Thursday, November 21, 2013

Newcastle Overnight, in the rain.

Only those with beady eyes were in the N-O know
Times have been hectic of late, with long work trips away from my Australian home and busy schedules whilst back making it difficult to indulge in the full scale adventures I prefer. This past weekend presented an opportunity to reverse the trend, with the second running of an underground road event dubbed Newcastle Overnight leaving from the harbour bridge at 9PM on Saturday night.

I’d learnt about the event in the best possible way; from a tiny flyer pasted to a sign on the harbour bridge bike lane. With no entry fee, nor prizes and the intrinsic reward which only bike induced sleep deprivation can bring, Heidi and I committed to the 170km ride north. Having ridden none of the old Pacific Highway route previously we were assured new roads and breathtaking vistas, that is we would have been if it wasn’t dark.

The preceding week’s weather forecast showed ominous signs, with rain most of the week and dark menacing clouds the go to sky decor.  Come Saturday I was 100% committed, partly due to the impermeable waterproof barrier offered by my Ground Effect Helter skelters and Rocky Goretex socks. Truly I could ride home to New Zealand along the bottom of the Tasman sea and still have dry toes and bum. Fortunately, Australia is largely a warm place so while the rain bucketed down an in monsoonal volumes (40mm over the duration of our ride), the temperature never dropped below 10 degrees so Heidi and I could avoid at least one of the three points of the Hangry pyramid.

Hangry pyramid infographic- pretty self explanatory
For those not in the know, this simple measure consists of cold, tired and hungry, with only a combination of the three yielding full blown hangry. Since our arrival to the warm climes of ‘stralia incidences of hangry have been significantly reduced, which I can only attribute to warmer climes. Certainly not less ambitious adventures with Heidi setting new standards of personal achievement and awesomeness at each outing!

Heidi + Shirley the Surly
Some 100 other nutters turned out just as the skies opened properly, and after sheltering in a gazebo and getting a low key briefing typical for this type of event, we caustiously rolled out into the roads which were awash with torrents of runoff.

Nutters, every last one of them
It quickly became apparent that riding in normal bunch formation was an undesirable affair, the spray of wheel-launched water directing a stream of gritty water directly at one’s face. I promptly gave up the bunch ride approach and drifted off the front, cautiously checking my GPS for turns till we were on the proper back roads.

Paper map was superseeded by less soggy GPS nav
At one point I missed a turn completely and ended up on the freeway, traffic screaming past at 110km/h. realising the error of my ways I was reluctant to backtrack into the four lane traffic, so had no option but to roll on till an opportunity to cross back presented itself. When it finally arrived, the GPS showed a tiny 50m gap to the old highway and blissfully quiet roads. What it didn’t show was the 30m drop in elevation over this short distance, nor the slippery boulders to be navigated, quite an undertaking in my skittery soled road shoes. Somehow I made it down unconcussed and with bike intact. I was then confronted by a final obstacle requiring bush bashing through vines and scrub in a style akin to that used on Chad’s fault, a particularly heinous vegetation entangled geographical obstacle in the Big Hurt ride. Emerging from the bush and clearing botanical samples from helmet and wheels, I rolled back along the course. From this point on the road was magic, with sweeping corners and mellow climbs that willed the legs to keep spinning, despite the descending mental (not to mention actual) fog.

These eerie markers apparently dotted the route, but I can't recall seeing any!

A nice surprise was the tea stop atop Mount White, where on consuming a muffin I was caught by the trailing bunch who seemed to be taking the whole ride rather seriously. Wanting to avoid getting sprayed in the face again, I made a quick exit and was treated to a solitary ride up the coast.

An amazing tailwind provided a welcome push along the final 60km stretch. I felt as though I was flying into Newcastle, the storm gusts giving pushing me onwards to the final destination.

Rolling up to the bathhouse at a stormy Newcastle beach and the fanfare was typically low key. Certainly no dancing girls in attendance, which seems to be an internationally consistent theme. Looking for the party I backtracked and found the only place open, a grimy Kebab shop with what seemed like a foot thick layer of half eaten wraps of chicken, beef or combination chicken/beef. Shivering on a door-step while I contemplated my next move, I had the company of homeward bound revellers, only one threatening violence. The rest were convinced my journey from Sydney was a fabrication, my GPS log quickly earning their drunken respect.

Searching for a place to warm up proved fruitless till I happened upon the train station and the blissful warmth of the trains. Nodding off in a carriage (thankfully the Sydney bound one), I awoke as the train was pulling away, checking my phone to see if Hieid had made it. Only an hour and a half back, she’d done exceptionally well but by the sound of her voice I could tell she was in a sorry state.  I jumped off at the next station and went to meet her. She was happy to be done with the ride and content to nap on the train after an artery warming McD’s breakfast.

Heidi purges water from her socks on the train ride home
Despite the rain I really enjoyed the adventure. The solitude and beautiful roads, not to mention the simple pleasure of a long bike ride after 2 weeks sans bike was great. Roll on the next (and hopefully less damp) adventure!