by Old Bone Machine
In temperatures nearing 40 degrees, I rode 230 kilometres and climbed 4200 metres, and in doing so completed my first 3 Peaks Challenge (10/03/13). When all was done, I recalled an old photo of Merckx. A Caravaggio. An image of complete and unreserved fatigue. In completing the ride I had gleaned some sense and understanding of its meaning.
In the morning’s half-light we descended from Falls Creek. A tense and nervous descent, snaking for 30 kilometres. Riders taking different lines, crisscrossing each other like downhill skiers. Early omens, worrying omens. A back light, flickering red, bounced and busted onto the road. Jetsam lost from overfilled jersey pockets. Food bars and a rain jacket. A fallen rider prone and still on the side of the road. As I reached the town of Mount Beauty I gave thanks to some good fortune.
The ride settled into a rhythm. It needs to really because 230 kilometres is a long way. When I described the Challenge to a non-rider, I was asked how many days the ride would take. The sudden realisation that it was a day ride surprised us both. From Mount Beauty the first peak, Tawonga Gap (876m) a 7 kilometre climb, was approached and easily despatched. No heroics required. Everyone marching to the summit within their limits. With riders now more sparsely distributed, the descent was a safe and fast one. A joy really.
Then onto the towns of Bright and Porepunkah. Flat roads with some welcomed group riding until we reached the foot of the second peak of the day. Mount Buffalo (1825m) is a steady 20 kilometre climb of around 5%. And sure and steady was how I tackled the beast. Near the summit, another rider down. His torn jersey and knicks showed raw and bloodied skin. The road in parts had eroded and fine gravel covered sections. A corner taken too fast on the descent I supposed. I made a mental note to take care on my way down. The top of Buffalo is open and flat, not how one would imagine a summit. I took no time to rest as I was keen to descend. And I descended with speed. I was making good time and I felt in control.
And suddenly the day had turned hot and humid. A surprise attack. The heat surrounded and consumed us. Back at Porepunkah in a small field, we sought shade, relief and some lunch. Waves of nausea troubled me and I couldn’t stomach the pita wrap lunch that had been provided. It was paper in my mouth. I ate a banana, refilled my bidons and decided to move again. Riders were already soaking themselves with water. Half-way I thought, 120 kilometres completed, 110 kilometres to ride.
Outside Porepunkah I hitched myself to a group of a dozen or so riders. The self-appointed helmsman kept the group tight and evenly paced. Yet the heat and the hills diminished us. As I reached the aptly named town of Ovens, I was riding alone and the temperature had reached 38 degrees. For 60 kilometres I rode alone passing riders that looked more forsaken than myself. There seemed no point in stopping as the road offered little opportunity for shade. I recalled the Winston Churchill quote I’d seen used in the publicity spiel for the ride. If you’re going through hell, keep going. I was no longer in control it seemed. I felt physically sick and without strength. I was at the mercy of my circumstances with only my will power now pushing me on. Near Running Creek a support vehicle stopped to provide cool water. It seemed a minor miracle that they were there.
The final ascent and time became unhinged. A melting Dali clock. The ascent to Falls Creek (1720m) is 30 kilometres in length. Despite feeling fatigued I welcomed the long climb if only for the expected relief from the heat. The road was littered with riders resting. Some had removed their jerseys and sat under trees. I stopped at a waterfall and soaked my head and body with the cool, mountain water. It was like a baptism of sorts and it seemed to do the trick. Some lightness returned to my legs and I continued. Four kilometres from the summit and the finish, a mother and her son were providing riders with water and moral support. I’m uncertain how long I took to climb Falls or how many times I stopped to rest. I became lost in time and the struggle, the relentlessness. The sight of my family at the finish brought tears to my eyes. It had been a long day. I sprinted across the finish filled with joy.
After I showered I returned to the finish line with my family. We watched and raucously cheered the final riders arriving in the dark. Their blinking lights could be seen from afar as they approached the end. Each struggling to complete the Challenge within the 13-hour limit and before the arrival of the Lanterne Rouge. It was strangely affecting, even for my children.
I often wonder why we pay to participate in organised rides. Closed roads and support infrastructure are valid incentives. Yet I think it is the opportunity to have shared an experience. Old friends, new friends. Something akin I guess to attending an outdoor music festival though more immediate and visceral. To have struggled and suffered together. This is the reason why we return again and again.
Watch some official footage of the 3 Peaks Challenge here.