Stage Three, Dinner Plain to Bright. 72 km, 1219m alt gain, 2479m alt loss.
This was the stage we needed. After two gruelling days in the saddle we finally had a stage that was more down than up and had the promise of a short day on the bike for both Spencer and I. To his credit Spencer was up and ready to ride despite the disappointment of the previous day and even looking forward to a fun descent down to the Upper West Kiewa Valley. From Dinner Plain we climbed up to Hotham to begin the days first descent down the shaly side of Machinery Spur. This was rough and unforgiving with more than a few riders taking spills throughout the day due to loss of traction or hidden ruts. I was flying though. Spencer and I were whizzing past teams we hadn’t seen for the previous two days of climbing now and that really put the smiles back on our faces. The smiles only got wider as we made our way down into the valley and started the first of 6 river crossings on the Ovens River. Some riders were complaining about the wet feet but we just giggled like school girls as we plunged through the crystal clear water and past some of the most beautiful scenery so far. We even sat in the feed station and had a chat with a few riders as they came through and left again only to catch most of them on the climb out of the valley along Dungies Track. While the going was steep on this climb the surface was hard pack and smooth. We really attacked the climb and got a solid rhythm going all the way to the top. Very satisfying.
Once over the top of the spur we had a fast and flowing descent down to Bright with some sweet single track along the river into town. On the short dirt road and bitumen sections we teamed up with a Kiwi mixed pair and shared the load of the draft. As a mixed pair they were very strong but the previous day had really knocked them around. We slowed a little and then Karen fell right back. I checked if they were OK and once given the wave Spencer and I dropped into the big ring and powered along roady style to the finish line. We have now ridden with the kiwis quite a lot and they are a top pair. We have had long chats and even a beer or two together at the end of the stages. Another example of mountain bikers just getting along.
Finally now I could recover. I rested and ate and ate and rested with the knowledge that the next stage was the Queen of the race and the stage where the most DNF’s had occurred from 2009. It promised to be massive.
Stage Four, Bright to Bright. The Mount Buffalo circumnavigation. 117km, 3206m alt gain, 3191m alt loss.
I dreaded this stage from the day I decided to attempt the Terra. I’ve never done 117km on a mountain bike before, I’ve never climbed over 3000m in a day before and I certainly have never done it after 3 days of racing and possibly 2 of the hardest days I have ever spent on a bike. Daunted? You betcha.
We left Bright and basically the climbing started immediately. No warm up run in with some easy k’s, just bang in your face climbing at 17 percent. A little rest and then bang, here we go again. We climbed for around 17 of the first 20 kilometres of the day and that only set the standard for what was to come. There was a 19 kilometre stretch that was relatively flat on the profile but the truth was it was a gravelly heat trap that just seemed to go on forever with no real let up and nothing to keep you interested while you pedalled along. We stopped and ate some more with the view that the big climb was approaching and the fuel would be vital to get up it.
So what classes as a big climb in the Terra Australis? Well that would be a 12 kilometre climb that takes you up 1200m to around the 1300m mark above sea level on gravelly rutted tracks with little or no protection from the sun. Spencer was smashing it. He left me for dead several times but waited each time until I got my rhythm going and started to nail the pace. Somewhere along the way he just stopped. I pulled up to him and asked what was going on and he could only say to me that he was in a dark place mentally and needed a rest. I left him to his thoughts and continued on. Sometimes there are no words to fix a problem. We had been riding for about 6 hours and the fact we still had so much work to do to get home had just snuck up and overwhelmed him. I waited at the summit for him. We took on water and stretched the legs a little to loosen up after holding the attack formation for the last 12 k’s. He came around and I led off on the descent down to the valley floor and the second feed stop for the day. Again the volunteers put on a good show and picked us up mentally as well as physically with jokes and plenty of vegemite sandwiches. Another glowing report for the support crew.
Along a flat stretch to the pine plantation outside of town for the last of the climbs for the day. These were shorter but way pinchier especially with shattered legs and backs and fragile mental states. The day had also turned quite hot and the pines offered no respite from the sun with the reflection off the decomposed granite surface adding to the heat. Once we reached the top the relief was like a curtain being thrown open to reveal the sunshine. We started talking and joking again and flew into the descent down to the town of Bright. We crossed the finish line inside the 10 hour cut off for the stage and was met by handshakes from the race director as he shakes the hand of every rider who finishes this stage. 9 hours and 31 minutes in the saddle. We were both shattered but very happy to have made it over the stage. I won’t say I conquered it as that implies a victory but I do think I survived it and kept my dignity. That’s enough for this year.
The immages from this report were kindly supplied by Terra Australis, Russel Baker and Kaz and John. Cheers folks!
protection from the sun. spencer