The last day. The vibe is always different. There’s a crackle in the Chain Reaction peloton, a fizzy mix of next level weariness, warm anticipation at seeing family and loved ones, and feelings of “Almost there…” and “We’re actually going to do this!”, especially among our first time riders.
After a late breakfast (6.30am!) we piled into the coach to take us from Newcastle to Mangrove Mountain, in the hills north of the Hawkesbury River. Smoke hung in the air, perhaps the only smudge on seven days of the most spectacular weather (thanks, Wazza!), of cool and crystal mornings which, each day, blossomed into glorious sunshine, but without the sting of summer heat.
We rolled gently down the hill, controlled behind the lead car, frustrating the natural descenders – but always with safety of the peloton front of mind – and onto the banks of the Hawkesbury. We then threaded our way up the northern bank of the river towards Wisemans Ferry, 40km of wondrous riding in a timeless setting. On the south bank, over a river like a mirror, stretched endless dusky green riverine bush, behind which rose the ancient sandstone escarpment, all buttery, glowing sandstone in the morning sun. Those rocks faces and their natural caves and overhangs hold eons of history and secrets, inspiring thoughts of the landscape and its inhabitants before the first foreigners arrived in 1788.
After crossing the river on the ferry at Wisemans, and a quick drinks stop, the peloton continued its morning roll on the south side until jolted and wrenched by the painful grind up Cliftonville Road - a beast of a ramp – to take us onto the plateau above the river, now pointed to The Hills and, ultimately, to Sydney.
We riders talk about “rolling hills”, and there were plenty in The Hills district. Up and down, up and down, languid, snaking roads, past vast estates with flat-roofed houses the size of Olympic swimming pools, containing kitchens the size of a Paddington terrace, replete with Kentucky-style fences and manicured hedges. We collected a police escort along the way. Lunch was to be at the Dural Country Club and, as we closed in on our first 100kms for the day, hungrier and hungrier, we hit Dural, apparently the world’s longest suburb – first Upper Dural, then Middle Dural, Side Dural, Epidural – until at last the whoops went up when we saw Leanne, one of our off-road crew, waving us into the Country Club carpark.
We ate quickly, so we could make our 4pm finish at North Sydney Oval, and then headed into town. Here, yet again, Tim in the front car and Cindy at the back, came to the fore, shepherding and protecting us riders through the Sydney traffic, the peloton streaming through roundabout after roundabout, past bunches of waving and yelling school kids walking home and waiting for buses.
At 4.07pm, only minutes after our ETA, after 1000 km and about 12,500 vertical metres climbed, over beautiful country NSW roads marred only by incessant potholes, the Chain Reaction caravan rolled into North Sydney Oval to a wonderful welcome from family and friends, having raised over $675,000 along the way.
What a week! What an enterprise! What a privilege it is to ride a Chain Reaction ride! This was my twelfth, and my first NSW ride after eleven in the Victorian chapter. In a few weeks I’ll tackle my first Queensland ride, to make it three for the year. Why? Because I love it. I love everything about it. The generous donor support we garner for such important charities is deeply humbling. The personal support and encouragement from family and partners is priceless and deeply appreciated. The professionalism and tireless selflessness of the support crew, year in, year out, is a blessing and marvel. The friendships, the camaraderie, the sense of achievement – it’s all really special.
Thanks to everyone who has made this year’s NSW ride such a spectacular, safe and satisfying success.
Blog written by, Alex King of the 121 Castleraegh Team.