It’s 2pm and we eight 300km riders and four 100km riders set off on the Brisbane Valley Highway on our respective adventures. One 100km rider has forgotten his shoes, so he’s riding in thongs (I think Americans call them flip flops) with socks. It looks hilarious to see him on his Surly Long Haul Trucker wearing this crazy footwear. He and our 300km lantern rouge rider set off slowly and stayed a long way behind the group. Both seemed to be enjoying their solo efforts – smiling and waving every time I saw them along the butterfly course. The 100km riders set a blistering pace, taking two of the 300km riders with them. The rest of us fall into a loose group that would join and part ways for the entire ride.
The bucolic landscape rolls on by. I let the group ride off ahead of me when I need to stop to sort out a minor mechanical issue. I take so long fiddling around that even our lantern rouge gets ahead of me. But that doesn’t worry me. I am learning that I prefer to ride alone or in pairs; the social and logistic dynamics of a group stress me and take my focus off the scenery. It’s not that I don’t like my fellow riders. In fact, I like them very much. But I find group activities stressful and would rather one-on-one time or to socialise while stopped at checkpoints, or before or after the ride.
We come together at checkpoint 1: Somerset Dam. There’s a spread of food and selection of drinks including hot tea, coffee and milo. I’m feeling good at this point. I’ve caught up with the rest of the 300km riders and am moving quickly through the rolling landscape along a road that threads it’s way between low mountains in the range. I eat some food, enjoy a cold drink and leave the checkpoint with the group.
It isn’t long before I am riding alone again. I’ve stopped to take some photos and watch my fellow Audaxians heading off into the distance. I feel content and am enjoying the ride. The scenery is stunning and the heat isn’t as stifling as it has been in recent rides. For the first 200km of the ride, I alternate between riding so far in front of the group that I can’t see them behind me and riding so far behind them that I can’t see their lights blinking in the night sky. A year ago, this would have stressed me but now I am comfortable out on the road by myself watching horses and cattle grazing.
I ride up the Esk-Hampton Road towards the turnaround point in Stage 2. On the way back, I stop to watch the sun setting in the western skies. This is why I’m out here. I don’t care about my finish times: I care about the journey that takes me there. I care about the moments that take my breath away like the setting of the sun, the rising moon reflecting off Wivenhoe Dam and the herd of Arabian horses we startled who cantered across a paddock with their tails held high.
I arrive at checkpoint 2 just before dark. By the time we are all ready to leave, darkness has engulfed us. For the next 10 hours, this will be our reality: high visibility vests, flickering red tail lights and bright lights that have been designed in the current lumen wars. For me, this is what separates Audax from other riding I’ve done – the refusal to limit our days to the sun’s schedule.
The third checkpoint is in Lowood. I’ve ridden 168km and am struggling to eat. Fatigue and the hot air are combining to upset my digestion and I’m almost too lazy to chew. I sustain myself with hot milo and some oranges. Both are delicious. I let the group ride ahead for the next 32km until we return to Lowood for checkpoint 4. The moon beams create a shadow rider who follows me along the road and is bright enough for me to see the farmland along the road. I return to Lowood at checkpoint 4 (200km). Three riders take off in the lead, Rodney joins me and two riders drop off the group. The lantern rouge is still enjoying life a couple of hours behind us. The Glenmorganvale Hill looms like a demon; I decide to put pride aside and walk up it instead of bothering to ride.
Over the next 50km my body runs out of fuel and I start to break the ride down to short sections between route directions. Rodney keeps me company and is supportive the whole time, slowing when the pace gets too fast. We ride through fields of lucern, recognisable only by their scent, and past houses growing nigh jasmines. Despite my fatigue and hunger, I am still happy. But the highlight of the section is the sight of the 248km checkpoint at McDonalds. I’m so happy to see the golden arches that I stop on top of the bridge over the highway to take a photo.
I can’t help but wonder what the truckies and late night revelers traveling home would have thought about the bicycles parked outside McDonalds at 2am.
Fed and feeling good again, we set off on our last section of the ride, stopping only at Coominya to use the bathrooms. A cute green tree frog keeps me company as I stop.
With just 15km to go, the sky starts to change colour.
And the sun rises to the east, turning the waters in Wivenhoe Dam a stunning gold.
Before I know it, we’re back in Esk, and enjoying barbecued sausages and eggs before a short nap in the park.
Here’s my video of the ride: