Sand and Hills
Spanning four days in October, the Cape to Cape starts with a shock – at 42 km’s the 1st and shortest stage, which commenced at The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse at midday and ended at Hamelin Bay Caravan Park, was the toughest.
Thankfully, charged with excitement and anticipation of the unknown despite waking with a sore throat, the energy was pumping. And it needed to be. Insanely steep inclines and fierce, rutted downhill gave legs no respite. Many of the inclines saw riders trudging upwards, pushing their bikes through soft sand, joking they didn’t come for a walk, especially one as tough as this. Being more of a runner than cyclist and wearing flats, I had a slight advantage over those struggling up hills in clip ins.
The walking continued when Deepdene Beach came into view, with a brave few, myself included, being cheered as they attempted to ride small sections of the deep, soft shore as a high tide lapped their tyres. The shore seemed to go forever, but the beauty of the place wasn’t lost on us and many had the chance to chat and joke.
About 3 hours into the race we entered firm tracks through the dunes, but the terrain looked like a row of camels humps and some riders weren’t bothering to get back on their bikes at all.
Riding up inclines where many dismounted became a hazard of its own as fatigue and crowding caused blockages and frustrated those still pedalling.
There were sand and hills and more sand; I didn’t know how many varieties of sand existed, and in such a short space – rich, dark sandy soil that smelled of forest, dusty pink sand that got into eyes, nose and throat, grey sandy sand in the coastal scrub, coarse beige sand along the beach, dirty sand full of organic matter.
Nearing the end we passed through The Farm, which was, you guessed it, a farm. The rural smell of mown grasses, sheep and cow dung followed us across paddocks rutted by deep sheep tracks; up eroded gravel tracks, and back into forest.
Finally the beach and finish line at Hamelin Bay Caravan Park came into view and there was a short sprint to the gate. Coloured dots were applied to each rider’s plates for seeding for the rest of the race.
Seeded into a pretty relaxed orange group after my 3 hours, 20 minutes time, I pushed my offended legs another couple of km’s up a bitumen incline to the parking area to wheels I didn’t have to pedal.
Shoes heavy with sand, legs filthy, my desires were simple; a shower and a large burger, preferably cooked by someone else.
Uploading a few photos to facebook, to keep my friends and those who donated to my cause; Kids HelpLine, took only a few seconds and provided an important link to supportive comments throughout the four, tough days.
The Settlers Tavern in the main street of Margaret River provided a hearty burger and chips, battered fish and chips. Stomach full, bed was the next priority and at 7.30, I was battling heavy eyelids. 5 minutes later I sank, as if in soft sand, deep into sleep. And dreamed I was on the mountain bike. All night!
Despite the course between Hamelin Bay and Xanadu Winery, being 60km and commencing at 8am, only 16 hours after the stage 1 finish, the inclines were moderate and many sections through farm and vineyards, flat and fast. So, unworried, the orange dots chatted at the start line, consumed Nutty Banana Cake and posed for photos.
However, the first 4km was a road climb followed by 25-30km of terrain ranging from firetrail; single track, downhill and gravel through Karri forest, wash-aways, rock, and recently cleared areas full of deep sand and broken tree roots.
The scene changed every few minutes calling on a level of focus and skill that wiped away any pretence that day two might offer recovery from day 1.
90 minutes in, leg weary, coffee hungry, dispirited and busting for the loo, I took my first nature stop. For anyone that mightn’t know, this is a pee. Guys do it at the edge of the track regularly and no one bats and eye, but women have to find a denser patch of forest and get in amongst the flora and fauna to do her thing.
The forest was stunning; tall trees, purple flowering wisteria, grass trees, thick undergrowth and banksias. Those few quiet moments reminded me where I was; to absorb and appreciate, and to suck it up!
As I got back on the bike, riders whizzing past asked if I was okay; ready to offer assistance. This lifted my spirits and sent me pedalling with new determination to the Highway to Hell; a rough sandy downhill with dense rocky areas, ending on a road overlooking a beach where the water stop was located.
This was tough, but the respite of the water stop, the sight of the azure waters, and the end of the more technical part of the course gave me strength.
Firm trails along the coast were followed by rural areas through farm and vineyard where again, I flagged. A girl offered to draft and took the lead, giving me focus and increasing my speed.
Suddenly, on a sharp turn, a rider directly behind took a heavy fall, bruising his hip and grazing his knee and ankle. I assessed his injuries, and Tonya; a girl I’d caught up, and been passed by since day 1, provided dressings. A mate of the fallen cyclist assisted him to the nearest SOS point and we were again, on our way.
Back on the bike, there were only a few paddocks of pale green grape vines, with their promising bunches of undeveloped grapes, to cycle around. Then there were just minutes to the finish along a plush bitumen entry to the Xanadu Winery. There we washed off our bikes then made our way back into Margaret River, so gear could be checked, washed, and repaired and food supplies organized for the next day.
After a shower, and keen to rectify that missed morning coffee, we visited Margaret River Chocolate Factory which offered pleasant respite from mud and bike gear. It gave me a chance to go somewhere wearing make-up and a dress and, as I enjoyed coffee, mud-cake and chocolate mousse, I could pretend I was just another tourist who’d been wine tasting all day.
Yes, both mudcake and chocolate mousse, because after 4 hours of mountain biking, you can do things like that. The Chocolate Factory delivered the usual moist indulgent mudcake but I went with the lush gluten free option to avoid tummy troubles.
On the way back we dropped into The Pines where the Red Bull Shootout was held.
This is where the elite Cape to Cape contenders do time trials to a rocking beat in front of awestruck supporters and other riders.
After steak and wedges, cooked by my fab hubby who’d already checked and adjusted my bike, it was another early bedtime. It started to feel like ‘eat, ride, sleep; repeat’.
After an 8km, untimed rollout from Xanadu, through the main street of Margaret River where cheering people lined the street, we commenced the stage proper. The next 49km included some of the best single track Western Australia has to offer.
Lesson learnt from the previous day, my second water bottle was full of coffee, so with a slab of gluten free Nutty Banana Cake(see Recipes page) and coffee chaser; the last food for some time, I was pumped.
Winding through dense Karri forest through light drizzle, with fern fronds brushing our elbows, it was easy to imagine we were in a Victorian rainforest.
Then we entered The Pines where loam single track put a wide grin on riders faces and gave legs and heart wings.
Perfect mountain biking, perfect day.
Whoops of sheer joy permeated the forest as we wound through pine and woodland, then through several muddy water crossings and along firm single track to finish at the Colonial Brewery, covered in mud.
Bike wash-down queue.
The latte cow, one of many life sized cows around the area, but especially in the main street of Cowaramup.
Then the day got weird.
After hand washing all my kit, then myself, I took the kids to the park. After admiring the huge, black Marron beneath the bridge at the edge of Margaret River town, Miss 10 was playing on some exercise equipment and her foot went underneath. I piggybacked her to the car and drove straight to the hospital. It was soon determined, by the on-call radiologist who was wearing board shorts, that she had a fractured tibia; non displaced.We waited, stomachs growling, while advice was sought from PMH Orthopaedics. After the little girl in the next bay was prepared for ambulance transfer to Bunbury for snake bite, Miss 10 had an above knee cast applied.
Dinner was a gorgeous pumpkin and spinach Risotto from Chow which we ate in the waiting room of the hospital, before heading back to our Riverview cabins to sleep.
Overnight my head cold got teeth, then, when my daughter woke for pain relief, I stayed awake the remainder of the night.
As the sunrise lit the ducks outside, scooping snails off the grass with their bills, I knew finishing was going to take everything I had left.
Eyes on the Finish Line
I added Ventolin to my daily cocktail of panadol and Nurofen, filled my second water bottle with coffee and took a long breath, coughed a bit, blew my nose and drove to Xanadu winery for the 64km final stage, which ended at Dunsborough Country Club.
On the cool, overcast Sunday morning, the course began with gravel roads, fire trail, forest and farmland, then after 15km, had 6km of good, moderately technical single-track through forest. Flat tyres due to rock obstacles dotted the side of the trail where many weary riders meandered along, creating some congestion. Then easy trails through farms and vineyards are followed by alternating treacherous pea gravel and fast, firm clay.
Residents stood in driveways and children waved.
At 10km to go, I got a rush of emotion and fatigue and cried for about 2km. This did not startle volunteers directing traffic. Clearly, they’d seen it all before.
Then, about 5km before the finish of the 2014 Cape to Cape, with legs that had already done 60km we entered the tight, often technical, Dunsborough MTB skills track. There was some swearing from riders as tired, uncoordinated bodies were forced to their limits.
Then suddenly a sign popped up which said 1km to go so it was a quick ride to the finish where we were handed a finishers badge.
I quickly located the bike storage, caught the last bus back to the Winery and travelled the next 45 minutes in stunned, exhausted relief.
Feeling like I had nothing left, I was surprised when the driver played ABBA’s Dancing Queen, and I felt like dancing. Nearly did too!