Fight the wind or go with the flow

It might be hard to believe for some, but wind is one of my favourite weather patterns. When I was growing up (near Prince George, British Columbia, Canada for those who are interested) we had these amazing winds called chinooks*.

Before bike packing there was canoe packing 

Chinook winds, or simply Chinooks, are föhn winds in the interior West of North America, where the Canadian Prairies and Great Plains meet various mountain ranges, although the original usage is in reference to wet, warm coastal winds in the Pacific Northwest (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinook_wind).

For the Australian’s, it’s the opposite of a cool change: some chinooks have been known to change temperatures from -17 degrees (yes, minus 17. Celsius) to 13 degrees in a matter of hours.

What this meant was in the Autumn (or Fall, as it used to be called before I moved overseas) as the temperatures turned towards winter, we would have these unbelievably warm winds blow through. They were my favourite. I remember trying to stand outside in them as the wind whipped around me, and I loved it.

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Even as an adult I still love the wind

This love of the wind never left me.

Until I became a cyclist.

Then I grew to hate the winds.

Tiffo, you need more wind training

So near the end of the Grand Ridge Road Randonnée it got windy. Uphill and windy. After about 160km of gravel riding I was getting a bit done for the day, and the wind just ripped me apart. The guys tried to tuck me in behind them to help out, which was appreciated as it gave me a wheel to focus on instead of the stem of my bike, and I just suffered up the hills into the headwind. Once it flattened out I was okay to jump back in front, but as soon as it went uphill *poof!* there I went off the back again in my little world of focused suffering.

A few days later I was chatting on messenger with Damian about preparing for the “Jump the Gun 600” and he was asking if I’d registered yet:

  • Me: “… haven’t committed to the next weekend yet as I am waiting for the forecast.”
  • Damo: “You need to ride in more wind.”
  • Me: “Sure don’t.”
  • Damo:” You hate it. And it’ll undo a solid game plan.”
  • Me: “I don’t mind the wind on the flats but defo struggle up climbs.”
  • Damo: “Climbs n’ headwinds it is then!”
  • Damo: “The more exposure, the less significant it becomes”… “Find a north face corrugated dirt rd… ride at midday when it’s 30 degrees and blowy.”
  • Me: “I hate your ideas.”

But I knew he was right. And lucky for me the winds picked up and my next few rides were rather windy, even if it was still cold outside.

PBP Qualifier #2: Jump The Gun [600km]

The Jump the Gun (JTG) ride was the 600km I was looking at for my second Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) qualifying ride. Did it seem a little ‘early’ to do a 600? Shouldn’t I do a 300km first, then the 400km, and then the 600km? Maybe… but isn’t that what jumping the gun is all about? To act before the time is right, or to do something too soon? Maybe for some it might seem out of place, but for me it seemed just right. I knew what a 600km ride felt like to do, so mentally I was ‘ready’ for this.

Reminder: in order to qualify for PBP I need to complete a full Super Randonneur series of ACP brevets (200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km). I’d already completed my 200km.

This ride was presented as: “A grand tour of the historic goldfields region around Maryborough. Choose from a wide variety of routes. With a central base at a caravan park, you’ll find great food and company at the end of every loop.” So it looked like this:

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Four loops and two out-and-backs = 600km

Yeah, lots of loops! But one of the benefits was that we returned to the caravan park each loop. And there were seven different ride distance options, so there would possibly be quite a few people out on the roads. Sounded great to me!

I had been checking and re-checking (and re-checking) the weather conditions for the weekend, but as the cut-off date was the Tuesday before the ride (usually they cut off is Thursday, but as it was a supported ride they needed to know earlier) I needed to make my choice pretty early on as to whether or not I was going to ride. While some might say that it’s important to train in all types of weather in order to be prepared for mixed weather conditions during an event, I was strongly against suffering ‘just for the sake of suffering’ so early on in my lead up to PBP. After all, I did want to enjoy being on the bike, and have a lot more fun this year than previous years sufferfest of intense short-term training.

In the days leading up to JTG the weather looked… interesting. And it kept changing. One minute it was going to rain, and then not, and then really hot, and then okay, and then windy, and then not so windy. So I threw everything in the overnight bag, thinking that I’d set up a drop bag at the caravan park and then I could decided what I’d need every few hours before setting out for the next loop. So I had everything from a rain jacket and long fingered gloves to sunscreen, hydration salts, and chapstick. Oh, and a GoPro just for something different to capture the ride on.

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My honest #kitgrid

The day before I had a quick chat with Marty about the loop ride. and we talked about how long I’d ride on Day 1 (370km planned) versus Day 2 (230km planned). The weather forecast suggested that while it would be sort of windy on Saturday, Sunday was going to be even windier. So I thought I might do the “first Sunday loop” late on Saturday evening (so planning for 470km), making Sunday an easier day (at 130km), and trying to knock off the kms before the wind picked up in the afternoon.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Time and the wind never leave anything alone [Marty Rubin]

Waking up Saturday morning for a 6am ride isn’t ever “fun” in anyone’s books. That 4:45am alarm felt awfully familiar and cruel at the same time, but as the Rolling Stones say, time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me. Stepping outside to gauge the weather it was… cold. What the? Turned out it was going to be a chilly start (Garmin read 1 degree, and finally got up to 5 degrees after we had ridden 35km), so back in the caravan we all went to get another layer.

The first 150km km flew by pretty easy. The pace was a bit faster than I was initially comfortable with (and my heart rate was madly trying to tell me so!) but I knew that it would eventually settle down and I’d be okay.  Because I was starting to ‘know the deal’ on these kinds of rides. I haven’t done a ton of long long rides* but the ones I had done had each taught me a different lesson. And one of the lessons I now know is that it can take me awhile to get settled into a ride, and during that settling in period either my heart, or my legs, or both, will feel pretty bloody awful. This ride was no exception. With the cold start the legs weren’t firing all that efficiently, so I was working a bit harder than I’d like. No biggie.

* Now you might now be saying “Oh come on Tiffo, you do these all the time!” But trust me, it’s relative to the company that you keep. And in this company I am still very much the newbie. By this point I’d done just over 4000km in Audax rides over two years, a mere drop in the ocean when you consider Jeff Franklin (who was also on this 600) had ridden 22,956km and Thomas Price, my partner in crime on the 200km qualifier, had ridden 15,311km in Audax rides THIS YEAR alone. Puts it in perspective.

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Leigh Patterson. I’d been on a few Audax rides and ridden near him, so today marked the first one we would ride together.

After morning tea in Stawell (seriously, is there a cafe anywhere in country Victoria that HASN’T won an award for the best “insert random item here?” Pie? Slice? Piece of toast?) we headed back east towards the next checkpoint… and my hot foot kicked in.

Massive sigh. Here we go again.

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At lunchtime and 160km into the ride it was already 28 degrees.

The roads were still good, and we were pretty protected and shaded by the trees… until we turned north towards Avoca and got our first taste of what the wind was going to be like. Let’s just say the words ‘fan forced oven’ came to mind. Onwards we pushed towards Maryborough and ticked off our first loop of the day.

First loop stats:

  • Distance: 213km
  • Elapsed time: 8 hours 45 minutes
  • Average speed: 27.5km/h
  • Average temperature: 20 degrees
  • Lowest temp: 1 degree
  • Highest temp: 32 degrees

Knowing I’d pull into the caravan park and be encouraged with a smile, a ginger beer, a toasted sandwich, and plied with desserts made each return trip a treat. This first loop meant lunch, so it was toasted sandwiches… with extra salt. I was already starting to feel very gritty and was sweating salt so wanted to try and replenish what I was losing. Putting electrolytes in one of my water bottles we set off north for the next 100km loop… and straight into the windy oven. Our first planned stop was at 57km, but we just made it to Dunolly (at 22km) before deciding to pull in and top up our drinks.

And then I wasn’t doing so well. Not so well at all. The 40km/h head wind in 30 degree head was brutal. I was trying everything to keep the pace, but I just kept dropping off behind the guys, my legs (and probably more accurately my head) just giving up the ghost. I knew that I would get through it, and that it was only a matter of time, even if I had to crawl along this section I’d get there… but it wasn’t pretty.

Again, that learning experience said that I would be able to get through this. I’d ridden in windier and hotter conditions (though not simultaneously, that was new today) and I could get through it. And today would be no different. I could do this.

It took me over an hour to ride 18km, including two stops on the side of the road to put my head between my knees and try not to faint. Not ideal. I did have one caravan pull over and ask if I was okay (gotta love friendly strangers!) and a couple minutes after that Peter Carr rolled back to make sure I was still coming. And one pedal stroke at a time we made it to Newbridge.

That. Hurt. But we’d made it and were at the most North-Easterly point of the entire ride, just a small set of kms back to Dunolly, and then back to Maryborough to complete the 100km loop.

Second loop stats:

  • Distance: 102km
  • Elapsed time: 4 hours 35 minutes
  • Average speed: 24.5km/h
  • Average temperature: 31 degrees
  • Lowest temp: 1 degree
  • Highest temp: 39 degrees

We were all looking mighty ragged at this point. Okay, I was looking ragged at this point. (I’ve captured some of my feelings rather succinctly on the GoPro and Ties Urie Photography is busy putting together a ‘great’ video of the ride). Let’s just say pulling into Maryborough and having someone hand you a bowl of ice cream was pretty much near perfect at that point in the ride.

Needless to say all thoughts of doing ‘an extra 100km’ had flown at the window. We were told that a number of riders had already pulled out, and that another rider had decided to have a rest at the 320km mark and would do the next out and back loop the next day.  I briefly made eye contact with Peter, who shook his head. We would continue on and knock off the next 50km that night. Besides, the wind always died down once the sun was down, and it was setting as we sat there. And he was right, it did settle down: it dropped from 50km/h to 30km/h. Which to be honest, felt pretty good relatively speaking.

So out we went towards Avoca… and then turned around and came back. Day 1 complete, 18 hours elapsed.

Third loop stats:

  • Distance: 53km
  • Elapsed time: 2 hours 4 minutes
  • Average speed: 24km/h
  • Average temperature: 21 degrees
  • Lowest temp: 18 degrees
  • Highest temp: 26 degrees

A quick late night dinner near midnight, and we rolled back to the caravan to put everything on charge, grab a shower, and try and get at least a couple hours sleep… only to have the alarm go off four hours later for round two.

We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds [Aristotle Onassis]

Day two is where the experience of back-to-back riding comes in handy. Knowing I was going to get out of bed feeling pretty awful, I got out of bed feeling pretty awful. Moving rather slowly I got myself ready for the day ahead. I looked over at Peter and asked him how he was feeling, thinking he’d concur with the awful Day Two Feels.

Hey Peter, how’re you feeling?

Actually I’ve pulled up well, feeling pretty good!

(jerk… then smiling brightly) great you can be on the front today 😉

It had been very stormy overnight, and there was a good chance we were going to see some rain today so the rain coats were pulled on, and off we went back to the caravan park for some breakfast.

Or not.

My eyes and my mind said yes… my stomach said no. I was feeling terrible. Very very nauseous, a bit dizzy still from the day before, and the thought of putting anything in my tummy filled me with dread. So I managed a little bit of porridge (sorry wee Ronnie, it was very good, I just couldn’t do it) and a plain piece of toast, and off we went.

Into another headwind.

COME ON ALREADY!!!

Yup, the winds had shifted and now instead of having a Northerly to deal with, we had a west-south-west or south-west. So headwinds for breakfast we headed towards Clunes for second breakfast. Still not feeling well, I stuck to tea and a plain bun. Not even coffee. No… coffee… a good indicator of how bad I was feeling.

And then we turned to head north-east towards Newstead, and the world around us went silent for the first time. We all looked at each other and huge grins broke out. TAIL WIND!!! And we flew.

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When the wind turbines are spinning and the wind is finally in your favour

Pulling into Newstead we were like kids in a candy store. Even if we don’t get another tail wind like that, we agreed, it was worth it just for that section. Which was handy because that was the last tail wind we’d see all day. Newstead back to Maryborough was an all mighty slog through very exposed roads with a cross-headwind that wouldn’t quit. Heads down we battled into the wind, taking our turns pulling at the front. I had reached the point of the ride where I was counting each breath I took in an effort to focus on something to keep up a steady pace. But we got there. I then joked to Peter “hey, let’s not do that again for at least a couple hours”… as on the next loop we would face that exact same road again.

Fourth loop stats:

  • Distance: 103km
  • Elapsed time: 5 hours 12 minutes
  • Average speed: 24.1 km/h
  • Average temperature: 12 degrees
  • Lowest temp: 7 degrees
  • Highest temp: 22 degrees

Mamma Mia, here we go again

After a bit of looking blankly at the road we finally figured out which direction we needed to go for the fifth loop. It was getting a little confusing trying to decide which road to take next, as the map was getting a wee bit squiggly by this point. Either that or my brain wasn’t 100% working at max capacity. Either way, onwards we went towards Maldon, where we ticked over the 500km mark. Only 100km to go!

We hit Newstead for the second time that morning, and I added an icy pole to the small mix of food and water I was having, figuring eating a ‘cyclone’ was a fitting tribute to the weekend of riding we’d had. Then back into the headwind stretch to Maryborough for the second time that day, and only 8 seconds slower than our first run at it. Consistency is key I guess. 

Fifth loop stats:

  • Distance: 85km
  • Elapsed time: 4 hours 30 minutes
  • Average speed: 24.2 km/h
  • Average temperature: 19 degrees
  • Lowest temp: 15 degrees
  • Highest temp: 25 degrees

Once more, this time with feeling

One more out and back was all we had left, and again after starting in the wrong direction we figured out how to get to Dunolly on the road we wanted to take. My stomach had finally settled down, which was a nice treat to finish off the day. And mentally I was happier knowing that while I’d had a number of pretty severe ‘wobbles’ in the old mind games, I hadn’t broken. So off we went, the final promised tailwind never actually appearing, and set off with another cracking cross-wind that at one point nearly gusted us across the road.

Oh what fun.

Tired smiles… we’re nearly there

But no dramas on the out and back, and we ended up chatting a bit on the last leg. Leigh stated this was one of the windiest back-to-backs that he had ever ridden, and Peter agreed. It had been very hard work. I think I breathed a sigh of relief at that point, knowing it hadn’t just been a really tough weekend for only me.  We returned to Maryborough, if not with trumpets and calls of all hail the conquering heroes, at least with hugs and some well-deserved ‘well done’s.

Sixth loop stats:

  • Distance: 44km
  • Elapsed time: 1 hours 48 minutes
  • Average speed: 24.6 km/h
  • Average temperature: 17 degrees
  • Lowest temp: 15 degrees
  • Highest temp: 20 degrees
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So fight the wind, or go with the flow?

So what did I learn, was Damo right? Did I just need to ride more in the wind? Well, in a sense yes of course. One of the reasons to ride in all kinds of weather conditions during training is so that when it is ‘go time’ you are mentally and physically prepared for it.

But does that mean I have now learned to ’embrace the wind?’ Well, not exactly. And if I’m being honest with myself I don’t know if I ever will. But I learned now how to handle myself in the wind, and perhaps that’s a more honest truth than trying to claim I’ve come out of this a proficient windy days rider.

On this ride there were many mental wobbles, and some very near teary moments. Some swearing at the wind, and some frustrations with myself and my body. But a lot of laughter, lots of story telling, and lots of grins. And a lot of Dad jokes. And flankles. Always flankles.

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After all. I am Audax.

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