Atherton Step-Up – 17 March 2019

It was the perfect day for a new piece of cycling extravagance in FNQ.  It was time to Step Up.  For many riders, the time had come to tackle their longest ever ride, and the waves of enthusiasm (or was that anxiety) were on full display.

At an undisclosed location several kilometres out of Atherton (ie: our place), the day was starting early for the seven riders who had decided to tackle the 300km course (Mary-Ann, Dave, Keith, Nick, David, Chris and Gayle).  While some opted for the sleep-over, breakfast and coffee option, others arrived in the darkness ready for the 5.30am kick-off.  There was a small degree of concern about Keith’s location, given that he hadn’t been seen in the granny flat overnight, but relief after he surfaced from his swag on the lawn.   Apparently someone hadn’t warned him about the legendary rainfall in our corner of world.  After a bit of last minute preparation – “ie: How do you work that navigation thingy”, most of us headed out to the start line.

Chris was momentarily delayed by some mechanical, which left six of us heading off into the darkness and up Herberton Range.  Keith,  David and Nick skated on ahead, leaving Mary Ann, Dave and I to form a happy little trio for the day’s riding.  In the interim, Kim headed into Atherton to help Jenny and Lauren organise the 150km riders for a 6.30am start.


After a tour of Longlands Gap and a descent of Upper Barron Road, we met Jenny at our first Control in Malanda before 8am, feeling very pleased with our progress (55km).  It was then on for a loop of Maragallen Road and Hillcrest Road, where Chris passed us and Nick joined our happy group.  We cruised back through Malanda and gave a quick wave to the 150km crew who were gathering at the Control, before heading via Peeramon and Lake Eacham to our second Control at Yungaburra (102km).  Glynis and Kim were waiting for us, accompanied by Kev, who had broken a spoke in the 150km and decided to join the volunteers for the day.

We kept our stop relatively brief, and continued on to Control 3 at Atherton (135km), arriving at 11.45am just in time for a lunch break.  We had barely started on our sandwiches when Tony rode in to complete his 150km in 5hrs37, closely followed by Tate, Kyal, Joe and Andrew.  The coffee shop was already playing host to a swag of other 150km riders, who just may have shortened their ride at the prospect of an early lunch and coffee.  (Step Up Results 150km)

According to all accounts, the 150km riders had a great day out.   Twenty two of the 33 starters completed the course, following roughly the planned route (with the obligatory stop for a cold beverage along the way).  Another sub-set opted to adjust their course to cater for broken spokes, the use of mountain bikes, unforseen navigational challenges, appealing coffee shops or lost brevet cards.  All in a day’s work for Audax FNQ.  (Thanks to Lauren for her great photos of the 150km day).

Our 300km group left Atherton in high spirits, anticipating a downhill and downwind ride to our next control at Dimbulah.  In reality, the winds mostly stayed away and the temperature steadily climbed until I was feeling somewhat melted out on the back blocks of Springmount Road.  Glynis found our slowly melting group somewhere on Dimbulah Road, replenished our water supplies and magically produced some almost frozen ice-blocks from her esky.  We pushed on along Leadingham Creek Road, where we celebrated Dave’s longest ever ride, as well as his birthday.  The skies were darkening and the rain was just starting to fall as we pulled into Dimbulah, where Glynis was waiting at Control 4 (210km).

We treated ourselves to a reasonable break while the rain tumbled down around us.  It was slightly clearing as we got back on the bikes, all promising to take it easy and work together to tackle the dreaded stretch back towards Mareeba.  Bottoms, backs and legs were starting to complain about their long day of work, and we took a few short breaks along the way to stretch out and recuperate.  Somewhere along this leg, Mary Ann and Nick clicked over their longest ever ride.  Dave’s discovery that riding with a backpack was tough going fortunately coincided with a welfare check from Kim in the truck.  After a spirited debate about the pronunciation of  Tyrconnell Road, we paused for a great view of the windmills and brooding storm clouds, before continuing on to Chettle Road and Walkamin.

Kim was waiting for us at Control 5 at Walkamin (271km), ably assisted by Patch (aka the Wonder Dog), who had apparently mastered the art of Audax Controls.  The rain had started again, and we worked hard to cheers ourselves with the concept of just 29km to go until we were finished.  It was a damp slog up the highway to Rocky Creek, and another slow grind uphill to Tolga for another minor stretching break.  The rain cleared as we reached Atherton, where I made the happy discovery that we may finish in under 15 hours.  The pace got a bit silly along in the last few kilometres, when the day’s aches and pains suddenly disappeared, and thoughts turned to the big pot of spaghetti that I knew was waiting with Glynis on the back deck.

We rode together down the dirt roadway to the finish, arriving at 8.25pm after 14 hours and 55 minutes.  Keith had finished in 13hrs 30 minutes, and already had a feed, a shower and a nap.  David arrived in 13hrs 59 minutes and looked amazingly relaxed and cheerful.

We settled onto the deck, eating spaghetti and comparing stories, while we waiting for Chris to arrive.  Dave and Nick cracked open the Guiness to celebrate Dave’s birthday and a big day out.  Chris had made some discoveries about navigation (all bad) and added a bit of extra riding to his day.  He’d arrived at Dimbulah after our group and decided on a short nap, before regathering his resources for the ride home.  Kim had checked on him several times, and could report that Chris remained undaunted about finishing.  Unfortunately Chris encountered more of the pouring rain, and was somewhat bedraggled when he arrived after a truly audacious ride of 16hrs 15 minutes.

It was a great piece of riding, with all seven starters having a successful finish.  And from here……  all of us are ready to go again, with plans afoot for the Atherton 400km (on 13 April 2019), Eight Tableland Towns (28 April 2019) and the Oppy (on 18/19 May 2019).

See you there !!

2019 Step Up Results 300

(30 March 2019)

"No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle" Winston Churchill