So it wasn't quite what we had in mind. Without the challenge of those southerly gusty winds, the 90km would have been a doddle!! - well, if you don't count the congestion caused by 10,000 cyclists with a range of experience, and riding nous. Next time we do it, it'll seem impossibly easy! (Odds have got to be for better weather, surely!) The big shame is that the conditions weren't really conducive to Stoker Photography.
Possibly some of those who registered pulled out before the day began, given the rain we'd already had, and the forecast. But as we'd travelled some 600km, we had to make an effort to complete the course, and hope for the best. At least we didn't actually get rained on till the last 6 km!This is a great link
where you can follow the route at whatever zoom you like. Very clever!
But first things first.
Backtrack to Friday, and despite some packing stress on the Thursday night, I had the luxury of a few hours to pack the car (by myself), as well as ducking out to the supermarket for the 'munchie' shop. Wasn't a bad way to do it, actually!
The rain started mid afternoon.. fortunately I'd finished packing the car by then, and just had to wait for Zoe and Cait to get home from school, do a quick change, and then we picked up Alison at 4.00 at a band workshop, and headed into town. Marc had left for work in the morning after we got the tandem on the roof; he still had the triplet at work, and we got that on when we got in there around 4.30. The rack is a beaut - the only drawback is that it extends beyond the rear of the car, so that you can't lift the hatch right up. Bit of a stoop happening with the packing, but what can you do. At least the triplet was secure.
Rain, rain, rain on the way down to Tea Gardens. Not an early night (after stopping at Kempsey RSL for dinner), but we were able to sleep in till around 8.00. Marc set up a new TV his mum had bought for her bedroom, and then we made Hornsby, and my sister's place, for lunch.
Had good intentions to get an early night, but the meal ran late (as they do), and we only managed to get the girls into bed by around 10.30, and ourselves about an hour later. Not ideal.. Alarms on mobile phones set for 4.50... and we woke to a slight hitch. No lights. Blackout. Not a good notion... We did the angst thing about that for a few minutes, wondering how we were going to get the girls packed and organised in the dark! Then, hey presto, and hallelujah.. bang on 5am, it came back on again. Thank god.
My sister and brother in law emerged then; their answering machine 'complaining' about the power being off had woken them an hour earlier, and they'd been worrying about how we were going to get their automatic double garage door opened. With the lights on, we sent them back to bed, and managed to get ourselves gone, and at St Peters in time. And we didn't seem to have forgotten anything..
After queueing for the loos, it was probably 7.40 by the time we got going - and by then we'd already come across one of the Sydney Tandem guys (though his stoker had piked, and Chris was on his half bike.)
A fair bit of the first section (to morning tea at Loftus) was congested. Just what you get when you ride these rides, I guess. Spent a lot of time on the brakes. And watching wallies darting out into the car lanes and getting hooted for their trouble.
* One of the most notable experiences early on was when a jet flew over on its approach to land at the airport. It was so low you wondered it didn't knock a few roof tiles off the buildings, and so loud, and so right above us, that Caitlin nearly jumped off the bike. It did feel just like the big spaceship hovering over London in a couple of the recent Dr Who episodes. As one guy commented to Marc - 'NOW I understand what people living under the flight paths are talking about.
The section along Brighton-le-Sands is usually quite picturesque.. but today wasn't the best I've ever seen this part of Botany Bay. And it wasn't the most pleasant riding, right into the teeth of a southerly. At least it wasn't raining.
We stopped briefly at the first rest stop (Cook Park, on Botany Bay) at 14km. Quick snack (and Chris suggested I didn't offer bananas to the kids quite so loudly in case I got mugged! - so we were from Coffs, where you can find them at roadside stalls for only $5 a kilo - as opposed to the current $12/kg in supermarkets everywhere.)
Morning tea was at Loftus at the 30km mark. They were giving out free muffins that were quite nice too. And on my way to the bin, I stumbled across the other Sydney Tandem guys... Malcom and Damon, and Roger and Richard. They had decided, given the headwind we'd already encountered, that the bit along the coast was going to be a shocker, and they decided to call it quits and catch the tailwind back home. It was a tempting idea, but we'd come too far to give in. (Besides which, our car was already en route to Wollongong!)
The last time Marc and I had done the Gong Ride (nearly 20 years ago, I'd say), the route had detoured off the Princes Highway at Loftus, with much more of the ride through the Royal National Park. We thought it was a bit of a shame that this time (and I don't know for how many years it's been like this) you had to continue along the highway until turning off at Waterfall.
Cait and I kept losing the triplet.. due to their superior speed, and Marc's superior skill at getting past the dopes who would ride two abreast.. slowly. We then caught a few traffic lights, and lost them until we caught up to them waiting by the roadside, and talking to another couple on a tandem. Blow me down if it wasn't Richard - an old friend from our canoeing days - and his Mum on the back! Certainly not someone we'd expected to see - although his family can take some credit for reigniting Marc's tandem passion. (The chance ride mentioned in this post!
- they had brought a tandem with them to a canoe race at Mylestom a few years back, and we had met up, and Marc had ridden it around the car park, with me freaking out on the back.) His brother and his wife were also on the Ride - and when we talked to them at lunchtime, it turned out that we had spotted them with their tandem on the roof of their car on the drive to the Start!)
At the start of the detour (and downhill) into the National Park they were stopping people - while motorcycle escorts returned from down the hill. I had to beg to be allowed to duck through so I could 'be with my husband!' Heaven knows how long he would have waited at lunch for us otherwise. (He is also faster on the downhills. I am definitely more circumspect.. plus he reckons the Triplet handles incredibly well at high speed.)
Cait tried to take a few more photos here, but they all turned out blurry.. and I was yelling at her to get her hands back on the bloody handlebars while we went downhill, thank you very much!
While we knew that what went down must go up, it was beautiful riding in this section. It had rained earlier, so the dampness gave it a rainforesty feel. Lunch spot at 51 km, and a welcome rest. By then I'd developed a stomach ache. Weird. And even weirder that Zoe felt the same. Including pain round into our kidney area. Marc had already joined the queue for sausage sandwiches (I was wishing I'd made up lunches, but frankly, I couldn't see myself getting up any earlier to do so!) I wasn't quite sure what to do; maybe we hadn't drunk enough? Zoe definitely hadn't. She decided to tell us then (not at the two earlier rest stops!) that her drink bottle had been empty from the start! I have no idea how that happened.. and who was responsible for putting it on the bike like that! Whatever.. "Drink, Zoe, drink". I drank too, and strangely enough, the staminade seemed to help ease the stomach ache. Zoe had told me that the ride was harder than she thought it was going to be.. not in a complaining way though. Just acceptance.
In hindsight we probably spent far too long at lunch. It's a delicate balancing act - the desire to enjoy the "Ride" vs the need to keep moving. The lunch spot had cleared significantly by the time we got going, so I had this feeling of being at the back of the field... but we did pretty well up the hill out of the park, and started to catch more people as we reached the first lookout south down the coast to Wollongong. And caught the full gusts of wind! Oh boy.
A big downhill at Stanwell Park.. and then the new Sea Cliff bridge.
(Here's another link and photo)
. So much for any ideas of taking photos along here... It was 'hang on for dear life' time, as the wind gusts threatened to blow us off the bikes. A few people on their single bikes had given up trying, and walked instead. Cait got off at the end of it, and took these photos looking back.. though they don't quite do it justice.
(See that kid there on his bike? Marc saw him cause an accident which almost involved the triplet as well. There is a good reason why the rules for the race have no kids under 12 being able to be registered; it isn't the route or ride for kids that young piloting their own bikes. We saw 2 boys apparently registered, and I don't know how that works. (And there I was stressing about taking our younger two on the tandems!)
Anyway, straight after the bridge.. more uphill!!!
I have to say that Cait and I handled the undulating ride down the coast far better than I remember doing all those years ago. (A few more bike riding kms under my belt since then!)
About 15kms out, the route joined a bike path for pretty much the rest of the way. A bike path that stayed close to the beach. Doh! Must be fantastic in nice weather...
The other downside to riding on a bike path is that it is, by nature, narrower than a road lane... and people have a tendency to want to wander all over the place without regard to the fact that faster bikes might be coming up behind them! By this stage we weren't in the mood to be held up... some stretches into the wind were hard yakka..sometimes with sand being whipped up and blown into our faces. (We stopped for a last rest about 10km out - something I don't think we would have done if the weather had been kinder!) I think Cait took this picture as an older couple on a tandem limped in.. the stoker was in pain and her riding partner snapped 'What's the matter, haven't you seen an old couple doing it tough'.. or words to that effect .. when Marc tried to acknowledge them as fellow tandemers! - I don't think he noticed we had tandems lying alongside us!
And that was the last photo we took. About 6km out, the rain came in, and we stopped yet again to put our bike spray jackets on. At the finish, on Flagstaff Hill, it was really copping the rain and wind. We sheltered behind some bushes to get our thermals on underneath our raincoats.. and decided it wasn't conducive to hanging around.
Mum and Dad had left the car back about 500m or so back up the road.. so we cycled back and started getting the bikes on the roof. We knew that more friend of ours were going to be on the Ride. Kim was riding with 14 year old Emily and 12 year old Samuel- all on their single bikes - and Andrew and youngest son Rowan, were picking them up at the end. Their start time was later than us, so we weren't expecting to see them on the road, or Andy in the crowds at the end. Of course, Andy had ended up parking across the road from our car! A chance to catch up a bit while he helped us with the bikes! (He'd not been able to get mobile phone contact with Kim very much, and we were quite dubious about how they were going to cope with the weather and wind along the last stretch. Found out later they made it, which was a HUGE effort, given they haven't ridden terribly much... certainly nothing like the distances we've been doing.)
We were damp, and decided to go and check in to the cabin accommodation I'd booked at the Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort. Bzzzt... We were getting a bad feeling as we drove round to the cabin. (They had somehow managed to make a very tacky and ordinary looking holiday park into something that looked pretty good on a website!) The $135 cabin I had begrudgingly booked to sleep 5 (or 6) - instead of an $89 one for 4- had as its 5th and 6th person "bedding" just a corner lounge. (Not even a sofa bed). An extra $45 for that?!! (And the cabin was as poky as!) We spat it, took the refund they then offered., and decided we had no better option than to ring my folks and ask if we could drive back up to Sydney and stay there.
We did a clothes change in Maccas car park (rummaging around in the back to find our gear - well - I went into the loos!)... bought some fries (and a VERY BIG cappuccino for me) to keep us going... and headed back to Sydney. Bikes back down off the car .. in the rain.. and wheeled through wet foliage round to the back of Mum and Dad's house... But a welcome hot shower, and a meal of pasta.. and bed!
And then on Monday a big drive home, through some heavy rain - of course when I drove! - and home sweet home. A long way to go for a bike ride... but it was fun to be a part of it, and to be able to say we did it... We can say "We did the 25th Sydney to Gong. The one with the shocker headwinds."
Labels: Gong Ride