You did what?
That’s the first question isn’t it really. Why oh why would I want to even look at another 1200, much less actually sign up to ride one. Had I lost my mind?
Well. Yes. And that’s why I wanted to ride this one.
Hello darkness my old friend
The months following PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) were tough. Physically I healed, though given the damage that I’d done to myself it took a lot longer than I wanted it to. But mentally and spiritually I was broken, and I needed time to heal. Yes by myself, yes self-inflected, but still hurt very much. My brain had gone into retreat mode, similar to most people’s brains when they experience a painful event. I had been hurt very badly. And something inside me went snap.
The results fit with a growing body of evidence showing that athletes have greater pain tolerance than the general population. Interestingly, they seem to have roughly the same pain threshold: If you gradually turn up a stimulus such as heat or electric shocks, they’ll start feeling pain at the same time as everyone else. They’re just willing to endure it at higher levels, and for longer.https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/fitness/training-to-live-with-pain-what-we-can-learn-from-elite-athletes/article16627887/
Simply put I had gone too far. Too far past the pain threshold. Too far past the point where I should have stopped. I had deliberately inflicted severe physical and psychological suffering on myself. My body knew that it had been tortured, so my brain decided it wasn’t happy with me. At all.
I was in a bad place.
So it was “perfect” timing less than a month after PBP to get a message from Mark asking about the Geelong Flyer 1200. TOO SOON?????
Got to get myself together
Arriving back home from Europe I was still thinking about the Geelong Flyer, but I knew that I wasn’t in a good enough space to even think about doing something like this. I also knew that if I didn’t register for it that it would fill up very quickly. I sent a very tentative email to Peter Donnan (the ride organiser) to say I was a strong maybe, and a few days later he sent me the registration link and password. So I filled in my details, took a deep breath, and hit the enter button.
I went into “fix Tiffo mode” and got my s**t sorted. A visit to Dom (my osteopath) suggested that my body had maladjusted to riding poorly, but that we could do some rehab to my neck to get it working again. On my second visit I let him know that we had seven (yup, 7) weeks to get everything working again. He just looked at me in shock, shook his head, and said he’d see me next week. Because we were going to have to do a lot of work on my body to get it ready. That, combined with a couple months of solid indoor trainer time (yes, back in the bat cave I went) to work on ride mechanics, would sort out the physical issues.
The mental issues were another matter. Even though I’d gone out for a couple of gravel rides since I’d been back, my body and my brain were NOT talking to each other. Well, not talking to each other nicely that was. And each time I thought about getting back on my road bike my body seized up and my face started leaking. When I finally did get back on the bike in early October, well, it wasn’t pretty. My brain went into hyper panic mode and screamed at me that everything was hurting. Every bump I went over felt like a punch, my neck was tingling, and for sure I was going to get another infection in the lady bits so we should just stop riding RIGHT NOW. Flashbacks of PBP went hurtling through my brain at a rapid rate.
So I made an appointment with my GP and got some help. I talked through some of my issues and began deactivating the fear center of my brain which had been running rampant. I rode my bike for fun. I sat and breathed. And slowly, through effort, repetition, and time, I got myself back together.
A very clear game plan was set up for this ride, including what indicators would flag me to tell me when to stop riding (you know, like not being able to hold my head up). But the most important game plan of all was the simplest: just ride my bike. And let my body and my brain get back together again.
So no build up. No anticipation. No social media. No dot watching (aside from Max and a few friends who knew what I was up to). Just me, my Audax mates, and my bike.
Day 1: Adelaide to Robe
Surprisingly I felt pretty good on the bike right from the start. After working through the Adelaide hills, I settled into a comfortable pace with Mark Thomas and Leigh Patterson, and the three of us chatted most of the way to the first checkpoint. Where upon opening messenger, Thomas and Peter (who weren’t riding the Flyer this time) had decided to help fuel our ride… with dad jokes.
Turns out it’s a little embarrassing to snort laugh in a public place. But not embarrassing enough not to do it again…
Next leg of our day was down to Wellington and the ferry crossing. Still so far so good, and riding smart: keep the body position stable and aligned, keep the sit bones on the saddle, stand up every so often, keep the chamois cream applied, and take anti-inflammatories before anything goes awry. And tell dad jokes to keep the spirits up. Life was good.
The last time I rode the Geelong Flyer we had a strong SE wind the entire first day (which was fun as most of this leg is south east…) and it was a tough slog of a day, punctuated with dad jokes. This time round we had a SW wind (topped out at 35km/h with gusts over 40) which meant while it wasn’t exactly helping us, it wasn’t as hard as a block headwind either.
But either way the Coorongs were tough.
Leigh decided this was a good time to tell us a story of another ride he had been on involving the wind, which led into another tale, which led into another story about something else. Mark sat behind us while I listened to Leigh. Once Leigh finished the one tale he immediately started on another one, which led into another tangent which led to another story, which must have been funny as he started laughing just trying to get the story started.
A little while later Mark let me know he was singing a Clash song in his head to help this part of the ride fly along. He said it was to the tune of Rock the Casbah but with slightly different lyrics involving some anatomically impossible things to do to the Coorongs…
Arriving at Salt Creek Roadhouse we were greeted by Peter who was running support here, and the four of us (as we had picked up Alan Walker along the way) sat down, classy rando style, along the wall giggling into our soup… where we watched the wind pick up Mark’s bike and tip it over.
Luckily everything was fine with the bike, so with heartfelt thanks to Peter for the soup and rolls, we all packed an extra roll in our jersey pockets and headed out for the 84km stretch into Kingston. Including more dad jokes told by Thomas via messanger, and more stories told by Leigh. With the wind picking up, I got down into the drops and drove us towards the servo, where I knew there would be a large hot chocolate for me.
Unfortunately after this section my tummy decided it wasn’t happy both riding AND digesting food, and it let me know that fact quite loudly. Dropping to the back I rode in silence for awhile, trying to get everything to settle down. Then it was back to the front, down in the drops, and charging into a solid wall of wind as we made our way south, and the south-west, into Robe.
Phrase learned during Day 1
Rando Unit: the length of time it takes Leigh to tell a story. Therefore the distances between checkpoints can be measured in rando units, not necessarily kms.
Day 2: Robe to Warrnambool
Mmmm early morning wake-ups after not much sleep and then back on the bike always feels so good… said no one ever. Let’s just say that I’m not a morning person and it takes me quite a while to warm up, and we’ll leave it at that. Don’t poke the bear. Those first few hours back on the bike never feel great, but I knew from last time that eventually I’d warm up and my legs would stop saying horrid things to me and it would be fine. But dang I was getting tired of riding flat roads!
Heading out of Millicent and towards Mt Gambier the roads started getting lumpy. That, combined with warmer legs and some terrible dad jokes sent from Thomas, and I was in better spirits.
And I knew that following some hot chips and gravy in Mt Gambier we’d be heading across the border into Victoria, and then into some climbing in my favourite section to ride for Day 2.
We were now over 500km into the ride, and everything was ticking along smoothly. I had a few aches and pains, but they were all ‘normal’ things that were hurting. Nothing extreme, and nothing that was causing me too much pain. Well, aside from the dad jokes, which Mark had decided to add to as we rolled along.
And then we hit Lower Glenelg National Park, and I was in my happy place again. Because hills aren’t in the way. Hills are the way. And that also meant I could stand up and get out of the saddle, thus reducing any chance of turning my lady bits into minced meat again.
Rolling into Portland we were saddened by the closure of the noodle bar which Leigh had recommended, so it was back to the ever so classy Macca’s to pack in some calories (and add on a rando unit) before the next long stretch into Warrnambool.
Leigh knew of a spot in Port Fairy that we could top up our water as well as take a food break, so we made our way there as the guys relayed stories of doing the GSR and their run into Port Fairy on that ride. Port Fairy never seemed to arrive, they said, it just took forever. You’d see the lights, but it just dragged and dragged and dragged on and on and on… Hey Tiffo you should think about doing the GSR with us next time! Oh for sure yeah, because you’re selling it so well guys!
But even though it felt like Port Fairy would never come, it did eventually. So we sat outside of a closed servo and had a picnic. Pulling out of the servo I heard the faint strains of “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. Looking over I see Mark chuckling to himself as he danced up the road. Shaking my head in wonder (what is it with Audax and ABBA?) we headed towards Warrnambool.
It was a beautiful night for riding under a nearly full moon as we made our way south east, but my word it was cold. The closer we got to the final checkpoint of the day, the colder it got (my Garmin read 4 degrees). Normally you’d want to speed up a bit and generate some body heat, but on long multi-day rides burning matches like that isn’t a great idea, so we kept our pace steady and tried not to think about the fact I couldn’t feel my hands. Or my feet. Or my face.
As we got closer to town, I said to Mark to watch out for the “Warrnambool cobbles” aka the terrible kilometres of road surface on the way in. Sure enough, he rode right onto them, and conversation fell to a minimum as no one wanted to accidentally bite their tongue off. For once, the “bike path” on the side of the road was better than the actual road surface, so I just hung out on the far left of the road, occasionally wincing and hissing through my teeth as I hit a rough patch. Then finally, after the never-ending traffic lights, we made it to our accommodation.
Phrase learned during Day 2
Hamburger Helper: any significantly torn up pavement surface on the road that one rides over (seated) after 600km.
Day 3: Warrnambool to Geelong
Third verse, same as the first! A whole lot louder and a whole lot worse… wait, no, that’s not right.
Day three was climbing day, and while my legs were getting a little bit louder, nothing seemed to be getting worse. Body scan indicated that I had some niggles in my neck, but these were in the ‘normal’ spot, not the ‘your neck is about to fail’ spot. Body was also doing ok, the tape I had put on my knee and my left calf seemed to be holding everything together. And seriously that chamois creme was working its magic as we had little, if no issues, in the shorts.
So let’s ride. Because today was photo day! Picturesque day? However you said it, it was definitely the most scenic day of them all, because today we were heading along the Great Ocean Road.
And the weather was going to be glorious.
After many sets of roadworks (almost enough to turn this into a gravel ride… almost) we hit the sign indicating we were on the Great Ocean Road. So it took us a little longer to get to first coffee, because it was time to take all the pictures.
After second breakfast we headed out of Port Campbell towards the 12 Apostles for some more pictures.
After that it was time to head up to Laver’s Hill, an 18.5km rolling climb which would be our biggest climb of the day. With an agreement that we’d all head up at our own pace and meet at the cafe at the top, we set off, and shortly after I was on my own.
And then the foot pain kicked in. Sigh. It wasn’t that much of a surprise, after all it was day 3, it was warming up, and I was climbing, the trifecta of foot triggers for me. But worrying about it wasn’t going to make it any better, so I just did what I knew would ease the pain a little bit: on each small descent on the climb, I’d lift one foot a little higher at the upstroke, and keep it there to ease the pressure of the bottom of it. Then I’d change sides. Sometimes that was enough to ease the pain, sometimes it wasn’t, but it least it gave me something to do.
Tick tick tick up we went. Occasionally I’d see Leigh just ahead of me around a bend, and then he’d disappear as the road descended and I’d do my ‘foot trick’ and not pedal.
And then I felt my shoulders creeping up. Be cool b***h, be cool, was the advice given to me by Dom before I set out on this ride. When you’re climbing, he said, you tend to hunch up a little around your shoulders. It’s just a little hunch, but over time this’ll add up. So be cool. Drop them down. You know where your power is driven from. Use those points and focus.
Be cool. Be cool. Be cool.
And I was, and because of that it was a solid climb. Laver’s Hill isn’t the easiest climb in the world, but it isn’t super awful either. The hot foot made it a bit uncomfortable, as did the sweaty eyeballs as the temperature rose in sections along the climb, but as I settled in I really enjoyed it. Mostly. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t a bit cooked.
But it wasn’t Laver’s Hill that was pre-occupying me. It was the Horden Vale Climb which was coming up next. This was the climb that broke me a little the last Geelong Flyer because of its unrelenting up/down/up/down that never seemed to end. But this time I was prepared. Throwing some tunes on I shoved my phone in my pocket so I could hear my playlist, and I started the climb. Uuuuuuup the first gruelling 2km, then “the teeth” started. Be cool, be cool, be…. oh, there’s the spot I pulled over at last time. But not today! I grinned as I rode past it, knowing I was no where near having to stop. In fact, I was feeling great!
Then wheeeeeeeeeee downhill towards Apollo Bay where Leigh and I proceeded to find somewhere to stop for dinner. Pizza. Good. It also gave me time to check in with the dad jokes crew. where Peter Carr sent one that had me actually crying with laughter. It also could be the lack of sleep and hundreds of kms in the legs… or just because he’s so hilarious.
The next section was glorious. Unfortunately it was Mark’s turn to get the tummy issues, so we needed to keep the pace steady as we wound our way along the coast. Which was absolutely fine by me, as it allowed a lot more time to see the views. My legs were smashed and cramping by the time I’d hit this section last time, and it was dark, so being able to ride along here with the sun setting behind us was just amazing.
The 111km stretch from Apollo Bay to Geelong is the longest stretch between checkpoints on the entire 1200, so it was nice to pull into Lorne and do some more “that’s rando” posing outside. Surely it must be time for an Audax calendar, who wouldn’t pay good money for an entire year of shots like this?
The sun set just as we entered Anglesea, which meant I got to do the climb out of Anglesea in twilight. It didn’t make it hurt any less, but it made it prettier…
And then we hit Airey’s Inlet and what felt like a plague of locusts. There aren’t many words to describe what it was like riding into the absolute swarm of insects, but for the fellow Trekkies out there, it kinda felt like the Enterprise entering warp mode. Yes, that many bugs. Lots of additional protein on this section of the ride.
The temperature stayed nice and warm as we rolled into Torquay, and we pulled over to check our navigation on the next section. Some road works meant that our original route had closed off, so Peter had set up a deviation for us to take. I’m not sure we took the exact right route change, but we ended up where we needed to be. Eventually. And that was Geelong.
Phrase learned during Day 3
That's what she said: adding this phrase to the end of nearly any sentence seemed to trigger immediate hilarity
Day 4: Geelong to Geelong
Today is your day
You’re off to great places
You’re off and away
You’ve got brains in your head
You’ve got feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any
Direction you choose
Unless the map says otherwise.
In which case it’ll probably be a headwind.Dr Seuss… with additional lines from Tiffo
You know those days when you look at the weather forecast, it looks terrible, and you think “how bad could it be?”
That was today.
It started off okay, a bit cold which was a small shock to the system after the heat of yesterday, but still it was a lovely sunrise as we warmed up on the leg out of Geelong. The industrial park views left a little to be desired, especially after yesterday, but it was better than being on the busy roads.
Yet again I felt cranky and not ready to talk, so it was a slow and quiet ride north east towards the You Yangs. Well, quiet until Mark pulled up next me. Giving him a look that would have suggested I didn’t particularly want to engage in conversation, I pedalled on. He grinned, then said “did you hear the one about the priest…” and that was all it took. I burst into giggles, and we were good to go for the day. Well, for at least 10 minutes, and then it was time for another bad pun (are there any other type?). Because this was going to be a hard day, and I’d need to ride it fuelled by dad jokes. But let’s just say the bar was getting set pretty low on the quality of the jokes. It was nearly dad joke limbo time: how low can you go?
The weather system was already messing with us, and with my lack of temperature regulation (because it was day 4 and I was tired) it made for a tricky day. I’d get cold, so would pull over and pull my rain jacket on, telling the guys to head on without me and that I’d catch up. No sooner would I get going then I’d be warm again, and wanting to take the jacket off. Then I’d feel like a steamed dim sim and finally succumb to taking my jacket off again, and the temperature would plummet. And so on and so forth. It was a long first stretch… and then we turned west.
The last thing you want to do on Day 4 is sit in the saddle or put any pressure on your hands or feet, but that’s what we had to do. For a good portion of the day the winds were so strong that there weren’t many options other than to ‘grin and bear it’ so to speak. And that meant that the arms, legs, saddle area, and neck, were taking a bit of a pounding.
Pulling into Anakie we all felt a little beaten. The next stretch into Meredith wasn’t easier either. But at least the wind had picked up… and I got some more practice swearing at the wind.
Turning to head south west into some vicious cross-head winds it started getting ridiculous. I’ve done some windy rides, but this one had crept up into the top 5 of “windiest rides I’ve done,” and the day wasn’t over yet. At one point Mark and I were watching Leigh ride ahead of us, and his bike would shoot over a couple of feet to the left. We should keep an eye on Leigh, Mark suggested, just in case we need to fish him out of that field. Turns out it’s rather difficult to laugh hysterically and ride your bike, and I just about fell over. Dad joke limbo was going strong, we could nearly bunny hop the bar by this point.
It was just nuts. It was a good thing I’d taken all the photo’s on Day 3, because there was no chance I was going to get any shots done today, my hands weren’t leaving the handlebars for anything. The section into Shelford had some lovely scenery, which I enjoyed the few times I was able to stop to take my rain jacket off/on/off/on/off/on.
But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… because it could always be worse right?
Oh. Crap. Here comes the storm.
Then the rains hit. And not talking about “I’m singing in the rain” rains. We were talking squalls. White wash across the road. Riding 10km/h in the little chain ring with a cadence of less than 60 on the flats. And of course they hit when I’d pulled down my arm warmers and undid my vest and my rain jacket was safely packed away in my saddle bag. It’s fine it’s fine it’s fine omg my arms are stinging this isn’t rain it’s mini knives ow ow ow ow dammit fine FINE!! I stopped my bike and pulled over, nearly toppling over in the process as the wind blew me sideways. Putting my bike gently on the ground, I dug my rain jacket out and tried to put it on while the wind tried to whip it out of my hands. Mark was a ways behind me, doing the same rain jacket dance, though with a bit more hilarity as he hadn’t thought to put his bike down, so was also trying to keep it upright in the storm.
Oh what fun we were having, living our best rando life.
Finally the super squall stopped and we were able to regroup. What the eff was that we all wondered? And then the second storm hit. Mark screamed over the wind “Oh hail! Really? Hail? We hadn’t had hail yet! That’s nice!” We’d laughed and joked and tried to keep our spirits up, but the last few kms into Winchelsea blew them all away. And I was over it.
There were no tears. No tantrums. Just a calm glance over at the Winchelsea train station with thoughts of catching the train to anywhere but here. Because the next section we were going to head directly west.
I sagged into the servo in Winchelsea, feeling rather shattered. I said to Mark that I didn’t particularly want to ride anymore today, then ordered some food and sat down, with a storm cloud over my head. Even reading the dad joke from the boys didn’t cheer me up. I was in a serious mood.
This would usually be the time that I’d need a longer break. A time to gather my thoughts and ram some courage down my throat before heading out again. But the boys weren’t going to give me any time to stew, and they bundled us all back on the bikes again before we could change our minds. And back we went. Into the winds.
Trudge trudge trudge we went towards the turn off towards Birregurra. Yesterday I’d felt smug that we didn’t have to do the out and back at the top of Laver’s Hill to Ferguson because those extra kms were added on to today’s ride. Unfortunately, they were added on to the out and back to Birregurra, meaning I’d have to ride 20km to the west, directly into the screaming wind, and then, finally, turn around and head back into Geelong.
With a right hand turn onto Cape Otway Road, the wind hit us straight in the face. I rode on a little ways ahead, deep in the misery of my own thoughts, when CLACK. Something hit me from behind. A magpie swooped me. Are you kidding me?? Do you not even know it’s November? I pulled my bike over at the top of the next crest to turn around and watch to see if it would attack the guys on their run through. But no, I must have just been lucky. Or something. And onwards I went.
I needed some solitude, so went up ahead of the guys at my own pace. The wind was still there, but a headwind is much easier to deal with than a cross wind, even if I did have to focus immensely on keeping my front tyre straight, as the occasional gust wanted to blow me sideways still. The wind was swirling around me as I trudged towards Birregurra, lost in my own thoughts.
And then it hit me.
This is why I do this. Not because it’s easy. Not because it’s always fun. But because the hard times just like these are cathartic. Because the hard times like this give me clarity on what’s important in life. I can do it. Of course I can. I’ve been through worse. I’m not scared of the storm. I am the storm. I’m doing what matters to me, and that’s bringing my mind and my body back together.
And I let all the pain go. All the PBP trauma blew away in the wind behind me. The hurt that I’d gone through I’d always remember, but holding on to it wasn’t serving me, so I let it all go. All the drama. The torture. The sadness. The pain. Gone.
I wiped the slate clean.
And with that amazing clarity of mind, the next storm hit, just to test my resolve I’m sure. I could see some trees up ahead on the left, so I ducked in near them and took a break to watch the squall. Didn’t think it would be ideal to fall off my bike at this point!
Once the storm cell passed I was ready. It was time to get it done.
The next 10kms weren’t easy, but it didn’t bother me anymore. I was stronger than the storm. I was stronger than the pain. I was stronger than the wind (gust nearly knocks me off my bike… okay, I’ll still respect the wind). I knuckled down, counted my breaths, stood up to climb every rise, and after 300 I saw the town sign and finished this section.
Pulling in to the checkpoint where Peter was camped out waiting for us felt amazing. I felt solid in myself in a way I hadn’t done for a very long time. Gee you looked strong heading in here Tiff, Peter commented. I just smiled and thanked him, knowing that for once, it was actually true. The guys rolled in not long after me, and we enjoyed one last sit down and feed before our final run into Geelong.
Where we’d have a cracking tail wind. All the way home.
There’s nothing quite like soft pedalling at 30km/h with over 1100km in your legs. And there’s nothing quite like doing it after you’ve ‘risen from the ashes’ so to speak. I was good. I was more than good. Did that mean I wasn’t hurting? Heck no, there were parts of me that were very much over sitting in the saddle and holding on to the handlebars. But it didn’t matter anymore. Because we were finally flying.
With only 3.5 little climbs to go, we counted them down. The sun was starting to set, and just as we arrived over the last climb we could see the great big moon rise in the sky. We were nearly back to where we started. I pulled over to the side of the road to wait for the guys on the last climb, and we all stopped to have a little moment. We’re done, Mark said, Tiffo, pull us home.
And so I did.
The coolest thing? This was Mark’s 60th 1200km ride (yes, you read that correctly). He had set a goal to do 60 by the time he was 60, and finished that goal on this ride. And I got to be there, along with Leigh, to ride that with this legend. So needless to say there was much celebrating when we got back into Geelong.
Including one more surprise for me.
Bernard was there. This was the “Australian Angel” that had sat with me in Dreux during PBP after I had fallen apart. Who had sat and talked with me for an hour while I pulled myself back together again. And he was here to see me finish the Flyer. Strong. Not wounded. Not broken.
Phrase learned during Day 4
Catharthis: the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. Purgation.
- Distance:1207.5km with 6869m vertical
- Elapsed time: 86 hours 6 minutes
- Moving time: 52 hours 40 minutes
- Average speed: 22.9 km/h
- Average temperature: 14 degrees
- Max temperature: 30 degrees
- Min temperature: 4 degrees
- Tears and tantrums: 0
- Shermer’s Neck: 0
- Horrific wounds: 0