Audax Snowies 600

With my New Years resolution of ‘work less, ride more’, it seemed only right that 2015 should kick off with a ride of extreme epicness. It was thus that myself and four others found ourselves starting the year pedalling off through the inky blackness that is downtown Cooma at 5am, bound for 600k and 11,000 vertical metres of Snowy Mountain goodness. The course is an Audax ‘permanent’ road ride – no set dates, no support, just sign up, collect route info and ride. A 600k loop through some fairly remote and exposed country does pose a few logistical challenges, which we overcame by (reluctantly) adding to the load carrying capacity of our formerly featherweight carbon steeds. And by posting some supplies ahead to a very helpful hotel in Corryong for our overnight stop.

With a name like the ‘Snowy’ Mountains the tendency is to focus on the possibility of inclement weather – thinking cold, wet, stormy, bleak, icy, frozen fingers, hurty toes kind of tough. The reality was the complete opposite and no less challenging, with blazing sun, liquefying roads and furnace-like conditions on the big climbs.

All started well with a peaceful 55k sunrise spin to Dalgety, followed by a nasty uphill pinch on the back road to Jindabyne, which certainly put the hurt into the vert. One member of the group showed some good timing by popping a spoke early and took advantage of the Jindabyne bike shop. The rest of us topped up caffeine levels in preparation for the out and back trips up to Charlotte’s Pass and Guthega. This was sensational riding through some of the best cycling terrain in the country, nicely topped off with a quick stop on the descent to inhale an insanely good ‘burger with the lot’ from the roadside cafe just out of Perisher. A conveniently located ‘Lone Ranger’ style storm cloud took the edge off the temperature and even added a refreshing sprinkle of rain at one point. Once back down the mountain we needed to climb it again, this time on the Thredbo side. The climb up ‘n down via Thredbo to Dead Horse Gap proved to be a bit of a non-event compared to my memories of a climbing torture-fest when approaching from the opposite side. Once over the top, ripping descents were the order of the day. Unfortunately a price had to be paid for such gleeful freewheeling, and the gradual climb from Geehi felt like it was never going to end. And then finally, the last downhill plunge into Khancoban.

Reaching the pub at precisely 8:29pm I ordered all the remaining food available before the kitchen’s 8:30pm closure, knowing that only a relatively flat 28k now stood between me and bed. Timing it perfectly with Ed puncturing directly opposite our hotel, we were soon comatose in Corryong, happy to have the first 330k safely in the bag.

The next morning had a slightly Groundhog feel as the alarm again sprang into life at 4:15am. The level of enthusiasm displayed is testament to the power of sleep – amazing what a few hours of shut eye can do! The first 95k through to Tumbarumba were fairly benign, but it was hard to shake the feeling of impending doom. Even the 8k downhill dive to the Talbingo Reservoir was shadowed by the knowledge of what lay ahead. It was 38 degrees as I reached the base of the main ascent to Cabramurra, and the rivulets of sweat running down my arms were mirrored by trails of liquified bitumen trickling down the road. The road is a merciless place when the sun is pounding down, reflected and intensified by surrounding rock, with only the most meagre flecks of shade. Views to die for, of course, although hard to see through sweat-smeared sunnies and eyes burning with the constant trickle of extra salty sunscreen. All pain is rapidly forgotten once some height is regained however, and the simple joy of a toasted sandwich at Cabramurra remained with me for quite some time.

Meanwhile, the others had elected for a more conservative ride during the heat of the day, an extended break in the air conditioned comfort of the Cabramurra bistro, and a pleasant ride back in the cool of the night. Except Ed, whom I had assumed was not far behind me. He’d had a quick break in Cabramurra before resuming, but barely made it out of the village when his freewheel failed. While always happy to have a mechanical within cooee of a licenced (and air conditioned) establishment, he was nonetheless disappointed not to complete the ride after clocking over 9000m and almost 500k.

There is still a fair bit of up interspersed with the gradual loss of elevation heading down past Adaminaby and into Cooma. But the sense of having overcome the greatest hurdle was strong, the scenery magnificent, and the wind increasingly behind me. This combined to produce a kind of cycling nirvana as I hurtled homewards in a sweaty, and hurty but happy, kind of way. The temperature was still in the mid thirties when I arrived back in Cooma just before 7pm. Job not quite over, as I received the message that Ed was awaiting a pick up back in Cabramurra. The drive back did mean that I got to ‘check in’ with the rest of the group, as they rode steadily back to Cooma, primarily motivated by the goal of reaching town before the pizza joint closed at 1am …….

Thanks to Russell from Audax ACT for the creation and administration of what deserves to become a classic Alpine epic.

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