Like all good tales do, this starts well before the beginning. In fact, this one started just over a year ago when I met Thomas Price for the first time (see: Boogie in Strathboogie Success). It hadn’t been too long before that ride that I’d had the phone call asking me if I’d ride PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) the next year, so when I saw someone wearing a vest with “PBP” across it I knew he was the man I needed to talk to. Since then we’ve done a few rides together and had a lot of half-started-and-then-forgotten-what-we-were-talking-about kinda chats. But one that stuck with me was his mention of how he rides an Audax 600km brevet. Which is straight through. No sleep.
Wait, what? Why??
For those who are wondering what an Audax 600 looks like, it tends to (depending on your speed and ride style) be ridden in two ‘chunks’:
Day One is the longer of the two days, with the idea to get the big kms done while you are freshest, and then back it up on Day Two to finish off the ride sometime in the late afternoon/early evening. The pics above are from my first 600 (where it was split into 350/250) and Jump the Gun (my second 600, see below) was the same strategy: 370km, sleep, 230km, done.
However, when chatting to Thomas on one of our rides, he mentioned that he likes to ride the 600km straight through the night, and then finish sometime around lunch the next day. That gives him time, he said, to drive home, shower, eat, and get a good nights sleep before returning to work the next day. Because that is how we roll. Not that I’m ever super efficient at work on the Monday after a long weekend ride!
But as per usual, this idea planted a seed in my brain, so when I was planning out my PBP strategy I had a good long talk to Thomas: given that he’d ridden with me a lot now on these longer rides, what did he think about the idea of riding PBP as a 600/400/200 (as in, 600 on Day 1, 400 on Day 2, and 200 on Day 3).
He thought about it for a bit (after all, we had nothing but time as we were riding the Ballarat 400km at the time). He said he’d done PBP as a 600/600 and it was pretty miserable, and that he’d wished he’d broken up the last 600 into two smaller bites as the last 200 was a nightmare. So my 600/400/200 sounded like a very solid strategy. I just needed to ride a straight 600 to test out the game plan.
So let’s plan for that.
As this ride was going to be a perm*, it meant that we needed to decide what date we wanted to ride it on.
A permanent is an Audax ride that you can do at your convenience. They are intended for experienced randonneurs and only Audax Australia members can enter. Permanent rides have been established for the enjoyment of members. Permanents can be ridden at anytime with prior agreement from the Ride Organiserhttps://www.audax.org.au
We started to-ing and fro-ing on this about mid-April. Trouble was, after the Geelong Flyer my head ‘fell off’ and I didn’t really feel like riding much at all. I had expected this, and had given myself a month ‘break’ to recover and just ride for fun. And oh what fun I had!
But after a month I still didn’t want to get back on the bike for anything longer than five or six hours, nor did I have much heart to get back into training. So I tried booking in a couple of perms to ride while I was at Wilson’s Prom with the family, but the extreme weather conditions made it too unsafe to ride. Mojo = gone.
Trying not to get too deep into a funk, I booked in another couple of local perms, and asked some of my mates to ride with me. Life, family, plans, and fitness makes it tough at this time of year to find people willing (and able) to ride long, but lucky for me I had one mate still ready to roll. And after riding “Tour de Dunny Blocks” with my buddy Mitch I was back in the game. Mojo = found!
Which was handy as Thomas messaged me the next day confirming that we were still riding… the next weekend.
So to set the context of this one, I had ridden the aforementioned two 600s, and on both I slept overnight, as discussed above. I also had some support crew on both: on the Traverse of Central Victoria we were out and back from Bendigo, meaning I could leave a drop bag in the Air BnB in Bendigo and re-pack up for Day 2 (also: had warm meal, shower, and bed waiting as my husband was crewing for us at that stop). On the Jump the Gun we had support at Maryborough, and returned there a number of times on the multiple loop course, so after the first loop I was never more than 50km away from a supported stop.
This would be different: we were completely unsupported, and way far away from any rescue if it was needed. We were also riding through the night, and I’d have to carry enough stuff to get me through. Needless to say this was making me a bit worried, so I messaged Thomas. A lot.
After many chats to consolidate the number of layers I’d need , thoughts turned to how to survive the night ride. His response was equally worrisome:
Now I have ridden an overnighter before (my third Audax ride was a 24hour Oppy) but again, I was riding with a team, and it was brilliantly crewed by Jem with support every 50km or so. Thomas and I had some rather large gaps between stops, and there were a few possibilities that nothing would be open at the time of night we would roll through.
So combined with my knowledge that I needed to stay warm, as well as fed, I packed everything. EVERYTHING. Needless to say my bike had a lot of stuff on it.
No. Sleep. Till 600!
The nice thing about a perm is that as long as the ride organiser agrees to it you can start at any of the checkpoints, and start at any time of day. So while this one ‘officially’ starts in Melbourne, we were able to start it in Romsey, which meant only a 20 minute drive for me at the start (and end) of the ride. A much nicer change than the usual 1-2 hour drive before Audax rides! And given the likely buildup of traffic in Melbourne Thomas suggested we aim to be in Wandong (so in and out of Melbourne) before 5:00pm. Working backwards meant we were looking at an 11:00am start.
Meeting up with Thomas at the start, we had a quick chat about how much stuff we were packing… and let’s just say his eyes widened at the size of my gear bag. I dithered a lot before we headed off: should I unpack my winter jacket? Was I really going to need three pairs of gloves? And surely I could not bring the knee warmers? I had triple checked the weather before we left and knew it would be bright and clear all night (no rain hooray!) but that meant it was probably going to be colder than the temperatures forecasted, so I left everything in the bag.
Aside from one Clif Bar. I took one out just so that I felt a little better. And off we went!
The first 40km were a fantastic way to start the ride. The sun was shining, we had a mild tailwind, and it was downhill (aside from one cheeky little 14% climb that very quickly let me know how heavy my bag was, and that it was going to feel a little ‘off’ as I climbed. Will need to get used to that!). The only hang up was that my tummy was playing a lot of odd games with me: were we cramping? Was I going to need to get off the bike? Surely this pain will go away? Whatever it was, it was a rather uncomfortable feeling, and putting it down to ‘nerves’ I ignored it and pedalled on.
Smiling we headed into town our speed rapidly dropped from 31km/h to 22km/h, which is where it stayed as we made our way in and out of the city. Someone even yelled “Pay f*&$ing rego!” out the window of their car at me. They even fit the stereotype of the type of person who would yell this. I tried not to giggle. It was a real moment!
Once we (finally!) got out of Melbourne and were heading back up towards Wandong (our second checkpoint) I commented on how crap that section was and how awful I found the traffic. My entire body had tensed up and I think my shoulders were around my ears. My tummy was still not happy, and the pain was compounded by the stress that I felt riding through traffic. Thomas just looked over and said that he thought it had been a pretty good run. I guess it’s what you’re used to… but I’ll take quiet country roads in rural Victoria thanks!
Load up on food
The original plan was to stop briefly in Wandong and plan for dinner in Nagambie, but we decided not to hedge our bets against anything being open at the time of night that we were planning on being in Nagambie and had dinner in Wandong. And then the sun started setting. And it started to get colder very quickly.
Layering up we headed north towards Nagambie, and watched the sunset and the moonrise during my favourite time of day. And yet again the scenery didn’t disappoint, it was a stunning time of day to ride into.
It’s just hard to take pictures with gloves on. Sorry. Not as much visual this blog!
Rolling into Nagambie just before 9pm we were able to have second dinner (for those interested I had a veggie souvlaki for 1st dinner and chips and gravy for 2nd dinner. My tummy had finally settled enough to want to try and eat something, which was a relief). We were both in good spirits, staying pretty warm and riding well.
The night is dark and full of layers
I was experimenting with different layering options and was feeling okay in what I had chosen, but the temperatures kept dropping. My Garmin read 10 degrees in Nagambie and it dropped to 6 degrees just before Shepparton (but I did have it plugged in to charge via the dynohub which tends to increase the temperature reading while it’s charging). Thomas’s Strava file suggests it dropped to between 3-4 degrees. Either way, it was getting colder.
|Body area||Clothing Choices|
|Feet||Regular socks, full booties, flankles|
|Body||Brevet knicks, jersey, arm warmers, long sleeved brevet jersey, wind shell jacket, wind vest|
|Head||Buff and cycling cap|
The next checkpoint was in Shepparton and there wasn’t much choice in terms of food so we hit the local Maccas. Shepparton was pretty rocking at midnight, lots of shenanigans happening! Let’s just say with the combination of clothes I was wearing I got a few looks (did I mention the booties were high vis yellow, my wind shell jacket orange, and my wind vest light blue? Let’s just say I was VERY visible. No there aren’t any pictures). Though really, if you’re sitting half-cut in Macca’s at midnight who are you to judge me?
That being said, I did decide that the cold front that hit us as we headed into Shep was colder than the gear I was wearing, so switched into my winter jacket (which was a proper cycling jacket I’d picked up in Sweden) as well as adding an extra buff over my head, as well as another pair of gloves.
After some warm food and drinks of questionable quality we headed back into the night, where it was Thomas’s turn to have tummy issues. That Macca’s definitely was not agreeing with him, so we eased off on the pace a bit and just ticked along as best we could. And it warmed up a little bit (to 10) so we weren’t suffering much from the cold. But those first few kms out of any checkpoint were always rough – knowing you’d eventually warm up and actually starting to feel warm are two different things!
For those who haven’t ridden in the dark before it’s an odd experience. I do enjoy it (or at least try and enjoy it as much as I can). The moon was nearly full, which meant that it wasn’t “country Victoria dark” and we could at least see some silhouettes of trees and horizon, which made it feel like we were less alone. But it’s slow going in the dark. Hitting Dookie we pulled over for a quick break and I checked to see how we were travelling.
Half way. Well, nearly. 295km in. Usually I find this a little ‘woo hoo’ moment as we tick over the half way mark… but we had a long way to go. A very long way to go, and somehow hitting this at 2:00am and knowing we’d be riding until about 6:00pm later that day… well, let’s just say it felt like it was a very, very long ride. And we were starting to get sleepy.
Thomas decided it was time to put on the music he had brought, and within a couple of minutes the sound of “Dancing Queen” penetrated the silence of the night. I looked over at him. I thought you were joking about Abba.
Nope. Abba Greatest Hits. I chuckled as we rode along (those who rode The Oppy will appreciate the music choice I’m sure). Humming along we kept riding into the night, the silence broken only by the sound of our tyres on the road… and whatever other tunes Thomas had loaded into the music player he was carrying.
But it helped. David Bowie was then replaced by a Queen, then Groove Armada. It was an eclectic mix, but it didn’t really matter as it was the sound that kept our brains stimulated as we rode towards Wangaratta, ticking past Devenish just before 3:00am.
The witching hour
And then the nods hit me at exactly 3:45am. I slowed down and dropped well behind Thomas, wanting to put as much distance as I could between us so there was no chance of me causing an accident as I struggled to stay awake. I could feel myself weaving a bit along the road as I drifted in and out of micro-sleeps. A figured a little fresh air might help, so pulled the buff down off my face, and had a drink of water. But it was somewhere between 2-6 degrees at this point so it was just too cold to have my face exposed, so within minutes it was back on.
Sooooo sleeeeeepy. Flat roads in the dark are NOT ideal when you have the nods!
In hindsight, I could have done a couple other things to help me from falling asleep, like mini-sprints, eating something, or at least chewing some gum, or staying near Thomas and trying to talk through it. But my brain had gone totally numb and wasn’t thinking clearly.
Luckily we hit the climb into Wangaratta and the change of elevation helped immensely. Thomas was happy to tick up the climb, but I needed some mental and physical stimulation to shake me out of the sleepy stage so I hit it a little quicker from the get go, hoping the increased pace and heart rate would kick me from my slumber state. And it worked a treat. By 4:15 I had shaken myself out of the witching hour nods and was feeling okay again as we pulled into the servo in Wang.
It’s always darkest (and coldest) before the dawn
It was now 5:00am at the coldest it had been all night. My feet were starting to give me a lot of grief so I took my shoes off and sat with them up on a chair. Picking up some paw-paw ointment in an attempt to stop the chafing from hurting so much I tried to gather my scattered thoughts back together and put some ‘food’ into me. Servo food. Bleurgh. Turning on my phone on to post an update I had a text message come through from a mate: “Hang in there. Suns up soon. Will be totally amaze balls.” Smiling at his attempt to cheer me up I looked over at Thomas. Sun’s almost up mate. Not long now right? Small smile. We were in survival mode, just hanging on for that first light to hit.
Leaving the Wang servo wasn’t the easiest thing to do. I know I’ve mentioned that it was cold, but when you’re so fatigued your body becomes a very efficient machine at storing and using energy. Meaning that it was not generating any extra effort to heating me up at all. Add to that the coldest temperatures yet (Thomas was reading 1 degree, mine said 3) and a very dark flat section of road and the nods started hitting me again.
FOCUS TIFFO FOCUS!!!!
And then glancing over my left shoulder I saw the light. Literally. Thomas, look!!!! The sun!!
I can see the light!
Thomas looked blearily over and then said we must be nearing the next servo. Let’s stop in there and have a warm drink, it’ll do us a world of good, and we’ll hit the road in the light again. So we pulled into Glenrowan for a coffee and warmed up a bit. And he was right, it did us a world of good. But we both knew we were just hanging for our next stop in Euroa where breakfast awaited us!
Sun up, temperatures up, and smiles back on, our speed also increased a little bit as we came back to life.
After negotiating some not ideal roads (no one needs to ride on the highway. Ever. That sucked) we rolled into Euroa. I stopped at the first bakery and Thomas proceeded to roll up and down the street looking for a place that served eggs on toast, which he had been focused on for at least a couple hours 🙂
But we found something even better. The fabled food of Audax lore: minestrone!!
Saved by minestrone
Looking back, we realised that we hadn’t really eaten properly since Nagambie, 14 hours earlier, and had only been ‘snacking’ as we rode through the night. Not that we had a lot of other options, but not eating ‘real food’ really had taken a toll on us. Minestrone brought both of us back to life, and we felt ready to take on the last 130km of the ride with a lot more enthusiasm than we’d had rolling into this checkpoint.
But still, 130km is a long way to go
Tick tick tick. Keep those legs just ticking over. This was our last ‘flat’ section of the ride before we hit the last climbing section. But we could see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and knew it was just a matter of time before we finished the 600. We still both occasionally got the nods, but it wasn’t anywhere as bad as it had been overnight.
But the rando dancing was strong, and we were both really starting to feel the body niggles that indicated we had been on the bike for quite a long time. And just for fun, the neuroma’s in my feet decided to flare up.
Let’s just say it was hard not to start swearing/break down into tears. Looks like I haven’t solved that problem fully yet. Well that’s frustrating to say the least*! Luckily (?) it was worse in the control foot than the one that had had the shot, which gave me some hope for the future.
For those playing back home, I have two neuroma’s in my left foot, and most likely 1-2 in my right foot. Back in March I had an appointment to have two cortisone shots to the left foot, and none in the right (which would act as a control foot). However, ever since then I haven’t had a flare up so had starting hoping that it was fixed. Turns out that’s a no.
Pulling to our second to last checkpoint in Seymour we headed straight for the bakery, knowing exactly what we’d need to get us through the last 70km of hills: sugar and carbs.
Even though we were now on home turf for me, I had actually never ridden the roads were were about to head into Lancefield on. But I knew it would be hilly: we were, after all, back in the Macedon Ranges.
All right, let’s do this. I pulled out my headphones and put one in (the side that doesn’t face the road) and decided to go with the playlist I’d put together when I did my Everesting. After all, it had helped me ride the hills then, and music memory is strong right?
The first 25km from Seymour to Tooborac were a leg sucking pain in the butt and to be quite honest I wasn’t really feeling the love. Up, down, but never with enough momentum to get really rolling. Could also have been the fact I was conserving my legs, couldn’t really sit down… or had 550km in my legs. Whatever it was, I was feeling very over it at this point. Rolling past the Tooborac brewery (sigh) we turned towards Lancefield, and then the magic started to come together for me.
And I felt great. Well, great-ish. I put the Garmin on elevation profile so I could see where to start saving/spending energy on the climbs, and got into a groove. Aided by the dulcet tones of The Prodigy and The Beastie Boys I felt just fine rolling along. After all, this is what I’ve been training for and practicing for months now, and it finally started coming together.
Stopping briefly at the top so I could dig out the layers I’d ditched hours ago, we knew it wasn’t long now… and there was a downhill coming.
Sunset on one side of the road, and the most amazing moon rise on the other, I flew grinning like an idiot down that hill, and then eased up so we could ride together into Lancefield.
So very close now, and with one last push into approaching darkness we got through Lancefield and started the last drag into Romsey. And I still had legs left! Leaving it in the big chain I crushed (cough) up the climbs into Romsey … mostly because I knew my Garmin would start beeping at me if I didn’t keep my speed high enough to charge.. and I just didn’t feel like that would be motivating at this stage of the game.
With one last cracking descent into Romsey, we turned the corner into the carpark where it had all started… 31 hours and 17 minutes earlier.
So the point?
The purpose of this ride, other than getting to hang out with Thomas for a couple days, was sleep deprivation training. Not speed. Not endurance. But sleep deprivation. Was it possible for me to ride the entire way without sleeping?
Turns out I can… but I think a micro nap (not on the bike!) could have been super helpful, and had it not been so cold I think it would have been useful, so I’m adding that into my PBP plan.
It also showed me that I’m now running with about 600+ base k’s in my legs: the endurance is there. Now heading into PBP it’s time to sharpen.
2 months and 28 days to go
- Distance: 600.7km with 3690m vertical
- Elapsed time: 31 hours 17 minutes
- Moving time: 25 hours 55 minutes
- Average speed: 23.2 km/h
- Average heart rate: 129
- Calories burnt: 9106
- Average temperature: 12 degrees
- Max temperature: 23 degrees
- Min temperature: 3 degrees