December was a funny time for me on the bike. I'd been training hard leading up to my key race target (ToB) in early December and, other than the Eurobodalla interclub (which was on the second weekend of December) I had nothing planned. Some of my training buddies enjoyed the freedom from the set training program. Others (like me) struggled to back off. I ended up feeling a little lost and not sure what on earth I was doing with my cycling coming up to Christmas and then between Christmas and New Years. So I kept going, perhaps a little aimlessly, not wanting to lose my cycle fitness or what cycling had come to represent in my life.
But the advantage of not training but continuing to ride is that you do get some freedom for the types of rides you can do. No longer was I trying to squeeze in hill reps or interval sessions before work, but rather I was doing shorter and more leisurely rides with longer coffee reps. But I was also doing more "adventure" riding, going places I wouldn't normally go, just because I could.
I did one of these adventure rides yesterday. I joined in with a few people I used to ride with when I first got into cycling when we were riding with one of the local triathlon groups (Bilbys). The group was planning to ride 350km in a day and, while this was strangely appealing to me, I ended up taking the "soft" option and finishing the ride at the 220km mark as I just couldn't justify spending 15-16 hours out riding to my husband and kids.
The ride started at 4am(!), and we waited a short while for all the latecomers who universally used the excuse of "sorry I was just putting on my sunscreen", which was even more amusing given that it was only 9 degrees at 4am (despite the forecast of 30 for later in the day). We set off at a reasonable pace through the 'burbs of Canberra before heading west down Coppins Crossing and Uriarra Crossing, at which point I was really grateful for the extra layers that I'd brought with me as it felt like it was practically freezing out there.
From Uriarra Crossing we headed up Fairlight Road, which starts with a small climb before hitting a dirt section. A lot of road cyclists avoid this stretch of road because of the dirt, but it's inherently manageable on a road bike (if I can do it, particularly in the dark, then anyone can!). The sun started to come up as we were just finishing up on the dirt section and turning onto Mountain Creek Road. Seeing the light start to fill the sky and the shapes around start to form really did set the tone for the rest of the day.
Once we were onto Mountain Creek Road the ride was really smooth and quite fast (although with another 2 dirt sections), although we kept an eager eye out for rogue kangaroos who were very much not expecting a bunch of cyclists to be going past at 5:30am. It didn't take long until we hit a slight descent down towards Lake Burrinjuck, and then came across one of the most beautiful old bridges I have ever seen, just as the light was started to creep over the hills on our right hand side illuminating Lake Burrinjuck on our left. It was some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen, let alone had the privilege of riding through: the 3:25am pre-ride alarm was suddenly all worthwhile.
From the bridge there was a long but not particularly steep climb, which I didn't pay much attention to as I was too inspired by the scenery. We regrouped at the top of the hill and pushed on and got to Yass by 7am (approx 90km in). We didn't make it into Yass proper, but did stop at a little burger shop on the corner to have a quick bite to eat and apply a little more sunscreen (now that the sun was actually in the sky!). I realised at Yass that I'd only seen 2 cars in total since leaving Canberra 3 hours earlier.
From Yass we pushed on to Gunning, which involved a rather boring section on the Hume Hwy (which seemed all the more boring after riding on such a lovely road as Mountain Creek Road), and then back onto country roads going via Jerrawa and Dalton. Jerrawa is quite a small town, as is Dalton, but Dalton had a lovely church, townhall and school, which made riding through the main street quite enjoyable. It was at this point of the ride that I really appreciated being out on the bike and the ride in general: if I wasn't on my bike, the chances were that I would never have been to Dalton and wouldn't have had the opportunity see these parts of the world. Bike riders really are lucky. :-)
It didn't take long until we reached Gunning, and the coffee there was superb and more than made up for the lack of coffee at Yass. From Gunning we headed up Gunning Road towards Crookwell (via Grabben Gullen). Gunning Road involved a few long slow-ish climbs, nothing steep but just a constant uphill. It was along this stretch that one member of our group started to suffer a little and kept dropping off the back. But the group was excellent in this regard, with stronger members not just going back to bring the struggling member back to the group, but then riding either side of him pushing him up the hills until he recovered sufficiently to sit in on his own.
Before too long we hit Crookwell, which is a surprisingly bustling metropolis. I'm not sure what Crookwell is renowned for, but I was pleased to see a busy main street and lots of friendly people who were more than willing to help us in our quest to find toilets and refill water bottles. We didn't stop for long at Crookwell (which was 183km into the ride) before heading down Crookwell Road towards Goulburn.
Crookwell Road is basically a slight descent for the 45km down into Goulburn, which meant that this was a very fast stretch of road. Some of the guys got on the front and really pushed the speed, and I was working to stay in the bunch at this point, which was not really ideal with 183km already behind me. It was also very windy down this road, and I copped most of the wind head on due to its direction and my position in the bunch. I kept reminding myself that I only had to get to Goulburn (whereas quite a few of the group had another 130km to go after Goulburn though). For the first time since I started cycling, I experienced the "burning feet" sensation (at about the 215km mark). I felt like the ball of my right foot was initially freezing cold and then on fire. I wriggled, stretched, changed positions, pedalled harder with my left foot and lighter with my right foot, but I could not get rid of the sensation. Fortunately by that point my ride was nearly over so I just soldiered through it and tried as best as I could to ignore the discomfort.
And then we were in Goulburn and we'd somehow managed to do 227km (with 2700m+ of climbing) by 1pm. Ok, that did involve starting riding at 4am, but it was still nice to get such a long ride done and dusted by lunchtime. My husband and the kids met us at Goulburn and we all enjoyed a nice lunch before hopping in the car and heading back to Canberra (while quite a few of the others continued on to Tarago, then Bungendore and then Sutton before getting back to Canberra with 350+km under their belts at 7:15pm).
I'm really pleased that I had the opportunity to do this ride. If I was "in training" I may not have done it as it would not necessarily have fitted in with whatever my training needs were at the time. So while my time "off the bike" may not have been as restful as it could have been, I have seen parts of Australia that I may not necessarily have otherwise. And I'm sure for years to come, I'll boringly regale all who will listen with stories of the day that I rode 227km before lunch as it's rides like these that stick in your memory and leave a smile on your face.