How I got here
So like every good tale this one begins with a backstory. But not a long one this time, I promise.
When Thomas and I were out riding the 400, he suggested that a good PBP training ride would be the Geelong Flyer in April. Sort of a “test where you’re at” kinda ride. But it was kind of a “hush hush” ride. One that you needed to know someone to get into.
Makes it sound very underground doesn’t it?
But reality, because it’s a 1000km point-to-point ride with limited support it isn’t one that you can have a lot of people sign up for. So it was very much ‘first come first serve’… and that meant that it was usually booked in by those who had run it before and knew who to contact. So on Thomas’s advice, I sent a quick email off to the RO (ride organiser) to register my interest, and that was that. A few weeks later I was sent the registration link and the password, and I was in for the Geelong Flyer, along with a few of the ‘usual suspects’ from previous Audax adventures. Damo then signed up as well, which was exciting as we’d finally get a chance to ride together on a long non-gravel ride, perfect training for our PBP attempt.
Time to Launch: 9 weeks
This might not surprise many, but I didn’t really specifically prep for this one. As I’m playing ‘the long game’ and looking towards PBP, most of my training was focused on two things: riding rolling hills similar to PBP (see: Tour De Dunny Blocks) and enjoying being on my bike (see: riding a lot of gravel with Marty and Jem).
That’s not to say I hadn’t put together a ride plan, I’m not that silly.
I knew last year that Peter (riding partner for the 600) and Thomas (riding partner for the 200 and the 400) had completed the Geelong Flyer last year, so I went to Strava to check their pacing and ride times. At first glance their speeds seemed a lot slower than we usually rode, so I checked their ride notes. All it said was one word:
So adjusting my own time expectations, I used their timings, but added on a little more speed for some more ambitious goal setting. In terms of goals, there’s some discussion between whether one should chase ‘elapsed time’ or ‘ride time,’ especially as the PBP goal is elapsed time. But as this kind of ride has scheduled overnight stops I’m not as in control over elapsed time (as it would all come down to how early we left on Day 3 that would end up determining overall time). So I figured as I can’t really control elapsed, I would aim for ride time.
Yes, the inner racer with time goals is still there. Goal for ride time: 42 hours for 1002 km.
Four weeks out from the event the plan was to hit some gravel (I’ve talked about how I used gravel to prepare mentally and physically for events in a previous blog). Not only is it good for physical training, but mentally for me it can be an extremely good counterpoint to the road riding. Marty came up with a couple of cracking gravel loops that included a lot of roads that I hadn’t ridden before, so we went off adventuring.
Three weeks out from the event I went on another cracking gravel ride with Marty, which was designed to be a very hard ride. “Hurty” was the word Marty used to describe it. Needless to say it was so hurty that I was keeled over the bike in a near foetal position, trying to figure out why I felt like dying so much. Perfect preparation for the next weekend’s planned ride: Gippy Gold.
Three days later though that plan changed rapidly as I was bedridden with man flu, which completely scrapped any hope of getting out to Gippsland for the planned gravel ride. It also scrapped any hopes of riding for the next two weeks. I tried to get out about a week later for an easy ride and while the legs said YES the heart said NO. So back to bed rest for another few days. The next week I felt a little bit better, but that manflu was just hanging on like no bodies business. So I figured as it wasn’t in my chest (mostly a head cold at this point) I’d try and blow the cobwebs out of my system (see: snot rockets like a boss) and smash out a ride.
Did the trick. Didn’t completely cure me, but at least I felt like I wasn’t going to die anymore. Instead of Gippy Gold, Jem and I went out and did some reconnaissance for his upcoming Kyneton-Roobaix gravel ride, a much smarter plan for me recovery wise.
The day after I got a phone call from Dr Andrew Garnham from Alphington Sports Medicine Clinic. The week before he’d sent me for an ultrasound on my foot and had got the result back: I had two neuroma’s in my left foot. Neuromas. So that’s what was causing all my hot foot pain! Did I want to come in for some cortisone shots on Monday? It wasn’t ideal in terms of timing (cortisone can take 5-7 days to kick in) but hopefully if my foot was in agony on day 1 or day 2 of my ride, the cortisone might provide some relief on day 3. We would only do the one foot, and use the other as a ‘control subject’ to see if the cortisone had any effect.
This was probably the one thing that had really been giving me a lot of anxiety on the build up to the ride. The thought of riding and having my feet go into hot stabby pain was causing me so much fear it was nearly debilitating. So I can’t even describe the relief of having at least a shot of not riding in excrutiating pain.
Time to Launch: 5 days
The rest of the week was spent getting the bike into the mechanics to make sure it was ready to roll. And getting me into bed for as much rest as I could fit in around work, family, and house renovations (no, nothing is ever easy in the lead up for big rides).
Packing up the bikes on my car the three of us (myself, Damo and Peter) road tripped up to Adelaide on Friday. At dinner, we picked up our Spot Trackers for the ride, as well as the brevet card for the 1000km ride.
Time to Launch: 12 hours
Day 1: Time to Fly!
There’s something about the start of a ride that’s always exciting/nerve wracking. A quick speech from Peter Doonan (the ride organiser) and we were off into the Adelaide Hills. The forecast was going to be wet to start (and it had rained all night) but within three hours the sun came up and we were on our way!
Unfortunately all the wet roads meant the chances of flats increased, and our team had three flats within the first 60kms, putting our merry band of four a bit behind the main group of riders, many of whom we then caught up with as we rolled into the bakery at Milang.
MILANG Checkpoint 1 arrival time 9:28amTop Tube Sheet said: 9:27am
A bit of miscommunication about who was using what toilet and where we would catch up meant that our group of four disbanded a little bit and we lost Peter, leaving Damo, Thomas, and myself to ride together to the next checkpoint at the Ferry crossing. This section was heaps of fun as for a good portion of it we were heading North, and then East, meaning we had a cracking tail wind. Nothing like soft pedalling at over 30km/h!
The stop at the ferry crossing was a small mini-mart of limited food options (stale donut anyone?) but it was a good opportunity to top up the bidons before the next stretch.
WELLINGTON Checkpoint 2 arrival time: 11:26amTop Tube Sheet said: 11:52am
However, after that we had to head south. And that meant flying straight into the wind. And oh what a mighty wind it was. Working in our group of four went okay for a bit, but then Thomas decided he needed to work it at his own pace for a bit and dropped back. Damo, Peter and I worked as a group of three taking our turns at the front as we slowly creeped south. At about the 165km mark I saw we were passing a ‘pink lake’ and it was scenic. Well, scenic enough. How about pulling over for a picture here guys, I suggested, much to the relief of the other two who were also in need of a break from the delirium of the unrelenting winds.
Needless to say that was a much needed break, and to add to the hilarity Peter broke out a cracking Dad joke that had me in near hysterics. Possibly because I was close to hysterical already. Or because it was a great joke. Either way it broke the tension and we got back on the bikes in good spirits.
MENINGIE Checkpoint 3 arrival time: 2:00pmTop Tube Sheet said: 2:32pm
Another 20km of headwind after Meningie and we hit the coast and started heading south-east. Combined with heading into the Coorong National Park where we got some shelter from the wind we managed to pick up a bit of speed, and a bit more cheer. Seeing another scenic lookout we pulled over for another picture, and managed to get a shot of us instead of just our bikes.
Much to Peter’s (loudly proclaimed) disappointment the pub at Salt Creek was closed, so grumbling a little bit we rolled into the only supported daytime checkpoint a few hundred meters down the road for some hot soup.
SALT CREEK Checkpoint 4 arrival time: 4:57pmTop Tube Sheet said: 5:32pm
After seeing us all lined up against the wall giggling into our soup, Peter Doonan (RO) suggested that we were having far too much fun for such a long ride. I suggested that it could be perhaps down to Peter’s non-stop barrage of dad jokes along the way, combined with our propensity to stop and to the tourist thing along the way, that was keeping us in good spirits. Checking my phone I had a text from my friends overseas: “Go Tiffo – we can see you cruising past Salt Creek… thinking of you here and sending you all the power we have !!” Pretty cool to have friends in Europe watching and cheering me on!
The next leg of the journey suggested that it hadn’t been a merry day for everyone. Not too long after the three of us set off again Peter spotted a set of lights in the distance. Ooooh! Bunny chasing time!!
(Bunny chasing: a term Thomas came up with on our 300km ride last year. When you spot a set of lights in the distance and go into ‘fox mode’ to chase down the bunny. Can end up taking a rather long time, but it gives you something to do while riding along)
A bit later we closed in on the bunny: it was Tash, and her riding style suggested that she wasn’t feeling super fantastic. Turns out she had dropped off the back of the group she had been working with and had been solo for about 60km. Okay guys, let’s pick her up and get her home. Rolling up past her we slowed down and formed a triangle around her. Tucking her into the “lee of the stone” slot and out of the wind we rolled into the next checkpoint, where the wind and the rain had decided to increase.
KINGSTON Checkpoint 5 arrival time: 8:43pmTop Tube Sheet said: 9:47pm
The last 41km were tough. The rain and wind intensified as the road curved towards Robe, and we rode directly into the headwind again. I started to struggle mentally a little bit, and went into quiet, focused mode and tried to keep tapping out a consistent pace on the bike, as well as keep Tash as sheltered as we could. Slowing it down to make sure we all stuck near to each other, the legs went into ‘recovery mode’ to prepare for the next day. Peter and I chatted about whisky (and spoke lovingly about hot toddies and fireplaces) as we rode into what felt like a wall of wind and rain. So much so that my Garmin (which had been happily charging on the DynoHub) beeped at me to let me know I was riding less than 14km/h and it wasn’t charging!). Finally the lights of Robe appeared, and we rolled soggily into the last checkpoint of the day.
ROBE Checkpoint 6 arrival time: 11:14pmTop Tube Sheet said: 11:50pm
Day 2: Soggy flight
Ooooh that 4:50am alarm felt awfully early. Rolling out of bed for breakfast, a quick bike check and chain lube, and we were off. Luckily the first stretch of the road headed east, so a tailwind allowed the legs to roll easy for the first bit until they woke up and stopped complaining.
We ended up in a rather large, strong bunch for the first while, which meant we were ticking along at a lovely pace. My ‘inner racer’ appeared, and I ended up off the front with a bunch of five who broke from the pack as we neared the checkpoint. But after a turn near the front I finally convinced my legs that while it was heaps of fun to fly along, we had a long day ahead of us. Dropping off the pack I rolled into Millicent with Sam (who was riding day 1 of his 600km ride). Mumbling something about racers and speed, Thomas and Peter rolled in behind me for morning coffee and second breakfast.
MILLICENT Checkpoint 7 arrival time: 9:04amTop Tube Sheet said: 8:02am.
Adjusted for a 6:00am start: 9:02am
The next section had us down to a group of six, which is how we stuck for most of the rest of the day. Something that’s nice about having a slightly larger group to ride with is the variability of ride styles, strengths, and combinations. Sometimes I’d be off with a group of three, sometimes solo, and sometimes in a group of two. But we would always stop and wait if we ended up too separated. For me, this worked out really well. Even if weather wise it was turning out to be a rather soggy kinda day.
MT GAMBIER Checkpoint 8 arrival time: 11:27amTop Tube (adjusted) Sheet said: 11:25am
The next section didn’t improve much weather wise. We would get a moment or two when the rain would stop, but then we’d ride into another squall and get soaked again.
But onwards we went, mentally fuelled by more of Peter’s dad jokes that had me shaking my head for quite a long time. So I spent a bit of time wracking my brain trying to think of one that I could pull out for a later moment. Like the crossing of the border between South Australia and Victoria.
A few more kms and we were in Nelson for the next checkpoint, where we had a chance to chat with IndyPac’r Cédalise Mariotti (aka: French Dragon) about how amazing the weather had been for the past three days. She was in good spirits, probably because she hadn’t had to deal with dad jokes for the last couple days…
NELSON Checkpoint 9 arrival time: 2:15pmTop Tube (adjusted) Sheet said: 1:25pm
Top Tube (adjusted again for the time change) said: 1:55pm
The next section was one that had been causing a few of my friends back home some worry: the logging truck heavy section of the Lower Glenelg National Park and the Cobbobonnee Forest Park. Previous rider blogs on this section had described the shear terror and danger of being passed by logging trucks on a narrow road with no shoulder. However Peter (RO) had called up VicForests and had it confirmed that the trucks didn’t run on a Sunday, so we were free and clear from truck issues.
That meant this beautiful section through the forest became the highlight of my day. Not only were we riding through the forested section, which was like a balm to my soul, but also it got hilly. After 300km of very very flat roads, it confirmed what Jem has always said: hills aren’t IN the way. Hills ARE they way! And I flew very happily through this section with Sam, grinning all the way.
Heading into Portland we stopped for a bit to let a WIDE LOAD come through. It’s not often you get to see a truck carrying a wind turbine propellor, and man are they huge!!
After a bit of faffing about in Portland deciding where to go for dinner, we finally decided that Macca’s was the way to go, much to the amusement of the dot watchers. Sometimes you just need to keep it classy.
PORTLAND Checkpoint 10 arrival time: 5:48pmTop Tube (adjusted twice) Sheet said: 5:21pm
Riding out of Portland we turned to the North East and picked up some serious speed with the wind finally behind us, and Damo and I punched along at a ripping pace, fantasising about coming in close to our anticipated Day 2 finish time. Too ripping a pace though, as it turned out, when 35km later we ended up blowing up one of the riders. Dropping the pace down to 25km/h…. then 20km/h we gently eased into the never ending town entrance of Warrnambool. A lovely soup and rice combo later from the marvellous volunteers, and we all settled down for the night. We also said goodbye to Sam who was getting up much earlier than us to complete his 600km ride the next day. Sam, if you ever read this, it was a pleasure to ride with you!
WARRNAMBOOL Checkpoint 11 arrival time: 11:00pmTop Tube (adjusted twice) Sheet said: 9:36pm
Day 3: Fly home
On the third day of brevet my riding gave to me: Three pieces of toast, two tired legs, and a bum that was all sandpapery.
Yes, day three started off with more of a whimper than a bang as I eased myself back onto the bike. As was to be expected, everything was sore, and it took a little while longer to get warmed up. As we rode along in the darkness, Tash started chatting away to me.
Me: Tash, I haven’t had a coffee. Don’t talk yet.
Her: Oh! Are you not a morning person? I am, hahaha, but I don’t do as well at night, guess that’s why you get stronger as the day goes on eh? Chat chat chat chat.
Me: Tash? Shhhhhhhhh.
Silently I rode along, mentally trying to convince my body that we were indeed up for another day on the bike. And not just any day. But Day 3*.
(*Day 3 was where it all fell apart for me on Sydney-Melbourne and I had the worst day ever. Needless to say I was a tad bit anxious about what was in store for me on this third and final day of the ride. I hadn’t had any issues with my feet yet, aside from generally being tired, swollen, and sore, but Day 3 was a climbing day, and that can be a trigger for the pain. Combining the anxiety of a potentially painful day plus my natural tendency to hate mornings, I needed some quiet time. That, and I don’t talk much before coffee.)
But once the sun came up, so did my mood, and we were all treated to some glimpses of what the day held in store for us: a ride along the Great Ocean Road.
PORT CAMPBELL Checkpoint 12 arrival time: 9:15amTop Tube Sheet said: 8:52am
Knowing that the next section up to Lavers Hill and beyond had some significant climbing in it, I fuelled up at coffee and made sure everything was topped up. I’d spoken with the guys a bit earlier, and we had all agreed that the climbing section would be where we’d most likely split up: we’d need to ride the hills at our own pace. But first we would meet up at the 12 Apostles National Park. Because that was where “the pictures” of the ride would be taken.
Rolling into the park there weren’t a lot of tourists about (being Monday it was pretty quiet) but those that we did see took pictures of us as we slowly wove our bikes along the path towards the viewpoint.
And it was worth it. For the view.
After that we started the first climb of the day, so with one last “good luck on your ride!” Damo and I headed up the climb, and soon we were in the magical forests of the Otways.
Grinning like mad fools at each other, Damo and I set a solid pace as we climbed up and up and up towards Lavers Hill. Well, a solid pace in between taking photos on the phone and videos on the GoPro. Because it was truely an amazing place to be riding. Soon enough we saw a set of lights in the distance, and with a chuckle and a “here bunny bunny bunny” we went on the chase again to catch up to Thomas (who had not done the gravel adventure walk at the 12 Apostles, smart move). Catching up to him, we chatted for a bit until we hit the Apollo Bay turnoff where he stopped in for a drink and Damo and I continued on for the 15km ride to the “out and back” checkpoint at Ferguson, which meant we got to wave hello to the group of three guys who were in front of us.
As we climbed though, the temperature dropped about 5-6 degrees, so it was pretty chilly by the time we rolled into the checkpoint. The plan was to do a quick stop to warm up and then do a longer stop at Apollo Bay, but once I saw there was soup on offer our stop got a little bit longer. Rolling in behind us Thomas had the same idea: soup!! The lovely lady at the checkpoint gave me some plastic wrap for my feet, so wrapping the end of my toes I was able to descend the next section without going totally numb.
FERGUSON Checkpoint 13 arrival time: 1:20pmTop Tube Sheet said: 12:41pm (obviously had not accounted for adventure time and photo stops!)
Heading back along the 15km of rollers towards the Apollo Bay turnoff we got a chance to do our own “hello!” wave to the riders behind us, and cheer them on as they headed up towards the soup stop. While I must admit it was a bit frustrating to have an out and back segment (it just feels like you aren’t going anywhere!) it was nice to see some other riders along the journey.
When I was preparing for this ride, a few people had mentioned “Lavers Hill” with some trepidation, when really it should have been the Horden Vale Climb they should have warned me about. Thomas had said it was about two hours for the first climb (it took us an 1:45), and then the next climb was an hour.
But it wasn’t a pretty hour (or 52 minutes to be exact). We ‘only’ needed to climb to 300m above sea level before we could start the proper descent into Apollo Bay, but man that 300m was trickier to reach than it needed to be. It was constant up/down/up more/down a little/up/down which meant I could never settle into a rhythm. Damo and I both had the elevation profile on display on our Garmin’s so that we could see where the top of each point was, but it was like looking at a never ending set of teeth. At one point Damo suggested a 5 minute breather. Not yet, I said, two more climbs to go up and then I’ll stop.
Up. Down. Uuuuuuuup (shut up knees) and I spotted a safe place to pull over and so I stopped.
And leaned over the handlebars.
And had a little cry.
Damo suggested getting off the bike for a little bit, so I sat down and had a bite to eat. Checking my phone I had a few encouraging texts:
- “… the crowd is chaning .. “GO TIFFO ! GO TIFFO ! GO TIFFO!”
- “So the view is about to get soooo much better. Such a lovely ride from Apollo Bay to Geelong. Hope you’ve got some legs left”
- And one from my Dad watching from Canada. Just two words: “With you.”
Needless to say that one had me pretty choked up and I was very emotional for the next half hour, thinking of my Dad riding with me. But it helped. After a few minutes we got back on the bikes and headed onwards and upwards again until 3km later we finally reached the top.
After that we were treated to one of the most amazing descents we had done all day. No pictures were taken, no video footage grabbed, but the mental image of hitting that bend, seeing the ocean, and riding into the ocean spray will stick with me for a lifetime.
We finally hit Apollo Bay, and after a bit of riding up and down the main street we settled in for dinner.
APOLLO BAY Checkpoint 14 arrival time: 4:45pmTop Tube Sheet said: 4:03pm
Only one more checkpoint to go but it was the furthest distance between checkpoints yet: 112km to Geelong. Pouring a can of coke into one of my bidons we set off for another highlight of the ride: The Great Ocean Road (side note: I ended up taking a lot of GoPro footage of this section and not as many pics, so hopefully the video later shows more of how incredible this section was to ride).
That view. Oh that view!! Riding along this section was seriously amazing, as was the fact that with rather limited traffic it felt like we had most of the road to ourselves. Damo and I wound our way along the road as it rolled up and down along the coast. No more flat beach road here, this section went up down and round and round. Which meant I could get out of the saddle for a bit on the climbs, and then stay hovering for some of the descents. Because I was definitely doing the rando waltz* by this time.
(*Doing the rando waltz: a dance performed by long distance riders when their nether regions are getting sore from sitting on the saddle. Usually involves gearing down 1-2 gears, then standing a pedalling once or twice before freewheeling while stretching out one leg, then the other, then perhaps back again, before gently easing oneself back onto the saddle. Bonus points if one can rando waltz without wincing or hissing through ones teeth).
But the distance was starting to really take its toll. After a small quad cramp started appearing, I let Damo know I needed to back the pace off a little bit so that I could nurse my leg a bit. He suggested we pull over and stretch out a bit… and take some pics because VIEWS.
Pulling into Lorne at sunset we did a quick check of the spot trackers to see how everyone was tracking, and checked in to see how Tash was going as she was held up at Apollo Bay. Plan was for just a quick stop at a servo in Lorne so I could smash a Snickers bar and put more Coke in the bidon, and off we went towards Torquay where I suggested we might need one last stop before our final push to Geelong.
Turns out we didn’t really need to stop in Torquay. That last 22km was calling our name, so a quick change of clothes for Damo and we headed off the coastline and north towards Geelong… where it felt like we were riding into a freezer! The temperature dropped 5 degrees and we felt everyone of them. Cold and tired, we ticked the legs over towards Geelong… where of course on a dead straight road my Garmin lost the map.
Sigh. Don’t want to get pulled off course now! We double and triple checked we were on the right course, and kept heading north, slowly but surely tracking our way to Geelong, where it felt like every bump in the road was a lot bigger than it actually was, and every slight rise in elevation mountainous.
But so…. cold!!! I didn’t have any more clothes left, and just needed to push that last 8km in, but I was starting to dream about the jogging pants and hoodie that I knew I had stashed away in my clothes bag. Thoughts of warm food and warm clothes dominated my thoughts…. and then we were finally there!
1km left… 500m left… and then I could see Max on the side of the road, camera ready to capture our arrival into Geelong. Damo flew past Max with a “I’m just gonna ride home” and I managed not to fall off my bike as I burst into laughter.
GEELONG Checkpoint 15 arrival time: 11:00pmTop Tube Sheet said: 10:09pm
- Distance: 1007.6km with 5271 vertical
- Elapsed time: 64 hours 30 minutes
- Moving time: 42 hours 1 minute
- Average speed: 24.0 km/h
- Average heart rate: 131
- Time in ‘Endurance’ T1: 2 hours 43 minutes
- Time in ‘Moderate’ T2: 36 hours 7 minutes
- Time in ‘Tempo’ T3: 2 hours 57 minutes
- Time in ‘Threshold’ T4: 13 minutes
- Calories burnt: 13206
- Average temperature: 13 degrees