Through Fire and Snow:
team Da*'s Journey through the 7 Peaks

With the new 7 Peaks season about to open, it's a great time to reflect on our pursuit of the 7 stamps in 2012/13. Last year team Da* tackled a combined total of 25 peaks, rode through 1 snow storm, avoided 1 bushfire and climbed Mt. Baw Baw twice.

The Next Challenge...

We'd just finished riding 250km Around-the-Bay and we were celebrating. It was Darren's first, so we gave him the sprint to the line. David, finishing his third ATB, was stoked to have taken 30 minutes off his previous best. For me, just six weeks after having my gall bladder removed, just finishing was an achievement.

But, like so many other cyclists, our thoughts turned to “what's next?” After all, without the carrot (cake) of the next achievement, what would keep us motivated and training? That next goal is what gets us out of bed and on to the bike - admittedly not usually before 8am.

We'd all seen info on the 7 Peaks Challenge, and we were keen to have a crack. Not being climbers (read, not having the gravitational mass of the ideal climber) it promised to be a great test. We signed up for our Passports and booked Cup Weekend accommodation up at Bright.

Mt.Hotham -
3/11/12 8:03am. 107.8km. 6:13:27 total. 4:51:31 moving

Packing for our Cup Weekend
climbing expedition

After arriving on Friday night, we rose uncharacteristically early to get our first peak underway. It looked like a nice day, but the morning was brisk, so we rugged up, and headed off on the warm-up leg from Bright to Harrietville. We did the first 20-odd km in about 45 mins, and it was soon apparent why riding in this part of the world is so popular. The air is crisp and clean and the scenery from the valley floor is something special.

We saw plenty of people turning around at Harrietville, and we started to wonder what we were in for. Indeed, judging by the estimate that we gave our families - that we'd be back by 1pm - we had no idea.

Hotham just starts - there's nothing like 9+% to welcome you to the world of climbing mountains! Fortunately it settled down a bit, and we each found our own rhythm and started grinding up. We had read about The Meg, but unfortunately, no one can be told what The Meg is. You have to ride it for yourself. It was a slap in the face. You think you are at your limit, and then you just have to find more - a lot more - to drag yourself through that corner. We stopped shortly after to recover and remove numerous layers. As we were sprawled on the side of the road, a car slowed, the occupants checking to make sure we were OK. “Yup, just a bunch of middle-aged guys trying to climb a mountain” we replied.

The road up Hotham

Fortunately things eased up a fraction and it was quite pleasant riding the false flat section. The last 11km was another story however. After reaching the top of CRB Hill, I lashed out in frustration “They could put a man on the moon, why can't they level out some of these dips?!” While the descending was a nice break for the legs, it was demoralising to lose all that altitude, and then have to start climbing harder and further.

It was then on to the Diamantina which, given what was already in our legs, was one of the toughest pieces of climbing we'll ever do: 1.4km @ 9.8% that demands everything you have left. And what's worse (if you don't know the climb), is that when you're about half-way, you see all these cars and think it's the top. But oh no, it's just where all the hikers walking the Razorback park. At this point we were all struggling, and the overnight hikers with their 20kg packs walking up the hill faster than we were cycling added to the overall “enjoyment”. The summit wasn't too much further, and it was a great feeling to roll over the top, enjoy the view and head down to the village.

* *
At the summit of Hotham

The next challenge was getting our stamp because, let's be honest, we didn't ride uphill just for the sense of satisfaction. We needed a stamp. Fortunately, some other cyclists saw us wandering aimlessly around closed buildings and pointed us in the right direction. We loaded up with Gatorade and chocolate at the General Store, convinced some other cyclists to get passports and chatted to some people staying on the mountain who thought it was pretty impressive that we'd ridden up.

That left us feeling pretty chuffed until we remounted our bikes and started riding again. It was 50+km back to Bright - admittedly mostly downhill, but the first km was back up to the summit.

The descent was good fun - there's nothing like 30km of descending to help you refine your technique and build your confidence. The 20km back to Bright from Harrietville hurt. We tried to set up a three-man pace line but all we managed to do was take turns in blowing up.

When we finally got back just after 2:15pm we were hot and tired, but happy.

Mt. Buffalo -
4/11/12 9:17am. 77.7km. 5:53:18 total. 3:35:29 moving

We decided to tackle Mt. Buffalo the next day. I had ridden it the year before and thought it looked easier than Falls Creek. The warm-up from Bright to Porepunkah was another beautiful ride and fortunately not too long. We reached the car park at the start of the climb and got off to stretch.

At this point we were introduced to a brand new form of strava-based trickery, whereby David sent us off to start first saying “your heart-rate monitors are interfering with my Garmin”. Thus we crossed the segment start point, and a minute later had David on our tails with essentially a thirty second lead. Sneaky!

Outside the Dingo Dell Café with the kids

Buffalo is a really beautiful climb. It's consistent and, while it hurts, it never really gets too steep. We each climbed at our own pace, regrouping regularly. David started to struggle - left hip problems making his climb painful. But we all made it over the top of the first part of the climb and enjoyed the descent past the Chalet and Lake Catani. The final section to Dingo Dell was hard going but we pushed on, knowing that our families were meeting us there for a picnic. After passport stamping and some photos, we scoffed a quick sausage roll and a cold drink, so that we'd have enough blood sugar to be able to eat lunch.

David made the decision to rest his hip and descend via car, so Darren and I set off on the descent.

Darren was descending cautiously - very cautiously, in fact after a speed wobbles incident on Mt. Macedon in August. Unfortunately a warm day, high altitude, high pressure tyres and hot rims don't mix well. Fortunately for everyone else, Darren had his video camera recording when the inevitable occurred:

The blowout was quite nasty - it created a flap of rubber the size of a 10c piece on the tyre - but after a change of tube, Darren was able to able to roll slowly (even more slowly) down to the bottom and then ride back to base with me (I was wondering what was going on, but wasn't prepared to ride back up to find out!)

Falls Creek -
5/11/12 8:56am. 46.8km. 3:14:38 total. 2:25:29 moving

Alpine Forest, Falls Creek ascent

There was some talk of riding over Tawonga Gap to Mt. Beauty to start the Falls Creek climb, but the talk was quite brief and the idea was resoundingly declared to be terrible. So the bikes were loaded onto the car and we were chauffeured to the start of the climb. The disadvantage of this approach was that we got no warm-up (well apart from turning on the heater in the car). With two solid days of climbing in the legs, even the gentle incline out of Mt. Beauty was tough going. David was still concerned about his hip, but it soon became apparent that he was having a good day, and we soon settled into the pattern we followed on most climbs - Darren, then David, then me.

We regrouped at the Bogong Alpine Village and we all commented on what a truly beautiful ride this one was. The valleys, the water and the peacefulness of the alpine forest made you feel like you were a long, long way from anywhere. We descended to the bridge over the East Kiewa River, then began the final 13.1km of climbing.

Three Peaks in Three Days - Happy to be driven home

The brief rest at the Bogong Village had given me a second wind, and I hit the start of this climb at a fair clip. Indeed when I eased up after about 10 minutes, Darren commented that if I'd kept going for another 500m he would have dropped off - not because he couldn't keep going (obviously), just because he didn't want to be completely knackered at the top. This turned out to be an excellent ploy, because it encouraged me to put in another big effort, Darren sucked my wheel and then I blew up spectacularly as the other two continued on their merry way up the mountain. The last kilometres were tough, especially after the tollbooth where our legs hurt disproportionately to the slight gradient increase. But we all finished, and far faster than we had planned - we'd allowed at least 4 hours, based on our Hotham efforts, but arrived in just over 3. We refuelled (mainly on free Lindt balls while we got our stamps), took some photos and then headed back down - after ensuring that Darren had let some air out of his tyres!

While 7 Peaks is about going up, it's worth mentioning that the descent from Falls was downright fun; not too steep, smooth roads, nicely cambered, practically no traffic and our technique was improving while our confidence was increasing. It was a blast. We met our families at Bogong Village for a picnic lunch and while there was some talk about tackling one last strava segment we packed up and were done with our first three peaks completed in three days.

Why yes, I will have more jelly.

Despite our proximity to Dinner Plain (and Darren's constant persistence that we would be crazy not to climb it while we were so close), the logistics of riding then getting home were too hard - not to mention we were completely and utterly spent. If there is a baptism by fire to be had in climbing mountains, then Hotham, Buffalo and Falls in three days would be hard to beat.

Lake Mountain - The Storm
18/11/12 8:56am. 42.1km. 3:23:31 total. 2:21:07 moving. Avg Temp: 8oC

The day started well enough…

Our day on Lake Mountain began well enough. Up early for the drive to Marysville, it was quite pleasant when we got out of the car and started our warm-up. I ummed, and ahhed, but decided to go back to the car and grab a rain jacket - just in case it was chilly on the descent.

Descriptions of Lake Mountain that give an average gradient should really be outlawed. Riding 21km at 4% sounds enjoyable and sets up the temptation for a fast, attacking climb. However the reality of the first 4km @ 8%, with our Garmins telling us we were over 12% at some points was a definite challenge: that is, forward momentum was a challenge. Still, once that was done, we were able to settle down into a steady rhythm and make good progress. We turned the corner towards the ticket booth and looked left to see a menacing, black sky. It did not look promising. Indeed if a plague of toads were to fall from the sky, it would come from a cloud that looked like that. We quickly donned jackets, and continued riding. In the 200m between the corner and the ticket booth, the skies opened. The rain went from zero to torrential in seconds, so we took shelter.


We stayed put for some 20 minutes before another cyclist in a short-sleeved top and knicks rode past. We all looked at each other thinking “Well that made us look a bit weak” and got on our bikes, figuring the worst had passed.

In an attempt to keep warm, I rode off as hard as I could. The rain was steady, but as we ascended it became colder and the rain began solidifying. First sleet, then before we knew it, we looked down to see the snowflakes piling up on the back of our short-fingered gloves and at the sides of the road.

With 2km to go, some other cyclists passed us on the descent and said “Turn around. It's not worth it.”  We didn't seriously consider stopping though - there was a stamp at stake after all. I assured everyone that the main building would be open and we could get inside and unfreeze our fingers before starting back down.

Of course when we got to the top, everything was locked tight. We were really cold. Our mate wearing the short-sleeved top was there, huddled under an eve, but quickly left to try and get down to warmer elevations.

We are not ashamed to admit that we rummaged through the recycling bins, looking for newspaper, cardboard, anything we could find that would add a layer of insulation. Eventually we found a cardboard box and tore it up, stuffing pieces down the fronts of our jerseys. It wasn't a great look, but it worked.

We scrounged in rubbish bins - we're not proud, but we're alive

We commenced the descent, but it soon became apparent that we were all in a dire situation. We were starting to check a lot of the boxes for hypothermia. Our fingers and toes were frozen to the point of being painful. It was hard to hold the brakes on, but we had to because the road was a river of icy slush. We stopped every kilometre to try and restore some circulation to our extremities. Fortunately the sun started to break through and eventually we made it to the ticket booth. We dismounted and did anything we could to keep warm.

Things were much better after that. Once we started the final section of the descent the road was dry, the sun was out and the cyclists coming up the mountain were experiencing beautiful conditions. Back in Marysville it was 25oC!

We stripped off at the car, and stood on the bitumen in the car park in our bare feet, letting the heat defrost our toes. We staggered into the Visitor's Centre for our stamps and then across to the bakery for as much warm food and drink as would fit into us.

We had really earned stamp #4, and learned some valuable lessons about being prepared for all conditions when riding in alpine areas. Long-fingered gloves and a space blanket were taken on every subsequent ride.

Mt. Baw Baw - Our First Domestique Ride
25/11/12 9:36am. 35km. 2:46:54 total. 2:08:02 moving.

We had sworn we wouldn't do Baw Baw. We didn't need to. We had 4 stamps and could go into the competition for the new bike and be satisfied. Baw Baw sounded brutal, the kind of thing that people who were much better cyclists than us, and weighed at least 20kg less, did to prove their worth.

But there was extra incentive now - we had found out about the 7 Peaks Domestique Series, put on by the Climbing Cyclist and Hells 500. For those not familiar, it was a series of organised rides, where those tackling the 7 Peaks climbs could get together and ride as a group, with gear carried to the top, and other perks like sponsored energy bars and drinks, not to mention that there were often professional photographers along for the ride.

We also had the bug now. It was now all about ALL the stamps and that jersey. There was no shying away from it - we needed to do them all.

Well at least Darren and I did. David had decided to play touch football at the Corporate Games the day before and, as so often happens, our brains remember being younger and being quite capable of doing these things. After playing five consecutive games of touch, David was in no condition to mount a bike, let alone tackle Baw Baw.

So we rose at 5am and we were in Noojee at 7am. We could've started from there, but we were (and still are) very glad we didn't. As we drove out of Noojee and began ascending Vespers Hill, two thoughts occurred to us: a) thank goodness we're in a car, and b) we're about to ride up something worse than this. We proceeded through Icy Creek, where people were already unloading, and on to Tanjil Bren. We were the first ones there, and though we felt some guilt at driving what we might have ridden, we were focused on Baw Baw. We needed as much in the tank as possible. Other riders began turning up and we rode off for a quick warm-up.

The ride started with a safety briefing after the riders turned up from Noojee and Icy Creek. We learned that there were prizes available to five riders on the day, to be chosen by Andy van Bergen of Hells 500. Darren walked over and gave him a cuddle, and was fairly certain he'd wrapped up prize number 1, but it wasn't to be.

We finally rolled out, and there was a real sense that we were all about to do something special. Darren and I were convinced that we would be accompanying the lantern rouge. As it turned out, we made it to the first hairpin corner on the descent before my bike dropped its chain. So from the front of the field we dropped back to almost the rear as nearly every single rider got to see me reattaching the chain to my awesome piece of finely tuned cycling equipment.

Rounding Winch Corner (photo credit: Tammy van Bergen)

One we got rolling again, we quite enjoyed the 4km descent, though it was a bit disconcerting because we knew a) Baw Baw was about to slap us in the face, so going down was just more we would have to climb, and b) we'd have to climb that 4km to get back to the car.

We started the climb to The Gantry, which had been likened to the 1-in-20. We were feeling good and rode at a steady pace. Surprisingly (for us) we overtook quite a few people - people who are best described as sensible.

We arrived at the Gantry expecting to have fear driven into our hearts as we looked upwards, but it wasn't as bad as expected (probably because we were told it was *sooo* bad that it could never meet our expectations).

Mind you, that was the last I saw of Darren, he screamed up the first section and disappeared around the corner. I started a long slow grind. The triple went straight into Granny and stayed there until the last 400m.

Apart from the agonizing, relentless grind, there were a few memorable moments: smatterings of conversation with equally out-of-breath compatriots; being constantly overtaken by the film crew; the film crew trying to do a handbrake start on Neulynes Hill and very nearly failing to launch; getting out of the saddle to smile at Tammy van Bergen as we rounded Winch Corner; the feeling of betrayal heading up ramps on the latter part of the climb which were allegedly “less steep” than Winch Corner; and the excruciating effort required in the last kilometres where it was a case of get out of the saddle or topple over.

Sprint to the finish (Photo credit: Tammy van Bergen)

After what seemed like an eternity and with every pedal stroke sending surges of pain from my knees up my leg and into my lower back the road slowly levelled off. And then, round the corner came Darren looked refreshed and revitalised. “Glad you're here - I wasn't coming down any further!” He then pushed me, in what can only be described as a sprint, past the car parks to the finish. (A look at strava tells us that my “sprint” peaked at 21 km/h)

I got off the bike, leaned it haphazardly against something and then started walking to get my stamp. It took me a full 200m to unclench my hands, shoulders and lower back.

But there was something in the air…you could feel a real sense of accomplishment everywhere. I didn't know anyone there except Darren, but there was a real sense of camaraderie - we'd all done something special, both as individuals and as a group.

We posed for photos, ate cupcakes for the Climbing Cyclist's birthday, drank Emma and Tom's juice, grabbed more Winner's bars and then started the descent. It turns out that descending Baw Baw is an exercise in holding the brakes on as tightly as you can. Easing off the pressure for more than two seconds saw you instantaneously accelerate to ludicrous speed. We stopped at the turn-off point (about the only place we could actually cease the momentum of the bikes) and our rims were burning hot (mental note for future rides, if you think your rims are burning hot, don't touch them with your finger to find out). Darren, demonstrating for the first time some capacity for learning, let some air out of his tyres before proceeding further.

Happiness is never having to climb Baw Baw again

We kept descending and were shocked to be back at the Gantry in 4 minutes. “But we climbed for so long, and it was so difficult!” we exclaimed. All-in-all what took an hour to climb, took 15mins to descend (cautiously). As much as doing the climb itself, that descent rammed home just what a vicious climb Baw Baw is.

All that was left was the 4km back to the car. With the mercury rising steadily we patted ourselves on the back for driving to Tanjil Bren. Sweating profusely and pretty much spent, we dismounted with a staggering 32km clocked up.

My strava suffer score was “Tough”. My body suffer score was “it doesn't get much harder than that”.

We smiled and waved at the cyclists we drove past on the way back to Noojee. Every one of them was a better cyclist than us on that day and our hats are off to them, but we still preferred our air-conditioned surrounds as we ate chocolate and drank ice cold cans of Coke.

There were some fabulous photos taken on the day and the video crew that were there put together a fantastic piece for Hells 500, which still gives me goosebumps. Darren and I make a few cameos (I'm particularly proud of “guy who didn't rub his sunscreen in properly” at 4:16). Check it out if you haven't already seen it:

Hells500-Mt BawBaw from Matt McCullough on Vimeo.

Mt. Buller

22/12/12 8:52am. 96.5km. 5:02:39 total. 4:08:03 moving. Avg Temp: 28oC

We had planned to drive up on the previous weekend and ride the afternoon Domestique assault on Buller, but there was a substantial amount of rain around. While we are strong adherents to rules 5 & 9, there are limits - driving 2 hours, riding up a mountain in freezing rain, then descending and driving another 2 hours home proved to be beyond those limits.

In stark contrast to our Lake Mountain ride, the Buller ride was stinking hot. We were on the road atypically early, arriving in Mansfield around 8:30am. We were some 50km from the mountain, but the 7 Peaks passport said the ride started in Mansfield, and by this stage of the game that tiny little book had become our bible.

The ride from Mansfield to Merrijig is, let's be honest, not exciting. That said, we were relieved to get into Merrijig and have a quick break to stretch and steel ourselves for the climb ahead.

The ride started out in the usual fashion - I went straight to the front and pounded out a fair tempo, with visions of a 200m gap between me and the others.

Predictably, I blew up spectacularly and was immediately passed by Darren who had never been more than a few metres off my back wheel.

At the top of Buller with elbow scabs proudly displayed

We put in a good 35 minutes of climbing before stopping to regroup. David was having a bad day in the saddle again, with his hip playing up. However the rest did him good and as we continued he moved up into second on the mountain, leaving me to struggle through the ever-increasing heat up the ever-increasing gradient. It became a mental game to make it from each patch of shade to the next. And then came the last 2km.

The road kicked to about 7.5% and my speed dropped to 9km/h. At the final pinch, Darren came back down to “encourage” me. Part of me was grateful that I could now focus on blocking out Darren's “encouragement”, rather than being sealed inside the hurt locker.

It was a huge relief to finish. We lingered inside the air-conditioned visitor's centre after getting our stamps, and then headed to the Burger Haus, which was about the only place open. We made a big dent in their Powerade supplies and then headed back outside to begin the descent.


At this point it's worth mentioning that three days before this ride I had had a firsthand experience with Rule 64 - "Cornering confidence increases with time and experience. This pattern continues until it falls sharply and suddenly" - whilst descending on wet roads out towards Strathewen. I learned the hard way that my newfound cornering confidence was substantially greater than my cornering ability, especially when doing 40km/h into a steeply cambered downhill hairpin. The result, apart from large scabs and bruising, was that however hard the ascent had been, the descent was much more traumatic. I found that I couldn't bring myself to lean the bike, especially to the left. I was incredibly tense and I almost ended up on the wrong side of the road way too many times to count. Darren stayed with me for a bit, but I was too slow for him - oh the irony (and possibly the karma).

Maintaining hydration is essential
Maintaining hydration is essential - on the way home from Buller

Nonetheless I eventually made it to the bottom more or less intact. The ride back to Mansfield was hot, and hard work. Darren's Ultegra Di2 battery went flat, and left him stuck in the little ring, which was highly amusing for everyone who wasn't Darren, as we watched him pedal with a cadence of 130rpm to keep up.

We eventually rolled back to the car, got changed and headed in to town for vast quantities of food and cold beverages. It was nearly Christmas and we'd completed six peaks. We were mighty pleased.

However, we had no idea how long it would take to get that elusive seventh and final stamp.

Darren does Lake Mountain
10/01/13 9:28am. 41.8km. 2:08:34 total. 1:50:21 moving

Organising a weekend up at Dinner Plain became something of a logistical nightmare. We all had various commitments and the earliest we had a common free weekend was the 2nd of February.

So to keep our legs “mountain fresh” we did a few tough rides - the Crucifix in the Dandenongs for example - and looked to do more of the official 7-Peaks Domestique series rides.

I announced that I was going to have another crack at Lake Mountain with the Domestique group, mainly because I was starting to run out all the gels, bars and other loot nabbed from the Baw Baw ride, but also because our previous ride was so woeful, that I was sure to set a PB.

This didn't sit well with Darren. He couldn't make the ride and at that point in time he held the fastest time on every peak. So to avert a crisis he headed up mid-week and gave it a good crack. 1:19:24 according to strava - some 35mins ahead of the previous time. And as Darren was quick to point out, that was on his commuter bike too.

Lake Mountain - Second Domestique Ride
12/01/13 9:14am. 42.1km. 2:18:17 total. 1:53:00 moving

Getting Started (Photo Credit: Kirsten Simpson)

For whatever reason, one thing I really enjoy about group rides is driving to the venue and knowing that just about every other driver on the road is a cyclist. There were plenty on the road to Marysville that Saturday morning, though somewhat surprising for me was the number of people riding. Then again, given that 3 Peaks was approaching, and Hells 500 was heavily involved in these rides, I shouldn't have been too surprised. Still: respect!

I spent some time warming up and then went over for the safety briefing. There was a big turnout of female riders, which was great to see. The Domestique ride organisers are to be congratulated for encouraging greater participation in cycling.

Setting a PB

Setting a PB.
If I had the balance to take my hands off the handlebars, I would have done it at this moment (Photo Credit: Nigel Welch)

I jumped on my bike and got started. In some ways it was harder second time around, because I knew what lay ahead. But one of the greatest advantages of the Domestique rides is that you will always have people around you and you'll generally find other people moving at a similar pace or, if you're lucky, someone moving just a bit faster than you think you're capable of. That's what happened to me a couple of times on the climb. People came past me who pushed me to my limit and the result was a PB of 01:17:59 on the Lake Mt segment.

Better without snow
Lake Mountain is much easier to climb when it's not snowing

Again there was a great atmosphere at the top of the climb. Matt and Andy had worked with the local community to organise a BBQ. This is one of the things that really impressed me about the Domestique series - it wasn't just about a large group of cyclists turning up and riding somewhere, but it was about riding responsibly and being considerate of the local communities. I imagine that took a lot of organisation and pre-planning, for what was, let's not forget, a free ride.

I headed back down the mountain, encouraging the riders still making their way to the top and then headed home. When I uploaded my ride to strava I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was about one-and-a-half minutes faster than Darren. To this day it remains the only peak on which I have the fastest time.

Mt.Baw Baw Redux - Wait, what?
19/01/13 8:20am. 32.9km. 3:17:47 total. 2:10:52 moving

I distinctly remember being asked if I would do Baw Baw again. I definitely said “no”. When David said he was going to do Baw Baw, so that he could get all seven stamps, I distinctly remember saying “good luck”, and laughing when asked if I would accompany him.

So it was quite a surprise to me when I found myself back in the Tanjil Bren car park, getting ready for a second assault on Baw Baw - or more correctly Baw Baw was preparing for a second assault on me.

The day wasn't a complete loss

From the moment the road turned upwards, well before the Gantry, I knew it was going to be a bad day. I just didn't have it. David stopped to stretch and take a photo, and I just slogged on. I distinctly remember taking the left-hand turn and slowing a bit so that David could catch up. Catch up he did, and then he blew straight past me! From that point on it was a lot steeper than I remembered from the first time around. It was a real grind and in the end I broke about half a km from the carparks and stopped to stretch my back.

I remounted, disappointed that I wasn't going to beat my previous effort and met David at the summit. After stamps and photos, we were pleased to find the café just opening, so we took the opportunity to refuel for our descent.

I was a little demoralised when we got back to the car. Any time you beat Baw Baw should be worth celebrating, but it would have been nice to improve just a little.

Darren's Mt.Baw Baw Redux
25/01/13 9:18am. 32.9km. 3:12:06 total. 2:07:06 moving

After enduring 5 days of “How many times have you climbed Baw Baw, Darren? Just once?”, Darren took a day off work and headed out solo.

Some say a little competition doesn't hurt. Darren found out the hard way that it actually can. A lot.

There's not much to say about this ride other than Darren called it “Nasty, Evil, Baw Baw. Had nothing in the legs, got hassled constantly by flies and then had to descend in the wet with the road covered in crap. Not a good day :-( 25/01/2013”

He ascended in about an hour, slower than his first attempt - which says a lot about the benefits of having lots of other riders on the road.

Afterwards I commented on strava “At least you did it - the worst day on Baw Baw is better than the best day at work!” I was lying.

Dinner Plain - Will we, won't we?
02/03/13 12:11pm. 87.1km. 4:55:24 total. 4:01:27 moving

With 6 peaks down by Christmas, the wait to do the final peak was interminable. We were all booked in and ready to go in early February. Indeed the car was half packed when David rang with the news that Dinner Plain had just been evacuated due to the Alpine bushfires that had been burning for some weeks.

Sunrise...the things we do for a stamp

Over the next month, it's fair to say we were quite agitated. Time was running out, and we were checking the CFA website almost daily and praying for rain.

Eventually we had a call at the end of February saying that we could go up on the first weekend of March (and indeed that was the only time they could rebook our accommodation). David and Darren drove up on Friday night, but I was attending my brother's wedding. After getting to bed at midnight, I rose at 4:30am and hit the road. I was making good time as I passed through Bairnsdale just before sunrise, but going to Dinner Plain via Omeo is a really long drive. I finally arrived at 10am and promptly went straight back to bed for a couple of hours.

Ready to go

Just after midday when I felt almost human again, we all jumped on our bikes excited to at last be going for our final stamp. Starting with a descent was a novel experience and it certainly didn't help to settle my nerves. I was still skittish about going fast especially on the roughly-surfaced roads down to Omeo. It wasn't all downhill though; there were a few climbs on the descent including a nice little 10% section. We didn't complain too bitterly though, because we knew we'd appreciate the break on the way back up.

When we arrived in Omeo, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. We sat outside at one of the local cafés and added some more fuel to the tank before starting our very last ascent.

For consistency's sake I set off at a good pace, only to be passed by the others at about the 1km mark. “If all of the 7 Peaks were 700m, you'd have the KOM on all of them,” David commented wryly as he rode past. He was undoubtedly making a fair point, but I just gritted my teeth for the next 41.7km.

It was a gorgeous day for riding. I stopped after the first section to remove my arm warmers, but left on my long sleeve base layer. This meant I cooked a bit, but I didn't cop any sunburn, unlike my two companions, who were pinked to a crisp.

Seriously guys, I can't hold this up much longer

After a couple of hours we finally reached the Hotham Airport - 10km to go. Darren got all giddy and took off, eager to be finished. David was really starting to struggle, so I stayed with him, trying to encourage him home. It was with great relief that we saw the Dinner Plain sign at the entrance to the village. We stopped for photos and then rode down to get our stamps.

We stretched, showered and then headed off to celebrate at the Hotham Hotel. We had a relatively early night, then packed up and headed off the next morning - after eating 1kg of bacon to ensure our protein levels were restored.

Restoring fluids and protein levels

And that was it, our 7 Peaks Passport was full. Looking back, you couldn't ask for a better introduction to alpine cycling and mountain climbing. We completed some tough rides, took part in some of the great Domestique events and rode through some beautiful parts of Victoria. We couldn't have done it without the support of our partners and families, who were very patient and understanding.

We look forward to seeing you out on the slopes for this year's 7 Peaks Challenge (though not too many of you, because we really want to win that bike!).

Who is team Da*?

team Da* (dee-ay-star) is three 30-something blokes - Darren, David and Daniel - who are relative cycling newbies.

We are not averse to replacing all of the calories we expend riding (and then some) with good food and drink.

Our collective dream is to be paid to cycle or do other cycle related things - but we have yet to discover our matching corporate demographic.

It's all about the stamps