You can think of Audax rides a little like racing car driving. Some riders run a multiple stop strategy, some riders a no stop strategy, some riders a couple of stops strategy. Some riders will refuel; the equivalent of a wheel change, some will stop for an hour to what amounts to a full service. Some riders carry a boot load of clothes and food, some will closely examine the route sheet figuring out where to buy food. Some riders ask their girlfriends or wives to drive around after them with food and clothes, in exchange for cunnilingus. Most of the time you don’t need that much gear, but it doesn’t take much for everything to fall apart. Haven’t packed a proper rain coat and you slow down pretty quickly when you freeze on a descent. Get two flat tyres and the idea of sitting roadside hoping a patch will work isn’t that appealing. These trials don’t seem like a big deal when you imagine them from your couch, but if it’s 11pm and 5-7 degrees outside you quickly discover if you’re unprepared.
For most riders doing their first 600, simply finishing is the goal. After a couple of successful completions you figure out where you’re strong, where you could do better. Most beginners tend to break too long and too often. Some veterans like resting long and often. After a while you set yourself new goals, new challenges beyond just finishing. My aim this time was to see what happens. Having completed a 1200 six weeks earlier, I didn’t know if my energy reserves had been restored. They weren’t.
It was great to have some new faces line up for the Bunbury 600. Unfortunately I didn’t get to ride with them for very long. May be they have the bug now and will expand their long distance goals? The route was from Perth, east for a bit, through Serpentine, south to Yarloop, through Australind (yes they are good kebabs Danny) to Bunbury. This was the the end of the first 200km. Two riders stopped here. They were to skip the middle 200km and rejoin for the final 200 back to Perth. The conditions up until this point were superb. Strong tailwind, overcast, mostly smooth roads. Scarp to our left, grazing cattle either side. Tony was cruising around in the support vehicle, listening to John Butler with his arm on the window sill, offering words of advice and the odd sticky bidon. His enthusiasm knows no bounds and is infectious.
Back up a little. From Perth the riders split up into three basic groups. The fast group, the medium group and the cautious. At the back of the field was Greg, running a ‘no stop’ strategy. He didn’t even bring a change of clothes to have a shower at the back packers. The middle group, consisting of myself, Sean and Perry rolled along nicely. ‘Light em up’ Rob was clever to stay away from me so as to avoid being characterised in my report. Up front was where all the action was taking place. Guido, a fast, strong rider I’ve never ridden with before, had dragged a couple of newbies with him to Pinjarra, the 100km mark. All good. You’d hope anyone signing up for a 600 can squeeze out a 100 before breakfast. It’s usually after the 100km mark your endurance begins to be tested. Another little test Guido seemed to be running them through was navigation. After Pinjarra they missed a turn, rode a extra 6km down the road, retraced their steps and caught up to where I was taking a piss. They overtook me at 37km/h and I thought sweet, sprint to catch up, sit on and watch my heart rate go back down to 120bpm.
One of the new guys was struggling at third wheel, but then, to my amazement, he goes to the front for an all out pull. About 2km later he drifts back, rooted. Guido goes to the front for a little bit. Then another new guy in yellow has a short pull before drifting back and asking if I was doing the 600 or a local out for a cruise. Perhaps I looked too casual. We turned a corner into a head wind and both of the new guys fell off. Guido and I rode through Yarloop and took turns to the highway together where I dropped off to take it easy.
Fast forward. Guido rushes through Bunbury. The rest of us restock. Greg rolls through without even cleaning his glasses. I caught up to him on the other side of Capel and we rode together into the dark to Collie, the temperature dropping significantly. Must have been bonfire night as heaps of people were out toasting marshmallows under the stars. Over a dam bridge, fire light in the distance, owls hovering overhead. I get to thinking; you don’t see your home. Your head is full of issues. I’m sure if someone came from overseas they’d be much more descriptive. They say once you name something you don’t see it properly anymore. Having done a fair few of these rides in the south-west, I guess I’m slowly starting to call the area home; you see details, but you underestimate their significance.
Thanks to Greg’s meticulous planning and route knowledge I now knew we were on the steepest part of the route and would soon cresting the highest point of the ride. I prefer not to know about these things, but some people like to break the route down. On the main drag in Collie Tony waited for us with warm soup, camp chairs and encouragement to take a dump on the steps of the council chambers. It’s here that Tony tells us that at 325km Collie would have made for a preferable first night rest stop. But the first day distance might have put some people off. Spanner in the works occurs when his first accommodation preference is double booked and in great haste he must try to find a last minute alternative. Now, if Bunbury is a shit hole, then the Wander Inn Backpackers must be the lower intestine. In all my travels, and I have stayed in many, many hostels, this was easily the worst. Tony seemed to take great joy in telling me and Greg that, as ‘hard men’ of Audax, he didn’t think we’d mind joining in ‘jumping on the grenade’ with him. The latter meant sleeping in a room with about eight other 20-30 yr old boys who seemed to have been living there for a about a month, their stinky clothes and belongings all over the joint you have to kick out of the way to get to your bed. Half a dozen of them were sleeping off their hang overs at five in the afternoon when Tony ‘checked in’.
At least I had that to look forward to as I changed into warmer clothes, the temperature dropping to 5 degrees in Collie. 80km to Bunbury and Greg and I had a good ride together on what must be one of the best roads in the south west; Mornington Rd. A quiet, smooth mining road that rises a few times before falling off to the Hwy. A light on in the middle of a paddock and your ask yourself what living in the country would be like.
Greg and I knew our way there having done the same route for the Opperman earlier in the year, an event now known as Subway-gate, due to Tony’s nauseous insistence that “you blokes go on, I’m just going to have a nap outside for a while”.
A major lightning flash exploded on the horizon over Bunbury, symbolic in retrospect as we were pedalling by a power station. At about 11:30 I said goodbye to Greg and he turned around, back into the night to take on the final 200km back to Perth. The Wander Inn might be a cesspool, but it does make miracles happen. I walked into the backpackers and was getting my bearings, (having been openly laughed at by some of the inhabitants, as I must have looked like a large black dildo in my cold weather outfit) when to my amazement Perry was in room 20 getting his clothes together. This made no sense because he was behind us when we left Bunbury for the first time, we didn’t see him in Collie, and he didn’t pass us on the way.
I popped a sleeping pill hoping it will kick in by the time I had a shower. The room was as Tony described it and the lingering smell of beer breath and well worn nylon socks tickled my nostrils. I entered the shower like a overly nurtured silver spoon fed teenager sprinting across coral reef. There were three hooks for your clothes, hair all over the basin and toilet cubicles just big enough to bang your head on the door. I set my alarm for five am and let the pill work it’s magic. Three hours later I was woken by a snoring competition clearly won by the guy below me impersonating darth vader with double bronchitis. After trying to go to sleep twice I thought bugger this and started to get going. I walked out the front to try to find the kitchen when the door locked behind me so I had to walk out onto the wet street (in just my bibs) and reenter through a hole in the alley fence. Gross kitchen located, I quickly decided just to get going hoping an all night servo would have coffee chill. I packed my bag and put it in the room with the key for Tony to load in the morning.
On my way out two of the new guys were rolling in and I said good morning. The stretch from Australind to Forest hwy along the estuary is one of my favourites. The night sky clear although evidence of consistent rainfall that Greg copped. A long straight road heading into Yarloop, the high beam headlights of a car shine bright for 5km, the glow of the refinery over the horizon, the direction I’m headed. Through a dairy farm I have to pick a gap through cows crossing the road. Although the road was covered in shit, I was happy to be out of the hostel. And then…classic…a fist pump with no finishing line in sight; I’d forgotten to turn my alarm off. Like some friend or loved one thinking of you from the other side of the world, I kept getting these little thoughts that made me chuckle and I thought it was perfect revenge to get back at the snorers. Poor old Tony told me later that he’d practically jumped on two grenades as he had to lie in bed with his fingers in his ears trying to sleep. To his amazement no one else in the room seemed to be effected.
With little sleep I struggled home. I was stiffer than a sunbaked biscuit. I had no energy reserves and was running only on what I ate. I struggled to ride faster than 25km/h and couldn’t get my cadence over 90rpm. For some reason you get into a frame of mind where you’re always pushing the pain barrier. To make things worse I got a flat tyre at the start of the freeway that I couldn’t be bothered fixing, but of course had no choice about. Heaps of casual Sunday cyclists were out having a good time in post-Giro glow, whereas I was in a world of pain. Rolled into Deep Water Point solo, and to no reception, and felt like John Eyre walking into Albany having just walked across the Nullarbor. I need a significant other with a driver’s license, I guess.