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.
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)
This is Geoff — also on a MTB (as was Mark)
The first 10kms was mostly bitumen — but here was our first taste of gravel. And then DISASTER!
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.
Personally I would have abandoned the ride in that situation.
DIRT and DOGS and CLIMBS
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).
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.
Jon getting acquainted with a random horse
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!
And then everyone else arrived through the mist. The only reason I could take this picture was because I heard them first.
DOWN AND UP TO GUS’ LOOKOUT
My 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)
Here’s what it looked like today:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Geoff had brought the VB. It was Australia Day after all.
This is Stefan having just washed up all his wounds at the public toilet in Helidon.
I took my shoes off and my legs were ginger