It has been remiss of me not to write a post about what was easily the most awesome ride of 2011 so far. A couple of weeks ago, my ride partner Martin and I set off on an enormous day's riding, the initial expectations were for 240km through the Byron Hintrerland, a magical ride including mountains, rainforests and waterfalls. We set off in darkness, with a spectacular display in the Eastern sky, featuring the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter already marking this as a memorable ride. The initial part of the ride led us down the coastal strip, before climbing Bilambil and heading for Urliup as the sun rose (where I spotted a kangaroo), but it was after passing Murwillumbah on 45km that the real ride would start.
The series of climbs on the old Pacific Highway between Murwillubah and Billinudgel give an indication of what this ride is all about. The highest (but certainly not the hardest) of these being the pleasant climb over the Burringbar Range. In time things change, and one of the changes on this route has been the gradual paving of dirt roads, which has meant that a short stretch of dirt on Billinudgel Road was the last dirt on today's ride, just 70km in. After this, the switchback climb of the Coolamon Scenic Drive into Mullumbimby gives a special appreciation of the unique forests of this area. At the time I pondered getting the camera out for these, or the pointsettias that were blooming by the side of the road. Instead I kept it sheathed, and in hindsight, this may have been a good decision, given the way I was misfiring with the camera today.
After Mullumbimby came two substantial climbs, first the Crystal Castle, followed by an irrational hill near Repentence Creek (from which this ride takes it's name). These both offer sweeping views over Byron Bay, with the occasional pseudo sun-flower making it's presence known in the area. There's a third climb after the Minyon Falls turnoff (a detour I plan on making next time), and rather stupidly I had left my jacket on from the cool pre-dawn start, and began to pay for this later on. It reached the stage where I was really struggling on the climb out of Corndale which represents approximately the half way point on the ride (and quite possibly the hardest of the many climbs of the day), and this may have contributed to a navigational error that caused us to ride some extra kilometres.
An unscheduled detour on the dirt Missingham Road would have given us a shorter route to the lunch stop in Dunoon, had I not led us several kilometres in the wrong direction after getting back onto Whian Whian Road. At least the riding here, through lush green rolling hills, was pleasant, as was the temperature. Eventually we found our way to Dunoon, only to discover that the coffee shop that was once there had closed. Luckily, the town's store still had enough to feed us, and we moved on toward the screaming descent into The Channon. Here, I noticed a sign advertising "Tea Room" (literally) up a non-descript side street -- would this make a better lunch stop next time?
Getting to Nimbin from the Channon requires a long, steady and extremely scenic climb through a rainforest. This may have been my favourite climb of the entire day, as the narrow road and the switchbacks make for an almost spiritual experience here. I recall this climb being dirt just a few years previously, and wondered how I handled it in those days. Shortly after Nimbin there was one final climb (which was another steady, scenic climb) before the only "flat run" of the day, a 50km stretch through the Tweed Valley toward Tomewin, and the final challenge.
The day's light had been fading for quite a while, but I opted to wait until the bottom of Tomewin to put my lights on and remove the jacket I had once again donned at Uki. It also gave us the opportunity to spot a couple of peacocks wandering by. I had been worried about this climb, which gains 350 metres in height, with an 11% section just after Les's Place. I had let Martin take off ahead when I attached my lights for the climb, which seemed to help me ride at my own pace. Consequently, I had plenty of energy in reserve for the steep section, and actually seemed to get stronger here.
Darkness has fully set in by the time I reached the summit, although a full moon was alleviating some of that. Yet there is still something special about descending a mountain road in the darkness. Martin said he spotted some koalas in some of the trees with his helmet light, but maybe my eyes aren't as good as they should be. The darkness seemed to provide some inspiration to overcome tired legs, and we seemed to make good time through Currumbin Valley and back up the coastal strip to finish off the ride (where I point blank refused to play silly games with one particular idiot motorist who couldn't decide whether or not to stop at a red light).
All in all it was an incredible ride, on a perfect day, with a final total of 260km. If Repentence feels this good, I might have to sin more often.