A long one, and it would have been “an event” and disqualified according to the rules, but the event was cancelled so I rode the route anyway.

In 2012 I first rode “The Slog”, a 160km fund-raising ride around Gippsland, starting and finishing at the Chairo Christian School just out of Pakenham. I’ve entered it and ridden every year since, except for 2013 where I entered but stayed home due to illness & bad weather. In it was announced to be the last ride due to a lack of organizers, but it came back for and again this year. I entered in June, then was surprised a few week ago to receive an email telling me that the event was cancelled “due to unforseen circumstances.” No further information other than a refund, so I decided to ride the course myself on the day – half expecting to see other riders doing the same thing.

The weather forecast for Saturday didn’t look good, up to and including catastrophic wind warnings but I’m nothing if not stubborn, so optimistically got everything ready last night and kept my fingers crossed. Six o’clock this morning and the sky looked promising so off I went on the train to Pakenham – half an hour later than previous years since I didn’t need to be at the school for the 7.30 am start. No sign of any other cyclists, not today, not with this promised weather, only one fool out for a ride…

Pakenham greeted me with wet roads and bright sunny skies as I set off along Bald Hills Road, past the Chairo school and on through Nar Nar Goon to the first half-remembered turn onto Nine Mile Road at Tynong. What a difference marshalls and riding in a bunch make! Everything looks very different on an empty road by myself and I found myself stopping and checking the map the first of many times – and putting my spray jacket on over the wind vest as the rain rolled in for the first time.

Rain all the way to Cora Lynn, then mostly clear as I missed a turn and made my own way through to Lang Lang, coming in to Bayles on the side that previously we’d ridden out through, and probably cutting 5-10 km off the total distance. First break at a bakery in Lang Lang of a very tasty piece of cheesy bacon toast and a large mug sized cappuccino. Only 40km in, but that’s the coffeeneuring duty out of the way – now for the rest of the ride…

Lang Lang to Poowong is an easy stretch to navigate as there’s only the one road, on the negative side though, there is one large quarry and almost every year I’ve had hassles with the drivers of the gravel trucks thundering past with way too little clearance. Not this year though, I saw one truck go through ahead of me, and four or five heading in the opposite direction, none in my direction passing me.

Around about Nyora it started to rain again and continued to gently fall all the way up the ridge to Poowong where I had my second stop and an early lunch – dim sims and another cappuccino – then back out on damp roads but no rain. Just on 70km done, next stretch is around 30km along the ridge and down to Ellinbrook where the lunch stop has been at the church on previous years. Temperature hovering around 8.5°C, raining and with a strong gusty wind, some of this stretch was more exciting than I’d have liked, but at least there was hardly any traffic – I think everyone had decided to stay indoors. Initial thoughts had been to stop and take a photo at the church, but the cold and rain and locked front gate cancelled that idea… and at only 10km or so to Warragul and a possibly bail-out-onto-the-train point I decided to keep going.

Of course the weather eased off by Warragul and I was in a better frame of mind so I kept on going. Made a trade off of the “official route” along Bunyip River road against a more direct ride through the little towns – knowing I could pretty much follow the rail line back to Pakenham and catch a train at any point helped. Of course somewhere between Drouin and Longwarry I stopped to check the map, followed “Evans Road” as directed and found that firstly, it was gravel, potholed and corrugated, and secondly, took me further south and rejoined the Bunyip River Road and put me back on the official route! Oh well, nothing for it but to continue on to Cora Lynn for a second time then back north up Seven Mile road.

The Bunyip River Road has almost been my downfall in the past, long and straight and flat and usually into the prevailing winds, at least today there was hardly any wind and the rain had mostly ceased, if anything I found it enjoyable, if interminable. I did get a laugh as I finally made it to Cora Lynn, there on the sports ground in the grey dismal afternoon and the rain, the local team were playing cricket. Not a single spectator to be seen. I pulled in briefly to refill my water bottles and was swooped by the one and only magpie of the day. I’ve always had trouble forcing myself to drink enough on long rides, doubly so today riding in the cold and the rain, so I was probably more dehydrated than I should have been.

From Cora Lynn its then two or three more kilometres to the south-west before a right turn onto Seven Mile Road for the penultimate stretch back towards Nar Nar Goon. Eventually the turn off for Bald Hills Road came into view and I gave a little hooray, counting down the farm gate numbers from 700… 7km to town.

Of course it started pouring down pretty much as I turned the corner, if it had rained this hard anywhere earlier in the day I’d have headed straight for the nearest train station and a ride home!

I passed the closed up Chairo school and thought what I’d give for an end-of-ride hamburger like last year, right about now… Nothing for it but to squelch on to Pakenham, fingers crossed that my arrival would match up with the train timetable and not have me sitting on the platform for half an hour. My luck was in, pulling in at around 4.45 pm in time for a hot chocolate and some warm, if greasy, potato cakes, I could get straight onto the train for the 45 minute ride home.

2019 Coffeeneuring no. 6 -- The Solo Slog
2019 Coffeeneuring no. 6 -- The Solo Slog

So there it was, a Solo Slog, at nearly eight hours and 159.1km I could have gone for a ride around the block to get it up to an imperial century, but I chose not to. Too wet, too cold, enough for one day! I promise that my seventh coffeeneuring ride will be an easier one than this!

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