Throughout this great nation of ours, all good Audaxers respectfully dub one sacred weekend in March as the “Fleche Opperman All Day Trial”. In 2017, FNQ Audaxers attempted due diligence, renaming the event “Fleche’s Big TrOppy” and “Fleche’s Little TrOppy”. But in 2018, it became known as “Bloody Nora Weekend”.
The Oppy is supposed to be a Trial. The combination of our first FNQ wet season in years, flooded roads and looming cyclones led to a perfect storm of potholes and pitfalls for our eight local teams.
Four Big TrOppy and four Little TrOppy teams signed up for the challenge. Here are their stories:
Graham, Tony, Ken, and David took a punt on south-easterly winds and flat coastal roads, and set themselves an epic target of 510km. The team started in Innisfail, headed south to Cardwell and returned north (just before the highway was cut) with side visits to four (out of five planned) beaches along the way.
While this tour sounded idyllic in theory, the team reported 24 hours of heads down, being blinded by spray from the wheel in front. They rode through hours of torrential rain, and even managed to spot a cassowary and an echidna, albeit without the glee such wildlife spotting usually brings. They held on grimly throughout the night doggedly trusting that the wheel in front of them would remain in a vertical plane despite cane tracks, pot holes and the usual road obstacles that come with inclement wet season rain.
Amazingly, everyone managed to stay upright, and only one puncture occurred during their awesome ride. After a minor flood-related course alteration, they arrived in Port Douglas perfectly on time for breakfast having completing 507km with an average moving speed of over 30km/h.
Cairns Strava Crew
You can’t fault Cairns Strava Crew for their efforts at preparation. Prior to turning a pedal, they had deeply pondered course options to suit likely prevailing winds, had team jerseys printed, and organised replacement riders as likely starters dropped out.
After a slightly late start from the Highest Road in Queensland sign, it was then all downhill for the team of Warren, Damien, Joel, Andrew and Keith – theoretically speaking. The combination of water, potholes and wind took their toll, as two riders swan-dived into the bitumen coming down the Palmerston Range and onto the coastal roads.
Undeterred, Warren, Keith and Andrew arrived in Port Douglas after 360km, having learned a few valuable lessons. The Oppy in FNQ in cyclone season is worth a medal (even if retro-ordered), and orange nicks in wet weather require you to either ride with good friends or wear some black ones underneath.
Another outstanding effort award goes to the remaining members of Team Floppy – Wil and Chris. Despite other prospective team members failing to make it to the starting line, this determinedly Floppy duo decided to ride their course anyway. The team had opted for a Tablelands-based journey, which placed them firmly in Nora’s flood zone. Few brevet cards in the history of Audax can claim so many on-course alterations, as Wil and Chris constantly manoeuvred to dodge swollen rivers and closed roads.
As the day progressed, and the public roads between the Tablelands and the coast progressively flooded and closed, Wil and Chris took their epic journey off-piste to travel down the range (in the dark !) and join the crew in Port Douglas for breakfast after their amazing 362km adventure.
The Extremes – Jess, Paula, Mary Ann and Gayle – lived up to their name, going to extreme lengths in planning, training and preparation. With on-road support provided by Andy, our sights were set on an Audax Queensland Women’s record. With such a build-up to the event and after days spent constantly checking the weather forecast, our team tried to look unfazed at their starting point in the wind and drizzle at the Highest Road sign.
We were still smiling at the first control, despite a slippery descent in howling winds and swirling rain. The smiles continued through several further damp controls, although gritted teeth were definitely becoming more visible as the day wore on.
The weather got more extreme as night fell, and the team arrived in Mareeba. A flare-up of a knee injury, news of multiple flooded roads, reduced options for course changes and awesome images on the BOM site greeted us at our 250km control at McD’s. The locals watched on with amazement as four Extremely soaked cyclists sipped hot drinks and contemplated their options.
With the road to the coast via Rex Range already closed, a local police friend offered to lead us out through a back road. The offer was time-limited – he was officially closing the road after we went through. Our adventure continued in our support vehicle with a helter-skelter drive along dirt tracks and through nearly flooded creeks following our official good Samaritan.
Waz was waiting for us with a hot meal at our overnight stop in Mossman, where we drank red wine to drown our sorrows (the only thing still above the high water mark at that point) and contemplate the 2019 Big TrOppy. Well done to Team Extreme on a great effort in phenomenally challenging conditions, and thanks to our support crew – Andy and Waz.
They appeared in Port Douglas in 2017 as Hawaii 4-0, resplendent in their specially acquired floral jerseys. In 2018, Deb, Lloyd, Peter and Brian were joined by Drewe and became Hawaii 5-0. Fortunately for Drewe, that wonderful floral jersey was still for sale online at the same amazing never-to-be-repeated discount price.
Ever mindful of the weather and rising water levels, Hawaii 5-0 left Atherton and scorched across the Tablelands. They flew across Bushy Creek, crossing well before the waters engulfed the causeway, and down the Rex Range to Port Douglas. By all reports, they were sipping refreshments and congratulating themselves on a job well done as Nora worked her way towards the coast. There was a slight hitch in plans as the road closures behind them meant their support vehicle could not get through, and bags of pyjamas and night time goodies would not be delivered. But with a bit of creative borrowing, the team made it for Sunday breakfast, in mostly matching jerseys and absolutely event-appropriate socks.
And in a show of the generosity of spirit that characterises FNQ Audax, Drewe kindly volunteered this piece of cycling wisdom:
“Video evidence of my foaming bottom has surfaced and my team members believe it should be distributed far and wide so that other Audax riders never have to suffer the indignity of being sprayed with arse foam.” (A not to be missed link !!)
Despite the pre-ride withdrawal of their captain, Mal, The Waiters continued their diligent training and preparation for their Petit day out. Steve, Joe, Bob and Rex put in the big training kilometres and then found further time to prepare suitable breakfast attire. The Waiters started in Atherton and followed a winding course to Walkamin, before tackling the (only) route from Mareeba to Mt Molloy and Port Douglas. They sensibly crossed Bushy Creek before the floodwaters became an issue, and arrived in Port Douglas in time to join Hawaii 5-0 for evening festivities.
On Sunday, there was momentary concern as team members made a hasty departure from the scene immediately after checking in at the finish with Mal and Pat.
Small and Dainty
Small and Dainty made their second appearance at the Little TrOppy, with Zoe replacing brother Toby in the 2019 edition of the team, and joining Kim, Nola, Mark and Jordan. The team left Atherton and cruised via a few back roads to Mt Molloy, just in time to see Hawaii 5-0 riding away from the pub to beat the floodwaters threatening the road to Port Douglas. So they did what all good locals do when a cyclone or any other crisis appears on the horizon – they had a beer.
The Small and Dainty crew swear that they didn’t stay long at the pub, and it was soon afterwards that they arrived at Bushy Creek, and that the water wasn’t that deep, and that the road wasn’t officially closed. And that it really was a Taipan that drifted around Mark’s ankles and caused that girly squeal and funny dance .
After a quick cruise down the Rex Range, with the obligatory photo stop at the lookout, Small and Dainty tackled their major obstacle of the day – the legendary climb of Nola’s parents’ driveway. At the end of their 155km day, everyone made it up this epic climb with only a few minor stops and slips along the way. Overall, it was a relatively cramp-free adventure for the team in 2018, and they arrived in Port Douglas unscathed in the rain on Sunday.
Rose Between Thorns
Dallas (aka The Rose) joined Ian, Nick and Ivon (the other bits) with great plans of a leisurely day trip on the bikes from Port Douglas to Daintree and back. Lots of flat riding…… great tropical scenery…… stop-offs at iconic places…… perfect. They cruised north and spent a lovely morning exploring the Daintree Rainforest area and stopping off for lunch at the Village. Enter Bloody Nora. Lunch became a slightly extended affair as the rain bucketed down at tropical strength and visibility was reduced to only metres by sheets of vertical water.
The team pushed on for their return journey, ducking into a few coastal townships on the way back to Port Douglas. In FNQ, flat and coastal also means sugar cane tracks. At the 120km point, a particularly unpleasant angle of tracks spelled the end of Dallas and Ivon’s Petit day out. A passing motorist kindly gave Ivon a lift to Port Douglas, and he returned to collect Dallas and their bikes. Ian and Nick completed their ride, and Ivon recuperated enough to join them for breakfast on Sunday. Dallas had retreated home with a spectacular collection of bumps and bruises, but still amazingly cheerful about her next big ride. Well done to Rose Between Thorns.
As the stories were shared over breakfast, and mountains of food were consumed, Nora continued her track towards the coast and the floodwaters kept rising. We all escaped Port Douglas as the Cook Highway was transformed into a waterfall wonderland and the road south was cut soon afterwards by the rising waters and rock slides.
Congratulations to everyone who took on the challenge of a cyclonic weekend on the bike, and thanks to all those who came to support the TrOppy cyclists during their rides and at breakfast. The Big and Little TrOppy of 2018 will remain one of the more memorable events to have graced the FNQ Audax calendar. See you all next year !!
(12 April 2018)