To the best of my knowledge, Audax is French for “courageous”, and possibly Methodist for “the more self-imposed suffering the better”. So I was a little perturbed when Wil Bird suggested a leisurely trot of a meagre 46km across the scenic backroads of the Atherton Tablelands as his second offering as a Ride Organiser. My concerns mounted as he decided on a very civilised 8am start, check-in at the Spring Bean coffee shop, and chippies and beers at the Tolga Pub afterwards. Surely Wil was missing the point. Sixty three riders disagreed with me.
Just to be on the safe side, I had coaxed Kim, my long-suffering loved one, to use the ride as a practice run for our Tassie trip in February. We dug out all of our gear for the trip and packed the panniers. To ensure that adequate suffering was encountered, I packed my otherwise empty food bag with 8kg of dumbells and decided to ride the extra 15km to the start line. Kim firmly drew the line at this piece of additional madness, decadently choosing to drive to Tolga for a pre-ride coffee instead.
I arrived to find the normally sleepy Tolga township buzzing with mountain bikes, lycra and coffee, but was gratified to already have a reasonable layer of sweat and road grime adhering to my sunscreen. Wil had the event totally under control, and riders milled around topping up their caffeine supplies, comparing bikes and waiting for the start. The weather gods had once again smiled on FNQ Audax. The threatened rain held off all morning and the cloudy skies kept the temperatures relatively pleasant for a January ride.
After a short briefing, the first of three groups set off from the Tolga pub heading along the rail trail. I waited to start with the third group, reassuring everyone that I had every contingency under control with the contents of my panniers. I could cope with first aid emergencies, trim my fingernails, pitch a tent, have a shower and change my clothes at least twice during the ride. I could even offer to host a short triceps and biceps workout with the contents of my food bag.
There was plenty of chatting and high spirits as we tackled the dirt roads around farms towards Tinaroo. The cloudy day had brought a soft lighting to the Tablelands that showed off the surrounding paddocks at their emerald green best. The initial kilometres were easy and comfortable riding on the quiet dirt roads. A bike loaded with panniers whistles downhill, which is primarily what we tackled during the early stretches of the ride. It then immediately loses momentum as soon as the road pitches even slightly upwards, and I was soon wondering just how many dumbells were perched on the bike.
We wound our way past Tinaroo, where the recent rains had slightly increased the water levels to over 35 percent capacity, but still far from covering the many skeletal trees still standing in the water. Several groups stopped to pose for photos at the Tinaroo lookout, where the water levels were still well below the spillway. The course continued around Tinaroo, past the end of the bitumen and on a well-maintained dirt road to Platypus Camp ground. Kim and I stopped again to find the secret stamps, have a chat, rest for a bit and munch on supplies. After all, we had ridden 25km.
It was then time to head back around the lake’s edge to Tinaroo. We passed up the opportunity to stop in Tinaroo township at the only coffee shop on the route, calculating that this would cut into valuable socialising and beer drinking opportunities in 20km. Tinaroo has only one access road, which is home to one of the nastiest little uphills in the area. It becomes even nastier when tackled on a loaded mountain bike, especially when the rider is primarily focused on calculating the distance to the Tolga pub. A few little uphills on more dirt roads led to spectacular views of paddocks, cows and greenery. We trundled slowly back to Tolga, having drifted towards the back of the pack, and enjoying the opportunity to chat with other riders as they caught and passed us. The numerous requests to dig into our supplies and brew a coffee were met with the distain they deserved, as our fellow riders left us pottering along with our self-imposed burdens.
The relaxed FNQ attitude to navigation was again on display. It seems that the locals have forgone cue sheets and maps, and decided that navigation is what happens when you follow the riders in front of you, or respond to instructions bellowed at you from behind. I was amazed at the auditory acuity of the group in front of us, who managed to hear and accurately follow my screeching directional instructions from afar. I guess not everyone would recognise that an overgrown muddy track, protected by a mammoth red mud puddle was the right turn into Mehmet Road.
After the trundle along Mehmet Road, it was a short hop back to Tolga Pub where the beers were flowing and plates of hot chips were on offer. With these lashings of healthy fare and socialising available, I readily accepted that opportunities to suffer were over and contented myself with a few cold ones and some post-ride carb loading. Tolga pub may be facing a hot chip shortage after the Audax onslaught, with riders happy to sit around replenishing their energy stores and plotting their next adventure.
What do I make of this day of decadence, beautiful scenery, a great course and lots of friendly people to ride with? After considering my desire for suffering over a few quiet beers, I am happy to go with the collective decision of my 63 fellow riders and admit I was wrong. I’ve enjoyed a wonderfully successful morning of coffee, bikes, dirt, good friends and Tablelands riding. Thanks again Wil.
15 January 2017