My People’s Grand Tour kilometrage has received a much-needed boost this weekend with what is easily my longest ride ever. Even if you consider it to actually be two rides because I managed to sleep in a bed for more than a handful of hours in the middle, I still got almost 370km of pedalling in on the first day.
The Blackwood Valley 600 was my first audax ride in Australia (note: in Japan, I refer to these rides as blueberries, owing to the Japanese pronunciation of the French word brevet and my subsequent mishearing of it). My cycling friend Guido has been doing quite a few and we decided it would be fun to join one together. Also, without a lift from him, I wold have had no way of getting to the start point in Mandurah.
I spent last week eating and sleeping as much as I could so it wasn’t too big a shock to get out of bed at 3am on Saturday and get ready for Guido to pick me up at 4.30am. We got to the start point in plenty of time for the 6am start and, after some slight delays, our small group of eight audax riders headed out into the night at 6.11am. We all headed out together at a nice, steady pace until, much to my horror, after only about 10km, I got a flat back tyre. I was quite put out. I haven’t had a flat in ages and I’d inspected both tyres before the ride, even deciding there was no need to replace the front tyre. Now, not only had I lost the bunch but I was going to spend much of the rest of the ride worrying about a repeat puncture.
Luckily Guido waited for me because although I had a cue sheet, I didn’t have a map or any way of figuring out where I was at any stage during the ride. I only had telephone reception at a couple of points. With a new tube in my back tyre, we pedalled off in pursuit of the others and enjoyed the sunrise as we rode along the flats leading to base of the Darling Scarp.
The first climb of the day was a nice one and then we got into the sort of rolling countryside we would have for much of the rest of the ride. In fact, have a look at the profile:
We started passing other riders and at the first checkpoint at Dwellingup, everyone was back in one place together.
We all have different ideas about how long to linger at the checkpoints, though, so we left at different intervals. We rode through forest on the way out of Dwellingup and the road got fairly misty. I don’t think it actually rained on us but it did get a bit damp.
We caught a couple of riders who had left ahead of us and we rode together for a bit until Guido and I found ourselves alone again. Eventually we caught up to Adrian and rode as a group of three for a while.
We fell into a bit of a trap here and, by taking turns at the front of our bunch, ended up setting a pace which wasn’t really going to be sustainable for the rest of the ride. Luckily, the next checkpoint wasn’t too far off and when we got there, Guido and I agreed that racing to the checkpoints but then lingering at them to recover a little wasn’t the most efficient use of our time or energy. Our preferred plan was to keep up an easy, steady pace and spend only the minimum time at checkpoints.
Our goal for the day was the Nannup Hotel, where we had beds booked for all the riders and we preferred to get there early and get plenty of sleep. We set an average speed target of 25kmh including stoppage time. We could achieve this by just keeping the pedals turning and eating and drinking often.
Guido and I seem to set roughly similar speeds in time trials, but the longer we got into this ride, it was clear he was far stronger than me in such an endurance ride. This is why most of the photographs in this post show him riding ahead of me.
The rolling hills slowly sapped my energy and had I been alone, I’d have slowed down a lot but with Guido’s wheel as a target, we were able to keep to our plan. There were still a few times when I found myself counting kilometres and finding them ticking over incredibly slowly. I surprised myself at one point by looking around and thinking how beautiful the scenery was and how much I was enjoying myself and in the very same thought looking down at my Garmin and thinking: ‘Have we only come one kilometre since I last looked? Will this ever finish?’.
I had been really counting the kilometres as we approached the checkpoint at Darkan, a small town which, to my everlasting disappointment, does not have a football team nicknamed the Stormies, but a quick rest and a bite to eat was enough to set me up for the 90km to Boyup Brook and dinner. When I say there was a checkpoint, there wasn’t really a checkpoint. Guido and I just signed each other’s cards. I assume if you arrive at a checkpoint alone, you find a shopkeeper or a passing pedestrian to sign your card for you.
One great thing about the ride was the emptiness of the road. There was almost no traffic and whenever a car did go past, they always left plenty of space and invariably tooted and waved to us. It made the whole ride a pleasure. The weather was also kind to us. On both days it was cool without being cold and the only aspect that was less than ideal was a headwind that followed us (or rather, faced us off) for the entire course. But even that was only a light wind for most of the time.
In addition to having a room booked for us at the end of the first day, we had a support car driving the course to deliver a very large dinner on the first night and lunch the second day. As we approached Boyup Brook, Guido was getting increasingly worried as the support car hadn’t passed us yet and if we got there ahead of them, we would have to decide wether to wait around or try to ride straight through to Nannup. We didn’t really want to do that as our food supplies were low and we were counting on dinner to stock us up not just for that night but for the next day as well.
When we got to Boyup Brook, we rode around looking for the town hall, where dinner would be waiting. We eventually found it but it was quite empty. Luckily, while we were sitting on the grass thinking about what to do, A lady from the local shire drove up to drop the town hall keys off. She told us that the ladies in the support car had telephoned. They had been a little delayed but would arrive in about 15 minutes. This was quite a relief for us. When they did arrive we had an immense feast of pasta and creamed rice. We warmed up in the kitchen and filled our water bottles. We had been in Boyup Brook about an hour by the time we left and rode out into the night.
We took our time riding in the night. On the one hand, I couldn’t see my speedo any more and that usually means riding a little more slowly and on the other, Guido had a very bad crash earlier in the year when he hit a kangaroo while descending. There were a few kangaroos about and they are an unpredictable animal so we slowed right down whenever we could hear any. We had a few hop across our path. Just before Nannup there was a long, steep descent but we rode the brakes all the way down and just as we got to town, we had thirty or forty kangaroos hop across the road in front of us.
We had a cottage booked at the back of the Nannup Hotel and, being the first to arrive, we got to choose the prime beds. I had a quick shower and went straight to sleep while Guido ate a bit more before hitting the sack. We got in at about 10 o’clock and I’d be surprised if the next riders got in any earlier than midnight. The next morning we had a huge cooked breakfast at the hotel before hitting the road again.
The scenery on the road out of Nannup was gorgeous and the climbs nice and sharp to stop the legs from getting too eager.
Guido was showing more and more of an edge up all the climbs but we would regroup on the descents and the kilometres simply fell away.
After lunch, we had just one last longish climb and then we could descend to the coastal plain. By this time I was again just trying to stay on Guido’s wheel while he drove the pace. Back on the flat, we realised how protected we had been from the wind. The last 30km along South West Highway to Harvey were the low point of the day for both of us. We struggled to keep the speed over 25kmh into the wind and I even had to take a few turns at the front while Guido had a rest. I spent the whole stretch looking at my clock and trying to calculate when the next kilometre would tick over. I found myself wishing there was more traffic, especially caravans and horse floats, to block out the wind and draft us a little.
We had a good stop outside the supermarket at Harvey, where I had a big bottle of iced coffee and then some apple juice so the two could have a fist fight in my stomach for the next few kilometres.
We cruised out of Harvey pleased to be back on roads that his us from the wind a little and before long Guido started to build momentum until we were cruising along at a steady 35kmh. This was brilliant for a while as I watched the distance fall away but eventually I realised I wasn’t going to be able to keep that pace up for the rest of the way. I had to swallow my pride and do something I’ve never done before – ask a riding partner to ease the pace. Despite this, we still made pretty good work of it and, at 5.50pm, arrived back at the beginning where there was a steak and Guinness pie waiting for each of us.
The legs are pretty heavy today but it was worth it for those roads. In fact, I’m starting to think about planning a few days away in which Kazuko and I could base ourselves somewhere such as Bridgetown and doing some more sensibly-distanced rides on the same roads.
Anyway, my plan had been to do some sort of ride today so I can say I’ve ridden every day of the People’s Grand Tour but I don’t think I can bring myself to get on the bike. I’m quite happy here on the sofa, even if it means blowing my chances of making the PGT podium. Here’s how my kilometres stand at the moment anyway: