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Not a race report (Hartley Challenge 2019)

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For the last few years, I have been doing a little riding at the end of November, I thought this year I might write about my experience from this year.

There is a local charity in Canberra called Hartley Lifecare. They give support to those with disabilities, they provide housing to the disabled, as well as offer respite care, and in home care as well. For the last 20 years, their major fundraiser has been the Hartley Lifecare Cycle Challenge. This year, they wanted to raise 550k for the knockdown rebuild of one of their care facilities.
The Challenge is as follows. 22 Teams of 12 (As mandated by NSW Police) ride from Canberra -> Charlotte's Pass return over 3 days. (Overnight stopping point is Jindabyne) Around 450km and 5500m of climbing. Teams must ride together, followed by a support vehicle, if teams are catch breaking up, they are removed from the road, and may be asked to not continue. This is not a race. Not a bad little hitout.

Due to this being the 20th anniversary, and the fifth year our team had put a team in (And for some of us, our 5th year riding the event, and for some of us, time to take a break for a year or two afterwards), we decided on an ambitious fundraising goal for the team. 100k. I won't go into the full specifics, but with lots of early mornings, lots of badgering family, friends and work colleagues, a few thousand bacon and egg rolls, more raffle tickets than you can poke a stick at, and a few large donations from our major sponsors (Hearing Australia and The Green Shed) we managed to pull together 110k.  The fundraising goal was achieved, but that is only half the story.

For a little background, the teams involved usually have disparate riding experience levels. The first year, during the first training ride, As we were nearly finished, I asked why one of the riders why their Garmin just beeps. His response was that it just told him it was the longest ride he had ever done. We were at the 47km mark. For the second day, riders are allowed to ride at their own pace, not required to ride with the team. That year, we had one team on the road. On day two, Jindy -> Charlottes Pass return, we had a rider be 3rd up the hill, and the last three to make it up were also members of our team (of ~130 riders that day). This should tell you something of the difference of the fitness levels of the group. After that year, we have had two teams, a stronger team, and one who... are less experienced. I have ridden with the more experienced team for the last few years, but this year, I have had a few months off the bike, and my weight has been increasing as well. When I was out training with my team, I felt that every time the road tilts up, I was just being an anchor to everyone else, and with three weeks to go, I decided to swap to the less experienced team. Two weekends left pre-event for training, with the second written off for LCW, so one ride with the group. Cue 7am, and of the 8 who said they were coming, only 5 were their. And off we went. The other three turned up 20mins late, this apparently being somewhat common. They met up with us later, during an out and back stretch of the planned route. My one training ride completed with 5 and 8 of an 11 person team before a 450km long weekend.

Friday morning and dawn breaks. The teams are set off every ten minutes, expected slowest first, starting at 6am. Due to a comms issue, we were the first to rollaway, at just after 6.07am. from experience, the worst thing you can do is go fast, so like any endurance event, take the start easy, if it doesn't feel easy, you are going too fast. So sitting on the front rolling 120w seemed valid. What followed on that Friday was a very strange day. The weather was not brilliant (it was 22C at 6am, the sky was hazy all day from the dust in the air, at times you could feel the grit in your teeth), the wind was variable, swirling and somewhat gusty. The wind made it harder to communicate with the group, and many calls were not being relayed through the group, so at times there was more tension in the group than I would have liked. Calls from the back not coming up to the front (including when the last rider cramped, stopped, got into the bus, with the front riders trying to work out where the support vehicle had gone a few minutes later, as we never got the call to stop, as we are required to do) and calls from the front not being relayed back, so a few sketchy bits of riding through deep gravel on the side of the road etc. 6h20m after we started and we are in Cooma for the lunch break. At which point I find out something I haven't known in previous years. We have a 6pm curfew. All bunches are pulled off the road at 6pm. While more than half the distance has been covered, only a third of the days climbing was done, and we were well into the second half of the day, and I was... worried. The wind had started to pick up and settle into a constant direction, specifically, a headwind for the next stretch into Berridale. The next 32ish km hurt, only four people pacemaking, with everyone else trying to hang on, calls to ease up (well, "Back One", in the terms the group use) every time we broke 15km/h, people not paying enough attention and just letting wheels go, and then splitting the group. A lot of this comes down to the training, and confidence of a lot of the group, they don't practice the close in tight team formations that this type of wind needs, and some of them won't push to re-make contact, just the expectation of the group slowing down for them to catch up.  We made it to Berridale eventually, the last km or two helped by the visual of knowing that the stand of trees in front of us are the lead in to the township. At this point I need to say something about the make up of the group. Of the eleven of us, three have never ridden Hartley before, one of these is a mountain biker, one has some riding experience, but nothing in the endurance spectrum, and the last is one of our support drivers from the years past, who decided this year to train up and do the ride instead of drive. I found out that night, her longest day on the bike previously was 88km. Those driving the group? two of our new people, myself and one of the others with a few years of experience. We hit Berridale at ~1530 seven of us left on the road (A few had jumped in the bus, unable to cope with the wind). Twenty minute stop, tired, and starting to worry about time. If we can just stop stopping, we can do this we leave Berridale around 1555, 2h05m until cutoff, 30km to Jindy, ~34km to our lodging (JSR). This is going to be close, really close. And then I experienced something that seemed otherworldly. We climbed out of Berridale, at which point our ex-support driver jumped into the wind, and off she went, 7 left on the road, and the first two being those who had been hanging at the back all day. And she was massacring it, one single focus. 15km to Jindy, The lake has just come into view, 1705. We stop, another into the bus. Every stop and that time limit is weighing heavily on my mind. Our ex-support driver is adamant, she just wants to ride the dam wall, we don't have the time to make the 'finish' at JSR, but we might be able to squeak in to Jindy within our time limit. Those that have ridden around Jindy knows that it is a little up and down from here on, and off we went. Crossing the dam was an experience, this was the first time I had the ability to really enjoy it, a little separation, and strung out in a line, able to properly see over the wall and down into the gorge, magnificent. Climbing out the other side and passed by what may be the last team on the road, also chasing the time limit. over the last rise into Jindy, at which point our two newer stronger riders back off, with the question of where to next? I take the front and lead our little bunch down into Jindy and into the Carpark and the Banjo Paterson. The watch stops at 17:58. Elation. We made it. a weight drops from the shoulders, and the knowledge that we got it done, maybe not exactly as planned, but we rode Canberra -> Jindy  in the time cut off, and finished with a smile on our faces. We can just see the bus from the next group, stopped around the corner, packing up after they have been pulled off the road. The Garmin stops at 11h52 elapsed, moving time of 9h27m. I have never spent that much time in the saddle in a day. The tail vehicle was already packed, and nearly full, to save some effort, those of us still on the road decided to stop at the pub while the bus continued to JSR and emptied and then came back for us.

That night went rather quickly, less sleep than I would have liked, but these things happen. Due to the shorter nature of day 2, our rollaway was after 8am, so we had a little time to try and sleep in, or at least relax. I won't say much about the ride, other than it is stunning, and I enjoyed my mostly solitary ride up to Charlotte's Pass. Our stronger team left 50mins after us, and only two of them managed to pass me, I was third up from our team (only beaten by our two new strong riders). A third rider from the stronger team went back after perisher to go and give a literal helping hand to our slower riders and pushed them up the hill. Some of those guys are amazing. At the top, we waited for the slower riders and managed to get a whole team photo including support crews. No where near my fastest times up, but carrying another 10+kg since then does make a difference. New record for the last section of decent into Thredbo river did put a smile on my face.

That night was the celebration dinner with all the riders who were taking part that year. it is always nice to hear about the other side of Hartley, and those we help. Our group managed to grab the award for most money raised by a team. The rest of the night was, well, somewhat interrupted sleep, another 6.15am rollaway the next day.

Sunday dawned, and things were afoot. While we all packed our stuff, some into the van, and smaller things into our follow vehicle, others had different ideas. Three people from the team had already pulled the pin, deciding to ride later in the day.  5 minutes later, as we were waiting for the ride brief, another rider put their bike in the trailer and jumped into the bus as well. Seven left to roll away. From the staging point to the exit of JSR is a saddle, and also one of the steepest sections of road that we would face. another rider flatted as they descended within 100m of the start line, into the bus he also went. 6 left as we turned onto Barry Way to begin our journey home. As we hit the 4k point, leaving Jindy, our road captain and our ex-support driver pulled up and jumped in the bus, they felt they would just be too much of a drag on the rest of us as we hit the climbs out of Jindy. There had been comments earlier from the bus that some planned to start at East Jindy. As we started rolling, I realized that I had had one of my most novice mistakes in my life. While I had filled my water bottles the night before, I had kept one by my bed, and drank most of it over the course of the night. The other I had half drained over breakfast. All good, East Jindy is less than 10k away, and we are stopping anyway. As we approach the servo where I planned to stop the group, we catch the first team on the road, the Team of Tandem riders, for whom I have the utmost respect. This distance of ride is hard enough, add in the climbing and it becomes quite difficult. Making it on Tandems just seems to add quite a bit of complexity. Pulling over, and as I grab some water from the esky to fill the bottles, I make the comment that we are not stopping again until once we have hit Berridale. No one gets out of the bus. I am later told the road captain has informed those already in the bus to let the four of us have some time at our pace and to just let us enjoy ourselves for the next 30 odd km. and we did, that section of road is great, slight turns and rolling, before the descent into Berridale, we averaged about 30km until the descent, and then 55 afterwards. It was amazing and just a nice experience for the four of us. Most of the group just back on the road at our stop, and once we got going, one of the worst things for us had happened. The wind had turned and now we had a headwind as we made our way to Cooma, at least it was less than the Friday. Back to 15km/h. After Cooma, 4 stayed in the bus, and as a group we decided to change tactics a little, the wind again had somewhat changed and the easterly we had been fighting was now a mostly northerly (yep, still a headwind), so we stayed single, and just rolled the first four riders every ten minutes or so, and kept ourselves left of the ghostline for as much of the ride as possible, stay out of the way of cars and trucks, the Monaro was quite busy. Later we heard a number of experienced riders comment that it was the most traffic they had seen on the road, and many groups had been dealing with a lot more aggressive drivers than usual as well. After discussions at Michelago, and the knowledge the bus needed to be returned by 1750, and the increasing traffic and issues other groups were having, we decided to pull the pin with 40k to go. packed up the bus and drove to Hume, and rode the last 7km as a full team to the finish line. A little disappointing, esp for our new riders, but safety is important. Word has it a car rolled not much later not far from where we had been. (For those following on the map, this is 15k south of where Mike Hall was struck and killed during the first IPWR)

And that was my weekend. Some struggle, some not so hard riding, some somewhat close calls with idiot drivers, and time spent with a good group of people. There is no way I can really comment about everything, there will always be things that were missed, but these things happen. It was a good weekend and experience, and one that in the future I would like to try and repeat (And maybe even finish one of these days) but for now, and the next few years, I will just put my money in the time when someone comes around collecting, and look back with fondness, not just of this year, but of the last five, and with what we have accomplished over the years.


For those wondering, I spent about 40-50% of the time in the wind, with the following
Day 1 - 174k - 1962m climbed - 11h52m - moving 9h27m - 304TSS
Day 2 - 86k - 1806m climbed - 6h4m - moving 4h27m - 276TSS
Day 3 - 132k - 1415m climbed - 8h52m - moving 7h05m - 315TSS

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