January 11, 2012

Episode 10: Mt. Hotham doesn’t get easier, you just go faster

Route: Germantown to Mt. Hotham, return
Distance: 102km
Duration: 4 hours 5 minutes

The views from the Mt. Hotham ascent never get old.

This is the final of three posts about my recent trip to the Victorian Alps. You can read part one here, and part two here. I stayed at Falls Creek courtesy of Quay West Resort & Spa Falls Creek. Thanks to Andy van Bergen and the folks at Quay West and Mirvac for making this trip possible.

I wouldn’t normally do three long rides on consecutive days, but when you’re in the Victorian Alps, you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities. With that in mind last Thursday morning, myself and four others ignored our tired, heavy legs, and attempted the second of the 3 Peaks climbs — Mt. Hotham.

After reluctantly dragging ourselves out of bed, myself, my brother Brendan and the man they call the Donvale Demon headed downstairs for another breakfast at Quay West’s ALTA Restaurant. Like the day before, we had to wait a little longer for breakfast than we might have expected, but once fed, we packed the cars and headed down the mountain.

Our companions from the day before — Matt and Dougie — met us at Germantown and after getting ourselves ready, we rolled out toward Harrietville. I’m not going to lie — my legs were sore after two solid days riding, and those initial kilometres were a rude awakening.

The five of us rolled through some turns in the flatlands between Germantown and the base of Mt. Hotham and before we knew it, the legs were loostened and it was time to start climbing.

Rolling through some turns on the way to the Mt. Hotham climb.

As with the previous day, the five of us decided to climb at our own pace and meet at the Mt. Hotham village. From virtually the first corner, we were spread up and down the road, and it seemed as if all five of us would be riding solo.

Brendan had been suffering with a bit of ITB pain in the days before and he was unsure whether he would be able to summit the climb. I saw him grimacing as we climbed the first corner together and he said he would bail if the pain got too great, heading back to car and back to Melbourne to be ready for work the next day.

After losing Brendan (“I’ll text you if I head back to the car”) I found myself riding alone for at least 5km. I was feeling surprisingly good, despite the efforts of the previous days, and I had found a steady, comfortable rhythm.

A few kilometres later, Matt and Dougie bridged the gap and the three of us ended up riding most of the climb together. It was great to catch up with those guys and have more of a chat. Dougie and I spent some time talking about an impromptu training ride he did a while back — Sydney to Melbourne, solo.

Apparently he booked the flight just two days before jetting off, got to Sydney and then just rode south, averaging 180km a day. He stayed in pubs, ate a truckload of food, and rode some amazing-sounding roads, including the Macquarie Pass, roughly 100km south west of Sydney.

The idea of setting off an adventure like that has all kinds of appeal (right Nick?) and it’s something I’d love to do at some point.

Starting the final third of the Mt. Hotham climb.

Where the two previous days in the Alps had provided opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of weather, Thursday’s was somewhere in the middle. Not too hot, not too cold, clear blue sky and barely a breath of wind around. It really was perfect weather for cycling and after the previous two days, we appreciated it even more.

Matt, Dougie and I rode together throughout the false-flat section and into the final third of the climb — the most challenging section. As we hit the dreaded CRB Hill, our little group split up and from then on it was just a matter of survival.

It’s a Greg LeMond quote that I’ve used many times on this blog before, but I think it’s worthwhile repeating: ‘It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.’

I think this phrase is particularly relevant for Mt. Hotham — it’s a mountain that makes you work hard for just about every pedal stroke (middle third excepted) and regardless of how fit you are, Hotham will make you hurt. CRB Hill is a painful grindfest but for mine, the Diamantina — the final rise before the summit — is harder. It just seems to go on and on and on, at a gradient that forces you into survival grind mode.

But I got through it and, proving Mr LeMond’s theory, I managed to take more than 10 minutes off my Hotham PB — a time of 1 hour 55 minutes, according to this Strava segment.

I wasn’t waiting at the Mt. Hotham village long before Matt and Dougie rolled in and then, to my pleasant surprise, so did Brendan. I was sure he was going to abandon the climb after the trouble he’d had in the early parts of the climb, but the painkillers he took seemed to work and he got through it fine, notching up an 8-minute PB in the process.

While we waited for the Donvale Demon to finish the climb, the four of us headed down the road to The General for a bite to eat. I left a message for the Demon but when I went inside the pub my phone lost signal and when I next spoke to him, he was on his way back down the mountain. He had made it to the top just fine, but was keen to get a headstart on the group — he didn’t want to be last on the road on the descent as well as the climb.

I feel like the Donvale Demon deserves a fair bit of credit at this point. He only took up cycling six months ago, and has thrown himself head first into a 3 Peaks attempt. His first experience in the mountains wasn’t all that positive but he’s persevered in a way that’s truly inspiring. I hope he decides to write something about his three days in the Alps – I reckon it would make for a pretty great read.

If he continues the way he’s going, he’s set to prove a bunch of people wrong come March 11.

Matt starting the Mt. Hotham descent.

With the news that the Demon was on the descent, the four of us saddled up and rolled out. We thought we might catch him on the way down and as we swept around each corner, I expected to see him. But even by the time we got to Harrietville the Donvale Demon was nowhere to be seen.

As the road flattened out and we got started on the final 20km of our time in the Alps, I was sure we would catch him before the car. Matt and Dougie rolled through some epic turns at the front and Brendan and I did our best just to hang on. I made my way to the front to do a couple of turns but was more than happy to take Matt and Dougie up on their offer to pull us home. Thanks for the lift guys!

But even sitting above 38km/h for 20km wasn’t enough to catch the Demon who had time-trialled his way back to the car in style.

Tired, hungry but satisfied, the five of us sat on the grass at Germantown and chatted about the rides we’d done together before packing the cars and going our separate ways. Brendan, Matt and Dougie all headed back to Melbourne in preparation for work the following day. The Donvale Demon and I drove back over the Tawonga Gap and up to Falls Creek for our last night at Quay West.

The following morning we got ourselves packed and ready to go and I drove toward Omeo. I wanted to get some photos and other information about the Back of Falls to write up a climb guide. I’ll endeavour to have that published in the coming weeks.

After meeting back at Falls Creek the Demon and I packed the car and made the long, boring drive back to Melbourne, leaving three long, difficult but terrific days of climbing behind us.

The view from our room at Quay West Resort & Spa Falls Creek.

A big thank you to Brendan and the Donvale Demon for joining me throughout the trip and thanks to Matt and Dougie for joining us for two terrific rides. It’s always great to ride with new folks and I enjoyed the extra company.

Thanks to the folks at Quay West Resort & Spa Falls Creek for their hospitality and, in particular, to Laurel in the bar for her service. And of course, thanks to Andy van Bergen for making this trip possible. It was a terrific opportunity and I’m sure I speak for Brendan and the Demon when I say we had a great time.

And finally, thanks to you for reading. If you’ve never been cycling in the Victorian Alps, well, it’s about time you did.

60 days to go …

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2 Comments

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  1. KPD / Jan 13 2012

    Great effort & a great read. Keep it up!

  2. keveddy / Jan 11 2012

    I got some serious mountain jealousy… I was planning on going up Hotham on Sunday, got to the false flat and had to turn around because of apocalyptic storm conditions. Grrr.

    Good job I’m heading back for the Alpine Classic in a couple of weeks, eh? Gonna hammer it again then.

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