But I knew it wasn't over.
My colleagues at work were eagerly awaiting the news of my return ride home and a promise was a promise.
While the entertainment in the park was really enjoyable and the weather picture perfect, I knew I shouldn't hang around too long otherwise I'd get too comfortable, the body would start realising it was tired, and I'd never get going again. I had a monster climb to negotiate back up to Waterfall and then find my way back across Sydney proper to the Harbour Bridge and home. And as the minutes passed the temperature was also rising. Gale force southerlies had been predicted for the afternoon and while this meant a tail wind heading home it also meant hot winds.
An hour after rolling over the finish line, then, I was starting the Garmin again and saying goodbye to St Pete, Sarah and Emily. They were all making their way back to the train and taking the civilised route home.
I wouldn't be.
Instead I started retracing my route north and slowly warming the legs up again. I was in no rush. I had all afternoon to do this - it was just a case of ticking over the kilometres. The temperature by this stage had topped 30 degrees. And it would stay between 30-38 degrees for the next 3 hours. And I was still in a velvet bee costume.
Hmm, who's idea was this again? Oh, that's right, mine….
As I was heading north there were still streams of cyclists heading towards the finish. You could tell the heat was getting to them, as well as the distance. Hills were being walked but the spirits were still high and this Queen Bee got plenty of smiles and cheers as she rode in the opposite direction. At Thirroul I was definitely feeling the heat, though, and as I approached I saw a mirage in the distance.
Opposite me was the most welcome sight I had ever seen - a Juice Junkie sign.
Bergie's Fish Cafe in Thirroul was roadside and its associated juice bar, Juice Junkie opened in September this year and it's ice cold juice menu looked amazing. Especially in 32 degrees!!! It didn't take much self-talk to decide to stop for a break and have a watermelon concoction.
Rehydrated and with a core body temperature a couple of degrees lower I set off again, ready to take on the climb up to Waterfall. And what a climb. The first section, up to Stanwell Tops took me to the intersection where the cops had previously helped reattach my wings. They were still there and it was a great excuse to stop for a couple of minutes and check the traffic management situation. Heading right would have taken me back through the national park the way we had come down. However the road was still closed for cyclists coming the other way and so I had no choice but to go left…a much shorter and sharper trip up to the highway…
Off I went then, and started the long grind to the top. Part way up I spotted this great view of where I had come from and so had to take a photo for the blog…. No, it had nothing to do with needing to find a reason to stop for a couple of minutes…
Did I mention it was hot?
Anyway, I carried onwards and upwards - slowly - and shared greetings with the half dozen or so guys also making their way back. And yes, I'm saying guys in the masculine sense. There was a distinct lack of female company along the route and I was getting some "hard core" comments from the blokes. But come on girls, where were you all?!!!
Finally I made it up to Pacific Highway and found myself up on the highway. Unfortunately by the time I got there I ran into a couple of problems, the main one being my now empty drink bottle.
No, there was no leak in it - in the heat I had drunk it dry.
Yes - on the way down to Wollongong I had drunk around 3/4 of the bottle (plus the cup of coffee at Loftus Oval) over the full distance. However the new bottle I had started out with in Wollongong was drained completely and I hadn't even completed 30km.
And by this stage the wind had got up. This was good and bad. Good as I was able to put my head down and make a beeline for Waterfall, the first opportunity to stop and replenish fluids. Bad because it was a hot, dry, (did I mention hot?) wind.
To add to the challenging situation the hot, dry, wind, also decided to a strong, hot, dry, wind. As a result, the inevitable happened and the wings took to the air and headed off down a bank. For a split second I thought about trying to retrieve them but at the same time realised I had no way of putting them back on by myself (bit of a design flaw there….) and even less chance of carrying them the remaining 60km home. At that point I was also far more focused on getting some more cold drink into me than trying to rescue a pair of flyaway wings. So I put them behind me, put it down to experience (next time, leave the wings with St Pete and ride without them), put my head down and made a beeline for Waterfall.
Waterfall is a suburb on the outskirts of Sydney, known mainly as an access point for the Royal National Park and host to a stop on the train line to Wollongong. With the exception of the train station there's nothing there (visible from the highway running through it), except a fish and chip shop - Legendary Fish & Chips. And that's where I stopped next.
|This day deserves a Coke|
In I went, water bottle in hand and grabbed a 600ml bottle of coke from the fridge to buy. Sure enough, the guy at the counter not only filled my bottle with water but topped it up with shaved ice as well. It was such a great thing for them to do - if you are ever passing through Waterfall, make sure you give these guys some love and stop in for some fish and chips at Legendary Fish & Chips. You can't miss them, they're right opposite the train station on the main highway.
The temperature wasn't getting any cooler and so after I'd downed the coke I jumped on the bike and carried on north along the Princes Highway towards Sydney. Waterfall is the highest point in the Royal National Park and so it was essentially a downhill run from here to the northern border of the Park and the outskirts of suburban Sydney proper. I say essentially as it was along this stretch that I had my first argument with the Garmin Edge, which decided I needed to leave the highway and take a left turn for no apparent reason. I did well at ignoring its entreaties for a while - after all I had a decent bike lane to sit in and I knew I was heading in the right direction. It finally caught me at a weak moment, though, and I foolishly decided that maybe it knew a route that I didn't know and, after all, why buy the thing if I couldn't trust it's obviously superior route-finding abilities.
Ha, how stupid was I? One kilometre after taking said left turn I ended up in a dead end street requiring a retracing of route back to the Princes Highway and a vow to stay true to my gut forever more…
Before long I was out of the Park and heading through Gymea, Miranda, Taren Point and over the bridge to Sans Souci. The temperatures were still incredibly hot and by this time I was dreaming of ice cream and I was sure there was a mobile ice cream van at the car park at Ramsgate Beach.
Unlike the Garmin Edge, my gut didn't lie and I rolled into that carpark determined to sit down for five minutes and devour a soft serve cone. Which I did. In the howling wind. And 38 degrees. It tasted REALLY great!
|Ice cream time!|
The next section of this epic ride was also going to be the most difficult - navigationally. I now had to find my way across Sydney and navigate my way through the heaviest traffic and this is where I had to put my trust in the Garmin. This part of the ride is the reason why I take the train to Miranda when I'm riding in the southern suburbs as riding through the centre of the city just isn't bike-friendly when you're on your own.
Previous hesitations aside I set off and let myself be guided. Slowly and surely I made my way north and things seemed to be going OK with views of the Sydney Tower providing a reassuring point to "sight" against and ensure I wasn't being led astray by my little maps wizard. The route took me through Petersham, Liechhardt, Lilyfield and Rozelle, which seemed a bit further out to the west than I had anticipated, however I figured we'd take a turn soon and start going east towards the CBD and harbour bridge.
At Rozelle I came to a T-Intersection and the Garmin confidently says "turn left". I'm stopped at the lights and look at the intersection and see the helpful bike route signs. The signs provide two options. Head left to Parramatta. Head right to the City.
Hmm. The Garmin wants me to go to Parramatta? Who is it kidding?
I was getting pretty tired by this stage - the heat and wind (and almost getting run over by a bus) had combined to take it out of me but, despite the fatigue, I still had sufficient common sense on board to realise that I did not want to be heading towards Parramatta.
I therefore decided to part ways with the Garmin (directionally-speaking) and, much to its disgust, I took the right hand turn onto Victoria Road and shortly thereafter over Anzac Bridge. At this point I also figured out what my little buddy's problem was. And this is important for any Garmin Edge owners in Sydney….
The route finding on the Garmin navigation maps for Sydney do not know how to direct bikes across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
That's right. I had encountered it on my first few rides with the Edge but figured it was something I was doing wrong. However, no, it doesn't recognise the bike lane that goes across the bridge and so it was going to try and direct me towards Parramatta and cross the river further west and bring me home on the northern side of the river via Lane Cove and North Sydney. Probably an additional 20km which, in the weather conditions, I wasn't in the least bit interested in entertaining.
All that didn't matter by this stage, though and the sight below was a very welcome one - the steps at the northern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and my finish point. As I was taking this photo, St Pete had been tracking my progress, knew I was almost home and was walking down to meet me.
Another very welcome sight!
In the days and months since I've had plenty of time to reflect on the experience and think about anything I'd do differently next time.
- Would I do the Gong Ride again? Absolutely. It was such a fun day out. Fantastic atmosphere and stunning route, so scenic. And for anyone outside Sydney, this is definitely worth a trip over for the weekend.
- Would I do the Gong Ride in a costume again? Absolutely. It was a great way to add some fun to the day, not only for myself, but for the other riders as well.
- Would I do the return ride home again? Yes, although I'd probably be more flexible with my intentions and planning. It would have been great to have stayed longer in Wollongong and enjoy the park festivities at the finish line. As it was St Pete came down on the train but only spent about an hour there before I was turning around and heading north again. Next time it would be good to make his journey down more worthwhile. Also, if it is that hot again I'd like the flexibility to cancel the ride home and save it for a cooler day.
- Would I do the return ride home in a costume again? Probably not. This is the only thing I'd change next time. Especially given the conditions, but in any case, there was no real purpose and nothing to be gained from wearing the costume home again. Being later in the day the wind had got up causing me to lose the wings and the elevated temperatures meant I just ended up overheating for the bulk of the ride, which could have been largely alleviated by not wearing velvet! Next time I'll change back into regular riding gear for the return ride home … unless someone donates a significant sum of money to the cause!
Until next year - Bzzzz :)