Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Newcastle Overnight

Is there a better way to start summer than to ride to the beach for a swim? Especially with temperatures hitting high 30's and low 40's. Probably not. 

Some might start to question these plans, though, when the beach you intend to ride to is almost 180km away, and your going to ride through the night. Well, there is two guys who thought this was a good idea and could be made better by sharing it with friends, colleagues, acquaintances and complete strangers. So they proposed the Newcastle Overnight

I was immediately drawn to the idea when I saw it mentioned on Sydney Cyclist. Though I had many reservations. I tried to get a few friends along, to no avail. All the usual excuses, "I'm not fit enough" from one of the fittest people I know, "I'm helping friends move house that day, so I think I'll be too tired" from another. This only made me more determined. The distance was twice the longest ride I'd done before, being the Sydney to the Gong ride in 2011. That is a fully supported ride with scheduled stops and 10000 other cyclists. Even so, I still managed to cramp up a few kilometres from the end. This was, more or less, unsupported. Anything I was going to need I was going to have to carry or source on the way. Was I really up for it? 

Having no experience in a ride like this I had next to no idea what was going to be needed. Sure spare tubes and a pump, but how much food and drink would I need? Were spare clothes for the trip home a luxury or necessity? A quick chat with Mal, an Ironman triathlete who runs my Local Bike Shop, and I had a few energy gels and an electrolyte powder to mix up my own sports drink to add to the bananas, dried fruit/nuts and muesli bars I'd already purchased. 

The Backpack and its contents, as you can see I went for luxury

The loaded Bike

Bag and Bike all packed we were ready to roll. I got the train into town and met with a number of the riders at the york lane bar. Not normally a coffee drinker, but the thought of free caffeine when about to embark on an overnight ride was to much to resist. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I'm going to have to take Muppy there. She'll enjoy the coffee more than me.
Mingling outside York Lane
Coffee in hand I trundled up the hill to the official start. The rotunda on Observatory Hill. Where a not insignificant crowd had gathered, about 70 riders i'm told. I introduced myself to a few riders and we got a pre-ride briefing, were handed a large map and were asked to sign a waiver.

A good mix of bikes, mostly speedy looking roadies but a solid representation of touring bikes equipped with racks and panniers, a few flat bar hybrids (like mine) and the odd mountain bike and a small number of very brave fixed gear riders.

Then we were off. It was 9:08pm on my clock. Just as we rolled onto the Harbour Bridge the rain started, It was only light but added to the humidity. The rain didn't last long, it seemed as though we followed it out of the city.  The roads were wet for the first hour or so of riding. Spirits were high and lots of small talk about peoples bikes, where they found out about the ride and why on earth they decided to actually do it.

The group was broken up pretty quickly, the red lights along the highway made sure of that. Riding now in groups of a dozen or so we confidently took the left lane and most the traffic was well behaved around us. Before I knew it we were in Hornsby. It had taken us and hour to get there. The road begins to open up a bit from here and we were starting to get a bit of momentum and even organisation in the group.

The first descent from Cowan down to Brooklyn was a lot of fun. Not so much for the guys on the fixies but they did well considering. As we crossed the Hawkesbury a large number of our group stopped for photos. Knowing that the next 10k's were climbing I wasn't stopping whilst I had momentum and was feeling invigorated from the descent. I convinced another rider, Paul, a tourist from London, of the same and we rolled on.

Its a really interesting sensation riding uphill when you cant see more than 20 odd metres ahead. You have no concept of how steep or long the hill is other than the feedback your legs are giving you. I couldn't even see what gear I was in. Only when Paul commented he'd run out of gears already did I check to find that I was also in the granny gear. It wasn't tough going, though my bike, annoyingly, started to squeak with each pedal stroke, perhaps it thought it was.

We rolled into Mt White, the only organised stop, at about 11:30pm. We had been told there would be a small selection of food and drinks here during the briefing. Here we were served tea/coffee/milo, fruit chocolate, and more by Nicki. What a champion, out in the middle of nowhere waiting for crazy people on bikes to eat, drink and disappear into the night again. The riders who stopped for photos on the bridge caught us up here. A few tube changes were being performed as Paul and I left the stop. A crazy guy on a fixed track bike with no brakes joined us. We were informed by Nicki as we left that there were two guys in front of us. These guys must have been flying we hadn't seen them since Crows Nest.

This was the view for most the night. 
The next section was undulating with a with a long descent to Mooney Mooney creek and then the climb out again. Fixie guy did well to stay with us during the descent and then made a valiant effort on the climb, Paul and I stopped to wait up for him and take an opportunity to fix our own niggles, squeaky cranks and uncomfortable shoes. A group of riders passed us at this point just as fixie guy approached, on foot. He told us to go on without him the climbs were too long for his large gearing. He managed to stay with us until the next descent into Gosford. We stopped at a servo there and I didn't see him again.

I took this opportunity of bright servo lighing to mix up the electrolyte drink in my bottles, empty the garbage from my pockets, (a banana skin and a few muesli bar wrappers) and to restock with the remaining food in my bag. Most the riders then also stopped at Maccas but Paul and I kept rolling on.

We picked up a rider, Peter, who, apprehensive about the climb up Mt White and then again from Mooney Mooney, had caught the train to Gosford and planned to join the ride from there. He rode with us for a short time but once again were were caught by the group and the pace quickened, never saw him again either.

Travelling through Gosford and the rest of the Central Coast up to The Entrance we were regularly quizzed by drunk passengers of taxis and cars as to what the hell we were doing riding bikes at 1:30am. "I'm shit-faced, but you're crazy" was a common catch cry.

Once through the Entrance the road opened up again and cars were few and far between. Long stretches of road without anything changing. We crossed a bridge or two, the question "How come we are still at sea level when we've been going uphill for ages?" was asked by one of our group. A heavy stench laden salt mist engulfed us. I dropped off the back of the group at this point. I wasn't alone though. I had another englishman (sorry forgotten the name) on a fixie to keep me company. We talked all sorts of rubbish, I think I may have even bored him with talk of Wastewater treatment bacteria. Well,  it was after 2am by this stage. No! no excuse, I apologise. I found myself getting drowsy (boring conversation topics putting myself to sleep perhaps) It was then I realised that I probably needed an energy gel with more caffeine to get me through. So I took one. It worked almost instantly. We then caught the group who had dropped us earlier they had stopped for some reason and we were able to tag on the back as they resumed riding and we got pulled up the hill to Doyalson.

The Doyalson stop
 We pulled in here a bit before 3am. We refuelled, pumped up tyres, ignored drunk people wanting to show off their abilities to do Wheelies across the forecourt on our bikes.

A couple of other riders pulled in just before we left. They joined the group and very quickly we got organised into two lines of 5 or so riders. We claimed the left lane of this wonderfully smooth piece of road. This for me was the highlight of the night. Never having bunch ridden before it was extraordinary to feel the pull. I started at the very back of the group but as the leaders reshuffled I found myself in the middle. We rode in silence, the only noise was tyres on tarmac, the odd gear shift and the occasional cough of a rider recovering from a stint at the front. Too scared to slow down and annoy the riders behind I powered on, focussed on sitting as close as I comfortably could to the guy in front. I didn't realise until we pulled off the main road at Belmont, that we'd dropped two guys off the back. I felt sorry for them as it would be a dark lonely stretch of road for them.

We then joined the Fernleigh track. Obviously a disused rail line that has been converted into a cycleway. This was also brilliant! My second highlight, at least until the rain started. It was short and sharp but it was heavy. Lightning up ahead, far enough away to not be too threatening, had warned us just prior to the deluge but there was nothing we could do. I contemplated my waterproof jacket safely packed away in my bag, but it was too late for that. A quick stop inside the tunnel to empty shoes of water and take some photos. As I got back on the bike here, my bum complained, a lot. I hadn't noticed it until now. I rode out of the saddle for the next few minutes and eventually coaxed it back into sitting down as we casually rode through the Newcastle suburbs to the baths.

Newcastle Ocean baths at 5:15am
At 5:08 am we rolled in. There were no other riders waiting. The two guys in front had obviously taken off already, or bailed at an earlier point. Many of us had a quick swim and then a warm shower. Our story amused the old guys out for the pre-dawn swim. I don't think it sunk in straight away just how fast we'd gone. 180kms in 8 hours including 3 stops. I had predicted it would take me 9 hours of riding.

The group
The motivation and physical assistance of riding in a group sure paid off. The group congregated at the baths grew slowly with riders trickling in pairs for the next few hours. I was starving and went with Paul in search of food. After the initial disappointment that the beach front cafe that was open didn't sell anything with bacon I had the bircher muesli which was quite good, especially when this is the view.
View from the cafe
I hung around a bit longer and got some snaps of my bike at the beach before catching the 7:30am train back home. This meant I left before the majority of riders arrived. 50 completed the journey apparently. Well done to all and a huge thank you to Garth and Ollie for organising and Nicki for feeding us at Mt White.

Already looking forward to next year.


  1. Sensational write up. A real inspiration.

    I only found out about the ride the day before - and was laid up with a bad dose of the flu. I would have loved to do this. Will definitely be there next year.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Hopefully you've recovered from the flu now. I'm sure next year will be just as much fun...if not before i'll see you then.

  3. Hiya, I was the guy on the fixie, and all that waste water treatment stuff was interesting!

    Good times!