It’s taken me 9 months to feel like writing something about IndyPac.
I wanted to write something, as I had some good times, some bad times and there were some interesting things that happened along the way. But every time I thought about doing it, there was a big black cloud which made it too painful.
Now that I’m riding regularly again, and the excitement is building for the next edition, I’ve finally put fingers to keyboard.
Last Christmas, I spent a few hours surfing in search for interesting cycling challenges in the early part of 2017. As my wife and I were expecting a baby in May I knew that TCR wasn’t going to be an option and my cycling season was going to be curtailed. I found a few things, none of which inspired me too much, and toyed with the idea of a solo ride across Europe such as Calais-Brindisi. Then I found it, the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, 5,000+km coast-to-coast across Australia, in March-April. I was drawn in by Jesse’s seductive prose, the beautiful pictures and the strong list of riders already signed up. But entries had already closed. That made it both safe to think about it, and more desirable as it was out of reach…
A few weeks later, back at work, I got an email alert to say that entries had re-opened. What should I do? Having dreamed of it over Christmas I kind of had to enter it now. And with neither dependents nor boss to answer to, I thought ‘if I can’t make time to do this, who can?’ So, with my wife’s blessing, I signed up and started looking at flights.
Work looked like it would be ok. I had a big project which was due to finish at the end of Feb, so even if it slipped a couple of weeks it would be fine, then my diary was clear. So I put in my entry and started getting ready.
The first challenge was to guesstimate how long it would be likely to take me. The distance had increased since I last looked – a few route changes round Sydney had bumped it up to 5,500km. Based on my TCR daily distances, I reckoned I should be able to ride it in 19 days, plus a couple of days at either end for travel and packing, so the best part of a month away from home.
In January and February, evenings were spent looking at maps of Australia and researching the route. I googled extensively, I fired off emails to everyone I knew who had ridden in Australia asking for advice, and registered on Aussie forums to get more up-to-date gen. Big questions were:
- Where could I get food and water?
- What were the opening hours of shops in remote towns?
- What about roadhouses – where were they, what did they have, when were they open?
- Where could I sleep?
- What kit would I need – what about insects / snakes / spiders?
I decided I’d use my TCR bike but with different luggage so I could carry more water. I reckoned I needed to be able to take up to 6 litres. So I ditched my Apidura saddle pack and replaced it with an ultralight rack plus rack pack with folding-down side panniers. Given the reports of smooth roads, lack of climbing and potential for crosswinds, I decided to take my old racing wheels, with the wheel covers still attached to the rear, to save me a bit of time across the windy desert.
The one thing I didn’t do much of was train. I was never going to be in peak physical shape at this point in the season. A few niggles and diary things meant I wasn’t starting from a good place as I’d not ridden, other than commuting, from mid-September to January. And I only managed to squeeze in five proper rides, a couple of turbo sessions and a couple of jaunts round Richmond Park before I left for the airport.
The race started on the Saturday morning and I flew out on Wednesday, leaving a grey London and getting to a bright, warm and sunny Fremantle mid-afternoon on Thursday. At Heathrow I’d found myself behind another indyPac rider in the check-in queue. We discussed how late we’d been up packing and what luggage weights we had. I was relieved I was not the worst organised as he had not been to bed and was way overweight so had to go and re-pack I then got chatting to a couple of the Middlesex cricket team, who were heading out for a pre-season tour in Dubai. I don’t follow cricket nowadays but reflected that, in the seventies, I’d have been able to recite the Middlesex batting order. But it was fun to chat to them and hear what they were doing and they were interested in IndyPac so, for the only time I can recall, I felt I was regarded as an equal by a group of professional sportsmen.
After I’d checked in, it was time to head out to the pre-race party at a large pub on the waterfront. The only two other riders I’d met before were Mike and Kristof. But I soon met plenty of others, starting with Doug Midgen, who had organised a TCR veterans table. I saw Mike fairly early on and commented on how lean and fit he was looking, probably a good stone lighter than when I’d last seen him in Cannakkale, and without the beer and ciggys. Doug got Mike to come and eat with us so we got his thoughts on some aspects of the race – how long he thought it would take, what he thought about mirrors, what the Nullarbor was like, and so on. He said when his flight home was booked and I thought it would be great if I could shave a couple of days off my target and meet him for a beer or two in Sydney.
We had a briefing from Jesse, signed on, and Mike, Sarah and Kristoff spoke insightfully about ultra-racing. Then, a guy whose name I don’t recall (sorry – someone please tell me!), who had crossed the Nullarbor five times and ridden with the greatest Australian long-distance cyclist, Hubert ‘Oppy’ Oppermann, gave us some tales from earlier crossings. One story stuck in my head which was Oppy’s advice on cycling, something like ‘it’s not that hard. All you have to do is wait for a pedal to come up, then push it down, then another one will come up, and you push that one down, and keep repeating.’ Hmm, I thought, how trivial. A week later, I recalled it, thinking it was the most profound thing I had ever heard.
Feeling sleepy, I made my excuses early, picked up my tracker from Steve Watson, and headed back to my Airbnb. However, jet lag kicked in and I only got a couple of hours sleep.
On the Friday, there was a lot to do. Firstly Chris Bennett had organised a TCR veterans brunch, which was a great opportunity to meet another bunch of riders, put faces to names and reminisce about bikes, dogs and other stuff. Then a haircut, a couple of things to pick up from a bike shop, the post office to send my laptop and other stuff to Sydney, a supermarket to stock up on food and a pharmacy for various creams.
Back at the room I still had my bike to build up, and my gear to pack. I got finished around 10pm, enjoyed a takeaway curry, then had another almost sleepless, jetlagged night, waking several hours before my alarm, and it was time to head off to the start line down by the harbour.