Bunbury 600

 

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 with 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 heap 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 know 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 tell 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 him 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 them 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 know as Subway-gate, due to Tony’s nauseous insistence that “you blokes go on, I’m just going to have a nap in 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 in Bunbury, 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 going to sleep twice I thought bugger this and started to get going. I walked out the front to try to find the kitchen and the door locked behind me so I had to walk out onto the wet street (in just my bibs) and reenter through a whole 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. 
 

Montpellier Poem

The blasters have departed, the butts are all swept

now mongrels come to piss in the gullies

near the ring barked cypresses and the kitchen hand

wincing from cigarette smoke.

 

By noon all the boards are chalked

the first stoners sit on the church steps

the first cocktail is sipped, the ladies

aviators peered over and under and through.

 

The waitresses sore heels, her toes curl

when she speaks, bored

her meteorological mind is with the Mistral

the Cevennes, or Wolf Peak.

 

Humidity, hippy’s jamming and insomnia,

another sleepless night, open the window

close the window, cat curls in leg triangle,

thoughts with the love triangle.

 

You enter, like Ulysses knowing your head

and heart won’t handle the intensity,

so you divorce and timeshare the children,

sitting on stools, playing fools.

 

The square was quiet, now full

butts and black dots about our feet

he’s planning his irrational retreat

gold, myrrh, felspar.

 

A couple carrying their mattress

give way to a vespa, give or take,

hole or snake, his loneliness loaded like a syringe.

never going to be with anyone again, this week.

 

Her flingers flick specks of glitter

off her jeans onto polished travertine,

these vagabonds brandishing a partial map

of Montpellier, silently screaming over cake and cream.

 

A skulls worth of dandruff;

the erasure of our perceived mistakes

lying like a floor bound dart

or an island on the horizon.

 

You’ve read too much into her feet pointing your way

in bed reading Finnegan’s Wake

across the train views of a blue lake

that somewhere connects to the sea.

 

Almost all the men in my life are dead to me.

I have made these streets, and the streets have made me.

Col De Lussette and Mont Aigoul

“Would you ever take performance enhancing drugs?”

“Like most things, I’d try it. Just to see what difference they would make.”
“I’d try testosterone.”
“Apparently EPO doesn’t really do much unless you’re already fit.”
“Really?”
“I’d never take drugs in a race though.”
“Oh me neither.”
“Unless it was in the Tour.”
“Yeah, of course. Testosterone and EPO in the Tour.”
“Testosterone in Giro.”
“And the classics.”
“Well you want to win.”
“Probably in the local club race too, just to make sure.”
I want to go deeper. I want to go harder. I want to push myself. To see how hard the body can go. To see if I can push my body beyond the pain threshold. They say it’s mind over matter. Often it’s the opposite.
Today we have a big day of riding. Starting in Le Vegan we climb the Col De Lussette, then Mont Aguail. Then descend for about 30km back to Le Vegan. From a 75km ride back to Montpellier through rural France and two medium sized climbs. The distance would be no problem for me, but I’m still a baby in these mountains. Let’s face it, living in Perth, I’m a flatlander.
We depart Le Vegan slowly. Before too long, begin the first rise. The day before I’d been trying out a pedalling technique called ankling. This works, but my left leg is a little inflexible. Already I could feel it stiff. Also, I’m a big sissy. When you want to go hard, often the opposite happens. It’s difficult to visualise going hard or doing well in a place you’ve never been to before. These mountains demand respect. If you attack the mountain the mountain will attack you.
The scenery is stunning. Shane rides away. The switchbacks are regular. He disappears. I’m frustrated. Annoyed. I feel like a beginner. Like this was my first ride ever. I begin to blame the borrowed bike. Too heavy. Too big. I’m negative, but thankfully for the world, there’s no one to share it with. There’s little to do other than settle in as much as possible, wait for the summit to arrive.
At the top Shane is waiting. He’s happy. He has climbed faster than ever. Two days before we moved his seat back a little. Seems to have done the trick. His forehead has a line of dried salt. When I arrive I see he has dropped 20 euros on the ground. I stop over it and pick it up. Put it in my pocket without saying anything. We are surrounded by thin woods. We cannot see Mont Aigoul but that’s our destination.
The start of the climb to Mont Aigoul, two old ladies in team kit riding casually. We overtake them into a head wind. Shane rides off. Shortly afterward the ladies catch me again, see I’m struggling. ‘Grab my wheel’ she says, ‘don’t worry about taking a pull.’ Granny draft, nothing like it.
The final bend up to the summit of Mont Aigoul, the wind is gale force. A motorbike rider drops his machine in the carpark. His friend struggles and runs over to help. I am blasted up to 3 meters across the road. Forces me over to the shelter of the cars. There’s Shane. ‘The cafe is up there,’ he points. We walk into the wind holding our bikes. They fly horizontal next to us, whistling some alpine tune.
In the cafe an old friend of our’s doppleganger serves us chips and coke. We laugh, and laugh. Shane’s laughter ends when he empties his pockets and realises he’s lost 20 euro. This makes me laugh on the inside. He’s really annoyed with himself because he had lost another 20 euros a week before and this was his money decade. We’ve already ordered. ‘Got any money’ he asks? I pull out the sweaty blue note. ‘That’s mine’ he exclaims. ‘Sure is’ I say.
Shane explains his idea for a mountain with tunnels than turns small hills into high category climbs. ‘Perth needs a mountain’ I say. Luckily for me, Shane has the answer. We are good like this. We solve problems that don’t need solving. There are millions of problems out there already that do need solving, but we are unless in that regard. That’s our problem. Shane nearly buys some woollen socks made of polyester and cotton.
On the descent our good friend Richie returns. Every unsuspecting rider and pedestrian gets a blast of Richie as we pass. Even dogs. “RRIchchies.” “Alle Richie.” The sun is out and bees smack into your sunnies.

Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.

 

These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.

 

Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.

 

At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.

 

I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.

 

There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.

 

White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.

 

On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.

 

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Day 6 and 7: Riding with Shane Starling in Girona.

 

Day 6 was meant to be an easy stroll west out of Girona for 30km and then back as a sort of recovery ride from the previous two days. We rode about 5km up a road and then it turned to gravel. Riding further meant dealing with traffic and I couldn’t be bothered and threw in the towel. Shane tried to ride on but was back at the apartment not long after. Then it started raining and we were glad with our decision. 
 
 Day 7: Today we packed everything up and left Girona. We drove north to a little town called Roses and climbed up to a grand peak 20km from the town. We then cut through a valley and emerged at El Port de la Salva. A big bunch of riders caught up as we stood at an intersection and deliberated on a direction. These riders would catch and pass us on the way up a massive hill between us and Roses, where we would finish for the day. After the ride we found a bar that would put the cycling on for us and watched them ride up a mountain in snow eating steak, eggs and chips.