Strava File: https://www.strava.com/activities/455470100
Each year I like to do a Xmas ride. It's often been a pilgrimage back to Adelaide, the city where I grew up, but not always. It's a time to reflect on the year that's about to end and think forward to the future. This year I invited a good mate of mine, Sarah Hammond, to come along for the ride.
Don't know Sarah? Well, she's on the Jaggad squad with plenty of long ride and Everesting experience. Sarah has signed up for the 2016 Trans Am Bike Race, a race I was lucky enough to take part in (and win, woo!) in 2015. I'm super excited that she's taking on this awesome challenge. During my race, while rolling across the open plains of Eastern Colorado and flat windy fields of Kansas, I was reminded of my rides between Melbourne and Adelaide. So to help Sarah prepare for her race we set out from Melbourne to Adelaide on an route that I've ridden a few times now. To add to the fun we thought we'd ride the 800 km course straight through, stopping only for food, water and the occasional rest. I'm a firm believer in building a bank of experiences to draw upon, or reflect on, when times get tough. The ride from Melbourne to Adelaide non-stop usually provides this sort of experience when the wheels start to fall off and things get weird during the night!
Sarah has plenty of experience with long rides, but this was her longest yet in one hit. What did she think of the experience? "Rolling from Melbourne to Adelaide was awesome, then really horrible and then awesome again. Anyone can cover distance, it's how quickly you want to get there and even more so what happens during that period that is both the challenge and reward." With that in mind, I'll let a few pictures tell the story of what happens during this sort of adventure.
We started in darkness, rolling out of Melbourne at 3 am. We started with a busy highway section to Ballarat amazed at where all the traffic was going so early on a Monday morning. The trucks and some unexpected rain helped keep us awake. The blurry photo reminds me of the blurry eyes I often get at dawn. Sore eyes need to adjust to the new day's light.
We covered ground quickly through the first day, stopping occasionally in small towns along the way. You don't need to carry much during summer time in Australia when the weather is warm and you can take your pick of towns to resupply at every 50 km or so.
"We've got places to be" was the catch cry as we kept our stops short with a goal of reaching the border with some light still in the sky. We flew through the first day, reaching the border at about 430 km well before sunset, which is a pretty cool thing to do! While there were high fives all around, we knew things would most likely get weird through the night. The sunset was spectacular on the roll into Naracoorte on quiet roads, and yes... things were about to get a bit weird.
Through the night, Sarah's lack of sleep started to catch up with her. In the days leading up to our ride, Sarah had been busy with work late into the night and a few extremely hot nights didn't allow her the sleep she needed in the lead up. "Even when sleep kicked in around the 550 km mark my legs were still travelling well. Things get weird during this stage, you can't explain to others the disorientation and hallucination that occurs. Jesse and I covered everything from singing to bad joke telling in a bid to keep me mostly awake. I kept hitting sleep walls badly, needing a handful of stops, be it the side of the highway lying on rocks, or the floor of a public toilet, just to shut my eyes for 5 mins."
Sarah would ask me if I was seeing the wombats running across the road. I wasn't. There were no wombats. Her sleepy eyes were confusing period gaps in the white lines for animals moving across the road. It's remarkable what a ten minute rest can do though. Even though she never slept, shutting her eyes for ten minutes was enough to get them working again.
For me, this section was tough. I was feeling fine while riding, but would start to get sleepy when we stopped. Luckily I was able to bluff my way though it.
The section from Keith through to Tailem Bend on the Dukes Highway is always tough. It comes after about 600 km of riding once fatigue has set in. The road surface is dead chip-seal, the type that has you looking down to check for flat tyres or brake rub. It's hard work. If you stop pedalling, you stop. To add to the torment, the terrain is flat. There's nothing to focus on - no hilltops to aim for and very few bends in the road. It's flat drag strip where time seems to stand still.
Once the sunrise came things got a little easier. We took a few 10 min stops to rest the eyes along the way. Any old bit of concrete would do. As the day progressed it started to heat up. The challenge was the dealing with a lack of shade, bugs and the agitation that comes with sleep deprivation. The long stretches of highway that offered no real distraction until the Adelaide Hills started about 740km into the ride.
After 740 km, and 600 km of flat time-trialing, there's some tough climbing through the Adelaide hills to finish. When you first do this sort of ride, you naturally worry about getting over the hills in a wonky sleep-deprived state with weary legs. As it turns out, the hills are a relief. As Sarah said, "You'd think a heavy dose of climbing to finish would be tough but the need to change gears regularly and the beautiful visual distraction of my surrounds was the perfect solution to staying alert." It's tough to fall asleep while working hard up climbs!
It's a crappy iPhone photo, but a view of Adelaide on the final descent comes with relief. With the ocean in the distance, it's a sign that the suffering is almost over.
Any final thoughts, Sarah? "Loved every second of this ride, even the horrible parts."
A huge congratulations to Sarah for getting through this ride. She battled through the tough times, when 99.9% of people would have given up. In terms of preparation for ultra-endurance racing I don't think you couldn't ask for a better experience. It's only when things go wrong, or diverge from how you want things to go, that you start learning. Sure she could've ridden it a few hours faster had she been well rested in the lead up, but she wouldn't have learned anything from that. Hopefully when Sarah faces tough times during the Trans Am, she'll reflect on her spin to Adelaide and know that she can get through anything that's thrown at her.