Zoo 2 Zoo Day Three: Molong to Dubbo, via Cumnock
Slept surprisingly well considering I was on the motel floor all night. That said, given the number of beers I consumed the night before at the Molong RSL chances are I would have slept like a log on the footpath. This proved to be a good thing for another reason too, as one of my roomies – a great bloke from Dubbo called Duncan – was snoring for Australia when my head first hit the pillow. I feel very sorry for his wife.
Just like 24 hours earlier at Mt Victoria, there was a decided nip in the early morning air as we headed back to the rugby club for a quick pre-breakfast breakfast of cereals raided from the now barren shelves of the local Molong servo. However this time Mother Nature was behaving herself. No fires. No smoke. No fog. No tsunamis. No locust plagues. Just a beautiful clear day to accompany us all the way to Dubbo, roughly 120km of heavily-potholed but beautifully-scenic country roads to the north west.
The first half of the Day Three ride was a little like a ceremonial procession as we cruised reasonably gently through several towns and past a menagerie of often hilarious “Animals on bikes” (sculptures peppering the roadside in a massive open air at gallery set up by the local community – my kids would have loved it). We stopped for a chat with the residents of Cumnock who furnished us with bacon & egg rolls and coffee, and then rolled on to Yeoval where we enjoyed cake and yet more coffee.
One of the more unexpected events of the whole trip also occurred on this stretch of bitumen when the peloton encountered, of all things, half a house being hauled south on the back of a giant truck. Given the road was already rather narrow and the left-hand shoulder resembled a corrugated roof, we thought it prudent to get the hell off the road until the weatherboard behemoth was past. In truly terrible judgment I managed to stop my bike directly on top of a broken bottle, but the cycling gods were kind to me and no damage was done.
The weather was really starting to heat up now, as was the concentration of flies that shadowed our every move. After several near misses in the last 24 hours one finally managed to lodge itself in my mouth. Bulls-eye, you little bastard.
After Yeoval, we had a final undulating 50km section to go until we rendezvoused on the edge of Dubbo for a mass arrival. Whilst probably not the hardest section to look at on a map, with well over 300km now in my legs they began to tell me in no uncertain terms they’d almost had enough. And judging by the looks on the pained faces around me, I wasn’t alone. Persistent and strengthening cross-winds didn’t help matters either but, hey, that’s cycling. I felt cramps coming several times, but managed to hold them at bay. They would return later in the night to wreak their havoc.
The final drink and sunscreen stop before Dubbo saw us pit at the sensationally-named Wambangalang. I kid you not, it’s not a Wiggles or Abba song – that really is its name; Wambangalang, a tiny speck of a town with an eco school, some rusted out farm machinery, a gazillion flies and not much else. Someone asked what this curious indigenous word translated to in English? “This will confuse those stupid white people” was the instant reply
Finally it was time for the six separate Zoo 2 Zoo ride groups to cruise on to the outskirts of Dubbo, where we were joined by several members of the local riding community who’d come out to escort us ‘home’. We regrouped en mass just 5km from Western Plains Zoo and for the first and only time since we left Taronga Zoo on Friday morning (primarily for safety reasons), we rode as one.
It’s hard to describe exactly how I felt when we came around the final corner and saw the crowd waiting at the front gates of the Zoo. It wasn’t exactly emotional (although I may have been if my kids were there like those of many of other riders), but I did feel deeply satisfied; a hard weekend’s work, with a great bunch of people with wildly varying backgrounds and abilities, for a hugely deserving and important cause: the Black Dog Institute.
As our 430km journey through fires and fog came to an end, we unclipped and were greeted by around 100 people including media, families, locals and even the Dubbo Mayor who made a short speech and paid hugely deserving tribute to Andrew McKay who, in a lovely touch, had donned his knicks and jersey for the final leg of the ride. There were photos; lots and lots of photos. The final cherry on top was the opportunity to cruise around for a loop of the famous zoo itself – a place I hadn’t been for about 30 years – and then devour a celebratory beer and steak sandwich, once again on the house.
Never having done a multi-day charity ride of this nature before, there are many things I’ll remember. The non-stop jokes and good humour. The ever-smiling organising team who somehow managed to keep us all safe and fed and happy in what were clearly trying conditions. The god-awful smell of ripening road kill. The constant cries of “hole!” and “ease up!” The importance of reapplying sunscreen. The incredible camaraderie developed with people who just 72 hours later had been complete strangers, both riders and support crew members. The simple joy of riding without a Garmin sometimes. The endless generosity of the locals pretty much everywhere we went, but especially Molong and Cumnock. There were just so many highlights. And let’s not forget we also raised over $180,000.
If you’re considering doing a ride like this yourself, you may be wondering how I – a C-Grade club rider from Sydney – found it physically? Well, given the truncation of Day One, the ride itself was probably a touch easier than I’d anticipated, either that or my training (which consisted of three long rides and about 5,000 criteriums) had somehow worked and I was fitter and stronger than I realised. In any case, I spent a lot of time on the front, and used the opportunity to work on finding a steady rhythm on the climbs and flat, which I did pretty well, save for one or two moments on Day Three. Yes it hurt at times. But that’s why we ride. To test ourselves, challenge our minds and see what we can really do. 24 hours on I also feel remarkably good, which gives me real confidence to look at other rides and certainly come back next year for another crack at this one. Let me know if you’re interested. But you’ll have to book early, or you’ll miss out.
I’m a Zoo 2 Zoo finisher. Yeah, baby.