Tag Archives: Audax

Cycling for Hope – Day 24

Company on the ride by Andrew Gills
Company on the ride, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

Day 24 was hands down the best day of Cycling for Hope so far. Other days have been wonderful, such as the day I cycled with my sister, or the day I cycled with D and his kids, or the day I visited my friend, or the day I had a picnic with my best friend. But nothing compares to riding in the company of others for the full 100km session.

Well, one thing does, and that’s the kindness of S who drove 120km to pick me up and drop me off after our ride. Not only that, but he also broke the wind (head wind – not smelly wind) for about 90km of our 100km ride. What a champion! (That’s S in the yellow jersey out front).

Water views

Water views

The ride was a route check for S’s Southern Manatee 100km Audax ride on Wednesday. The route took us past the water in Wynnum, Thornside and Birkdale before taking us inland through the remnant farmlands and hobby farms of Carbrook and Mount Cotton.

And then we climbed West Mount Cotton Road. The first climb took us up some 12% inclines to look back over views of the Gold Coast. Then we rolled along the lumps to a short climb to see a view of Brisbane City on the other side of the mountain.

The Wall (27% incline)

The Wall (27% incline)

But perhaps the biggest talking point was A’s magnificent climb up The Wall while the rest of us were forced to walk. A had only been cycling for about six months and yet he managed to power his way up this 27% incline with steely determination.

Me walking up The Wall

Me walking up The Wall

Me, I was reduced to laughing hysterically in happiness at a ride that cemented my enjoyment of being on two wheels and of the camaraderie of long distance cycling.

Thank you S for going out of your way to help me to join you. I can’t express enough how grateful I am. And have a fantastic time with your team next week at the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Total: 102.7km cycling
Cycling for Hope cumulative total: 2,434.6km

I’ve set up a Cycling for Hope Facebook page for those who are into Facebook and want to follow my 100km a day for 31 days cycling challenge that way. It’s a public page that you can follow here: https://www.facebook.com/CyclingForHope

All donations and sponsorship, whether $100 or $5, is greatly appreciated. You will received an Australian tax receipt from Rotary Australia Overseas Aid.  Click here to donate and read more about Nakuru Hope.

Tasmanian Trail – Summer 2013-14

I have just booked my end of year adventure. From Christmas Day 2013 until 11 January 2014, I’ll be bike packing the Tasmanian Trail. The Tasmanian Trail is a 480km multi-use horse-riding, walking and MTB track from Devonport in Tasmania’s north to Dover, which is the southern-most town in Australia.

I will actually be riding from Launceston to the start point in Devonport and then from the finish in Dover back to Hobart, making my trip closer to 700km than the trail’s official 480km length.

I’ll be riding the 400km from Devonport to Hobart (on my way down to Dover) as an Audax Raid (Raid Tasmania). The maximum time allowed for this section of the ride will be 10 days and I won’t be allowed to ride any of it at night.

I’ll be finishing my ride by running the Cadbury Marathon in Hobart on 12 January before I fly home on the 13th.

 

When a DNF isn’t a bad thing

Perfect road to ride by Andrew Gills
Perfect road to ride, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

I think it happens to us all sometimes: the dreaded DNF. For me, that event was the Traveling South 400km Audax road cycle. There’s no exciting reason for the DNF. I didn’t have a mechanical breakdown, I didn’t injure myself and I didn’t have a crash. Nope – my body, mind and spirit all just stopped. My leg’s wouldn’t pedal. My mind wouldn’t let me refocus my thoughts. And my spirit didn’t let me fight through. So, after 160km of perfect riding conditions (except the strong head winds), I withdrew from the ride.

How my day ended

How my day ended

I was so exhausted that I didn’t even feel upset about loading my bike onto the roof of the support vehicle. Five tough months of racing and Audax riding, university and work caught up with me. All I wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep.

Now, sometimes I would just gut through and see this as excuses. But not yesterday. This exhaustion was different. I could feel the switch in my mind that I don’t want to flick. I could feel that I was on the edge of continued good mental and emotional health, and triggering a return to the depression and anxiety that used to be my reality. The warning signs were there so I made a mental plan: withdraw from the ride, take a couple of months off racing, get my diet back under control, take the time to work on my base fitness and skills, and go on some non-race adventures.

Sitting in the pack

Sitting in the pack

I learned a lot from the DNF. Firstly, I need to ride my own ride. While there were only three riders doing the 400km and one doing the 300km rides, there were seven riders taking on a 200km ride. They rode with us for the first 150km of the route. All but one of the riders got into a group and cruised along at a fast pace. I got sucked into the temptation to sit with them, not wanting to get dropped. It was a mistake – I ended up focusing on my speed and on trying to keep with the group, rather than on enjoying the ride. When I got dropped, I felt frustrated and slow.

Lesson 1: Ride my own ride; even if that means riding the whole ride alone.

Big blue skies and open country

Big blue skies and open country

By focusing on (and stressing about) my pace, I failed to enjoy the scenery. Here we were riding under big blue skies (albeit with a strong headwind) through open country and all I could think about was my pride. This is so different to my approach to previous Audax rides where I felt happy and joyful to be riding through the scenery.

Lesson 2: Focus on the scenery and let the ride take care of itself.

When I withdrew from the ride, I still have plenty of time on the clock. The checkpoint I was only 10km away from didn’t close until 6:20pm and it was still not yet 2pm when I withdrew. That means I had 4:20 to sit at the checkpoint, rest (maybe even sleep), eat and recover. While I wouldn’t have changed anything last night because I needed to learn the lessons that come with the DNF, I know in future that I can make the most of the generous time limits allowed in Audax rides.

Lesson 3: Remember it’s not a race; there’s plenty of time to change your fortune.

I finally found out how to carry my route directions

I finally found out how to carry my route directions

In a positive, I discovered a way to carry my route directions using one of my adventure racing map cases.

Total: 160km road cycle.

Commuting and change of plans

I finally managed to sort my schedule out today so that I could ride the Purple Monster to work. It was such a joy to cycle to work after riding my motorbike the past couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love love love riding my motorbike. But I have missed my treadly.

Nothing exciting happened on my ride and I left my mobile phone at home so couldn’t take any photos. But the cool air and exercise was a great way to start the day. I just have to remember that joy tonight when I ride home at 9pm after my Justice of the Peace volunteering commitments are over. Though I’m sure that it will be a nice way to wind down after sitting in the shopping centre for two hours signing documents.

While cycling to work, I decided to withdraw from the 25 May rogaine that my team mate can’t come to and to enter a 400km Audax cycling event instead. I’ve never attempted a 400km ride before but managed to complete the Oppy in March so I’m sure I’ll be fine. I rode the 366km of the Oppy in 24 hours with a sleep stop and the cut off for the 400km is 27 hours so it’s mathematically possible for me to make it.

Total: 29km cycle commute to and from work

Lumpy 2 200km Audax ride

Scenery by Andrew Gills
Scenery, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

At 5:30am, the world is still dark as it rains cats and dogs. Five of us are crazy enough to turn up for the Lumpy 2 Audax ride on what has the potential to be a miserable day in the saddle. After a brief discussion about calling off the ride due to concerns about riders’ safety on the climb and descent from Mt Glorious, we set off into the grey dawn light, made darker by the cloud cover and incessant rain.

Here’s a video of the ride. It includes both photos and video footage.

We stay together as a group for about two kilometres before the two faster riders peel away. By the time we reach Mt Cootha, just 9km into the ride, the three of us at the back are all riding alone too. Over the course of the ride, the three of us will see each other momentarily but we effectively complete the ride solo.

I’m nervous about the ride. As part of the Polka series, this ride promises a lot of climbing. Mathematically, I’m not sure I can make the 13:30 cut-off, given that I know I’ll have to walk some short sections of the climbs. But I set off on the challenge anyway, deciding to enjoy the ride as an excuse to explore the world by bike.

By the time I reach the top of Mt Cootha I feel more confident. While it’s a challenging climb, I feel strong. A few kilometres later I realise that my descending skills leave a lot to be desired. I’m not the best downhill road rider in good conditions. In the wet, I feel like the biggest Gumby on the road; I’m sure my brake pads will wear out well before the finish. This feeling stays with me as I struggle to descend the other preliminary hills leading to Mt Glorious. I’m so scared that I decide to ask the ride organiser for a lift down the hulking mountain that looms over my home city; I rationalise that a DNF is better than a D-E-A-D.

I spend much of the first 40km of the ride too scared to enjoy the scenery. I’m sure that once we got out of the suburbs and into Upper Kedron that it was quite pretty. But all I could think of was how poorly I was getting down the hills and how stupid I was for setting off on this ride. I really got myself worked up into a tizz.

The turning point in my mental state comes when we reach the 10km climb from the base of Mt Glorious to Checkpoint 1 at the summit. I settle in and just start climbing. I feel comfortable up here doing what most hate: climbing. The slow pace of climbing allows me to really take in the sights, sounds and smells. Small waterfalls have formed on the high side of the road and their rushing fills my ears, along with the reverberating sound of bell birds’ calls. My nostrils fill with the sweet minty scent of lantana, a weed with deceptively pretty flowers. We reach the 15% grade near the top of the climb. I do my best but only make it about 1km up this stretch before I have to get off an walk. But I don’t mind. I was only riding at 7kph and my walking pace is 5kph so, in the scheme of things, I am not losing time and I’m still feeling happy.

Checkpoint 1 is a welcome sight at the 60km mark. There’s heaps of food, hot drinks and dry towels. The checkpoints on supported Audax rides rock. You can always be guaranteed of good food, cheerful company, encouragement and the little things like a dry towel on a rainy day.

I’m still scared about the descent off Glorious but I’m determined to continue the ride. So I set off in the rain and fog. We still have about 9km of rolling climbing at the top of the mountain and then the hairy descent begins. It’s only 3.5km long but drops about 600m, with sections of descent that are 22% gradient. My knuckles are white and nerves on edge as I drop down the first kilometre. I know that I should be relaxing into the drop, rather than sitting tense but there’s little I can do. I walk the second kilometre because it contains the sharpest bends and steepest gradients. It must seem odd to the cars to see someone walking downhill but I don’t care. I remount my bike for the final kilometre and reach the bottom of the descent in one piece.

I smash out the next 10km at 28-35kph, trying to catch back up to the rider in front of me, knowing that I’ll need to make up time for the slow start to this stage. The world flies by as I flatten my body down into the drops and crank out in a big gear. There’s one big hill to climb at the 90km mark before checkpoint 2. I hit the wall part way up but mentally tell myself that I have a choice: I can get miserable or I can sit back and enjoy the views. I chose the latter. Before I know it, I’m turning into checkpoint 2 at 115km to eat a heap more food, and enjoy the company of the other riders and ride organiser.

The third section of the ride is brutal but beautiful. The headwinds along the Clarendon Road that flatten the grass into a pretty ocean of seed heads also makes forward momentum hard work. But it’s worth the effort to ride through the contrasting paddocks of long grass and plowed earth. The Glamorganvale Road reopened today, making it possible to take a shortcut from Lowood to Glamorganvale. The downside is that the shortcut crosses two big hills and takes the shortest route: straight up and down. Again, I have to surrender to the need to walk as my legs run out of puff and my rear wheel loses traction on the newly sealed road, which is covered in loose gravel. The views from the top are amazing; I see where I have ridden and where I am going.

I am almost totally spent when I reach checkpoint 3 at Kholo Gardens (160km) but my soul is singing after riding through some amazing country. It’s enough to keep my body moving as I eat yet more food and set off to ride the final 43km. I have 3:20 remaining on the clock so I know that I’m going to make it.

The final section of the ride is fairly easy. There’s one steep hill that rises like a wall that I walk up, but for the rest it is fairly well just rolling roads. The gravel section of Lake Manchester Road is a challenge on my 23mm tyres but I get through it okay. Before I know it, the sun is setting and I’m riding along some of the busiest roads in Brisbane. It’s certainly a challenge to be alert to drivers after riding almost 200km but a challenge that makes these final few kilometres interesting. Besides, I’d rather take the main roads and spend most of the ride in the countryside than have to waste too much mileage on urban back roads.

There is no fanfare as I arrive at the finish. No big finishing tape or marching bands. The two men who finished before me are loading their bikes onto their cars and the ride organiser is in his kitchen making sure food is ready for riders’ arrival. I have ridden most of the ride alone and finish on my own. I have a shower, put on fresh cloths and eat some very delicious lasagne. The ride organiser gives me a special Lumpy 2 buff, which I think is just awesome! And then, I load my bike onto the ute (pick up truck) and drive home happy.

Total: 203km road cycle (200km brevet)

Nervousness is setting in

In case you haven’t guessed, I like to push the boundaries of my endurance. Actually, I just like to push boundaries full stop. I ride life like it’s a runaway train.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes get nervous about the crazy stuff I sign myself up for.

This weekend, I am going to be totally audacious. I have signed up to ride in the Audax Australia Fleche Opperman 24 hour team cycling challenge. The challenge requires teams to ride a minimum of 360km in 24 hours as a team (i.e. not as a relay). Teams set their own routes but:

  • must finish at the designated finish location (for South-East Queensland, this is the Ipswich Brothers’ Leagues Club)
  • the route must not travel down the same roads in the same direction more than once because the idea is to simulate cycle touring
  • each team member must ride at least 25km in the final 2 hours of the 24 hour window.

The team I joined will be attempting to ride 369km within the allowable time. I’ve never been beyond the 200km mark so this will be entirely new territory. I don’t know how to prepare for Saturday’s adventure.

  • I don’t know whether I should just take the whole week off exercise and get loads of calories into me (I’ve estimated I’ll be burning 11,000 – 14,000 calories during the event). Or whether I should still keep doing some light training until the event.
  • And what should I carry with me to eat during the event? I mean, how does one carry 11,000 – 14,000 calories in jersey pockets?
  • And what if it rains overnight? I don’t own any wet weather gear for cycling; I don’t even own a wind vest (though I think I’ll pick one of them up this week).

Audax cycling is all about being audacious. And it suits my life motto:

For every success, a thousand failures forgotten lie. For every failure to try, a thousand successes prematurely die. (Anon)

This is a huge challenge for me. It’s a real adventure into the unknown. I’m excited … but I’m equally nervous about what this unknown will bring.

If anyone has any practical tips about how I should approach the event, I’m certainly open to all suggestions.

Moonlight Wander, 200km Audax brevet

The start of an adventure

The start of an adventure

It’s 41’C (105’F) as we mingle outside the blue cottage in Esk. Eleven of us unload bicycles from our vehicles and pull on our cycling clothes in the limited privacy our car doors provide. Sandy the Sensational gives us our brevets and route cards in exchange for our entry fees. She checks we have the required two tail lights, two headlights and reflective vests before wishing us well with the ride. At 4:15pm we set off down the road, a small group of randonneurs hoping to complete the hot and hilly 200km course within the 13:30 cut off.

http://ridewithgps.com/routes/876383/elevation_profile

The course will be a challenge. It’s my first foray beyond 160km and my first overnight road ride. With 2,800m climbing, this is not a challenge for the feint-hearted. The extreme heat just adds to the challenge. What we don’t know when we set off is that the heat won’t drop below 30’C (86’F) until well into the final 50km of the ride when we drop back down the range to Esk.

Leaving Esk

Leaving Esk

We leave Esk at our own pace. I find myself riding somewhere near the front of the group. Two men race off the front, leaving us all behind for the rest of the ride. A group of men decide not to blow themselves up in the heat and climb, so they take up the rear of the group. I’m not sure how to pace myself for the distance and am scared of being late at checkpoints so I push myself a bit to put some time in the bank. But I don’t push so hard I can’t enjoy the sensation of actually being here and doing this.

A tough way to start a ride

A tough way to start a ride

Climbing the range

Climbing the range

The only thing great about Australia’s Great Dividing Range is that it runs the length of our eastern seaboard. The mountains aren’t tall or snow capped but they are steep. The range here tops out at about 700m, which is barely a hill by world standards but when you start at sea level, 700m is a long way to climb.

I ride the first part of the climb with Mr Swiss; I name him after his jersey. By the end of the ride I will know his real name but for the purpose of this blog, he will remain Mr Swiss. Mr Swiss is an experienced randonneur whose patience and advice will help get me through the ride. He tells me to loosen my shoes to reduce the risk and pain of hot foot. Basic as it seems, I wouldn’t have thought to loosen my shoes off to prevent my feet being squashed as they swelled.

I loose Mr Swiss on a steep gradient and ride alone. Instead of suffering, I pull out my iPod and listen to some music while enjoying the scenery. Some of the views down over Brisbane are spectacular. I can see all the way to the ocean. This is why we climb these mountains; because the views look better when you have worked for them.

24km water station: A life saver

24km water station: A life saver

The extreme heat prompts Sandy the Sensational to send her assistant James halfway up the climb to set up an extra water station. It’s a lifesaver. The water in my biddons is hot enough to make a pot of tea so the icy cold water is like manna from heaven. I pour what’s left in my biddons over my head and fill both with the fresh icy water. I drink a full biddon before riding back up the mountain with a full 1.5L of water on board.

Dusk on the range

Dusk on the range

Top of the range: A hard won sign

Top of the range: A hard won sign

I feel so much better after the water stop and continue singing out loud to the music on my iPod. Mr Swiss is no longer visible; he left the water station as I was arriving, wishing me well for the rest of the climb. I keep catching up with Mr Kazakstan, so named due to his jersey. Every time I catch him he seems to take off. Perhaps my awful singing is driving him away. I cheer and punch the air as I pass the sign marking the crest of the range. It’s a small but significant victory.

View from Checkpoint 1: Hampton

View from Checkpoint 1: Hampton

Sandy the Sensational has set up an amazing checkpoint at Hampton, 50km from the start of the ride. Piles of food and plentiful drinks greet me as I pull up. After signing my brevet, Sandy explains what food we can choose from. She doesn’t take offense when all I can do is nod incoherently and say I can’t eat. I’m cooking from the heat so I drink a big cup of cola and visit the nearby men’s room. Misters Swiss and Kazakstan are waiting for me when I return so we can ride together. I grab a ham and tomato bun to eat as I ride with them.

Riding into the night

Riding into the night

Sunset

Sunset

We pull on our reflective vests, turn on our lights and set off into the sunset for the next 50km stretch to Checkpoint 2. It’s beautiful up here on the range riding between the long grass and trees. I feel strong as we ride quickly along quiet country roads. There’s no traffic and the three of us fan out as darkness descends. I’m no longer listening to my iPod but am talking with Misters Swiss and Kazakstan.

We reach Checkpoint 2 in good spirits having made good time to the 100km mark. In fact, despite it being the most challenging 100km I’ve ever ridden, it’s also the first time I’ve cycled this distance in less than five hours. Sandy the Sensational has outdone herself again, setting up another mountain of food for us. There’s the best ever pasta salad, watermelon and bananas, salty potato chips (crisps), lollies, cake, buns, cola, three different types of sports drink, cold water, and tea and coffee. Surely Sandy and her assistant are the heroes of this ride.

The best chicken, corn and noodle soup ever

The best chicken, corn and noodle soup ever

At Crows Nest Checkpoint

At Crows Nest Checkpoint

The road between Checkpoints 2 and 3 is long, tough and demoralising. I struggle to maintain a positive mental space for the fifteen kilometres leading into Haden, which is at the 128km mark. My legs are fatigued and my mind starting to wonder why I am keeping it awake past my bedtime. While the Sleep Monster yet grasping at me, the Wall is definitely difficult to ride through. I tell Misters Swiss and Kazakstan that I need to put some music on to help me find a rhythm and apologise for being antisocial. The music helps and I work my way through the wall to Haden.

We stop briefly in Haden to catch our breath and refocus on the ride. It works and we ride the last 22km to the Crows Nest Checkpoint more strongly than we rode the previous 28km. At 144km we hit the New England Highway and pick up the pace. We belt our way to the final checkpoint where Sandy the Sensational has cooked the most delicious chicken, corn and noodle soup I’ve ever tasted. It was exactly what I needed.

Leaving Crows Nest in the middle of the night

Leaving Crows Nest in the middle of the night

We leave Crows Nest in the middle of the night. The roads and town are quiet as we pedal away into the night. A few hundred meters later we are back out in the darkness. Our headlights are as bright as car lights so the road ahead is brightly lit but I occasionally turn back to see just how dark it really is. There’s a new moon tonight so the world behind us is pitch black, which is discombobulating but interesting. The toads are insects are drawn to our headlights and they are out in full force. We laugh as we run over toads even as we try to avoid them.

We ride down to Perseverance Dam before starting the long climb back to the top of the range. At least we are starting from about 400m above sea level so we don’t have to climb the full 700m. But we’ve now ridden 160km with 9km of climbing ahead of us. There are some small descents but the pinches in the climb are tough. I put my iPod back in and ask Misters Swiss and Kazakstan to wait for me at the highway, which they do.

Best bacon and tomato sanger ever

Best bacon and tomato sanger ever

Most of the final 25km of the ride is downhill off the range. There are a few nasty climbs but it’s nothing compared with the previous 175km. When we are three kilometres from the finish we all start to crank it out. We want to finish before 2am. It’s an arbitrary time that has become our goal. We’re down on the drops as we turn down the Brisbane Valley Highway in Esk and race the final two blocks to the blue cottage. 1:59am. We made it. The bacon and tomato sanger Sandy the Sensational dishes up for me is the best I’ve ever tasted. Unlike her pasta salad and soup, this time it’s just the fact that I’m hungry that makes it taste so good.

Without Misters Swiss and Kazakstan, this ride would have been even tougher. They helped me ride faster and longer than I ever believed I could. My goal at 4:15pm was just to slide into the finish at 5:30am, just within the 13:30 cut-off. Instead, I broke 10 hours for my first 200km ride.

Total: 200km road cycle