The plan: depart Melbourne at 10pm, ride through the night to Echuca and cross the Murray River into New South Wales before turning southbound and riding back into Melbourne. A total of 450km.
Several of my regular partner’s in crime (and riding); Ben, Eoin and Gary are all in training for the Indian Pacific Wheel Race this March. Indy-Pac is a 5300km bikepacking race following sealed roads from Fremantle, Western Australia, across the deserts, along the coast, over the mountains and into Sydney. Thus, this ride was planned as a bit of test run for them, but knowing that I’m partial to the occasional silly ride, I was asked to come along for the adventure.
Before leaving I was pretty apprehensive, but also excited about the test. Previously my longest ride had been just over 200km, albeit off-road, through the Alps, on a loaded mountain bike. Crunching the numbers, I felt that we could have the ride done in about 20 hours, which felt doable. What was stressing me was the idea of leaving at 10pm and riding through the night. Once I’m tired, I have a hard time fighting off sleep. I’d never done anything like this and didn’t know how I’d handle it. I honestly was scared going in that I might fall asleep on the bike and crash.
We met in the parking lot of a 7-11 in Brunswick shortly after 10pm before rolling out through Melbourne’s northern suburbs. For the first hour spirits were high, lots of joking, laughing and chatting as we put the traffic behind us. Then I was in trouble. The second and third hours of the ride proved to be the hardest for me. I’d only managed to nap for a little more than an hour in the afternoon and all of a sudden, despite it not being that late, my eyes grew heavy. With over 400km still ahead of us I couldn’t envisage a way I could keep awake that long. The ride seemed doomed already as thoughts swirled through my head concocting contingency plans to find somewhere to sleep or turn around. It was warm and I found myself wondering if I put my arm warmers on, would that be enough to keep me warm enough to sleep beside the road for a few hours and let the others carry on.
I pushed through and some time around 1am I finally settled into a rhythm and the desire to close my eyes passed. We passed through several towns, in the next few hours, but everything was closed and we would simply fill our bidons at a service station tap and continue on.
The night seemed to go on forever. The battery on my handlebar light died around 4 am and I was left relying on my helmet light and the lights of the other 3.
A little after 5 the day’s first light started creeping into the sky. Not enough to see by, just a little hint seeping over the horizon; it filled me with some excitement and spurred me on into the town of Rochester, the birthplace of Australian endurance cycling legend Sir Hubert “Oppy” Opperman, stopping briefly to make a pilgrimage to his memorial. Through the 1920’s and 30’s Oppy set a myriad of long-distance records including a 24-hour record of 743km.
The light show continued in the sky and filled us with encouragement knowing the night was now behind us. By 6.30 the sun itself finally showed its face as we rolled through the outer reaches of Echuca, the border town that marked both breakfast and our turn around point. Before food we rolled through town to make our symbolic crossing of the Murray River, briefly leaving Victoria and stepping foot into my home state of New South Wales.
Coffee, food and resupply before leaving town. The sun was starting to get up in the sky and although it wasn’t that hot out yet, we could feel the heat of its ray’s and knew it would be scorching soon enough.
Moving southbound now, the temperature rose quickly up into the 30’s. Our return route was slightly different to that which brought us north and bypassed many of the towns we had passed this morning, which proved to be slightly problematic as in the growing heat of the day, we were going through water quickly. I had left Echuca with 2L and most of that had already gone, when around 15km from Heathcote we passed a CFA station seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There was a tap on the outside of the station and we were able to fill our bidons and wet our heads and necks which was instantly refreshing.
Pulling into Heathcote for an early lunch marked off another 100km since leaving Echuca, chalking up the total to around 330km. Things are honestly a little vague from here. At a certain point the road becomes monotonous and everything seems the same. The roads were now busy and we had to ride single file. Pace-lining our way back across the state, rolling short turns in an attempt to save ourselves from blowing up on the home stretch.
We slowed the pace briefly to avoid overheating, but the drop in heart rate tricked my body into thinking we were winding down and I started to become overwhelmed with tiredness. I took off on my own for a bit to wake myself up a bit before the short climb up into Kilmore as temperatures hit 37 degrees. We regrouped and sat inside the service station chugging gatorade and eating popsicles, trying to bring our core-temperatures down. From here we enjoyed the descent down into the Upper Plenty Valley, looking over at the dense forest of Kinglake National Park as we sped down the hill.
Another gatorade and popsicle break in Whittlesea as we tried to breath life back into ourselves, feeling more broken from the heat than we were from the miles themselves, before the final stretch down Plenty Rd, the Darrebin Creek trail and home, picking up a pizza on the way.
Once home I barely managed to eat the pizza, chug some water and take a cool shower before passing out on top of my sheets, easily my biggest day ever on the bike in the books. Not in training for anything, just for the fun and the company of my mates in the name of adventure.