Sunday, March 17, 2013

GDT 2013: A touch of suffering, Australian style

The GDT route as seen from Trackleaders
The final 20 kilometres of the 2013 Great Dividing Trail Ride were some of the hardest I’ve ever experienced on a bike.
The cumulative effectives of my body’s failure to function in the hot temperatures (which approached high thirties for both days of the 384km ride) reduced me to a physically crippled wreck.
Riddled with cramps in the usual places as well as some odd ones (arches of feet, elbow and neck), the slightest rise forced an awkward dismount.  I propelled bike and body jerkily forward, doubled over with one arm on the bar and the top of my head pushing the other grip. An unorthodox and wholly inefficient technique but one that was necessitated by the world of hurt I was in.
With 10km to go I’d forced myself to stop and eat my last goo, a sickly chocolate concoction which promptly forced my stomach to evacuate the half digested day’s takings, which were thankfully meagre. On finishing my technicolour yawn I’d had a second wind, if that’s what you could call the asthmatic puff of energy in my otherwise desolate world of glycogen debt.
Knowing that the last 6km were downhill was supremely motivating and on passing Arran at the crest and chomping on his proferred salt tabs with only a slight gag, my mind’s bullying motivation which had pushed me thus far faded into the blissful hum of the sinuous descent.
Not to be outdone in the realm of fails, my GPS decided to kick the can in the final 4km, so I put in a call to organiser Ryan, first to dish out some harsh but fair anatomical metaphors, and secondly to get directions to the train station which was the finish.  I rushed there to buy a ticket home before the shivers set in.
The shakes of early heat stroke came with the same ferocity as the previous day. Arran who finished close behind later likened them to a seizure, which prompted the station master to ask Arran if he could move me. A caring sort they are in Victoria. But I wasn’t moving, not after the immense effort it took to get to the finish of the epic adventure that was the inaugural GDT.

Post race haze: no instagram required
Photo Ross Cairns

The weekend began with promise. Local legend and bikepacking afficianado Ryan had picked us up from the airport and the banter from the get go was off the scales (or rather on the scales for the weight weenies amongst us). It was great to put faces and personalities to the bikepacking community which till now had been virtual. In the company of other enthusiastic bike geeks we could let loose with the pent up gear-talk which we’d learned to bottle up in our home lives for fear of irrevocably ruining relationships with loved ones and colleagues.
The Bush Pig Inn where we gathered pre race was the single most Australian insitituiton I’ve come across in my short time here. The ramshackle pub had authentic curious and a rustic charm like it’d just swaggered in from the outback with dangly hat corks bobbling. The entrepreneur/gold prospecting/property developing proprieter even joined us for a drink to spin some yarns. Unfortunately the water slide was out of commission but Ryan promised this for next year.

Race start in Bendigo

While my preparations for the event had been light, with only a handful of rides over 2 hours in the last 3 months, I was backing myself over the long days, and fully intended to pull on my powers of sleep monster management to push through the course without sleep.
Something new for me on this race was a dynamo lighting setup from Tapping into a Shutter Precsision PD-8 front hub through some electronic wizardy, I had 800 lumen of light from the handlebars with a claimed power loss of 5 watts (bugger all) at 30 km/h. Best of all it would run as long as I could pedal over about 10 km/h. Another benefit was that I could charge my GPS via USB while on the go, breaking the tether that had kept me reliant on longish stops in the Tour Divide last year. With the exception of a few teething problems the system worked great and I’m looking forward to working with Kerry to fine tune what I’m certain will become the go-to system for bikepacking.


Shutter Precision hub driving a tiny light head which packs an 800 lumen punch

Bike setup was my Tour Divide rig, without the aerobars and a fresh Rohloff hub which is through the break-in period and is starting to purr. If I was to do this race again I’d opt for a more trail friendly setup; suspension fork, tires with actual knobs (rather than the skimpy but fast WTB Vulpines). My Gates Carbon Drive worked well as always, with the dry dusty conditions requiring constant relubing for chain riders, while mine only needed the odd squirt from a drink bottle to keep noise at bay. Late into the race in my delirious state I squirted some Gatorade into the sprockets which yielded an awful  raspy noise so can’t recommend this lubricaition to any belt users out there.
On the trail early Saturday morning and we were right into some flowing singletrack that would set the tone for the weekend.  A good range of surface conditions from loose death cookies to dust filled berms that let off delightful roosts, the first stretch of singletrack was pure fun.
Restocking in Castlemaine Liam and I had a small gap, but into the rocky trail and disaster struck, with a sidewall cut on my rear tire, quite an accomplishment for Victorian rock given I’d not managed to do this in almost 2 years of riding on these tires in some of the harshest conditions Colorado, New Zealand and the Tour Divide could muster.
First tube in had a hole, worn through at the valve stem from the long TD miles, second tube held (phew) and by this stage the chase pack of Ryan and Ross had joined me and I set off in hot pursuit, just as the day was starting to get hot.
Epic drink stop in Daylesford, including a sit under a tree, but this next stretch to Ballarat was where I really started to fall apart. It culminated in an episode of heat stroke in Ballarat like I’ve never experienced before. Apparently your body draws all the blood to the internal organs, leaving your extremities cool, and some epic magnitude shakes result, completely at odds with the 30 degrees outside. I lay down and smashed back some fluids, put on my jacket and rode them out, the worst of them had passed just as Ross rolled  into town. Stocked up at McDonalds we headed out together, knowing that I’d have to be careful if I wanted to ease my body out of the hole I’d dug and get it to the finish 180 hard km away.
To this end we took the relatively soft option and bivyed under a delightful roadside pinetree, just the thing given I’d gone without mat in an effort to reduce the gear I was carrying. Bivy bag and sleeping bag liner proved a perfect combination for the warm night and this sleep helped me get through the night and rise for the next day with vim.
I was desperately low on kilojoules, but just couldn’t stomach food, with a solo Egg McMuffin a dismal breakfast performance compared with the height of my eating prowess in the Kiwi Brevet where I clocked the menu and racked over $45 (including free smiles) in hyper processed nastiness all before 10AM.
I have blurred recollections of an epic climb from Bacchus Marsh, an epic wrong turn by Ross who was too far ahead to hear my calls, and some mind blowingly good exposed singletrack that was an old miners route. More singletrack and some exposed roads and we were back at Daylesford. Only 50km to go but I knew to be wary, so snuck in a juice induced powernap prior to pushing out with an aim of finishing by dark.
Ross' photo message to organiser Ryan during the final leg says it all 
The rest became clear, one of the toughest sections of riding, not due to the course which would have to rate as my favourite bikepacking route and one that should be on everyone’s GPX list, but more just a battle between my decaying physical state and my mind which whipped it on.
But I made it to the finish and have learnt a few things about myself. Apparently I finished in 37 hours, perhaps 3rd place, but not sure the result really justifies the suffering I put myself through to get there.
The biggest thing I can take from the ride is a fantastic group of mates. Howard, Ryan and Marnie’s hospitality was amazing, gifting transport, beds and food and feeding me back to life. Ross who barely knew me, but was kind enough to help me through my dark post-stroke place, despite repeated attempts to drop him.  Brad, Arran and even the random dude who returned my jacket. It is a fantastic community and I’m looking forward to getting out there with these guys and exploring more of this amazing country.


Rob Davidson said...

Sounds fun... Well not exactly fun but you know what I mean... What's with the new Rohloff by the way - did you manage to wear the other one out?

sifter said...

Wow Ollie! That sounds a little too unpleasant! I hope you recover quickly and well... (I gather the Rohloff is not new, but that it *was* at TD?)

RossC said...

I think you wanted that third place a little too much ;)

Oliver (Ollie) Whalley said...

Thanks guys! Have bounced back pretty well and planning the next adventure already. Yes Ross, a lot of suffereing for a minor podium!
The kind people at Rohloff were nice enough to send me a new hub to use and also gave my TD one some German lovin' with new bearings, seals and other widgets. It is running smooth as a lady snake on my El Chucho, all ready to tackle this

Unknown said...

life is an adventure. mountain adventure is one of them. liked your site.
paul's outdoor adventures

Unknown said...

Hey Oli, I'm trying to shore up my tire choice for TDR. What do you think of those Vulpines. Do they have enough grip for a rear. I've had a set of Nanos of the last 1500km but they are wearing very fast. I have a gear Saguaro on the front which is going great, trying to decide on another for the rear vs a semi slick.