We slept late. I woke a few times and peered over at Ty lying motionless in his bivy a few metres away and took that as a sign to go back to sleep. At 7.30 he was finally stirring and I knew it was time for us to get moving. Unsurprisingly it took us longer than usual to break camp that morning but we were rolling by 9. Still only 5.5 hours sleep.
30km following Moroka Rd across the plateau slowly woke the body up, and gave us the oportunity to stretch out our tired muscles before dropping into a technical descent along B2 track, evntually spitting us out onto Tamboritha Rd which continued down hill winding our way rapidly off Mt Wellington and down to the Wellington River which we’d follow all the way down to Licola.
I lost Ty on the last stretch into town, and hadn’t thought much of it. I walked into the general store, filled my arms with food, a bottle of gatorade, a can of coke and plonked myself down on the bench out front, digging into a can of tinned spaghetti while I awaited Ty’s arrival. He rolled in looking beat. He didn’t look like he was going anywhere fast. It was hot out, but not boiling, we’d pushed through a warm headwind along the last 20kms into Licola, but it didn’t explain why Ty was in this state, I thought he’d cracked. We sat around for a while, hoping Ty would come around after some food and rest. An hour and a half passed, we were finally preparing to leave when John and Dave rolled in to town. We hadn’t seen them since the end of day 1 in Cabramurra, but knew they weren’t far behind. They got a much earlier jump on the day than we had and with some hard riding had closed the gap between us. We chatted briefly before departing and I promised to order them dinner if I made it to Woods Point before the pub kitchen closed. Ty and I hit the climb out of town, once again leaving John and Dave behind. Ty turned to me “I’m going slow” he said. I told him I was making dinner at Woods Point and took off.
I knew it would be cutting it fine either way. The kitchen closed in 4.5 hours, I had 60km to cover and Mt Selma stood in my way. The 30km climb gaining 1200m must have taken a few hours at least, but it felt like I sprinted up it the whole way. I felt strong in a way that amazed me after the previous 4 days. Tackling a few steep 4WD tracks towards the top, I knew I was on pace to make dinner but I still couldn’t dawdle. The descent came and I let loose, off the brakes, I could feel I was getting close. The route turned right on Johnson Hill Track, it climbed steeply for a short way and I was cursing, I should be losing elevation, not climbing, I was running out of time. Then it dropped, perhaps the most fun section of the entire ride. A rough but flowy descent, it was steep and accentuated every so often with a water bar to launch off. The kind of trail that makes you feel like a kid. Literally hooting and hollering the entire way down. This is the reason I ride bikes. At the bottom I blast through a river crossing, then encounter another. I look at my watch, I still have 20 minutes. I look down at my legs and I’m plastered with dirt. I strip my shoes and socks off, wade knee deep into the river, carrying my bike across to the other side before returning to rinse myself off.
I roll into town, leaning my bike against the front of the pub, and walking inside. It’s a small country pub but it’s packed with workers from the nearby mine. It’s one of those music stops, everyone turns around moments. I felt out of place. I excused myself as I made my way up to the bar, order a ginger beer, 3 parmas for the riders coming in behind me, a bowl of fries and negotiated a bowl of salad for myself.
By the time my food had arrived John and Dave had already arrived at the bar, relieved to know dinner was on the way. But they had passed Ty on the climb, he was crawling along. Lightning flashed through the pub window and all we could do was hope Ty was alright. In the time it took me to polish off my food the storm had passed. After their early start John and Dave were calling it a day. It was now nearing 9pm and they’d been going for 16 hours already. I was feeling strong and with a full belly and the storm passed, I made my move before Ty ever rolled into town.
For the first time I was truly riding solo. Off on my own into the night. I had vague delusions of riding through the night, all the way through to Melbourne, but they were quickly shot down. Half way up the climb out of town I started to feel nauseous. Not now. Not so close to home. I’d already covered 750km and by my count only had ~190km to go. I pressed on, another 20km down and it was nearing midnight. The surface was rough and the road wound tightly through the mountains, rolling up and down gently. My helmet light died. Thats not right. I’d been charging it all day. I check the battery, its definitely flat. I mustn’t have plugged it in to the battery pack properly. I still have the light mounted to my bars, but on such a windy road, without the helmet light to see around the bends, I’d be taking the corners blind. Its a sign. I already feel sick, but I’ve got the climb out of the way and knocked off 30km that I don’t have to cover tomorrow.
I look around. There’s a small patch of grass off the side of the road. Good enough. I throw out my bivy and crawl inside, not even bothering to take my filthy clothes off. I hope I feel better in the morning.