2013 Scody 3 Peaks Challenge - Ride Report
My first ever ride report
** Warning – contains text and graphics which may put you off your food **
(read at your peril)
Being my first ride of this duration and difficulty, I’ve nothing to compare it to. But here goes anyway.
I wasn’t looking forward to this ride too much. The Back Of Falls climb from Omeo up to Falls Creek was the main attraction for me; a climb I’ve never done before. But this particular climb was not to be. I’d also missed out on doing it as part of the Alpine Classic Extreme just over a month earlier, due to ongoing fires around Mount Hotham.
The 2013 3 Peaks Challenge course was recently re-routed due to the closure of the Great Alpine Road between Harrietville and Mount Hotham. It was closed after recent bushfire damage, trees across the road and a landslip taking out some of the road. This revised course took in Mount Buffalo and Rosewhite Gap instead; same distance and same overall climbing as the original course, although some of the gradients were not as steep now that Mount Hotham and the Back Of Falls were out of the picture.
I brought two bikes up with me; one a Di2 without compact cranks and the other a mechanical shifter with compact cranks. I decided on the Di2 bike (no compacts) as Hotham and Back Of Falls weren’t happening this time around. This turned out to be a lucky decision considering the grief I came to later..... I also brought up half the family. One son had to stay at home as had Uni classes on Labour Day – don’t know how that works
So OH was happy that there was ample space to bring the mother-in-law with us too
I managed to escape by going on a long bike ride
I’m usually a camel on long rides, not carrying much water or drinking much. This ride was going to be a longer hotter ride, so instead of my usual single 500ml bidon I carried two of them; which was still less than the recommended two 750ml bidons. More about water and hydration later.....
Up early to leave Bright at 4:30am and beat the 5:30am road closure from Mount Beauty up to Falls Creek, specially closed for the 3 Peaks Challenge. (You don’t want a mass of 1500 cyclists descending at high speed encountering cars).
Going past Germantown I wanted some music in the car. So, after seeing Jersey Boys twice recently, I put Frankie Valli on. I had just started listening to the first track, Sherry Baby when a local produce sign loomed ahead in the darkness on road to Tawonga Gap - “Valli Chestnuts”. Coincidence or what? Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons ended up being my “earworms” for the day and got me through the ride.
After a quick stop at the Tawonga Gap Lookout, where I couldn’t see a thing in the darkness, I moved onto Sullivan’s Lookout a few hundred metres down the road. The views down to Mount Beauty revealed all the streetlights in the distance. Very nice and peaceful up there at that time of morning.
The traffic controllers in Mount Beauty were busy in the darkness setting up their road closures at the base of the Falls Creek climb. I made it through with ample time to spare and started the winding drive up to Falls Creek. It was very surprising to see one rider ascending and two separate riders descending Falls Creek in the darkness at this early hour of the morning. I’m sure they were having a ball
There was a mass of riders up top readying themselves for the wave starts from 6:45am. Being early or late in the waves didn’t matter, as all bikes had rider ID numbers with timing chips attached to their seatposts. I was at the back of Wave 4, the last wave, which was a good position for an overall viewpoint of the goings on ahead. Plus I’m not the fastest of descenders anyway.
The descent from Falls Creek in the cool early morning twilight was most enjoyable. Someone nearby was loudly whistling Waldteufel’s “Skaters Waltz” on the way down, which was quite apt as we moved through the consecutive sweeping bends.
Being at the rear of the waves, I saw the end result of many mishaps on the way down. Numerous bikes off to the side, some with flat tyres or mechanical problems, but some were obviously “offs”. Don’t know if it was the result of cornering too fast or contact with other bikes/riders. Not a good start to a long day
The temperature at the bottom (Mount Beauty) was much warmer, and the sun had not even hit the township yet. So it was time to de-layer before continuing onto the Tawonga Gap turnoff.
Heading up to Tawonga Gap was an enjoyable climb which went well. Riders were greeted at the top by a rest-stop with full facilities. It certainly wasn’t there when I came through a few hours earlier. Water, energy bars & gels, isotonic powders and a delicious big slice of fruitcake. The descent down from Tawonga Gap to Germantown was fast and furious, with this road also closed to traffic. Someone had taken a sharp corner too fast and ended up hitting the embankment. Ambos in attendance. More sobering thoughts for the day
Upon leaving Tawonga I texted the family who were staying at Bright, to give them time to meet me on the main road. I didn't mind leaving a good fast moving bunch at Bright to stop and get some words of support and encouragement. Plus unload my rubbish. I was alone for short distance before getting together with some others to form another small bunch for the little trip to Porepunkah, and then it was onto the base of Mount Buffalo.
I pushed a little harder than normal on the Buffalo climb as the weather was getting hotter and thought it would be better to get as much of the climb out of the way before it became too hot. Near the top it wasn’t as hot as down below and the bitumen was not yet hot enough to form the bubbles which pop as you ride over them. This was a good thing, as the slippery hot bitumen can bring riders undone on the corners during the descent. However, I did notice there was much loose gravel over the road, even on the corners. (This caused at least one rider to come off while descending) It was great to get the Buffalo climb out of the way before the really hot stuff. Hats off to those who complete the multiple climbs of Buffalo a month or two ago.
The rest stop at the Chalet carpark was well stocked, but had insufficient temporary water taps, resulting in a long queue to refill bidons.
The descent down Buffalo was great fun, but the temperatures were dramatically hotter down below. After a quick left turn at the large Porepunkah roundabout, across the Ovens River Bridge, we found the lunch stop in the park on the right. I’d seen it the day before as they were setting it up, when I did a little reconnaissance ride out of Bright. It seemed strange at the time that there were only 10 loos at the lunch stop. I thought it wouldn’t be enough, but the riders were well spread out after Buffalo, so that by the time they hit the lunch stop there wasn’t much of a queue.
After leaving Porpunkah we hit the highway for the flattish ride to Ovens, just east of Myrtleford. A largish bunch making good time with rolling turns. However, there was a bit of surging going on and I should have been more attentive. A little wheel clip and I was gone! The bike upended and I hit the tarmac handlebars first. Fortunately nobody behind me came down as well. Most of the bunch wouldn’t have known it happened. A couple of riders behind me stopped to check if I was ok. I waved them on as I knew there was nothing they could do for me. Upon picking myself up and inspecting the damage, I found:
* Left knee – seen better times
* Right brifter – now pointing inwards at 45 degrees
* Chain – off
* Hood tops and brake levers – torn and scratched.
Using my clenched fist, I gave the right brifter a good hammering to get it back into line. Then restored the chain. Then checked that everything was still working. I was in luck. The bike was still functional despite the brifters taking a beating. If I was on the other bike with mechanical shifters rather than Di2, I might not have been so lucky after the brifters gouged into the road.
Now, how about me? The knee was bleeding and in pain. The wind was knocked out of my sails. Possibly suffering from a case of minor shock. But I decided it wasn’t enough to stop me and I should continue on.
I took off from the crash site at an easy pace and waited for another group to pass before latching on and sharing the rolling turns for the trip to Ovens. I managed to stay with them until Ovens, but couldn’t hold onto them, or any other group, beyond the Ovens rest stop. A combination of the heat and the crash saw me slowly winding down, despite the fact that I needed to wind up to get over Rosewhite Gap. Rosewhite Gap sneaks up on you. It starts off slowly as you leave Ovens, then just gets steeper as you approach it.
After clearing Rosewhite Gap I didn’t have the energy to push hard and take advantage of the downhill sections. So I just took it easy all the way back to Mount Beauty, where the main road is quite undulating with a combination of downhill and some uphill. Many riders cramped along this section and pulled off to the side of the road, or took relief from the sun in one of the many roadside bus shelters.
The climb back up to Falls Creek was playing on my mind. I knew I didn’t have enough energy left in me, my legs were cooked, and heat was getting to me. I was tossing up whether to drink all my water or pour some of it over me to cool down. Given that the rest stops are reasonably frequent, I decided to drink half and pour half of it over me, and timing my water usage to run out at the Mount Beauty rest stop. I had also decided that I couldn’t complete the climb up Falls in my present state. A long recovery stop at Mount Beauty was in order.
What a nice stop it was at the Mount Beauty park. Shady trees to lie down under. Water, food, gelos, powders and facilities available. I could easily have called it quits there and spent the rest of the day relaxing. There was even a large local bus at the stop beside the park, waiting to take passengers up to Falls Creek. If only I could be on it!
After a long rest and recovery stop, it was time to push on up to Falls Creek. I could soon feel the energy sapping away again and to had to slowly grind away in low gear.
It was “only” Falls Creek, but it felt like Baw Baw. My mouth was becoming parched and dry so I kept on taking little swigs of water. My stomach felt a little bloated so I didn’t want to drink too much and make it worse. The rear end pressure relief valve got a work out to try and reduce the bloating sensation. But I still couldn’t drink enough to quench my thirst.
On the way up I noticed many riders had stopped to lie down and take a rest at the various shady corners or waterfalls. I felt like joining them. Some riders had cramped in the middle of the road and just stayed there, in too much pain to move off to the side.
My bloated feeling continued to the point where hiccoughs started, and I couldn’t take in any more water for a while. A movement off to the side of the road caught my eye. A big brown snake was a metre away and trying to slither away up the embankment, but it was too steep and it couldn’t escape. I was worried it would turn back and attack me instead. Close call. I continued on. And on.
As I neared the top I was only doing between 8-10kmh. The skies had clouded over as per the predicted possible thunderstorms and the temperature had dropped (or so I thought). I was starting to feel really cold and noticed that I was losing concentration.
Seeing the Falls Creek village in the distance and hearing the loudspeaker announcing the times for the latest finishers perked me up and gave me a second wind. Almost there. And then the skies opened up and rain came down, making me even colder.
It was quite dejecting to find that you had to continue on up the hill beyond the finishing line, then turn around and come back down again to the finish. But, oh well, what’s another hundred metres or two after all that? Nothing! So I went up, came back, and was through the finish in just over 11 hours. They were handing out cups of isotonic powdered water after the finish. I quickly downed three of them.
Now the fun begins.....
My shivering was getting worse and I was feeling a little nauseous. Sure signs of dehydration. Jumped in the car, reclined the seat, put the heater on and rested while taking regular sips of water. The nausea became worse, resulting in a bit of dry reaching. I felt ok after that. I was hungry and thirsty so went for a slice of finisher’s pizza. It tasted good, but there mustn’t have been enough fluid in me to digest it, so the pizza made a reappearance half an hour later. So much for eating. Safer to stick to drinking.
After a long rest I felt well enough for the drive back to Bright, leaving Falls at around 7:40. On the way down in the twilight, there soon came a point where I began feeling very sorry for riders coming up the hill, some walking. This was because I knew there was no way they’d make the 13 hour cutoff. And a little way behind the last of the riders I saw two mini buses towing bike trailers. Quite dejecting really. During this, my second Falls Creek descent for the day, an owl swooped down in front of the car to pick up something on the road. I slammed on the brakes and hit it at low speed. Not too injured and it managed to fly away.
It was a thirsty drive back to Bright, so I indulged in a little drinking and driving; water that is. The water soon ran out, which meant that I really enjoyed my two cups of tea and three glasses of cold apple juice as soon as I got back to Bright.
Some other observations for the day:-
* Great to see the ride marshalls / first aiders regularly cruising up and down the route, along with the high police presence.
* Also great to see white paint on the road around any small undulations or other road damage too minor for the relevant authorities to fix, but which may cause problems for riders.
* Black jerseys may be fashionable. But during a long ride on a hot day they certainly show up the sweat/salt stains.
* Rewards for completing a long ride are good, even if they're a day late.