I know I keep mentioning the original schedule, but it’s impossible to ignore the dominant factor of the second week of R2C: strength endurance, and how it played out against the plan.
The original stage 12 had us finishing at Conargo but I ticked that off yesterday morning.
So there was every possibility that if I could maintain the momentum going into today, Paul and I could end the day two full days ahead of schedule: that would be a complete day gained in two days since the two rest days in Wagga. How crucial was that extra day off in Wagga looking just now, eh?
“Houston, we appear to have a problem.”
I could barely reach my foot to get my sock on. The wonky left knee wasn’t for doubling back, and trying to force it was bloody sore so I had to hook the sock on with the other foot then wiggle it into shape, all the time thinking to myself “I’m not sure I’m even going to be able to start here.”
I had that to chew over along with the clusterfux and a cup of tea up in business class.
But I was one hundred percent definitely giving it a go.
My thinking was that if I could just get some rhythm going, irrespective of the pain, then I could see myself through the day, even if that meant being down on speed. Today didn’t need to be a big day, just a solid one. And all the time I was thinking “4×135, 4×135…”
It’s surprising what drives you on when you can virtually see the finish line.
With the strategy sorted in my mind, I promised Paul that I’d have an easy day. But my definition of easy is not necessarily like everyone else’s: to the plan then a wee bit more is always my way: it was like that all the way through LCFN too.
The first 15km was remarkably straightforward: much less pain on the bike than in walking, and even though I was maybe 5km/hr down on yesterday, it felt entirely manageable over the course of six or seven hours. However the wind turned full on against from the moment I turned right after those 15km straight out of Wakool: time to get behind the van: time to focus on the number plate and not on the pain. I can’t overplay how important it was to have Paul as my wingman. From protecting my back wheel from trucks, to protecting my front wheel from the vicious wind, he was the best. Like Lewis Hamilton thanking his team after another dominant victory, the success of Ride2Cure out on the road was down to the teamwork between Paul and I, and no more so than on stage 12.
The knee was surprisingly bearable, unlike my chest. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do to stop that stabbing pain with every deep breath. I knew I wasn’t having a heart attack because it was fine before I fell off, but by Christ it was hurting right now. Every pedal stroke was like a dagger just below my armpit. Coughing was worse: and sneezing was worse than that… go away dust!
But I was at least moving, and in the right direction too.
Swan Hill was our first major pit stop. It was also the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Over the rickety old bridge and we’d crossed the State boundary! That bridge, incidentally, was built in 1896, which made it 122 years old when the R2C train rolled into town. There are those pesky 2’s again, folks!
Lunch: 85km’s in the bag and definitely worth carrying on for another couple of hours. We’d spoken at breakfast about taking a rain check on my injuries at lunchtime and there was nothing terminal from my perspective as far as the afternoon was concerned. So the conversation turned instead to the route out of town. Having had our fingers burnt by dirt roads in the days gone by, we elected to go by Google Maps and head out of town on the B400. Being a B road, we reckoned it would be quieter than anything arterial that we’d experienced of late, and it would give us the option of going Mallee Highway or Sturt Highway on the run in to Adelaide: both were feasible, depending on any local knowledge we could glean at the end of the day.
I’ll say this just once: the B400 was by far the most dangerous road I cycled in the whole of Ride2Cure: and even before Paul reads this, I suspect he’d agree.
Twisty, narrow and into the wind, I had little option but to follow the van if I wanted to maintain any kind of speed: to sit in front of the van would have compromised other road users. But the traffic just kept coming and Paul kept having to drive onto the verge to let it past: and every time he did so, I got a faceful of dirt and a need to slam on the brakes because I had zero confidence in the surface beneath me.
I hated those two hours with a passion.
We called a halt just north of Tooleybuc, because by that time we’d passed the junction of the A12 Mallee Highway and as we needed to make the call on the best approach to stage 13 once we’d spoken to the locals, any additional distance today could potentially be wasted, depending on that decision. As it turned out, it was a very wise move.
Tooleybuc advertised a caravan park so we called in there as it was closest to the end of the stage. The pub was only fifty metres away which was a good omen, but the “No Vacancies” sign was not.
Nonetheless, we drove in and Paul, as ever, tried to wing it. It was a good job he didn’t. The caravans in that place were a multitude of different colours and ages: all of them old and they looked like they hadn’t moved in years. There were bits of old cars dotted about the place and there was a distinct whiff of weed in the air. Thanks but no thanks: they had no desire to accommodate us, nor R2C as it turned out, to remain there a moment longer, so we headed back out of town and once again over the Murray river, back into Victoria.
Let’s move on…
Paul had spotted another place 10km back down the road so we headed there. Yes, they had space, yes, they did food (until 7pm), yes, they sold beer in the petrol station shop (really!), but no they didn’t have a pub and no they didn’t have WiFi.
“Sorry Jane, I won’t be video messaging you tonight…”
That was the place that had the rooster. No, change that: that was the place that had two roosters. Plural.
3am and the damned things went off. It was like one of those football chants where the supporters at one end echo the supporters at the other. For three solid hours, those feckin roosters were at it. But let’s the roosters aside, because they came after the stage.
Stage 12 was a survival stage: 119km kept the dream of a Sunday finish alive and even though I was hobbling about like a hobblit, I was still in the game.
Stage 12: 119km. 1746km done. 476km to go.