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Chris Bennetts-Cash

Climber. Software engineer. Audio geek.

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D-Day minus 5 weeks

According to my employer I have too much leave. I’ve been directed to take four weeks off before the beginning of June, and as a result will be taking all of May off.

What on earth to do with all this time off? Caddy has an exhibition opening in Melbourne in the last week of May, and I’ve been talking about doing a long distance bicycle ride a bit over the past nine months or so. So the obvious answer seems to be a bike ride from Canberra to Melbourne.

A bit of experimentation with Google Maps results in the following itinerary:

  • Canberra - Gundagai - 154km
  • Gundagai - Holbrook - 117km
  • Holbrook - Wodonga - 70km
  • Wodonga - Benalla - 110km
  • Benalla - Seymour - 103km
  • Seymour - Melbourne - 111km
  • Total - 665km

Is this possible? My longest ride to date has been a little over 140km, but I figure if I maintain a relatively low speed of about 25km/h and be sure to stay aerobic the whole time I should be able to keep going indefinitely. And worst case I have very slow days with lots of breaks.

So what do I need to do before I embark on my first ever long distance ride?

  1. Make sure my legs can handle it. Use the ANZAC Day long weekend as a chance to do four consecutive 110km+ rides. If I can survive four days I’m sure I can survive six, particularly with a short 70km day in the middle.
  2. Figure out how to take things with me. Being a pretty fancy bike I don’t have any braze-ons to attach a rack, and the idea of attaching a trailer to a racing bike seems a bit … improper. So I need to figure out a way to jury-rig a rack and get panniers that are big enough to carry my floor pump and a lot of spare tubes.
  3. Figure out how to take enough calories with me. Over long rides I average about 29kCal/km. So this ride will be 3000+kCal per day, bringing my daily calorie needs to about 5000kCal. Which is an awful lot. I’ve never been terribly concerned about calorie intake on my longer rides to date, being satisfied with about 150kCal an hour, or a 2500kCal deficit at the end of a ride. This isn’t going to be sensible over six days of cycling, and nutrition will become a pretty major consideration. Roughly, this equates to 193 energy gels, or about 5.75L of the sticky stuff, if I want to stay calorie neutral. In addition to a regular diet.

D-Day minus 2.5 weeks

Post ANZAC Day long weekend. Successfully completed 445km over four days. Due to wind and rain on day two this included 110km on my indoor roller trainer, which resulted in day 3 beginning very hesitatingly on tired and sore hamstrings (you can’t stop pedalling on rollers). Felt tired but good at the end of day four, which bodes well for my ability to last an extra couple of days.

D-Day minus 1 week

The end of my first week of leave. Still not 100% certain I’m going to do this thing, but I’ve now bought a rack and a pair of panniers so I’m at least semi-committed. A couple of hours of Googling and I’ve identified accommodation at the towns I’d planned to stop at, but still not sufficiently convinced that this isn’t an absurd idea to actually book the accommodation.

Incidentally, this week was a build week - With no work I set a schedule of a full time triathlete, with somewhere between 25 and 30 hours of training. Focusing on the bike, of course. I could grow to love more weeks like this!

D-Day minus 3 days

Accommodation booked. 2.5 litres of energy gel made. Not much chance of turning back now. Weigh-in on the luggage is just under 15kg, reconsidering the contents to pack as little as possible and I’ve come up with:

  • Tubes x6
  • Tyre levers x2
  • Rubber cement
  • Patches x6
  • Superglue
  • Floor pump
  • CO2 canister x3
  • CO2 inflator
  • Toolkit
  • Spanner
  • Light
  • Bike lock
  • Phone charger
  • Printed directions for each leg
  • Ziplock bags (directions, phone, wallet = 3 )
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Aussie Butt Cream
  • Electrolytes
  • Calcium, magnesium, iron, multivitamins
  • Razor
  • Sunscreen
  • Cash (4x$20)
  • Knicks x3
  • Jerseys x3
  • Socks x6
  • Arm warmers
  • Leg warmers
  • Shoe covers
  • Balaclava
  • Thermal top x2
  • Thermal pants
  • Boxers x3
  • Thick socks
  • Shoes (squash and tie together old runners)
  • T-shirt x3
  • Pants x2

D-Day. Sunday, May 16

Time for my longest ride ever. At the beginning of my longest stretch of cycling ever. It still seems pretty silly, but getting Caddy to drive me to Yass to start the journey seems like a bit of a cop-out. 158km from Gungahlin to Gundagai. I dealt with it fairly capably, with a short break for real food (a sandwich) about 4 hours into the 6 hour ride. On arrival at Gundagai River Caravan Park I discovered that the clamps attaching my rack to the seat stay on my bike’s frame had slipped down the frame and were chipping away at the welds on the frame. After a short time panicking and considering calling Caddy for a rescue I confirmed that the weld was structurally sound, cut up a spare tube and wrapped the seat stay in rubber to protect it and prevent slippage. With repairs completed I showered (this was soon to become a highlight of my days), cleaned my tyres, stretched and ate a tremendous amount before wondering what I should do next. After spending a couple of hours reading H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Call of Cthulu’ on my iPhone I walked into town to find more food. A cold night on an uncomfortable bed followed.

Monday, May 17

The plan for today is 116km from Gundagai to Holbrook. After about 75km I was seriously fatigued and had another food break. With Caddy at work calling her for a rescue was a pretty embarrassing option (You may have realised by now that my ANAC weekend test ride was done without luggage. Oops.), so after a good stretch I completed the last 40km to Holbrook. After checking into my motel, cleaning my tyres and, most importantly, showering I gave a generous donation to the Holbrook Bakery and spent some quality eating time walking around the museum and submarine. After getting some fruit (and, I admin, chips) from the supermarket I walked back to the motel and read while eating more. Shortly after this I walked back into town for a pub dinner. After about ten minutes discussing what ‘vegan’ meant I found myself with a massive bowl of veggies and another bowl full of hot chips.

Tuesday, May 18

Today, I cross the border! A short day (74km) today, and only 2.5 hours got me into Wodonga. After discovering there really isn’t much to do in Wodonga I spent a long afternoon sitting in the sun drinking tea and coffee and reading more Lovecraft. I’ve now passed the halfway point of my trip, which feels pretty good!

Wednesday, May 19

109km today takes me to Benalla. A mostly uneventful ride ended by being forced off the narrow highway running from the Hume Freeway into Benalla when two semis passed me travelling in opposite directions. The resulting couple of metres cycling on gravel made me regret having 23mm racing tyres as I fishtailed before getting the bike back under control. The all-important shower and tyre-cleaning is followed by a short cycle into town and the discovery of delicious date scones at a local bakery. Walking around the town I discover that Benalla is famous not only for being the town of Caddy’s birth but also for having something to do with Ned Kelly.

...A less-interesting stretch of freeway

Thursday, May 20

The temptation to forego my vegan diet for the sake of delicious calories hit me when the owner of the Benalla caravan park told me they served complimentary pancakes for breakfast, but I managed to motivate myself to get on the road before they started cooking and avoid the allure of a hot breakfast. 105km into Seymour today, during which I realised that my impression of Canberra to Melbourne being more or less entirely downhill was perhaps a little incorrect. Eventually, after about four hours of continual rolling hills, I made it into Seymour. The once-more obligatory shower and tyre-cleaning was followed by an uneventful but enjoyable wander around the streets of Seymour. As the afternoon grew cold and it began drizzling I realised how lucky I’d been for the entire trip, with just about perfect weather every day. A slightly frustrating afternoon trying to find decent vegan food ended with some hot chips (perfect for the cold, rainy weather) and take away Chinese followed by an evening listening to a Cory Doctorow audiobook and figuring out how to install a C compiler on my iPhone (my mind was obviously starting to tire of not having any technical challenges).

Friday, May 21

Waking up today was a little depressing, realising that the relaxing (mentally) and adventurous (visiting new towns every day) days were coming to an end, with today taking me the final 100km into Melbourne. After yesterday’s endless rolling hills I was initially heartened to find that the road to Melbourne was mostly flat. Unfortunately it happened to be blowing an absolute gale on Friday morning. And not in a direction that would make me happy. After temptations to stop for a break at every service station along the way (which I avoided), and temptations to get on a train to Melbourne at the two or three train stations I passed (also avoided…just) I eventually arrived at a sign announcing “Welcome to Melbourne”!

Under this was a second sign, this one labelled “Melbourne 34km”.

I was not happy. Obviously getting tired. But before too long I was cycling with the traffic through the busy streets of Melbourne, and after a couple of stops to check my route sheet and figure out where I was going I’d reached my destination. Once there it struck me that, after a 665km ride, my “epic” 140ish km weekend rides seemed a bit pathetic, and I began wondering what I could do next - 840km to Coffs Harbour? 1500km to the Sunshine Coast? We’ll see…

###The stats

  • Distance: 660.88km
  • Time: 25-26 hours
  • Calories while riding: 14 472kCal
  • Energy gel: About 900mL, or 3000kCal
  • Peanut butter/vegemite wholemeal sandwiches: 3 loaves
  • Total weight: 9.9kg (bike) + 64kg (me) + ~15kg (luggage - varied with food and water) + 1.5kg (water bottles) = ~90.4kg
  • Audiobooks consumed: 3 (About 28 hours)
  • Podcasts consumed: >100
  • Punctures: 0 (Made up for by four during my first week back at work)