Peaks Challenge 2021 – The Ultimate post-2020 Challenge

March 21, 2021

It all started with a few quick conversations after the Norman. Have you heard of Peaks? Are you thinking of doing it? I’m thinking of doing it? What do you think? Should we do it? I think I will do it. Early bird is closing. I’m doing it now! It’s done.

Then in the middle of the night I woke up in a panic. What had I done? What sensible person goes on a 235km ride with 4400m of climbing. In sub-13 hours. I don’t know if it can be done! I’d only done Fitz 165km classic before, and that was three years ago and now I’m COVID-unfit. And I’m by no means someone who hits out with the fast riders, usually liking to cruise back with M3 or the occasional party bunch.

[Vikings crew joining the Monday CCC social ride for recovery]

But now that it is done, I look back and realise what a unique and lucky experience it was. And how with the support of the Canberra cycling community, what I was most worried about actually turned out to be some of the best riding days I’ve ever had. 
And I say days, because while I am so proud of finishing the Peaks Challenge ride and have so many moments I’ll never forget, it was everything that led up to it and around it that made this one of the best and most rewarding experiences I’ve had. 
Firstly the training. I expected long lonely kilometres out in the saddle, early starts doing hill repeats, constant fatigue, getting bored of the same routes, a love/hate relationship with gels. But it was nothing like that! From the Bakery ride of NSW (which unfortunately could not be the eating strategy for the day), Festive 500, club rides, the Tuesday climbing crew, to the Jindy Jokers taking on Tom Groggin – no one ride was the same. Different people showed up, from those doing Peaks to those just out to support our crazy efforts to those who just love coming out to ride their bike. For every kilometre ridden to build up for the event, more encouragement was given, more useful advice provided and more camaraderie felt. It truly was the antidote to the isolation of COVID lock downs.

[The Jindy Jokers on the Tom Groggin training ride]

And the Peaks Challenge crew. I think there ended up being 20 Vikings club members at Falls Creek – 16 doing the 235km, two doing the 100km and the rest for moral support. It was a big group with diverse speeds on the bike but somehow we all came together and worked as a team to support each other to reach our goals. My personal challenge at the start was to finish the ride in sub-13 hours, but with encouragement it quickly moved to sub-12 and then sub-11 (and a foolish moment day-dreaming of sub-10!). With no expectation of being able to keep up with anyone on the day, just knowing we were all going to be out there suffering on the road was enough to not feel lonely.

[Falls Creek – the day before Peaks]

The day itself! The love/hate thing about gels earlier? Well it was mostly hate on the day! I haven’t had another gel since. Rolling out with the ten hour wave, I fell behind quickly on the descent – underestimating how bad it would feel going in cold into a 30km downhill. Thinking I’d be alone for the day, I was overjoyed to see a couple of the Vikings crew on Tawonga Gap. Buddying up with Trenton, from there we managed to stay together for the rest of the day. And it is a long day, but I never got bored on the road. Yes I swore every time I turned a corner to only see more climbing, but as I passed people and they passed me, you’d have chats to distract your legs. From the woman who called us the crew from Canberra when going up Hotham, to playing leap frog up the back of Falls with the teenager doing his first Peaks. 

[Nervous riders at the start line]

I was sure once I hit WTF corner that I had enough time to finish the ride. That two hour climb was brutal, but I will never forget those last ten kilometres downhill to the finish line. The wind was picking up, the sun was going down, but my going home legs were activated and that feeling of certainty I would finish helped me do that last effort home. Smiling as I crossed the line with Pete, the photo at the finish symbolised the highlight of the whole day – that together we helped each other get through the literal and figurative ups and downs of this epic challenge.

[All smiles when getting to the top of Mount Hotham]

[More smiles for the finish line]

And I still believe no sensible person would do that ride. But where’s the fun in being sensible!

PS If you are wondering what was the hardest part of the day, it was the 700m walk/ride/walk uphill back to the accommodation afterwards.

PPS If you are thinking of doing it, read this article for L’Etape – you’ll need to get commitment from your family before embarking on this challenge!