OK, so we chose the 85km option — the soft option, the easy option…
Starting at 07:40 from the car-park down by the Ovens river in Bright, the first challenge was taking off up the steep road in a great bunch of other cyclists. Chatting with the older couple on the KHS tandem beside us showed that despite far more experience on the bike they weren’t all that happy with a crowded uphill start either.
Off in the cool of the morning eastwards to Wandiligong, a little way past that village, over a pick-a-plank bridge then a u-turn at the first checkpoint. No easy task performing a u-turn on a narrow country road on a tandem! We ended up getting three-quarters of the way around and having to hop off and skip around the rest of the way — very undignified.
Back to Bright, then on down through Porepunkah to the turn off for the national park. Mount Buffalo looms ominously larger as we approach through the forest. The rocky slopes are facing north, getting the full benefit of the sun, and only marginally shielded by the trees that were burnt away in the bush-fires of 2003. Onwards and upwards, pick a low gear and just pedal, pedal, pedal up the mountain. Somewhere between eight and eleven kilometers per hour, partly depending on the slope, partly depending on how accurate the speedometer was, since I hadn’t recalibrated it after swapping it over from my other bike!
Two thirds of the way up Mount Buffalo was a much-needed water stop, half a dozen other riders rested in the shade or tried to stretch their calves. Time for a rest, a muesli bar, a quick photo of Jo and the bike, and to top up the bottles with metallic-tasting bore water, before getting back on the bike for the last third of the climb.
Finally the top of the climb, then just a few kilometres of undulations across the plateau before reaching the Dingo Dell checkpoint. It was tempting to laugh as the organisers shouted out “85km riders stop here, 100km riders another three kilometres to go…”. Both the 85km and 100km rides started at the same place, both went to Wandiligong and back, both climbed the same route to here. It seems that according to Audax Australia the difference between 100 and 85 is six! Later calculations showed that, as we suspected, the 85km ride was a shade over 90km, and the 100km ride was just under.
Half an hour or so of resting and eating. Jo was so hungry that she managed to get half way through a muffin before she realised that it was fruit-cake and not chocolate.
We took it easy going back down the mountain, every time I let off the brakes I could just feel the tandem leap ahead and want to keep on accelerating. No way, not with this amount of experience on the bike, was I going to try and set a descent record! Several times I was glad to have the bike travelling quite slowly, as one after the other, idiot motorists pulled out to overtake cyclists heading up the mountain and drove straight at me as they drove up the wrong side of the road, expecting me to instantly swerve 150kg of tandem and riders out of their way.
Despite the stupidities of Victoria’s motorists we made it safely back to the valley floor, then all that remained is the ten kilometres or so back through Porepunkah and to Bright. The excitement was over, we knew we could ride the tandem up the mountain, our bums were sore and we were tired. Two kilometres to go and both of us wanted nothing more than to get off the seat and sit on something — anything — other than a bicycle saddle.
Completed! Three quarters of an hour to spare as we pulled into Bright to drop off the cards, then sit in the shade and watch as the first of the 200km riders came in! Total distance 87.87km, an average speed of 18.5km/hr, both meaningless with the calibration not set, four hours forty-six minutes riding time. Now it was beer time.