One of the beautiful things about being outdoors and in the bush is that you don’t control the weather. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it’s phenomenal! Stage 2 of Cape to Cape was neither of those…
DAY 2 – 23rd October
Starting of at the breezy and cold-aired Hamelin Bay, we made our way to the startline. The rain started to trickle in while we waited about 20 minutes to roll out. Rain won’t kill you, but when you’re not moving and wearing a tight jersey and shorts, things can get very cold very quickly.
Concerns of the weather turned into concerns of how we’d fare out over the full distance of the stage (last year we took a long detour to make up for cut-off times). But before I could dwell on anything, Warren, Jamie and myself were off! Starting with a steady climb out of Hamelin Bay we took our time to get a proper warmup.
Switching from the road to the dirt was a sign of relief but also reminding me it was business time. The first few climbs and descents were very familiar to last year and just as enjoyable. The great part of the first 10kms or so is that there is just enough room for other bike riders to safely overtake.
With the riders gradually clearing up, including Warren, and the majority of faster riders overtaking us into the distant bush scrub, it was time for some downhill fun. After a good hour or so of solid climbing I knew Sam Hill Downhill and Lord of The Rings was coming up.
Sam Hill Downhill felt a bit different this year around. Maybe my solid training has helped me get used to faster downhill runs than the last two years. Maybe I’ve become more accustomed to taking on rougher terrain. Maybe I expect to fly through anything with the word ‘downhill’. Despite feeling like there were more technical features slowing me down, I smashed through this first trail.
Tunnel Run. Now this was a strange one because I don’t remember going through it last year. It’s as single track as single track can be – narrow, overgrown, no alternate lines and it has a couple large and nasty logs that I needed to be lifted over. At one point we had the help of a rider behind us (cheers to the guy in the red jersey!). At many points Jamie had to abandon-bike and assist with a running push from behind. All worked out well.
Into Lord of the Rings I pretty much had the trail to myself. Despite a couple of riders in front, I still managed to keep on their tail while blitzing down the flowy, log-roll-ridden section. Towards the end of the this trail there’s a nice log drop to pick up some air on – this year it didn’t fail to satisfy my desire to launch all 3 wheels at obscure angles and uneven landing ground!
SAND, ROCKS AND MORE SAND!
Coming out of Leeuwin Naturalist National Park, things started getting sandy. As Jamie put it “the beach sand would have been easier than this”. That says a lot about the stuff we had to soldier through. Slow, steady pace all the way. Where I did pick up speed it just ended in more sand.
Heading due-West towards the beach we were on the Highway To Hell. Yup! That’s what it’s called!
It starts off ‘OK’, but then turns nasty really fast with lots of sharp, spikey limestone rocks – everywhere! Oh, and lots of sand in between. There was no particular line I could stay on so I was constantly bouncing around to either side to maintain as much as speed as possible. #pinball-ing
Fearing I would puncture something, I released the Rock-Shocks and let the suspension do it’s thing. At some points it bottomed out but it did the trick!
Overtaking a few unsuspecting riders, we passed through some really boggy downhill sand and into the sharpest of rocks. To make it more challenging, the trail was narrowed down with plenty of prickly, low-growing shrubs. With enough speed my left wheel clipped and buried itself into the shrubs which kicked my front wheels to the left and threw me sideways to the right. I didn’t land on anything nasty so I just lay there pretending nothing had happened while Jamie caught up behind. I’m not sure what shocked the passing riders more, the actual fall or the casual approach Jamie took to picking me up.
I chose my support riders carefully and I take the ones who are used to picking up my lazy ass when I’ve decided to kiss the dirt. Panic is the last thing anyone needs so the casual assistance during a stack is welcomed by me (I also get to have a quick rest).
Dusting myself off we made it to the bottom of Highway To Hell and set off uphill through some wide, compact limestone, and heavily corrugated vehicle roads. It got so bumpy at one point that my mobile phone attachment on my handlebar ripped from its plastic joints! Lucky my ninja basketball reflexes kicked in and I caught the phone and case mid-air, while steering with the other hand. I chucked the phone in my back pocket and kept on riding.
This was more like Bob’s version of ‘Highway To Hell’. It was like someone intentionally dumped truck loads of sand over a rocky area, just for their own pleasure. Painful and annoying we continued on towards the farms ahead.
Not listening to my support personnel because he had a camera in his face and I was in the zone.
LESS ASS, MORE GAS
Venturing though the back roads of the farm paddocks, we passed many confused-looking cows. Chewing away at their daily graze, they would stare at us with their big, bulbous, black eyes as though we were creatures from another land. Lovely beasts which entertained me while ploughing through knee-high grass and bullshit (literally).
With Conor catching up to me for a second time this stage, we spent a moment on some gravelly firebreak flats for a chinwag. Not long after, he slowly took off again. I gradually caught up to him on the main roads. Coming from behind I could see he was struggling with the road climb. I gave my words of encouragement and continued to pass at my own pace.
For me this was not a race or competition. It was simply about each rider riding at their own pace and ability. I know too well the challenges for handcyclists during any off-road ride, so to complete a ride is an accomplishment in itself – but it’s also the point which people go outside of their comfort zone and live.
We wound through some long stretches of road before entering the gates at Xanadu Winery. I slowed down for a while until Conor caught up so that we could cross the line together. We’re two different riders, with two different objectives, but we both slogged it out til the finish in what I consider a humbling and rewarding experience.
With the announcer blaring through the PA system begging for a sprint finish, we looked at each other and decided to just cruise past the finish line. Save the sprints for the Paralympic runners next year!
The site at the rider’s resting area was almost like a circus. Conor was sprawled on the grass half out of his trike while his partner was unable to compose her excitement. Photographers were rushing around to take happy snaps of everyone and everything.
Meanwhile, Warren casually comes up to congratulate me, only to be sticking his dislocated index finger in my face! This is what happens when I let my support riders go off for a bit of fun – they come back injured after hugging a tree 😛
I also got chatty with my good friend from the UK, Matt, who introduced me to pro-free rider Ricky Crompton. Didn’t realise who this lad was, but apparently he’s a big deal. Either way, we met a few times after and he turned out to be a top bloke who loves what we do with handcycling.
Day 2 complete – We had reached the half-way mark for the Cape to Cape!