Ben Lomond

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I rolled to a stop after crossing a small creek and looked at the (tiny) climb in front of me … it should have been such an easy little climb, heck technically I was riding down Ben Lomond, but at the same time that that thought went through my mind another explosive fit of chest deep coughing racked my body and I stepped off my bike ready to push … it was that or fall off.

As I lent deep across my handlebars trying to suck in air and calm my coughing, I can assure you that any euphoria I had from this ride had well and truly dissipated and I struggled to remember who had come up with the dumb idea of riding up Ben Lomond today …

Then I remembered …. it was me.

In fact not only had I decided that it was a good idea to come up here, I’d climbed out of a nice warm bed, kissed a beautiful girlfriend goodbye (not sure if she noticed this as she was so busy reading Facebook stuff on pine-apple) and then set off by myself for a weekend of XC riding in the north of the State.

That had sounded like such a great idea during the week as I’d stolen the odd moment to look at weather forecasts and plot possible routes.

The initial plan was to head up and ride some easy trails around Launceston and Gravelly Beach, find somewhere to crash for the night, and then join the LMBC on a ride on some private trails out near Ben Lomond on the Sunday … but then just north of Campbell Town I noticed that it was a beautiful clear day over Ben Lomond and then I thought about how rare that had been (at least on my visits)  in the last few months …

Now, to understand what happened next, you need to understand that I’ve been meaning to get to Ben Lomond even since Peter Bird sent me a map of a XC course in the foothills of Ben Lomond back in January, and for the last couple of years I’ve looked at the LMBC Ben Lomond King of the Mountain race and thought how nice it would be to say I’ve ridden up Jacob’s Ladder … so the seeds were there, all it needed was a turn of the steering wheel and a willingness to abandon the days plans to make it happen.

Suffice to say, about an hour after leaving Campbell Town I’d found my way to the XC course on Ben Lomond and was ready to ride …

Which was a bit of a shame because I reckon I pushed a good portion of the first kilometre of the ride as my lungs and legs sent me the first signs that they might not actually agree with me that riding up a mountain was a good idea today.

But that’s why I carry a camera and I took lots of photo stops over the next hour as I slowly rode my way up the tracks and trails following the KOM course until it dropped me out on the main Ben Lomond Road about 7kms from where I started and about 13kms from the ski village.

I emerged from the bush trails feeling good, but very wet and muddy from the many little creeks that were running down the track.  But a bit of wet didn’t worry me as it was a fine and sunny day and I just settled into the climb on the virtually empty road (I think I saw six cars the entire ride) and proceeded upwards …

About 2 or 3 kms from where I joined the road I came upon a little picnic area where I pulled off for  a break (thinking wrongly that I was almost at the top but in reality was only half way there with something like 10kms to go).  After a short break, I then continued on up the climb enjoying the open bushland, rock screes, expanding views and rocky cliffs.

Finally, about 14kms from my car, I came around the corner and there in front of me was jacob’s ladder …

I shall not even attempt to deceive you into thinking that Jacob’s ladder is anything other than steep and challenging.   I think it took me almost as long to ride up here as it took Ben Mather to ride the entire KOM race (which is both inspiring and depressing at the same time) but despite its steepness, it’s not actually that far and on a clear day it is an absolutely must do, gorgeous ride.

There’s even a little lookout platform, which you can see the whole way up, that you can ride out onto to take your victory photos at the top (you’ll note no victory photo form me – I didn’t have the energy as I was racked with coughing fits by this stage).

From the top of Jacob’s ladder it’s still about 2kms of fairly easy riding to the village, which I’m guessing everyone (like me) will do just to say they’ve done it, but truth be told there’s not much to see or do here in summer unless you’ve brought gear to go for a walk.

Despite a glimmer of hope that I might be able to get a hot meal when I pulled up in the car park and saw a sign that the inn was open, the truth was everything was very much closed …

… except the day shelter with toilets and a sitting area which was open and it was when I walked in here that I suddenly realised just how incredibly cold I was … my hands and feet were frozen icicles.

This is when I also recalled how, when I was throwing my cycling gear on a few hours earlier, I’d left my full fingered gloves, my leg and arm warmers and my wonderful, wonderful Ground Effect merino socks back in the car because it was such a wonderful sunny day and I figured I wouldn’t need them.

Did I pay for that over what should have been 13kms of wonderful descending back down to the bush tracks.

My day turned from euphoric (I’d really enjoyed the ride up, despite all my coughing) to miserable as I struggled to get warmth and feeling (other than pain) back into my hands and feet on the way down.

I’d also discovered on the way up that my rear brake pads were near their end (yep, I had two sets of pads sitting back in my car as well) so not only did I descend Jacob’s ladder without any feeling below my elbows, I did it using only my front brakes most of the way.

That was fun.

By the time I got back onto the bush tracks I was just ready to get back to my car and even the smallest incline sent me into a bout of coughing – I was cold and I was obviously sicker than I thought, but despite that the descent was just too fun not to enjoy, at least a little bit, so I just pushed my bike up the few little inclines (there weren’t many) and enjoyed the run back down the hill to my car.

I still had the energy to head off and explore the top half of the XC track on the way to the car and boy am I glad I did as it’s a really nice track with lots of nice switchbacks and some great runs which helped me forget about how bad I was feeling (well, except for every little incline).

Nearly four and a half hours after leaving I finally rolled back to my car (it was only a 40km ride) and it was an easy decision to forego the joys of the lower half of the XC track until another day as I climbed into some warm clothes, jacked up the car heater to maximum, and decided that tomorrow wasn’t going to be a day for riding and it was time to go home.

An hour or so later, I was back in Campbell Town with some hot food and caffeine inside me and the world was looking much happier.

Although the weekend may not have gone anywhere like planned (situation normal for me), by this time I was already thinking that maybe I could convince Kim to head back up here in a few weeks for the LMBC’s dazzler range ride and we could pick off some of the other trails I meant to ride this weekend at the same time …

As the saying goes … not all those who wander are lost, and may I just add to that “just because it hurts, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.”

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