By Stan Pennors
Where do I start? I signed up for this ride (my first ever Audax/randonneur ride) about 1-2 months ago. I jotted it on the calendar and then proceeded to forget about it.
Having just finished the 950km stint on the Munda Biddi a week ago, I received an email reminder about the southern Forrest and Plains 600km. Shit! I hadn’t done any training rides. I hadn’t done a ride over 80km in nearly 6 months on my road bike. I had hardly even done 600km total in the entire year to date.
At any rate, it would be completely up to my base fitness if I even stood a chance of completing these. At 630km, that’s roughly 25 hours of riding in two days, with a 40 hour cutoff.
I spent Friday night before the ride hastily going over my road bike:
* I raised up the handlebars 7.5mm
* I swapped over my clip in road pedals to flat MTB pedals. I’ve had nothing but numbness and burning and hot spots with clipless, so I decided to go the old trusty trail runners and flats.
* Consequently, I lowered the seat height based on trusty eyeballing.
* I also swapped over my wheels to my new wheels (WOO! Dynamo wheels!), which included mounting new tubes/tyres, swapping over the cassette, and swapping over all my brake pads to the new ones, and adjusting for wider rims.
* After getting all my GPS’ setup, lights charged, battery bank good to go, food shop lined up for 25 hours of riding, and mucking around with my frame bag configuration for most of the night, I was as ready as I would ever be.
Saturday morning, Rosa drove me to the start at the Boya library. We arrived early, in the dark, while everyone else had already showed up and was ready to go. A lot of experienced and strong riders in the group. I, on the other hand, was freezing my nipples off in shorts and a t-shirt while making the last few little adjustments on my rig. I went to start my ride when I realized I didn’t upload the GPX file. Doh! I ended up leaving about 10 mins after the official start by the time I got it all finished.
A first hour of riding meant riding downhill from Helena Valley and doing a few warm up hills along the way before hitting a quick MUP along the highway which graciously brought us into the low, flat farmland which I would soon come to both hate and love.
I had never ridden more than 300km in one go, so a 340km first day followed by a 280km second day was going to be a massive undertaking (especially without any training whatsoever…). I knew I had to pace myself and ride conservatively if I was going to have any chance. I plodded away at a pace that I guessed I could hold all weekend.
The riders hop scotched, leap-frogged and rode haphazardly. Congregating at common points like cafes and servos .. Speaking of which, after 75km we arrived in North Dandelup and enjoyed an amazing cheeseburger sausage roll with a pickle inside. Perfect fuel for the upcoming 1000m of climbing in 75km, on the way to Dwellingup
The hills turned out to be nice, as I rode through them slowly, careful not to bonk with 500km remaining.
We made it to Dwellingup for our first checkpoint. Periodically, riders must check into specific stations by the cut-off time and get their brevet card signed. For us, as this was a supported ride (unusual for audax usually) this meant we were also greeted with coffee, muffins, bananas, etc, courtesy of Gary our rockstar ride organizer.
We carried our own food and water and gear between stops, which ranged from 50-110km apart, but we had periodic help from Gary for water and foods.
After Dwellingup, with the hills mostly behind us, we carried on through Nanga Brook and its winding hills, then into the flats to Waroona and Harvey, turning through single roads, barely wide enough for one car. Gary did a phenomenal job of keeping us off busy roads, and also planning routes through interesting country side landscapes.
We carried on south in a consistent way; the weather was good, the wind was minimal, the temperature was mild. A perfect day for a 340km ride. Eventually, after passing Dardanup and cycling in the dark, Gary and his assistant Ryan were following behind me for a minute, just figuring out where the riders were to plan the next rest stop. And then they started high beaming me from behind .. I pulled over to see what was up. According to them I had missed a turn, but it never appeared on my Garmin. Strange. Let’s look at the other Garmin. Same thing. Hmmmm. I must have missed the turn off, so Garmin “rerouted” me a different way. We turned off rerouting. No difference, same result. Huh. The 3 of us stood in the dark like a bunch of monkeys trying to operating a tv remote. Finally we figured out that I had the wrong route … The route had changed the day before to accommodate for some problems in Busso (Someone lit their car on fire under a bridge, and consequently burnt the bridge down? We needed that bridge). And I had the map downloaded from a month ago when I signed up. After faffing about for 30 minutes, we finally figured something out. Oh well. Off to Capel now.
Another hour of riding and I got to Capel, where the chefs were awaiting with their camp trailer kitchen and had made us some fresh bacon/cheese/vegemite toasties. Yum! What a perfect snack for the road. Sasha and I both shared 2 toasties together and then we headed off. Capel was our last checkpoint of the day at 292km, and our next stop would be our spot for a nap for a few hours, at Peppermint Beach campground.
That meant about 75km of riding in the dark solo. The nice thing about night time is the wind usually dies down. With the alluring promise of a warm meal and an enticing air mattress, I pressed on, heading the advice of a very seasoned rider : “When you feel good, ride on.” I averaged something stupid like 32kph during those 75km.
I finally made it to the campground for 9:30pm, where Gary had made us some amazing penne bolognese with cheese for dinner, replete with creamed rice / peaches and custard for dessert. YUM YUM. I had my fill, took advantage of the nice hot shower then slipped into my sleeping bag at 11pm. 340km in the legs was feeling alright. Maybe it’s the pressure of knowing you have another 280km the next day that tricks you.
Saturday was a full day of riding through forests, and field and paddocks and pastures, watching cows graze, sheep bleet and llamas look at you confusingly.
5AM wakeup! Dark. Cold. Tired. Sore. Tight. Uncaffeinated. We got up begrudgingly and started getting ready for the next section. A coffee or two and a bacon/egg brekky wrap and we were off. Still dark in the morning, we rode with headlights for the first hour. The fields were covered in a blanket of fog that glowed with the first rays of warm lighting. Spectacular.
I let my body dictate the pace – the morning was a slow start, knowing I still had to sustain this effort for nearly 300 more kilometers. I watched kangaroos dart in front of me as they tried to escape the threat of “WHATEVER THE HELL THAT IS.” I even watched one young joey completely bail in the middle of the road, pick himself up and carry on.
Kangaroos lined the roads until I got into Bunbury proper. My eyes scoured the streets for something yummy … Finally, our first checkpoint came into view : The BP Australind. That’ll do! I headed inside to grab a ham/cheese croissant, a pain au chocolat and a much needed barista made latte (Sorry Gary! Your coffee was good but it’s not the same). Gary wasn’t at this checkpoint so we took photos for proof and signed off on our own sheets. 8:30am.
With a croissant or two in my legs and a coffee fueling me, I pressed on. The sun had risen, the winds were still quiet and I made my way through Bunbury, admiring the different trees I had pruned in the past year.
After that we returned east into the quieter farm lands, weaving our way through small country roads past farms and orchards, seeing 28’s flutter around and cows eyeing us curiously.
Thankfully today is mostly flat. I considered this my reward for the pretty intense, hilly, Munda Biddi I had just finished. 625km and 3000m of climbing was a welcomed change. I could sit in my aero bars and plod along at 30-32kph.
I left Cokenerup , thinking I had enough water for the next 55km. After a few mins I realized my bladder was empty. Oops. I stopped to put some electrolyte in my 600ml bottle and then proceeded to knock it over and dump 3/4 of it on the ground. Ouch. The 55km to Pinjarra was quite unpleasant 😂
But nonetheless, we made our way north in good time, meeting up Gary and Ryan at Pinjarra for a quick salty snack at the 152km checkpoint. Some chips and a sanga, and a diet pepsi or two (amazing) , and we were ready to attack our last 110km of bike paths going back into the city.
110km felt so close! and yet I knew it still meant 4 hours of pedalling. But it went quickly after doing 490km already.
I put in my headphones, cranked some drum and bass and finally enjoyed letting my legs do what they’ve wanted to do : PEDAL. I had been conserving my energy until this point but I felt like i could go now. Averaging 30-35kph on the meandering bike paths to the tunes of dubstep and electronic music, I hardly stopped to eat or drink until we got to Boya. Sasha and I rode side by side for 30 odd kilometers and had some good chats about different experiences in the wilderness in Canada and NZ, and about her ultra racing experiences.
Finally, after a couple good hills in Helena Valley, we made it to the starting point where we left 36 hours earlier : the Boya library. A congratulatory handshake and a photo, and that was it.
A final 25km bike ride home and now I’m ready for a good meal and a good night sleep, before getting up tomorrow to go to work and climb trees!