January 26, Bright VIC, 4am.
It is black. It is cold.
Mt Hotham, Falls Creek, Tawonga Gap.
Anticipation has hit unbelievable heights as the ACE-250 riders await the send-off.
The world of natural beauty and physical pain are about to intersect on a grand scale.
It doesn’t matter what order they come in, the 4am start taking in two horse category climbs, a category 1 climb and numerous other categorised climbs, is the pick of the high country rides - according to this author.
We roll-out en-mass, swallowed up by the darkness as we leave Bright.
250km and 4500m of vertical ascending are to be covered before we return back to this amazing town located deep in the High Country.
There are no street lights when you leave Bright. Suburbia is a world away. You can’t see the mountains above you or the forests around you as we snake our way along the dark windy road to Harrietville, the foot of Mt Hotham, in the total darkness of night.
The 30km climb to the pinnacle of Mt Hotham at this hour is unbelievable. The memory of the climb at this hour will be with me – and everyone else who rode it, forever. The red lights of the bikes further up the mountain dotting the path of the road in the darkness ahead, the white lights of riders further down the mountain marking out the windy road back down to Harrietville, the sound of the bell ringer in the darkness at the Meg shouting “Got no wind and got no rain, so here it is, bring on the pain!!” as I stand on the peddles and make my way up this insanely steep section begging for mercy.
As the climb continues, the first rays of light start to break through the sky and light up the majestic mountain ranges we are riding through. The trees start to take shape, and the deep valleys off the edges of the road can now be seen clearly. Still climbing, we reach elevations where trees start to thin out to the point where they just simply do not exist.
The road makes its way up to the ridgeline of the range tracing its way across the top of the mountain always climbing to the pinnacle that is Mt Hotham.
Panoramic views of the Alpine range beheld from this ridgeline are beyond breathtaking, and at this hour, they were truly eternal memories. The valleys, swallowed up in a sea of mist as far as the eye can see with only the tallest peaks poking through like islands in an ocean of white. Some riders stop to take photos, others slow down to take it in, but before we knew it, the road descended into the mist momentarily before we climbed our way out for another 8km through to the peak of Mt Hotham.
The higher we climbed, the brighter the sky became as bands of purple, red, orange and yellow appeared on the horizon marking the arrival of the glorious morning as we crested Mt Hotham, smiled at the photographer, took a swig of the water bottle and thanked God the first major climb was over .... only 200km to go ....
Contributed by Joseph Farah