I awoke at 4am to the sound of Placebo's (version of) "Running Up That Hill"; a soothing tune under normal circumstances, but perhaps not the most appropriate before a cycling event based around a climbing course - I certainly did not wish to be running up any hills off-the-bike today. Whilst the original rendition had been one of Kate Bush's most successful releases, with inclusion on the 2012 London Olympics Soundtrack, I was not aiming to break any records today.
As per the first Tablelands Audax last month, "Get High On The Tablelands" offered two similar distances of approximately 110km and 204km. Unlike the first however, the courses on offer promised a few more ups and downs at 1,355m and 2,575m of elevation respectively. Having completed the 204km option at the first event, and with a cycling trip to Japan departing in four days time, I opted for the shorter distance.
Arriving at registration in Atherton around 6am, I was greeted by dark ominous clouds off-set by the smiling and excited face of Ride Organiser Gayle Sticher. Gayle delighted in praising the record-breaking attendance at her first event the previous month, and indeed the 49 registered riders for todays event; 36 for the 110km and 13 for the 204km. With multiple cycling events scheduled for today, this was a very positive sign for the future of Audax in the Far North.
Today's scenic 110km route had us starting in Atherton and passing through the townships of Herberton, Wondecla, Toumalin and Ravenshoe (via Toumalin Rd), before returning to Atherton via the Kennedy HIghway.
After a brief moment of panic on the start line for Gary Perkins (Owner of Bicycle Central on Mulgrave) - in the form of a last-minute flat tyre - we were off and ... chatting.
Given the cooler Tableland conditions, and the threat of rain looming, some elected to keep their warm gear on for the start. I opted to brave the first 9km, knowing that the 2km climb (~180m vertical gain) up and over the Atherton-Herberton Range would warm me up soon enough if I wasn't already.
After multiple conversations with various riders on the obligatory topics, my pack of merry men and women rolled through Herberton (~19km) and continued on. I was expecting a brief coffee stop, but it seems I was alone in this regard.
From Herberton the course commenced to get a whole lot "lumpier", which I had expected given our agreed coffee stop was going to be in Ravenshoe (the highest town in Queensland) at ~ 56.5km. My initial plan of riding as part of a group was quickly discarded after Herberton, as everyone knows it's easier to climb at one's own pace than that of anothers (let alone another 10 riders). And so it came to be that I found myself pedaling solo through the rolling greenery, all the while going UP. Gayle had been kind enough to place our Secret Checkpoint on the highest road in Queensland, no doubt to make us appreciate our coffee and cake even more - how very thoughtful of her.
To anyone driving through Ravenshoe that morning, the Popular Cafe (as it is called) was indeed very popular; bikes covering fences and precariously balanced against street signs and noticeboards, complimented by bright, lycra-clad cyclists sipping coffee and laughing loudly. After a very civilised 20min cafe stop, enough time to consume a slice of gourmet chocolate cake and a coffee, it was time to climb back on the saddle and resume my adventure. Cold legs and a heavy stomach are never a good combination for riding hills.
Having studied the ride profile in detail the previous evening I noted the "Windy Wind Farm Viewing Area" approximately 5.7km (195m vertical gain) up the road from Ravenshoe. Whilst I did take note of the steady climb out, I neglected to comprehend the true meaning of the words "windy wind farm". Needless to say, the climb up to the Wind Farm burnt off the chocolate cake I had taken great care to savor, and the subsequent descent under brakes (for fear of being blown off the road and becoming part of the gorgeous scenery below) had me wishing I had ordered a slice of the carrot cake as well. Next time I shall listen to the stomach and NOT the head.
At the risk of being labelled "anti-social", I thoroughly enjoyed the 55km return to Atherton in solitude. The undulating roads weaved their way around open green paddocks, with farm houses dotted throughout the landscape. It was easy to see why one would want to live in this picturesque part of the world, a welcome escape from the chaos of city life. Whilst the fast moving dark clouds continued to threaten us with rain, they never delivered (thankfully).
Slowly but surely the double-digits on my Garmin were replaced by single figures and the familiarity of roads and landmarks I recognised. Soon enough I found myself handing over my Ride Card to the Finishline Officials in Atherton, ending another beautiful memory on the bike. If Ride Cards could speak, I am sure there'd be enough incredible Audax stories around the world to last several lifetimes (especially those cards which have managed to escape and are still on-course today).
About the bike: As reviewed in my previous write-up from the first Tablelands Audax, I again elected to ride my 2016 Norco Threshold - a cyclocross bike setup with a SRAM 1x11sp drivetrain (38T front chainring and 11-36T cassette), hydraulic disc brakes and 700x34C Hutchinson Black Mamba CX tyres. Given I am still experimenting with tyres, I further lowered the pressures to approximatey 37psi in the rear and 34psi in the front (to accommodate my bulky <57kg frame). Contrary to what some readers may be thinking, I didn't "feel" any slower with the lowered pressures; with ride comfort being further increased on what was already a smooth-riding set-up. Whilst I've now conquered a 204km and 110km road audax on my Threshold, the real test will come with a comparable off-road ride once I have undertaken a tubeless conversion.
Next stop ... Shimanami Kaido Cycleway, Japan.
Kath's 204km Epic
Yesterday we (husband Rory and I) took up the challenge of our first Audax ride, the 200km+ "Get High On The Tablelands". The ride was well organised, with plenty of information sent out prior to the day by Gayle.
It was easy to find all the checkpoints, and the cue sheets were great to follow (even though we took one wrong turn ... whoops!
The ride took us through the beautiful scenery and farmlands of the Southern Tablelands and Misty Mountains, with gorgeous views atop every hill. As expected, the course included plenty of climbing (not for the faint-hearted). If you're looking for a challenge, this ride is for you!