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by Derek Bogaert
August 11, 2015
Photography by Derek Bogaert
Peaks Challenge Gold Coast is the latest instalment in Bicycle Network’s Peaks Challenge series, a series that began with Peaks Challenge Falls Creek, formerly known as the 3 Peaks Challenge.
The route takes riders through the Gold Coast Ranges and Northern NSW hinterland, covering some 235km and five major climbs for nearly 4,000 metres of elevation gain. Derek Bogaert from Interpedalers took part in the inaugural Peaks Challenge Gold Coast over the weekend and wrote the following about his experience.
Firstly, let it be know that I’m a hack cyclist. I am a hairy-legged-freebie-cycling-kit-wearing-barely-two-rides-a-week-cyclist. I’ve never ridden the Peaks Challenge, and I have never ridden 235km in my life. But why not give it a crack? I’m pretty good at biting off more than I can chew and this was no exception.
I had been scoping out the Victorian edition of the Peaks Challenge for a while, but couldn’t muster up the courage to do it. Being Brisbane-based, when I got news of the inaugural Gold Coast Challenge, I scouted interest from a few riding buddies and promptly signed up off the back of some shallow promises they’d join me.
Fast forward six months, just six weeks out from the event, and all my mates had pulled out, and I had barely been on my bike. I was nowhere near ready, and I knew it.
In an act of desperation, I convinced myself that I should try and ride the entire route solo before the event, unassisted, pockets stuffed with as much food as they’d hold, to get a feel for how challenging it really was. I figured that if I could do it by myself, I would have no problems sucking wheel and finishing it well within the time cut-offs on the day.
But despite eating all the food I could carry, and still stopping five times at truck stops, milk bars and roadside cafes, I bonked, lost my way too many times, and with fading daylight and inadequate clothing, I pulled up short in Reedy Creek about 20 kilometres from the finish.
Having given it a good crack beforehand should have been a good move, but I am not so convinced it was. I was confident I could ride it, but all it did was give me a false sense of entitlement. I knew what I was in for but I didn’t do any more training.
I just rocked up to the start line with some freshly shaved legs (I hear the aero advantages negate all training prerequisites), my golf jacket, a mirrorless camera around my neck, four bananas, a packet of dates and some Aldi fruit bars shoved into my back pockets.
It was 7°C at 5:30am out front of Metricon Stadium — freezing by Queensland standards. I had strategically placed myself at the back of the 12+ hour finishers. Looking forward there was a sea of ‘real’ riders. You know, the ones who would finish the ride well before I had even finished lunch.
I had a few ‘what the hell am I doing here’ moments, but I wasn’t the only one. There was a chorus of nervous energy and chuckles all around me.
I felt at peace with the middle-aged men in lycra, each of us trying to convince ourselves and others we were just out for another ‘fun’ day in the saddle. But we were about to be proven wrong. Painfully wrong.
The ride was off without much fanfare, and for the first time in my life I was being ushered along by police, through red lights and stop signs, all the while riding three abreast and talking to strangers. However the joys of police escorts and waving well-wishers came to an abrupt end at the base of Henri Robert Drive.
On a good day, even with fresh legs, you would be hard-pressed to ride this beast all the way to the top without having to jump off and walk. But on a day when there are 400 other guys all simultaneously attempting to ride zig-zagged up a 7.6km-long climb with pitches of 20%+ there was no hope.
It was like Dutch Corner on Alpe d’Huez — pick a line and hope you don’t get eaten by the swarm of bike-pushing riders covering the entire road. They should have made a special jersey just for making it to the top without falling off!
Stunning views of the entire coast awaited those who managed to clamber their way to the top.
With the steepest climb behind us, I overheard a few guys commenting that it was all going to be easier from here. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. Having just ridden the route, I knew there was plenty of prolonged suffering yet to come and I was trying to keep my head in the game.
After descending through the upper rainforests of Mount Tambourine, I found myself in a group of 15 riders cruising along the flats towards Canungra. I promised myself that if I found myself out front I would roll off the front after a minute, but I didn’t have to. It was easy going, but I wasn’t about to get carried away. Not yet anyway.
From the time we hit Canungra the road gradually kicked up, leaving the plains behind us. From here on it felt like a long progressive climb for the next hour, all the way to the top of Beechmont.
The route covers some of the most picturesque landscapes in South East Queensland: lush, green, rolling hills, mountainous landscapes and canopy-covered roads. This is a part of the Gold Coast that I had never ventured to previously, but one that I will be sure to revisit.
After a much-needed lunch break in Mudgeeraba I heard the call for the 11-hour riders group, and since I was making reasonable time I thought I would jump on the train. After a fair bit of undulating climbing, our small group found itself at the base of the Springbrook climb.
The road was rarely steep enough to really challenge, but despite being only 7.7km long, it seemed to go on forever, numerous times crossing back on itself as it snaked its way to the summit.
I love a good descent. I have ridden down a quite a few mountains across the country and I have to say that the 12km of Pine Creek Rd are up there with some of the best in the country.
When I descended this stretch of road six weeks prior I had managed to clock 97.9km/h. It’s deadly fast, and if you’re crazy enough to keep your fingers off the brakes, it’s a hell of a descent. Today, however, I had other riders to consider, and with good reason.
About three-quarters of the way down someone had come off hard and they didn’t look in the best shape. The medics were on site and I could hear the blare of an ambulance siren en route. Today I only managed 88.2km/h.
After counting my blessings it wasn’t me on the side of the road, I caught the back of another group as we headed into the Numinbah Valley. This is a place of sheer beauty. You can quickly forget you are taking part in a gruelling ride when all along the road jagged cliff faces carve their way across the horizon, and giant rock formations jut out from beneath the ground.
After climbing through rainforests, over mountain tops and picturesque rolling green pasturelands, this was another layer of beauty that has to be seen to be appreciated.
I crested the Queensland and New South Wales border with not a great deal of exertion. Natural Bridge was another long gradual climb but I was trying to take it easy, and besides that I was far too caught up in taking pictures than I was with pushing myself too hard.
After descending over the border I managed to hitch on to the back of a couple guys wearing Falls Creek Peaks Challenge finishers jerseys. It was a smart move.
I couldn’t believe my luck because for the next 20km, while grinning from ear to ear, I got towed at 40km/h through Chillingham, the cane fields of Murwillimbah, and all the way to the base of Mount Tomewin, the final and most testing climb of the day.
By the three-quarter point of the climb, I had run out of edible food. I tried to throw down a muesli bar but even with half a litre of liquid it wouldn’t go down. Giving up trying to swallow it, I attempted to spit it out of my mouth but ended up throwing up whatever else was in my stomach.
With no food on me and nothing left in my stomach things were about to go from bad to worse.
Nearing the top, and with nothing left in my legs or my stomach, I spotted a lone road-side well-wisher, with one hand gesturing us onwards and in the other a partially eaten apple. I yelled out to see if he had another, he didn’t, but he offered me his half-eaten one, which I graciously accepted and rode on.
At this point I needed more than half an apple to sustain me, and with that in mind I stopped looking ahead and started looking down. Throughout the day I must have passed a hundred accidentally discarded bars, gels and lolly bags. I had barely given them any thought, but now I was searching for one as if my very life depended on it.
As I fought off a major food bonk, sure enough, the cycling gods strategically placed a yellow tube of something right on my path. Doubling back, my suspicions were confirmed: an unopened sports gel. I downed its sticky sweet goodness with a new lease of life and descended into Tallebudgera and on to the home stretch.
With only 20km to go I could no longer feel my legs. They were more like heavy logs attached to my body; logs I had little control over. Pushing through the pain I rode those last kilometres like I was riding the time trial of my life.
But whenever I managed to get in a good pace and find my rhythm, out of nowhere a category 1 climb would appear (in reality they were little more than mounds but they felt like mountains).
Jumping from one group to the next I piggy-backed and edged forward, nearing the finish one painful kilometre at a time.
The end was near and I was now running on pure adrenalin. I made the final push into the grounds, held off a late surge from a rider on my right and promptly collapsed into a heap on the ground. Ten hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds. I then proceeded to spew up the entire contents of my stomach once more. Done.
That was the hardest ride of my life.
– Calories consumed: 8,361
– Photos taken: 1,192
– Top speed: 88.2km/h
– Average speed 25km/h
– Times vomited: 2
– Number of gifts from the gel gods: 1