On Monday morning I started my day early. Early breakfast and on the road to Harrietville and the start point for 9.15 am. There are weather warnings for later on in the afternoon for Victoria, high winds threatened.
This is one mountain where I need to take more care in high winds. Even on a calm day there are winds and gusts across the ridges near the top. I did a warmup from 10km outside of Harrietville on the Great Alpine Road which is a nice flat straight, and so by the time I reached the General Sore (which is the start point ) I had turned the legs over a few times. I felt strong and refreshed after the rest over the weekend, and ready to attack.
For the first time since arriving here I felt energetic and so was able to enjoy the wonderful views, and with the sun shining and the smell of the eucalyptus in my nostrils it felt like I was in for a treat. The sound of the birds in the trees above my head, the blue skies, and little traffic on the road where else would I want to be.
The climb starts quickly and is a 10% gradient over the first 10km. There is a sharp increase at “the meg” which is a milestone marked clearly so you are unlikely to forget. Today there were some spectacular vintage cars heading home through the mountain from the Hot Rod festival which was held over the weekend in Bright. The roar from the engines ensured I didn’t get too relaxed or complacent, but it’s amazing how it can keep you going knowing that there are others going in the same direction and you are not out there on your own. The sound comes from miles away through the mountains and the bush so I could prepare myself and cycle with care along the edge of the road.
I dare not look over the edge as I am not great with heights and there are no physical barriers to separate me from a sharp drop into the valleys below… I certainly don’t want to be going down there!
The ride flattened out at 10km and this part was so enjoyable and gave me time to stop and absorb the scenery of the lower lying peaks and reflect on where I just cycled from. My driver caught up with me at 18km mark and was shocked that he hadn’t caught me before that point, yes, I was pushing it on a bit today. My training was finally paying off and my body seemed back to normal, no pains in my glutes today, no weakness, no altitude sickness, or was it that I had learned to take in more air by relaxing my bottom jaw (that makes a change I hear some of you say) and sitting more upright on the bike to open up the lungs? Whatever it was , it was working for me.
The scenery gets better the higher up you climb, however the weather changes drastically from the calm sunshine at lower levels. The gusts were up, and whilst wind is one thing many cyclists know gusts add a very different element to cycling. The unexpected ones that catch you side on and by surprise. These gusts would have made for a good storm at home in Ireland. I hit the first ridge and had to think about whether I’d go for it between the gusts. I did and survived, kept climbing. Funnily, the climbs were easy and didn’t seem to challenge me quite as much as the winds.
I had been warned by all the literature and online blogs I had read. But nothing could prepare me for what was to come. The next ridge was so exposed, no trees above this point, nothing could grow up here. The gusts were blowing over the top and catching my bike from the side, pushing it across the road into oncoming traffic. I got off and my bike was blown up in the air (both wheels off the ground) but managed to keep a grip of the crossbar. I wasn’t sure if this was what I had been warned about. No one in their right mind would think about riding a bike up here, surely it isn’t always like this? I bent down and walked towards the finish, concerned someone would see me being blown into the finish point – funny how stupid one can feel when exposed in every way.
My cousin had his own experiences (pissing against the wind comes to mind), and he couldn’t stand still to get a photo of my finish. Got there but only just! A quick change of clothes and headed back down as quickly as possible. Time to reflect and absorb. So many changes in one 30km ride but it was so worth every minute. New experiences and new achievements. I survived the storm!!
A colleague of Michaels, who is also a keen local cyclist, seemed shocked that I had completed Hotham on that day with the weather conditions. My curiosity got the better of me and I checked the wind speeds across the top of Hotham at the time I was riding the ridges. It makes for some scary reading – 100 to 107 kph gusts! Holy shit, I wasn’t quite the chicken I thought and had good reason to feel exposed!