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Here at VVMCC we let our posts age like a fine wine before distributing them to the masses, which is convenient, because at the same time we’re all a little bit lazy.

I promised you an account of my Festive 500 campaign, well I’m not going to bore you with a km by km account, especially as most of them were pretty wussy, but I will tell you about my Festive 500 ‘Queen Stage’. My plan on Christmas Eve was to tackle a ride of similar proportions to 3 Peaks Challenge to make sure I was good and ready, especially since I was taking a month off the bike in Borneo, a month that should have been used for solid training. Conveniently based in Reefton for Christmas, my plan was to take on Reefton Spur, Lake Mountain in its entirety, up the back of Mt. Donna Buang via Acheron way, and a full Donna Buang ascent to finish off.

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Being based in Reefton meant I was only a few km from the bottom of Reefton Spur and smack bang in the middle of cycling paradise. I timed my ride to perfection. For those who have forgotten, the day before Christmas Eve was approximately 140 degrees C. This gave me a welcome rest day after a taxing 100km commute from Brunswick to Reefton via the glorious boonies on the 22nd.

I awoke early to discover it was a mere warm (not suicidally hot) Christmas Eve, which would only become cooler as I went higher in altitude, and there would be plenty of altitude gain.

Reefton Spur was first on the menu without any warm-up to speak of; actually it would BE the warm-up. Any grandiose visions of conquering mountain climbs at full flight came crashing down to earth as I was put to work on the consistently mellow but discouragingly long crawl along the ridge. Patience revealed itself as the key strategy of the day. I was almost on the verge of getting bored until I neared the upper grades and what are essentially the foothills of Lake Mountain. Those grandiose visions came back a little. The vibrant green of tree ferns and moss contrasted the bone white tree skeletons and there was not a soul for miles. Actually I would see few people on the road for the whole day, did I mention it was cycling paradise?

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Reefton Spur.

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Steeling the show.

Instead of heading straight up to the summit of Lake Mountain my plan was to descend to Marysville, have a muffin, then tackle the full length of the climb. The warm-up on the spur worked wonders because I felt fresh as a daisy for the whole way up. I even gave Pinchy a call at work halfway up to gloat about where I was. He did a good job pretending that he was excited for me. Karma struck as soon as I hung up however, my back tyre started feeling a little bouncy, and a (very) slow leak appeared. Not being the type to cut a climb short I took as much weight off the back and tried to keep afloat for the last 9km. I kept on looking around the corners for the lodge but alas I eventually gave up and got my quick change on, only to jump back on and roll around the next corner to find the lodge looming. In the future I’ll keep my gloating to a minimum; the cycling gods have fantastic senses of humour.

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Lake Mountain.

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Furry friends.

After another ripper descent and a brief lunch in Marysville (bloody good bangers and mash), I headed to the biggest unknown of the day: Acheron way. I had learned that there was climbing and dirt, but I wasn’t sure of the extent of either.

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Not long after turning onto Acheron Way I was flying at 40km/h plus along a paved flat section of road that shared the bottom of the valley with the Acheron River. The river crossed the road several times and occasionally felt like it was running on both sides. I couldn’t resist a little paddle to wash away the days grime. The dirt climb came soon after and it couldn’t have been prettier. The well-tended road wound through some quite dense rainforest for the best part of 10kms before flattening out. Then suddenly the whole Yarra Valley hit me in the face. The views were completely unexpected. I found myself on the side of a misty mountain completely alone save for packs of rosellas and the odd lyrebird, my legs felt no pain. I must have had the biggest stupid grin on my face when I popped out at Cement Creek and bombed it back down to Warburton.

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A summery Donna Buang scene.

I didn’t give myself any time to question my Donna attempt; I just turned around and got to it. I did do some bonking half way up, so it was pretty slow going (one day I’ll set a respectable time up that mountain), but I had food, so I was fine. Funnily enough was my first Donna without snow.
I was invincible all the way back to Reefton.

The next day I headed straight up the spur again to the Lake Mountain summit and back down before Christmas lunch; one does not waste a morning in cycling paradise. I’d done nearly 6000 vertical in two days and my Festive 500 tally was looking healthy. I felt I was ready for 3 Peaks.

Then I went and took off to Borneo for a month, without even looking at a bike the whole time. I did climb a mountain though, which I’ll tell you about soon.

There’s nothing wrong with biting off more than you can chew, if you have all day to chew it.

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Don’t take your Sunday bike on the Warburton Trail.

Gareth

Rapha Rising had a little mini challenge that coincided with the ‘queen stage’ of Le Tour, which is basically the stage in which the riders hit the gnarliest Pyrenean peaks. The interim challenge required that you to ride as many vertical KMs as you could on that same day. I knew I had no chance against the other extremists doing the challenge, but I saw it fitting that I squeeze in at least one Hors Catégorie climb for the occasion. I chose Mt. Donna Buang. The only problem was; I had to do it before work. I set my alarm for 4AM, ignored the weather report forecasting snow above 1000m, made sure everything was in working order and hit the hay.

I had a rough sleep, troubled by everything from riding in the dark, to simply where I was going to park my car, but I still managed to get going at 4:30AM. After way too much driving I stopped 10km from the base of the mountain at Yarra Junction so I could get my legs warmed up.

Riding in the dark is a strange experience, especially in a forest, with no artificial lights other than my little halogen silicon thing (which irritatingly kept switching back to flashing mode every time I went over a bump). I felt surrounded by the creatures of the night, and since they had probably gone to bed moments before I so rudely woke them up again, I assumed they were pissed off. At this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if I got spear tackled by one of those black panthers people keep spotting.

Riding in the serenity of the dark is good for one thing though, my breathing was steady, my heart rate was low and I could climb at the speed I was going all day and never be in trouble. Granted my average was comically low, but I didn’t care, I wasn’t there to smash any records (they were far out of my reach anyway). It was a milestone just to make it up without stopping!

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The light was gathering and I could see more of the views, triggering that euphoric feeling which is the main reason I climb. I lost count at about 20 lyrebirds and nearly fell over a few times trying to take a photo of one (to no avail). Things were looking alright, my legs were fine, I was dry and the wildlife was coming out to play. I thought I might just make it out of there with no dramas. I was wrong.

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At around 900m of climbing it started raining, no?  Was it sleet? Or light hail? I decided that I’d say it was snowing for hyperbolic purposes. Another 100m and it was pretty clear that I didn’t have to make up any stories, it was legitimately snowing. It’s wise never to take alpine weather reports lightly, but somehow I always do. This was ok, I was warm from climbing and I had dry long fingered gloves in my jacket. Plus it was pretty exciting. I got to the top and took as many photos as my numbing fingers would allow and thought I’d better not stick around and pointed the bike downwards.

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Suddenly I was instantly soaked, my fingers, face and toes were instantly numb, my cleats were icy and wouldn’t snap into my pedals, and of course the road was slippery as hell. My rear brake pads were already wearing thin and were completely gone after a couple of KMs. Not that the brakes were doing much anyway. The snow turned back to sleet, and then to rain as I descended. Halfway down felt it significantly warmer so I checked to temp on my Garmin. It was 2 degrees, comparatively balmy. I was pedalling and braking at the same time to keep blood flowing in my legs, never getting over 50KM/H. After an eternity I reached the bottom and cursed myself for not having parked closer, another lesson learned. I sprinted through the rain to keep warm. When I got back to my car I changed into PJ’s that I’d worn on the way, another mental note, bring a more comprehensive change of clothes, or climb high mountains in spring, its warmer.

One more for the books, it’s the first time I’ve turned up to work in my pyjamas.

Gareth.

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