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Red Gum 400K | Northern Victoria | August 13, 2016

Red Gum 400K | Northern Victoria | August 13, 2016


After Rowan and I finished the 300K in Brisbane, Queensland, we decided that we wanted to tackle a 400K ... the next ride in the series. As with the 300K, Tasmania doesn't have these events after March, so we put together a list of possibilities in other states. One of the decision-making elements was how an event would fit with my current uni course.

I got ahold of the course schedule about a week before it started, and fired off an email to Rowan telling him that if he really wanted to do this, the Red Gum fit the schedule. Next thing we knew, everything was booked.

June, July and August is winter in Australia, and even more so in Tasmania. So all our training was done in winter conditions with lows near 0C and highs around 12C. We rode the Dark Bikefo 200K in Tasmania in June on weekend with the shortest daylight hours. We also rode a century in July on our own. And most of the rest of our weekend rides were about 100 km. We purposely scheduled all our long rides so that they ended after dark to get some night ride training. During the week, we rode our trainers or went to the gym to run and row. I also did quite a bit of core and upper body work in our home gym.

I am pleased to say that the training paid off. We could have probably done more, but nevertheless, we finished the ride feeling fairly comfortable in terms of muscle soreness. I am particularly pleased that my back, shoulders and neck, which had been giving me some issues on previous rides, felt surprisingly good.

The training also helped us narrow down our clothing choices and put together something that would work during the long, cold night. Training rides aren't just for getting into shape.

I was, however, concerned about two things.
About 10 days before this event I was diagnosed with a sprained medial collateral ligament in my right knee, so I took it really easy the last 10 days or so, and the pain eased off quite a bit. However, I was concerned about how well it would handle the hilly section of the ride. I knew it wasn't hilly like Tasmania, but still ...
The other thing was dealing with nighttime fatigue. With that in mind I purchased chocolate-covered coffee beans and Bushells Coffee & Chicory Essence.

We flew over to Victoria a few days before the event in order to get ourselves settled, and were able to do a test ride to check out the start of the course. We were also able to get a bit of extra rest which was essential for me, if I was going to be able to survive the sleep deprivation aspect.

August 13 – The Ride Begins

5 am. The alarm rings and we crawl out of bed to get ready to go.

6:30 am. We’re cycling through the dark to the start location. Our bicycles are checked the minute we arrive to ensure that they have adequate lights and that we’ve got all our reflective equipment. Approximately 15 riders gather. Some are doing the 200K event. Some are doing the 300K event. And some of us are tackling the 400K event.

7:00 am. We’re off! As expected, Rowan and I dropped to the back almost immediately, but we’re comfortable with that. The start of the route was nice … flat terrain, the sun coming up, the birds singing. I’ve missed hearing all the Victorian birds. The area has had a lot of rain, so we passed by flooded ditches, overflowing rivers, and lots of green.

We remained in Victoria out to Barmah, riding near Broken Creek. Then we crossed into New South Wales, over the Murray River. There was about 30 km in New South Wales before we arrived at Moama and crossed the Murray back into Victoria, and into Echuca.

Our first checkpoint was Moama, at 82 km and to my surprise, we had been riding fast enough to arrive approximately 2 hours before the closing time. We stopped at a bakery, had a sandwich each, refilled our water bottles and made up another bottle of Ensure.

On the next bit of the ride we were joined by Helen and Greg who were on the 200K route. The four of us rode briskly for about 40 km to Kyabram. While on the one hand, we might have pushed the speed a little more than we should have, on the other hand it put us 3 hours ahead of the closing time which was very beneficial later in the ride. I had hoped to ride the first 200K quite quickly in preparation for the hills and night.

At Kyabram, we had small bags of potato chips, which hit the spot, and got more water to refill the bottles and make up more Ensure, but here I made a small error. I wanted a bottle of Coke, but I got it in my head that we were in a bit of a rush to get on the road again and figured that if I drank it quickly, it would give me indigestion. So I opted not to have the Coke, but should have done because I started struggling with fatigue a short time later. Just feeling really sleepy. It was the middle of the afternoon, and all I wanted was a cup of coffee. But of course, we were out in the middle of nowhere and there was no coffee. So I added some Bushells Coffee and Chicory Essence to my Ensure, and had a couple chocolate-covered coffee beans and that seemed to help a bit.

About 30 km later we were in Tatura, and at the start of the climbs. The climbing section of this route was nothing like climbing in Tasmania, but did seem to go on a lot longer than I had anticipated! Fortunately, we started the climbing in daylight. That was a particular goal of mine for this ride and the reason I wanted to ride the first 200 km as briskly as possible.

Not far out of Rushworth, we were startled by a dog materialising out of nowhere … barking and snapping at my ankles. That got the heart rate going!!

As we pulled into Rushworth, we realised were both quite hungry, so we had 3 dim sims and a potato cake each. I also finally got my Coke! The bottles were filled again and some preparations were made for the growing darkness.

200K Complete. 200K To Go.

We made a quick stop in a small town called Colbinabbin, at about 200 km, to make some adjustments, and I decided to have a couple more chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Back about 6 months ago, I broke a tooth which then developed various issues. I had it fixed and it was supposed to be good as new, but seemed to take a long time to heal. Eventually it felt OK again, but then about 6 weeks or so that tooth started hurting again. How annoying. And it was getting progressively worse.

On the early part of the ride, I was eating nut bars and was getting these nasty stabs of pain on that side ... so of course, sensibly, I was chewing on the other side.

As I ate that chocolate-covered coffee bean, I suddenly realised that I had cracked the tooth, exposing a nerve. In fact, a good part of the tooth is missing entirely ... I suspect I swallowed it with the chocolate-covered coffee bean.

At first I was so surprised something like that had happened, but moments later I discovered it was going to be a problem. Breathing the chilly air through my mouth was very painful, so I tried to breathe through my nose for the rest of the ride, which isn't easy to do. Eating and drinking also hurt.

Nevertheless, on we went through what I thought was the hilliest section to Heathcote at 244 km. It was a bit of a struggle, and I started entertaining ideas of pulling out of the event. I figured that if there were a hotel or any indication of a bus service in Heathcote, I might just stop there. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the only thing open in town were a couple service stations. We stopped at one and had sandwiches and pumpkin soup, served up by a rather grouchy man who looked like he didn’t really want to be there at that time of the evening. However, the pumpkin soup, in particular, was really good. We also drank a 600 ml bottle of Pepsi each. That combination helped a lot to get us to Nagambie.

We had driven the road between Heathcote and Nagambie, and for some reason I thought it was mostly downhill. When we cycled it, we discovered that there were a lot of rolling hills to climb. I had been diagnosed with a sprained the medial collateral nerve in my right knee about 10 days before this event, and it held up well through the climbs to Heathcote, but that bit to Nagambie pushed it over the edge and I “limped” into Nagambie.

That bit was, however, both alarming and intriguing at the same time. The moon had risen so that we could see a bit … it wasn’t pitch black. But trees and bushes in the moonlight take on something of a personality. We had been warned about the kangaroos … that there could be a lot of them and that they had the unsettling habit of leaping out in front of unsuspecting cyclists. One did cross in front of us, but mostly we could hear them thumping along beside us or trying to get through the fences. That noise startled me the first time I heard it with all the twanging and thumping, and I did ask Rowan if the kangaroos might hurt us, but no, it’s not like cycling through the Canadian Rockies where there are cougars, wolves, and bears.

Nagambie was a ghost town. I had hoped that something would be open … like, say, a hotel or bus station? But nope, not a thing. Although I had an idea that we could end up in a situation where there was a long stretch with nothing open, and we had planned for that by bringing lots of nut bars (which I couldn’t eat), somehow I had thought there might be a service station or something available. But there wasn’t. In fact, there was absolutely nothing open between the service station in Heathcote and Shepparton … a distance of 130 km. If we had realised that, I think we would have purchased more at Heathcote.

Something made me a little bit nervous in Nagambie.

We stopped at the toilets in the middle of town and when we started going again, the lights of a car parked down the road a way suddenly came on and the driver very, very slowly caught up to us and passed us. Still going very slowly. Then the driver turned around and headed back down the road. The way Nagambie is set up, that’s not unusual. What was unusual was that the driver slowly passed us again about 5 minutes later. Then disappeared. Nothing happened … it just seemed a little odd.

Kirwans Bridge! We are familiar with Kirwans Bridge from when we used to live near that area. It is a long, old, historic, wooden bridge … a bicycle-eating bridge with gaps between the wooden planks. There is no way a person would want to cycle the bridge … walking it was a given. I’ve walked it a few times in daylight, but walking it at night was a first. It was kind of scary and fascinating all at the same time. Very still with lots of stars above, and the occasional sounds of water birds.

We took the Murchison-Goulburn Weir road to Murchison which is a road I don’t think we’ve ridden before. It was one of several things that made me want to move back into the area again … so we could ride that road during the daylight, and of course, to explore other roads in that area.

Again, I was hoping something was open in Murchison … hotels, bus stations, or even just a service station. It was becoming a theme. I’m not sure what would have happened if there had actually been a hotel available! Would I have stopped … or not?

The Long Night

However, because the sandwiches and pumpkin soup from Heathcote were a distant memory, and I hadn’t consumed anything other than Ensure since then, I was starting to bonk. Bonking, in cycling, is when your blood sugar level drops and you start to experience hypoglycemia-like symptoms. It’s very hard to get out of it, especially when you’ve got a tooth that won’t let you eat comfortably. I struggled with bonking for the rest of the ride. I drank Ensure until I got sick of it. I tried gels but the sweetness hurt my tooth, and after about 5 gels, I got sick of them too. And I nibbled some cookies but could only manage a couple bites at a time.

So ... it made for a rather long night.

Between Murchison and Shepparton, there is a little over 50 km of nothing. The route is “mostly flat” and we’ve covered it quite quickly in other circumstances. This time, however, it seemed to take forever. I would stop and have a bit of Ensure to drink, a gel, and a nibble of a cookie, and then I’d be fine for a several kilometres, then I’d start to deteriorate back into a bonk until finally Rowan would insist I stop and eat again. And repeat.

The whole way, I was under the impression we were climbing … gradually, but still climbing. I knew we weren’t. I know that part of the route and know it is flat. I also knew that we were cycling along easily enough that we couldn’t be climbing, but by some trick of the light, it really looked to me like we were climbing. And then, at some point after we turned to head up to Shepparton, I could have sworn we were on a steep climb. I insisted that there was a steep climb right in front of us and asked Rowan if he really couldn’t see it. He couldn’t. He insisted it was flat. Bonk and fatigue induced hallucinations, of course … but was it? When Rowan loaded up the Strava record of our ride, Strava put an 11% grade hill right about where I had “seen” it!! How ………… strange!

I was also startled by a large grey crocodile, and then two smaller ones plus a whole bunch of either baby crocs or lizards dashing about the road. Of course, the closest crocs are probably about 2000 km away, so I was obviously seeing things, but I think Rowan found that bit rather amusing … and insisted I eat again. Rowan stuck with me the whole time, talking to me and encouraging me to eat.

About an hour out of Shepparton, I developed such an incredible craving for a tomato and cheese sandwich and had a bit of a melt-down moment when I realised that it was at least an hour before we might be able to get something like that. The broken tooth aside, I think if I were going to do this event again, I would plan better for that long, long stretch with no services and possibly even carry a sandwich and/or something salty. All the sweet stuff was really getting rather sickening.

In the midst of all the weirdness and struggles through the night, I did have one really nice moment. We had stopped and I took off my helmet to stretch and have a look around. I was eating, so it was a clearer moment for me. I looked up and noticed how bright and close all the stars looked, and just then one shot across the sky.

Shepparton … At Last!

As we approached Shepparton, I was convinced I was going to call it a day there even though we only had about 35 km to go back to Numurkah. I was anticipating that we would take one of two routes into Shepparton, and both have services and hotels, but the route we were instructed to take had neither and was unfamiliar. It wasn’t until we were most of the way through Shepparton that we finally arrived at a service station.

We stopped at the service station in the hopes they’d have sandwiches. They didn’t, but I purchased a protein ball which have become popular items in convenience stores and at grocery store counters here in Australia and Rowan got Grain Waves chips. The chips were great … they just hit the spot. I think we needed the salt and they didn’t bother my tooth. I’ve never had one of those protein balls before and have been curious about them. It was awful. I can’t imagine why they seem so popular! However, I kept nibbling at it for the rest of the ride and I think it did help.

Rowan suggested stopping at a Hungry Jacks around the corner, but I figured that if I stopped somewhere warm and relatively comfortable, that would indeed be it for me. If I was going to finish, I needed to keep going and do the last 35 km. So we did. It was a little slow, but we made it.

And during those last 35 km, the sky became lighter making the fog lying in the fields become visible, the birds started singing, and the sun rose. Somehow that just boost the spirits a bit. We made it through the night!

I had wanted to finish within 24 hours, but 24 hours and 45 minutes wasn’t bad at all given the rather difficult night.

A Few Additional Details

The weather. The temperature started about 7C, warmed up to about 17C and then cooled down to about 7C overnight. During the night there was a chilly, misty fog that swirled in front of our lights and made things feel very cold in places, so all our winter training was good. Fortunately, there was no rain, and even better, the wind was light all the way around.

Previous 400Ks? I had to do a bit of digging, and discovered that the last time we cycled 400 km, it was on our August 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris attempt. The last actual 400K I did was on June 2, 2007 … my qualifier for the PBP. This 400K was my 13th ride of that distance.

And a big “Thank you” to Rodney for organising the ride. We do appreciate everyone who makes these events happen.
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