Rapha Ride Down Under
Last-minute adventures, new roads, friends, rain, sun, mishaps, beers n gears, schnity, parma, curveballs, Mitcho.....rad times.
Gravel adventures, so good! In a topsy turvy 18 months of feeling like you are bumping from one challenge to the next, it's easy to reduce the daily goings on to ‘managing', and just getting through. The Rapha Pilgrimage to the Dirty 130 in Wagga Wagga, NSW had been an opportunity that had been tabled months ago, that in all likelihood, wasn’t going to fit, and be too hard to contemplate given travel restrictions, and the threat of COVID. However the last-minute decision to take part in the three-day 600km+ ride was just too insane to not say “I’m in". Made all the easier by not really thinking about the magnitude of the undertaking.
Two negative RAT tests in the two days leading toward departure, and bags were packed and we were jetting to Sydney. A quick stop to see Michael at Woolys Wheels (fellow Rapha partner) quick ‘Fair Dinkum Chicken Parmigana' and beer (when in Rome) and then the bike was assembled as we headed to our meet point and first-night's accommodation in Bowral, inland and south of Sydney for our start the following day. That night half the crew got to meet and greet as the others were training in early in the a.m. for a leisurely 9 am departure.
Day 1 - Was a 175km journey of rolling hills and gravel over stunning NSW terrain. Mitch Docker was along for the ride in his ’new life’ transitioning from full-time pro with the Education First / Cannondale Pro Team to his version of an ‘alternate program'. The day started with warm but light drizzle and the promise of riding toward the good weather. This group was a mix of RCC (Rapha Cycling Club) members, all up for a challenge. To be considered, riders had to be able to demonstrate they could make it through the challenging long distances. Riders came from the greater Sydney and Melbourne areas to take on the challenge. We were ably supported by Rapha Australasia lead Darcy, and trusty side-kick and photographer Spurlo in a jam-packed station wagon full of everyone's gear, and no room for an extra body, let alone a bike should a mishap befall anyone. We did ‘ride into the sun’ by day's end and felt surprisingly fresh given 175km would ordinarily be a big day in anyone's book, especially when over 50% of both this and the next day's ride was on gravel. Perhaps it was the magnitude of the 250km we needed to cover on Day 2, that had Day 1 just feeling like the warm-up it was. As a quick side note, my ‘roommate’ that night was Andrea. Andrea was from and had family back in Ukraine. His desire to come and ride large distances was to ‘rest his mind’ from what was occurring in his home country. The long ride days I hope were the catharsis Andrea was hoping for.
Day 2 - Group 1 departed at 5.15 am. Group 2 at 6.15 am. This was a big day, with very few places to stop. This was not to be a day of intermittent coffee stops, and bakeries. What it was though was amazing… We rolled out of Yass under our own lights in darkness. It was cool, bordering on cold, but as we almost immediately hit the backroads of our journey and started climbing the temperature noticeably lifted. In the half light, we saw a Kangaroo running straight at us down the road as we crested a hill, only for it to veer left 10 meters in front of us when we were just thinking about what evasive action you take against a 4-foot marsupial weighing 50+ kgs hurtling at you! We were soon on the narrow gravel feeling like Kings in our own Kingdom. The hills were rolling and we were making good pace despite what were to be various mechanicals and punctures. The sight of your whole ride crew pitching in, hand on the back, pushing a fellow adventurer whose derailleur had had a mysterious implosion only added to the story. For some weirdly strange reason, we rode faster pushing our compadre than riding as a group, pitching alone at over 40kph at one point and dropping one of our group whose nature break we had missed. One of our crew in the first group had the spare derailleur hanger required down the road and after a short stop the bike was fixed, and all was good once again.
While hills were mostly rolling we had one very long hot hill that just kept on going over a mix of smooth and very ’not so smooth’ terrain. Near the top, a large brown snake slithered its way only meters ahead of Mitch, Dan, and I. When the Kiwi asked what ’that one was’, the response was, ‘one that will kill you in 20 minutes’…
At the top of the hill, we waited for all the team to catch up before a long fast, fun descent back to lower terrain. Mitch, bless his little ‘pink’ cotton socks waited for me, not for the first time as I dealt with yet another puncture, before we then resumed ‘chase’ at warp speed that was ‘oh so much fun’ and almost worth getting the puncture for in the first place (actually there were many, more briefly on that later). We had one stop with only 80km or so to go in Junee where we descended on the petrol station and proceeded to the counter with armfuls of water, chocolate milk, coke, and ice cream. The last gravel section was a little ‘bobby dazzler’ and a perfect way to round out a testing day in the saddle. After riding down a long straight gravel road we were faced with what looked like a ‘wall’ ahead of us, and a wall it was. It was one of those, stop and you won’t easily 'start again' walls, one where you feel like you are almost going backward, and when you look down you see.. ’nope there are no more gear’s'. As we crested its summit, we saw an equally fast descent, into another one, and then another one!
It was here, within about 30km to the finish my day nearly finished, and then did soon after that. It turns out that the Tarmac SL7 is a bike that blew everyone away given how well it went on 30mm Turbo Pro tyres, however, the Diverge was really the bike I should have been riding. Out of tubes, and the support crew having dropped all gear ahead at our final destination, Tye generously offered me his bike having earlier fallen unwell (we soon found out to the big ‘C’), and I proceeded to roll the last 30km’s home having asked the guys to drive on and I would meet them at our destination. 5km on and Tyre’s bike succumbed to a loss of air pressure also, and, I had to call in the calvary to come pick me up. Note to self in future, just take the grave bike!
It was another amazing gravel adventure, meeting and riding with a great crew of new people. The riding part of my trip ended that Saturday night when I too tested positive for COVID. Sunday, Darcy and I were able to get back to Sydney, and I then had to hole up for just over a week before being able to return home. Further to the COVID blip, it was a great trip. Rural New South Wales has some amazing roads to adventure on, and much fun was had!