Episode 19: Return to the Dandenongs

Route: Eltham to Sky High return via Ferntree Gully, The Basin & Mt. Evelyn
Distance: 111.1km
Duration: 4 hours 41 minutes

View from Sky High, Mt. Dandenong
View from Sky High, Mt. Dandenong

When I looked at the Bureau of Meteorology’s website last night I thought there was no chance of getting a ride in today. They hadn’t just forecast ‘showers’ but ‘rain’, and it was looking like it was going to be a wet and miserable old day. So you can imagine my surprise when I woke to sunny blue skies and when I checked the Bureau’s radar and there was barely a trace of rain around Melbourne at all.

I wasn’t about to let a good opportunity go to waste so after a relaxing morning I got myself organised, planned out a route and got going. It had been a while since I last ventured into the Dandenongs and so I was looking forward to getting up there and getting some climbs under my belt.

The ride from Eltham to the base of the Dandenongs is, at best, dull and at worst, pretty mind numbing. Riding through Templestowe and Doncaster is alright but by the time you start to get towards the Badlands – Bayswater, Kilsyth etc. – your chance of having stuff thrown at you, including abuse, rises dramatically. I’d be interested to see if anyone has studied how driver tolerance to cyclist varies according to distance from a major city. I’d wager that tolerance is inversely proportional to distance which would explain the colourful language one often encounters out Warburton and Healesville way.

Churchill Road, Tremont
Churchill Road, Tremont

After about an hour spent winding my way through Melbourne’s east I arrived at Upper Ferntree Gully and the start of the Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road. I climbed my way up the 3 or so steepish kilometres to the Ampol service station and then turned left, tracing out the Devil’s Elbows, or Devil’s Broken Clavicle, depending on your anthropormorphic anatomical preference. The 5.3km climb is pretty steep in parts and I was happy just to grind my way up and by the time I was on Churchill Road I was glad to be on a quieter road. One criticism that can be levelled at the Dandenongs as a weekend cycling destination is the throng of tourists and other visitors that flock there, particularly on nice days. More visitors means more cars which, on the narrow winding roads in the area, makes for more hairy moments for the cyclist.

After cresting the climb I rolled back out to the Tourist Road and continued on my merry way toward Olinda before turning left onto Mountain Highway at Sassafras. I flew down the 1 in 20 and turned around at The Basin keen to pump some more climbing into the legs. As I reached the bottom I noticed another rider just starting the ascent so when I began the climb I tried to catch up to him for a bit of company on the way up. I pushed hard for the first 500m or so, trying to bridge the gap, but he was moving just a little too fast for me and I didn’t fancy hitting the red zone just for a bit of company.

On the way down I had decided that I wouldn’t time myself up the climb, instead settling on a sustained, controlled ascent to work  on my endurance, but after the initial pursuit  I found myself tapping out a nice rhythm. I managed to sit at around 19km/h for the first few kilometres before cursing the fact that I hadn’t started the old stopwatch. I felt stronger on the climb than I have felt in a long time and I reckon I could have gone close to my PB of 19 minutes 30 had I been going for it.

Sky High, Mt. Dandenong
Not sure who the shoes belong to...

Getting to Sassafras with fresh legs and plenty of energy I turned left and pushed toward Olinda. It’s amazing how fit and strong I’m feeling at the moment, as compared to a few months ago, and it’s a pretty good feeling. After cruising through Olinda I took the left-hander toward Sky High and climbed the last few kilometres until I reached the summit.

I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of riding to Sky High. There’s something very satisfying about being able to look out over Melbourne and see the city, the bay (on a clear day) and my home suburb of Eltham. It gives you a perspective of how far you’ve come and just how sprawled out Melbourne actually is.

I grabbed a Powerade and a few biscuits, refilled the water bottles and then I was on my way. I rolled down Ridge Road and then, at Inverness Road, I took a right turn. I was still feeling really strong and a quick jaunt down and up Inverness Road seemed like a good idea. It’s a pretty short climb with a nice flat section in the middle but when it climbs, it really climbs. I found myself just grinding away steadily and when I reached the climb’s final section, which has a maximum gradient of close to 20%, I found myself well inside single-figure territory on the ol’ speedo.

Having reached the Tourist Road once more I rolled down through Montrose, down into Bayswater and then up the Canterbury Road hill to Bedford Road. It seems obvious but it’s really on the climbs that you can tell how your fitness is progressing. That climb to Bedford Road is not a killer but it certainly packs a punch at the end of a long ride. Today I found myself cruising up it with hardly any problems at all and relishing the fact that I’m feeling stronger and fitter than I have in a long time.

Rather than retracing my steps through Doncaster and the like, I rode through North Ringwood and out to Warrandyte where I crossed the bridge and took a left onto the Warrandyte-Research Road. For anyone that’s cycling in the area and that hasn’t experienced the 7km from Warrandyte to Research (or the other direction for that matter), it’s well worth the effort. It’s a rollercoaster-like road with some wickedly steep sections but also some scarily fast downhills. The Research to Warrandyte ride has one downhill section where I regularly hit 80km/h, more than fast enough for this hack cyclist.

Climbing Inverness Road
Climbing Inverness Road

After climbing and descending for the next little while I rolled out onto Main Road and back into Eltham. It had been another great 100km+ ride with some great climbs – 1750 vertical metres in fact – and I was home and feeling like I could have continued for a lot longer. This is a good position to be in because in three weeks time I’ll come face to face with easily the most epic physical challenge I have ever attempted. It’s been terrific over the last few weekends to be able to hit 100km+ plus with some regularity but the fact that I’m only riding once a week is worrying. I’d love to be riding to work but it’s just not practical at this stage so maybe I need to look into getting some sneaky kays in after work.

So can I finish the 3 Peaks Challenge? Well, I’m honestly not sure. My feeling at the moment is that it’s going to be a massive ask and that I would have benefited from a more rigorous training regime. Another part of me thinks I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and that this is my best shot at conquering the epic event.

My plan is to put my bike in for a service tomorrow morning so as to avoid any embarrassing technical mishaps that thwarted last year’s attempt. At least if I fail then it’ll be because I’m just not fit enough, not because of something that was completely avoidable.

Thanks again to everyone that’s been following my progress over the last few months – it’s great knowing that people are enjoying my silly ramblings. If you aren’t already getting amongst it over at Facebook or Twitter, you really should. There are some great discussions going on over there and the more the merrier, I say! Don’t forget you can leave your thoughts about this write-up in the comments section below or by sending me an email.

22 days to go…

9 Replies to “Episode 19: Return to the Dandenongs”

  1. I’m thinking of rolling out of Marysville at about 9-9:15 Satday morning…i’m not an endurance cyclist like you lot so I’ll be driving out and parking opposite the Marysville Bakery….

    Would be great to get a crew along…I’ll be the guy in (probably) a LiveStrong jersey with a black Cannondale…

  2. Hi Matt, and folks…

    I’m also considering a Lake Mountain climb next weekend (or Donna)…maybe you can post a start time somewhere and we can cruise on up…nothing like a bit of company – especially on those first 5k’s where everything in your body is telling you to turn around!

  3. Its been a pleasure reading your blog, wish I had of gotten onto it earlier. I too am attempting 3Peaks this year and fingers crossed the weather is a little kinder than last year. For me its the Marysville-Lake Mountain ride next weekend, which will be the last long ride before March 13. Keep up the regular posts too, its very comforting to be able to compare my training progress to your own, cos I figure if I can do similar km’s to yourself than I know I’m giving myself the best chance possible of completing the 3Peaks.

    With regards to your descriptions of the victorian climbs, they are brilliant, great for us locals who enjoy reading about our great climbs. There’s a good one out at Cockatoo, Bailey Rd, its only 3kms but it definitely makes you work. If you get a chance have a crack and let us know what you think. Keep up the great work with the site, its much appreciated. Regards Dave.O

    1. Hi Dave. Thanks very much for the kind words – glad to know that you are getting something out of the site. I’m thinking about doing the Lake Mountain ride next weekend too – it makes for a perfect lead up to 3 Peaks I reckon. I think entries close today though…

      Thanks for the tip with that climb too, I’ll have to check it out. 🙂

  4. Matt, sounds like a great ride and my advice FWIW is stick to the second half of what your mind is telling you, confidence and the right head space is three parts of this game, I reckon.

    yes it’s a big ride but you are young, male and fit and from the perspective of a completely different demographic, I can tell u that you have some good stuff on your side in comparison. I reckon you will go well if you believe that you will!

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