They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn and in our first installment of this Boys Own adventure we left our 7 intrepid heroes at precisely that moment as they quietly ventured out into the cold mountain air, oblivious to the fate which awaited them…
In hindsight so many critical decisions had been left to Swanny, the impact of which would play out over 4,500 metres of vertical climbing on the harsh and unforgiving slopes of Mount Hotham and the infamous back side of Falls Creek. Decisions perhaps unfairly left to just one individual in a team of 7, but with decisions of such magnitude at stake, it was only fitting that they were shouldered by a prior ACC president of 5 years. Decisions such as how much milk would be needed? How many cartons of beer would be required? Should I have made more batches of home-made gels? Will Scotty Fittler’s sausage skins successfully hold the gel contents in the searing heat of the alpine valleys, and should they really be stored down our knicks?
Incredibly, Swanny’s fine judgement prevailed and there was plenty of milk (and most of a Queensland banana plantation) with which to lubricate the high-fibre breakfast that perfectly complemented the special dinner-that-keeps-on-giving of the previous evening. So it was a fuelled and focussed team that gathered in the gloom of the start area as the countdown commenced. As we nervously switched our lights and computers off to conserve power the first schoolboy error surfaced. Apparently Kirky had not in fact purchased the perpetual motion Garmin model and he slowly came to the realisation that the device on his handlebars actually required periodical charging in order to receive and process complex data from satellites orbiting the earth 30,000 kilometres above our heads. So no Strava segments for one rider and lots of “what time is it guys?” for the rest of us.
In a stroke of genius from 3 Peaks old hand Tinny, anticipating that we may get separated on the descent we had agreed to meet up at the bottom, nominating the easy to find landmark of ‘the trees at the foot of the hill’. One final reminder from the organisers to take care on the fast dark 30Km descent of the mountain and we were off. Within seconds we were split up but as we shivered our way downhill we took comfort knowing we’d regroup at ‘the trees’. Aside from being cold, the descent was actually pretty scary. Not just because Kirky provided numerous live demonstrations of his ability to ride downhilll in the dark at high speed while looking backwards, but because every now and then a testosterone-fueled lunatic would come tearing by taking wild lines to shave off a few seconds. Johnny later explained this was because cyclists were fundamentally narcissistic thrill-seekers so we needed to be more accepting, exercising equanimity and nonjudgmental mindfulness but no one really understood what he meant so we just kept riding. PD was actually overtaken by a tandem on the descent, rather worryingly with the stoker wearing a full day-glow vest on which was imprinted in large letters “BLIND CYCLIST”…
And then, before we knew it, we were there – the road leveled out and we were safely down into Mount Beauty and looking for those trees. Over the roundabout and there they were before us, trees, lots of trees, trees absolutely everywhere, in every direction. But somehow amidst the 1,800 riders were the backs of 2 Armidale Cycling Club jerseys taking advantage of one of the trees for the first de-hydration break and soon 2 became 3, then 4 and finally 7.
At this stage, I’d like to say that the author has a large amount of unused material and that this story could continue for at least another 10 installments. I would like to say that but unfortunately, that is not actually the case. I was packing my vest into the back of my jersey when everyone left, except Swanny who said “I’ll wait, if you’re quick”, then he left too. So, there’s a bit of a gap in the story here. I got myself sorted then headed up the road, passing PD’s tandem and before too long I caught up with PD himself. We then settled into a nice climbing rhythm as we wound our way up the baby 873M Tawonga Gap. PD offloaded about a dozen lengthy jokes along the way although they took notably longer to get out as we got further up the hill and the oxygen got a little thinner. Swanny’s dinner had obviously been fermenting and it kept on giving right over the top as we rolled alongside the rest of the boys waiting patiently for us. Patiently probably isn’t the best word and that was actually the last we saw of them for about 10 hours.
We later learned that the 5 of them stayed together until towards the top of Mount Hotham’s 1,825M. Johnny and Ben had wisely dressed incognito and therefore appeared to be innocent spectators to the verbal barrage that emanated without prompting from Kirky throughout. Swanny and Tinny were unfortunately guilty by association as like Kirky, they were wearing ACC jerseys. This possibly also explains some of the comments PD and I received as we swept up the trail of destruction they’d left behind.
The fast and furious 5 continued to belt along and forwent many of the rest and fuel stops and were looking on for a very rapid sub-10 hours until the efforts of the day caught up with them. As they rounded the bend at WTF corner for the final 30K assault back up Falls Creek’s 1,720M to complete the 235KM circuit, Tinny found himself in a world of pain with fatigue and cramp and as he hauled himself past a dead rabbit in the middle of the road uttered the classic “I’d swap places with that thing right now if I could”.
There were actually a lot of things left on the road which had fallen out of jersey pockets, mainly arm warmers, leg warmers, snakes and jelly beans, gels, bars, more gels, jackets, vests, in fact as PD said, we could have collected several complete cycling kits if we’d driven along behind in a car.The squashed jelly beans and snakes had tempted Tinny who was prepared to extend the 3 second rule for any roadkill that looked vaguely edible but Swanny and Kirky stayed by his side and made sure he got home about 20 minutes after Ben with Johnny just a few minutes behind and PD and me rolling in an hour later.
In all we carried 17 CO2 cylinders, 18 tubes, 2 pumps, 2 chain breakers, 28 allen keys and boy scout Johnny had about another 2KG of miscellaneous tools, just in case. We didn’t have one puncture, or have any kind of mechanical issue.
When PD and I rounded WTF corner and made our way up the final climb we saw the same rabbit, the same squashed jelly beans and snakes and a sign that simply said “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. That’s what 3 Peaks is about. It’s a tough physical challenge and you need to be fit and hydrate and fuel yourself properly to get through it, but it’s also mentally challenging and just like racing, it’s won or lost in your head. 7 members of Armidale Cycling Club proudly rode together and kept theirs that day and the memories will last a lifetime. Thanks boys.
There are a bunch of photos from the day up on the gallery pages now and if you haven’t seen it, check out the inspiring documentary video available online. Oh and if you’re wondering about Col’s Indian heritage, well that’s another story entirely…
|Rider Number||Rider Name||Tawonga Gap||Hotham||Falls Creek||3 Peaks||Overall Time|