IP Day 47 – Bolaro to Canberra

Wednesday 11th May, 2022

102.5 km +1655m
Moving 6:51 Elapsed 10:06
Max 57.1 kph Avg 14.9 kph

35km unsealed.

10 past 7 departure on a pretty overcast day. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Quite a bit of climbing. And about 35km of dirt. Last night Marc had sectioned off each climb, as he had done for BOF and Cabra – although he didn’t do the gradients. It was really just to confirm and then mentally tick off each ‘summit’ as we reached it.

Last night he had posted to the dotwatcher group to let them know we were taking the detour.

It’s a pretty significant route deviation, made more difficult by the fact that we would miss the memorial to Mike Hall on the Monaro Hwy where he was tragically killed in 2017. It’s a tradition for riders to stop and pay their respects, so it felt bad not to do that. On the other hand, I don’t want there to be any more IPWR memorials – and I absolutely don’t want it to be ours. Being able to avoid the Monaro was the deal breaker for me on even agreeing to do Indipac. When Rowan – a Canberra local – last year announced that he would be taking Bobeyan Rd for safety reasons, then that settled it. If a local (and hardcore) cyclist entering Indipac was electing not to ride the Monaro for safety reasons then that was more than good enough for me. Yes, the recurrent theme through this write-up of our Indipac experience is that I have some HUGE issues with parts of the route. Because it is no longer ‘official’, no one will ever take responsibility for changing the official route, so it comes down to the individual to make the decisions for themselves. I know there will be some that will always be purists about it.

The main thing about this detour is that it is unsealed for nearly 40km, and the original route was designed to be all sealed.

Oh well. 3.5k done on the dirt yesterday – only 35k to go.

We rode through farmland at first. It wasn’t too bad, but a bit up and down. There was a section of roadworks, and we even got kind of forced off onto the really rough edges by some dickhead workers driving past too fast – for the roadwork zone – and too close. At one point there was a car patiently tailing us – it turned out to be Mic. Again! He found an excuse to drive that way with work. Just checking up on us. He just can’t help himself!!

We stopped to do something only about 4k along – toe covers on – or off?! – or rain jacket on/off – can’t even remember now! And then a sustenance break at 16km at Shannons Flat. Over an hour to get 12km!

At 16km we crossed into the ACT and Namadji National Park at the same time. The climbing got a bit tougher. The worst/longest one was 5km after a creek crossing. RWGPS shows the average grade at 7.2% and the max at 12.6%, but Marc did see 15% on the Lezyne. Sheesh.

Well, that was the highest point – but it still didn’t get much easier with all the ups and downs. Somewhere along there as it levelled out, and started dropping, we decided to pull over for a break. Somehow, for the first time EVER for us on the tandem, we stuffed up our coordination in unclipping. We usually take our left foot out, and dismount to the left, but the camber of the road was maybe a bit steeper than we expected. I dropped the ball on timing my unclipping with Marc’s. I didn’t get out in time, we overcompensated, and then just tipped over to the right. *smack* into the ground onto our right shoulders.

That did NOT contribute to a positive mood. And we discovered that you can be mad and concerned (about how much we’d hurt ourselves) at the same time. Thankfully although we would sport a couple of bruises, we hadn’t done anything serious.

The other thing not contributing to positivity was the state of the brake pads – and especially with the downs to come. We could hear metal on metal. Eeep. This meant taking every downhill extremely gingerly.

Also, we’d had to deal a few times with some quarry trucks – empty tippers and dogs – hurtling along heading the same way as us. We never struck any full ones headed south, so we assumed that when full they must have had to take the highway, but when empty they could use Bobeyan Rd as a shortcut back to base.

We came to Hospital Hill Lookout. 4 hours to do 32km (with the breaks).

Looking across to the Brindabella Ranges. You could see Old Bobeyan Rd winding through the valley. It would have been a much gentler gradient – back in the day they built that they didn’t just bulldoze the road up and over 10%+ gradients like they do these days.

3km later we blessedly hit the tar. Although, with the brake pad situation, it wasn’t as blessed as it might have been.

At one point Marc suddenly pulled over (with no discussion, no notice!). What’s wrong? He was speaking in ‘cranky’, so all I could glean was that something was squeaking around his handlebars, and it was driving him NUTS. I wisely did not verbalise what was in my head – which was that I had actually been putting up with his blasted squeaking, creaking saddle (that he apparently couldn’t hear) for … *checks notes* … nearly 5,000km!!

It was a bit of a release of some of the built-up frustrations of the day. The brake issue. Questioning the detour itself. Was it actually worth it to avoid the Monaro? Also, his pent-up frustrations with me, because everything I had went into just getting myself up, (trying not to throw up), getting on the bike, and through each day, with nothing much left at all to contribute in planning and logistics.

His annoying squeak resolved, we continued. (The saddle squeaking, however, persists nearly a year later!)

We had one last big downhill at about the 50k mark. It ran for nearly 3km, with an average grade of -10%. Not ideal on a loaded tandem with brake pads down to the metal. We had an easier run the next 15km to Tharwa, where we stopped at Tharwa Store for lunch. 66k with 1400m of climbing done. It was about 1.30, and there were slim pickings left for lunch – with pies in the warmer apparently reserved for the guy’s son – or something like that. Whatever we had – can’t remember now – we waited a while to get. And it started raining while we were there.

We donned rainjackets and toe covers and set out. The rain thankfully didn’t last for long. We only had about 5km till we got to the southern outskirts of Canberra suburbia, and then another 6km till we rejoined the IPWR route. I had plotted that route, making sure we got onto a bike path as soon as we could. Still managed to overshoot the turn-off under the main road!

My next task as navigator was to get us to the nearest bike shop! Thankfully the rain hadn’t set in, so I was able to use Google Maps on my phone! I got us to 99Bikes in Phillip, and while Marc was in the shop I posted on the dotwatcher FB group to let them know that we were buying brake pads urgently, and would be there a little while for Marc to install them.

By this stage, it was 3.45pm, and it felt like the rain was going to hit us any minute. We turned the bike upside down on a nearby patch of grass and he just replaced the front pads to get us through to the hotel. We were just turning it upright when Rowan himself appeared – along with the rain!

He navigated us back onto the route. Thankfully I didn’t have to try to navigate in the rain. The route left the bike paths and ran on a shoulder bike lane on the dual carriageway main road. Then off again, and zig-zagging through back streets to Parliament House. At some point Michael James (of the lovely comment when we made Three Mile Dam) joined us.

We stopped for the obligatory photos and chatted for a bit – in the rain!

Rowan had to go, but Michael offered to guide us to the accommodation we had booked (on the route) in Braddon (north Canberra), as he lived near there! I cannot emphasise enough how much of a godsend that was. It was peak hour, just about on sunset, in the rain. We followed him on and off bike lanes, bike paths, etc. It would have been a nightmare for me to navigate. The Garmin touchscreen seizes when it gets wet, and I had to put a plastic cover over my phone (with its slightly cracked screen) to protect it from water, so I couldn’t see the screen properly.

It was a hectic 4.3km!

We checked into the apartments not long after 5pm, and then somehow managed to spirit the tandem up the internal stairs into the apartment after Marc first did a reconnaissance carrying some of our stuff. There was a laundry on site, so I got our gear washed.

Marc was in the shower when he informed me that he actually had a bit of a sore throat. Eep. We felt like we should do the responsible thing and do a RAT. The only problem was we weren’t carrying one. The nearest pharmacy was barely one kilometre away, but it was now dark, and raining. I loaded the Uber app onto my phone (never having taken one by myself) and then ubered there and back.

Negative RAT. Phew.

Meantime Marc had ordered Uber Eats. Pizza. And then we turned the bike upside down and he replaced the rear brake pads.

My cousin, Nat, lives out of Canberra a bit and had been keen to come in and catch up with us while we were here, but it had been just too big of a day, and we got in too late.

As for whether that detour was worth it – well, the jury is still out. It was really tough for the tandem with the combination of dirt and hitting some of the steepest grades of the whole ride. It may not have felt quite so bad if we hadn’t had the brake issue. We had had them changed in Adelaide, but in hindsight probably should have done another change in Melbourne – but it didn’t really feel like we had done that many downhill between Adelaide and Melbourne. We definitely should have carried spares – and I’m pretty sure spare brake pads will now be added to the list of stuff we carry on any tour.

It was significantly shorter in distance than the Monaro route, but way, way steeper (6.5% max grades vs 13+%, and on dirt.) Marc probably leans toward wishing we had just done the Monaro, but I probably still lean toward sticking with ‘whatever it took’ to avoid it.

The countdown to Sydney was now on. We could make it by Sunday. Our plan was a big day tomorrow – maybe we could do the 150k to Marulan, then about 100k to Jamberoo on Friday (on the enforced detour because of Macquarie Pass still being closed.) Another 100k to the southern parts of Sydney on Saturday, with an ‘easy’ 70ish to the Opera House.

That was the plan, Stan.

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