Hello Donna 200km BG Gravel Audax
205.34km 11h 48m 2543m climbed
Needs must as they say. I had planned to ride the Mallee Routes 600km Audax this weekend, out in Hopetoun in far NW Victoria. That was until it was cancelled due to lack of entries, shame as the ride hub at the Bush Retreat looked sensational and the route would take in loads of silo artwork, which I am very partial to.
Anyway my only real local option was the Hello Donna 200km gravel Audax out from Kew in Melbourne and up the back of Donna and down the front. That’s Mount Donna Buang, a 1250m mountain out near Warburton, not too far from home. The back route is a closed gravel climb some 25km in length and climbing 1100m in those 25km!
Not really ideal BigMatt territory or something I was going to enjoy but great training for bigger fish. So I was in Kew at 6.30am on Saturday 23 September ready to go at the 7am start.
The route took us on some of the busy urban trails and cycleways out through Ringwood, Croydon almost to Lilydale which included a Park Run before an ascent up Birmingham Rd to Mount Evelyn. The whole route was very up and down but Birmingham Rd was bloody steep and got the heart pumping. A quick stop in Mount Evelyn to eat, drink and a nature break.
Next was the Warburton Rail Trail, I’d ridden this a few months ago and I knew it was beautiful groomed gravel passing through lots of little country villages with cafes and shops. I just got aero and found my rhythm and let my legs churn away. I deliberately came into this event fatigued to simulate multiple days riding and had done a killer 90 minute session on Zwift the day before and I could feel it in my legs.
It was a glorious day and even though I knew it was going to hurt I was having fun. The views in the valley were stunning but my eyes kept getting drawn to the hills, wondering which was Donna.
At Launching Place I left the rail trail and swung onto Don Rd, shortly after my Garmin pinged and told me the climb was about to start. Great! 18km and 880m of climbing.
Don Rd was pretty and after a few km the bitumen finished and it was on to the gravel, the gradient went up and seemed to hold between 5 and 8%, with some 10 to 14% kickers. Manageable but attritional. After 11km the route swung a right onto the closed Donna Buang Rd, it’s been shut and locked behind gates for a few years. I am not sure why, possibly the condition and danger from landslides and falling trees. Bikes can get through and do. The initial part is old crumbling bitumen that is covered in storm detritus but my gravel tyres just rolled over it, eventually the bitumen runs out and the gravel climb begins. It’s rough a rock and branch strewn but perfectly rideable even if it’s harder work than it could be.
I ground away, pleased I’d swapped to a smaller chain ring on my Curve GXR Ti that I call Marilyn. I stopped a couple of times to eat or take photos but mainly just ground away at 8 to 10 kph, as expected I was deep in the hurt locker. The view of the valley below from the hang glider launch pad is sensational but you won’t hear of me chucking myself off there anytime soon!
Just as I was over the climbing my Garmin pinged and said climb complete, 2h 25m. Hmmmm so where is the summit and the lookout tower? A short downhill of a km and my Garmin pinged again, climb about to start 6km and 260m, my heart sank and I may have muttered a few profanities.
So I settled back into the climb, again 5 to 8% with a few 10+% kickers. Eventually I rounded the corner on the Summit Rd and saw the car park and lookout tower, it was worth the effort, I think! I spent 15 minutes up there eating, drinking and taking photos. I even climbed the tower to see the view, not easy in cycle shoes with sore legs.
I finally pushed off for the 19km descent to Warburton, it was fast, scenic and bloody freezing and my hands were like ice at the bottom and I was shivering. My arms were pumped up from the braking for the tight corners and I had a bit of fun with a guy on a motorbike who couldn’t pass me such was my speed. I don’t have fear on descents and trust myself to read the apex vanishing point and hang my knee out into corners to get the weight distribution right and the bike planted on the bends. Those years of riding my Fireblade taught me a thing or two racing my mate Johnny 5 up and down French mountains lol.
In Warburton I stopped at the servo grabbed and demolished some food and refilled my bottles and chugged a Gatorade for the electrolytes as I was starting to get cramps behind my knees when climbing. Then picked up the rail trail again and once at Launching Place retraced my route back up to Mount Evelyn, the legs were complaining but still compliant.
After a short fast descent into Monbulk I got a bit of a surprise, a couple of 1000m long, steep climbs up hills with 15 to 20% gradients, that was not fun and not something I had expected.
Finally the route turned to pick up the Dandenong Creek Trail and head for Melbourne. Still 30km to go and it was almost 5pm, it was going to be dark when I finished. I hadn’t thought that would happen but the trusty dynamo kLite was going to be used to turn night into day.
The urban trails to get back to the start were good but slow as they are full of dog walkers and families enjoying the beautiful weather, I always ride courteously and slow down letting people know I am approaching and saying thank you when I pass, I got lots of smiles and thanks which was lovely. Gardeners Creek Trail followed the creek and weaved through urban Melbourne heading into the city but also had a habit of just ending at roads that needed to be navigated or even sections of joining the traffic before rejoining the trail which was frustrating and very slow, I just wanted to be finished now.
Finally I neared the end but the ride had one more sting in the tail. The route took us over Victoria Rd Bridge, however the bridge and cycle path is shut, we were told this at the briefing, but I don’t know Melbourne very well and have never ridden the urban bike trails so a 45 minute frustrating detour happened as I had to keep checking Google maps to see where I could go to cross the river and ride to the finish. If I was the organiser I would have updated the gps route file for the ride to give non-locals a fighting chance at the end of a long gruelling ride. It’s not the end of the world but it created unnecessary stress and anxiety when all I wanted to do was finish.
Anyway I found my way back to the finish and my car, job done. I was really tired as expected but the training value was huge, I even enjoyed most of it and the weather was terrific. Then I managed to delete the ride file instead of saving it on my new Garmin, so lost the lot! I knew the times and grabbed the route and elevation stuff from another riders Strava, thanks David and thanks for the company for the kms we shared at various points.
Thanks again to the organiser and the weather gods, I know I complained about the detour but I was tired and frustrated by it, it’s not the end of the world and apart from that I had a fantastic day, thanks.