Another day, another peak – yet there has been nothing repetitive about our tour… each day has presented new highlights, fresh challenges and unique experiences to our riders, and today was no exception.
Our initial challenge was Mt Buffalo – a granite peak rising just to the west of Bright with sheer cliffs and 20kms of roadway snaking up it’s eastern flank. And so, under crystal clear blue skies that ensured our morning was brisk (to say the least) we set off – with the memories, and the fatigue, of yesterday’s adventure on Hotham still with us.
Buffalo presented a reasonably constant gradient for our peloton, averaging a manageable 5-6% and only occasionally tipping the scales at, or close, to 10%. Regardless, picking one’s pace was crucial to ensuring that the length, rather than steepness, of this climb didn’t wear one down. Following a scheme similar to yesterday’s, we split into C and Ds, and A and Bs and were on our way, climbing – again. The scenery was spectacular, and as we rose, the views opened up and afforded us all a welcome distraction from the lactic acid building in our legs as we gazed out across miles and miles of valley below. We saw near vertical rock faces rising to our left and falling precipitously to our right. We saw granite boulders the size of cars. We saw gnarled trees, twisted and tortured by years of exposure to the winds. In short, yet again we were treated to some of nature’s marvels up close and personal!
As always happens on climbs, small groups of riders travelling at similar pace form, providing companionship and opportunity for discussion (and distraction). Today a magic moment revealed itself as one of these groups formed and it was subsequently learnt that one of our number – Kelly Commins – was celebrating a milestone birthday. The group of 8 or 9 spontaneously broke into song, completing a passionate (and full length) rendition of Happy Birthday that echoed across the valley and, no doubt, provided Kelly with a pretty special birthday memory. Happy Birthday, Kelly – what a marvellous way to celebrate your milestone.
As you might imagine, we have our share of coffee aficionados on tour – and, it has been noted by more than one of them, that regional Australia does not necessarily present early rising riders, travelling in large groups and on tight timeframes an opportunity to obtain a suitably crafted cup. It is for this reason, that when we discovered a coffee van in the carpark at the Mt Buffalo Chalet a large queue formed post-haste. Your blogger got the distinct impression that this particular heavily beared and apparently part-time and post-retirement barista, who had likely considered four carloads of sightseers as his peak-hour until today, was just a little bit on the back-foot when confronted by our group of lycra clad Queenslanders.
Speaking of being on the ‘back-foot’, just below the carpark, we noticed a small cricket pitch – called ‘The Oval’. Somewhat smaller, and significantly more precariously located, than its namesake in London, it was developed during the inter-war period and played host to ‘test matches’ between 1949 and as recently as the late 1960s. These matches were organised by long-time Chalet guide and ski instructor ‘Buffalo Bill’ Marriot who worked at the Mt Buffalo Chalet for more than 30 years. Unfortunately, no play was to be seen today – this blogger suspects that modern bats might well make this ground unplayable to anything more serious than under-9s as the boundaries are definitely of the ‘short’ variety and anything dispatched over the Gorge side boundary would never be seen again.
Time restraints and the chill in the air meant our time at the Chalet was limited – time only for a few selfies and a couple of team photos before it was back on the bike to tackle challenge number two – our 20km descent back to the valley floor, some 1,000m below.
Having completed our fair share of descents this week, and certainly enjoying the dry conditions of the last couple of days in place of the treacherous conditions experienced on days 2 and 3, your peloton set off in pursuit of perfect lines and the joy of a wonderful roll down the mountain. It should be noted at this point, that (as many of you know) your peloton is under the expert tutelage of three skilled, passionate and patient coaches – Adam Gill, Lorian and Peter. Without their instruction many riders, including most of our bunch, would find a descent such as Mt Buffalo more than a bit of a handful. With the benefit of their training however, our riders were able to safely and enjoyably descend – and take-in the scenery along the way. And what a ride it was – the gentle gradient and small number of tight bends ensured only limited braking was required and your riders were rolling across the valley floor in just on half-an-hour.
Ticking peak-5 off our list, our final challenge for the day was to cover the remaining 84kms separating us from a late lunch at the Glenrowan Hotel! We broke into two groups and, riding most of the way in single file, we covered the almost perfectly flat ground at pace. In a large group like ours, there are broadly two camps when it comes to long, flat, fast rides – those who love it! …and those who totally don’t. Today, both camps worked well together, although once or twice the familiar calls of ‘steady’ and ‘ease up’ were heard whenever one of our particularly enthusiastic riders took their turn leading the line.
Glenrowan is half-way between Shepparton and Albury-Wondonga and is, of course, most famous for being the location of the last stand and subsequent arrest of Ned Kelly in 1880. These days Glenrowan is a popular waypoint just off the Hume Highway, a place where travellers stop in for a coffee, to learn a little more about the Ned Kelly legend, or do as we did, enjoy a country pub lunch. Today we enjoyed alternate drops of chicken schnitzel and fish and chips – a perfect way to end another wonderful ride.
We find ourselves tonight in Mansfield awaiting day-6 and a climb up another famous (and daunting) hill in the morning – this time it’s Mt Buller. With that adventure still ahead of us, this evening, we enjoyed a presentation by the KordaMentha team – a presentation that provided laughs and tears in near equal measure as contributions over many years from Chain Reaction stalwarts Michael Bona, Michael Byrom and Kirsten Pike were acknowledged alongside out-take style photos taken across the last several months of CR2019 training. The entire KordaMentha team shared their personal motivations for participating in this year’s ride – and as always, learning more about our fellow riders and what makes them tick was one of the highlights of the day.