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The Inaugural 3 Peaks Challenge - 230km

The route data for this ride was recorded by Matt, during his ride the following year, and is available in the Routes section of this website. After bringing up the map for our weekend rides, you'll need to click on the white “M” in a blue square beside where it states “Falls Creek”.

Geoff and I were booked to be bussed, with our bikes, from Mount Beauty to Falls Creek, the start of the event. Geoff had reservations about how the bikes were to be transported, and so we asked the lady at the registration about this.

We were told that the bus driver would be taking the pedals off and turning the handle bars, and that he would assist us to reverse this process. As the bus was scheduled to leave Mt Beauty at 5:45, which would have it arriving in Falls Creek at 6:30 (all going well), and given that the ride starts for the men at 7:00 and that they were to be in the marshalling area by 6:45 and that we could not take our own tools with us, as there would be nowhere to leave them, we decided to place the bikes at Matt's accommodation.

Margaret dropped us off at the bus stop at 5:30. We found that the bus driver was loading the bikes into the trailer without twisting the handlebars, nor removing the pedals.

The bus left at 5:47, then once on the Falls Creek road, he pulled over to restack the trailer. This took him a further ten minutes. I was concerned with how I was going to be able to get from the bus to Matt's accommodation, collect the bike and be at the marshalling area, within the ever decreasing time left. I had this thing about needing to be at the start on time (I'm sure Peter or Matt could provide an appropriate adjective to describe this psychological bent; Steve, you're not invited).

Additionally, that wee that I could not squeeze out at the motel was making its presence quite insistent. The time crawled on until, finally, we arrived at Falls Creek at 6:45 - marshalling time and women's race start time. I made my way to the front of the bus for a quick getaway when the thing stopped.

When it did, I high-tailed it to Matt's accommodation, located a toilet, did what needed to be done, grabbed the bike and was leaving as Geoff was loading his pockets with half a grocery shop. I saw Matt outside, casually going about his business as though the world would wait for him (I think I'm channelling my parents).

Matt suggested that I let a little air out of my tyres. I declined his advice. David Scholar, who I had ridden with on the Land's End to John O'Groats (Le Jog) ride, had told me that he and those who he rode with that kept their tyres near maximum pressure, had experienced far fewer flats. Given that I had already opted for light tyres and tubes, in place of my usual Armadillos, I wanted to minimise my chance of punctures.

I got to the start line at 6:58. It was early dawn with drizzle, thunder and lightning.

I received a best wishes SMS from Danny. I was starting to reply as the group was started. The group was then split as we were held back to create room after the group ahead. By the way, the riders who indicated that they would ride slower were released first; there were three groups, Green (the slow riders average speed below 25km/hr, including myself), Orange, and Yellow.

This first descent was rather frustrating, with most riders riding two abreast, in contradiction to event regulations, taking up most of the lane, so that, most of the time, you would have to cross to the other side of the road to overtake them, which was also against event regulations. I was waiting for opportunities to overtake without crossing the middle line, though, on occasions, I joined others who were doing so.

Eventually we got to the bottom (Mt Beauty), and found that I was passing many cyclists stopped on the side of the road removing clothing; I had no concern in this respect, as all I carried/wore was the jersey, pants, socks, shoes, gloves and helmet.

Then came the first climb, 7km up to Tawonga Gap at 6.5%, which Geoff and I had tackled the previous day, and found quite manageable. At the top was the first aid station, which offered Winners Gel and Powerade. I had only finished the one biddon by this time, so refilled that. As the weather was drizzly, I hadn't touched the second. The Winners Gel was not something that you consume for pleasure and sat in my stomach with a cool sensation.

Now the descent from Tawonga Gap was quite another matter. I fell in with some competent descenders and we had quite a ride down to Germantown (max speed 70.1 km/hr). Part way down there was a photographer parked at one of the trickier bends, so just as you are planning your curve, she calls “Smile!”. What could you do but laugh?

From Germantown, I drafted behind another rider for a while, then the pair of us wound up drafting behind another pair of riders. When we reached a downhill slope, I took the lead of the group. Eventually, we were overtaken by another group of riders so we drafted behind them and so continued to Harrietville, the second aid station, where we were cheered on, enthusiastically, by spectators.

Harrietville was supposed to only offer Powerade and water, however, they also supplied Winners Bars. These took some eating, which I was not prepared to do while riding. After finishing the bar and replenishing the Powerade, I headed off for the 29km climb up Mt Hotham.

This climb started at 6.5% in drizzle. In the beginning, it was quite manageable, however, after about 5km the drizzle turned to rain, and after about 10km, its manageability started to wane. Around this time a motorcycle was coming down the mountain with music blasting - Creedence Clearwater Revival doing “Who'll Stop the Rain?”.

Matt on his way up Mt Hotham
Matt on his way up Mt Hotham, looking pretty happy

The climb boasted an 11.5% gradient, however, this lasted a full 200m, so a quick stand on the pedals and it was over.

The 29km climb was not entirely uphill. At one point we rounded a corner, and started to descend with the rain pouring heavily, fog limiting our vision, water covering the road and my glasses. We could just make out that, not too far ahead, was a curve. We applied the brakes and nothing happened! We kept them applied and prayed! Eventually, we started to slow. One of the riders near me exclaimed: “That scared the shit out of me!” I wasn't about to let anyone check my knicks either. From that time on, I made sure that the rims were dry before I approached any further curves.

At one point along the climb I looked out to the left to see a most unique view. In the valley of Mt Hotham was an array of mountain tops rising out of a sea of cloud.

The next aid station was around 19km up Mt Hotham. Winners Bars and Gels and Powerade. I asked the fellow how much further to the summit. 5km was his reply. After leaving the aid station I passed a sign indicating that it was 10km to the summit. This 10km was, initially 7.2% and, for the final ascent to the summit, 8.7%.

At this stage the weather was getting worse; the winds getting stronger and the rain heavier. The road was also more exposed, so it was quite a battle to keep the bike on the straight-and-narrow with the cross winds that we were experiencing.

For the final ascent, the winds were blowing straight into our faces, at, probably, 35 to 40 km/hr, which, combined with an 8.5% gradient, made the final ascent quite a challenge. My legs started to cramp at this stage.

After reaching the summit, the descent to Hotham Heights was quite miserable, with cross winds making the ride quite difficult. I pulled up inside a tunnel, among a number of other riders, and put my glasses in my back pocket, something I should have done much earlier.

Hotham Heights to Dinner Plain was more protected. Dinner Plain was the lunch stop and half way point. Lunch consisted of a banana, a sandwich with ham, cheese and pickles, a pasta salad, a bean salad, a chocolate muffin, and a bottle of Powerade. This I consumed on the draughty verandah of the pub. I had noticed that other riders were shivering violently, and started to suspect that it was put on, until I found myself doing likewise. A fork full of bean salad became half a fork full by the time it reached my mouth. It was quite an effort to consume the food, and none of it was enjoyable. This was not so much a reflection on the quality of the food as on the condition of my mouth and stomach.

Matt arrived as I was nearly finished. He told me that, given the weather conditions and my minimal clothing, that I should retire at this point. One really should take a doctor's advice seriously, especially one who is Director of Emergency. All during the lunch the organisers were announcing, time and time again, that if you have any doubts about your ability to complete the course or if you are not carrying appropriate all-weather clothing, then you should retire now.

Me, I had doubts about my ability to complete the course at the outset, so, in that respect, nothing had changed. As for the appropriate all-weather clothing, being the most under-dressed rider there, I felt that this amounted to nothing less than a personal attack.

Besides, the prospect of hanging around at Dinner Plain, freezing my arse off as I waited for them to organise transport back to Falls Creek was not terribly enticing.

So I set off with the words of the immortal bard in my mind:

... there's no success like failure,
and ... failure's no success at all
(Bob Dylan “Love Minus Zero: No Limit”)

I figured that if I felt that I was not going to be able to make it, that I could call Margaret from Omeo and arrange to meet her in Angler's Rest.

Leaving Dinner Plain, my cramps became quite severe, which served to take my mind off the weather.

On this leg of the journey, instead of being crowded among riders, I could ride for up to a kilometre or so without seeing another rider. I suspect that the attrition rate at Dinner Plain must have been around 75%.

Soon after leaving Dinner Plain, the rain lessened and the air temperature got warmer, so it became ideal riding conditions for a while.

From Dinner Plain it is a 75km undulating descent to Omeo. There were several good descents, and I was making very sure that the rims were dry prior to every curve (max speed 70.3 km/hr).

The countryside here I found reminiscent of the countryside around Dent, on the Le Jog ride, except that the fences and houses were not of stone and there were no black faced sheep. Maybe it was just the rain that gave me this impression.

On the way to Omeo, I received an SMS advising me that I had missed a call from Geoff. I collected the SMS at Omeo, and tried to return his call, only to find that I had no coverage. As it turned out, Geoff had slipped on the steps at Dinner Plain, hurting himself sufficiently to necessitate his retirement from the ride. Worse still, he had squashed his entire fruit stall in the mud, destroying any hope he had of making this adventure a profitable venture.

The aid station at Omeo offered Winners Bars and Gels and Powerade. According to the ride guide, Omeo was to be an own-expense café stop.

By this time, the cramps had dissipated, though the muscles still knew where they had been. This was a daunting omen for the final climb up to Fall's Creek.

From Omeo, it was a flattish ride to Angler's Rest, through similar country to that coming down from Dinner Plain. Angler's Rest was an aid station that offered Powerade and the food that I had sent there - a container of mixed fruit in nectar.

One of the riders to pass me along this section was riding at a speed that I could comfortably draught behind. Spinning behind him on the way to and from Angler's Rest, allowed my muscles to forget the cramps.

The rain was back again as we reached the climb to Fall's Creek. This was supposed to be 7.7%, but it started somewhat greater than that, just to take the heart out of you. Half way up the switchback, travelling at 5.9 km/hr, I decided to hop off the bike and push it to the next bend. From this point, the gradient was the advertised 7.7%, and I hopped back on the bike. I was about half way through the 7.7% climb when I opted to push the bike once more, then alternated between riding and pushing for the remainder of that portion of the climb. After that the climb became a more manageable 6.6%.

After 9km of this, I reached the final aid station. The fellow offered me two Winners Bars and two Winners Gels, and filled my biddon for me, and took away my rubbish - clearly custom was a little slow by this time.

I asked him how much further it was to Fall's Creek. He told me 24km and asked me how long I thought it would take me. I had to ask first what the terrain was like - “undulating”, I was told, so I replied a bit over an hour.

It turned out that “undulating” was 7km of climb, albeit at a lesser gradient, before it started undulating. The rain was continuing, but worse was that we had now been travelling on the new surface, which was tarred using fine grey gravel. I found myself passing riders fixing punctures at, roughly, 100m intervals, with, at one place, four riders changing tyres within 20m.

I was doing my level best to keep to the area cleared by car tyres.

One passing rider called out to me, “Oh, put some clothes on!”, in that tone of voice usually reserved for “Get a room!”.

Finally, I reached the top. The countryside was, this time, rather reminiscent of Dartmoor on the Le Jog ride, except that there were no black faced sheep. Again, maybe it was just the rain that gave me this impression.

Rocky Valley Lake the day before
Rocky Valley Lake the day before, which had been fine and sunny

From here the ride was quite fast over the undulating terrain, with the wind at my back most times, pushing me up the climbs.

Still, 5km from the finish I was passing riders fixing punctures. I was starting to feel like Steve Bradbury, winning the Olympic gold medal for speed skating after all others had crashed. It was also very sobering that if it could happen to these riders at this late stage, then I wasn't home yet. Then 3km from the finish and 500m from the finish were more riders fixing flats, and then I passed a rider pushing his bike as I rode to the finish line.

At 7:45 (dusk and published finish time), as I approached the finish line, a motor cycle escorted me in, cheering. The small crowd there were cheering with great enthusiasm. I saw Margaret cheering me. I was near exhaustion and made to feel that I, too, had just won Olympic Gold. I was in that state between laughing and crying, totally helpless!

I was then escorted to the recovery room. Within five minutes of stopping the ride, I was shivering. Margaret had brought me a track suit and Gortex jacket, and I swapped my jersey with the dry Finisher's jersey that had been given me. Over all that was placed a plastic bag and a blanket. That was the uniform given all others in the room. A cup of Milo and two cups of tea later, I was almost human.

One fellow came in after me, then started to get wobbly in the knees. One lady snatched a small child from where he appeared to be about to fall, whilst two others quickly grabbed him and guided him to a chair.

I sent an SMS to the RCW bicycle group, and exchanged an SMS with Steve before the mobile went down for the third time. They do not provide medical assistance for drowned phones.

Matt after Finishing
Matt, in the recovery room after finishing, looking pretty miserable

At 8:14 Matt arrived in the room (presumably having arrived at around 8:10). I started to talk to him about Geoff's bike lock that I needed to retrieve, before noticing that he looked quite distressed.

Margaret and I got him onto a spare spot on the bench and unwrapped his Finisher's jersey as he stripped off his raincoat, jacket, jersey, and undershirt, all soaking wet. We organised him into a plastic bag and a blanket. Three cups of tea and a cup of Milo later (no double shot cappuccinos available), Matt was near his old self. It turned out that Matt had also had a flat (three in fact). After trying, unsuccessfully, to change this last flat in the miserable conditions, he had opted to ride his bike on the rim to the finish.

“Matt, when do we tell them that you are Director of Emergency?”
“We don't!!”

When we left, it was 8:40, and still riders were arriving.

I encouraged Margaret to drive very carefully, under the wet and windy circumstances - not that she needs to be told to drive carefully. Having had such a charmed ride under very trying circumstances, I did not want the elation upturned.

Bugger!! I forgot to put on Sunblock.


Distance:230 kms
Average speed:20.5 km/hr
Average heartrate for first 115kms:140
Average heartrate for second 115kms:128
Maximum heartrate:178


Matt and Geofffor training
Geofffor equipment advice
Mikefor training and fashion tips
Steve, Danny, and Peterfor encouragement
Peterfor the chest protection that we were too disorganised to use

Aches and Pains:

My big toes, which had been giving me trouble, were fine, so swapping my worn pedals for a pair of Geoff's sorted that.

No pain in the deltoid muscles, so playing with the bike geometry seems to have helped there.

No pain in the arse, so Mike's recommendations on cycling knicks are to be trusted.

Some lower back pain, easing now.

Sore thigh muscles, but what do you expect.

Would I do it again? Ask me later!