Three Peaks Challenge – 11 weeks to go! (the dirt edition)

On a long ride with a client this week, I was commenting about how every ride contained a newsworthy story. Indeed, that particular ride contained some unforgettable elements of adventure for both of us. Today’s ride provided another unforgettable story which involved some steep climbs, a pile of dirt, and an over reliance of the Apple Maps application.

Training for an event like Three Peaks requires the participant to become a proficient, strong climber. This is not my natural state of being as a cyclist, which is probably why I choose to aim for the events that stretch me to the limit. Luckily I have the guidance of Coach Liz, who is one of the best climbers in the business, and knows exactly how to get me ready for the task. When she mentioned riding up the Toowoomba range via Flagstaff Creek road with friends, Anne and Nicky, I jumped at the chance. Secretly I was a rather apprehensive about the climb, however compared with what was ahead, it was a relative non issue.

We set off from the small town of Helidon, winding our way towards Toowoomba, along the Helidon Spa Road. The road surface was dead and unforgiving, which mimics the roads in Alpine Victoria rather nicely. Still feeling apprehensive about the climb ahead, I decided to give thanks for the opportunity to improve my resilience in challenging conditions. The climb itself, whilst challenging, also included a few flatter bits where I caught my breath before attempting the next steeper part. We reached the top of the range and surveyed the spectacular view from Picnic Point, refilled our water bottles, before turning around and rewarding ourselves with a quick, winding descent off the range.

Riding towards Gatton we were greeted with a stiff headwind and we all took turns at doing some tempo work on the front. I was delighted when after a good hard turn, I could drift back and enjoy the draft the other girls provided. I always joke that this is equivalent to “checking into the Hilton” – you have those the front providing “room service” and making the stay at the back of the peloton an enjoyable experience! Once in Gatton, via a quick detour to Ma Ma Creek, we enjoyed the country hospitality of a local coffee shop where meat pies, milkshakes, and scones with jam and cream were the order of the day, accompanied by plenty of coffee.

At the coffee shop, we pored over Liz’s Maps app, trying to determine the best way of riding from Gatton back to Helidon. Unfortunately it was at this moment, I decided to lead everyone astray, choosing a route that on “Maps” seemed to be quite direct – after all, how hard could it be to hit it out to Helidon on a road that mostly ran parallel to the highway? We set off, buoyed by the prospect of having to ride only twenty kilometres before our work was done for the day. I was puzzled, however that the app was stating that it would take us well over an hour to ride. I decided to rationalise that oddity down to the app developer having no clue about what legendary (and speedy) riders we really were.

It started well, as we dipped under the highway and found the route, running alongside the highway, just as the app had predicted. Our direction meant that we were enjoying a crisp tailwind and I began to feel a slight sense of smugness – not only were we flying down the road, it also felt like a we were riding slightly downhill – what a lovely treat after the first eighty kilometres being so hard!

We rounded a corner and started up the slight dogleg away from the highway as the app had predicted. Suddenly we were faced with two choices – “dirt road” or “no through road”.

“We have to ride the dirt,” I stated. “It shouldn’t last too long, I hope,” I offered, beginning to feel like Gandalf on his quest through the Mines of Moria.

Whilst I have ridden on gravel roads before, they’ve usually only lasted a few hundred metres and have been relatively smooth. Things started off reasonably flat, but soon we were on undulating terrain and that’s when things started becoming a tad hairy. Both Anne and I had followed Nicky through a bit of really soft sand and our senses of balance had started looking perilous. Both of us remained calm and kept our bikes upright, preparing ourselves for the next climb. Liz and Nicky had moved ahead when suddenly Anne stopped and uttered a few choice words – not fit for blog consumption. We were at the top of a gravelly steep descent and both of us looked at each other with horror. How the heck were we going to get down this sandy monster of a descent? By this stage, we had ridden too far to turn back. With trepidation I made my way down the hill, trying to keep my weight back to control the fishtailing my rear wheel was starting to indulge in. After about ten seconds, which felt like a lifetime, I had made it to the bottom. I was quickly followed by Anne and as we traversed the other side of the hill, all we could do is look at each other and shake our heads in amazement that we were both still alive(lol). We caught up to Liz and Nicky who were waiting for us and we all agreed that riding dirt descents on road bikes was just a tad terrifying. We checked the app for the hundredth time – surely this wasn’t the route?

However, after more dirt, a bitumen reprieve and yet more dirt, we arrived back in Helidon – dusty, exhausted and yet, strangely triumphant. After such a bonding experience we became ever better friends than we were when we set out this morning. These epic adventures epitomise the magic of riding a bike. They create long lasting bonds and friendships like nothing else. I am certain we will remember our “dirty” Boxing Day riding adventure for many years to come.

Week “T Minus Eleven” is now accomplished! I can’t wait to see what “T Minus Ten” is like.

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