Over hill and dale

I went for a bit of a bike ride this past weekend. I had a lot of fun, and goddamn it, learned some stuff.

Mount Baw Baw would be one of the toughest road cycling climbs Australia has to offer. I’d read a harrowing account that makes it sound terrifying, and anyone I knew who’d ridden it spoke of it with wide-eyed awe. I’d been keen to get on it for a while and the planning and weather finally paid off and I got to give it a whirl.

I wanted to make a real day of it so my mate Tim and I parked near Powelltown, some way away from the mount, which turned our day out into a 130 kilometre epic with a total of 2900 metres climbed. Much of that climbing height is gained in the not un-gentle undulations that leading up to the start of the proper climb. But once the approach is over it’s the intimidating steepness of the mighty mountain itself that makes it the real test-piece.

Mount Baw Baw would probably be the steepest thing I’ve ever been on, and though I hold the Back of Falls Creek up as the hardest thing I’ve ever ridden, Baw Baw would be on a par, albeit it much shorter.

But geez, this is one steep mother. There are a couple of times on the climb where you come around a corner and the road cranks up at a comically horrifying angle, just impossibly, heinously steep. I actually LOLed to myself at one of them. Coming around a steep hairpin and watching the road head straight up, I was all “…the fuck?!?”. And then I dug in and kept muscling them cranks.

I was in good shape for the ride: well nourished, well rested, feeling pretty fit. I got to weaving on one straight section for about 300 metres – 20% gradient means you don’t have a gear low enough to actually turn the cranks over in a straight line and have to weave back and forth across the face of the road to keep moving – but mostly I was fine for gearing. Every kilometre to the top was marked off in paint on the bitumen, and I found those markers really useful. At 3 kms to go I was feeling great and knew I had it nailed.

It went really well for me, and riding Mount Baw Baw turned out to be one of the genuinely great days I’ve had on the bike. I totally loved every bit of that climb, and felt really good doing it. The sound of the tire rubber pumping up the road accompanied by my breathing, and no other earthly sound, climbing up through the mist and cresting at the top into weak sunshine…I spent most of the ride in a wonderful meditative state. It wasn’t painful or hard as such. Really, I just felt as good as I could possibly feel.

My buddy Tim struggled. He’s a fit guy and a decent cyclist but he’d never attempted a day on the bike like this before. He took lots of breaks and arrived a full 40 minutes after me, but his pride in having done it was super intense, and rightly so – he did something very hard both psychologically and physically. Gusty effort. I’m really happy for him.

I got home and saddled up the kids in the bike trailer and off we all pedalled to Carols in the park. I ate poorly and drank too much beer and ran around crazily with the kids, then got home late and crashed. I woke up feeling like a truck had hit me. Sunday was horrible – cranky, tired, flaky in the brain, a headache that wouldn’t quit.

That’s what I learned this weekend: Recovery is utterly key. As usual, I’d prepped super well for the ride but hadn’t looked after myself in the time after. Not the first time I’ve made that mistake but I’m aiming to make it the last.

I can’t wait to get out there and ride that mountain again.

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