Our Dams Adventure
I’ve been cycling semi-regularly since I was about three. Depending on how far my commute was, I’d cycle when I could. I even survived cycling to work in London as it was much nicer than crowded, unreliable public transport.
I moved back to Perth a couple of years ago after almost a decade in the UK and really appreciated the Australian climate which allowed me to cycle more regularly. I was keen to join a group so I could improve my cycling fitness. I’d seen a number of cycling groups around Perth around but felt quite intimidated to find myself out of my depth.
I’d seen a handful of “She Rides” cycling course ads on Facebook. I signed up for the “She Rides Together” course which suited my cycling ability. I could learn about riding in a group in a friendly environment. Our Kings Park She Rides Together group were quiet as we got to know each other. That quickly changed as we went for a few rides.
During our “She Rides Together” course, I quickly learned the techniques and benefits of cycling in a group. Our group of ladies were a terrific bunch. We often stayed for coffee after our She Rides sessions, talking for longer than we actually rode!
Our She Rides group kept in touch after the completion of the course and organised our own rides. We entered the 40km Armadale Grand Fondo the week after our She Rides course finished. Sally and I found ourselves up ahead of the group at a good speed while we were chatting.
I’d heard of the “Dams Challenge”, a single-day cycling event in the Perth hills. I mentioned to it Sally who promptly signed both of us up as a pair before we knew too much about what was involved. At that time, a “big” ride for us would be about 40km. The 3 Dams Challenge is 145km with about 1,800m of climbing. It was only three months away.
The first month of our training was consistently riding for at least an hour, three times per week, climbing hills where possible. We were very excited to complete hills ride of over 30km at the end of January with about 400m of ascent.
We intensified our training effort in February, mixing hills with flat rides to increase distance and time on the bike. Our first “big” climb was up Welshpool Road, around 250m of climbing taking about 30 minutes. We knew it was getting hard as we had to stop talking to breathe enough to complete the climb.
Sally’s partner, Adrian, completed the 3 Dams Challenge last year and took us on some tough weekend training rides he’d done to prepare himself for the event. We ensured we were out for at least four hours in different conditions. We experimented with what to eat, drink and wear for a long time on the bike. It was the height of summer so we’d be up before dawn to ride in cooler temperatures. Sally and I had our individual ups and downs during these longer rides but we worked very well as a team to help each other.
We also needed to manage rest time. We were honest with each other when we weren’t feeling well on a tough ride. We managed our training load to ensure that we didn’t get run down. Leg massages and were required to keep the legs relatively fresh along with the foam roller every day. We both have active lifestyles and made adjustments to our exercise routines to ensure cycling was our priority.
Adrian lead us on the “2 Dams” ride, our last big training ride, a few weeks before the 3 Dams event itself. A 5.30am start, and we managed 110km with 1,300m of climbing. Strava rated it as “Extreme”. It was hot towards the end so we jumped into the river in all our cycling gear to cool off!
The day of the 3 Dams Challenge finally arrived. Our aim was to enjoy it and finish comfortably. The first big climb was Greenmount Hill. We hadn’t actually climbed Greenmount Hill in our training but we felt good on the climb. Several other competitors commented that we weren’t trying hard enough as we were talking too much!
It was a great boost to see some of our She Rides friends supporting us along the route, especially at the top of the first climb. It was the hottest day for a few weeks. I was overheating so much that I felt cold. We pulled over to a service station, bought some cold water and poured some over our heads to cool off. I was seriously considering standing in the beer fridge for a while!
After that break we agreed to back off on the pace a little so we wouldn’t overheat. We continued the slog towards Canning Dam, where the road gets very rough. The “2 Dams” training ride had taken us on that route before so we knew what was coming and continued to successfully negotiate each climb. A lot of competitors were suffering in the heat and we saw a number of cyclists lying under trees to cool off.
We finished our last climb out of Wungong Dam and we were thrilled to reach Albany Highway and the descent into Armadale. Only 40km to go! The ride got really hard, it was early afternoon and we could feel the heat coming off the tarmac even more. We knew it was hard as weren’t talking much now apart from swapping the lead rider. We powered on. We had one last stop on the Kwinana Freeway and welcomed some ice and cold water poured over us.
Finally, we made it to the finish at Curtin University. We were elated to cross the finish line and all the pain disappeared with the adrenaline rush. Our supporters took a few photos with our well-earned medals and celebrated with us. It was a fantastic achievement.
Sally and I have enjoyed the journey of our training and the Dams Challenge itself which has cemented our friendship. Our experience of the She Rides Together course a year ago and completing the Dams Challenge has given us a terrific platform to take our cycling further. However, I’m not sure we’ll be signing up for the 3 Dams Challenge next year!
Love the story Elwyn. What a gritty adventure! We'll find to you and Sally
great description of your adventure. such a terrific challenge and accomplishment i am sure you are both thrilled with the finish. go she rides grads!!!!
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