Monday, April 6, 2009

The Great Ocean Road on Two Wheels

There Are Easier Ways to See the Sights

Prior to November 2008, I had never ridden a bike, but one day I walked into a bike store and asked them to point me in the direction of an entry level bicycle. I was determined that 2009 would be the Year of Fitness (until a couple of weeks ago turned it into Year of Travel - how things change!). So I spent the holidays training hard, with one event being the goal. I decided that my six month goal would be to complete the Great Ocean Road Otway Classic Ride 2009, a 145km bike ride from Torquay, down to Lorne and then back up the Great Ocean Road. Please keep in mind that i had not ridden 14km let alone 145km!

The Great Ocean Road Otway Classic Ride is known as Victoria's most spectacular and challenging ride which features the Great Ocean Road, Otway Ranges and some of the back roads of regional Victoria.

I flew down to Melbourne and hired a car to get me out to Geelong to a hotel (it was hardly 5 star!), so i could then start off early in the car down to Torquay. The start the ride was at 7.30am but i needed at least an hour to put the bike together, ensure i was fully loaded with all the necessary nutrient bars/hydrating drinks/energy gels.

Bleary eyed, I woke up at 5am and off I went down the Great Ocean Road. Destination: Torquay. I managed to jump on in to the massive convoy of cars heading down from Geelong to Torquay. Once I arrived, I then joined the masses of other cyclists who had stayed in the Torquay area the night before. There was a huge convoy of cars trying to all get into the allocated car park, cars loaded with bikes, vans full of riders, cyclists zooming in and out of traffic.

The cycling community is a great one. Whenever you ride past another cyclist or drive past a car with bikes on the roof or on the racks, you first look at their bike and then you smile knowingly at them. Its as though there is a secret understanding between cyclists, that only each of you know the kind of pain that you are about the endure over the next 6 - 9 hours.

At 6.00am, by the time I found a carpark, it dawned on me (pardon the pun) that it was cold. Deathly cold. And I had naively left my cold-weather gear back in Sydney. I gritted my teeth and accepted the fact that due to the extreme physical workout i was about to receive, I would not feel cold for long. I was, of course, quite wrong. Not about the physical work out, but the cold. The race started, the pack of 1,500 commenced the ride, and a head wind ensued. One climb up a hill meant a long descent into a gully, where the frost was sitting. Yes, after 25km, I was uncomfortable, and I wanted to go home.

Nevertheless, this was my goal and I wanted to achieve it.

50km ticked over and the pack of 1500 began to split up into packs of 10, and soon enough there were cyclists stretched as far as the eye could see. They had blogged many of the roads off to allow for the bike ride, which made "car rage" less likely. At 50km, the excitment of having a day out on the bike, with other cyclists still existed. I was happily chatting to many people, enjoying the blood finally flowing through the legs and thanking the sunshine gods for finally coming out.

At the 75km rest stop, the legs were beginning to hurt. The seat was beginning to hurt. The ankles were tiring. The wrists were getting sore from clutching the bike bars. My natural energy was draining and I was now relying on the energy i was putting into my body through lollies, energy gels and bananas. I was alternating now between water and electrolytes. I then needed to mentally prepare for the notorious 10km hill climb up into Deans Marsh.

Despite being half way into the ride, the 10km Deans Marsh climb is the first of the real mental challenges. This is not just because its a 45 degree climb at times, but its needing to be done on legs which have already ridden 80km. The first 1km is the hardest, and admittedly, my strength failed and i found myself on the side of the road, panting, puffing and looking around, wondering whether it was worth continuing on. Somehow though, I pulled myself out of the "pain" and got back on the bike. I soon settled into a slow, but even rhythm and found myself at the top of the hill eventually. I was soon to find out that this kind of pain was nothing compared to what I would experience in the final 50kms.

The 80km - 100km part was amazing. Flying down the other side of a mountain on tarmac at about 80km/hr on a bicycle is very, very risky yet inviting enough to have you want to give it a go. People either like cycling down mountains at high speeds or they dont. I am one person that LOVES it. It could be because I once was a speed skater. There is an element of being out of control that keeps you wanting more. Just one stone, one twig, one puncture could send a rider off the bike, and onto the road, or worse still, over the cliff. Its the stuff adrenalin junkies live for.

After a reprieve for the muscles, it was about 1pm when my pack reached Lorne. After a short lunch break down by the lovely beach of Lorne, a number of us reluctantly set off on the final home stretch.

It was this stretch that makes or breaks a cyclist. In a long distance race, being 50km out may feel like you are on your way home, but it also becomes the longest 50 kms you have ever ridden. By the 100km mark, the sore muscles that you had back at the 75km mark have become either near-seized or like jelly. Mine were the former. My Achilles Heel was bothering me, and in the back of my mind, i knew that if it failed, it would mean serious injury. My right thigh was cramping so badly, I spent a lot of time with one hand massaging it, the other tightly gripped on the handle bars. My seat was hurting me so much that i actually enjoyed climbing hills because it meant that i could stop the pain of sitting. At the 100km mark, with 50km to go, every kilometre seems to take forever to tick by. Thankfully my bike was not fitted with its usual trip computer, so I was spared the mental anguish of watching as the metres went by. I found myself often asking the person nearest me "how far?" or "are we at 124 yet?" I would often be disappointed, feeling as though i had ridden far further than I actually had.

By 125km, I wanted to give up. I had been in the saddle for over 7 hours. Many people had finished the race and we were watching cars drive the other way, having finished, packed up and were heading home. This added to the mental anguish. However, I remembered that this was never about winning the race, or even coming home at a respectable time. This was about riding 145km - further than many cyclists had ridden in their entire time as cyclists - and I was doing it within four months of taking up the sport. Many cyclists had pulled out already and there were many more being collected by the Sag Wagon (it is the bus that comes along and collects those cyclists that drop a certain distance behind the estimated race times - they need to be collected in order to re-open the roads to cars). I later found out that the Sag Wagon had picked up so many people that it needed to do eight trips out to collect all of the people.

It got to the point where I was just focusing on the white line of the road, with each rotation of the pedals being a sheer necessity. It was one turn closer to the finish line, a half a metre closer to my goal. By this point you are asking yourself whether you want to keep going, not every now and then, but each minute as it goes by. With the sun beating down and your knees aching, goals can easily seem unimportant, inconsequential and a downright bad idea. This idea of a 145km ride was at times during the ride, the worst decision i had ever made.

Something that day made me keep going. Determination? Fear of failure? Fear of admitting to others that I could not finish it? The shame of having traveled all of the way down to Victoria to do this, only to quit so close to the finish? It was these reasons plus many more.

I finished the ride. 145km. 8 hours and 49 minutes later. 11 minutes short of being collected by the Sag Wagon.

And after all of that, would I do it again?

Bring on next year's ride!

1 comment: