Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Escape to the extreme.

I don't know about you guys, but I have found my bike to be a wonderful escape in tough times.
Yes I race and stuff but most importantly I escape to my bike.  The physical repetition, the breaths and heart beats form a blank it out, back to basics mantra.  I used to experience it running, and now I can find it on the bike - it is a reset switch for me.   In really tough times the roadie alone might not do it - but the combo of the physical work  and the mental demands of single track make the ultimate medicine.  Someone said to me life is what happens when we make other plans and this year I am the very living proof of that.  After a life of routine, hitting every training session perfectly, having everything aligned and being how it should be, organised into OCD boxes - the wheels fell off.

My marriage ended, my family changed.  My health disappeared.  My friends dispersed, some people did some disagreeable things and some crazy, crazy stuff happened.  My opportunity to ride halved. My team and main social network all but disintegrated.  My ability to go out and reset was restricted.  In essence my ground fell out from under me.  The plan was simple.  Zero touring experience, two bikes, three bags of stuff on some freeload racks, and a test to see if we could cover five days of hard riding - a RAAM test.


Plan was hatched maybe 48hours earlier and before we knew it we rolled out.  Some spares, a couple of riding kits, credit cards and an iPhone.  A rough idea of which direction (south) and a plan to find and ride down the pacific highway was as detailed as it got.  What's the worst that could happen?


Cruel to be passing through the Gold Coast on such a perfect beach day!

Day One - Brisbane to Ballina saw a slow start as we rode the bike paths and back roads to the gold coast.  From there we took the gold coast highway down to the point the Pacific Motorway gives way to the Pacific Highway and bikes become legal.  It was hot but reasonably good going. The punctures started not long after we found the Pacific Highway and tested resolve - until we found the safety pin piece INSIDE my rim. 



What the hell?  No idea how that could have gotten in, but with two pairs of hands, some tweezers and too many close passing trucks we had it fixed.  Both of us tried not to think about the number of tubes we had already gone through - the burn rate meant we would need to restock well before Sydney if we had a hope of making it. Not that we had a clue where we could do that.  I guess that is why they call it Adventure!

Heading into Northern NSW - about 140km in Day One.
The climbs started at about 180km up over St Helens and overlooking Byron and happened to be in the heat of the day.  I grew up in this vicinity so I am always appreciative of the beauty of the northern rivers.  Except after 180km, mid 30's and a dirty big hill.  Then I am reduced to basic pedalling and intermittent prayers.  Newrybar really is hilly.  We stopped for cold drinks and from there rode the rollers down and into Ballina.   Found a place to stay and sorted out the bikes, clothes, food etc for the next day and set about refuelling.


Day Two - Ballina to Coffs Harbour.

I knew when I woke up I had done 220km with an extra 10kgs on my bike, but that was what I came for so lets get this started.  walked out of the aircon and was immediately HIT with heat.  eeew.  It was only 7am! 
Day Two. 8AM and the livestock were already hiding under trees and it was easily 30+.

Day Two - the heat was unbelievable - and got oh so MUCH worse from there!

As we rolled it was beautiful but somewhere in my mind an alarm was definitely going off.  As a country girl I knew when the livestock are hiding at 8AM I am pretty sure that is a sign of bad things to come.  When the road starts to bubble I think that is the apocalypse. I am still 99.9% certain I rode from Ballina to Coffs Harbour via HELL.  Must check a map.



This road is actually melting and sticking to our wheels. Hell was starting to look cool.
Yes by 10AM the road was bubbling and melting.  And so was I.  I began to worry about flats and punctures from superheated tar. Shannon's Garmin was showing 38'c and climbing.  The papers were full of stories about the record heat wave, and detailed how the BOM had to add a new top category and colour to their heat maps to depict the hotter than ever before temps.  And we were riding in it.  All day.  With weights strapped to me and my bike. And with an epic day already in my legs. *gulp*

If you could stand the wet gooch, this seriously helped in the heat.
But that's what we were there for.  So we got on with the job.  No talking, no need. Just getting the job done.  We suffered.  We stuffed our jerseys with ice and kept rolling.   The temp peaked when we were in no mans land probably about 70km out of coffs - where there is NOTHING but state forest.  No shelter, shops, servos or even cars.  Everyone was somewhere out of the heat.  The road temperature reached 53'c and I stopped the updates - I was past the point of needing to know.  Breathing felt like when you opened an oven and the hot air rushed out and into your lungs.  We had no idea how far to the next water point.  It was clear we were now in dangerous territory.  Too hot to stop, too hot to move.  But move you must.  The pace was a crawl, but it was movement and in these conditions and kms movement to your next water source is actually movement towards life.
What comes after extreme heat? Extreme storms. AAAARGH!
Is that the best you've got? Well, I am still riding!

After an age of slowly making our way forward we turned a corner and THERE IT WAS! A servo.  HEAVEN.  I think we drank 6 litres before we even moved.  The servo guy ran out the back and got chairs for us from his office as we lay under a tap and then wandered around inside grabbing about 12 litres of various fluids and iceblocks! After about 45 mins I deemed myself sufficiently revived and knew the clock was ticking - time to roll.  There was no fallback plan to get to sydney.  I had to ride, and there was a time limit.  I felt the pressure, squared my shoulder and got on my stinking bike. As we moved out the temperature was dropping.  relieved to find it a cool 38'c. Because of the MASSIVE STORM COMING.


Time to put this bitch to bed.  Time to put the emergency lights on and motor through the rain and thunder. And somehow through one pedla stroke at a time we made our way to coffs.  Which AGAIN ended with a massive climb after 200km+ in the legs.  Must really check the routes next time!




Day Three - Coffs Harbour to Port Macquarie.
Destroyed, and only 200km to go.  Yay!  Why did I want to do this again?
Thankfully it was a cool morning, but did you know it is pretty undulating from Coffs Harbour to Port?  I did not know that.  Now I do.  Most of the strava stuff has gaps in it by this point as we began to constantly forget things, including turning on Garmins.

On the plus side we had our bike set up, and roll out routine sorted.  Little words required. And our bodies were kind of riding in, in a broken sort of way.  I concentrated on drinking for the first four hours knowing only too well how dehydrated I was from the previous days visit to HELL.
The silent milestone ticked over - past halfway. I started to allow myself to think I was going to make it.  After all anything was easier than the day in hell just passed.

Day Three - Probably 20'c cooler, past halfway and not dead!  Winning at life.




Day Four - Port Macquarie to Raymond Terrace
Ok, I know I said Day Three was undulating - well that makes Day Four non-stop hills  Nothing of a particularly tough gradient - but consistent leg sapping, soul breaking hills.  I thought Newcastle was a SWAMP.  I am sure swamps are flat so WHY ARE THERE HILLS EVERYWHERE.....the universe hates me.

Luckily I was there to pull massive turns and get us through as the picture below proves and no-one can say any different because there is proof. Pics are proof. Proven.

Day Four - Rough as guts, post servo smiles.  Drafting the whole way to Sydney. Honest.  This pic proves it.

Glamour stop on Day Four. No smiles now.  Heading into Newcastle.  Filthy Road Grimed and Hard Core.

Horror neck rash - but strangely enough the gooch was fine.



Day Five - Raymond Terrace to SYDNEY.
Knowing we had only a short 148km to conquer I was keen to get on the road.  I knew now I would make it, one more day and a short one at that.  We rolled out and set a great pace.  You should know this - last-day-itis never fails to bite.  All was well, until this....

Day Five: A rack malfunction + locked back wheel@40km/hr.  Glad a spare tyre was packed and that I have mad skillz.
Well, I guess that is why you carry a spare tyre 800km.  So on it goes and on we go.  The traffic understandably was the heaviest in this part of the ride, but really everyone gave us a wide berth.  Waterworks road is about 100 times more dangerous in my opinion and the only time we had any problems was riding in suburban/town centre areas well off the highway!
Try and smile - I think we might actually make it!  This is what the hills looked like - happy, sad.
As I passed through the sandstone cliffs and climbs of the hawkesbury I started to reflect on what had been had done, with so little preparation or planning.  No argument in the toughest of conditions, and most of the time no speaking.  Take care of yourself, and then if you can help the other.  An understanding probably developed over all those races and rides that allowed for singular focus. Quietly I thought it - RAAM on a tandem was looking possible.
sandstone cliffs, we gotta be close!  Under 50km to go.

Surreal! Central Station.
As I stood in Central Station it dawned on me just a few days earlier I rolled out my driveway with pretty much nothing and now I was here, in an iconic sydney location.  And I got here on my bike.  Pretty quickly too.  I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and capability.  And pride too. Yeah, I rode to Sydney.  Why?  Because I can.

Gloves were harmed in the making of this ride.











3 comments:

Sean Dench said...

Oh goody! You found my safety pin!?

Can I have it back please?

bonkedoutcherryplum said...

Rachel thank you for sharing your story. I'm completely floored by it. I can't believe how intense it must have felt for you when your world fell apart and you lost a great deal, personally...especially your friendships. I hope that the one's that mattered mattered. Although I have only just met you I am so glad I have. You inspire me and make me feel a sense of worth as a woman. Especially in this game of life. You are strong and full of guts and determination. I respect all that you do. Your journey is amazing and it has only just started. Caro x

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