I was in trouble basically before this ride even started. 36 hours before the "official" start I discovered that my transport options to and from Esk weren't available on weekends. This, in itself, didn't make things impossible, but having to ride to and from the start from Ipswich would make it a lot more difficult. The really hot, humid nights in the lead up didn't help sleeping patterns much either.
As it was, I still got off the train in Ipswich at around noon, and started to ride north. Ipswich is one of those places that's built to keep people in but not let them out again (anyone who's ever been to Ipswich can probably understand why). It seems every exit from the city is uphill. The most exciting part was the rather witty sign outside Ipswich North State School -- "INSS Rocks!" I made my way out of the urban sprawl and headed to a slight detour through Borallon and Pine "Mountain". This route, while hillier and slightly longer than the main roads, was much more scenic, and it's an area that I might consider for more riding in the future.
The remaining 50km or so to Esk after getting back on the Brisbane Valley Highway seemed to pass without any major problems -- except for the heat. The temperature had risen to 36 degrees C by the time I climbed over the wall of the rapidly dwindling Wivenhoe Dam. Normally this is the most scenic part of the ride to Esk, but the lack of water was really evident. As it was, I was running a little short on water, and arrival in Esk (where is was now 35 degrees C) couldn't come fast enough. At the "official" start there were probably around 10 riders (although I didn't to a head count). I was wondering how many would finish.
The initial part of the ride was a loop through Eskvale and Toogoolawah, with a first checkpoint over at Lake Somerset after passing through Mt Beppo. I had been planning to pass through that area last weekend for a tour until fate intervened. I took note of the "free" campsites along the way, before joining up with Matt (a.k.a Recumbent Guy) who I'd actually known from bikeforums.net, activebody.org and the bike-qld mailing list. It's actually quite interesting to meet someone you've only ever conversed with "online" -- especially considering my slightly controversial past over at bike-qld. Fortunately, Matt and I tend to agree on quite a few things, there's an old saying about great minds thinking alike.
The ride itself started to become difficult around Mt Beppo as the wind was picking up from the East. Matt and I basically held on grimly until Lake Somerset, where pretty much everyone agreed with my "this is insanity" suggestion. Needless to say, returning from Lake Somerset to Esk with the same wind behind us was considerably less stressful or eventful, and we made surprisingly good time getting to the start of the Hampton leg of the ride.
The Hampton leg was originally intended to climb the range up to Hampton, but was removed from the route due to the state of the road. As it was, we still climbed a substantial portion of it. I got into a really good rhythm on the climb and would have liked to have finished it. Next time. This is where pacing alongside a recumbent rider gets interesting. I found myself faster on the climbs, but considerably slower on the descents. As it was, we all made it back to Esk, and were all set for the next leg -- even if a local police officer was "wondering" what we were doing riding at that time of night (funny how these people seem to be more interested in people who aren't
breaking the law than those who are)
I had already ridden the next stretch south to Fernvale, but it was completely different at night. We joined a couple of other riders, Dave and George here but Matt and I left them behind on the rolling hills. Fernvale was just another deserted country town, and we then headed on a back road toward Lowood. The final stretch into Lowood is brutally hilly, but also very beautiful. In daylight I would have paused for a photo of the surrounding hills at the top -- as it is, I'll never forget the image of the moonlight silhouette -- nor the final, screaming descent.
There were actually two checkpoints in Lowood -- separated by a loop of 31km. This loop was flat enough to make me struggle just a little. To be honest I'm not entirely sure which localities we passed through, I was just following the directions on the route slip. It was after leaving Lowood the second time that I really started to struggle. We were all heading South against a slight headwind, but it was that pre-dawn stretch that I always seem to struggle with, and it was on dead flat, dead straight roads that make staying awake difficult. Given the number of "training rides" that I've done in pre-dawn darkness, it's incongruous that I should find this difficult, but it always presents a problem.
At dawn we were all heading toward the town of Laidley, I dropped back from our little group. I actually fell asleep while riding three times in 15km. It's funny how the rest of the body falls asleep but the legs keep pedalling. It's perhaps lucky that I didn't crash during that time. A muesli bar, the onset of daylight and the promise of some minor hills between Laidley and Forest Hill woke me up, and we managed to make the service station/McDonalds at Gatton which provided the final checkpoint.
It was at this point that Matt and I dropped off the back, deciding to ride the final 50km together and let Dave (who was very kind to offer me a lift back to Brisbane after the ride) and George go. I was really feeling the effect of the extra 70km I'd ridden to the start, and with plenty of time in the bank, I didn't see any problem with using some of it. We headed back on almost dead flat roads to Coominya, before rejoining the Brisbane Valley highway. I would like to provide some details of the surrounding countryside, but the truth is it wasn't all that interesting.
On the final part into Esk I started to feel strong again. It was hard to believe I had ridden this stretch some 16 hours previously, and I was still riding. I just seemed to click into gear over the rolling hills. It was not far from here that I had a particularly memorable day on one of my formative bike tours, and I began to feel good again. I paused a couple of times to wait for Matt as he was finding the last few kilometres difficult, but with 5km to go I began to realise that I was running a little low on water, and that it was starting to get hot again. I pushed the "go" button and finished reasonably comfortably.
The next challenge, of course, is to complete a 400k. My immediate thought after this ride was "no way". However, after thinking back and realising that I had just done a 375k ride instead of the requisite 300 (plus another 12k to and from Robina station back on the 'Coast), it dawned on me that I'm already not that far off. Now I just have to find one that won't require me to ride 70km to the start.