A few of us went across to Hopetoun in September for the Mallee routes rides, It’s an Audax ride I’ve done for the last four years now, and look forward to it every year.
I’d been watching the weather forecast for a week and things were looking good when Friday fainally arrived.
Finishing work at just after 11am, I was able to get home and pack the car with John Doran and be ready to leave for Hopetoun at 1.30pm. This was great as we almost always end up arriving in the dark and I was keen to go out for a short ride when we got there.
We were in contact with Meaghan and Peter Burridge on the way up, another carload of 5 Lairs, their 14 year old son Nic and a couple of his mates were going to do the new and improved 100 into Wyperfeld national park on the Saturday.
We arrived in Hopetoun at 5.30 pm which gave me enough time to head out for a short spin to check the landing gear as I’d been having trouble with saddle sores recently and was weary of being able to sit on the bike after a few days off.
One of the highlights of this ride is catching up with most of the participants on the Friday night for registration and dinner, not an opportunity we usually get before a ride. It's great being able to do the rounds with the Audax folk and the Community Hotel accommodated us in an area all to ourselves, which, as it turned out meant the whole pub as we were the only ones in there for most of the night.
I had set My alarm for 4.45am which allowed me plenty of time to have brekky and do the short roll down to the Mallee Bush Retreat, where Peter Annear was already doing light checks.
There were a few Lairs doing various distances this year with Dave Killick and I having a go at 300, John and Peter doing the 200 and Meaghan, Nic, Andrew and Lachie heading into Wyperfeld for the new route 100km.
It was good to see the three teenagers along, escorting Meaghan. This years 100k route didn’t follow the riders doing the longer distances down the Hwy to Warracknabeel, instead heading west straight toward the national park on a very nice stretch of road with next to no traffic. I hope the lads enjoyed their first brevet and get a taste for Audax riding, perhaps only if it whets their appetite for the years ahead. Maybe they will come across the Brevet card one day and get spurred on to have another go.
As 6am rolled on the sun was just thinking about making an appearance, so with a few words from Peter the 50 or so strong bunch took off and the long line of flashing red lights made it's way toward Warracknabeel.
It doesn’t take long for bunches to sort themselves out on rides and I soon had myself in a group of about 8 which seemed to be travelling at a pace that suited me and we covered the 60km that got us to our first control before 8am, but only soon enough to see Simon Watt blast off into the distance, he was on a mission and was riding very strongly.
We made the stop at the Werrigar roadhouse a brief one and hit the road in a bunch of six all taking turns on the front.
I always make sure I take time to have a good look around on this ride, the countryside is very different to that in which I normally ride, and I love it, the long straight roads and the expansive paddocks of glowing, hip high Canola and deep green Cereal crops thriving in an all too rare good year, fences so far apart one of our bunch even asked how the farmers knew where their properties ended, but we knew there were fences way back somewhere.
The evidence of the recent heavy rains was all around us as lots of water came up to the side of the road, which was probably over it just a few days ago.
The light cloud was beginning to let the sun peak through occasionally on this leg so I pulled over for a quick stop and took off the light jacket I had been wearing, and was able to ride sleeveless for the first time in months and stayed that way for the rest of the ride.
At 114 k’s we took the left turn into a light crosswind for the last 9km into Birchip and the checkpoint in the takeaway, which always has great food.
We left Birchip in dribs and drabs but after 20 minutes or so of some hard turns our bunch reformed as a group of five which was made up of George Judkins, Ted Van Geldenwalsen, Glenn Pannam, Stephen Rowlands and myself.
We were now riding into a head/cross wind which came at us from the north west so an echelon formed and we were able to move along at a very good pace, in fact a bit too good for me and I felt I was probably overdoing it a bit if I was going to finish a 300, after my turn I let the others know the pace was too hot for me and dropped to the back and was deciding whether to let them go. After only a few minutes on the back I was soon back in the groove feeling pretty good and doing my share. I often have a slow patch after a checkpoint, Food and me have a special thing going and I think even my hair and finger nails have to put in an effort to help digest the amount I eat, so maybe I'll blame the roast chicken roll.
When we were in Birchip a lady asked me where we were heading and upon hearing Sea Lake commented how she wouldn't like to be heading that way with all the sand on the road, I was quickly doing the mental math on the cost of a new hub and bottom bracket and all the time I would have to spend getting it out of all the little nooks and crannies...I didn't see any sand. Trash talk from old ladies, it gets me every time.
We arrived in Sea Lake to find hardly a soul on the street and only a couple of cars parked out side the beautiful red brick pub which dominates the main street. I couldn't help but worry about the future that faced these wonderful Mallee towns, I'm sure there wouldn't be half the families there once were in this part of Victoria and can not see how they will survive, they're to far from the major cities to ever become trendy little towns full of antique shops, but maybe that's not such a bad thing as long as they can just keep ticking over.
Only a jam Doughnut and a sports drink top up from the friendly girls in the cafe here. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, we were on our way to Patchewollock.
The 75km from to the next control was basically East to West so we were now into the wind, though not anything like what you can get around here when things aren't going your way, I have actually seen Tumbleweeds blow across the road on one of my previous go’s at this ride. This and the next leg were the only sections which had anything that resembled hills in them but only enough to be hills to legs that had just pedalled 200k's, there were no king of the mountains points on offer here.
Our bunch was not as organized from here as gaps were forming but we were pretty much in sight of each other, Stephen played messenger as he floated between the two small groups.
We passed through the tiny town of Speed where we crossed the Sunraysia Hwy, a look at my computer showed we had travelled 197km and would be at our next checkpoint in just a little over 50k’s.
At the 253km mark we rolled in to Patchewollock where we saw the familiar face of Gordon McMillan, a top bloke to come across when you’re hungry and tired, he had set up in a great little shelter adjacent to an old train station which, would be safe to say had not taken a passengers fare for many years.
I was in need of some real food, nothing that even slightly resembled a muesli bar so I headed straight for the big pot of soup he had simmering away in the corner of the shelter and helped myself to a big bowl, it was great to have something warm to start off with then a sandwich and a piece of cake was just right.
We caught up with Bruno here but missed Simon Watt who was already on his way to the next control and finish for me, Hopetoun.
Even though this was a tiny town I was still surprised that there was no one about, I saw one person and no cars, I had a short chat with the fella whom wandered across to us, and answered the usual questions, Where from ? Where to ? How many days will that take ? Followed by “you’re mad”.
Fed and watered, we headed off for Hopetoun, again at a cracking pace and soon caught up with Bruno whom had taken off before us but was having bottom bracket problems and turned down the invitation to join our Conga line.
After about 20k’s George and I dropped off the bunch and rode together in what was a beautiful late afternoon, and enjoyed the gloaming as we skirted the Eastern most edge of Wyperfeld National Park.
We passed an old cemetery near Yarto, which is nothing more than a place name, given different circumstances and a bit of time would have been great to have a walk through.
At about 300km we turned onto the Henty Hwy which was the home straight for me and before we knew it were on the outskirts of town and in no time turning at the pub toward the Bush Retreat and the end of my ride. We made it in just before 6.30pm so still had the last bit of daylight as we got our cards signed and got stuck into some of Peter’s pasta, which is always a good reward at the end of a long day and in my case 51666 turns of the pedals.
I had been looking forward to a beer and a steak all day so was soon bidding George a good last leg as he headed to Wyperfeld for the last 100km to complete his ride, I then made a B-line for my room and a hot shower before dinner and a couple of Ales with the Lancefield gang.
Having the ride based at the Bush Retreat is one of the things that makes this weekend great, I love heading back there for a good chin wag with the riders in front of the warm fire.
With Dave Killick coming in I can’t say that the conversation was all things cycling but as usual a heap of fun and before we knew it the 400km riders were making there way back in with Simon Whatt, Stephen Rowlands and George Judkins returning with not a lot of time separating them.
As 1am rolled past the efforts of the day began catching up with me and a good nights sleep was what I had in mind so I called it a night and headed for my room and passed out in seconds.
In the morning I headed across the road from the hotel to the café and found that a group had gathered for an unofficial post ride debriefing, a top way to cap off a fantastic cycling weekend. Once we got Simon to put his briefs back on it was time for folk to start heading their separate ways for the trip home.
Thanks to George Judkins for sharing some of his photos.
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