Gravel grinding on Mt Perseverance

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Today’s ride had EVERYTHING.

Crashes. Blood. Mud of the stickiest type you could imagine. Gravel of all shapes, variety and colour. Mist — like the kind of mist that fogs up your camera and where everyone more than 10 metres away looks like a ghost. Drinking untreated water. Rain and baking sun. (the kind of SUN that means I am now sunburnt despite 2 layers of sunscreen.) Five hours in the saddle.

And officially THE MOST flat tyres on a ride ever. (I am pretty sure it beats every single Werewolves ride. Maybe even them all combined!)

Oh and epic ‘Gramin of course. After all — Bennett was in attendance. 

So Brad had researched and organised our super-gravel-ride today and it started, 7am, at a place called Helidon just at the base of the Toowoomba Range — about an 80 minute drive from the Brisbane CBD.

On a computer screen it looked like this.

And I figured it was achievable. 62km and around 1100m of elevation. I haven’t done much riding lately but I’ve kinda kept some skills up-to-date. Up until today via the tales I’d heard on the internet — 62kms on a MTB roughly equates to about 100km on a road bike. But I don’t believe that shit anymore.

I had no idea how tough this ride turn out to be.

Gravel isn’t just that dirt and rocks that sap your speed. It’s those ruts that are virtually 50 speed bumps all 20cm apart that don’t just fuck your momentum — they render much of any effort you put in redundant. Gravel is also swimming left and right about the road trying to find the smoothest and safest route. Gravel (can mean) you have to stay in your saddle while climbing lest you lose traction in your rear (drive) wheel and thus you spend much more time using certain specific muscles — whereas on bitumen you often get the chance to share the effort by standing up (and give your bum a break). Gravel can turn to mud which cakes your tyres like it was superglue and instantly doubles their weight.

Gravel is a massive challenge.

THE STATS

But let’s get back to the start. There were 15 of us. And here is the tally of tyre flats (in alphabetical order – SPOILERS!):

Adrian – 0 (but about 5438 times his chain fell off)
Bennett – 0
Brad – 0
Connor – 0
Declan – 1
Dave (me) – 0
Geoff – 0
Jeremy – 2 (a double flat)
Jon – 0
Jordie – 0
Josh – 3 (incl a double)
Mark – 0
Nate – 1
Rhys – 1
Scott – 0
Stefan – 3 (including broken spoke)

MOUNTAIN BIKES vs CYCLOCROSS (CX)

So I was on an MTB (with 2 others) while the other 10 riders were on CX bikes. They are lighter and have thinner tyres so require a little bit less effort to roll. But they do get a LOT of flats. I think after the 25km mark I would have cried if I had got a flat. (more on that later)

IMG_0085This is Geoff — also on a MTB (as was Mark)

BOTTLES

The first 10kms was mostly bitumen — but here was our first taste of gravel. And then DISASTER!

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We all hit this massive succession of ruts and suddenly water bottles were flying out of cages everywhere. Well — only two but they both happened in stereo. I stopped and retrieved them knowing water (or lack of) might be an issue on this ride. One belonged to Bennett who had the sense to stop. But Jordan kept riding! And he only had that single bidon. Anyway, the crew waited for us about 2km down the road and Jordie was pretty relieved to get his bottle back. There was only two chances of water later in the ride. At Murphy’s Creek and supposedly non-potable rainwater at the lookout at the very top of the ride (34kms in).

Meanwhile Connor had packed 2 bottles for the ride in his car but had completely forgotten to put them on his bike before we left. He then found a random Orchy Juice bottle on the side of the road and then filled it up at a tap in Murphy’s Creek.

That’s resourcefulness.

Personally I would have abandoned the ride in that situation.

DIRT and DOGS and CLIMBS

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And then the dirt was omnipresent. We wouldn’t see bitumen until the last 7km.

This next section, roughly about the 20km mark meant the group split. The tough guys were all trying to get Strava KOM’s on this virgin territory so they sped ahead. (They were also quietly trying to pwn Brad).

But while they were going nuts I was starting to feel a bit rubbish. I was towards the end of the bunch and found myself talking to Brad (pictured below).

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Brad attempted to talk to me about my favourite subject — Star Wars — but I was so fucked that I had trouble concentrating and responding. Normally I could talk Star Wars underwater but right then I was in real trouble. My legs had these hints that cramps just might get involved.

Rhys was struggling like me and eventually I got off the bike and walked. He soldiered on on but did succomb at one point. I had to walk about 4 times in total over the next 12ks.

At the top the world got foggy. I had to take off my sunglasses as they just became opaque. There was a lot of rainforest up there and big, big trees.

The guys up front reported they had been threatened by a dog that was at one point about to bite through a tyre. The dogs out that way aren’t fenced in. It seems to be a recurring story. On Brad’s earlier reconnaissance he had a similar experience.

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IMG_0108Jon getting acquainted with a random horse

IMG_0112Bennett ‘Gramin!

FIRST FLATS

After this picture above — that’s when the flat tyres started. Just a few seconds into our next stanza. There was a double flat (Stefan) and then Josh punctured too. They literally hit the same rock it seems. Rhys and me and Adrian just soft-rolled onwards. I was in such trouble I was happy to just get through a few kilometres at the most basic of speeds while repairs were done and we could find a nice place to wait a bit further down the road.

We waited in that epic cloud at what I now realise was the highest point of our adventure. Around 800m I presume.

Rhys attempted to ‘gram a pic of his bike trying to keep it upright with a stick. Unfortunately I missed the bit when that failed and just as he was about to take the pic his bike was sideways!

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And then everyone else arrived through the mist. The only reason I could take this picture was because I heard them first.

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DOWN AND UP TO GUS’ LOOKOUT

IMG_0127.JPGMy tyres just got nuts with mud

So the next bit was a whole lot of down via a road designated as only traversable in “Dry Conditions”. We were almost immediately were met by a car coming up (flagerantly ignoring that dry-road vibe.) The road was so narrow we stopped completely to allow it to pass. It should be said that these roads were so remote I think this was one of only 5 or 6 cars that engaged us that entire day.

Meanwhile the route was all downhill but this was all mud. Red, red mud that stuck to everything. My wheels were now twice as wide and when you went over gravel the rocks stuck at low speed but then spun out into your face when you got a bit faster.

The road steadily deteriorated. At times it had bathtub sized holes — conveniently filled with brown water if you felt inclined for a swim.

Then it was up and up to the lookout. Of course there were no views. But Brad assured us it was a truly amazing vista in clear conditions. I believe him. On the way down I spied a few glimpses through the trees that were gobsmacking.

Here’s what it might have looked like: (NOT MY PICTURE)

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Here’s what it looked like today:

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CARNAGE

Next we headed down. With all that speed and being on a refreshing sliver of bitumen my tyres suddenly started spewing out all that mud. It was like a mud version of a Catherine-Wheel. I was sans-sunglasses courtesy of the misty-gloom. So I wasn’t just blinded by mist — but mud too.

But the faster I went the more mud was decamped. So I was in a bit of a conundrum. See Brad had warned us that there was a very acute right turn coming up that would arrive very suddenly. But a few of us forgot that instruction (looking at you Adrian!) and found themselves having to backtrack for not the first time. I managed to pull up and do that rather technical turn over what could be described as a potential bit of quicksand.

Then the flat tyres started again. It was one after the other and then another.

It just got ridiculous.

And the road was descending quite rapidly. The CX riders were going nuts. Over 70kms per hour at some points. And Rhys was in front and he over-cooked a massive downhill chicane. He went through a bush at the right and done one of those emergency unclips to stop. But Stefan was right behind him and had no option but to crash on the left. Geoff was third and procedurally decided to stop by deliberately washing out sideways. I arrived only a few seconds later. Geoff was signalling the danger to everyone behind but I was in no trouble having been very generous with the brakes.

Stefan was all bloodied and had another flat. Rhys had to give him one of his spare tubes.

Somehow Rhys had chopped the top off one of his bidons. Impressive.

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NEXT

Thankfully those last 30kms were about 70% downwards.

There was a few pinches but they were brief and I took it as easy as I could. Thanks to all those flats a big bunch of the crew were miles behind. Nate said they had just repaired a tyre and then literally 50ms down the road they had to do another. Must have been stupidly frustrating.

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Scott and Rhys and Stefan and Declan and Connor went ahead and me and Adrian kept a more conservative pace. Mostly cause Adrian kept dropping his chain. He would roll up to me and then suddenly say, “Oh shit, I’ve dropped my chain again.” This literally happened three times.

So Adrian and I enjoyed the last 7kms which was on tarmac and on a sweet, sweet descent. Here is Adrian doing a sweet skid for the camera:

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LOST?

So it was just Adrian and Me in that last 10kms. And we were a tiny bit worried we were lost. The guys in front had long since disappeared and there was no sign of any one behind.

But we got to this built-up area and felt a bit more confident. At this cross road we couldn’t work out which way to go. I saw a woman in her garage and asked her if this was “Helidon”. “Yes,” she said. Awesome. Then we asked directions to the centre of town. She was instantly befuddled. After a bit of trying to give us directions she went and got her husband to explain. We had that time to look it up on our phone but we were polite enough to wait.

And it turned out we were only 200m away. What?

Meanwhile at the SPAR it only took about another 15-20 minutes for everyone to reconvene.

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Geoff had brought the VB. It was Australia Day after all.

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IMG_0146.JPGThis is Stefan having just washed up all his wounds at the public toilet in Helidon.

IMG_0147.JPGI took my shoes off and my legs were ginger

BONUS PICS

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David Bowie

It seems David Bowie was a constant feature of my childhood – and that is no exageration.

My parents gave me this book as a very young kid about famous “david”s. I was only maybe 4 or 5 so this book must have been printed mid 70s or late 70s at best. And this was my first understanding of this character called “David Bowie”. The book presented him as this bigshot music star – but to me – not only was he a megastar with the very same name as me – but crucially, he was a ginger too. That was a stupidly important thing to me. Back then I was often defined more a “ginger” than a “david”.

And in that book he was the only “David” that was contemporary. There was King David from the Bible and Davy from the Monkees (which was a tiny bit cool). And then this Davy Crockett who’s claim to fame was that he had a cool hat.

There was no Lynch or Tennant or Beckett (just kidding) back then. But with Bowie I was entirely satisfied I was in good company.

The next thing I knew about Bowie was this crazy song called “Space Oddity”. I was so young but still quite a bit of a music fan. But this was a song I fucking knew sounded nothing like anything else on the radio. It out-weirded the most experimental of the Beatles – even Pink Floyd – yet it was still so accessible. So manageable for my tiny mind that just wanted to rock but at the same time be taken on a journey like Star Wars. I never used to pay attention to lyrics much until that song. It was my first ever proper story-song. 

I remember hearing it at the darkest of night on a car trip home from Ipswich and we were going over the Turbot Street overpass. Everything just conspired that evening to literally take me into an outerspace adventure. And a seriously tragic mystery too. I knew music could do that – with star wars and battlestar galactica – but this was brand new.

And it should be said I was utterly obsessed with space back then. I was next level obsessed.

And I am guessing that song is still pretty unique as an epic pop song set in space.

Dancing
Then there was “dancing in the street” where he did this hammy duet with Mick Jagger for Live Aid. Just for perspective: Live Aid was almost as important as Star Wars back then. My dad bought that song on a 45 single and I would play it over and over. 

Next it was a movie he was in – The Labyrinth. I definitely watched it as a kid but the movie didn’t really hook me and it didn’t make much sense that Bowie was a big deal. Later his “Goblin King” thing was something my generation tried to appreciate. Bowie was more than that to me.

Hits

All the while I was older and older and I guess his “hits” were always around. And I guess I just thought of him as “hits”. like everyone else I had that greatest hits collection and he just existed in that era where every major pop star or group was suddenly a “compilation album”. 

Seven

My favourite movie once I was kinda an adult was SEVEN. And I was so in love with that movie that I had bought a brand new Bowie single – “The heart’s filty lesson”. it was so creepy yet so good. I was pretty impressed that such an old guy could be relevant again.

Years later

But it was Wintah who made me listen to a whole proper album of his. Like beginning to end. My Little Lovers bandmates – Wintah and Ben – were massive fans and Ben had this DVD of Bowie performing live. I think he loved “Young Anericans” best. They played it over and over.

And this was before YouTube really had “everything”. If you wanted to see a music video – you pretty much had to buy it.

So I asked Wintah for a Bowie album to devour and he thought about it for a bit and finally said, “Hunky Dory”. So that’s where I got balls deep into Mr Davey Jones.

So later

When I went to Berlin for the first time (and only time) I downloaded all of Bowie’s Berlin albums as research. True Story.

It didn’t really help as far as what to do or what to see – not that I expected that. But it was my soundtrack because this was my very first trip somewhere overseas where I just entirely on my own. There was no Dee and only one mate (susie/sullivan) over there to visit. I was quite a bit scared and needed everthing I could to help me through. 

I like to think that Bowie helped me on that journey.

Now

So here we are. Dee and I were yesterday discussing how so many rockstars had died within such a short period. “Who’s next?” Dee asked.

I half-said “ringo” or “keith richards”.

Dee was like, “No way!”

But in my head I remember considering David Bowie, but I was immediately like – “That’s stoopid”.

Just as we were going to sleep on Sunday night Michael messaged me asking if I had heard Bowie’s (just released) new album – I hadn’t.

And to my discredit I had no interest in it. Bowie was my past – not my future. I feel so shit about that because he was probably in the throes of death as I thought that. This morning I wrote back asking if it was “any good”. Not expecting much.

Michael said it was his best album since the 70s. High praise. I really trust his taste but, this day, at 10am Monday January 11, I just forgot.

And then I was home and had had a shower and fed the chooks, collected the eggs, and taken both the recycling and normal bin out. And then I was stacking the dishwasher when I saw 4 messages on my phone. Bowie was dead.

I called Dee straight away. I was almost in tears. What the hell?

Then I dug out all our Bowie records and I put “Heroes” on first. And I cranked that song so fucking loud the floors shook. I didn’t care what the neighbours (or the chooks) thought. 

And then I opened the front door and sat on the steps and appreciated it from the outside. 

I kinda knew I wouldn’t be alone in my grief today.