Episode 17: Beach Road vs. Mt. Dandenong

Route: Thornbury, Emerald, Olinda, Dandenongs loop
7 hours 11 minutes

Brendan climbing the Devil's Elbows

Do you ever have one of those days where you wake up and decide not to go riding, only to regret the decision later in the day? Those days leave me with a real sense of guilt — a feeling that sitting on the couch is a waste of time when I could be out getting fit. That feeling is magnified when an event such as the 3 Peaks Challenge is just around the corner.

I was saddled with that feeling for most of Saturday after learning the Donvale Demon had headed out on the 200km-long, official 3 Peaks training ride while I had opted for a sleep-in. In my own defence, it was supposed to be 38 degrees with a 45km/h northerly, making the ride back from Sorrento to Melbourne a less-than-appealing prospect.

But while I felt guilty for not joining the Demon, the feeling didn’t last all that long — Brendan and I got out early the next morning for a ride of almost the same length, albeit with considerably more climbing.

We met at the end of Yarra Boulevard at 7am and jumped on the Koonung Creek Trail and headed toward the Dandenongs. The plan was pretty nebulous — ride out to the ‘Nongs, do some kays and then come home.

Approaching the Dandenongs from the south.

We took the bike track all the way to Springvale Road, past Canterbury Road and it wasn’t until the path had become the Eastlink Trail and we were at Wellington Road that we eventually decided to turn off. It was the first time either of us had ridden the path beyond Boronia Road and it made for some great riding.

We decided to follow Wellington Road all the way up to Emerald and attack the Dandenongs from the south — a first for both of us. While there were a few climbs the closer we got to Emerald, there was nothing long or steep enough to throw us off a good rhythm nor slow our progress too much.

We took a quick break at Emerald before continuing toward Monbulk. From my ride to Inverloch a few weeks earlier I knew that the Emerald-Monbulk Road was roughly half uphill and half downhill. The few kilometres of uphill were pretty mild in comparison to other climbs in the Dandenongs — 2-3% if that — and we were able to maintain a decent clip all the way into Monbulk.

Once in Monbulk we were back on more familiar roads. We rode through town and headed up toward Olinda, climbing The Wall in the process. It’s a strange climb, The Wall. It’s definitely not the most challenging climb you can ride in the Dandenongs, but its steep sections are not to be sneezed at.

Climbing between Emerald and Monbulk.

From Olinda we pushed on toward Sky High and another quick rest break. We got something to eat really quickly, not wanting to give our bodies too much of an opportunity to relax. Of course, it wouldn’t be a visit to Sky High without taking the time to check out the awesome view which, on Sunday, was particularly brilliant.

At this point I decided it was time to do something about my ITB which had been getting progressively more painful since the first 50km or so of the ride. I popped some Nurofen and hoped for the best.

Fed and watered, Brendan and I descended from Sky High and then climbed back toward Olinda before heading toward Ferntree Gully. Our new plan was to take in one more climb before heading home. We descended the Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road toward Ferntree Gully and turned around at Burwood Highway, climbing back up the hill.

The Ferntree Gully end of the Tourist Road isn’t the easiest climb in the Dandenongs — especially when it’s the second or third climb of the day — and Brendan and I took our time and climbed at a comfortable pace. We turned left at Tremont to take in the second half of the Devil’s Elbows climb — definitely the more picturesque half.

The view from Sky High, with Melbourne CBD, Port Phillip Bay and the You Yangs visible.

As we rounded one corner, Brendan stopped suddenly and said “there’s a car down there!”. Sure enough, a few metres below the road in a fern-covered gully, lay an overturned white car. We stopped for a couple moments to see if it was from a recent accident but the lack of tyre tracks seemed to suggest it had been there a while. Still, a strange sight among pristine native bush.

After summitting the Devil’s Elbows climb we continued north along the Tourist Road, the plan being to descend to Montrose before heading home. But when we got to Sassafras we were both still feeling strong and so we headed down Mountain Highway toward The Basin, turned around and climbed back up the 1 in 20.

We certainly didn’t set any records on the climb and while we probably could have gone faster, it was just nice to be able to take our time, enjoy the scenery and get in some serious kays. Incidentally, if you’re looking to head to the 1 in 20 in the near future, you might want to check to see if the road is open. When we were there the road was reduced to one lane (with temporary traffic lights in action) and signs seemed to indicate the road would be closed during the week.

Back at Sassafras we climbed up to Olinda one final time before taking the Tourist Road down to Montrose (a great descent). We followed Canterbury Road to Eastlink where we jumped back on the bike track.

Yours truly at Sky High.

By this point the Nurofen had kicked in and I couldn’t feel any pain in my ITB, making the ride home far more pleasant that it would otherwise have been.

After climbing back toward Springvale Road we relished the opportunity to be on the flat section of the bike track and enjoyed heading homeward at a decent speed. To my delight, I didn’t feel all that tired or fatigued at all, at least until the final 5km of the day. With the temperature hovering in the low 30s (it had been hot for most of the day but, being in the hills, we were sheltered from its greatest impact) I was sweating up a storm and ready for a rest.

I rolled into the driveway having clocked up 183km with nearly 2,600 vertical metres — a solid day in the saddle whichever way you look at it. Sadly my Garming Edge 500 had “lost” 13km and it was only by cross-checking my data with Brendan’s that I was able to work out how far I’d travelled. It appears the battery in my Edge’s cadence/speed sensor might be dying, despite being only a few months old. Either that or there’s something wrong with the unit itself.

While I was certainly tired by the end of the ride, I definitely felt as if I could have kept going. In fact, as I’ve said repeatedly in the past few weeks, I’m feeling the fittest I can ever remember feeling. I’m looking forward to taking on 3 Peaks on Sunday week and seeing how the body holds up.

Second half of the Devil's Elbows climb.

That said, it looks like I’ll be relying on Nurofen to keep the ITB pain at bay, particularly in the latter stages of the ride. I’m planning on taking a week or two off the bike post-3 Peaks to let my ITB heal properly before throwing myself at the Ride Hard to Breathe Easy challenge on Strava.

But, as the great sports cliché goes, I’m just taking it one week at a time.

As always, feel free to come and have a chat on Twitter, Facebook and/or Strava. And of course, comments are always welcome below.

Thanks for reading and please stay safe on the roads.

10 days to go …

Previous instalments

6 Replies to “Episode 17: Beach Road vs. Mt. Dandenong”

  1. Mate, first up great post.
    But one question; when you say you followed Wellington Rd to Emerald, you mean including Rowville to Belgrave-Hallam Rd, then Berwick Rd on? For the love of god, man, do yourself, your riding buddies and the general public a favour and avoid Wellington Rd after Rowville. It’s so, so dangerous there, I ride to and from school in Wheelers Hill all the time via Belgrave, but have to take Wellington Rd between Berwick and Belgrave-Hallam Rds. That is all I can handle; you can’t pay me enough to go to Rowville via Wellington on the bike.
    Anyway, hope you keep enjoying the Nongs, they’re a great ride, and I’m glad you found Emerald-Kallista Rd, it’s an absolute gem for cyclists. Enjoy life and ride hard.

  2. Once again, another great write up. No contest though.. The hills always trump Beach road! Gotta love the nongs for the ability to ‘Forrest Gump it’ and just ride with no plan..

  3. Matt – follow the blog religiously (so to speak). Just a question. Where did you see the white overturned car. Ours was stolen about a month ago and haven’t seen anything of it. I’ll hit the Devil’s elbow this weekend and check it out.

    btw good luck in a couple of weeks at 3 Peaks



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