2017 Sydney Melbourne 1200 (November 19-22)

Ride Report from Dave Thompson:

At the pub get-together before the ride, an Aussie warned me that this was going to be difficult, that nothing about Florida would prep me for this ride. In emails before the ride we were warned about wind, rain, cold, sleet and high DNF rates.  Kangaroos and wombats are an issue from dusk until dawn.

Now the ride is finished.  Looking back, it’s hard to rank 1200s on any difficulty scale as weather, personal conditioning and route familiarity play such a huge role. One edition is never the same as another, especially four years later.

I was lucky. I saw kangaroos.  They watched me pass.  Nothing jumped out in front of me.  I did almost hit a wombat at slow speed.  The latter are big; it would be like hitting a slow moving hog.  One Australian rider died the first night.  Speculation was that he hit an animal.

We could have had huge headwinds, but the winds were kind and often at our backs. We could have had sub freezing temps, but we didn’t.  I never even used my heavy jacket that I lugged for all but the last day, let alone neoprene booties!  I don’t think that the temperature dropped below 10C.  That heavy jacket of mine usually gets a lot of use.  It’s highly unusual not to give it some exercise, whether due to cold or wet.  I also brought along rain pants, the ultimate protection from the elements and heat retention.  They stayed in my drop bag.

I did try out the new lightweight RUSA wool jersey the first day; the midweight jersey the second.  Long sleeved jerseys also got some use, as did my leg warmers.  My featherweight PI jacket blocked the wind nicely.  It was all I ever needed.

We could have had rain; it threatened but never happened.  The forecast changed daily but we were lucky.  Originally it looked like we would start in the rain, but it was glorious weather, dawn at Sydney Harbour, the iconic Opera House in the background.

With less climbing than the Rome 1600 earlier in 2017 albeit longer climbs, moderate grades, no get-off-bike-here steeps, it had a lot of climbing but not a lot more than the average.  Numbers are meaningful for planning but at the end of the day it’s the “feel” of the ride that’s important, vs the hard numbers.  This didn’t feel any harder, climbing-wise, than the Granite Anvil and certainly not the Rome 1600 earlier in the year.  It was probably less difficult than LEL; certainly, the weather was better.

We did have heat, intensifying as we got closer to Melbourne. At its hottest, it was hotter than Rome, furnace-like and similar to the Gold Rush final day in the desert.  I made ample use of my pour-on-head cooling strategy.  I never came close to running out of water.

Getting out of Sydney wasn’t fun, nor was getting into Melbourne.   The latter had heavy traffic, bike trails, sidewalks, traffic lights … slow going.  There were some high traffic 100 km/h roads well into the ride but not enough to be bothersome.   I heard some mention of unfriendly drivers but experienced nothing firsthand.

The ride is a point-to-point, which is harder for the organizers and riders.  That said, suitcases and bike boxes were transported to the end; drop bags were moved from overnight to overnight.  They made it as easy as possible for the riders.  Sandy took the train from Sydney to Melbourne while I was riding — that was a 10-11 hour trip.  It is a long way no matter how you get there.

The overnights were mostly camp-ish, with bunks, shared bathrooms and showers, good food fresh prepared, lots of volunteer support.  It was all well organized and efficient.

As usual, I was close to being lanterne rouge early in the ride, long before we ever got out of Sydney. I had to wait for every traffic light and there were many.  At some point during the day I passed Hamid, I don’t remember when that was.  He was certainly way ahead of me mid morning.  He rolled into a control as it was getting dark and I waited; it’s always good to have companionship in the dark.  We finished up that first day together, sometime after midnight, and planned a 4:30 wake up and 5am departure. We were close.

We rode together for a while on the second day; Hamid got ahead and I passed him at one point as he was at the side of the road doing something with his bag. I stopped shortly afterwards at a cafe and thought that he’d passed me; didn’t find out until much later that he had trouble with his light and was well behind. I waited a couple of times, expecting to see him, but he was further back.  I figured minutes but it was hours.  He spent a lot of time dealing with his light.

Getting to the second overnight, I told the vollies that Hamid would room with me but when I awoke, he was still out there. He and Wolfgang arrived just as I started to pull out.  They beat the clock, but not by much.   I was happy that he was with Wolfgang as W can need encouragement at times.  He likes doing long touring rides and doesn’t have any hesitation about turning a brevet into a tour.

I rolled out by myself but met up with Mark Thomas not far down the road. We were both happy to have riding company.  This was Mark’s 10th 1200 for 2017!  That by itself has to be some sort of record. I remember Bill Olsen doing 8 x 1200s one year but those were all North American.  It’s another thing altogether to add in the time zone, jet lag and travel issues. I was “only” on my fourth.  We rode most of that day together, save about the last 30 km. I deal with the heat better, otherwise there’s no way that I’d have kept up.  After dark, on a section that was flatter, I was feeling sleepy and made a couple of check-myself-over stops, leaning against a guardrail and closing my eyes.  If I fell asleep, that would be a good indication that I was really sleepy.  I didn’t trust myself!   With 15 km to go to the overnight, I had a 10 minute nap on a bench.  I could have finished up but that 10 minutes felt good.

Mark was just hitting the sack when I got into that third overnight, having arrived before me.  He was planning a late departure.  I had my roughly 3 hours sleep, I think, got up and had some breakfast, expecting to roll out at dawn.  Mark was up earlier than expected; Ricky was also planning on riding.  Ricky had DNF’d the second day in the heat but rode part of the third day and all of the fourth.  I waited for them to get ready, no records were going to be set that day. We were together through the end at the Velodrome.

Mark rode a disciplined fourth day in the heat.  I was happy with the pace.   Alone, I might have spent less stopped time and would have pushed myself in the heat … probably would have pushed too much.  Riding together was good; it’s not usually my inclination.

Finishing up at the velodrome at 5 something, Sandy was there to meet us.  I don’t ask that of her but it’s great when she does.  Wait … I’m trying to think of another ride where she was at the end but I’m drawing a blank – no, she and Shab were waiting for Jerry and me at the end of the 2016 Miglia.  Our bags awaited us at the Velodrome and I was able to shower and change right there.  Still early, Rus Hamilton gave me and the bags a ride to our hotel, returning to wait for his billet and Hamid.  I was originally going to be staying with him but with Sandy coming into Melbourne a day earlier and getting a hotel, keeping the hotel made more sense.  I had met Rus on the Sunshine 1200; the ride where he had his episode of hyponatremia … where we almost lost him.

Now we wait.  I was anxious to see Hamid and Wolfgang, finish.  We were trading messages with Shab, watching his Delorme tracker.  I was worried that the traffic and bike trails might slow them down so much that they’d be late.  If they’d planned it too closely, that could happen.  We had a couple of false alarms — cyclists on the paths coming in the dark — me yelling “they’re coming, they’re coming” and lit the velodrome for nothing … no, it wasn’t for nothing, they came in a little after 10pm with almost 2 hours to spare.  Whew!  It’s so unusual for us to finish separately!  I’d have had a hard time reconciling finishing and Hamid DNF’ing.

Hamid almost sacrificed his ride for Wolfgang.  It reminded me of the 2016 Miglia in Italy, me helping Jerry Christensen finish.  Some things are more important than the extra notch in your belt.  Friendship is everything.

The ride was well planned and organized, from registration to food at the finish to beers & cheers at a pub the day afterwards.  I had lots of silly questions about baggage logistics etc. before the ride and they were answered immediately.  A large crowd of volunteers staffed the Controls. There were a couple of unstaffed; we sent a text to Bec when we got there.  Another couple had staff but you were on your own for food.  It all worked very well.  In spite of the remote nature of the ride, it wasn’t quite as remote as the Ontario Granite Anvil, from a facilities standpoint.  Hamid and Wolfgang stretched the volunteers a little, since they were on the outer edge of the time limits and actually beyond for a couple.  That’s usually ok with 1200s — even PBP — as long as you make it up later.

Will I do this one again ?  Who knows.  My inclination is “no” but ask me again in four years time.  The scenery was great; different than North American or European.  Perhaps if I do a different Aussie 1200 in the meantime, like Perth-Albany-Perth, I’ll consider the landscape ho-hum, but it wasn’t so this time.  At times it reminded me of the Serengeti, baked landscape and sparse trees … ok, there were no Wildebeest.  I expect that if we (Hamid and I) do another Oz ride, Shab will be there. She got less sleep than we did, staying up all night watching the trackers.  A couple of days ago, Sandy said that she wasn’t interested in returning to Oz … but a little touring through the wine region of Margaret River and a good time staying with Neil and Annie has changed that.

As always, I enjoyed myself.  I love doing 1200s of every shape or form.  I’d rather do a 1200 than a 200.  This one, with 350 km or so each of the first three days and a healthy amount of climbing, is right up my alley. Yes, I finished late each day, but not at dawn.  I’d have liked to finish a bit earlier the second day and get an earlier start on the third, but I shorted myself on nourishment and bonked on a long climb.  Stop, take in a couple of gels, I was going again.  I probably lost a half-hour there, paying the price for the bad judgement call.  It certainly wasn’t a big deal.  Most riders wouldn’t make that mistake.  I’m too impatient.

We’re on the way back now, having spent several days in Perth with my cousins Neil & Annie, their adult children, our grand-daughter Kylie, in addition to our couple of days in Melbourne.  Who knows if we’ll make our connections in Dallas; the flight was very late leaving Sydney.   Life goes on.

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