The 2017 version of Get High on the Tablelands was looking like a hard sell. Ride to the highest point in Queensland….. through fog and drizzle….. battling headwinds and chill…… AND …… in the depths of winter. The whole deal seemed like the perfect storm and destined to have FNQ Audax riders avoiding it like the plague. But the lure of hot drinks, snuggle rugs and warm company obviously overcame any hesitations about a mid July ride in the FNQ high country. Fourteen riders registered for the 200km and 49 for the 100km, topping the 2016 total of 49 registrants for the day !!
In the weeks prior to the ride, Atherton had sulked along under grey skies and the endless drizzle of dreary winter weather. So it was initially unnerving to see bright spots of light in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday 16 July. Fortunately, someone identified the unfamiliar night lights as stars, and we all relaxed. Once again, the weather gods had smiled on Audax FNQ, and given us our most perfect winter day in months.
After a quick round of collecting Brevets, checking lights, stocking up on bananas (of course) and a ride briefing, the three wave starts set off to tackle the first challenge of the day. After a few kilometres of leg warming, the real task of Getting High begins with a climb up the Herberton Range. Attempts to downplay this climb in the ride description were thwarted by a shiny new road sign warning of a “very steep climb”, which only served to make the slightly nervous riders even more twitchy.
The climb up the range is mercifully short, and rewards riders with a quick roll into the town of Herberton, where is was becoming abundantly clear just how beautiful the day was looking. The blue skies were a welcome distraction from the uphill tilt of the road all the way to the first control at Longlands Gap. Once again, Kim was waiting with the plenty of yummies including his top-secret recipe fruit cake. After lingering for much longer than necessary, and eating more fruit cake than required by any caloric expenditure, it was time to find the secret stamp at the highest point of the ride and stop for the obligatory photo shoot. In stark contrast to the foggy skies of 2016, there were crystal clear views for miles across green paddocks to the wind turbines in the distance.
The ride down Tomoulin Road into Ravenshoe is wickedly quick, and even more delightful without the usual buffeting from sneaky side-winds. We rolled into Ravenshoe just in time to see the rest of the pack disappearing into the distance, leaving us slightly concerned about the remaining cake and coffee supplies in the cafe. After more unnecessary (but otherwise yummy) food, we headed back towards Atherton, trying not to ponder why the road points uphill after leaving Queensland’s highest town. The picture perfect weather continued, and we gleefully scoffed at the fog warning signs, stopped for tourist shots and soaked up the views. Somewhere in all that sun worship, there was a moment of panic as I recalled the tube of sunscreen still sitting in Atherton, and suddenly the gloomy weather of weeks gone by looked more appealing. There was an unscheduled stop for a puncture repair, fortunately in a shady spot, where a bevvy of experts assisted with fingers and tools and suggestions, before the tube was replaced and everyone was underway again.
It was (mostly) downhill from Longlands Gap all the way back to Atherton, passing through the rainforest and back into the green paddocks and cane fields. The views across to Atherton from the lookout were a welcome sight for many, who were by now content to marvel at the downhill ahead and their speedo readings, rather than continue to luxuriate in the big vistas of the day.
The streets of downtown Atherton are pretty quiet on a Sunday afternoon, particularly after the coffee shop has closed and most of the 100km riders had long finished and gone home. Undeterred, Brenda and Nola were waiting patiently at the final control, with Brenda showing a remarkable touch of inventiveness by begging a passerby to slip across to the shop and buy her a puzzle book.
The rest of the 200km field made it home an hour or so later. While we are always full of admiration for those tackling their first ever 200km, some feats of the day left us in awe. How about doing your first ever group ride, just a few months after starting riding, and in sandshoes ???
It was smiles all around as the last few riders found their way home, just as the sun was setting on this amazing Atherton winter’s day. Our Victorian visitor, Ron, arrived home still looking cheerful after a big reconnaissance day in preparation for his FNQ Gran Turismo ride in September.
And it was a special welcome home to our last rider, who had pumped up his leaking tyre every few kilometres for the last hour or two. He assures us he will do a bit more research into on-road repairs of tubeless tyres before the next Audax ride. After all, it was the first big run for his new bike.
Congratulations to everyone who joined in the ride, and a special thanks to our volunteers – Brenda, Kim and Nola.
There is a world of choice coming up from 2 September to 10 September 2017, with the Great Northern 6 Pack and the Far North Queensland Gran Turismo. Choose from day rides of 100km and 200km, or a longer challenge of 300km, 400km or 600km. Grab a few days off work and join the Audax crew from around Australia and overseas. Day registrations are now open. See you in September 2017.
(25 July 2017)