Day 1: Taronga Zoo to Mt Victoria
Very strange 48 hours leading up to today. First I was hit by car at a roundabout on Wednesday am which saw me racing the clock to even be fit to ride. Plenty of ice, swimming and olbas oil (it really works) saw me make it to the start ready to go, albeit slightly nervous about how my body would hold up. But this was to be the least of my troubles as things turned out.
Terrible bush fires across flared up on a tinder dry and blustery day on the eve of the ride, and wreaked devastation across NSW including Hawkesbury Road through Springwood and Winmalee on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains. Many houses were lost on the actual roads we were supposed to be riding along on Day One. Clearly the organisers were not in for an easy ride in 2013. Things looked grim as I packed my bag and checked my bike, so I was both surprised but also delighted when an SMS arrived at about 8:30pm to say we were leaving as scheduled from Taronga Zoo at 5:30am. Game on.
It was an early start even for this insomnia-suffering cyclist to make the 4:30am meeting time. Up at 3:30am to catch a cab to Mosman at 4am. I’d chosen to ride the 20km to the Zoo gates from my place on a training ride earlier in the year and suffered for it later in the day. So this time there was no hesitation to catch a cab.
On arrival we were advised by the organisers that, after speaking with the police the night before, they’d decided to end the day’s ride at Emu Plains at the foot of the Blue Mountains, where we’d catch a train for the remainder of the Day One trip. Police were actually prepared to let us through to climb up Hawkesbury Road, but it just didn’t seem right to occupy police resources that pretty clearly could be put to much better use as the fire emergency continued to rage. As the head organiser, Andrew, quite rightly pointed out, it would be also be rather disrespectful to cruise through a region that less than 24 hours had seen over 30 houses razed by fire. I feel they did the right thing, as did pretty much all the riders.
Whilst totally supporting the route changes, I was nevertheless a little disappointed not to get another crack at Hawkesbury Road and beyond after the grief it caused me on a training ride earlier in the year. Of course, it’s no going anywhere. I shall return another day to kick its butt.
After plenty of pre-ride briefings in the Zoo car park and the pantry stocking of Jersey pockets with a smorgasbord of gels, muesli bars and bananas, we were on our way. Five groups of 20 riders meandered their way through Mosman, Neutral Bay, Lane Cove, Epping (where a couple of riders were cheered on by a crowd of friends and family!) and eventually up through Carlingford. Not knowing each other’s riding abilities it was difficult at times to keep the bunches together on what was the most urban section of the entire Z2Z route, especially given the plethora of traffic lights. But 25km after the start we crossed Pennant Hills Rd and things settled down considerably as we made good progress towards Windsor – a fast and very enjoyable section of road. There was the odd puncture as you’d expect and some mighty potholes to negotiate (gotta love Aussie roads!), but we all rolled into the car park at Emu Plains train station unscathed at about 11am. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for two of our support cars which were totalled in a nasty collision en route. Ouch.
At a time when we should have been suffering up past the Yarramundi lookout, we were instead packing out bikes on to the support truck and buying train tickets. All up we’d ridden 90km instead of 150km, and climbed 750m instead of 2500m. Offsetting the frustration of this ‘short changing’ somewhat was the fact our bodies should feel considerably stronger for tomorrow’s epic journey to Molong north of Orange. I might just add however that several of my Lycra brethren chose to take full advantage of the shortened riding day by instead loading up at the pub in Katoomba for lunch, and again in Mt Victoria later in the afternoon. Will be interesting to see how they fare out past Bathurst.
The main talking point at the pub was not the riding, but the ongoing bush fire crisis in the region we were now in the heart of. As the train rolled through Woodford, Katoomba, Blackheath and finally Mt Victoria the sky was filled with heavy smoke haze, coupled with an eerie and foreboding glow. As we departed the train and walked up to the Imperial Hotel, our digs for the night, it was impossible not to notice the strong smell of smoke hanging in the air, or the breeze that carried a steady stream of ash through the air from the fires that continued to burn just kilometres away and had, at that moment at least, jumped containment lines and closed both of the main roads joining Mt Victoria and Lithgow, and blocked the local train line. Police and RFS vehicles were everywhere, as were the fire spotting and fighting helicopters buzzing overhead through the smoke haze. You might expect there to be a lot of nervous tension everywhere as a result of all this. But things were remarkably calm. We have total faith in the organisers and emergency services. If they say things okay, that’s good enough for us. That said, I get the feeling it may be a nervous night and it’s anyone’s guess if/where we’ll be riding tomorrow.
Last year, Day One was scuppered by snow and freezing cold. This year it’s fires. What’s Mother Nature got in store for Z2Z next year????