After seemingly going out of 'her' way to take us through every single road toll in Sydney, GyPSy (my car GPS) then led us on what must have been the most roundabout route to St Albans in existence.
I swear we drove down every minor road and doubled back on ourselves at least half a dozen times as we faithfully followed the pink line on the screen and GyPSy's instructions to turn left here, turn right there (whilst the recommended google route on my iPhone seemed to just head straight up a highway), but eventually we arrived at Wiseman's Ferry, where we had a pub meal before we crossed on the ferry and continued the last 20kms up to St Albans and set up our tent in the dark in the paddock for a night with all the other competitors.
|The Luxury Accommodation option ...|
We had two hours to kill before the last wave and our start time, which gave us plenty of time to wander back to our car, pull the bikes out of the back, put them together and get back to the race starting chute (via the smelly portaloos unfortunately).
Now, a bit of a mix up occurred at this point.
On the drive out last night, Kim had advocated for a start in Group 4, which was the 3+ hour social riders group (and realistically where we belonged based on previous race times), but I wanted to start in Group 3 (pack fodder) because my experiences in other races was that if you started too far back ... well you missed out on all the fun riding because you were stuck behind idiots that had seeded themselves too highly only to get to the first piece of actual single-track where they got off and walked choking up the track for everyone else behind them.
But, overnight, Kim's thinking started to appeal to me, and I had one of those "here's a new idea" moments when it suddenly occurred to me that instead of racing around the track, gutting myself, and missing out on all of the fun of the race ... just to shave 36 seconds off a 4 hour 32 minute race time ... I could, instead, deliberately set out to just ride the route at a fast touring pace and actually enjoy myself along the way ... so I decided overnight to start in group 4.
Kim, meanwhile, had decided that we should in fact start in group 3 given our late starting time (nearly 10am) and that we had to drive to Katoomba after the race. Isn't that typical - for the first time in two years, Kim agrees that I'm actually right about something, but then I disagree with myself.
The end result of this was right up until the call up for group 3 riders we were still uhming and ahing about which group to start in, and then (as we figured out later) Kim said something like "So are you coming in group 3 with me?" which I heard as "I'm going in group three." so I said "OK, you go in group three, but I'll go with group four" which Kim heard as something like "OK, we'll go in group three, not group four".
Which is why Kim got into the Group 3 starting chute and then wondered where the hell I was for the rest of the race whilst I happily pushed my bike off to the end of a very long group 4 line thinking how great it is that we are such good communicators and can choose to each ride our own races.
As you might notice from the photos above, I was a long way back from the starting line, but in my new 'touring' mode I wasn't too worried about this, and instead, once I finally got rolling, I just cruised along at my own pace taking photos and enjoying the ride.
The first 10 kilometres of the race were along a good gravel road running beside the river, heck the first few kilometres were even on a bitumen road, so the riding was fast and easy and despite pulling the camera out on several occasions to take photos I still found myself rapidly motoring up through the pack, and by about five kilometres into the race had settled into a bit of a micro-peleton with two other riders as we motored up through the pack picking off heaps of riders every time we came to a slight incline.
In my arrogance at this point in time, I started to envisage coming in sight of Kim (whose group had started 5 minutes in front of mine) before we even hit the first big hill.
Then just as I was working on the wording for the witty one liner I would make as I pulled alongside her (Kim loves my witty one liners) my back tire punctured (I suspect Kim prefers me to puncture than inflict my witty one liners on her which at the time of puncture went along the lines of "hey babes, let's smash it").
I couldn't believe it as I pulled over and stared at my rapidly deflating tire. This couldn't be the Wombat 100 all over again could it? Not another race ending puncture. I stared forlornly into the distance at the two guys I had been riding with, one of them looked back and realised I was a goner, then he just turned and carried on in his own race ... exactly as I would have done this early in the race.
I looked at my GPS. I had done 6kms.
Fortunately, I had learnt something from last years Wombat. You see this is the pump I had taken with me on the wombat last year ...
However this year, I had added an extra pump to my arsenal, specifically I had added a full on overspec'd miniature foot pump ...
Yes, it was a tad less convenient to carry, but it did mean that I was able to whip out the big pump, inflate the tyre, find the leak, rotate it to the ground so Stan's Stop leak could do what it does, wait 30 seconds for Stan's to do what it does (it was a big puncture), help a lady who had pulled up alongside me needing to borrow my multi-tool, and then inflate my tyre a second time, pack pump back up and get on the road ... all in just four and a half minutes and described here in it's full glory so that Kim can understand why tubeless tyres aren't the most useless things on this earth after the slow cooker and bread makers which sit in my kitchen, but do instead rock.
Unfortunately, it also only took four and a half minutes for practically every single other rider in the field to go past me leaving me once again at the back of the pack.
|Nope ... not many riders left behind (and I'd just overtaken these guys)|
Now, to put my concerns over this hill into some context, you have to look at the course profile from the Convict 100 website which creates (I would argue) certain nervous expectations for this hill ...
You have to admit, it looks sort of daunting in the profile and the signs on the course don't exactly dispel your concerns ...
When I got there, I could see how steep it was simply from the fact that suddenly I found myself back in a pack of tightly bunched cyclists ... all pushing their bikes up this hill. So I rode up until there was no where else for me to go because the track was choked up by cyclists on both sides and then I got off to push with the rest of them.
... and that's when it hit me, I was stopping to take pictures and I was talking to everyone I was passing whilst all around me was silence except the gasping of pushing cyclists ... I was in the wrong group, I had more to give than these guys did, and that's what was wrong.
I immediately clambered back onto my bike and started riding. This was better, my legs started burning badly and I was having to hoover oxygen into my body to keep spinning the wheels, but this felt right. I was passing gaggles of cyclists. Another guy sort of woke up out of a coma as I rode past and jumped on his bike and set off after me (maybe he was a zombie - they do that on The Walking Dead) and between us we motored up a good section of the hill before hitting a pack of cyclists so thick we had to get off and join them walking until the top of a short steep section where we jumped back on, came around a corner ... and found ourselves at the top.
Now, we'd been warned several times at the start line to be careful of the water races because each year someone gets helicoptered out after hitting them too hard, but I was finally on some fast, fun, undulating track and every time I hit a short climb I was cutting a swathe through the back of the pack riders and this felt good. So after having to sit on the brakes for several downhill sections stuck behind more timid riders, I finally hit a big downhill just after passing a group of riders and found myself on the crest of a hill with no one in front . I wanted to enjoy it.
So I just went for it.
I hit the first two water races perfectly swooping through and even getting some nice air under me, then I hit the third one and it all just went wrong.
As soon as I hit it, I knew I had too much speed and so I tried to push out my front wheel to balance my landing, but instead I pushed the front wheel down slightly and found myself locked in this horrible moment in time.
I felt the back wheel lifting up further and further behind me and all I could do was look down the very steep track in front of me with just enough time to register that I was clipped into my bike, in the air, with the momentum of my jump spinning me over and that I was about to face plant into a steep, rocky hill at over 40km/hr, , and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
The front wheel touched the ground and I just stared at the rushing ground in front of me thinking this is it.
Then some sort of miracle happened ... the bike skipped down on the front wheel for a few metres metres and then somehow, some god-unknown how, the back wheel dropped onto the track underneath me, I speed wobbled a bit and then just kept going. I was alive and unhurt.
I have never been so certain of my own impending death, and let me tell you it is not as cool a feeling as you might think it would be.
One of the guys that I had just overtaken pulled up beside me and said something like "That was close" and I think that summed it up perfectly.
This slowed me down a bit for a while as I flushed out all the adrenalin, but a bit like a goldfish, my memory is pretty short and after cramming in two cokes and a banana at the 28km refreshment station I was back out on my quest to ride down every rider in front of me ... which when you're at the back of a race with several hundred riders in it, this is something that will keep you happily entertained until the finish line.
Now just to be clear, there isn't a single section of single-track on this entire circuit (nor do you get to ride the iconic raft bridge you see in all the promos in the 50km event). The first 10kms (roughly) is along flat gravel and bitumen roads, then there's about 25kms along mostly good quality fire trails and 4wd tracks, before you come back out onto a gravel road again and ride a very fast last 13kms (it's actually only 48kms) back to the finish line.
Kim found this really disappointing, but I loved it because it got around all the getting stuck behind people problems you usually have in these races, which was why I had a hoot pushing through the last 7 or 8kms of track out to the road from the drink station (including several cool sections of soft sand and a great section of downhill where I confess I did use my brakes a little bit more than normal).
Once on the road, I quickly got myself into a paceline with two other riders, which had grown to about three of us working together and about 5 or 6 hangers on by the time we hit the first little hill on the road.
As we started up what I thought was a rather gentle incline, I suddenly found myself popping out of the front of the paceline as everyone around me flicked over into climbing gears and I just kept on going as I had been. I looked back at the top of the hill and realised I'd made a pretty decent gap on the group, and seeing there were more riders in front of me, went back to my time honoured rule .. when someone is in front of you, overtake them, when they're behind, forget them.
Repeat this until the end of the race.
I rode past an unfortunate rider who had gone head first into a car coming in the other direction and I also saw a helicopter fly overhead heading off towards the bush where I had so very nearly come undone. Both reminders that the race isn't over until it's over.
I finally pulled into the finish in just under 3 hours where I was handed a free beer and found myself a happy, smiling, if somewhat dusty girlfriend who had just finished five minutes before.
Kim had developed a very sore knee half way through the race, so was unable to ride up the hills resulting in here placing just outside the top 12 (read 13th) in her category. I'm so happy for her.
I meanwhile, despite my puncture, had smashed it out around the whole course and for my efforts had managed to place in the ... wait for it .... top 200 in my category (read I finished a rather pitiful 196th). What a star!
As we packed up the bikes and hit the road on our way out to Katoomba, we both agreed it was a pretty darn good day that needed just one more thing ....
A comfortable B&B.