A 300km ride by itself is a big day out. Throw in 7500m of vertical gain and that all on gravel, it promises an epic ride.
It would have been a tough day out.
But it wasnt supposed to be.
It would be a lot tougher than that.
So what happened?
It all started at 2:30am waking up for the ride.
The start was at 4am with 12 other riders doing the 300km ride. Lights were required because we were in a very remote area. No street lamps. Nothing that could lit up the way. Only 13 lonely headlamps.
Not even 10km into the ride, I got a flat. It was still on paved road before we would hit the gravel.
Ben and Owen were so nice to stop with me. We fixed the flat.
I brought three tubes with me. With two more tubes left I wasnt worried.
We hit the gravel. The sun started rising. The weather was excellent. It promised a great day on a bike riding in remote Victoria.
No cars. No traffic. No civilization besides the odd camping ground.
While Ben and I discussed world problems, the time and kilometers flew by.
We hit the first checkpoint just before 8am. 70km into the ride. It took us four hours. I forgot how much gravel slowed one down. A bit of calculations and I realized it would be a long, long day on the bike.
At some point, I found myself riding on my own. I tried to catch up with the group ahead of me. I caught them at the next checkpoint – Woodspoint – 120km into the ride. Five minutes later I was back on the bike with the group.
With the last 40km on my own, I was glad riding in a group again.
While heavily engaged in conversation, I got my second flat. On a downhill. On gravel.
Despite the annoyance I was in high spirits. It happens.
Richard and Simon stopped for me. Flat was fixed. Back on the road. So I kept chatting with them.
Third checkpoint. Jamieson. 200km into the ride. It was 2 or 3pm. I was told, the toughest part of the ride was ahead of us. Mt Skene. 1500m of elevation, 40km all on gravel. It would take a long time.
I was ready to get started to get it done.
We rode off in a group. Not even on the climb yet and I got my third flat.
This time I was by myself.
It was hot. Flies surrounded me. No soul in sight. I was very annoyed. Keep getting flats made a long day so much longer, draining and mentally exhausting.
I was considering throwing a tantrum but it wouldnt make a difference. So I skipped that part and just went through the motions of fixing another flat.
10 minutes later I was back on the bike. Very well aware that I could not have any more flats.
I had no puncture kits. No more tubs. And no lever.
I climbed Mt Skene through some brutally steep sections with no shade in sight. It got hot.
The van of the event volunteers came by. I told Ray and Andy about not having any more tubes left. They fixed my punctured tube on the fly. I had an option again. I felt like in a video game where I am getting lives back .
I passed Stuart (a 400km rider) and Richard on the uphill. And before I knew it I got my fourth flat.
This time I was in sheer disbelief. I was sitting on the ground trying to get the tire off the rim without a lever.
Both of them stopped and helped to get it fixed. We decided to re-tape the rim. I had brought medical tape along. That had to suffice.
The flat was fixed from the re-patched tube so I carried on. Stuart and I had different speeds (he had 100km more in his legs) and I tapped along. I had no more tubes left.
There was no volunteer car behind me anymore. Next flat would mean game over.
It was only 1 more km to the top. I could even see the top.
I got that game-over flat.
This time, it got me.
I had no tubes anymore. And my pump didnt work.
I was out of options. I just couldnt believe it.
But no way, I would quit for a flat!
On the practical side, there was no real option to throw the towel anyway. I was not exactly on a bus line. I was literally in the middle of nowhere. There was a reason this was a gravel road and not a paved road.
No one drives this road!
I put my flat tire back into the wheel and was ready to face the seven kilometers to the next checkpoint on a flat.
But then when I looked up an angel…ahem…Stuart popped up in the distance.
He helped me to fix the tube – I have no idea anymore how. But then I was off.
Finally I made it to the checkpoint. I never thought I would arrive.
It was 7pm. On the bike for 15 hours. Another 120km ahead of me.
The sun was setting. I had an hour or so of daylight. But another 25km of rough descent.
And I had no tubes and no pump.
At the checkpoint, Andy once again fixed the already destroyed tube for me. Ray figured out what was wrong with the pump.
I left the checkpoint racing against the sunset.
It became colder, darker.
I was shivering from the cold and from exhaustion.
I was losing my concentration, trying to navigate the corners, the gravel, the potholes.
And then came pavement! It would be pavement until the finish line. 65km to go.
It was pitch black. Descending a massive mountain with a significant drop-off on the side into the valley.
It was beautiful and scary at the same time.
Monika, just dont lose your concentration!
I saw the next village already on my bike computer- Licola.
Only 3km of concentration and then I was back in the valley!
Destiny didnt like my optimism so I got my sixth flat. This time the front wheel for a change.
I was sitting in the middle of the dark, dark road exchanging the flat with a double-patched tube and pumped up the pressure to ca. 30psi – more wasnt possible. Another puncture was in the near future – I knew that.
Just after a second I got back on my bike, Stuart passed me. Before I could even say anything, he was already in the distance.
Suddenly, I saw movement to my left in the dark.
I slowed down.
And then a massive wombat jumped in front of my wheel.
I had to break hard.
No idea how I made it the last 3km down the hill but I made it to Licola – to civilization – probably a village of 10 inhabitants but at least there were man-built structures.
And I saw Stuart on the side of the road. I stopped. What was going on?
I forgot why he stopped because I realized I just got that near-future puncture. Number 7.
Poor Stuart couldnt believe it either.
We both realized we ran out of options. He couldnt help me anymore. No tubes left, no patches left. Nothing.
The race organizer and volunteer Gareth and Tim approached by car.
As there were absolutely no tubes for my 35mm tires left anymore, they tried to replace it with a 29er tube. It exploded – number 8. Now not only the tube was destroyed, but the tire as well. It made me laugh.
I was beyond the frustration phase. This has become pure entertainment.
The second volunteer car approached.
It was 11:00pm. We were about 10 people in Licola, doubling the population of this village, all trying to figure out what to do about my flat.
One rider, who abandoned the ride and got a ride in the volunteer car, offered his bike to me.
A nice MTB with tubeless wheels. That must suffice for the next 40km.
While I was getting ready on my new no-problem rig, Ben came out of nowhere. That very Ben who I chatted with at the beginning of the ride.
Stuart, Ben and I then rode together the next 40 hilly kilometers to the finish.
At first, they were quiet but all of a sudden they seem to wake up and became so loquacious that I couldnt even talk anymore. That was ok – I was talking for the last 19 hours.
We finished at 12:30am.
21.5 hrs on the bike.
8 flats that cost at least 3 hours.
I cant say thank you enough to everyone who helped me along this ride. There were times I was out of options and without the help of my fellow riders and volunteers, I would be still walking to the finish line.
Thanks to Gareth and all the volunteers for an amazing ride!Thank you, Tim Waters, for the pictures!
Why I go so many flats? Absolutely no idea. Wrong tire, wrong tubes, wrong air, wrong rim tape, wrong riding line.
Whatever it is, I am looking now for the best tubes, tires, wheels and pump that is out there!