When people who ride start talking about the “Back of Falls” you can literally see the fear in their eyes. And if they’re wearing oversized sunglasses you can tell they’re uncomfortable as they recoil in their seats, their hair stands on end (hair on arms obviously - no decent cyclist has hair on their legs) and they break out in a cold sweat.
Images thanks to Bicycle Network
I had the pleasure of riding the back of Falls for the first time on Sunday as part of the Peaks Challenge run by Bicycle Network. When preparing for the event the general advice I was given was this…
Do your training, but don’t attempt the Back of Falls.
Don’t. Even. Think. About. It.
So what makes it so bad?
Basically during the Peaks Challenge experience you’re in for a long, hot and windy day. You’re already feeling it in the legs having successfully climbed Tawonga Gap (7.6km with an average gradient of 6.3% and an elevation gain of 479m), followed by Mt Hotham (30.8km with an average gradient of 4.2% and an elevation gain of 1,279m). You’ve cruised through Omeo and along to Anglers Rest. Unless you’re superman you’re probably feeling sore and tired - a tiredness that no amount of gels is going to cure.
You leave the rest stop and continue along the valley until you arrive at the Back of Falls at the 199km mark. First impressions were “OMFG”, this is not possible. There’s a sharp left turn off the valley road and then – it’s on. Up, more up. You’re thinking to yourself “it’s got to level out soon”, but it doesn’t. It’s almost as if it’s not a proper Alpine road. They’re meant to be created with gradual climbs and switch backs, so that the average car can get up without stalling. Not this one, they must have run out of money and enthusiasm, as it just goes up and up and up.
The first section was labelled in the brochure as “WTF Corner”, and I get it, I really do. Cyclists were dropping like flies. I saw one guy vomit uphis Clif Bar. Another was lying in the dirt (still moving), and yet another was crying – yes – tears were shed. This was all within the first 2kms. I was thinking to myself, “you can’t walk yet – there’s 9kms of this to get through! You’ll never make the cut off time”. The entire climb is 23kms, but the really brutal bit is the first 9kms with a 9% average gradient and pinches over 12%. I love to climb but on tired legs this was less than ideal. Half way up it looked like someone had attacked the cyclists with a machine gun. No blood, but they were off their bikes, with definitely more people walking then riding.
It’s usually around this point that the Sag Wagon drives by, having begun to sweep the back of the course. Thoughts that pass any reasonable person’s mind include throwing yourself in front of said van, hijacking, or as a minimum hitching a ride to the summit.
The highlight was a sign for “Free Salty Hugs” with an arrow pointing to a couple of non-cyclist hecklers. The lowest point would have been deciding I needed a break, struggling to unclip (with dirty cleats from Anglers Rest) and thinking I was going to topple over and roll backwards to the start of WTF Corner. I didn’t – but only just.
All up it was a great day. It didn’t seem like it at the time but there’s a great sense of achievement, and considerable bragging rights that come with tackling ridiculous, physically demanding tasks. What’s next? Back to riding my bike for fun times, ‘all of the lols’ and plenty of coffee.