We are bound by our concept of what is possible. An as far as Wollongong Audax goes this is true. We had a series of tried and true rides or variations of them that concentrated on roads west, and sometimes north of the Illawarra. However late last year, my friend and fellow audax member Shane ventured south beyond the southern Kiama barrier and had himself some fun on a few climbs down that way. I reckoned if it was possible to get south of the bends, a 200 or 3 would open up and we would have some new routes to enjoy.
So with Shane's experiences to hand, the advice of some locals and a thirst for the new I conceived the Berry Mountain 200 as a first foray into the deep south.
So as a new route, there are wrinkles to iron out, but otherwise the ride was as challenging and enjoyable as a good audax ride should be. Travelling through diverse countryside, regulated farming, urban, national park, wooded climbs coastal and flat estaurine plain the route demonstrates the geographical diversity of this thin strip of land along the Pacific Ocean.
Poetic route design aside, practically the days ride was looking bad. The weather forecast promised rain, chance of storms and strong southerly winds. All of which turned out to be true. It was also very cold (for February - actually it was very cold for August) though we were committed to the ride.
5 riders had expressed an interest though the prevailing weather mean't that just Shane and I would attempt the ride, Ben and Harvey decided to come along as far as Gerringong before heading back and Barry thought better of it before driving the 100km from Sydney at 4.30am.
So from the start the forecast strong southerly winds were there. As I rode from home to the start at Dapto I had to push hard into strong gusts.As the day wore on, the gusts would only get stronger. Luckily things stayed pretty dry until we passed through Jamberoo and were on the way to Kiama.
From here the rain got steadily worse and we were happy to arrive at the controle at the Gerringong Ice Creamery for a bit of dryness, second breakfast and coffee.
It was here that Ben and Harvey turned back and Shane and I pressed on into the weather and the (for me at least) unknown.
Once through Gerroa the road flattens out before we turned right to make the undulating passage to Berry. Here we found some shelter from the wind and the rain backed off a touch given us a nice respite. Arriving in Berry we detoured around the back of the town avoiding the traffic and were soon starting to climb. Not familiar with the route and tangled in my spray shell I bid Shane adieu as he rode away, catching glimpses of him at the switchbacks. The climb was not particularly steep, through the corners were, with grade increasing to 18% for short stretches. Nearing the top the road swung back out into the wind and I learn't to appreciate the protection the hill had been giving me for the last 20 minutes.
After making it to the top of Berry Mountain I was able to extricate myself from the oven of the jacket just in time to start dropping a bit of height along tourist road and for the rain to start up again. It was along here that the Garmin route map began to experience confusion and it continued to insist that I was off course, before finding it again. Not knowing the road, it was a bit disconcerting, especially when turning at the well signposted road to the summit lookout it was insisting that I make a u turn. Nearing the summit, I'd clearly entered into cloud base, as the rain intensified and visibility began to reduce. The single lane road had a bit of traffic too, as sightseers retreated from the weather in their 4wds, but before long I was at the top and enjoying the view!
The descent was good, after a few more undulations we turned onto the Moss Vale Rd, with it's large warning signs of long steep descent ahead flashing past. As escarpment descents go, this is a beauty, not as technical as some, and quite exposed at times so you can both build up considerable speed while taking in the vista. As we'd dropped back below cloud base the road was dry and we sped on to Nowra.
Navigating through the traffic at Nowra was shortlived and we were soon traversing the coastal flats dominated by cows and corn enroute to the turnaround point at Greenwell Point. It was here that we experienced the worst of the wind, as we met it head on and unprotected by any geography. Eventually we made it and the cafe at the end of town made for a welcome respite from the weather and a huge meal, before we once again set off out into the wind.
I had been anticipating that the return leg would be easier, however the wind had contrived to strengthen and veer, so it was another hard slog back to Nowra and across the river were we saw the local sailing club enjoying the conditions. We turned out towards Shoalhaven heads, still finding the wind, and the stench of fermenting sugar at the Manildra ethanol plant not to our liking. Though it was now drying up and we occasionally saw some patches of blue sky. Soon, but not too soon, we had cleared the heads and now more protected by vegetation we enjoyed a tailwind back up to Gerroa. However it was along here that my garmin decided to switch off so I missed a few kilometers.
Our last planned stop was at the Gerroa Caravan Park cafe, which had a pleasant ambience enhanced by a chicken who kept curious sentry at the front door. Shortly before we left a family came in with a clearly distressed little boy. He had stubbed his toe and they were in search of a bandaid. Happily I carry a stripped out first aid kit on longer rides and more happily have not yet had to use it on myself and I was happy to lend a hand.
Back on the bikes we traversed through Gerringong, and down onto the Princes Hwy where the wind was again gusting strongly, but thankfully from behind and it wasn't too long before we were streaking back along the hwy for home. Nearing Shellharbour I felt the rear tyre go down, and on closer inspection found a staple stuck through the tube, but this was quickly repaired and we continued along through Albion Park to arrive at Dapto Station at 5.45.
Despite the weather, it was a very enjoyable day out, quite tough at times, but that is as it should be. I'm looking forward to riding it again.