We live in a world of constant information delivered to our eyeballs by devices. Being always connected makes things feel faster and faster and the sense of being bombarded is familiar to all.  Everything risks being short-paced and bite sized.  

So sometimes it helps to slow down, take longer, and indulge in one of the most valuable things we have - time. The way we do that at MC is to book a day off, cancel all meetings, select aeroplane mode, and make a plan to ride our bikes all day. The MC Velo Longest Day is a day of riding with friends that everyone looks forward to. 

Our last Longest Day in April saw out Daylight Savings and was so good that we immediately scheduled the next ride in August. We set the date and then started to think about an adventure to somewhere new. 

We settled on a one way ride to Bowral. This route would take us along the South Coast from Sydney, turning right to Berry, and then on to Bowral - totalling 208 kms and 3142^m. Simple. It provided a range of options including train return from Wollongong, Kiama, or Berry; or even staying overnight in Bowral. The main goal would be to return by train from Bowral. 

The countdown to August began. 

Anticipation, and a little trepidation for the ride was building as we got closer.

“What about the climbing? “What about the two big climbs at the end (Berry Mountain and Barrengarry Mountain from Kangaroo Valley) after 150kms?”

The route wasn’t very different from our last ride (to Ettalong) which was 228kms and 3000^m...but the concentration of climbing in the last two climbs definitely made this one a little daunting. Added to that was we had some practical timings to return to Sydney by train at a reasonable time. The train from Bowral takes 2.5 hours and that was going to make it a late one. 

While we aim to not watch the clock on these days, the reality of making lunch appointments, ferries, or trains, means that there are places to be. Today that meant making the train to not get home too late Friday night. Added to that, I had to make my son’s AFL grand final in North Sydney by 19:30. We had some time pressure.

The only thing to do was manage our ride timings and limit unnecessary breaks. Thankfully we had some helping legs on the departure with our MC mates leading the group out. They gave us a 30kmph average until they turned for Cape Solander at Taren Point, and we then ventured southward. 

We enjoyed the sunrise behind us as we kept some pace on for our target to Stanwell Tops (Bald Hill). 

We moved through the coldest expected patch of the ride, into Helensburgh touching 5 degrees. While still early August, temperature was predicted to reach early 20’s and this made it more like a Spring morning, bringing plenty of discussion of strategic clothing choices. 

On a long ride like this, we plan timings based on an average of around 25kmph. This meant that this first section to Stanwell Tops needed to be quicker than average, for what would come later. Though balancing that, we didn’t want to go too hot too early. Jeff was a little worried about his power lasting, but I reminded him he was simply out for a morning ride with plans to stop at Berry. Jen and Julia were having a good old chat and doing some maths out loud behind me, so I knew our pace was about right (or maybe a bit slower than we needed to be to allow a maths discussion). 

We made it to Stanwell Tops on schedule averaging 29 kmph and thankfully the kiosk was closed (it was still early) and there was no temptation for (the usually very poor and slow) coffee. We had made good timing.

It was another 30kms to Wollongong where we decided it would be worth stopping for a coffee at Diggies, North Wollongong. This was a good opportunity to re-discuss clothing decisions and study all the nutrition James had brought.

Just after leaving Wollongong, Jen lost a spoke. We stopped that rattling and continued. A second, adjacent, spoke popped 1km from Bombo, 5km from Kiama. That was the end of riding for Jen unless it could be repaired, so Jen and Julia made it to Kiama and sought out a local shop to assess a repair. 

The rest of us took off to Kiama for a water stop, and continued along the coast, into and out of beach communities and rolling hills, until the right turn to Berry. Smiles on our faces all the way! Some of the pinches reminded us that we already had kms in our legs, but the sunshine, views, and air in our faces were all that mattered. 

The road into Berry is pretty nice and familiar from our Bondi2Berry rides. It is pretty straight with some small rollers, but road repairs have left several uneven sections which were like speed bumps. Our time was good, we rolled into the Berry pub hungry for lunch at 11:55.

Jen and Julia messaged to say that they were eating in Kiama awaiting news from the local bike shop on wheel repair. 

The Berry pub had everything we needed to refuel. We ordered quickly to make the most of the time we had to take a break. Our schedule had us leaving by 13:00 at the latest. 

Jeff went looking for ginger beer spider, and found himself assembling it in parts - buy a scoop of icecream from the bistro, take it to the bar for some ginger beer. He had no plans carrying that concoction up Berry Mountain - he was on a straight line to the train for Sydney! 

We assessed the next leg to Bowral as we waited for lunch and waited to hear progress on the wheel repair. 

Ecky’s plan was to “give it a crack”. He was running on very little sleep having finished work at close to midnight the day before. Full of spirit for Berry Mountain. James couldn’t think of anything other than riding for the rest of the day and not wasting a day off work. Dave had enough linguine and chilli to fire him for the remainder of the journey.

We said farewell to Frank and Jeff who took the train back to Sydney from Berry after finishing Ecky's monster wagon wheel. Jen and Julia were also headed home by train from Kiama, having been unable to have the wheel fixed. 

Bottles refilled armed with fresh electrolyte. A new dose of suncream. And with four smiles we were rolling. 

Berry Mountain is 6km long with 500^m climbing. It is steep but would have been easier if we had started our ride from Berry. We regrouped at the top and planned to stop for water in Kangaroo Valley.

Not long after I came across James who had punctured just before the main descent. Dave and Ecky were ahead, heading down the mountain. We changed the tube only to find it faulty. We tried another tube, same problem. No Co2 canisters left. No tubes left. What now?

Our plan was to hail a car and get a lift for James to Kangaroo Valley and solve the wheel there. One car reluctantly stopped so I set off down the mountain to meet them there. However, despite willingness, they couldn’t fit James and his bike in the car. In the meantime, a helpful local, Jane, had found Dave and Ecky advising them that she saw James stuck. She turned around and drove back up the mountain with Co2 for him. 

Jane returned to the valley with James and his bike and dropped him to us. Wow! Jane left us and said that her friend Katrina in the Post Office was also a cyclist and to see her if we needed any other help. 

We went through another tube Dave had and yet another Co2. What is going on?

Time was ticking. We weren’t prepared to risk any more cartridges, and so we went to find Katrina for some help. Hopefully she had a track pump so we could reliably test tubes. We found Katrina and she sent us to her house to get a track pump which we borrowed and returned. Wow! And I thought today’s ride was going to plan and there would be no story.

We spent nearly an hour getting down the mountain, playing tubes, and finding pumps. The lesson learned - we will always bring a small hand pump on Longest Days.

We had 50kms to ride to Bowral, including a mountain to climb, and at this point knew we wouldn’t make the target train. 

Amidst a long chat with James in the car, Jane had said the Barrengarry climb is not as steep as Berry Mountain. And we knew there was a visitor’s centre at Fiztroy Falls atop the mountain.  Well, the climb was a decent one, but the visitor’s centre was closed! No water, no coca-cola reward. 

What came next was a stunning segment of the ride. We rode across the plateau in the late afternoon’s falling sun. The sun lit up the road through the trees and gave us wonderful vistas which was just what we needed to push on with some tired legs.

We were 20kms from Bowral as the 16:44 train left the station. That put us just under an hour away riding, making it touch and go for the next train. The sun was fading and the air was getting cooler. As we got to Moss Vale (~8kms short of Bowral) we clocked over 200kms and decided to call it a day. 

We had to make another plan if we were to get home at a reasonable hour and also make the AFL game. We organised a maxi-taxi to take us from Moss Vale to Macarthur which would connect us to Sydney trains, cramming us and bikes into the van. 

The girls had made it directly to MC to get Jen’s wheel repaired, and were now sitting back in recovery. They were pleased we made it and asked about the tough climbs. All Ecky could murmur in response was “horrendous.” Ecky’s body just wanted to shut down, micro-sleeping in between words. Swerlo was ok, he said that “he didn’t see the devil.”

Our drive got us to the train station and then back into Central ready for a shower and dinner. We each made it home from our closest station. I made the AFL grand final and saw a crushing win 83-17!

The numbers:

  • Group total distance for the day 1,344.6 kms with climbing 18,001^m
  • Rider distance 200.25 kms, with climbing 3,106^m (from Maroubra to Moss Vale)
  • Moving time 8:30 (from Maroubra to Moss Vale). Elapsed time 11:51 (from Maroubra to Moss Vale)
  • 2 spokes
  • 1 puncture, 3 tubes, 4 CO2 canisters