Missing anything to motivate me for training, I went home & looked up the race, the Gloucester Mountain Man. 26km trail ride, even though I don't own a mountain bike I could do that, 11km paddle, downriver, sheesh I could hand paddle that, and a 10km run across nice green paddocks to finish off, dude, I've run a frigging marathon, that's nothin'....
If you doubt that my brain really works like that, well it does. The source of many of my problems.
I managed to pump a mate, the Meister, for mountain biking tips, as he has been busy burning a hole through the local scene, got myself a cheap 29er Dual Suspension bike and headed out a month before the race to start training on the local trails in the Royal National Park. It's probably the closest thing to the thrill of paddling a big following sea - when you're going down the hills - but more like interval training for the cardio ward when you're going up. Mountain biking is a very different animal to the refined sport of road biking. Anyways, my last hit out before the Mountain Man was the first one where I managed to ride up all the hills instead of pushing, and I felt like I was as prepared as I could be.
The drive to Gloucester is worth the entry fee alone, winding along the Bucketts Way past postcard towns like Stroud & Booral. Living in Sydney you just forget that these places are there, and so bloody lovely.
Arriving at the camp ground adjacent to the start venue, I got my tent up, dropped my kayak off at the transition point 12km out of town, and headed back for the race briefing and pre-race Carbo dinner. This was old-school country hospitality at it's best, big helpings of hearty food, rice pudding, ice cream & two fruits for desert, served with a big smile & a friendly chat. With over 200 competitors registered, it's a big event that has a small event feel, just gold.
I enjoyed a quiet night in my tent, tucked up in my down bag, slept like a baby. Is it just me, or do you think we'd all be better off with a night a week in a tent? Maybe we could start a movement, the 6-1 Sanity Sleepers.
Race day dawned clear & sunny, cool to start but with the promise of a warm day by the time I was striding powerfully across the last few kilometres to the finish.
Not ever having been in a bike race before, I respectfully took myself to the back of the start pack, and awaited the gun. And yes, it was a gun, a frigging 12 gauge, both barrels, very cool. We were in the bush after all.
The first part of the ride cruised through the local roads, before abruptly turning into a farm & heading up. And up. I managed to ride to within a seven iron of the top, then like everyone around me was off & pushing. Matt Blundell had told me I'd be pushing for a couple of minutes (after he loaned me a PFD that I'd forgotten!), so I figured 'that was pretty painless, this is easier than I thought'. A cranking downhill, a big splat in a muddy creek, a gorgeous ride through native forest, then the crux of the thing.
It's called Wok's Heartache Hill. I understand that of the 200 riders, 2 made it to the top without having a walk. I have no idea how, bloody hell. I decided to save my lungs, and commenced the '2 minute walk' up the 200m ascent, at 65 degrees (may be exaggerating a little there). If Matt ever tells you something takes 2 minutes, remember how fast he goes.
At the top a local bushy offered me a fresh cut orange on a plate, can you believe it? If I had enough air in my lungs to swallow I would have eaten it, but had to push on. From there we forded rivers, peddled up & down beautiful farm hills though grass, mud, trees, rocks, more local windy roads, just amazing. I wasn't even put off when an old bloke on his 8 year old daughter's Grifter blasted past me in his Dunlop Volleys wearing a footy jumper. Even though it was one of the hardest things I've done it was brilliant.
The transition to the kayak was through another river ford, and then up a nasty slippery little hill which was clearly a crowd pleaser.
I hitched my 24kg Tiderace Pace 17 onto my left shoulder & trotted the 200m or so down to the river entry, relieved to be doing something that I can do.
Stew had advised me to head for the tongue of the whitewater, but he also told me this was just a bit of a laugh so I decided to ignore his advice for the first two rapids. Bump, bang, stopped. Hand push, twist, bow draw, edge, and back running. Better head for the tongue from now on.
Man oh man did my boat cop a beating. The Pace is built incredibly stiff, but I could feel the bigger rocks bending the keel as I thundered over the top of them. An absolute hoot but I was hoping not to have a big repair bill at the end! On one tricky turn I had to get out of my boat & help a guy who had managed to submerge his K1 under a log. We spent the best part of 10 minutes pushing & pulling across the current and eventually freeing the boat from the nasty spot it had lodged. I'm glad old mate wasn't in the cockpit when it got stuck.
I found my river sense over the last half of the course, steering down the deep bits, not bashing into too many big rocks, and not having to get out & pull the boat off the shallows. You can now call me a downriver expert...!
The kayak leg finished with a rope line across the fast flowing Barrington River, up a muddy bank, where you're handed your running shoes and off you go on the trail run.
So, Mr Marathon runner who despite not doing a bunch of running since May's half marathon was confident of burning the last 10km to the finish strode off up the hill. Remember that dude? My last 10km in the marathon last year were at about the same speed as my 10km & over the Thunderbolt Way course on Sunday. It was hot, hilly enough, and I was buggered. As we neared Gloucester the locals were out in force throwing buckets of water on us (this is why it's called the Bucketts Way, by the way), and as we hit the backstreets out came the hoses. Fantastic!
The finish was at the end of a lap of the local oval, and the guy announced over the PA as I finished that I sell kayaks & kayak gear & I had forgotten my PFD. Gotta love the country experience.
Next year, and yes I'll be back, I'm going to get busy on my bike and make sure I can at least get half way up the hill of torture. If you're after a weekend away, maybe with a couple of mates to do the course as a relay team, something to keep you interested & motivated to train, then this is one of the all time great races you could come up & take part in. It has none of the city slickness and commercialism you get at silly events like Tough Mudder, but twice the challenge & physical reward.
It's on the second Sunday in September, and you can check out the details at http://www.gloucestertri.com.au