The alarm clock belts out a heavy metal song at 4:30am Sunday morning. It’s dark. It’s cold. Damn! Why did I agree to do this? I had a restless sleep, I often do before a long ride. Will I complete it? Will I hold people up? Can I climb up the hills? Will I bonk? Do I need more than one tube? Have I properly hydrated?
The Rathdowney Randonee…
The drive to Rathdowney with my brother and friend is quick. We check out the temperature outside of the car. At one point it was 1 degree. Have I dressed in enough layers? Kit, arm warmers, gillet, jacket…should I have a woollen thermal on? Leg warmers? We pull into the carpark. Time for a nervous wee. Brrrrrrrrrr! It’s so bloody cold! ZIP! Off with the clothes. Someone really should think about designing a set of knicks with a neat strip of velcro in the pants! We listen to a brief from our ride co-ordinator. Fasties push off before the Wombles. We roll out nice and easy pace. Banter. The countryside crisp, dry and the air chilly. Cows checked us out. Someone calls out HILLS! Off we pedal…and so the fun begins! My third hill in I reach the top and stop. Burst into tears. I have no idea where it came from! Pure frustration? Not being about to do a standing climb? Being last in the bunch? I’m reassured it’s okay. Off we push. Not too long down the road I look up. I see a wall. Here we go! The 19% Lions Road climb we were here for. Luckily I was prepared. I swoop down and around a bend, I changed down to the lowest gear. Are you kidding me? They didn’t lie! This is crazy. I look up. I see others ahead of me scattered about. Some walking. At that moment I decide, I won’t be walking. My plan was, if I stop, I have to roll back down, turn around and continue on up. There was no way I was going to walk. I stop twice. Sucking in the air, the pain in my quads was uncomfortable! I see my brother roll down to me. He encourages me. Urges me on. Lucky for me, because I nearly quit. I hear someone call out my name. It spurs me on. I hit the pedals hard because I knew I had a cattle grid to cross over at the top. I scream out “F@#K YOU!” to the hills. It felt so invigorating! Someone laughed at me. Someone said “Let it out Caro!”. After a quick drink and a bar we rolled on. The descent was so beautiful!
The smell of the forest, the winding smooth-surfaced road, wind in my face. I spot a bubbling creek and pass under an old bridge. I find myself alone in my thoughts for quite some time before our support rider catches me. We catch up with my friend. At this time we hit a large section of road that was full of loose gravel, pot holes, patched up road as far as the eye could see. We crossed numerous timber bridges held together with hundreds of large bolts. I decided to unclip my right shoe, as I needed to be sure I wasn’t going down! The only thing that went down was my water bottle, it jumped right out of the cage!
We hit a T junction, then turned right onto the highway that would take us through Dairy Flat and the climb to the top of the Lindesay Highway. It was about at the Dairy Flat sign that I teared up. My shoulder having been knocked around by the bad road surface had caused a cramp in my bicep. I gritted my teeth. I figured, at some point this will pass. I rubbed it. Shook it out. Head down, butt up, I threw down the pedals and blocked it out. The SAG stopped and offered a ride. I decided to get a bar and a drink, and turned down their offer, the same with my riding partner. We had gotten this far, we needed to keep on going. Finish this off. Off we pedalled. I dropped back. I started to wander all over the place. I wasn’t too happy at this point. I pulled up, crying. I told Tim to go on without me. He would have nothing of it. He wasn’t leaving me in the middle of nowhere. He convinced me to pedal on slowly, until the SAG returned. I looked down at my Garmin. 70 something kms. I listened to him. He talked to me. I blubbered something like…I’m not letting this thing beat me! It won’t win! He told me that I could give up and be unhappy, or go out and try my best and keep my body moving. It felt like a year…we hit the hill. I dreaded it. I was already in my lowest gear. I started hating it. I stop. Tim said, did you just see that bird swoop down in front of you? And..look over there at that forest! Listen to the sound of the birds. Isn’t this a place of beauty? I clipped back in. I pedalled. I saw ahead, a bend in the road. Just around that corner. I reach the corner. No…nothing but more road and hill! Tim threw me a joke. Made me laugh! We see the SAG. They stop, only 3kms to the top! I gain momentum. Only 3kms. I visualised how far. I visualised the food awaiting. Home baked goodies. Water. Grass to lie on. Finally! We hit the intersection! I pull in, to be greeted by our ride co-ordinator, Yvette, offering food and water. I imagined it was just like lost hikers in the middle of the Australian Red Desert discovering a Pub!
The fasties had left, leaving behind a few Wombles who polished off the remaining treats. I swallowed down 2 cocoa protein balls. I refer to these as my ‘power balls’ as they suddenly kicked in and gave me a second wind! Pedals up! This was the part of the ride I was waiting for. Thirty five kms of road will take us back into Rathdowney. A few years back I had ridden down this range on my MTB so I knew it was a pure slice of heaven! I was at the back of the pack, with Tim following closely behind. Again, making me feel reassured and at ease. I wish I studied harder in English, because I cannot find the words that recreate this moment. Long sweeping, winding roads, circling the side of the mountain. I sat in the middle of my lane with the SAG not too far behind. They signalled with a ‘beep’ when a car needed to pass. I owned the road! I tapped the brakes. I leant into the corners. The wind filled my helmet, hit me in my face like a cold awakening call. The sheer exhilaration! I laughed out aloud, even found myself dribbling! I remembered every corner. Crazy, considering I’d only ridden it once, and driven it once! I felt so alive! Drunk! High!
When I reached the base of the descent I knew I had to chase down my friend. I had seen her not too far ahead, she powered down the mountain a lot faster than me! Tim pushed me. I saw a white jersey in the distance. I picked up the pace. I had to catch him! Close the gap Caro!! Finally! I got to his wheel! I shouted..I’m on! We formed a nice line of three. Looking down at my Garmin I saw we were hitting around 40kph. A beautiful tail wind pushing us along nicely. The road was forgiving! I could see my friend ahead, I shouted ‘jump on!’ and so we became four. The last 15kms being an unbelievable experience! It felt like a TTT, being that I was the last in the pack and taking advantage of my team’s wheels! About 5kms to go I drop back, my shoulder was fatiguing. Tim rolled past, nearly there! He rode not too far ahead, this forced me to hurry along. We rounded the corner, passed the Rathdowney sign and my brother, Jon, approached me shouting words of encouragement. I rolled into the carpark. I looked at my Garmin. 120kms. I was done. Completely and utterly DONE. Not a drop of energy to spare. I could barely unclip. I caught my breath. I looked up and saw the pub. I found myself clipping back in. I was on auto pilot on a mission to find a Lemon Lime & Bitters and a packet of Salt & Vinegar Chips! Mission accomplished.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” ~ Dr Seuss.