Saturday: Sea to Summit ride 2011 – Merimbula to Kosciuszko

On Saturday I did the Sea to Summit ride, which starts from the coast at Merimbula and ends at Charlottes Pass. This is pretty much the most you can realistically do in a single day on a bike. The hard bit isn’t the distance (240k), but the hills (5,000m of climbing) and the wind on the Monaro Plains. Last year I did the same ride, and got within a few kilometres of the finish before we got taken off due to lack of light (although absolute blackness is probably a better way to describe it). So this year I think it would be fair to say that I was pretty keen to finish with my sunglasses on.

All of this is part of an event to raise money for Red Kite, which is a great little charity that supports families that have a seriously sick child. I am a bit of a charity sceptic, having seen them flitter away money on stupid marketing gimmicks (and yes, web sites). Red Kite does the basic, less glamourous stuff. Here’s the scenario: you suddenly discover your child is very sick, and needs to be in hospital for an indefinite period. Your partner needs to be there, you need to care for your other children, and your dual income household is now a shakey single income. Basic things like paying for childcare, $50 for petrol, or $200 for groceries become an issue. Imagine if you lived in the country but needed a city hospital. Red Kite help, with petrol vouchers and assisting people to get through a really tough period.

Before you read on, can I ask that if this post does make you smile, laugh or think I’m a tosser – please consider making a small donation. I covered all own costs- the accommodation and event costs like food and support crew, but each rider also tried to raise money for Red Kite. I’d really appreciate it if you could help. If you have already made a donation, thank you very much and I hope you enjoy what follows.

The ride started in Merimbula, which is a small town close to the Victorian border. I got there Friday night with a killer head cold, slight fever and pounding headache. I was hoping the cold I’d had all week was going to clear, but it seemed to be getting worse. I am putting my hand up to say that I was clearly drug assisted in this year’s ride. I’m also not a Doctor, so I’m not sure if Nurofen Plus is classed as performance assisting. Probably on par with Contador’s dodgy steak.

Saturday morning was an early rise – 4am, with my bike ready by 4:30am. This year, the Power Of Social Media had prevailed and that terrible injustice from last year’s ride was addressed: The Coffee Situation. Regular readers will know that last year it took me most of the first half to get over the lack of coffee – blinking back the tears and biting my lip. No coffee is like making Ayrton Senna race in a car with no wheels- indescribable and bizarre. Foreign to our way of life. Un-Australian. But this year, there was coffee, and it was quite good too. I also remembered my shoes, which was another plus.

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This is my “I’ve had coffee” face. See the smile?
The other change was groups. Last year we rode as one group (18 riders), which meant we could only go as fast as the slowest rider. This year had more riders (about 40) and we were split up into three groups, graded on experience. I was in the A group of 10 riders.

After a quick breakfast my group rolled out first at 5:30, heading through quite thick fog past some beautiful dairy country. The first climb starts at about 30k, and goes through some amazing forests which were beautiful just as the sun started coming up. As some of my team mates gently reminded me, this was the point last year at which I was on the front and took things a bit too quick. OK- maybe we didn’t need to ride quite at that tempo all the way up Mt Darragh, and maybe we could have kept the bunch from splitting quite the way it did. And maybe (just maybe) I could have then had a bit more in the tank 12 hours later. Lesson learnt. I was firmly told to ride at the back of the bunch this time.

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Here I am in the centre at the back of the bunch, talking to my imaginary friend.

Part one: the nice bit

The S2S ride breaks up into three basic parts- the nice, the bad, and the hard part.
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The nice bit ends as you come up Mt Darragh, and pop out at Bombala which is a small town on the edge of the Monaro Plains. Bombala has a very friendly Mayor, who came out to say hello while we gobbled some food in the car park.

 

Last year I had some fairly painful experiences with nutrition and drinking, which ended up me being doubled over with cramps pretty much everywhere you can cramp. I could barely walk and wasn’t able to eat properly for days.

This year was going to be different- I had spoken to many experts and other riders, and the fruits of my research pointed in one direction: jam sandwiches & bananas. In my day pack I had a large stash of jam on thick white bread, and a small plantation worth of bananas. The plan was to eat lots of carbs, salt & potassium, definitely avoiding any sports drinks, and most definitely avoiding the siren call of Coca Cola.
And remember my shoes.

Part two: the Bad bit – Monaro Plains @90k
After Bombala things get tough. It isn’t a sudden change, you just gradually notice that there just aren’t any trees. Anywhere. Just rolling paddocks, which now that the drought has broken after 12 years are quite green. But the lushness of the grass has no impact on the wind, which really slows things down if you’re on a bike. My group quickly organised, and we started a rolling line peeling away from the wind. This means everyone gets a short turn on the front into the wind (and hopefully blocking it for everyone behind) and then moves back to have a break.


 
I don’t think I’m being unkind when I say that the Monaro Plains are a bit bare. I’m sure it is very nice if you’re driving through in a car and you can watch the rolling hills just roll by, but on a bike on a windy day (which is most days out there) I do think a few trees would make a world of difference. I’ll put that in the Mayor’s suggestion box.
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Here I am trying out the one arm riding technique. Monty (to my left) is telling me to knock it off and do a proper turn

The good news was that there was no mountain bike section- the road was tarred earlier this year. Wind is one thing, but having to ride into it on a heavy mountain bike with big squishy tyres over a bumpy gravel track makes it much harder.
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The Monaro section wasn’t all windy – there were bits that were sheltered from the wind. Unfortunately the thing doing the sheltering was a hill, which we’d then have to ride up and over. There were a few of these. None were particularly big, but the constant climb and then descent into the wind with no respite sucks a lot of energy out of you. We got to Dalgety for lunch, and had a great break at the mighty Dalgety Primary School. They were very friendly and we even got our photo taken for the school newspaper.
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Here I am at the back of the bunch once again…

Part three: The Hard Bit – Beloka @160k
This is the part of the ride where the road starts to head upwards and really splits up riders. From here on it is pretty tough, especially with 160k already in your legs. For example on Beloka the times range from 16-18min, while some of the other groups were 35-45min. Older and wiser, this year I knew exactly what the climb was like and how to pace myself.

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I’m looking around to ask why I’m being made to do another turn
 
I realise I’ve previously described the Beloka road in a fairly derogatory fashion. I’ve called into question whether the RTA even know it is there, and if it was built as some kind of obscene joke by some bike hating engineer. I also made some slurs about that engineer and if he worked in an alcohol free workplace. With the benefit of hindsight these might be considered unfair.
I have struggled to describe a positive attribute of this first main climb, and the one I’ve settled on is this:

“It gets better as it goes on”.

There you go- someone wrote something nice about it.

At the bottom I stopped and had a bit of a stretch before starting. I made sure my Polar was set to measure gradient (I can confirm that, yes, that first bit is 26%). Several readers have made the helpful suggestion that perhaps a longer run up would help with this climb. Hit it with speed. I encourage user feedback (and donations), but the one flaw in this otherwise perfect plan is that the hill starts with a 90 degree turn. You go up a slight rise, turn hard left, loose any speed you have. Then feel like you have just stepped into a Salvador Dali painting, since the road is now going up instead of forward.

I have also had a lot of feedback from my readers (both riders and non-riders) about gradients and relative steepness. I’ve prepared this handy guide which you can cut out and stick on the fridge:

Ben's guide to hill gradients

A quick riders guide for this hill: it is much easier the second time. This time I knew what to expect and didn’t panic, kept my heart rate and tempo and spun up, doing a fairly good time. Just watch out for all the wheely bins sliding back down the hill. The first 26% feels a bit like climbing a wall, and it is very easy to panic and loose concentration. It “mellows” slightly to 18% (that is me being sarcastic), then a short flat at about 4%. Up again at 12%, another wobble and then 14% – all up about 4km of riding. Good times (more sarcasm).

As I rode up the last bit with Shane, we had some unexpected good news. Richard Fino was walking his bike up, as he had a puncture in his tyre just near the top. Fino getting a flat on a ride is like death and taxes- it is always going to happen no matter what. Since he always has at least one flat per ride, I knew that based on thousands of hours of riding and extensive scientific research we now had a 33% less chance of getting another flat for the rest of the ride.

There was some light rain at the top of Beloka, and no one vomited, which was also a good outcome. We pushed on to Jindabyne. The forecast was 31C and afternoon thunderstorms, and it looked like something was brewing in the sky above us.

We split up as we got over the Thredbo River Bridge and into the main Kosciuszko National Park. This is the start of a steady climb that goes up to the Ranger’s Station. My legs were still feeling pretty good at this stage, and I was climbing OK. There were two riders Derek and Richard in front of me – I rode just behind them for a while and then they pulled away at the top near the Rangers station.

As you go further in to the park it gets harder. You climb up a rise, then dip down into a valley, then back up again. The valleys were really warm (out of the wind), you sweat climbing out then as you got to the top there would be an icy blast of wind off the snow, and then you’re into another freezing descent. Then another climb as you gradually make your way up to Charlottes.

To make things interesting, the predicted thunderstorm arrived, with some incredible lightning and dark purple clouds. This lightning like something out of a cartoon- if I took a photo you’d think it was photoshopped. There was a bit of rain, but I found out later the guys a bit further back got a lot more than I did.

I started getting a really hot sensation in one foot, which I haven’t had before. Apparently this is a common problem on endurance rides, and some cunning wordsmith has creatively termed it “hot foot”. Caused by friction between the ball of your feet and your shoe over a long period of time, it feels like someone is applying a lighter to the ball of your foot. As you might imagine it becomes a bit difficult to concentrate on much else. I stopped a few times to take off my shoe and dip my foot in a stream. That helped but I still had the feeling of wearing shoes several sizes too small (I seem to be developing a shoe issue on these rides).

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I was really running out of puff towards the end. One of the other riders from my group, Monty, passed me on one of the hills. I don’t think either of us were capable of much conversation at that point – he gave me a thumbs up and slowly overtook. I imagine the scene would have been like watching a turtle race as we slowly crept up the hill at 2km/h – it certainly felt like everything was in slow motion. I’ve never seen my speedo tick over distance slower or watched it harder.

 
The clouds closed in again and a drizzle started. The roads got a bit narrower and everything seemed a lot harder. I felt very much like Frodo out of Lord of the Rings, slowly dragging himself through Mordor and up Mount Doom to finally destroy that bloodey Ring. As I got a bit closer to the finish I could start to hear horns beeping (the Orcs?) down the valley. It was hard to judge distance as it was pretty misty (or perhaps my sunglasses were totally fogged up)- I was just hoping that those beeps were close rather than echoing from miles away.

I finally got up the last bit and was pretty happy to finish in daylight this time. I had a beer – not really sure why I did as it made me start to shiver quite a bit- and then some of the guys that I rode with last year (Shane, Rick and F
ino) rode up to the finish which was great to watch. Fino then categorically assured me that this year was it- there will be no next year S2S ride for us. It’s nice to have some decisions made for you.

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2 comments

  1. djmci

    Keeping with the LOTR analogy, last year was "You shall not (Charlottes) pass", whereas this year was "Ride hard, don’t look back" 🙂

  2. sea2summitgirls

    awesome ride report! I have to do mine but my brain still hurts! love the wheelie bin analogy – i would love to sit one at the top and watch it sail down… and possibly turn it into a bobsled 😀

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