So following on from my last post I'd left the Ninja Loop report
as I farewelled my company for the start of the ride to continue on solo. It was interesting that at this point I'd just come to realise that I wasn't yet halfway through the ride. In my mind it was 2 climbs down, 2 to go so I was halfway but I'd forgot to account for the transitional flatter section to the next climb, I had only covered 60 something kilometres and still had over 100 left! As I headed on solo I contemplated what was still ahead. First on that list was lunch. Quick calculations saw Gerringong as an ideal spot although upon arriving I saw an oversight in my planning. A nice little coastal town on a prefect South Coast day and I was arriving just after midday. The place was packed and as I ordered lunch I was warned by staff of the wait. It was now I realised I was in an unusual situation. I had no real time constraints on the ride, no Audax control times to meet, no appointment to be home for, no one else on the ride that had to be back by a certain time. I could just relax and enjoy the day.
So it was a pleasant and relaxing lunch before heading off to continue the journey. It was a fell rolling hills out of Gerringong then it was on to the flattest section of the ride before the right turn out to Berry. It was all good, cruising along and enjoying things through this section before reaching Berry and the Berry Mountain/Cambewarra climb. Approaching the climb it was time for the mental games to being. I knew this climb has some steep bits, and while not as bad as Saddleback, the final section up to the lookout is a solid steep finish. On fresher legs it wouldn't be an issue but I'd never approached a climb like this with over 2000m of climbing already in the legs. The climb was also the first point where the weather was not so pleasant. It was now the hottest part of the day and pretty much as soon as the climb started the sweat was pouring off me. It was uncomfortable but I knew this was the kind of riding that could prove invaluable come ACE250 time. The tired legs also started hurting much sooner in the climb and that's when the mind starts questioning "if it hurts this much already is it possible to make the top?" and "there's still another one after this climb as well!". But I was determined and had decided I was going to keep pedalling until I reached the top or the legs came to a cramped halt. As I pushed on it was there was the continual wondering of how far I could get, the legs where hurting more than most of the previous climbs and for much longer but it still never got as tough as that final section of Saddleback.
At the top it was time to ensure I was keeping hydrated enough and to have a rest and enjoy the view.
Heading back down and it was time to enter the only section of the ride I'd not ridden before at any stage. The other few times I'd climbed to the Cambewarra Lookout I headed towards Nowra but today I would turn right and take the descent towards Kangaroo Valley. Both sides of Cambewarra make for nice descents with fairly good road condition and it's not long before the descent is over and I'm on my way into the Kangaroo Valley township. I was now back into familiar territory and heading towards a fitting final challenge for the day. I'd ridden Barrengarry a few times in the past. The first of those was fairly early on in my riding and on what is still one of the toughest rides I've done to date. According to Strava the Tallowa Dam Ride
is the most I've ever suffered on a bike, with the highest suffer score I've had to date. On that occasion I started the climb with over 2000m of climbing in the legs, meaning climbing wise it was already one of my biggest at that stage. I'd just had lunch in the Valley before taking on the climb on a rather warm summer afternoon. At that stage my main goal with any new climb was just to make the top without stopping and on that day Barrengarry would become the first one to beat me and while I was able to go back the next month with fresher legs and make the climb and have climbed it a couple of times since this would be the first time since then I'd make the attempt with such worn out legs. Actually, it would be the first time I'd attempt any serious climb with so much climbing in my legs before the start. So, this would be a real test of both body and mind.
As the climb began the legs where feeling it straight away. I had no idea how far I could push them but I was determined to beat the hill this time. After all, not only would it be significant to beat it this was the last of the four big climbs of the day. Once I make the top things would become easy by comparison. In reality it ended up proving that that statement would be true of Saddleback. After the brutality of that final section both Berry Mountain and Barrengarry seamed flatter than I remembered. I was continually thinking on the way up Barrengarry that I was sure there was a steeper bit, waiting for that extended steep section that broke me the first time but it never quite reached the grade that my head was imagining. As higher slopes started to arrive I realised I must have already passed it and the mind started becoming more and more positive that I'd beaten the climb this time and along with it the Ninja Loop. The phone started to ring somewhere in the final couple of kilometres but there was no way I was stopping to answer it.
Cresting the climb brought a massive sense of achievement and a great reminder in just how far my riding had come in the past few years. This was surely a tougher ride than when the climb had beaten me back then and yet this time I'd made it. I stopped a little further down the road to check the phone and call my wife back as well as take a quick shot before moving on to finish the ride. There was no lookout at the top this time so Fitzroy Reservoir seamed the location of choice this time.
After the stop it was some rolling hills alongside the reservoir and onto Robertson before the downhill of Macquarie Pass begins. It's a nice downhill run before the undulating but overall downhill run back to Albion Park and the finish line that would see the Ninja Loop conquered. I ended the day with 172km and 3903m of climbing which got me to thinking, it would take much work to come up with an extra 30km to have on of the toughest 200km Audax rides sorted. Or an extra 80 to have a ride that would be a serious rival to the Alpine and Fitz's Extreme in terms of toughness. Heck, a bit of planning and you could have enough different ride lengths and have the Illawarra/Shoalhaven Insanity Series. There's already ideas in my head of where to get those extra kilometres.