Monday, November 18, 2013

The Snowy Mountains Scheme

At the dinner table last night Vinnie from Seattle gave a little extra encouragement. If I just make it to Cabramurra, he said, everything will be OK. Vinnie was here last time, in 2009. So he remembers. Kind of.

He was making amends for a certain thread at the pre-ride dinner, where the guys were busy scaring the heck out of each other about Day 2. Apparently my eyes were big and my expression fearful, which he felt bad about later.

In fact there was more disbelief than fear. WHY are you people trying to PSYCH each other out? We're in the chute! If Day 2 is super hard, WHAT exactly can be done about it now? That's right, NOT A THING!!

If it sounds as if the hard climbing is before Cabramurra, that is not the case. While Cabramurra is a high point, from there we descend, giving up all that elevation. Then face the two hardest climbs of the day. It's more like, if you still have some fight left in you at Cabramurra, you'll probably survive the last 80 km!

It's a beautiful day, perfect weather for cycling in the mountains. After climbing all afternoon, we've just turned left toward the control. The grade is gentle but still it's 8 km to the top.

This just feels like bonus effort. Is Cabramurra way up here for a claim to fame? The highest town in Australia? Does it really need a label that badly?

Toward us comes a happy group of riders, leaving the control. It's Wayne from Perth and a few friends, waving! Wayne is actually sticking out his tongue. In fact, he's waving his tongue...

The road snakes around some massive power infrastructure, the heart of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The real reason Cabramurra is where it is. It's a company town, all about hydroelectric power. Situated where the water starts flowing downhill.

The control is at the well-kept cafe, owned (like everything else) by Snowy Hydro. We spend a good half hour, letting the chef and volunteers take care of us. The glutinous food looks great, but the chef brings me a special salad and rice to go with a bowl of potato leek soup. Best food in town!

We leave happy, retracing our steps to the turn and heading suddenly, precipitously down.
After few seconds I grab the brakes, wanting to make sure this isn't a big mistake. Too steep to undo. Yep, Goat Ridge Road toward Tooma and Tumbarumba. This is the right way.

The most direct route between two points, a way that humans under their own power would never come up with. An epic downhill that goes on forever (or 15 km). Weird rippling pavement and sharp ungraded turns. My eyes stay glued to the road. And there's no stopping the bike. With brakes full on, the Waterford keeps sliding, dipping with the pavement. The pads are making that stressed, scraping sound against their rims. It is, weirdly, slow going.

Whenever the brakes are relaxed, it feels like free fall.

Down we go into the deep forest, into an ancient ravine surrounded by ridges. Many birds, you can tell by the quick movements in the trees and the music of their calls. A shady, wild retreat.

Finally at the bottom we cross a river, the Tumut. The road follows it gently downhill for a little while, the water and trees and rocks laying out a sensory feast. After surviving the wilds of Sydney and the Monaro Highway, this is more like it! I'd love nothing more than to stop and breathe a little and take photos, but every moment counts. We've been on the road for 15 hours, making our way to The Big Hill. The shadows on the hills are getting deep.

Sarah and David and I compare notes on the descent, relieved to be out of its clutches. No talk of what's coming up. But everyone's thinking the climb out of here, is it like that thing we just came down?

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