March 2020 ‘Peaks Challenge’
We are so excited to introduce ‘In The Saddle’ our regular blog, keeping you connected with what’s happening, not just with the Girls Got Heart team but also with our community.
To kick off our first edition, I thought I would share some of the crazy riding a few of us have been doing over the past few months in preparation for the Peaks Challenge which we completed last weekend down in Victoria.
Nine of our GGH riders (all listed below) signed up for this pretty epic challenge together with Giles Smith and Rob Day who have both been part of the GGH support crew in the past.
Peaks Challenge covers 235km and 4000m of climbing in just one day and making it that little bit harder is the cut off time of 13 hours. The time restriction is what adds to the challenge creating a bit more excitement to the day and requiring some strategic planning, so the ride becomes more than just jumping on the bike and pedalling away the day.
Apparently (this is something I did get increasingly nervous about as the weekend approached) Peaks is one of the toughest one-day cycling events you’ll come across. One promo clip I watched mentioned that ‘it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do’, but also mentioned that becoming a ‘Peaker’ is an epic achievement and well worth the effort….and I have to say both statements were true, it was one of the toughest but most exciting days I have been part of.
Needless to say, the past six months leading into the event have included weekly training rides which have been huge with over 10 hours in the saddle each ride, covering 100’s of km and 1000’s of metres in climbing. The unrelenting Brisbane heat also played a part in making these days extra challenging. Often, which is mostly the case when training for a long distance event it becomes more of a mental and emotional challenge than a physical one but the best thing as always, is sharing those challenging moments with friends, a little bit of swearing and sometimes a few tears along the way but mostly laughter and great memories….which was just as well because apparently most of the group are never doing it again!!
We trained under the guidance of Cam and Sheree Hughes from CAMS Cycle Collective who are great supporters of GGH and on Sunday 23rd during our last official training ride (just a little 210km cruise down to the Gold Coast and back via Mt Tamborine and Beechmont, an easier ride said Cam, of course it wasn’t) I banked one of my best moments.
We were traveling across the top of Beechmont and I realised that in front of me were five GGH girls in a row quite by chance and I had a real WOW moment. These awesome women that I was riding along with were not only part of the GGH alumni but I distinctly remember a couple of them doubting whether they could actually complete a 3 or 5 day ride which of course they could and did, and here were those very same women having finished a six month block of crazy hard training preparing for an epic event and they were still smiling.
One very special lady was Lyn Milton. Lyn is an avid supporter of GGH and after joining the support crew in 2017 she was determined to swap roles, get on her bike and be part of the peloton. Initially she doubted herself because of the ride distance, but her amazing discipline to training and a never give up attitude saw her complete 5 days on the bike in 2019, smiling all the way! I should add that Lyn has recently retired and being a little bit older than the rest of us is what initially set in her doubts, but my goodness watching her take on these big training rides and getting ready for Peaks has been inspirational and when I grow up I hope to be riding strong just like her!!
On Friday 6th March we headed down to Victoria, a group of about 40, mostly riders together with a few friends and family for support. The trip was completely organised by CAMS; Peaks is an event that runs on their calendar every 2 years.
What made this year so special was that we were raising funds for MND and Me click here to find out more https://www.mndandme.com.au. Murray Geale a cyclist and long-time member and friend to many of us at CAMS lives with MND and together with his wife Sharyn, works tirelessly to raise awareness about this cruel disease. Murray has completed Peaks challenge three times and has collected the sub 10hr jersey twice which is no simple task, its hard-core riding.
Murray and Sharyn were part of the support for many of the training rides and they both travelled with us to Falls Creek. Cameron had his own challenge as part of the fundraising effort he had committed to towing a Porsche car tyre the last 35km of the course which I might add included 22km of climbing. Giles had also set himself a challenge to go under 9hrs. Both required mammoth efforts from these two extraordinary men riding to help another extraordinary man. The weekend was full of emotion and true friendship and before we set off on Sunday morning Sheree gave us all gold stars to stick on our bike to remind us during the day why we were riding and to just keep going.
Well that star came in handy at one point or another during the day as we were certainly tested. The weather Gods did not put on a good show, in fact it was the worst day on record for the event. Rain, freezing cold conditions and very poor visibility due to the mist, not great for descending and those who know me will understand my concern!
The rain came early, before we were due to start the 28km descent down Falls creek. I started alongside Fiona and another friend Jacqui but they left me to my cautiousness as they flew off to a great start, mine was a steady descent down in the wet. I soon saw another couple of the girl’s whizz past, Tracy Murphy and Tracey Lake much braver than me. I played cat and mouse with Tracy M through the day catching her on the ups and watching her fly down the downs, but we didn’t see Tracey L again as she blitzed the course and had a great day on the bike.
I finished the decent into Mt Beauty and after dropping off some throwaway clothing at the bottom was setting off again when I saw Cherie and Erica finishing the descent, it was so nice to see some smiling faces, I think we were all glad to be well and truly on the way.
There was a short break in the weather but before we got too complacent the rain came down during the first 6km climb up Tawonga Gap. This is where it got tricky as being wet meant getting cold very quickly, I made a decision to make keeping warm a priority so added a few more short stops during the day to adjust clothing as needed.
The 29km climb up Hotham was a steady grind in the conditions but chatting to other riders along the way helped and for me they were some of the most fun parts of the day. Passing other Cams riders including the GGH girls along the way, sharing a smile and a laugh and words of encouragement made it all the more enjoyable. The heavy mist means I have to go back and do it again so that I can see those glorious views from the top that I was promised.
Coming down Hotham into Dinner plain was one of the hardest stretches because it got so cold. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes and knew for sure if I had a puncture at that moment, I would never have the movement in my frozen hands to fix it. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the following 80km was really good riding, still cold but the rain and mist had eased off a little and the views were amazing, absolutely stunning. Finally, we made our way to the last official stop before WTF corner (yes that’s exactly what it means!) and the climb back up Falls Creek.
I bumped into a couple of our group at this stop which was awesome sharing a few war stories of the day so far and we were all full of nervous excitement heading into the last climb. 15mins to the base of Falls Creek and a sharp left into WTF corner and let me tell you, they don’t call it that for nothing…….OMG straight into a 10% climb which pretty much stays like that for the next 10km, with the exception of a few 15% – 16% pinches just to keep you on your toes. This climb is no walk in the park with 200km and 3000m of climbing already in your legs.
The enormity of what Cam had taken on dawned on me during this climb, giving me added motivation and I’m sure the rest of the CAMS crew felt exactly the same. I kept glancing at my little gold star and kept pedalling up and up. The final part of the ride flattens out a bit to a 4% average of rolling hills and by this time the mist had really set in. For the last 15km I was pretty much on my own with very poor visibility. It felt a bit eerie and the murky landscape felt similar to that from horror movie, but there is nothing like knowing you are nearly at the finish line to breathe some energy back into your legs and the smile just got bigger and bigger as I got closer to the finish and crossing that line was gold.
When I got back to the group the stories of the day started to unfold, so many of the group had kicked their goals and hit their target times and there were lots of celebrations. Cam and Giles had both completed the personal challenges they had set themselves and awareness and funds for MND and Me were growing. Murray and Sharyn had waited with other supporters at the finish line all day which was no mean feat as it was freezing so to get a hug from them both was extra special.
However as always with such brutal conditions, the cold got the better of some of the riders and it is always a mix of emotions when you find out that some of your friends didn’t get to cross the line or make the time they wanted. And it is a sharp reminder that with long distance events especially, all you can do is control the controllable. Problems that arise on the day are what you have to deal with at that moment in time and sometimes it just doesn’t go to plan.
BUT whatever happens on race day cannot take away from the preparation. Training for an event and getting to the start line is often the biggest challenge. It can be gruelling and exhausting and however the day pans out, the effort, resilience and discipline required to get to the start line is the biggest part of the journey. We all live to fight another day and there will always be another challenge.
Each and every one of the CAMS crew came home safe, on a day that threw out some awful conditions, they gave it their best shot and most importantly raised funds and awareness for a great cause.
Until next time, stay safe and happy riding
Cherie Smith (Nee Nicholas)