With my stomach doing a few somersaults and a pounding headache I’m a little apprehensive about the long day ahead. Not knowing just how tough a day it’ll be we set off at a manageable pace.
From the camp at Malealea Lodge we soon start climbing a pass named the Gates to Paradise. And once at the top the view certainly lived up to the title. Looking back over Malealea and beyond to the distant mountains was a phenomenal scene only enhanced by the perfect morning.
Over the top we descended on some rolling gravel track before turning off onto single track. With a few technical climbs and some fun, fast and flowing downhills we quickly arrived at the first water point.
Getting going again we entered a grassy section with various tube like trails cut into the turf. Follow the lines visibly most traveled and you were in for a bit of a treat, but it was easy to miss a turn here or there and come short.
The grass made way for a drop into a river bed and onto sections of solid rock. With the banks of the now barely flowing river heavily eroded and cliff-like, the surrounding landscape was almost surreal.
Heading up and out of the river bed we began to slowly climb. Climbing up into a steep, but hard packed dirt trail a mother and children are perched alongside the trail, part spectator and part herd minder. Into a deep wheel-sized dip I shift my weight back to pop out and up. Nope, got that wrong as I attempt to save my OTB trip from full on face plant.
With only a slight bruise to my ego having a line of riders behind and the spectating family (clearly strategically placed) watching on I head on unscathed. The route now takes us up to the highest point of the day on a varied technical climb. Steep hard-packed sections with a loose surface separated by barely rideable rocky turns it was tough going but enjoyable.
Once at the top and at water point two we’d already done much of the climbing for the day. Race director Darol joked in the briefing that if we saw a cellphone tower we’ likely be riding up to it. Sure enough, three out of the three I spotted on the day were on our route.
A refill of bottles and top up on some food I’m hungry today. Two mini apple pies down, some chips, a potato and half a bar. I’ve probably had too much rubbish, but I’m pretty ravenous. After the concerns earlier in the morning though I’m now feeling good.
From waterpoint two we still had a long way to go, but it went by quickly. Long sections of downhill gravel road with some slight climbs and more downhill. The kilometers were ticking by fast.
After a fun piece of similar grassy tube like trail we climbed up towards Roma. In the distance we spot a team we’d ridden with and dropped the day earlier. Today they were ahead of us and now in sight. Heading over the top of the hill we catch up and roll quickly down the other side.
In the distraction of catching up and speed of the course we roll past two flags and some bunting tape. Was that not the finish? Being at the back of the group of four I speed up to get in contact and share the news. But the group is already into a straight rocky downhill at a pace where my shouting has little impact.
At the bottom I catch up and prompt the turn around. Convinced that we still have two kilometers to go and that we’re still following the green arrows marking the route we head on. Eventually deciding that it was in fact the finish we turn back and up the hill.
We’d been following the course markings for day 6. At least we're well prepared for the first 2km tomorrow.
What a fantastic day out on a bike!