus on finishing. By now I'd been on the road for more than 10hrs and only eaten about 1/2 a packet of trail mix. Bad. On top of that I was beginning to feel sick when I took on water. Very Bad.
Once again I had chewed through all my water and was relying on finding houses to get water along the way but I just couldn't seem to get enough water in and was constantly thirsty even though I was feeling bloated from the amount I had drunk. On top of this I was cramping very badly (despite copious salt tablets) as I was just loosing electrolyte much faster than I could replenish it.
Ollie came past me with about 10km to go as I dejectedly sat on the side of the track - I'd taken more salt, drunk the last of my water, taken Voltaren and some panadol and was waiting to see if I would start to feel better. Ollie was also in a bad way but was eager to press on... unsure what the terrain had to offer I rested for a little while before continuing.
Well, even in my delirious state this last section was magic - once again we were riding beside an old water race. This was more or less a downhill run that went for over 10km all the way into town. Phenomenal riding... would have been nice to be in a shape to really enjoy it.
It was a very tired singlespeeder that pulled into Castlemain station at about 7pm or so - 36(ish) hours after I started. I ended up in 4th place and the 2nd singlespeed home. An amazing ride and as I've been writing this (and working out what to leave out for the sake of getting something done!) it just gets better. The heatstroke on the second day was awful - I haven't felt that bad on a bike for a very long time but having fought through it I think I learned a bit about riding to one's limits and how to better manage myself.
Gearwise I took:
Drybag Front Rack:
- Integral Designs Bugaboo eVent Bivy
- Mountain Hardware 2'c sleeping bag
- Kylmite X-Frame sleeping mat
- Camelbak Unbottle 2l
Drybag Rear Rack:
- Spare tube
- Kathmandu wool long sleeve shirt
- Kathmandu nylon long pants
- spare drive belt
- first aid kit
- spare knicks, jersey and socks
- arm and knee warmers
- Sawyer water filter
Revelate Feedbags * 2 (bars):
- athsma medication
Revelate Gas Tank (top tube):
- Powermonkey Battery
- More food
- Leatherman knife
- puncture repair kit
- panadol / voltaren / salt tablets
- charge cords
- USB charger
Tyres: Maxxis Aspens - these were a pretty good choice and I didn't feel I was lacking for traction on the climbs and they rolled very well. The downside is that they are a bit 'drift-y' in loose corners but its all pretty predictable.
What would I change?
Well, I waz using this as a TDR shakedown and the above is pretty much my TDR kit. Liam was pretty much equipped for a long day ride. The only thing I went into the rear drybag for was a tube and as far as sleeping kit goes I didn't use the sleeping bag. That's probably about 2-3kg of gear that I was carting about and didn't use.
If I was to race this again than my plan would be a no-sleep strategy and only carry an emergency shelter. Also, I think pushing through the night when it was cool and then planning to rest a bit in the heat of the day would have been a lot smarter!
But overall, I had a ball and really enjoyed myself out there.
Ryan and his mapping partner are to be commended for putting on a truly excellent event - there were 17 starters and I think about 12 finishers but even those who pulled out had a great time. It just goes to show that you don't need large formal events to get out and have a great time - with the appropriate sense of adventure, a GPS and some gear you can get out and have a truly great weekend and the whole thing including food will cost you less than a single 100km race!
Next event up for me is the Mawson - 900km and less single track... should be a good test!
See you there!