Those of us that engage in social media and follow Osteohealth’s updates would probably have heard about my recent masochistic Easter break. Some of you might have even dot watched my progress as I grovelled my way around the course.
First, a bit of background. The Monaro Cloudride is a 1005km mountain bike backpacking race that runs in a big loop starting and finishing in Canberra. The course follows rutted four wheel drive tracks and wash board logging roads south via the Monaro, over the Victorian border and back up to Canberra via the Snowy Mountains. Approximately 70 odd kilometers is on paved road and I swear at least that much is unrideable hike-a-bike.
The rules are quite simple. It’s a single stage, self supported event. You start on Good Friday morning at 8am and finish when you finish, no outside assistance allowed. Without assistance, you need to carry a lot of gear with you. For me this meant a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove, food, plenty of water, water sterilisation gear, spare clothing, etc. All up my weighted-down bike came in at 25kg.
Many people have blogged about the course, the scenery and even race tactics before. While these are all worth mentioning, the most profound experience I had in completing the race was how it changed my body.
In 2014 for the opening edition, I attempted to race this event. Having recently completed a 350km mountain bike audax ride in 20 hours, I figured I could knock over the race in a good 3-4 days. Little did I know how difficult the course would be and I ended up pulling the pin 200km in. I had failed to reach the first re-supply town, run out of food and spent the night hugged as close as I dared to a fire trying to keep warm on a 3 degree night. Suffice to say, I had unfinished business with the Cloudride. So in 2018 as a first priority, I was going to finish the race. Then if all went well, I was going to try and finish in 5 days.
The first day went roughly as I expected. The leaders shot off ahead and I wistfully watched them inch away while I had to hold myself back and remember that I had to complete a whole 1000km, not just a fast 50km. I’d ridden this section before and knew what I was in for. Gravel roads predominated and I made some allies on the road. One rider I spent time with sagely pointed out that this ride was essentially a game of eating with a little bit of cycling thrown in. While I agreed with him, it was only 4 days later that I truly came to understand this sentiment.
It was also on day one that I came to meet two other important characters I would ride with regularly. Mark, a fellow Melbournian kept a similar pace to me and we ended up grinding away most of the first day together. We parted ways at the Numerella tennis club at dusk and I headed off with another rider, also named Ross.
This “other” Ross is a curious character. Something had possessed him to attempt the Cloudride on a single speed. For non-cyclists, this means one gear for all of the terrain. That one gear is pretty much only good for flats or slight up or down hills. As soon as you have to climb, you have to walk. After riding (and walking) with Ross for a while and waiting for him at the top of every hill, we ended up chatting about energy expenditure. Thinking out loud helps the time pass as you grovel your way up yet another incline. We calculated that with an average power of 180 watts we should burn through 8kg of fat over the ride. Usually about half of this could come from dietary sources, the remainder would come from body fat stores. So an unexpected weight loss of 3.5 to 4kg over the race.
Late that night the fog became too thick for me and I said goodbye to Ross and set up my tent. I was to bump into him a few more times over the ride, but mostly I just saw his footprints in the dirt every time the road pitched upwards. I have a sneaky suspicion Ross isn’t a human, but a terminator. He would rise a couple of hours before me every morning and keep going hours later than me every night. On the bike I was faster than him, but the man just never seemed to stop. Like a 2018 cycling version of Cliff Young. Ross actually finished a good day and a half ahead of me in the end and I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked 200km of the course.
We had planned on a 4:30am start on the bike, but I don’t use a smart phone. So when my alarm went off at 3:30 after the daylight savings change, Mark and I were both awake and ready to meet the challenges of the day with Eric, another Cloudrider that spent the night in Bombala.
The cold bit hard this morning as we climbed out of Bombala in dense fog. My Garmin told me it was 3 degrees. Our next target town was Delegate, only 30km up the road. Suffice to say we went the long way and very little road was involved.
A chilly morning start to day 3 with the sun rising behind us
The morning fog took a long time to clear from the valleys that morning and we spent several hours closely following a GPS trace on my Garmin while only being able to see 20m ahead. This was the section of the course where we were passing through farmland with no trails to guide us.
Crossing the Delegate river in heavy fog
Rolling to lunch at Delegate after 8 hours on the bike, Mark and I discussed the plan for the day. We were hoping to make our way to Tubbut that night and camp before pressing on over Mt Tingaringy the following day. It was only another 4 hours and we figured a 12 hour effort would be a good achievement. Low and behold, we arrived in Tubbut for refreshments at the community hall, graciously provided by the locals. With two coffees, food and a big dose of honey we both studied the maps and decided we would make our way over Mt Tingaringy to the Snowy River that night. We were shortly joined by another rider Brent. Misery loves company, so all three of us decided to cover the most difficult part of the course in the dark.
The “ride” over to the Snowy River was only 37km, but it took 6 hours to complete. This section was easily the toughest part of the Cloudride. Most of that 37km was unrideable. The terrain got too steep to ride, the track was loose rubble and I had no choice but to use my bike like a walking frame. Slam on the brakes, take a step forward, inch the bike forwards another 60cm as my feet gave way underneath me, then repeat. On and on we went, up the climb that was a relentless 40% gradient. Reaching the top all 3 of us were elated for a brief moment until we found out the descent was just as steep and just as unrideable. All of this was done in the dark and it was hard to tell how far we had to go. So we just ground away the kilometres until we arrived at the Snowy River at 11pm, exhausted from the 19 hour day on the bike.
Hurtling down the trail towards Cabramurra I ran over my first tiger snake of the ride. Cabramurra was a welcome reprieve for me and my returning appetite. The bistro had three course meals for $18, so I ordered 3. I then proceeded to gorge myself on 3 serves of T-bone steaks, chips, salad, broccoli soup and cheesecake. All up I think I consumed 40,000 kilojoules that day.