1 July 2018 was a day to Get High, or maybe just Get Wet, or Get Cold, or Get Blown About Like There Was No Tomorrow.
In the warm sunny days of the previous several weeks, 67 people decided that 1 July would be a day to Get On The Bike. But when the elements chose to bucket down on us, 26 of those registered decided it was actually a day to Get Some Extra Sleep, Get A Coffee and Get Sensible For The Day.
The rest of us (the 41 who didn’t Get The Weather Forecast) made it to the starting line. There were nerves aplenty and general questioning of sanity. Then we got on our bikes and let the day unfold.
Here are the ride results – read on for a full report of the day.
From the kick-off, there was no way to dress up the obvious. The weather gods had finally deserted Audax FNQ. The day was going to be wet, cold, windy and possibly a little uncomfortable at times. And we were going to the places on the Tablelands where that combination of environmental elements show-cased nature’s finest. We were going High.
It was drizzling from the start but I babbled on optimistically that it was “clearing just ahead” as we rolled out towards the Herberton Range. Maybe I talked it up just a little bit for our visitors from Brisbane – Brian, Mark and Peter (Audax Queensland President, Secretary and Committee Member) – and Townsville (Louise, David and Kevin). But there were still smiles evident when riders hit the top of the first big climb of the day.
We headed towards Herberton, with most riders remembering to turn right for the trip across to visit the famous Watsonville windmill. After a bit more uphill and a reasonable downhill, our small team rolled into Watsonville, trying not to notice that it lacked the same brilliant blue sky that had graced the Audax website’s advertising blurb.
We found the secret stamp, then completed our sight-seeing of Watsonville within roughly 15 nanoseconds, before turning back to Herberton and the first Control. The course entered Herberton via the scenic route, taking care to include the road past the cemetery, rifle range and dump, and over a slightly moist crossing that is usually dry.
The Herberton Control was a welcome sight. The first stage of the ride was just 40km long, but included over 750 metres of climbing. It was going to be one of those days…… We were greeted by the cheery smiles of volunteers, Jann and Renee, who were obviously delighted to be spending their day at a sensible distance from a bike saddle. The differences between riders started to be evident, with some immediately settling in for chats and coffee, while those of us with time pressures in mind quickly signed brevets, grabbed a bite to eat and headed on.
It was then onward and upward to the top of Longlands Gap, where the 100km and 200km routes parted company at the 55km point. The 100km riders happily turned left to start a downhill run towards Atherton (via a few other bits), while the rest of us turned right and kept counting the metres of climbing accomplished.
By all accounts, it was a slightly troubled roll downhill, with one rider taking a tumble due to the combination of moisture, white lines and mossy bitumen. The puncture count started to mount, with many unscheduled stops for tube changing and patching. Anyone who sustained one or fewer punctures was considered a “lucky rider”, with stories of several people having double punctures and running out of spares. The revamped 100km course turned onto Upper Barron Road, which is normally a spectacular ridgeline ride down towards Atherton. The gusting winds provided a little sideways excitement for some, and the views stayed stubbornly hidden behind grey mizzle. When the flatter lands finally appeared, most needed little encouragement to take the few hundred metre detour to enjoy a coffee stop at Gallos.
From the comfort of his latte, Ian decided that several hours of drizzle and many hundreds of metres of climbing metres were enough for his day, and that his self-esteem would not be adversely affected by taking the shorter-cut back to Atherton. Meanwhile, his colleagues, Dietmar and Nick headed back onto the course, doggedly determined to finish the last 18km and claim a completed Brevet for their day.
Chris was first home in 4hrs20min – a great effort for his first Audax ride. He was closely followed by Andrew in 4hr29min, Dave (5hrs) and Bob (5hrs2min).
There were 11 finishers within the 6hr40min time limit, and several other happy (to be home) riders, who greeted Mal and Joe at the finish in Atherton. Stories abounded of horizontal wind, chilly conditions, slippery roads, punctures and an adventurous day out.
While the 100km riders enjoyed their celebrations, things were getting serious on the 200km course. There had been no respite from the wind, rain and cold as the road continued upward to the Highest Point on Queensland Roads. As a polite southern tourist, Mark tried to look impressed as he posed with Nola for the obligatory photo shoot. It was his second cycling visit to this point. In September 2017, he had ridden through at night, during roadworks, when the old sign had been removed……. At least the pause gave us an opportunity to don our warmer rain gear. As it turned out, we were soon going to need it.
As our trio hurtled headlong down from the High Point, I clung desperately to a bike that suddenly wanted to lurch sideways without notice. I slowed to a near-crawl trying to keep things under control as the centre white line repeatedly appeared beside me in the mist.
Up ahead, Mark’s interesting navigational strategy became apparent. “Ride on like a demon, but keep looking back to see what the people behind you are doing…..then double back when they disappear around a corner, and chase back until you find them again.” Fortunately Mark is a strong enough rider to make it all work, but it was a curious strategy from the man who had delivered the talk on “Tips and Tricks for Successful Long Distance Cycling” the previous evening. Nola (being a much nicer person than myself) was concerned that we would lose Mark in the gloom. I secretly hoped that he would be too far ahead to notice us making the critical turn into Millaa Millaa Lookout for the turnaround at the second Secret Stamp. I deviously formed visions of him missing the turn and plummeting down the 2km and 10 percent cliff otherwise known as Gentle Annie. It was not to be………
We continued back towards Ravenshoe with the weather marginally clearing but the temperatures staying in the chilly zone. Ravenshoe was over-run with cyclists as we had arrived at the same time as the Cairns to Karumba Bike Ride.
While the wait at the cafe lengthened considerably with the crowd, we chatted with the other riders and compared notes of weather conditions and multiple punctures. Keith took advantage of C2K’s travelling bike shop (thanks Pump ‘n’ Pedals) to top up his tube supply, having already exhausted his two spares en route to Ravenshoe. The rest of us got our Brevets signed by Renee, scoffed whatever we could find, and made friends with the locals. We were 100km down, and over 1500 metres of climbing completed. The ride seemed almost done !
The Audax crowd scored an honourable mention from the constabulary for being poster children for high-vis. I fluffed around, while Nola sourced some hot chippies and potato scallops to top up our fat stores. Brian and Mark headed off in front of us, and we fully expected not to see them again until Atherton. Others were content to sit around and enjoy the ambience of the high country over yet another coffee.
The usual route across to Millaa Millaa via the Old Palmerston Highway was spiced up even further with the addition of Malan Road. This lovely loop of road adds a meagre 5.5km to the route, but packs a hefty 130 extra metres of up. It probably also adds some wonderful country scenery, but in the drizzle, wind and fog, it was hard to tell.
Nola and I arrived in Millaa Milla having completed around 135km and well over 2000 metres of climbing. We were comforted by our insder’s knowledge of the Tablelands – Millaa was definitely higher than Atherton. We were now on the downhill run. We were surprised to see Mark and Brian arrive just after us, and I was selfishly chuffed by their story. Mark had continued his “ride in front, look behind” navigational strategy, and missed the turnoff to Malaan Road. Brian had to give chase, for several downhill kilometres, to retrieve him. They both crawled back uphill, and then tackled Malaan Road. We did our best to look sympathetic.
We continued on towards Malanda, mindful of our test ride of the course a few days beforehand. The newly laid road surface on Millaa Millaa – Malanda Road had failed, leaving a two kilometre carpet of loose rocks floating across shiny and sticky bitumen. A few days of traffic on the surface had cleared a wheel path of rocks, leaving just the shiny bit to navigate in the drizzle. We thought this was mildly precarious, but our frustration paled in comparison to the media storm that accompanied the “melting road” a few days later. Apparently the southern contractors had never encountered Tablelands weather conditions before – or so the story goes.
After a few brief breaks for an energy top-up, we rolled into the Malanda control where Jann, Kim and Mark were waiting. Jann had originally planned to have ice-blocks on hand, but had done a hasty change of plans. There were a lot of riders much happier to be greeted with a boiling billy and a cup-a-soup. 157km completed and the finish line was in sight.
We rode with Brian and Mark through Peeramon to Yungaburra, and took in a lap of the Lakeside ‘burbs before heading towards Atherton. The sky was darkening, the rain still hovered around, and my misbehaving gear cable was threatening to shred itself completely. I clunked up and down through the gears, hoping to find one that would hold until I reached the finish. Somewhere along Curtain Fig Road with only 22km to go, Mark punctured. Nola and I took decided that he and Brian were more than capable of changing a tube, and opted to continue the dash to the finish as the night sky darkened.
As the lights of Atherton came into sight, we could see several small headlights catching us up. Keith whizzed past, and soon after Sean, Ian and Warren were riding beside us. Sean declared that it was safer to ride together, and our group of five rode for the last 6km to finish in 11hrs51min. We found Peter finishing a tyre change less than 2km from the end, and he joined us in Atherton several minutes later, with Brian and Mark close behind. Once again, Kim was there to welcome us home after having trailed us all over the Tablelands all day. He was joined by Louise and David, who had recovered from their 100km experience, and had rugged up to sit out the evening to see us at the finish.
As we drifted home, and Louise and David shuffled off to the promise of a warm fireplace at the pub, Kim tucked in to wait for Kevin. He made it home in 12hrs50mins having completed well over 3000 metres of climbing, but already brimming with ideas for organising Audax rides in his home base of Townsville.
Get High 2018 was always destined to be a tough day out. Add the rain, cold, wind, fog and potholes – and the conditions don’t get much tougher. Thanks to everyone who had a crack at the ride, and particularly those who took care with their high vis gear and lights. And a huge thanks to our volunteers, Kim, Jann, Renee, Mark, Mal and Joe, who looked after us so well throughout the day.
While Audax can’t promise perfect conditions every time, there is a fair chance that the weather gods will again smile on our next ride on Sunday 12 August 2018 from Innisfail. The 100km “Boulders and the Beautiful” boasts a near pancake flat ride, while “Oh No, We’ve Got To Go Round It” may have a lump or two during the 200km course. See you there !!
(28 July 2018)