Riders ascend Mt Buffalo

It's been a few years since I've been to Bright, in the Victorian Alps, on the Australia Day weekend for the Audax Alpine Classic.

Increased motor traffic on the course, minimal motivation, too little training, and, if truth be known, advancing age has seen me retire from riding the challenging, mountainous 200km course, after being a semi-regular participant and proudly consistent finisher for nearly 30 years. The Velominati would probably be disgusted.

Even the ride has changed with age. It's now just the Alpine Classic. The Audax Club has sold the ride to an events company, Fairfax Events & Entertainment. It still seems to attract thousands of keen riders.

I made a snap decision to visit there this year when a Friday meeting was cancelled and a friend had a spare bedroom available. What could be better than driving 720 kilometres on my free day in 45 degree temperature? At least the fossil-fuelled abomination (FFA) has air-con. (Not much Rule #9 there.)

It's been my custom in previous years to unload the FFA, re-mantle the bike and ride it to the top of Tawonga Gap immediately upon arrival at Bright. This year the intention was no different. Unfortunately the body was immediately unwilling to accept the 45-degree challenge (both temperature and slope). Still not much Rule #9 point-scoring happening...

I waited until 6pm for the temperature to drop into the merely high-30s before setting out for what I hoped would be coolth at an additional 600 metres altitude. Despite Tawonga Gap's 895m elevation, (Bright is at 319m), my Garmin measured a temperature still above 29 degrees at the top after I'd struggled up in my lowest gear, stopping numerous times to pour water over myself and to let my heart-rate drop below its limit. But I did get to the top! (Gotta be some Rule #9 points there...?)

Mt Bogong is always a welcome sight from the Tawonga Gap lookout

Unlike the ride up, the ride down is always too short, but is also always a blast. As long as you keep your wits about you and the rubber-side down. Today's descent was no exception; I promised myself I would do it again the next day. The climb would be easier then... Cooler, too...

Wrong. I was over-confident, of course. I'd pottered to the top of Mt Buffalo to visit the old, now unused Chalet (at 1300+m) early the next morning to beat the heat. The lack of traffic then, plus wildlife, including grazing kangaroos and the male lyrebird which scurried across my path and flung itself into the air off the edge of the road, made it worthwhile. The vertical kilometre was still a bit of a killer. Views from the lookout at the top are to die for. And I'm sure people have. If not from heart attack after staggering up there on a bike, but also from falling off. Stupid way to get Rule #9 points.

The picturesque but unused Chalet on Mt Buffalo looks out towards the Ovens Valley and the Australian Alps

So, Tawonga second ascent, that afternoon. Not the doddle it should have been. Still too hot, too steep, legs over-tired, heart-rate maxed out, water running low, questions of sanity... but I eventually made it again, and survived the ripping descent. (More Rule #9 points!)

Next morning was the day of the big ride. I wasn't entered. It was also cold and raining. I was not riding. (All Rule #9 points lost!)

I was not surprised, though, to see hundreds of Rule-#9-rocking, rain-sodden riders keener than I streaming past my accommodation towards Tawonga Gap or Mt Hotham, depending on the crazy distance they had chosen -- courses of 250 and 320km are now offered in addition to the classic 200km Classic, along with shorter options starting at 60km, which is one ascent and descent of Mt Buffalo from Bright. Many already wore wet weather gear, others were calling in to their own accommodations to don rain gear. I heard some riders had to abandon their rides on Mt Hotham due to low temperatures, some irony given the heat of only the previous day. But, just by getting that far, they still scored multiply on Rule #9! 

I'd hoped to ride the 100km Mt-Hotham-and-back myself but realised my legs didn't have the 25km climb in them. When, after lunch, the roads dried again, I decided to explore some I hadn't ever used, finding myself on the unsealed Stony Creek Rd which branches off the Old Harrietville Rd. It looks kinda idyllic there below, doesn't it?

Appearances can be deceptive... That part, winding gently between trees, carrying near-zero traffic, was lovely but, 7km later, after not one but two creek fords deep enough to soak the chain, the "road" deteriorated to rocky single-track and began climbing steeply. This was no longer road-bike-friendly and, as I had no idea where it was going -- I later learned it meandered to Mt Beauty rather than the hoped-for Harrietville -- I turned around and braced for a bouncing descent over the "cobbles", praying for no pinch-flats. (But I must have been racking up the Rule #9 points again, right?)

I still hadn't had enough when I returned to the Old Harrietville Rd so, determined to redeem myself for failing to ride to Mt Hotham, I headed along the Great Alpine Rd to Harrietville, the mountain village at the base of the long, long climb to the popular ski destination of Hotham.

It was now late in the day on the Sunday of a holiday weekend and Harrietville, when I reached it after an easy spin along the valley, was closed. Not that there is much of the place to be open in normal circumstances. A couple of cafés and an unappealing resort/hotel are the extent of its CBD. I was narked by a sign at one cafe prohibiting bicycles from the "eating area", conveniently located right adjacent to the FFA-parking area so patrons could get full benefit of the exhaust fumes. I was thus not annoyed I couldn't give them any bicycle-dollars. The business is for sale, BTW, in case you are interested in improving its bicycle-friendliness.

My final ride for the weekend, you will be surprised to learn, was yet another ascent of Tawonga Gap. I knew this one would be good. Monday morning at 0630 was cold, crisp and dry, just the way mountain areas are supposed to be... This time I felt great, the bike felt great, the heart rate stayed within reasonable bounds, I was scoring bulk Rule #9 points, and I didn't care that I was "chicked" again on the climb, by the same woman who'd flashed past at twice my speed ascending Buffalo. I vaguely recall when I could climb at that speed. Once upon a time...

The Lynskey takes a breather at the lookout near Mt Buffalo Chalet

Views: 143

Comment by Bill Parker on January 30, 2019 at 9:54pm

Well done Neil, just goes to show you still have it despite advanced age, I still ( likely never) haven't mastered those climbs even though my Lynskey now has quite a few more lower gears than yours, and wheels with more spokes, have you lost some? I was just looking at a video of a 72 year old German doing his 7th PBP (in 2015), probably planning his 8th just now too.

Comment by Dabba on January 31, 2019 at 1:55am

Kudos! We did those roads in the stinkbox in November and even then it was tough going. Beautiful country though!

Comment by Andrew Taafe on January 31, 2019 at 8:03am

Well done Neil and a nice write up as well

Comment by John Knight on February 4, 2019 at 7:21am

Thanks for the post Neil.

Such a beautiful place - riding on almost any road down there is a memorable experience. 

I haven't been down there since April 2017. 

You're helping me to get motivated again! I have a lot of work to do to get Bright fit.  

Comment by Bob Moore on February 10, 2019 at 4:59am
Beautiful photo of Mt Bogong, even looks like a big soft Bogong moth. You seem fatally attracted to Tawonga Gap!
Comment by Neil Alexander on February 23, 2019 at 3:51pm
I love the ride up Tawonga Gap, Bob.
Also the descent on either side.
I just hope neither will be fatal anytime... ;-)

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