March 21, 2010

The single peak challenge

Route: Falls Creek to Bogong via Bright
Distance: 108.6km
Duration: 4 hours 41 minutes

It’s been two weeks since our attempt at the 3 Peaks Challenge and I’ve had a bit of time to go over the day’s events in my head. I still don’t feel any less disappointed with the outcome than I did on the day but I figured it’s about time I wrote about it.

Sharon and I drove up to Bogong together on the Saturday morning while Brendan and Alice came up a little bit later on. After the 4.5 hour drive Sharon and I checked out the house that we had rented in Bogong and, after a quick inspection, we jumped back in the car and headed up to Falls Creek to get Brendan’s and my registration kits. After a bit of a wander around the event village and some photo opportunities at the Rocky Valley Storage Area we met up with Brendan and Alice who had just arrived.

The hotel that Sharon and I work for just happens to have an associated hotel up at Falls Creek and so the four of us headed there for a 50% off all-you-can-eat pasta buffet. It was a nice relaxing evening at the top of the hill and after we filled ourselves to boiling point we headed down the mountain to Bogong and called it a night.

The next morning Brendan and I woke at about 4:15 and started to get ourselves ready. It had poured down most of the night and as we jumped into the convoy that was heading up the hill there was plenty of thunder and lightning around the place.

We got to the summit of Falls Creek with lightning flashing overhead and rain coming down quite steadily around us. After placing some food in the valet food service for collection at Dinner Plain we climbed up to the marshalling area and waited for the day to begin.

Eventually we rolled out and began the dangerous descent of Falls Creek. The rain overnight had made the road extremely slippery and we saw a few riders come off within the first couple minutes. And then there was me. As I went to change gears, about 5km into the ride, I heard a snapping noise. I looked down and sure enough my gear cable had snapped through and the frayed end was hanging from my handlebars.

At that point I knew I was in trouble but in that situation you just have to find a way to resolve the problem. I saw an official-looking gentleman on a motorbike halfway down the hill and so I asked him what my options were. He suggested that I wait an hour for the sag wagon to take me to the top of the Tawonga Gap where the first aid station was located. I wasn’t too keen to lose an hour so we pushed on in the hope of finding a bike shop open at 7am on a Sunday morning in rural Victoria. Not likely.

At this point it might be worth pointing out that the gear I was stuck in was the smallest one at the back. This meant that I had two gears to work with, a 39×12 and a 50×12.

We eventually reached Mt. Beauty and discovered, unsurprisingly, that there was no bike shop open. We asked one of the locals where the nearest bike shop was and they suggested that it was in Tawonga South, right near the turn-off to the first climb. We pushed up the hill from Mt. Beauty to Tawonga South in search of the fable bike shop but couldn’t find it.

In a ‘what have I got to lose’ moment I just kept going and turned left onto the Tawonga Gap Road. I figured that the aid station was at the top of the hill and that all I needed to do was grind away for half an hour and we would be right.

Well, grind away I did and somehow I managed to make it to the top. While there are a couple of quite-steep sections of the Tawonga Gap climb that were tough in that gear it was just a case of keep turning the pedals over for the most part. If you want to see how ridiculously low my cadence was, you can see a brief glimpse of me in this video. I’m on the left of the screen at the 44 second mark and I’m wearing a fluoro yellow jacket.

When I reached the Tawonga Gap I realised that I had climbed it six minutes faster than when Brendan and I had attempted it two weeks previous. I guess in making sure that I didn’t stop moving, the big gear helped me to create more power and therefore climb faster.

My surprisingly-quicker ascent of the Tawonga Gap was the only real moment of joy in an otherwise miserable day. The ‘aid station’ at the Tawonga Gap – which I had imagined to be fully stocked with a plethora of spare parts – was stocked only with a single mechanic who had a foot pump and some tyre levers. He suggested that we head into Bright to get the gear cable fixed.

The weather had been cool but dry during the ascent but as soon as we headed down toward Bright the weather became atrocious. The fabulous descent was turned into a crawl in order to stop ourselves from crashing out on the wet and very slippery road. Not everyone was as cautious and several people tasted dirt.

We got to Germantown soaked through and turned right to the surprise of the volunteers at the corner. We explained that we needed to head into town for some repairs and they let us through. We headed straight to the bike shop on Bright’s main street and explained the problem. With the 5km detour we had taken to get to Bright we were in need of a quick repair but it wasn’t to be.

It turns out that braking in the wet weather had eroded my brake pads rather quicker than I would have liked and they needed to be replaced as well. I must have picked up a small buckle in my back wheel as well and I figured it wouldn’t take too long for them to fix it. If I was completely honest with myself I would probably admit that I hadn’t gotten my bike service close enough to the event. It wasn’t ages since I had had it serviced but, with the wet weather exacerbating things, I probably could have been a little more proactive. That said, I’m not sure that it would have prevented the gear cable from snapping when it did.

In the end it took 45 minutes of frustration-filled waiting before we were able to get going again but by that time it was clear that we weren’t going to make the Dinner Plain cut-off time. Eventually, cold, wet, miserable and disappointed we decided to call it a day. As if the decision to pull out wasn’t hard enough we still had 50km of riding to get back to Bogong. We climbed back over the Tawonga Gap in the rain, road through Mt. Beauty in the rain and climbed back to Bogong, you guessed it, in the rain.

It was such an unbelievably frustraing end to a months-long training campaign that I’d made so public through this blog. To bow out of the ride in circumstances that were partially out of my control made it extremely annoying. If we had failed to complete the ride due to a lack of training and fitness I would have understood. To pull out for mechanical reasons was completely unexpected and so very frustrating.

I’d like to offer a public apology to Brendan for ruining his 3 Peaks Challenge. I should have had my bike serviced closer to the event and believe me, I’ve learnt my lesson now. I’d also like to thank him for staying with me in Bright when he could quite easily have tried to complete the event as part of a bunch. It was a noble gesture and one that I’m very grateful for.

I would also like to extend a thank you to Sharon and Alice for joining us on a wet and miserable weekend in Bogong. To come and support us like you did was quite phenomenal and to get up early to watch us ride past the village was a lovely touch. Thank you.

Finally, in closing this chapter of my cycling life, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone that has been part of this journey in the last couple months. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of feedback and well-wishes I have received. To everyone on Twitter and Facebook and those who have sent me emails, thank you for your support. Sorry it wasn’t the final chapter you were looking for. I assume.

To finish on a more positive note, the 3 Peaks experience hasn’t totally killed my thirst for cycling as I feared it would. Brendan and I are heading out today to get some kays in for the first time since 3 Peaks and I’m really looking forward to it. Until next time, thanks for reading.

351 days to go…

3 Comments

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  1. Tom / Sep 29 2010

    Sorry to hear about your mechanical, but trust me, between Hotham and Dinner Plain we were all willing our cables to break, or our wheels to fall off – anything to stop the pain and cold, anything to provide an excuse to jump in a hot spa then crawl back into bed. A mate and I finished at 8:30pm, 5 minutes ahead of the broom wagon. An epic epic ride. See you next year :)

  2. Steve / Mar 21 2010

    A sorry story indeed. I couldn’t imagine a worse riding weekend. All the best for training for next year’s event!

    Fantastic work with the blog. Has been fascinating reading! Cheers,

    • Matt / Mar 21 2010

      Hi Steve. Thanks for reading and for your kind words. Much appreciated.

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