The group left Dapto at 7 am under slightly overcast skies and headed south down the Princes Hwy towards Albion Park and the looming bulk of Macquarie Pass. Hardly any breeze at this point and the early hour meant that traffic was still quiet. A rush of blood to the head saw me break away from the group a couple of k's from the base of the pass but I stopped to help another cyclist who needed a lend of an allen key as he’d popped a spoke and wasn’t carrying any tools. The group rode past making polite enquiries.
“that’s a big group where are you guys off to?”, asked the toolless roadie.
“we’re, doing a 200km ride to Tallong and back”. Unfortunately for the roadie, my selection of keys didn’t fit his bolt so he was going to have to wait for a lift.
I remounted and followed the path of the group and commenced my own ascent of the pass. I was, at the beginning, nervous, the pass had thwarted me before, it had intimidated me. But this time I was determined to make it. I dropped into my lowest gear and just focused on the road in front of my wheel, and before I knew it I was moving inexorably upward. I’m not sure when I stopped worrying and started enjoying the climb – perhaps near the top – but the view was grand and the sense of achievement was very satisfying. Only 170kms more to go.
A quick break for coffee at the Robertson Pie Shop where we had a short chat with a couple of other riders who were out training for the Alpine. They had just come up via the Jamberoo pass and we’re heading back to Shellharbour via Berry. A huge ride.
From Robertson the route undulates down towards Tallong passing through Moss Vale and Sutton Forest before the first control at the Old Bicycle Shop Café in Bundanoon. The overcast conditions of earlier where clearing however a gentle noreaster gave us a fair ride along the Illawarra Highway. Taking the left at Sutton Forest took us down through Exeter and over some challenging undulations to Bundanoon.
This part of the Southern Highlands is pretty posh and the road is lined with immaculate hedges hiding park like grounds and tudor style mansions. The anglophilia is a bit incongruous with the temperature nudging up towards 30 degrees and the song of cicadas ringing loudly across the lawns. Maybe winter captures the effect more appropriately, still the locals must like it and there were plenty of nice cafes for refreshments.
The control at Bundanoon was conveniently located at the Old Bicycle Shop which gave us a chance to fuel up on coffee, cake and an egg and bacon roll for the road. The café does a roaring trade and has bikes for hire and promotes a weekly social ride.
After a feed, we’re off to Tallong. I was feeling strong at this point and happily sucked Richard and David’s wheel for the 25km to the turnaround beneath the railway bridge. Barry had warned me at the control that this stage would be pretty dull but I enjoyed the view and the changing landscape as the route took us away from the rolling pasture and towards the gorge country with its rockier soils.
The turnaround point was a couple of kilometers past Tallong beneath the rail overpass, and those two kilometers seemed to be the longest kilometers of the morning. The road dips below the railine and taking Dave’s advice to not stop at the bottom of a dip, a coasted up the other side and paused to eat my bacon and egg roll which was still nicely warm from Bundanoon. It was beginning to get rather hot.
We all rejoined back at the Tallong store and refreshed ourselves with cool drinks. A group of heavily laden mountain bikers got off the bus as we watched and exchanged pleasantries. They were off on an overnight ride, we were off home.
On the road again we saw a large echidna climbing up the embankment which was unexpected. Most of the other wildlife we’d seen so far was dead. In some places the stench of made you gag, so it was encouraging to see that not everything was getting squashed.
As the temperature began to climb, I began to wilt and quickly fell off the back of the group on the road back to Bundanoon. Being alone was probably for the best as I began to talk aloud to myself and point out the interesting things around me and the various environmental conditions. I noted that the slight tailwind that had pushed us to Tallong was now pushing me back to Tallong which was really unnecessary and I wished it would stop. Conversely the headwind was having a cooling effect which was welcomed, so I just dropped down a gear and got on with the ride.
I also noted for the first time some orange Gladioli growing by the side of the road. At first I only noticed a few of them but there were hundreds, thousands even! I wonder how they got there. I was also wondering how I missed them on the way out.
These distractions were good at taking my mind of the growing aches and pains that began to make themselves apparent; sore knee, sore left foot (SPD cleat heat was a discussion at the first control), lower back pain and an arse of fire. To distract myself from the pain and the cries of the little voice inside my head begging to stop, I set myself little goals and furnished their achievement with little rewards. I find this type of thing helps my motivation. For example if I got to Bundanoon by the half hour, I could stop for five minutes and take some Vitamin I. Sure enough I made it to Bundanoon and had a break, topped up the spinal tap and took the Ibuprufen.
Refreshed and comfortably numb I headed onwards to the second controle at Moss Vale. Rejoining the Illawarra Highway while a sign of progress, saw heavier and faster traffic and generally less invigorating riding conditions. However, the skies began to cloud over and the temperature dropped a few degrees, which was alright with me. There was even a bit of thunder about as I pulled into Moss Vale and coasted towards the second control. I found the group sprawled comfortably on the lawn watching the local teens at play and scoffing down various dietary supplements from the fish and chip shop across the road. I had four pikelets and a gel to celebrate the longest continuous ride on a bicycle by me ever (144km).
The group slowly left, first with Maria who was promising to plod along then the rest of us. With only a mere 56km to go it was nearly over and 10 kms of that was going to be down Macquarie pass! Bouyed by that thought I set off with Barry and Martin while Barry reminded me that there were a few nastyish, uphillish bits before the downhill bit. He was right.
Eventually though, after what seemed like an hour, I had ridden through Robertson and was perched on the cusp of the descent of the pass. I pulled over to admire the view and take a couple of photos and check the brakes and load before heading down through the pass. I love downhills, it’s a just reward for the effort to climb them, after 15 mins of it though I was getting bored so I was pleased to blast out from the trees of the pass and onto the open undulating road for the final stint back to Dapto.
The descent was invigorating, so mentally I felt great but physically, my posterior was a real liability, and I was beginning to welcome the hills, just so I could get out of the saddle. I caught up with Maria as she was just entering Albion Park and rode with her for a while but had to stop at Yallah to rest my bum. So close but yet so far. I trudged on, plodding now up the Princes Hwy towards Dapto when Martin and Barry caught me and together we made it back at 5.55 pm, just short of 11 hours elapsed since we began.
It was a great day, Martin and My first 200km, Maria’s return to Audax after having a baby (3 months). I realized when I got home that the ride also completed my Nouveau and my first “real” brevet. No longer pretending, I can call myself audacious!