...and back again.
The last time I drove the Alpine Way beyond the Dead Horse was probably 10 years ago. I remembered a relentlessly winding undulating road, where vehicle and concentration are tested with little respite.
Bumping into Zlatko a few weeks back, he suggested that Thredbo-Khancobin return was as hard as 3peaks. The same altitude gain compressed into 150 km. Sounded like a great adventure through beautiful country.
The opportunity presented itself. We were there, and we had road bikes instead of the usual mounties. We rolled out of Dugbo at 7 sharp. Crystal clear morning, maybe 15 degrees. As we slowly cranked up to Dead Horse Gap, pockets of distinctly warm air flagged what the day was likely to become. Some terrific views through the trees betray the looming drop; 1600 m to 500 m in 18 km. The top of the descent is a delight, cruising down moderate grades through sub alpine tall timber. The road steepens before easing very briefly, approx half way, at the Leather Barrel Creek picnic area. The final 8 km are technical, steep and narrow. Unfamiliar with what might present round the next corner, we play it safe. Not super value in that regard - a theme for the day. We bottom out, kissing the Murray River (and Victorian border) at Tom Groggin. 100 m later we are climbing again.
Dead chip seal, steep pinches and slow drags become the order of the morning. We've only covered 25 km in the first hour, despite losing a km of altitude. It becomes apparent that this is going to be a longer day than I'd envisaged. Looking at the Thredbo to Khancoban profile (1400 m start and 300 m finish) I thought we'd cruise the 76 km easily in under 3 hours. Think again. We finally get some pay dirt in the fast run into Geehi (which the Mudge and I yell with gusto in the stye of YeeeHaa!). We almost get an entirely flat km before the road tilts upwards and the next 8 % sector slows progress.
The pinch out of Geehi was just an aperitif for the main climb of the morning, taking us from 500 m back up to 1000 m over 8 km. The road is unlike any I've ridden before, threading through a dozen steep walled cuttings, with chicken wire holding everything in place. Steep, narrow, dead track. At least it was largely shaded, with almost zero traffic. We eventually top out at Scammel's Spur and get some pretty amazing views along the ridge-top before the plummet past the power station all the way into town. Thankfully the grade for most of the descent is mild. Good value (GeeeHai!) and not so nasty for the return run.
We roll into Khancoban with exactly 76 km and 3 hours 26 min on the clock. The cafe does excellent fried egg sandwiches and perhaps the most magnificent milkshake in my memory. Tall tin cup, filled to the brim and sweating with condensation. The surface was so cold we cradled it in our hands, much the way cold hands savour a warm mug. Ice cream headache cold!
Conditions were warm and muggy. With 31 C forecast it was now 11 am and time to get moving. We sweat buckets as we grind from 300m, back up the exposed road past the Murray 1 Power Station. The upper climb is more shaded. We pause to watch a brown snake make its way lazily across the tarmac, avoiding the fate of a dozen of less fortunates. The plummet down through the cuttings is punctuated by breathtaking views of the main range. GeeeHai! Bottoming out we are climbing immediately before dropping once again into Geehi. Now with added gusto; GeeeHai! We both agree that, aside from the impending big climb at the end, the rest of the course is easier in return mode; shallower climbs, and pay dirt down all those nasty pinches we suffered on the way out.
Another shallow grind is followed by yet another fast run to Tom Groggin. The calm before the storm. Anita is starting to suffer from hot-foot, so we sooth feet in Snowy Creek and fill bottles before facing the first half of the big one; 8 km at 8-10%. It was tough. Lots of snail-pace chugging before the brief respite at Leather Barrel. We press on and up the last few steep Kms. The gradient eventually eases off in the trees. Just shy of Dead Horse we hear the once elusive Crescent Honeyeaters everywhere. So this is where they hang out. A final GeeeHai!, as the top is gained before dropping back to village just shy of 4 pm, and, more crucially, before the closing of the bakery.
All in all a top day out, covering 155 km and 4150 meters through some amazing country. Not quite as tough as 3 peaks, but then again we weren't trying to post a blistering time. Sometimes pacing makes all the difference.