This was the last of the 7 Peaks that I had to climb. I was a little apprehensive, a little nervous, but overall pretty positive about it. I was a little nervous as I didn’t know if I was prepared. You can never be 100% prepared as you could always have trained harder, ridden more, etc. – but when it’s time to ride, you hope that what you’ve done to date is enough. I wasn’t worried about whether I’d get up the mountain – of course you will, it’s just how fast and how comfortable you feel which is what determines how well you went.
Some riders I have spoken to have said that it’s hard, some say it’s easy, some say it’s not that bad. It’s very subjective, as it really depends on how that person was feeling that day, how “good” they are a climber, or even just weather conditions.
I must say, in the days leading up to the ride – all factors were looking good and for it to be a great day out on the bike.
The day before the ride, the boyfriend and I were discussing our ride options, where we would ride from, how many km’s we wanted to do. Our options were
- Mansfield – Mt Buller – Mansfield approx. 90km
- Mt Buller x 1 approx. 30km
- Mt Buller x 2 approx. 60km (thought process was so that STRAVA would recognise the ride and we could get a PB LOL)
I don’t know what possessed me, but I said – why don’t we just do the whole thing? Mansfield – Mt Buller x 2 – Mansfield approx. 130km
It was decided. We hadn’t ridden Mt Buller before, but reading about the climb (see Climbing Cyclist), it was approx. 16km, with a gradient of 6%. Sounds alright, it won’t be hard right? And if really doesn’t work out, we could always just ride one lap of Mt Buller.
We started off early on the Sat morning. We had all our bags packed the night before, bikes checked and ready to roll and my trusty banana bread defrosting overnight ready for the car ride.
Our plans were to start rolling from Mansfield approx. 10am, ride to Buller (should take a bit over an hour?), climb and descend Buller (1h 45min) and be at the base of Buller by 2pm to join the Hells 500 Group ride up Buller again then back to Mansfield. When you break down the ride, it doesn’t seem that long or far.
We ended up getting to Mansfield approx. 10am – hit the snooze a few too many times :p, and didn’t start rolling until 10:40am or so. Not a good start! We were worried we wouldn’t make it to Buller and down in time to start with the rest of Hells 500! Oh dear – we’ll get there when we get there. We headed off to Mt Buller at a reasonably fast pace.
The first 24km or so from Mansfield to Merijig was very pleasant. It was flat, on an open road, little to no cars. It was a comfortable sub 20 degrees, cool light breeze. Perfect riding conditions. There was a moment in the ride where I wished I could have taken a photo – it was truly a photo worthy moment. Open road, grassland on both sides, we were descending, there was a Mt Buller sign on the left, looking forward, the road slopped and curved to the left and up ahead you could see Mt Buller and Mt Stirling. The Boyfriend was in front, cruising down the slope, vest open, the sun shining – it was truly a beautiful moment. Cliché – but really, words can’t describe that moment. I can still see the image in my head – pity I can’t draw!
As we got closer to Merijg, we saw some riders ahead, that’s always nice – to have other people to chase and to keep you motivated to keep pedalling! We were warned about some undulating hills between Merijig and Mt Buller, but we weren’t quite expecting so many little climbs! I said to the boyfriend “man it’s not going to be fun riding home!) – mental thought – toughen up princess, there’s only one way to get home! The climbs were not very long, but they had enough bite to feel it in your legs a little – on any other day, fine – but not when I’m trying to save my legs for a long ride ahead!
We arrived at the base of Mt Buller just before 12. Two hours should be more than enough for us to get up and down the mountain. I was quite surprised at the number of riders already at the base of Buller, and the number of riders heading up/coming down. Seems like a lot of other people were doing laps of Buller as well! There’s a bit of motivation right there!
We had a quick bite, I said “see you at the top” to the boyfriend and off we went.
Within a minute I couldn’t see the boyfriend – yep, it’s just me, myself and I on a lonely journey up the mountain. Honestly, I really struggled on the way up. It just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t comfortable in the saddle, I was standing up and sitting down, shuffling around within 3kms of the start of the climb. It was going to be a long ride up…..
The climb was very deceiving – 6%, doesn’t seem like much, I’ve ridden steeper, but this one was tricky. It just didn’t seem to let up, it was consistent and there didn’t seem to be any bits where I could recover. Most other climbs I had ridden had some sort of false flat in the middle to give you a breather. Maybe it was just because I wasn’t feeling right, everything was going against me. I couldn’t get into a comfortable rhythm. I was trying to spin up, cadence between 80 – 90ish but my legs just didn’t seem to want to do as they’re being told! There were so many maybes – maybe because I had ridden 200kms during the week already, maybe I shouldn’t have done Sufferfest on Thursday, maybe I didn’t get enough sleep … so many maybe’s…
I found it mentally tough – I had to keep motivating myself, that was hard. The positive voice kept saying – it’s only 16km, just spin it up. You can do this. There’s only one way up, you NEVER give up, keep pedaling one step at a time. But the negative voice kept cutting in – GAH, this is terrible, this isn’t fun, when is this going to end, you won’t make it up two laps, blah blah blah. SHUT UP! I’m trying to focus!
Climbing is really a mental battle. 99% of the time, physically you can do it. It’s just a matter of whether you want to or not.
A quote that I live by is “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford
I was not prepared to give up, never, and I NEVER stop until I reach my destination, regardless of how tired I am or how crap it is. Of course, if I was in physical pain or was feeling faint, that’s different.
When I’m climbing, I hate seeing distance signposts are the side of the road, I don’t know why, but it really messes with my head – perhaps it’s the realisation that you actually haven’t ridden very far and still have quite a long way to go that I find a letdown. I remember seeing the 12.3km to go sign post and going, Oh boy, I have barely scratched the surface. After that, I made a mental note to NOT look at any sign posts again! However, I did see the last signpost. 1.4km to go – I was told that the last 1.5km is considerably a lot steeper. I wasn’t expecting the sudden increase in gradient! It just comes at you like a wall and you immediately feel the difference in your legs.
The last 1.4km was tough, the start of the climb had bumpy gravel, I’m not sure how you would describe it, but it’s just bumpy, it’s not smooth and the extra bumps just drain your strength. GAH. My saving grace was passing another lone rider – as I was riding past he says “ you’re doing real good”. Sometimes that’s all you need to motivate you to keep pushing.
The last 500m was just mean, you’re so close to the top, and you can see the light of the end of the tunnel, the gates to the Mt Buller Resort – but there’s a 500m cement wall in front of you. You’re nearly there, you can see the finish, almost there, just a few more seconds, you can do this.
As I got to the top, I’m sure I had the Sufferfest Pain Face, sweat dripping down my face, hunched shoulders, heavy breathing, legs hurting – but I did it. That’s all that matters – I did it. I found the boyfriend waiting for me (as always), camera ready for my “finish photo” (note to self, smile and wave at the camera like it was a piece of cake!). He had been up there a while, he looked reasonably refreshed, had time to get a drink, get our passports stamped, and chill out for a while. The perks of being a fast climber! I got to the top, and said “I’m not sure I’ll make it up the 2nd time round” . Another rider there said in reply “don’t say that!” Yep – that’s not very positive, but I was still hurting.
We took a short breather, took some photos and began our descent.
Descending Mt Buller was fun, the first 1.5km felt a little scary/hairy as it was steep and there’s quite a sharp left U turn, the rest of the descent is fairly cruisy – I did feel that I went a little “hot” at some of the corners which was rather scary. I’m still struggling with U turns – I keep within my lane, and take it wide, but perhaps I haven’t taken off enough pace, as I find that when I do turn, I sometimes end up on the other lane (which would be disastrous if there was an oncoming car!). That’s something I need to work on. But besides that, it was all gentle turns that really let you just cruise down, and we were back at the base of Mt Buller in no time. (It’s never fair how long it takes to climb and the descent only lasts a fraction of that time!)
The base of Mt Buller had been transformed. There was a couple of hundred riders, tents setup by the Hells 500 crew and a buzz in the atmosphere. It was a mix feeling of excitement and nervousness from all the riders that were yet to do the climb. We bumped into our friends, and had a bit of a chat. I was in two minds about climbing up again, knowing how much I struggled the 1st time up, but after a drink, a bite and some words of encouragement from our friends – YEP, let’s do this!
For those of you that haven’t been on a ride with Hells 500 – do it. Hells 500 and The Climbing Cyclists organise free events to bring together and encourage cyclists of all different abilities to ride all 7 Peaks of Victoria (see the official website of the 7 Peaks Challenge and the Climbing Cyclist for the Domestique Series details)
I have done all 7 Peaks with them, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. These events give you a purpose, something to train towards and forces you to “commit” to ride up the mountain. There’s a bucket load of other cyclists of all different cycling abilities, and age groups, plus they ensure that no one finishes last. If that’s what you’re worried about – being slow, being the last one up the top. DON’T. They arrange for one rider to be the “lantern rouge” who will ride as fast as the slowest rider and makes sure no one gets left behind.
They also strongly encourage and support women cycling – it’s really inspiring seeing so many women join these rides and giving it a crack. I’m also blown away by how fast some of the female riders are. O.M.G. What’s their secret? They look like they’re dancing up the climbs!
The 2nd time up felt different. I could feel it the moment I sat back on the bike. It felt comfortable. I felt that I was riding slower than my 1st lap, this was expected, but this time I had rhythm. I was spinning along, passing some riders at the start before settling in behind a couple of guys that were going at my pace. I sat behind them for a little while, listening to them having a chat whilst riding comfortably up the mountain. I think they tried to talk to me as well, as one of them commented on how bring my pink socks were, and how he wouldn’t be able to pull them off. LOL. However, I was breathing a little too heavy to be able to manage any form of communication except for a squeaky ‘thanks’ and a smile.
I was feeling good, I felt much better than before and I was ready to go. I continued to spin up the hill and passed the guys and as I did, I heard one of them say to his mates – ‘ look, pink socks is passing us, time to stop chatting boys’ HAHA – it’s always very enjoyable riding and hearing happy banter.
Going up the 2nd time round, I didn’t need to look at sign posts, my mindset was positive, seeing other battlers on the road was my motivation – if they’re giving it their all, I can, should and could too. As I passed some riders, I gave them a nod, smile and a quick hello.
Even the bits of the road that I initially thought were bumpy seemed smoother and I found points which felt like a false flat and used them to stretch out my legs. The last 1.5km I knew was going to be tough regardless – my legs were feeling fatigued, but as you do, you keep pedaling. 500m… 400m… 300m.. 200m.. one last pedal stroke. Phew, I’m there.
Once at the top, it was great seeing so many happy riders, everyone chatting about their journey and what they thought of the climb. We stayed for a while at the top just relaxing and taking in the beautiful scenery while waiting for friend whom we knew also needed to make the long ride back to Mansfield.
The 2nd descent felt faster – knowing what to expect definitely helped. Hells 500 did a fantastic job and ensured that there was full road closure between 2pm – 5pm so I didn’t have to worry about cars coming up on the other side of the road as I was descending!
The ride back to Mansfield felt a bit painful, the boyfriend saw a car drive past and said “he’s got two spare bike racks on top!” – that really sums it up. Legs weary, faced with head wind and out stomachs were telling us, it’s time for a proper meal – everything just felt slow, small inclines seemed steep and long stretches of road just seemed to go on forever. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? that keeps playing in my head.
To our relief, we made it, (of course we would – we had no choice!). Being “numbers” people, we were missing 2km to make the Feb 14 Grand Fondo Challenge ( Do one ride > 130km in the month of Feb), so we rode up and down the street. HAHA. Seems silly – but I know you would do the same!
We finished and packed up the car by 6:30. The pub across the road was looking very inviting. We were ravenous – a bowl of hot chips would be AWESOME. Our post ride feed was a Parma and Fish & Chips (not what I would generally recommend as a nutritious meal). We would have actually be OK with KFC but Mansfield didn’t have one LOL.
Whilst having dinner we had a chat about the ride. I was feeling quite proud of what we had achieve – who would have thought? I’m so happy that the boyfriend and I did it together. Without him being there, I wouldn’t have made it (well I probably could, but it wouldn’t have been as fun). But without him riding with me, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to do such a long ride.
The fact that riding with him and others to keep you motivated really helps when you’re going through a tough patch. Having someone to chase, a goal makes all the difference.
I told my colleague today about my ride, and he wisely said – motivating yourself is one of the hardest things to do. He also said that riding is like the love bucket theory. The Love Bucket Theory is where each person has a bucket. Only other people can fill that bucket, and from that you give and fill other people’s bucket. That’s how relationships work and cycling is just like that. Having someone there to share the experience makes all the difference, a simple, “good job” can be the make or break, and seeing and knowing that other people are giving it their best shot, and are perhaps struggling just as much as you are, but still persisting is really inspiring.
Now, grab a friend or two or more, go for a ride, share the experience, and enjoy the ride.
P.S After completing lap 2, I was made aware that the official finish to Mt Buller was a further 900m up the road! 900m too many I say :p I’ll save that for next year!
P.P.S When I say “pain” or suffering, it’s not really “pain” – it’s just a way of describing the high level of physical effort required to continue pedaling, the sensation of lactic acid accumulating in your legs and the chain reaction of how your mind responds to those feelings with negative thoughts! :p More on that another day!