Today was going to be a big day.
I was planning to ride 140km with around 3,400m of elevation gain, including one 15km climb and one 20km climb.
In my route planning, Ride with GPS had said the maximum gradient would be 18% – and it usually under-estimates!
When I told the bar and motel staff in Corryong that I was planning to ride to Jindabyne the next day, they said things like “a lot of people try that and don’t get there” or “We get a lot of cycling groups through here, like Ride for a Cure, and they all say that is the hardest day / route.”
My last day with big elevation gain was the Giro Della Donna, and coming up the last climb my back was so sore the pain spread down through my glutes, hamstrings and calves and everything felt on the verge of cramping.
Needless to say, I was apprehensive about whether I would need to phone a friend, or walk significant sections. But this was an important test day for my 7 Peaks trip planning, to understand how much elevation gain I could cope with in a day, and what kind of gradients I could ride up with a fully laden bike. I was almost shaking with apprehension, and I just wanted to get on the road and see how it went.
The day started with breakfast and supplementing food supplies. The motel had a free continental breakfast, which was very basic. I toasted a couple of pieces of bread, grabbed some mini butters and vegemite, and packed them in zip lock bags for afternoon food supplies. I find by the end of the day I get eating fatigue, and just want plain savoury foods.
Next stop was a local cafe that had good reviews – Black Sheep cafe. I ordered their muesli and a long black with cream (part of the experiment to reduce milk before the ride and hopefully reduce the urge to pee in the first 20km). I also ordered the toasted ham and cheese sandwich and egg and bacon roll to go – again, real food supplies for during the ride. I had totally over-catered with food, but my worst case scenario for the day’s ride was that I would have to walk significant sections and may not finish until 10pm, so I wanted to have enough food for a proper dinner stop on the ride, as well as lunch and snacks. I also had more muesli bars than I could count, and a bottle of black magic (coke).
I started off pretty much on time at 8:15am, after chatting to a local at the cafe, then 10m down the road I remembered I had to check my tyre pressure. Good thing I did, as the rear was only 35psi. I didn’t want to make that mistake again!
Off for real just before 8:30am. I headed back up the road that I had ridden in on yesterday, and after 6km I turned right towards Khancoban. This was my last actual turn until I would reach Jindabyne over 130km down the road.
The ride to Khancoban was lovely, I was feeling good and conditions were perfect – cool with practically no wind. Arriving in Khancoban after 30km, I took the opportunity to use the toilets, and I had a few things to eat. I knew there was a 15km climb pretty much straight out of town, and I may not get much chance to eat while climbing.
The climb out from Khancoban was quite pleasant for the most part – the gradient wasn’t too steep, and there were lots of small flat and downhill sections to break it up. However, the last few kilometres were unrelenting and I was starting to feel grumpy and irritated – a sure sign that I needed food. The increased altitude, at 1000m, was also getting taxing. To manage the increased altitude, I had to back off my effort level, and to manage the higher gradient, I had to slow down my cadence. I kept telling myself to relax my shoulders, arms and back and to stay smooth to conserve energy. I was worried about the upcoming 20km climb that I expected to be even steeper and higher altitude!
I was very happy to reach the top and have a rest. While I was composing myself and having my toasted ham and cheese sandwich early lunch (11:30am) a couple of grey nomads came past in their campervan and the lady seemed very concerned for me. I assured them that I was ok and was just having a rest.
I was 1.5 hours ahead of schedule at this point, as I had conservatively estimated that I would average 5km/hr uphill, and the climb was 15km = 3 hours. For the proper steep gradient at the top, my speed was 2-6kph, so my estimate was fair. I just hadn’t realised that only a small section of the climb would be that steep! My total time for the climb was about 1:15, so half as long as expected.
After a rest, I continued on the downhill, appreciating the breeze. I was sweating a lot as I had on a merino base layer and merino jersey. Checking the weather forecast, I had expected rain and temperatures around 10 degrees, so I was quite over-dressed. There was a lovely long downhill, but I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted, because my handlebar bags kept getting bounced downwards from the force of the bumps on the downhills, and then every time I went over a bump, they would rub on my front wheel, wearing holes in my handlebar pocket. So I was trying to keep my speed in check and avoid as many bumps as possible.
I then had the next small climb, about 6-7km long. It was fine, not too steep, and helped by the fact that I knew it wasn’t too long. I stopped at the top and had something else to eat, as I find the downhill is a good chance for food to digest before the next effort. Then another long downhill – and I had to put my rain jacket on for this one, as it got a bit chilly. The rubbing of my handlebar pocket got so bad that I had to keep yanking the bag up with one hand while descending – not ideal! Thankfully, my friend Rob who lives in Jindabyne had come out to meet me for moral support. I was able to offload the offending handlebar pocket, after moving all the food that was in it into my frame bag. No more rubbing on the wheels!
At 80km into the ride, I reached the meaty bit – the 20km climb up the Great Dividing Range. From my route map, it looked like it was pretty much uphill the whole way, with one downhill section at the halfway point. So my plan was to stop at the halfway point and have something decent to eat. At my previous rest stop, I had also made up a drink bottle with half coke / half water. Thanks Greg for this tip – it was not too sweet, with enough kick to give me a mental boost. So up the climb I went. It started off at a pretty gradual gradient, even with a few flat or downhill sections in the first couple of kilometres. Then there were a few pinches that were quite steep – I mainly focused on the road a few metres in front of me and just kept breathing and trying to stay relaxed. The road was quite twisty with a few switchbacks, so I was able to select a line around the corners that eased off the gradient, which helped tremendously. About halfway up the first section, my back started feeling like a vice all across my lower back, and I really wanted to stretch. Eventually I found a section of road that was flat enough that I’d be able to start going again if I stopped, and where I wouldn’t be run over by cars coming around the corner. I stopped for a short stretch then kept going.
The worst section of the first half was probably about 3km from the top. It was steep, consistently steep, and unrelenting. I was thinking that if I stopped I’d never get started again. I was thinking that I’d be slower if I walked and I’d get sore calves. I was thinking that I was a lean, mean cycling machine and this was what I’d trained for. I kept going. Then I saw the sign that it was 2km to the rest point, and the gradient may have relented a little.
I made it up the first section, which was only about 7km, in 50min at an average speed of 7kph, with a minimum moving speed of 3kph. I was so far ahead of my schedule I couldn’t believe it! At the halfway rest point, I enjoyed my toast with vegemite, as well as a paleo bar with ground coffee beans in it – I figured this was the time for a caffeine hit.
The downhill section was almost 1km long, then I had another 10km of pretty unrelenting climbing before the proper downhill started. I averaged an amazing 8kph up this 10km climb, and completed it in 1:15, including a break to stretch and eat half a cherry ripe bar. The altitude at the halfway point 7km up the climb had been 1000m, and for some reason I thought it was going to top out at 2000m, so I was very wary of keeping my heart rate down to maintain my blood oxygen levels to my brain. I find at higher altitude if I go too hard, it really stresses my body and brain and I get very emotional. There were a few steep pinches on the second half of the climb, but not as long as the other stretch that I’d found so hard.
I don’t know what the actual gradient was, as my Garmin is terribly unreliable at reporting gradient if there is a hint of dampness – so it was saying the gradient was 0%. Good thing I had it on power save mode with the screen off so that I didn’t have it staring me in the face saying that! I know with all my luggage I could cope ok up to about 8-10%, and then my cadence has to reduce to manage my effort levels. I would say the steep sections got up to more than 12%, but not more than 15%. Using the switchbacks to select a lower gradient line through the corners definitely helped.
The altitude actually topped out at just less than 1600m at Dead Horse Gap.
I stopped briefly there to put on my warm descending layers – rainjacket, ear covers, buff over head, ears and face, and warm waterproof gloves. It had started raining about 5km from the top, but as I was climbing and protected by the trees, I had been warm enough. Now I needed the warm layers on!
I had reached the top about 5:15pm. I knew it was 40km down to Jindabyne, and although I knew there were a few lumpy bits still to come, I figured with the mostly fast downhill I would average 30kph. Well, I wasn’t quite that fast. I had to stop and have something to eat, as I started to get that “not seeing straight” feeling that meant I was too cold and had burnt all my energy keeping warm. The lumpy bits were also a bit longer and more frequent that I realised, although nothing too taxing.
I also really needed to pee. It got to the point that I thought I was going to wet myself, and the only cover along the side of the road was a few weeds. I had to go though. Luckily where I stopped there was quite a deep ditch, so I climbed down into the ditch and managed to go in the gaps between passing cars. What a relief. I was trying to figure out if I should buy food from the shops for dinner when I picked up my key, or go back and shower first. As I was wet and cold, and I still had my egg and bacon roll that I’d bought at lunchtime, I decided to just pick up the key and head straight to my accommodation.
So the big ride was done! 139km with 3,300m of elevation gain, 11 hours from start to finish (including stops) and about 10 hours riding time. Average speed was 13.6kph, which included my short breaks but not the longer ones when I stopped my Garmin. I finished at 7:30pm, which was earlier than my expected best case scenario of 8pm!
I can’t tell you how happy am I to have achieved this! The elevation gain alone is the most I’ve done in a single ride since I did 3 Peaks in 2014, and the same with the total riding time. Let alone doing it with about 10kg of luggage on a cyclocross bike with knobbly tyres, after several hard rides in the preceding days. My body let me know that it had had enough, and I appreciated my rest day today, but I also didn’t feel too tired or sore, excpet for my lower back, and I actually felt great on a short recovery / test ride that I did.
Now the planning for the 7 Peaks December ride can start in earnest 🙂