Friday, March 26, 2010

Terra Stage 1 and 2. How to suffer.

Well finally I can take the time to get to a place to upload my blog for the Terra Australis 2010. The amount of emotional and physical feelings I have experienced in the past 5 days makes it hard to ensure that I can express them and carry you along for the ride.
I must premise it all by saying that the riding has been spectacular. The photos don’t do it justice as the scenery is breath taking and the sheer volume of amazing places you ride through is mind numbing. From the high plateau of Falls Creek and Dinner Plain to the lush forest around Bright and the slowly regenerating eucalypt forest of Beechworth you just keep being amazed. I have crossed the Ovens River 6 times, climbed to the top of Goldies Spur and seen the western side of Mount Buffalo, scaled shaly climbs that went on for kilometres and then plunged into lush forests with massive gums surrounding bracken ferns.
If this all sounds idyllic there is a definite sting in the tail of every vista I’ve seen, every beautiful creek I have crossed and most definitely every lush valley I have plunged into. I have suffered. I have sweated, sworn, struggled and bled for every kilometre and stage finish so far. This race is a beast and even if I get to the end I won’t say I have tamed it, only survived it.
Stage 1. Falls Creek to Mount Beauty. 92km, 2550m alt gain, 3726m alt loss.
I showed up at the start line with apprehension and fear. No other way of putting it. There was a 50km wind blowing across the top of the mountain which dropped the temperatures down to about 6 degrees and would later take a heavy toll on us on the plains as a head wind. Down to it. We set off and quickly gained our place at the tail of the field with the first climb of the day being a relatively gentle gravel road up to the edge of the lake and then turning off toward the plains. I was feeling OK by then even though Spencer had flatted and we had lost time already and were now well back in the pack with no real hope of picking up places. No matter, the aim is to finish. That’s when it got hard.
We hit the climb to Mount McKay and the terrain turned to hell. Imagine plate sized flat rocks that slid from under you when you pedalled coupled with bottom bracket deep ruts and you get the idea of what I mean. Now multiply that by about 15 kilometres. Yep, 15 kilometres of climbing at about 12% on that. The Terra was showing me who is boss and it’s only day 1. When I thought I had got a rhythm going on the climb I came to a curve in the trail then it hit me. A head wind at 50 kilometres per hour that took the temperature down to about 5 degrees was smashing me in the face while it’s buddies the rocks and ruts took turns at taking chunks out of my leg strength. Unreal.
I finally got to the top and was really looking forward to the descent down Timms Spur to the Big River Valley. If only it wasn’t the roughest, most technical, longest descent I have ever done. There are head sized boulders and sticks the size of small countries across the trail and all that is laid over a bed of slippery pea gravel and hard pack. Mega. My arms were so sore I had to sit down at the end of each descent and shake them out. I had no feeling in my fingers from grabbing the brakes and bars so hard and while I should have been able to rest my legs on the downs I found that I was constantly on the hammer otherwise it was flaming wreck time for yours truly. There was a comment made at the end of the stage by one of the elite guys that said he has never been so happy to start climbing again. It was simply that full on. The feed station at the end of this was a god send. Spencer and I sat in silence looking each other with fear in our eyes.
 At this stage I still had around 1000m of climbing to do to the finish. If only it had been easy fire road or gravel but no, it was not to be. More of the fist sized, square edged rocks met us for the entire climb. The only comment I have on this section is I was numb. I climbed slowly and in silence. My heart was broken and my legs were trashed with no end in sight. I really am lucky to have got through this section as it could very easily have been the end of me. I finally saw the turn into the Mount Beauty single track and Big Hill. Another flat while in the single track further sealed the day as a complete disaster. I did not enjoy the single track or even take in the amazing views across the Kiewa Valley. I was smashed physically and mentally and it was only day one.
Day 2, Falls Creek to Dinner Plain. 102km, 2112m alt gain, 2052m alt loss.
I started the stage with a feeling of confidence and a plan to steadily gain the altitude needed and rest on the long descents into the valleys. The climb from the start was steady and on reasonable terrain so we just ticked along and ate up the first 15 km with ease. Then the rot set in. We missed a marker on a turn and headed up a steep and rock littered climb until we reached another intersection where there was no trail marker. I was pretty annoyed as we tried to get mobile coverage to find to where we were and how far off track we had gone. Finally after a 10k diversion with a lot of climbing we were back on the trail and moving towards the next check point. The whole adventure took a massive toll on both Spencers and my state of mind and there was a real negative vibe about the climb back out towards the Bogong Highway. More bad news. As we were now so far behind the pack, a sweep vehicle had been through and removed a further trail marker and now we had 4 options as to which way to go. Finally after a lot of swearing and cursing Spencer announced that he was heading down the bitumen no matter what and that someone could just come and get us from the next town. Fair enough too I thought.
We lucked out though and there was a checkpoint a few k along the road. I headed into it at 45 degrees, head down and attitude turned up to nuclear. I was pissed in a big way. We still don’t know what happened to the marker and I have since apologised to the guys that bore the brunt of my frustration but hey, it still sucked.
The climb that followed was brutal. 22 percent and covered in what can only be described as rider destroying, jagged edged demons. We both walked it most of the way and from all reports so did everyone else. 1.5k later we crested a spur and looked down at the same trail we had climbed only this time descending. My arms and shoulders were aching from the day before and this only nailed the coffin closed a little more. I think I lost a tooth on that descent. It was just that rough. You could not rest, you could not drink, you could not blink. The consequences of failing to ride the descent would be race ending as the speed gained due to lack of traction and the type of surface would have both ripped me apart and shattered bones.
The next part of the ride is a blur to me as fatigue was setting in and my brain was struggling to make informed decisions. Spencer was in a bad way too with his hip and knee in pain constantly and the toll of the off trail excursion messing with his head. There was another climb on pea gravel, we caught the back markers and the sweep vehicles, and we grovelled for every kilometre we made. Spencer cracked. As we came over a rise he could see the climbs continuing off into the distance and the knowledge of the 30 kilometre climb up to Dinner Plain was just too much. I had watched him struggle up every hill that day when normally he would lead me out and then he would drop off the back when I tried to rest him on the long straights. There were still 10 k’s to cover before the next aid station and it was just too much. We talked about it and I asked if he was OK for me to continue and try and make Dinner Plain. He agreed, slapped me on the back and gave me a push off. 40 k from home, 3.30pm in the afternoon and 10k until the next aid station. Alone.
I stomped the big ring into the aid station and covered the 10k in a little under 30 minutes. Up hills and down dales I smashed it. The aid station saw me coming and jumped to it. I will write more about them later but they are awesome. My Camelbak was taken and filled, electrolyte filled in the bottle and food was shoved at me from every direction. The Bicycle Superstore guy grabbed the bike, had it cleaned and lubed and in a good gear to set off in minutes flat and I was away again. Supportive words, a few jokes and a lot of best wishes pass the way of every rider on this race but Christ I felt special.
2.5 kilometres of bitumen climbing and the real climb began. Up. 27.5 kilometres. Dirt and stones. Cold. That was all that I could think of and I very nearly cracked. I did what I thought was my last option to get myself over this hurdle and called my wife. Her words, “You’ve done harder days at work than this doing things you hate and you survived. You love riding your bike. Get on with it. You can do it.” So I did. I chewed the bars, I swore at myself and I cried a few tears until finally nearly 3 hours later I approached the top. I saw a house and then another and then a gravel path. I could see a person on a bike at the end of the path and it turned out to be Meg. She and Spencer and Pete had all come down to see me over the line. What followed was a blur. Over the line and off to the accommodation for a shower. I only really clocked what was going on when i got to the pub and ordered my steak and tasted the first sip of beer. I finished the stage. How I still don’t know but I can tell you it has carried me through all the other stages so far. No matter how hard they are.

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