Words and photos by Mattie Gould (@mattiejgould)
The Capital Divide route traverses the ACT and we would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this beautiful region.
Looking ahead and seeing a gentle incline, the trail littered with fallen branches and leaves, I climbed out of the saddle and began pushing my bike. I knew this section of the route wasn’t particularly challenging and the trail was rideable, but I felt like I had nothing left to offer. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that exhausted during a bike ride before, but rather than feeling depressed or anxious about my current state, I was delighted. I’d reached my limit and was meeting it with a smile on my face.
Six weeks earlier, thinking the Vic Divide was going to be cancelled because of border closures and travel restrictions, the Capital Divide was born. With the help of Ty Domin (@tydomin), we’d created a 250-kilometre route that takes in the northern and southern borders of the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and traverses out west to climb the Brindabella Mountains.
The aim was to create a new route for the ACT that could be tackled in a variety of ways. Sure, you could take on the whole route in a day or two, but it also divided nicely into three easily accessible sections that make great standalone rides and offered a good deal of diversity.
Out of the 40 riders that turned up for the inaugural weekend of the Capital Divide, most were only planning to ride a section of the route, rather than the whole thing. For my part, I was hoping to race the entire route in less than 24 hours, completing my first bikepacking ‘race’ and my longest single ride at the same time. Nothing like a foolish challenge to make the most of a weekend!
Despite feeling great for the first 80km of the ride, the following 30km completely threw me for six. I’d ridden this section of the route through the Brindabella Mountains the week before and I approached it feeling confident. Probably with false confidence, if truth be told. The week before it was a cool 10°C (50°F) with a light mist. I was well rested and feeling great. This time around, I’d already ridden a hard 80km, the sun was blazing down a relentless 30°C (86°F), and I was low on energy.
These next 30km of ascending the Brindabella Mountains would see us gaining 1,200 vertical metres over a couple of hours riding in the full sun. When we reached the summit, I knew my chances of completing the ride were under threat. Having not ridden to the point of exhaustion before, preferring to ride shorter distances at party pace, I found myself in a new and strange position. I was hitting the wall and I had a choice to make. To continue, to call in help, or to change the route.
Hindsight is an incredibly testing challenge. And reflecting on my choices, I wonder if I should have tried to continue to the end of the line. But at the time, I just couldn’t face it. Choosing instead to push on, changing the route, and riding 70km back to the start line. Effectively turning the Capital Divide into a 180km loop ride.
Ultimately I feel like I made the best decision I could at the time, and I learnt a lot about myself in the process. I’ve been wanting to scratch the racing itch for a long time, wondering all the time if it’s for me. I’m not sure if I’ve answered that question yet, but racing the Capital Divide last weekend was something I wasn’t quite ready for. In the end, the lure of pizza and returning home to my little family was what I needed to ride home that afternoon, and for that I have no regrets.
As for the Capital Divide, I’m already planning a redemption ride for later in autumn. Hopefully the lessons I’ve learned from this attempt will see me through to the end. And if they don’t, I’ll have a bloody good time trying.
Congratulations to everyone else who came out to ride the first Capital Divide. Whether you made it through the first 50km or all the way through to the end, I hope you got the experience you were chasing. Thank you for taking a chance on a new route. You’re welcome back any time!
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