Monday, 6 September 2010

Mallee Rooted

There are a few things you really don't want to hear the night before you are planning to start a 600km, solo, unsupported ride in an isolated region. "Once in fifteen year weather event" ranks well up on this list.

So it was that I started out to do a reconnaissance ride for the Mallee Routes 600. I really needed to do this ride. Firstly, I needed it to check out the new course. Secondly, I really needed the distance to make sure my PBP qualifying is in order. My evil plan was to start very early on Saturday morning, knock out the ride in one hit of around 24 hours and then have a sleep before driving home on Sunday. Ha!

Going to sleep a Les's around 9pm on Friday night, the storm was raging so when I wheeled away at 2am Saturday, I was quite pleased to find it raining steadily, but not ridiculously and a moderate tail wind. It was also a ridiculously warm 15˚C. It took about 5km to realise I was over-dressed and to stop to remove some gear. I made great time all the way to Warracknabeal where I turned back into the wind.

So it was that at 3:30am the heavens decided it was time to open and the wind did it's best to blow me to Portland. The next 8 hours was a 140km slog directly into the wind with thunder, lightning and torrential rain. I couldn't see with my glasses on and I was blinded by the driving rain with them off. At one point I looked at my heart-rate monitor to see I was running in the high 160 bpm's, I was in my lowest gear, on the flat and doing 14kph. An empty biddon blew out of the cage and disappeared into the rain in a moment. I never thought of chasing it as the roadsides were under water. I have often carried empty bottles in the cages on my car at 100kph and never lost one. A look at the BOM observations for the area shows consistent wind speeds in the 60's and 70kph range with stronger gusts during this time. This section of the ride effectively trashed my times and my legs. Grinding into that wind shredded my muscle and will. From here on it was survival.

Twenty K north of SeaLake I finally got to turn off the wind for the westerly section to Patchewollock. Alas the cross wind proved nearly as hard to ride in as the headwind. Just staying on the road was a chore and while progress was better I failed to pick up much time. During this 50k huge black flat bottomed storm clouds raced in from the northwest with ferocious, gusting, swirling winds dumping buckets of freezing rain and hail. The right side of my face was blasted, hot and tingling. I realised I'd been riding for who knows how long with my right eye closed and was only able to open it with difficulty.

Patchewollock and a beer in the dilapidated pub, where I was the first and only patron of the day, revived my spirits before I set the spinnaker for Hopetoun. Whoosh... I was chased for nearly 20k by one of those black storms before it caught me. Ouch. I decided to stop and let it get ahead of me. It took a mere two minutes to pass. Good choice. Back in Hopetoun Les and Joan fed me up on yummy soup and risotto before I headed back out for the loop to Wyperfeld National Park.

This was the easiest section of the ride to date with much more roadside protection from the now lessening but still strong winds. The sections into the wind were also short which made for less of a slog. The rain squalls continued to roll through but I was getting used to them by now. This contained the weirdest section of the ride where I didn't see a car, a road sign, a kilometre post or any other sign of life through a black, rainy, swirly winded night for 50km. There weren't even stars to figure out which way I was riding. And no mobile coverage. A number of times I had to reassure myself that I really was on the right road, heading in the right direction and would eventually get back to Hopetoun.

When I did and decided I would need some sleep to cover the next 200km so I put my head down for two and a half hours before heading out again. Another 100km in the dark, into the head wind to Jeparit was punctuated with an emergency 15 minute sleep. The only place I could find was in the lee of a CFA shed lying on top of a sheet of corrugated iron with another pulled over me as a blanket.

At Jeparit, just as the sun was rising into a clear blue sky, the wind died right back. Yay! Within 20 minutes it was back and worse, it had swung back toward the north and was yet again a headwind on my way around Hindmarsh lake but by then the punishment was almost over.

I finally limped into Hopetoun some 32 hours after I started, what an epic... I'll write more on this soon, once my brain starts working again.