Monday, December 01, 2014

Audax Airwalk Extraordinaire 2014

It's a funny thing how new roads become familiar over time, how journeys once thought too difficult become mere preludes to explorations afresh. There was a time when the 30km ride to the Tahune Airwalk from Southwood was an exciting proposition for a Sunday, now it's a routine weekend circuit. It's human nature to want to explore and extend our horizons.
The Airwalk Extraordinare is an Audax ride I've run for three years now. Usually it's a combination of gravel and tarmac, making a handy loop which starts and finishes at Ranelagh and includes a section of highway. This year I changed the course to be more or less and an out and back affair, from Huonville deep into the Picton River Valley and back via the Airwalk, pretty much all on gravel roads. It's an ambitions 110km+ journey with some challenging hills and road conditions that can be unpredictable. There are no road signs along the way, we trace the route from memory, from explorations of days gone by. It's a route largely free of cars, although fallen trees and potholes pose intermittent and unpredictable hazards.

Climbing out of the Weld Valley.
This isn't a ride for everyone. This year there was only three takers, Ben and Hugh and I, so we set off at 9am, making good time over the Denison Range, the first challenge for the day. The weather was warm and still and I had my jersey pockets bulging with energy gels, just in case. One of my favourite climbs rolled quickly by, the gentle rise out past the Russell River, then the long downhill then flat section to the Weld. Another climb and another long descent and we were past the Airwalk and into the loop out to the Picton.
Picton River Bridge.
There's a shelter near the old condemned bridge on the Picton River and it's a good spot for a break, but only a short one for us as lunch beckoned. Surprisingly we zoomed back along the road on the south of the river with no trouble at all - these road have been known to eat tyres. We zoomed along, absorbed in the concentration of picking our lines carefully at speed to avoid the worst of the rocks. We were back at the Airwalk at 1pm on the dot for a bite to eat.
No cars behind these locked gates.
After a half-hour break we were off again. The rolling section down to the Huon River Bridge at Southwood pretty reliably takes 45 minutes. With a little of the air out of the tyres the bike rolled like a dream, smoothing out the bumps. The day was warming, although there was also the threat of rain, which we somehow seemed to skirt. I was beginning to tire a little by now, and Ben and Hugh kindly waited at the top of the climbs for me to catch up. Southwood and the top of the climb there soon passed by before it was once more onto the dreaded back of Denison Hill, which saw me on foot for a short section.  I call that 21st gear.
Rolling back over Denison Hill.
The final 20km back to Huonville was into the teeth of a very unnecessary headwind, so Ben and Hugh eased away as I resigned myself to spin onwards. Finishing within the audax road 100km deadline of 6h40 proved a touch ambitious, although we were only around 40m outside that, which was still well inside the 10 hours allowed for a dirt expedition. Amazingly and happily, we had not a single mechanical problem or puncture all day. Every adventure is the prelude to another, and so too was this, another most memorable day on the bike.
4998km so far this year.

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