BY Mark Hastie
From Checkpoint, December 1993
I remember my first Opperman ride in 1990 as a nightmare ride. It was hilly with headwinds and my team finished approx. 1.5 hours down. A 536 km ride through Kinglake, up north to Echuca and then across to Albury. I vowed never to do one of these stupid 24-hour things again, but slowly as time went on I forgot the pain and humiliation and again decided to take the same route in 1991. This time we made it with approx. 20 minutes to spare. It was a big mistake!! Not only was the desire to do Opperman rides stronger than ever now, but I was considering doing ridiculous distances.
In 1992 my team achieved an unofficial Australian record riding 655 km from Mildura to Albury. We did this with a strong tailwind and finished approx. one hour up to the amazement of ourselves and others. That was it, now anything could be achieved. Well, that’s what we thought! Finally, in 1993 we planned to achieve a distance of 770 km. Unofficially the furthest distance ever ridden in a 24 hour Opperman All Day Trial (the equivalent of the French Fleche Velocio) was 762 km. This was set by a French team approx 12-15 years ago.
Our previous route from Mildura to Albury would be perfect again – flat with tailwinds – the prevailing winds being North West for October. This time however we would add in another 115 km to make up the required distance. We decided to add a 57.5 km stretch from Kerang down the Loddon Valley Highway and back again and then continue on as normal.
When October 3rd arrived our team of Guy Green, Nicholas Skewes, Derek McKean, Ken Mayberry and myself were all excited but hesitant.
There were many factors which would make or break us, of which we were all well aware:
The one we had the least control over and probably the most important was the wind direction. Over the next 24 hours, the amount of pain and suffering we would all endure was really determined by which way the wind was going to blow. When we awoke the morning of the ride and checked the conditions, it was blowing from the South East. it was blowing the wrong way!!
After leaving Mildura our first stop out of 13 was Hattah. We had averaged 40 kph putting us approx. 10 minutes ahead of time. This was very considering the slight headwind. We dropped our speed slightly from here and plodded on through checkpoints. Our lunch stop was at Swan Hill after 251km. Ken and Nicholas were feeling the pinch. It was fairly warm and the headwind although not strong was enough to start taking its toll. We had planned on a 15-minute break but due to Nicholas vomiting, we added another 5 minutes. We then continued on with Nicholas resting at the back.
Eventually, approx. 150-200 km later, he was coming good and was now starting to do some turns at the front. Ken, however, was having a bad spot and was resting at the back. Ten kilometres from Cohuna (our dinner stop) Nicholas punctured. It was a slow leak so rather than stop and waste time especially in the dark we rode on, Nicholas again went to the back and rode a flat tyre for the last 4-5 km. Thank heavens our dinner stop had finally arrived. This leg was only 32 km but we were all feeling tired now and needed a break. It was like an oasis – a rotunda with electric lights and a big wooden table and 40 minutes to enjoy it. We had completed 455 km and ‘yep’ it sure did feel like it. However, we were right on target with our time which made everybody feel better.
The remainder of our trip was going to be hard but Guy Green, who was probably feeling the best at this stage kept us talking and provided much-needed motivation. This made a big difference. The horror hours were about to commence from approx.11 pm – 5 am but knowing we were well over the halfway mark made us feel better.
We continued on in the night riding through Echuca, Nathalia, Cobram, Yarrawonga and Rutherglen. Our riding speed had dropped to 30-33 kph, so our breakfast stop as Rutherglen was reduced to 2 minutes. We had built in a long breakfast stop just for this reason, as provided much needed time when we were struggling.
We left Rutherglen tired but excited knowing we could stop riding in approx. 47 km. With approx 35 km to go the headwind picked up, we were lucky to hold 30 kph. With 15 km to go, we had 30 minutes to get to Albury. Our formation of 3 minute turns had to be changed to racing turns of 10-15 seconds at the front. This would lift our speed but would take its toll. It was beginning to rain and the wind now was incredibly strong. Ken could not keep up so we had to leave him, it was touch and go whether we were going to make it.
Finally, we reached the main drag of Albury and had to deal with some new problems: slippery roads and traffic lights. It was frantic trying to think and find our way to the finish. Whilst riding so fast and not knowing whether we were going to make it. We were now sprinting and could see the finish in the distance. We had made it by 1 minute, achieving our target of 770 km.
The amazing feeling at the finish, when I realised I didn’t have to ride anymore and the excitement of having achieved our goal with the extreme exhaustion is hard to describe. It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I would definitely do it again if the opportunity presented itself. I think.
P.S. Does anybody know where to buy a good second-hand motorbike?