We had rolled out 7 hours earlier on a chilly morning that was quickly forgotten as we hit the first climb of the day on the Eildon - Jamieson road. The lazy intro was shattered by a solid then sapping bit of pace setting by Marty and Dan. Our fellowship of 8 was spread across the 7km climb and I was already questioning whether I was overdressed. We came together again on the descent to Big River only for the roller coaster of a road to break us apart again on the spectacular climb to Mt Terrible. I was questioning my choice of clothing again near the top, this time wondering whether I would be warm enough on the descent in the cold drizzle that had moved in. The bunch waited at the Jamieson turn off and we all rode together, now in the sunshine, at a respectable pace only interrupted by the often forgotten Martin Gap, a sneaky little tester that re-introduced the pain.
Soon we were invading the General Store at Goughs Bay, the gateway to our first section of dirt. A chance to refuel and top up our water bottles with Col and Dan taking the chance to jump ahead - we weren't to see Dan again until Eildon. The 10kms of dirt out of Eildon was a friendly affair, the surface well packed and with minimal corrugation or pot holes. A pleasant tailwind had us rolling pacy turns for the remained sealed 10km to the Mansfield - Yea Rd, aka the Highway of Death. Fortunately, a rail trail runs in parallel to the aforementioned highway, a far more satisfying trip to Bonnie Doon on a good gravel surface.
Bonnie Doon - ah the serenity (sorry, I had to say it). The road heading south is a beautiful contouring twister that hugs the lake right up until the point you come over a little rise. What greets you at that point has been described as "the wall of dirt". Your eyes follow the telephone poles as they disappear into the trees at the bottom of a hill. The strip of blacktop vanishes and there is a perfect little slice of red dirt pulling up and into the trees. By the time you hit it, you are already on a 10% sealed climb but the corrugated dirt surface pulled to almost double that at 18%. It rises brutally for a kilometres before the climb releases you from its grip and you emerge above the tree line to a smooth surface, a continuous series of rollers and spectacular views across both Eildon and the Cathedral Range from Skyline Rd.
The reward for your efforts is a swooping descent into Elidon over the last 10kms punctuated by a rude and unexpected uphill 2km tester (not that steep or hard unless you didn't know it was there and were already in "no more work until the finish" mode, like I was) before the final plunge into the township.
So here we have a modern classic. 175km, 50km of dirt and 2500m of climbing with no options for shortcuts unless you and your bike can swim across the Lake!
Total distance: 174km
Total metres climbed: 2500m
Elapsed time: 7hrs 25mins
Ride data: http://www.strava.com/activities/57654536