Firstly, some perspective; at the end of the day, this was just a bike ride, a personal challenge.
I delayed entering this event as I was not sure if I was totally prepared! I had downloaded a couple of training programs and had done my research on nutrition, but, even with a supportive family (Sarah has been amazingly supportive), finding the time to train for this event was difficult. Two days before the cut off, I bit the bullet and entered the Scody 3 Peaks Challenge. I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge I had put myself up against, but had no idea just how big that challenge would be!
I have never been so nervous, the fear of not knowing if I could achieve what I had set out to was almost overwhelming and as it turns out, completely justified!
At breakfast, there was a feeling of quiet anticipation as I tried to fuel myself for the day ahead. There were 2 others staying in the Lodge that were up for the challenge also, and the silence was deafening!
As we moved through the starting chute, I was getting really excited about what lay ahead, a 30k descent down to Mount Beauty. It did not disappoint, fast sweeping turns and it just seemed to go on forever. Some riders were taking crazy risks and I witnessed some very near disasters. I was also surprised to see how many people had punctures and other mechanical issues on the descent. Unfortunately it didn’t last forever and after about 45 mins I was in Mount Beauty, making my way to the first Peak of the day, Tawonga Gap. At 7.5k and an altitude gain of around 470m, this was to be the biggest climb I had ever done. I looked after myself, got in a comfortable gear and tried to look after my legs for later in the day. I made it to the top, feeling good and more importantly the nerves had begun to drop away as I gained confidence from the climb.
Again, time to descend. It makes the climbing worthwhile. I did however come across a sobering reminder to take care and remain within my limits while descending, a rider on the side of the road, not in great shape. He was being cared for and upon speaking to the rider who helped him; he had knocked himself out and broken his collar bone! After the descent, it was into the valley and moving through Bright, onto Porepunkah and the start of the next climb, Mount Buffalo. At just over 20k to the Buffalo Chalet (turnaround point) and elevation gain of over 1000 meters, at an average of around 5%, this was going to be the new record climb for me.
It is a stunning climb, constant views into the valley and up to the towering rock formations above. About 10k into the climb I was out of water, not ideal. It was starting to get very warm, and I still had another 40 odd minutes ahead. About 2 k later, with still about 8 to go, I got my first cramp! I managed the cramps by stopping and stretching while still over the bike. If I tried to lift my leg over the bike I would cramp more, and feared I would not be able to get back on. I must have stopped 3 or 4 times to repeat the process, but in the end I made it to the top for so much need hydration. I stayed for about 10 mins to get some water in and make sure my bottles were full before I left for another great descent down to Porepunkah and Lunch!
I was still on reasonable time by this stage. I was just over half way and was probably on 11.5 to 12 hour time, but I was really starting to feel the effects of the heat and I was just about to start a 40k stint in the HOT Valleys during the hottest part of the day. I left lunch for the ride to Ovens, 20k down the road to the next water stop, Normally this would take about 40 mins. I was really struggling to hold any sort of speed and as groups approached from behind I tried hard to get on, but could only hold them for 30 seconds or so. It was a lonely, hot stretch of road and it broke me!
I rolled into the Ovens rest stop, found some shade and sat. I was at 140k, still 90k to go. There were people everywhere, but I felt isolated and alone. My mind was my own worst enemy at this point! I got my phone out and sent this text to my wife Sarah.
“I am in a world of hurt. Every Pedal stroke is so hard. I can’t keep any speed. I am dehydrated and apparently having a massive winge. The cut off times are starting to catch me too!”
I had fallen into a massive negative mindset. After about 20 mins or so of wallowing about in my own self-pity, I got back on the bike and pushed on… I made it 500m before I stopped again. I found some shade and stretched some more, still over my bike. I think if I had gotten off my bike and sat down in that shade I would have only been getting up to get on the SAG wagon. I began pedalling again and started to talk myself round. “Your longest ride is 150k; you have to at least get past that”. Ok, 10k, I can roll that out. I got past the 150 without much fanfare, again, I was alone, in the valley and only seeing other riders very occasionally. There was also something else happening. I was starting to see people in great difficulty. In the next 10k I would see 3 people being treated by Ambulance. It was a reminder of just how intense this situation really was!
I had now managed to get to around 160k and new I had another short climb to come, a 4k gentle climb over Rosewhite Gap. It was like a light had been switched on. There was shade, and I felt instantly better being out of that damn valley. Of all things, the road I was on was called Happy Valley road, and I can tell you, it got called every name under the scorching sun bar Happy Valley Road. The name of the road makes me angry now just thinking about it!!!!!!
I tapped out a slow, but consistent climb, only having to stop once to stretch. I also got to look back through the Hell Valley I had just come through. It was behind me and my mind was now starting to think about what averages I need to make the cut off. I knew I had to keep my rest stops really short now and that, at worst, I was going to make it to Mount Beauty and get to the 200k mark. This would still be a great achievement! I had a quick water filling stop at Running Creek, 170k behind me, 30k to the next stop. THROUGH ANOTHER VALLEY!!!!!
This one didn’t feel as torturous as the last, I was still on my own, but I could see riders ahead, in the distance, but they were there. In the same Hell as me! I eventually came into Tawonga South and found a little Milk Bar and grabbed my first Ice Cold drink of the day. A cold Coke! What a reward. I pulled into the Mount Beauty rest stop at 5 p.m., 10 hours after I started the descent from Falls. This stop was closing in 30 minutes, so I knew I had to keep it short and that the final rider on the course, the Lanterne Rouge, would be coming through soon. I topped up the water, and with the realisation that I had 3 hours of riding 30k uphill, I set off, breaking through the 200k mark as I started the long climb ahead. It was 5.08 p.m. and I need to be finished by 8.15. It was going to be close, but I figured an average of 10kph was achievable. I managed to ride between 1.5 and 2.5 kilometres at any given time and then stop to stretch out the cramps. At 10kph, every 100m seems to take a lifetime. After about an 1:20 I had made it to Bogong Village, half way up, only 15k to go. I had managed to average a little higher than I required so after refilling the bottles one last time, I set off with about an hour and 45 minutes to get across the line. I felt that I was so close now, I surely was going to get there, but with every cramp came another minute or so of stretching. It was saddening to see the poor souls on the side of the road at this point, completely spent, bikes upside down in resignation to the fact they were not going to finish. The fear of feeling like these poor buggers kept me moving forward, knowing very well that the Lanterne Rouge was not far behind me. With darkness all around and about 3 k to go, I got my first glimpse of the Falls Creek village. It was at this point I came to the realisation that I was going to make it. I was still having to stop and stretch and even walk, but I knew I had the time, just. As I moved into the village, I could see the finish, but something was not right, the course continued uphill past the finish, what the hell was going on! It must have been to get the last 200 meters of the 230k or something, but I had to ride uphill past the finish, but as I did my U-turn to head downhill for the last 100m, I let out a yelp of excitement, I was about to finish. And so I did, across the line in a little over 13 hours, but ahead of the Lanterne Rouge, who came in 10 minutes behind.
I knew this was going to be a great test, that’s why I did it! But I had no idea it would be as mentally gruelling as it was. Will I do it again? Absolutely! Why? It was immensely rewarding. At the end of the day it’s a bike ride (sure a long and torturous one), something I did for the satisfaction of seeing whether or not I could. And it turns out, that even in some pretty difficult conditions I was capable, just. The finisher’s jersey though, just says “2013 Finisher”.