This was actually billed as Brisbane to Lake Moogerah, but in keeping with much of the goings on in that first week, we had to mess with the schedule a wee bit, just to make ends meet.
Kick off was at Lady Cilento at 10:15am. It was originally pencilled in for later in the morning to allow the families of children fighting the disease to do the school run before heading into town, but I had a more pressing commitment: 125km before nightfall. For the R2C road team, every lost hour was an hour we’d have to make up another day: and with stage 2 already slated as the longest day of the tour, a sharp exit on stage 1 was pretty much a needs to happen.
We got there early, nerves and excitement having set us on our way from Gablonski HQ. Paul bumped the van up onto the pavement at the bottom of the front steps, pretty much as he’d threatened to do, and we proceeded to get all our stuff out.
Neuroblastoma Australia had created a big roll up banner than we hung from the top of the van, then we set about meeting the families, Andrew Hallahan, the Executive Director of Medical Services for Children’s Health in Queensland, and the press pack.
Away from the main buzz, I sat down to get a few minutes conversation with a nurse who was on a break. As much as anything, I just needed to chill. She was well versed with the route we were proposing to take across the outback, having driven that route many times to show jumping events in South Australia. She reckoned we were in for a right good time: and she wasn’t wrong!
Ten o’clock duly arrived so I announced a fifteen minute countdown. I also slapped on the Factor 50, which would have made Jane very happy back home. What followed however, rather put that in the shade…
A couple of hugs, a couple of handshakes, and I was gone. I walked the bike across the road (something I should also have done at the start of stage 11, but more of that later) then I had to wait for the green man. I could still hear everyone shouting and hollering across the road. The folk around me just stared.
Green man; click; click; shoes in and I was on my way. That first kilometre along by the Brisbane River just triggered a great sense of relief: that after all the preparation, all the training, all the worry and all of the negative thoughts about what might go wrong, I was finally on it. This was Ride2Cure and there was only one way of delivering it.
Ironically, and I didn’t know why, the Karoo failed to pick up the GPS satellite signal in the city centre (I’ve since seen, in the notes accompanying a system update, that this has been an intermittent problem on the hardware). I wasn’t unduly concerned for the first couple of km’s because I knew the route from our Sunday/Monday recce. But I was concerned that if GPS didn’t kick in soon, I’d be struggling once we got onto the bike paths alongside the highway. I needn’t have worried: 5km into the stage, the Karoo clicked into the proper gear and from that moment on, the day’s navigation was spot on, right down to handlebar signage warning me of left and right turns coming up a hundred metres from now.
At a guess, I reckon the Karoo got me safely through a hundred junctions in the first couple of hours. The route was as complex as it was scenic. A mixture of bike superhighways, wooded tarmac paths completely away from the road, rat runs through the houses, big road junctions, and I mean big, the Karoo took everything in its stride and I never once got lost. And all the time, I knew that Paul, parked up next to the Bundamba racetrack in Ipswich at our allotted lunch stop, was watching my every move on Google Stalker.
Now during that week at Paul’s gaff, we explored everything that we thought might trip us up. And one such conversation came about after a training ride down at the velodrome. I commented that there was a bloke riding with cable ties sticking out of his helmet in all directions: Johnny Rotten on a bike if you like.
“Oh, that’s to deter magpies” said Paul.
“Ah, okay. Is that going to be a problem?”
“And does it work?”
I didn’t go plastic punk but it most certainly was a problem, as I found out two hours into the stage. There I was, minding my own business and clogging a comfortable twenty something along a nice stretch of the Brisbane Road just after it leaves the Cunningham Highway at Dinmore, when I spotted a swooping shadow on the road…
Not once, not twice, not three times… this bandit, diving out of the sun, went for its prey about six or seven times. Pedalling ever more furiously, and ducking my head at what appeared to be the imminent moment of impact, all I could hear was this snapping noise.
“Was it hitting the helmet, or was it just shouting at me?”
I couldn’t tell, and quite frankly I couldn’t care: I was scared!
What I do know is that for about a kilometre, it wouldn’t let go. Fortunately, I got to the turnoff by the racecourse before it got its dinner, and I lived to tell the tale. I knew, in that moment, that Ride2Cure was going up the pecking order.
Through Ipswich, a meandering trail of lefts and rights followed by more lefts and more rights, I arrived at Yamanto, the fast food capital of the A15 on the way out of town. We made our pre-arranged stop at the Red Rooster, transferred all of the Go Gold children’s cancer money into our big bucket, and for the first time on the gig, experienced the rocket fuel properties of a can of coke.
Next up was the nasty right turn under the highway onto the A15: then that kilometre of potential danger, with Paul behind in the van, before I hung a left at Purga onto the first of many a long straight, slightly uphill road.
It was great to finally get out on the wee roads. Wide enough to take two vehicles, the surfaces were generally way, way better than anything we have back home, even on the main roads, so I was comforted by the fact that if the next 2200km were going to be like this, I was quids in.
Because we’d done our homework on recce Monday, we already knew about the dirt at Peak Crossing. Road bike v dirt track: it was always going to be interesting.
I remember thinking “now I know why the Aussies produce so many great speedway riders”.
There was a hard packed base of compacted small stuff that I guess rides much like concrete on a dry day, but on top of that there was the grippy stuff: and that’s what gets a slick back wheel sliding around. I quickly realised that changing ‘lanes’ was fraught with danger, so was being clipped in on both sides.
It was only 2km but it served as a practical examination of what was to come.
The next couple of hours were pretty uneventful, save for the fact that the wind had gone from being helpful to most unhelpful as our course changed direction from west(ish) to basically straight south.
And all the time I could feel the calf.
I’d done very little above three hours in the saddle for a good two months during the tapering phase so this was always going to be a real test once endurance came into play. Then there were the hills. I knew from Monday’s reconnaissance that they were coming, but that did little to allay my fears about getting up them in one piece. With 100km done in the day, these nasty little 10% climbs kept on coming, one after the other, each one sapping a little more strength from my legs. I basically got over them by pointing my toes down into the pedals to minimise any strain on the calves and achilles.
Was I slower? Without a doubt.
But intact? For sure.
We arrived at picturesque Lake Moogerah just after four o’clock: and this was where the day started to unravel…
Saturday was billed as a long one at 183km so I desperately wanted to glue the first 12km of that, from the caravan park at Moogerah to the start of the Spicers Gap road, onto the back end of stage 1.
So, having reset the Karoo for stage 2, I set off again while Paul got the van booked into the caravan site. Strangely enough, even after 113km, it did actually feel like a new stage.
It’s really hilly round those parts, and coming over the back of the trees was one dirty great big black cloud. I had 12km (about seven miles) to do to reach the rendezvous point, and I set off at a right good lick, making good use of some of the downhills after the previous climbs. Then the Karoo told me to hang a right over a wee bridge at Reynolds Creek and the tarmac disappeared.
This wasn’t the concrete like dirt of Peak Crossing. This was the stuff you get in Eglington Country Park back home: rough as hell, bumpy as hell, oh, and it was mostly uphill. And because we didn’t recce this bit on Monday, there was no way of knowing whether this stretched out the remaining 5km to the finish, or whether it was just a teaser. In the event, it was just that: but it was 3km of torture.
So, there I was, meandering the bike through the forest up this wide dirt road in the increasing gloom, when suddenly there was a massive flash of lightning…
This beast was almost directly overhead.
More lightning, more booms, then, like turning on a cold shower, torrential rain.
By the time dirt became tarmac again, I was soaked to the skin. And freezing.
Paul meanwhile, was parked up back at the camp site, enjoying a nice cup of tea in the late afternoon sunshine when that first thunderclap struck. I’m not entirely sure whether the van was intended to go rallying, but fearing for my safety as soon as he saw that my wee dot on the Stalker wasn’t moving anymore, he set a new track record for Moogerah to Spicers in a motor home, and pole position for Saturday.
Thankfully, I’d found refuge in the basement area of a big house so although I was becoming increasingly cold as the daylight faded away, I was at least out of the worst of harm’s way.
And, on the way back to Moogerah, I spotted my first kangaroo: and my second. They were both alive. Sadly, stage 2 was about to tell a completely different story…
Stage 1: 125km. 2097km to go.