The first day of the year and month (of January) started out like most other months – just me wanting to enjoy my bike riding, but still challenging myself to do better. But from the 2nd day, things got much more intense right from there right through the month. I blame the weather – the second day of the year / month was forecast to be hot, and because of that I had the idea of doing an alpine ride to a place where the temperature would be cooler than the lower altitudes. In other words, an Alpine Resort. We are very fortunate to have 3 alpine resorts, and Victoria’s highest mountain within 2 hours drive from where we live. And so I decided the 2nd day of the year would be spent riding the mountain bike from Mt Beauty to Falls Creek alpine resort and back. The completion of that ride set a series of events in motion. After that ride I decided to join the Strava January Climbing Challenge, and trying to do the 7Peaks Challenge before the 2017 season for that challenge finishes. The goal of the Strava Climbing Challenge was to climb 7500 meters in a month, a not insignifacant amount of climbing, especially for someone like me who rarely does any cycling with decent altitude gains. The goal of the 7Peaks Challenge was to ride the 7 nominated rides between mid-October 2016 and the end of March 2017 —
- Dinner Plains
- Mt Hotham
- Falls Creek
- Mt Buffalo
- Mt Buller
- Mt Baw Baw
- Lake Mountain.
Falls Creek was the first of those rides that I did, and apparently 100 or so other riders had the same idea to ride to Falls Creek on that particular day.
I very quickly got into a routine – do an alpine ride on Sunday, with more sedate rides Monday to Friday before work (the coolest / most pleasant part of the day). The second Sunday I tackled the Mt Hotham climb, which the 7Peaks website described as being “the most epic of all the climbs with the greatest views”, and then stated that many people fear the Mt Hotham climb and that even the fittest will be challenged by it. That sounded a bit ominous, and I found myself questioning whether the Hotham ride was really such a good idea. But in the end I decided to try it anyway. One particular part of that ride concerned me – the Diamantina Spur ascent. At around 20% gradient, it sounded like a real motiviation killer. And it was tough, no doubt about it, but I made it to Mt Hotham village with a little energy left in the tank. One thing about the 7Peaks rides (or any other mountain climbing ride, for that matter) is the wonderfully stated physics law : “What goes up must come down”. So after the hard slog up the hills, it’s especially wonderful to be able to roll back to the starting location of the ride. The Mt Hotham ride, at 32 1/2 km one way, provided plenty of rolling on the way back!
The next ride to complete was the Mt Buller climb. Much less “epic” than the Mt Hotham climb, it was nonetheless still a tough ride, especially the last km or so to the village. It was along this ascent to the village portion of this ride that I found my second “Gnome Home”, a quirky statement about Pygmy Possum habitat and protection of said possums. Rather than going back along the asphalt, I decided I would do something different for the return leg: do part of the Australian Epic Trail across to Howqua Gap Hut, then follow the Circuit road through Telephone Box Junction back to Mirimbah where I had camped for the night. After all, I was riding a Mountain Bike, so some mountain biking would be a good option to return to camp. That ride took just under 4 hours to do the 50km loop, the average speed being around 14kph. Because it was nearly always under the shade of tall trees the heat wasn’t very obvious at all. And then it was time to pack up camp, and drive home in the heat. That was definitely the worst part of the day, although I drove home through Tolmie and Whitlands which is almost alpine in altitute which provided some respite from the heat of the plains and valleys.
The next Sunday I didn’t do a 7Peaks ride, as I had the bike in the shop getting the drive train replaced. And I’m glad I did because the next 7Peaks ride on the following Sunday was the most daunting of all – the Mt Baw Baw ascent. This ride is described as the most feared and hardest ride in Victoria. At only 6.5km long, and what appears to be a moderate amount of climbing (741 metres) it almost sounds easy, until you look at the gradients – the average grade is 11%, and the steepest grades were greater than 20%. Mt Baw Baw was the closest alpine resort to where I lived up until I was about 30 years old. And in my younger years I used to go there nearly every Sunday to go downhill skiing. And I remembered the climb to the Baw Baw village being hard even for a car. I knew that if any of the 7 peaks rides would break me, it would be this one! I remember saying to myself a few times on that ride “it’s only 6.5km”, as if that was somehow reassuring while I pedalled ever so slowly towards the hioghest point of the ride. Funny thing is, I remembered the grades being somewhat steeper in the car, and some of the sections my memory told me were really steep actrually weren’t as bad as I remembered them.Well, I made it to the village. I conqured the hardest of the 7Peaks rides. Now I felt like a climbing cyclist! And then the same physics law (“what goes up must come down”) that brought so much joy on the other 7Peaks rides kicked in, and with more than a little trepidation I carefully, slowly made my way back down to the start of the ride – carefully and slowly because it was so steep in sections, and I didn’t want the bike to get out of control or the brakes to fail or fade.
The Mt Baw Baw ride was on Australia Day, and I managed to get the Friday off as Annual Leave, so that meant I had a 4 day weekend. So I had set up camp in Yarra Junction, and planned to do Mt Donna Buang (not on the 7Peaks list, but still worth doing) on the Friday and Lake Mountain on the way home on Sunday. The Mt Donna Buang ride was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be, although I don’t think I had any illusions about it being an easy ride. But it was beautifully cool at the time I did the climb to the summit, and the gradient was probably one of the easier alpine rides I had done up to that time – I actually spent a fair bit of time in the second front sprocket – all the other alpine rides I spent most of my time in the smallest front sprocket. The last few kms to the summit seemed to go on forever! On this ride, like on the Mt Buller ride, I decided to ride a loop, and from the summit I hearded along the dirt ride that passed by Ben Cairn and joined up with the Healesville – Launching Place Road, which passed through Don Valley. Between Mt Donna Buang summit and the the Healesville – Launching Place Road, the scenery was breath-taking, and the road somewhat narrow and rough and I stopped at a few places to enjoy the views. And I even saw a couple of other cyclists on this section (I only saw a few cyclists between the start of the climb out of Warburton and Don Valley), going the opposite way, on road bikes (or maybe CX bikes). The gentle descent along this section was really quite beautiful with lots of shade and some amazing vistas across the Yarra Valley.
The next day was Sabbath, and time for a well earned rest. So I headed over to my old church on Sabbath morning, and spent some time with my mum and dad and one of my brothers in the afternoon. I think that restday must have helped prepare me somewhat for the last of the 7Peaks rides I would do for January – the Lake Mountain ride. This ride, the following day, started off tough with a climb of 4.5km at about 10% steepness. But after that, it was really quite a pleasant ride, through beautiful temperate forests (some of them burnt out because of bush fires). Like the Donna Buang ride, I found I was not in the lowest gears all the time, especially after the initial 4.5km was behind me, and found the ride to be “almost” relaxing. And the ride back to Marysville was also faster because I spent less time riding the brakes due to the steepness of the descents. Mostly I could just coast down instead of having to worry too much about using the brakes. By the time I had done this ride, I had ridden around 240km for the week (Strava starts the week on Monday), and had climbed more that the height above sea-level of Mt Everest (8848m metres) for the month. That produced a pretty satisfying feeling. So January 2017 will be one of those months I can look back on with fondness as the month I rode “virtually” to the top of Mt Everest.
Here are the links to the Strava data for the rides: