In the heart of winter, for the second successive year, a group of young and super naïve boyz would hop aboard their bikes at the crack of dawn, not knowing if the sunrise they were experiencing would be their last. The Soup Boys #WNTRSLSTC was back for 2017. Same start, same finish, only this time with a fresh squad, Harry in the team car armed with a single roll of film, and Wilko of MCL and VTWO rocking the content production that features so extensively throughout this story. Definitely harder, and with a few more kilometres than the maiden voyage, the 2nd annual #WNTRSLSTC had us tackle one of the longest rides manageable, on the shortest day of the year, and seeing if you make it to dinner that night.
I: THE SQUAD
The crack selection of riders for last years #WNTRSLSTC, while experienced in the philosophies of “bulk kays” hadn’t clocked the 256km distance before, let alone 3500 vertical metres added into the mix. Things were a little different the second time around, whether through inspiration and motivation of the first edition or not, now riders were returning having completed 2 day rides to Adelaide, Festive 500 single ride completions, 3 peaks and triple centuries. Some fresh new faces joined now seasoned veterans of the Solstice, eager to push their own personal benchmarks of their longest, or hardest, or most cooked ride along a brand new route that would be a little harder, and fractionally longer than 2016’s.
Plate upon plate of pasta was served hot and ready as everyone pulled up at the top of the hill of Adrian’s parents home, the slow release of carbs across the next 24 hours would be vital. In the morning this was accompanied by toasts, cereals, fruit and freshly ground caffé latte beans before as a collective we drove down the road to the official starting line – the Sandy Creek Football Ground.
Bikes prepped, warm up tunes playing, layers upon layers of clothing applied. Things were looking up as moments before 7am we rolled out from the ticket booth of the famed if not wildly underused football ground. In the event none or any of us would live to see another day, we made sure to snap a #squad pic for our mothers, girlfriends and wives to remember us by. For come sun down we would be changed boyz.
II: DEFINITELY TARMAC
Of the days 260km journey, only the first 15 would have us on the familiar roads of 2016 – the first (immediate) climb from the football ground to the top of Lockharts Gap. With our ascent, the sun began to peek through the low lying clouds of the gap, the mist and fog only interrupted by the beats of Okky’s UE Boom.
Morning broke proper as we followed the twists of the Mitta River, with the exception of napping campers, locals collecting their mail, and livestock – our audience was scant. The forecast was for 16ºC, and given our pace for the first 50km we were looking smooth for the remaining 7 hours of daylight.
The lumpy tarmac of the Mitta Valley took a brief hiatus as we turned off a back road onto an even smaller one. Having started the day in the Kiewa Valley, we pushed our way through the clouds, onto gravel and over to the Tallangatta Valley, the sun going into absolute hiding in the process. We wouldn’t see our old, warm friend for quite some time. The low lying cloud would follow us on the unrelenting climbs towards the Snowy Mountains, arriving at the soon-to-be open Koetong Hotel. While there was A Fire Inside, we weren’t feeling a Love Like Winter – the kitchen wouldn’t open for another 90 minutes. Instead we opted for the rolling hills towards Corryong, needing to break for a wholesale pitstop. A piss, a zoot, some bidons filled with hot tea and some mixed lollies would be our cure. For Okky it would take a little more, as it is at this stage – 99.4km and 1300 vertical metres into the ride – that we formally reveal and/or acknowledge that he was riding his Cinelli Mash with no brakes, and just the one gear.
III: FEED ZONE
From Guys Forest, it was a Sanchez descending masterclass down into Cudgewa. The town was entirely MIA given the local Blue Boys were taking on Walwa at the ground down the road. They would go on to lose by 80 points. In the cruiser, Harry and Wilko went and emptied out the Corryong Bakery of all their hot baked goods, returning to the CBD of Cudgewa with sausage rolls, pasties and pies to warm the cockles of our hearts.
It would be the consumption of the crisp, golden pastries that would have us spring back into life, at least for the time being. We rediscovered our voices and began ribbing each other over being dropped on climbs, and fighting for the last crumbs of the bakery care package. In the process we must have awoken the only resident of Cudgewa not attending this afternoons football game, as music to drown us out began echoing from a nearby garage and out into the crispest Upper Murray Valley air you could possibly experience. Whoever it was had proper good taste too, playing songs that boosted our currently rock bottom levels of morale, and adding to the great ambience of the town.
IV: DEFINITELY GRAVEL
It wouldn’t be long after passing the football ground, and discovering why the town which is largely abandoned on a busy day, was extra eerie and extra quiet. The middle section of the ride had us journeying through dank timber forests and land largely uninhabited by livestock, but now, back on the floodplains of the Upper Murray Valley we returned to pure dairy country at the feet of the Snowy Mountains.
The gravel we had experienced earlier in the day while a good warm up could have never prepared us for what lay ahead as the road head skyward to the Cudgewa Bluff Falls. Short, sharp, rocky. A climb truly impossible for Okky to get up or down on his fixie meant he temporarily relegated himself to the car as the rest of the squad zig zagged their way up to the feet of the climb out of necessity through the gradient, and to pick a smooth, less rock and stick infested line.
A quick viewing of the falls and it was straight back down, remaining on gravel roads on the way up Mount Cudgewa. A gravel track that was significantly more comfortable to ride up, but one that claimed the first mechanical victim of #WNTRSLSTC. Adrian shredded a front tyre descending, waiting on the roadside with his wheel waving in the air. Okky, now back on two wheels, UE Boom in his back pocket was shredding the descent better than anyone, despite the lack of brakes, or because the lack of brakes.
13km up, and the same down the other side. It was at a long stretch of smooth, smooth gravel before we dipped and returned to tarmac. Spat back out at Walwa, we would sit behind the cruiser on the way into town, the New South Wales border well in sight.
V: CONTINGENCY PLANS
The Walwa General Store. Run by a truly charming elderly lady, and her well…less than charming partner slash husband. Sure she was super shocked to see some cyclists in her neck of the woods, shock that only intensified once she had heard of where we had ridden from. Her partner slash husband was less than impressed, for reasons we are not so sure. If Walwa got internet (god knows it hardly has mobile reception) we’re sure he would be roaming the Pay Rego pages we all hold so close to our hearts.
But the contingency plan, it was rather quite simple. The time was 4pm, with roughly one hour daylight remaining, and two possible options. Option A was we cross into enemy territory, New South Wales. It seems extreme, but at the time, while we sat in the Walwa General Store being cared for by Bev (we’re calling her that due to her warm, caring nature, its a name that matches) and being judged by Wayne (harsh, unpleasant to say, just like it was unpleasant to be in his judge presence, possible a mutual feeling) New South Wales was only three kilometres away. From there it would be a mostly flat gravel road which we would follow for 50km, cross Lake Hume on a ferry that ran until 8pm, then 15km on tarmac to the final climb of the day, and our road home. Option B was stay in Victoria, follow the same road we would connect to post-Ferry, an option that was lumpier and 15km longer. 4.20 rolled by, and with the peace pipe in our hands we made a decision.
VI: LAST LIGHTS WITH KNOG
We went for Option B. A few kilometres past the turn off to Jingelic, and the town immediately over the border was a sign. Tallangatta 101 kilometres. By the time we got to the bottom of the final climb, we had seen the sun return for the first time since 8am. Hell, we saw something other than fog for the first time since then. We climbed, we span, we held onto the Landcruiser, we drafted the Landcruiser til we felt giddy and vomited from the diesel fumes.
Okky, with legs that needed to be in constant agony in order for him to continue on, went off the front in search of a deeper meaning to life. Adrian, vomiting from the fumes, pulled out in front of the cruiser and let Harry draft him for 20km in a move Wilko described as “coming back from the dead and producing the ride of the day.” Zeke, Dean and Cam traded turns as the flashing lights of our bikes bounced off the water of Lake Hume. However ultimately, on the road between Granya and Talgarno our hand was forced into another Option A or Option B type scenario.
It was a few minutes short of 8pm on the Murray River Road. Harry and Wilko, in the cruiser, turned left and head towards Granya. The riders, turned right, guided by nothing other than the Knog lights gifted to us in the event this exact kind of shit would go down. Soon after they would hit the bottom of the final climb. But with no idea where the car was, if they knew where we were, or if we would even make it to the top of this steepest-of-the-day gravel climb alive. Adrian took a nap between a road and a creek, bodies were rubbed to keep warm on a day that was constantly no less than 10ºC below the forecasted weather, and the last morsels of Allen’s Party Mix was chomped on. Soon to the whirring of an engine, and music playing through the valley, Harry’s car, the third car we had seen in 80 kilometres of riding, had found us again.
VII: BONUS INTRUCTIONAL
Have you ever wondered how you can fit 7 Soup Boys, 1 hot videographer and 6 bikes into a single car? No? Well you’ve got your shit together a whole lot more than us. Here is a quick and easy guide to show you how.
Say hello to: Option C.
Despite the fact the following morning welcomed us with full bellies from soup and pasta for the second night running, and offerings of toasts, cereals and fruits for breakfast; a unanimous vote was held to formally welcome in the new day at the Kiewa General Store. 10am was the time we rolled in, and despite the fact the bain-marie’s didn’t have any hot jam donuts in them, the ladies running the show this fine Sunday morning were happy to oblige us with 6 donuts each a few minutes later. Washed down with the finest milk of the Kiewa Valley. To endure a single #WNTRSLSTC is one thing, but driving back to Melbourne on a beautifully sunny winters day is simply the biggest kick in the guts you could get. Until next time.