A couple of years ago, I’d ridden the Peaks Challenge ride in Falls Creek for the fourth time, finally breaking ten hours.
Soon after, the Bicycle Network announced two new rides, one on the Queensland Gold Coast, and the second in Tasmania, far to the south. There and then I committed myself to a solid year of training so I could ride all three in one year, and ensure I was the inaugural rider in each of the events – and become part of the ‘Peaks Elite’ as it became known – the first group of people to ride all three in one year.
This was a significant challenge for me from a training and time perspective, but also, each ride represented a very different climatic challenge, and therefore gear preparation required.
The Falls Creek Challenge is in March, and typically starts off chilly at the top of the mountains, but ends up generally as a fairly warm day, albeit comfortable. The only exception was one year, where the heat got to 45 C on the road (according to my Garmin anyway), with a very unseasonably warm day, and ending as a very difficult one as well. I cramped very badly on the last climb, and suffered terribly, but made it…just! (thanks to a rider who had finished or pulled out, who was handing out ice bags half way up the last climb).
The Gold Coast, being in Queensland, and north, I fully expected to be hot, but instead it started very cold, and ended up as just a stunner of a day, with temperatures just perfect for a long ride (probably low 20’s C), with a nice refreshing sun, but not too hot.
Tasmania, I knew would be a wild card. Unpredictable, possibly cold, or warm, the ride was in November, which for us is heading into Summer. Absolutely beautiful scenery awaited, and I couldn’t wait to ride to the top of Cradle Mountain, which I had visited many years before, when it was freezing.
As it turned out, it was a miserable day, with fog obscuring most of the scenery and blocking any decent views. It was wet and cold. I had entered the ride heavier than I wanted, and I was getting over a bad chest cold (probably the result of a lot of over training). I was not in the mood, and on the first hill, had to drop right back to save my energy. I nearly pulled out on what was the best part of the ride to the top of Cradle mountain. I pushed through however, still making the full distance in 10.5 hours, not bad considering how out of sorts I was, but far outside what I had been able to do on the previous two rides that year. I even had to do the walk of shame on one of the last hills which had just crippled me…
What saved me, apart from my training, was the preparation in my riding gear, and planning for all eventualities.
Of course any rider knows that they need to check the weather reports before going out. But you just never know, and the best insurance against bad weather is to make sure that you prepare lots of layers, each not taking up too much room in your back pockets, but providing the coverage you need, and can be put on or taken off piece by piece.
For Tasmania, I had taken a couple of arm warmers, and a rain jacket. Plus I had taken a couple of full length gloves. I took the chance with my bib shorts, knowing I can put up with cold legs. I was also wearing a singlet, which folds down to nothing if I had to take it off. Pretty basic and nothing you wouldn’t expect any rider to take with them.
For the RAAM challenge in Ohio, I just don’t know the climate very well at all. As I will be riding unsupported, my plan is to use an under seat bike packing bag, which has a capacity of 13 litres, allowing me to carry lots of spare clothing. At this stage, I plan to take knee warmers, which will turn my bib shorts into 3/4 length pants, some arm warmers, plus a full sleeve top, if it becomes particularly cold, along with a light rain jacket. I’ll also again take two sets of gloves, a cap for my head, and from a clothing perspective, that’s probably about it.
From a mechanical point of view, I’ll be carrying two spare tubes, CO2 cylinders, tyre levers, tool kit, a couple of light batteries (I use Ay-Up lights, which I’ve used since 2010, and are great), and charger for my phone and GPS computer which I will rely on for directions (the battery lasts around 12-14 hours by itself, so I’ll connect it up permanently to a battery). I will use a top tube bag to hold all of this extra stuff, along with credit cards and money for emergencies or a split tyre!)
My main concern will be food and water. I expect to be riding for over a day, realistically 25-26 hours, so I hope that I will be able to call into shops or fill up supplies on the way. I haven’t done it yet, but I will be downloading the full GPS course, and will mark out places to buy food or get water on the way.
Its a far cry from what I carried up the back of Falls Creek. Certainly I had some simple tools and tubes, but the rest I was able to make best use of drop bags with food, gels and the like, spread across the course.
Lastly, I will put on two sets of rear lights for visibility, plus likely one on the back of my helmet.
Oh, I almost forgot, I will be taking a hi-vis gillet for the night. I have one already, but I’ll get some reflective tape sowed onto it for extra visibility.
If the weather report leading up to the event doesn’t look too good, one last piece of preparation will be to take an extra pair of bib shorts…I just can’t stand riding for too long in wet pants or socks, and not to mention the chaffing that is associated with it.
My riding this week has gotten back to a more normal pattern. I did a number of good rides on the trainer through the week, and a nice long ride around the Bellarine Peninsula yesterday. Today was just an indoor session. It’s Mothers Day here, and of course I had to make breakfast and generally be around, as I thought it would be unreasonable to go for a long ride on such a day…
This week, I’m going to start to build a bit more distance. Possibly I’ll commute to work and back through the week which is a fair distance (will total 160 km or so), and continue to do some long distances on the weekend.
I’m still a few months out, so I won’t be doing anything dramatic, but from now on, the focus will be on some longer rides.