A Comedy of Errors: The Apocalyptic Tour of the Goldfields

So I messed up. I’ll admit it. But it’s kind of a funny story…

One of my goals this year is to complete an Audax Australian Super Randonneur. This consists of riding 1500km in a season, consisting of rides of the following (minimum) distances:  200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km. I had the 600 and the 200 already knocked off, and when I saw the Tour of the Goldfields 400km ride come up in the calendar I thought YES! It isn’t a common distance in the Audax calendar, and I had thought I’d need to ride another 600 in order to tick this one off. I’d read up on the ride (which wasn’t much: two out and back legs, Bendigo to Creswick and Bendigo to Avoca. Rolling hills and good roads), looked at the elevation map (which didn’t look too flat which is great for me), and with the never ending Melbourne summer it seemed like a fine idea. I sat down with my husband Max to confirm that I was okay to ride over the weekend, assuring him that with two days of 200km* I would be home in time for dinner both nights.

*Error. I’ll come to that.

The week leading up to the ride had, well, less than ideal weather conditions expected. So I became quite the weather app stalker, checking every day hoping beyond all hope that it would change. Which it did. It went from a 70% chance of rain to 100% chance. With high winds. Great. But the temperature forecast had a low of 11 degrees, so even if it was going to be wet it wasn’t going to be cold**.

**Error. More on this soon.

The night before the ride, I laid out the gear I thought I’d need, and then threw in an extra layer just in case. I figured if I warmed up I could always stash it in my back pocket. I then set my alarm for 5:00am, thinking I’d leave the house at 5:40am to arrive in Kangaroo Flat, a 50 minute drive to just outside of Bendigo, for 6:30am, giving me a nice easy 30 minutes to get ready for the ride.

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Error 1: what time does it start?

So early on Saturday morning my alarm goes off. I roll over to turn it off, and simultaneously my calendar alarm goes off: Tour of the Goldfields 400 starts today at 6am in Kangaroo Flat.

6am. Not 7am.

What the??? Somehow I had programmed it in my calendar for 7am start, and didn’t think to confirm the timing. So needless to say I was instantly WIDE AWAKE and slightly panicking. A quick message to Peter Carr (ride organiser) to confirm that yes indeed it did start at 6am… and that I would most definitely not make the start time.  But that he’d kindly leave my brevet for me at the APCO service station and I could pick it up at the start of my ride. So I’m shovelling breakfast in my mouth (thanks Max for making it for me!), trying to get dressed one handed, grab a coffee, and run out the door, praying that I’d packed everything correctly the night before. Yelling at Max that I’d see him for dinner, I was off.

I arrived in Kangaroo Flat, grabbed my brevet from the service station, set the bike up, loaded the course onto my Garmin, and off I went… for an entire 700m before I realised I’d left my sunglasses in the car. Back we go again.

And we’re off!!

Nope, wait, course didn’t load. Stop Garmin. Load again, map on… and we’re off!!

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Views from the cockpit. A sprinkle of rain was all I had for the first couple hours.

Following the map, I managed to get off the main road and started flying down the side roads towards Maldon. This is great, I’m feeling really strong, roads are okay, no major weather drama, let’s cycle through the screens and make sure the heart rate isn’t too high…

Hadn’t started the Garmin. Turns out even though the map had started, you need to hit START for the Garmin to start. Sigh. Right, so NOW we’re off!

Time behind: 35 minutes.

Chasing the bunch

So it’s now just me and the open road. After realising I might be on my own for quite some time, if not the entire day, I’d thrown my headphones in the car. With one headphone in, the wind at my back, and nothing but open roads in front of me, it was a magnificent start to the day. Rolling hills, countryside, and good tunes. What more could I want? Ideally I wanted to try and catch at least a few of the riders before they made the turn at Creswick to head back into Bendigo, as I thought there might be some wind to deal with later so it would be better to be in a bunch. I didn’t aim to set a break neck time trial pace on the way down, just stayed consistent with my pedalling and kept the tempo steady.

Just before 8am I saw high vis and flashing lights in the distance, and knew I’d caught up with my first Audax rider. Sarah Chaplin, current president of Audax Victoria, had pulled over to put on her rain jacket, so I stopped to say hi and have a quick chat.

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She said that the next group was only a few minutes in front, so I hopped back on the bike to see where they were. Rolling through Newstead I saw a couple other riders heading into the bakery, and I just kept rolling, knowing that I didn’t have to stop until the first checkpoint at Creswick.

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Two hours after the official start time and it was only 7.5 degrees. What happened to 11 degrees?

Still feeling amazing, I powered past Newstead towards Creswick. I chatted to another rider along the way before heading past him towards the main bunch, which he assured me were only about 5 minutes or so in front. By the time my Garmin hit the 70km mark, I caught up with them. Hoots and hollers, high fives with Gareth, and I was in!

Error 2: what distance are we riding?

So I slowed down the pace, much to the amusement of the guys who still couldn’t believe I’d caught them, and chatted about how the ride was going. The storm clouds in the distance looked ominous, and promised for a rough ride later in the day.

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Leigh Patterson and Gareth Evans: fantastic riding partners

As we chatted I looked over at their bike setups. Frame bags. Saddle bags. High vis piping over everything. All the gear. I looked over, confused. “That’s a lot of gear for a 200 guys.” Buddy looked back, confused as well. “It’s a 400.” Yeah, I know that mate, but it’s 200 today and 200 tomorrow yeah?

Erm. No. It’s a 400. Straight up.

Oh. Well. Crap.

So I rolled back in the bunch to have a chat with Peter, who confirmed it was indeed a 400 all in one hit, and they expected they’d be finished around 12-1am, going off of previous years rides.

Right. So here I am, having a super strong day on the bike, and have made not one but two pretty major errors. While I could most certainly ride a 400, it’s a different mental game switching to one 16 hour ride from two 8 hour rides. Peter thought about it, and figured as we were rolling back into Bendigo I could pick up a spare set of lights at his place, and other than that I should be fine. I figured I could always call Max at Creswick and have him dump the gear I needed in my car, which I could then pick up on the way back. Should be okay, just a longer day than planned. And hey, then I’d get Sunday off to spend with the family right?

And then the rains hit.

Error 3: winter is coming here

The rains started about 15 kms out of Creswick, so we all pulled over to get the rain jackets on. The second we stopped moving we got a taste of what the winds were going to be like. They had been behind us (for the large part) the first part of the ride, and fairly gentle. But with the rains started the apocalypse, and the winds whipped into a frenzy, nearly tearing our rain jackets out of ours hands in our haste to put them on. Jackets finally donned, we headed into Creswick, trying not to look as concerned as we felt about the change of weather.

As we got closer and closer to Creswick, the rains didn’t lay off a bit, and in fact just got worse. I say rains. But it was sleet. My Garmin was reading 4 degrees, and while it’s usually a bit off, today that was warmer than it felt. Stinging sleet right in the face, then in the ear. Within seconds we were all soaked right through, and starting to shiver. My sunglasses which I had forgotten earlier weren’t doing me any favours as they were completely splattered. Rolling into Creswick we looked a merry crew. Happy faces all around.

We stumbled into the bakery around 10:15, and I had turned blue. Even with the layers and layers of clothes I had on, my core had gotten cold and I was in a world of trouble. All thoughts of a 400km ride went right out the window as I was in survival mode. Grabbing a coffee and a cinnamon donut (in hopes of a miracle, even though I had no real appetite to eat anything) I sat down with the guys, who, while not blue, were definitely looking worse for wear.

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The 1000 yard stare had set in

It’s okay I thought. Coffee and a warm up and I’ll be fine. But after 15 minutes I still wasn’t any warmer, probably not helped by the cafe door perpetually left open to let the cold air blow in.

I texted Jem: “I officially hate my life right now. Creswick. Frozen. Shaking. I can’t do this.” Within minutes he wrote back: “Have a coffee. Warm up. Have a think. Pull the pin if you want. Nothing to be gained by getting hypothermia. Nothing to prove… If you need a pickup later let me know.”

So I sat. And I shook. My hands were still like frozen prunes, and I felt pretty horrible. I had thought about having Max bring extra gear and dry clothes to Bendigo, but it was so so so cold at Creswick that I didn’t know how I’d make it.

So I called in the calvary.

Who didn’t pick up his phone.

So I got myself dressed and prepared to get back on the bike. Just as we were about to leave, he called back. I told him I was frozen and needed a pick up. But it was so cold in the cafe I knew if I just sat there I would be in a world of trouble. So asked him to get me at Newstead, or in two hours or so. Got back on the bike shaking, and off we went. Like a bat out of hell… into the apocalypse.

No more errors

Gareth and I rolled out of the cafe together, and the first climb out of Creswick I just stared at his back wheel, trying to ignore the rain that just didn’t let up. He kept looking back over his shoulder. Yup, still here. Don’t mention the rain. Luckily the climb warmed me up and I stopped shivering. We caught up to Leigh and the three of us started taking turns on the front, forming an echelon across the road, riding into the wind that had picked up like a screaming banshee.

It no longer felt like I was riding my bike. It was more like arm wrestling, trying to keep my wheel pointed forwards. The head/cross winds were unbelievable, trying to pick up my bike and throw it across the roads. I just kept pressing the arms into the hoods of the bike (drops didn’t work as well), elbows out like I was on the mountain bike, searching for any sense of stability. Breathing remained calm, and I kept the power on the pedals consistent. Rounding a corner, we faced the wind head on, and it was like riding into a wall.

By this point it was nearly ridiculous, and I looked over at Gareth. Making eye contact, I grinned and yelled out “HOW GOOD IS THIS?!!” You had to laugh at how bad it was, and what nutters we were to be out in the storm. I suggested to Gareth that as I didn’t have to ride all night, I would take the front. So that’s what I did.

Blasting my way past Leigh, I rode straight into the wind, trying to shelter Gareth and Leigh as best as I could. My legs felt ridiculously strong, and being able to help them out made what could have been an absolute sufferfest turn into a mission to get them through it with as little effort on their part as possible.

Rolling into Newstead 60km or so later, I felt like I could ride all day. Grin on my face, we headed towards the cafe, where Max and my son Alex were waiting to take me home. Max asked how I was, surprised at how good I looked. I’m great I said, could ride all day! He asked if I wanted to ride to Bendigo… but after seeing the look on his face I decided it would be prudent to get in the car.

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They had after all driven 90 minutes to come and rescue me. And even if I was feeling better, my lips were still a bit blue.

 

So needless to say my 400km ride didn’t go as planned. And that kinda sucks. But I felt super strong on the bike all day long, and was able to help, if only for a bit, two amazing cyclists on their journey to complete the 400km ride. At 2:25am.

Stats

  • 157km (plus 1.4 to get sunglasses plus 6km to start Garmin) with 1308m elevation
  • Moving time: 5 hours 45 minutes
  • Elapsed time: 6 hours 25 minutes
  • Max temperature: 9 degrees
  • Wind: see below
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Wind readings at Creswick: gusts of 74km/h

 

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