Since it first kicked off in 2010, the ride as Ol’ Dirty has involved all the things we love most about riding at La Velocita: challenging yourself, exploring new roads, spending quality time with mates, and a detailed knowledge of the history of rap music.
Ol’ Dirty is a ride organised in a different location every year and is masterminded by Andy van Bergen and the crew at Hells 500. It’s an event renowned for exploration of rarely-ridden roads, extravagant and creatively-themed rest stops, plenty of gravel and dirt (as the name might imply), and liberal references to the musical catalogue of the rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Riders tackle a course of 60-80km over most of a day on anything from road bikes with 25mm tyres to disc brake-equipped cyclocross bikes to full-suspension mountain bikes!
I’d never ridden Ol’ Dirty ride before, but seeing as I own both a CX bike and a surprisingly extensive collection of old school hip-hop albums for someone who grew up on a dairy farm in country Victoria, I figured there was no better time to dive right in and do the Dirty.
I unintentionally started the day off in true superstar style by arriving in Marysville at a time that could be favourably described as ‘fashionably late’. In reality, it was a mad rush to change and get the bike ready in time to make it to the pre-ride briefing - I only ended up throwing one energy bar in my pocket, and was unable to meet up with Caroline, Fe, and Adam, the riding buddies I was meant to spend the day with.
After Andy explained that the course would involve a choice between a high road and a low road (with the high road being more scenic, but also more difficult), as well as a technically-closed-but-still-rideable shortcut that would reduce the total distance of the day for riders who struggled with the tough going. Shortly afterwards the main bunch rolled out, resplendent in the Ol’ Dirty buffs that were part of the rider’s welcome pack, with riders happily chatting to their friends and eagerly anticipating the surprises that the day would hold.
Mood: Upbeat and ready for anything.
Mood music: Jump Around - House of Pain.
After a couple of gentle kilometres on the main road north out of Marysville, the route swung right onto Eagle’s Nest Rd and immediately began the day’s climbing with a 2.6km climb on a mix of bitumen and gravel. Although the climb averaged 9%, there were extended sections at around 15% - a pretty rude awakening seeing as I’d only gotten out of the car ten minutes earlier. Plenty of people were walking up the climb a lot sooner than they might have anticipated, and it was mainly my ego that stopped me from joining them - meaning I spent a lot of matches that [spoiler alert] I really should have saved for later in the day.
Mood: Confident. Even overconfident.
Shortly after reaching the top of the Eagles Nest Rd climb, the route turned into some bushy doubletrack for a short stretch before a brief (but very welcome) descent and a turn onto the Dennehy Track.
Viciously steep and offering very little grip in places, it forced every rider I saw to dismount and walk at one point or another - it got to the point where even pushing your bike up the hill was enough to leave most gasping for breath. After a 4km stretch completed at the breakneck pace of 6km/h, the route reached a small rest stop. I refilled my bidons and tackled the day’s first tough choice: high road or low road?
The high road promised better views, but would guarantee steep gradients and having to walk parts of the route, while the low road was less scenic but also less challenging.
Mood: Accepting that sometimes low is better.
Mood music: Get Low - Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz
In hindsight, taking the low road was a good option - there were still plenty of scenic views for along Mt Margaret Rd, and the good road surface and gentle gradient would have had me greatly enjoying myself on any other day. Unfortunately the combination of racing the day before, the difficult start to Ol’ Dirty and a lack of food and water meant that the next 8km of climbing were a real slog. For long periods I was barely able to raise my heart rate or even turn over my smallest gear - I may have deliberately stopped at one point “to check my brakes weren’t rubbing”, even though I knew they weren’t.
I was delighted to start descending, and even more delighted when I ran into another rider who had taken the high road. I asked him how it was, but all I got in reply was a mix of gasps and swearing. Point taken.
For next 12km or so the route gently descended Mt Margaret Rd, and by this stage the riders had spread out enough that I found myself riding alone for extended periods. Finally able to get up to speed on the descent, I sped straight past the turnoff for the shortcut and found myself enjoying the scenery and the weather on a beautifully sunny Sunday without having to worry about falling off my bike. However, shortly after that the route turned onto the Chitty Track descent, which meant a 2.7km drop down a rutted, rocky 4WD track at an average gradient of -14%. That meant that I had to start worrying about falling off my bike again.
Mood: Thinking I must have been crazy to sign up for this.
Mood music: Insane in the Brain - Cypress Hill
The track would have been impassable in anything other than a 4WD, and I was very thankful for my disc brakes and the extra technical skills a season of CX had given me. After about 10 minutes of descending with tightly clenched muscles in my arms (and a few tightly clenched muscles elsewhere), I safely rolled to a stop at a T-intersection at the bottom of the hill to gather myself before pushing on.
Mood: Thankful that things aren’t worse.
Mood music: 99 Problems - Jay Z
A few km further on the route turned to bitumen (a brief but welcome relief), then crossed over the Little River and started heading south towards Marysville.
At this point I’d been going for around 4 hours on a single energy bar and water, so lunch was starting to sound like a pretty exciting prospect. Unfortunately the lunch stop lay at the top of a 9.8km climb on a road that reached 10% in places and that offered very little shade in its steeper pitches. It took me an hour to cover that 9.8km, and I’d reckon I spent at least half that time walking - I was playing leapfrog with a couple of hikers for a good 20 minutes.
Mood: Feeling powerless, hopeless and empty.
Mood music: Gangster’s Paradise - Coolio ft. LV
By the time I rolled into the lunch stop at the Sugarloaf Saddle park, I was in the worst physical and mental state that I’d been in for a long time - and judging by how many others were pushing their bikes up the climbs, I wasn’t the only one. Thankfully the famed theatricality of Hells 500 came into play, and no sooner had I arrived at the ‘Hotel Ol’ Dirty’ than I’d had my bike whisked away by a valet and been ushered through a hotel entrance, where pizza, soft drinks and chocolates awaited. There were also free Ol’ Dirty embroidered bathrobes for the VIP guests and a bedroom suite to rest in, complete with velour bedroom furniture, money with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s face on it and a white powder that must have been icing sugar (at least I think it was icing sugar…) arranged in lines on the bedside table.
It was a good half an hour (or to be more accurate, two slices of pizza, three cans of soft drink and a couple of chocolate bars) before I started to feel like myself again. I’d also managed to catch up with Caroline and Fe at the stop. While waiting for Adam - the fourth member of our crew tackling Ol’ Dirty that day - we swapped stories about our day up to that point. Turns out even the shortcut I’d avoided was pretty tough going, and before long Adam turned up, escorted by the lanterne rouge riders on their Specialized e-MTBs. He’d also been forced to walk his bike thanks to the tough going, and was very relieved that there was still some food left. As the other riders filtered out one by one, all we could think about was riding back to the finish and having a nice pub meal and a drink.
Mood: Optimistic, yet hedonistic.
Mood music: Party and Bullsh*t - Notorious B.I.G.
We eventually got rolling as the Hells 500 crew were packing up the lunch stop, and only had to ride around 15km to the finish, most of which was downhill. After we were passed by the lanterne rouge about 2km into the descent we were the last riders on the road. At around 5pm the four of us eventually rolled into Marysville as the sun was setting, about 8 hours after we’d rolled out. Utterly shattered and still facing a long drive back to Melbourne, I took a moment to reflect on a tough ride as I packed my bike into the car.
Mood: Maybe it was all worth it.
Mood music: It Was A Good Day - Ice Cube