Paul’s ride – The Mid West Grinder

Words & photos by Paul Melville

12 minutes

Another really big ride! Actually I think it’s my biggest bike ride so far.

Wave rock short course was close but on sealed roads. Anyway I’m on the bus for the next 6 or so hours back to Perth, mostly without reception, so it’s a good opportunity for reflection – and after I started writing I decided to make it a bit more shareable with a bit less introspection – that’s for me and my counsellor!

Anyway it was hard! Fucken hard! Not crazy elevation but constant up and down – it’s not flat out there! Freo to Coorow (pronounced ceh-roo I think) was fun and fast with the big dogs setting a cracking pace along the iconic river loop and heritage trail. The pack had separated by the top of the scarp I think. Pretty interesting scenery and some very tempting cafes and pubs along the way. The roads from Coorow to Gero definitely felt a bit more worse for wear and ANY place that sold anything edible was tempting to me at this stage.

The corrugations got to me a few times – wearing away my patience till I broke out and swore at the road or at Cam / Yohei (sorry guys but I know you understand).

The Mid West Grinder

My mind, my body and my bike were all tested on this ride. Luckily there’s no easy way out (limited phone reception and a long drive out and back for any rescuers) as I probably would have taken it at a few points – notably when my gear cable snapped just before Coorow. Fate had me pack a last minute sparey JUST IN CASE.

*Sadly this means I’m doomed to always pack a gear cable and probably never need it again (keep quiet all you wireless shifting converts – you better be carrying a spare battery and charger). Note to self – start packing the Leatherman again, those pliers would have been handy too.

Anyway the heat was brutal – super dry and up towards mid 30s and we were totally exposed most of the time. Luckily the sunscreen, zinc and dirt from Saturday had congealed to form a protective layer by Sunday and I got away with minimal sunburn! Water resupply was actually pretty good along the route – I got away with 2 x 1 litre bottles between taps (I packed a back up bottle and camelbak but never needed them) and the taps in towns were easy enough to find – only one sneaky one that Yohei and Cam put on the route and provided good micro directions to.

The temperature dropped low and fast after the sun went down – it got into the negatives according to the bike computer. On sunday night we rode through thick wet fog from midnight till after day break. I came across Cam around midnight by the road with his fire cranking – he offered me a seat and I declined as politely as possible – it would be too hard to get up again and lose that heat. Cold, wet and tired – I cycled away slowly, willing the moon to set as I knew the sunrise would follow. It did, but it always takes way longer than you hope. 

I took naps only when I was falling asleep on the bike and almost crashing, becoming adept at finding just the right scrub to crawl under for 20 minutes. The snakes and spiders didn’t seem to mind. That was Saturday night – Sunday night I had one sleep in the Mingenew disabled toilet after which it took me 5 minutes of riding to realise that the dream of going back to sleep was in the toilet and me on a bike was real – crazy dream state hallucinations. Very good time. After the second nap on Sunday night in the bushes I realised that it was too hard to warm up again after it and that my knees hurt too much after the rest too so I stopped napping.

This was the first ride I had proper hallucinations on. Sleep deprivation – coupled with twilight especially – made for some very realistic imagined visuals, the best one was pulling up in the actual middle of nowhere waiting for some guys to load there huge boat with one of those industrial fork lift loader things on to a truck or a hard stand or something. I’d seen the light of the loader from a distance first and as I got closer I sussed out that it was this boat being loaded. Then, I realised that there wasn’t anything there at all. NOT EVEN THE LIGHT. Just a big open road with nothing on it. Then there was the constant scroll of images made from patterns in the gravel, the silhouettes of roadside trees in the night and stars or shadows seeming to move towards the centre of vision. It was actually pretty entertaining and not too freaky as people have mentioned in the past that it happens on longer ultras with minimal sleep. 

Even after the sky lit up on Monday morning it took hours before I could drop layers down to the last smelly garments, at which point the heat turned right up to 11 (30ish degrees I guess) almost instantly and I could smell the finish line – even over the interesting scents of zinc, citrus (explain later) and butt cream. The end was in sight, but the last bit of the ride is always the hardest. Not really though – it was all hard – and by this point I was used to the fact that everything takes forever and time isn’t as rigid as it seems.

I was also sleep deprived and lucky for me I had something for to focus on – food rations. I missed last order’s at Mingenew hotel by 30 minutes the night before, and at 8:45pm on a Sunday night the pub is dead – so when I rocked up and asked if they were still open (thinking I’d buy some crisps to keep me going) it was met with a smirky “nah sorry mate”. So I had a squished half conti and a few muesli and protein bars plus lollies to get me through 300 or so kms and 16 hours of riding. Tight. I was thinking if I get there I’ll order yohei a burger and leave it somewhere obvious for him – turns out Shaun thought the same thing and ordered us both chips (i only find out this morning).

I saved the last half of conti roll for breakfast. I think I caved at 4:30am and scarfed it down – started tasting a bit fermented after two days in my frame bag and a lot of temperature fluctuations but it was bloody delicious. Big shout out to Jessie for the conti roll inspo and Galatis for contis under $10! I knew resupply was going to be hard after Perenjori but my sleep deprived mind didn’t think it necessary to buy takeaway sandwiches and also I was enjoying the luxury of space in my bags.

After the Monday morning conti roll I was down to my last muesli bar (after the previous “last bar”, and the one before that – I kept finding hidden ones in different bags) and lollies were down to one per hour (you start doing a lot of silly calculations by this stage). I knew it would be tight / not enough to get to the finish so I started searching for food options between me and the finish as I was really worried about bonking and Ross had posted a photo of some gnarly looking trail that had me worried about what surprises lay ahead. With little reception and even fewer options I started looking at roadside berries and considering the risks. Luckily I found an orange tree and no one was home so i grabbed a few off the overloaded tree and scarfed one there and then like an absolute monster. I hope they had cctv! Anyway that gave me a tiny physical boost and a big mental boost to just push through and maintain for the last 30 or so kms. Doesn’t seem like a lot but they were very hard because of where my body and mind were at. 

I was physically and mentally very sad by this stage and oh yes I almost forgot to mention that my bike was also dying! I must have forgotten to put a spacer and or bearing dust seal back after cleaning the cranks at work last week and after riding with music in my ears all night I took them out and thought I could hear the distant rumblings of traffic – alas that sound was coming from my bottom bracket bearings – it was coming through clearly even over the scratching of the bone dry chain for which I decided to leave the lube at home in lieu of bag space – rookie error (thanks for the chain lube Yohei). 

I really didn’t think the bike would make it over the tight steep hills on the way to the coast but maybe that was just my mind wanting a way out. I thought the chain was going to snap for sure. It didn’t. Neither did I – well, my body didn’t anyway. I was literally saying to myself over the last 20 contemplative kms how I’ll never do this ride again, and then 5 minutes or less after meeting Cam, Ross etc at the finish line I was singing a very different tune. Crazy how the mind works.

It really is an experience to see how far your body and your mind (and your bike) can go! I seriously considered pulling the plug at least twice but after much contemplation (lots of time to think out there) I came to the conclusion that it would just be easier to finish the ride and get the bus home rather than trying to get extracted with no phone reception and waiting around without much food or water!  

This route was remote and the long straight roads mess with your head, not to mention trying to weave through the corrugations. Resupply was hard on the weekend in tiny wheatbelt towns. And the scenery made me quite sad at times (mostly because of my mental state I think) – I was listening to a podcast about the voice referendum and a Gadigal man was doing an in-depth welcome to country reflecting on early settler days and I was already thinking about how different this Yamatji (?) landscape would have looked before all the clear felling. And the lack of wildlife (other than road kill). That was a pretty negative headspace I was in at the time. Good reflection nonetheless.

Most of the off-road ultra riding I’d done previously was in and amongst the forests along the darling scarp (which aren’t without their own post colonial challenges) so you’re surrounded by beauty a lot of the time which helps distract away from long distances and hours.

The beauty of ultras (in my short experience so far) is often in contrast. Whenever you come across somebody your spirits are buoyed with the slightest interaction! The shitty roadhouse sandwiches (actually quite good and fresh – shoutout Wongan hills iga) are luxurious (and pack really nicely in the back pocket of a cycling jersey). And being outside and remote for 50+ hours straight is a very special experience in and of itself. 

Anyway I’m grateful to have no reception and a long bus ride home to reflect on the ride! Usually the combination of pain and sleep deprivation makes me forget some of the fun details and can only relive the moments with other members of Perth’s growing ultra community. Speaking of – big love to the riders for showing up and sharing a pretty wild experience (on the party pace, ‘short’ course, long course and no course in particular), to the crew who led us out or cheered us on along the bike paths out of town (Shaun’s sister, Ross’ mate, PJ’s partner, John De Bes, Jamie, Tony and anyone else) the dot watchers texting on support – you crew got a few honourable mentions at the post ride brekky this morning. And big big thank yous to the biggest assholes of all who designed a route to punish a group of sickos who thought we were all punishing ourselves enough already – cheers Cam and Yohei! It was a great mix of terrain, beautiful nature reserves, rocky outcrops, cute towns etc etc. Tourism WA is indebted to you.

The inaugural Mid West Grinder is a success thanks to all your dreams, reccy rides, promotion etc! I reckon you’re inspiring more people to make new ultra routes / events and this is exciting news for Ultra Cycling in WA!

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