Dirty Boonah: Recap of a beaten body

So Warren and I had been planning a bit of a ride for a while now, all in the aid of helping me train for Velothon. Originally, we had planned to do a Mt Mee/Campbell’s Pocket road ride, but then Warren saw an event advertised by Audax Queensland Dirty Boonah for the same weekend as we had planned, and we quickly switched plans in order to do something a bit more interesting.

Dirty Boonah had three distances: 50 / 100 / 150 KM. Of course, I was like “Let’s just sign up for the maximum distance”. I should note Warren was quite sceptical about us completing this distance but agreed nonetheless.

Up at 4am on the day, brekky and coffee before I picked up Warren. Warren was doing his best to keep us on Warren-time, going out of his way to make us stop and grab hash browns amongst other things. As a result, we found ourselves a tad rushed.

It was quite chilly at 6am out the back of Ipswich. The Ipswich-Boonah road was also covered in a very thick fog, making driving quickly a bit of a mission. But we got to the meet spot with about 15 minutes to spare and met up with a dozen or so other riders for our first Audax Queensland event.

This event was run by a nice guy called Justin who handed out these quaint cards that each rider required to get stamped at certain checkpoints. Since we were signed up for 150k, we had two check ins. One at Maroon Dam and the other at Mt Alford.

Rugged up and ready to rumble

There was a variety of bikes here though it seemed that CX/Gravel type bikes dominated. One guy, a guy Warren had ridden with before, was rolling with a very nice titanium frame packed to the gills with camping supplies. I’m told later it was a Curve ti GMX (actually even later I find out its a ti Salsa). Another had one of those strange looking new Canyon Grail gravel machines with the incredibly odd dual handle bar setup. Yes, someone bought one of those things! There was also a very nice looking Bombtrack.

Otherwise there was an assortment of mountain bikes. Someone dared to ride with an old Felt road bike with 28mm tyres. I really felt for that poor dude (boom!) because what followed would not have been fun on this setup.

My setup for my first Audax.

Me? I rocked the sturdy Curve Grovel with some nice all-round 35mm tyres while Warren was on his Geekhouse. Audax has some strict rules, so I had to source a rear reflector. Lucky some dude at 99 Bikes gave me one for free.

Roll out

We rolled out precisely on 7am and I immediately regretted not packing my full fingered gloves. The temperature was around 0 and seriously began fearing that my fingers would fall off. I rode with the end of my half finger gloves on the drops and hoped like hell I wouldn’t need to brake. But it soon began to warm up a bit and off came the neck warmer and cycling cap.

But I wasn’t feeling all that great. I’d only managed to get about 5 hours sleep the night before and I felt like I was paying for it. Perhaps residual fatigue or not enough water the day before helped contribute to this general feeling of uneasiness, but when the serious hills started appearing after the first hour, I began to struggle in earnest.

Still, we were riding in some very nice looking country, and the fog could be seen either side of us in the valleys as well rolled along the top of a ridgeline.

Warren towing me around from the get-go as he would do most of the day.

It was pretty much gravel from the start, and this is great terrain to ride the Grovel in. Throughout the day the quality of the dirt roads would vary widely, but for the first hour or so, the dirt roads seemed well groomed and smooth and a delight to ride on.

Dirt and mist…everwhere (Pic: Warren)

A bunch of us all doing the 150 kilometre all stayed in the general vicinity of each other and while I was slightly suffering and keeping a fairly low profile, Warren was more than happy to get around the bunch and chat bikes.

It was about an hour and half in when I started to feel not so good. The route took us up over some fairly steep sections of road and the 1x gearing I have on the Curve didn’t have enough ‘granny’ in the back cassette, which meant a slog up some of the steep pinches — particularly along Cannon Creek Road. I began to fall behind the little group we had going a tiny bit on the hills, but could generally catch up on the descents.

I had various theories for why I wasn’t feeling that great: not enough sleep, not enough water the day before, a few heavy weeks of riding, but really I just was having one of those shitty days on the bike. The ride was gorgeous, but I just wasn’t feeling well.

In the first hour we had covered about 24k, but only managed 13 in the second, showing how much harder the ride got. It was around this time that I knew we weren’t going to be able to complete 150k.

Here’s a little on the road commentary from the Cannon Creek — Maroon Road climb (warning: at least one expletive).

Still, the views were worth the pain.

Just after we completed the Cannon Creek Climb. Our reward was a great view out over the Scenic Rim

Just after that pic was taken, we got to descent an incredibly fast and fun descent on dirt roads. The best thing about the Curve is that it’s really great on the downhills and I always feel incredibly confident going fast on this bike.


Warren and I and another friendly guy on the Canyon Grail were bunched together about 50k into the ride and I was looking forward to the first check-in point so we could fill up our dwindling water supplies. I’d finally begun feeling OK.

Passing the Maroon school, we’d just turned on to Newman Road and begun making our way toward the first check point up new Maroon Dam. We were on a very sandy bit of road, when we were passed by about 40 dirt bikes. I’d be trying to keep the bike steady through the sandy dirt, and had failed to noticed that my wind jacket, which I’d stashed earlier in my back jersey pocket, had come loose.

Note to anyone reading this: always make sure your excess clothes are stashed correctly, because this is what the result of a poorly stored jacket can be.

Uh oh.

That’s right. My jacket got sucked in through my rear mech, jamming up everything. I thought my day was done for. We all stopped while I spent 10 minutes trying to free my vest. When it finally came out, it was clear that something was now very wrong with my drive train.

Yup, the derailleur seemed bent. I also now had a bent rear spoke and there was also something truly frightening about the rear disc brake rotor. Warren had a play around and it was a real struggle to make any shifts now. Fortunately, some quick thinking from Warren and he reset my limit screws to avoid the chain from shifting into the wheels. Hooray! I at least had the granny gear so I could ride up hills.

Unfortunately, I only had two other gears as well. One in the middle, and if I shifted down enough (like 40 shifts!) I could reach the hardest gear.

I think mentally I was done here. Another sign that today was not my day. Fortunately, the other riders were very understanding and encouraging and got me back on my bike.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was tough going. I was struggling up hills and now I struggled to catch the group on the downhills/flats as I couldn’t shift down smoothly. Also, as I found out later, my disc brake rotor was bent, meaning the brake was ‘on’ most of the time. Now I had to fight the hills Chris Froome training style — with the brakes on (no salbutamol though).

Just after we rolled past my old high school camping centre and also the remains of the flying fox where my friend Steve once broke his nose and knocked himself unconscious, I stopped Warren and expressed my concern of not making it to the check point.

We thought we’d missed it, and we were beginning to run short of water. But Warren encouraged me to press on and literally minutes later we rolled in to the Maroon camping area where we could refresh our water and take on some of the Black Medicine. I’ve never been so pleased to see a can of Coke in my life.

Warren (who had graciously waited for me on the climbs) and I had caught up to a bunch of the other riders who had been chilling out and having a quick bite. We were not long waiting before we took off again — heading down past Maroon Dam and circling around to Carney’s Creek road.

This stretch past Maroon Dam was truly lovely

The elation of having water again soon wore off and I began to truly suffer here. My head was throbbing and I figured I was dehydrated. The kilometres on my Garmin ticked over painfully slow and I questioned why the hell did I decide to do this. Still, we pressed on and then I hit this beast — the Lot 126 Fletcher Road climb just to the south of Maroon Dam.

The Lot 126 Fletcher Rd Climb — 8.7% of hell.

Normally I wouldn’t be hugely phased by doing a 9% 1.5km climb if I could take it easy. But the combination of a) already feeling smashed b) it being all on slippery dirt and c) having borked up gearing, meant that this was really hard. For the first time all ride, I had to walk about 3/4 of the way up. A passing car took pity on me and offered me water. Kind of them to do so.

However, once this climb was over, we hit the highest point of the Dirty Boonah ride at the intersection of Fletcher Road and Carney’s Creek Road — about 70k into the ride. Ride leader Justin was waiting for Warren and I there, just taking a few snaps. We’d all continue together for the rest of the way to Mt Alford and then on to Boonah.

To Mt Alford and beyond

Weirdly, I began to feel good — perhaps it was mental and knowing that we’d hit the highest point of the ride, I felt strangely reinvigorated. We continued down an awesome gravel descent on Carney’s Creek road, and headed towards Mt Alford.

Main Street Mt Alford: Last time I was here was on a great ride organised by Neil Ennis

The kilometres began to roll over much quicker and despite a bit of a pinch along Dwyers Ridge Road, and unlike the other climbs, I made up this one with little trouble.

However, Warren, Justin and I were pretty pleased to see the Scenic Rim Brewery as we rolled into town at around the 93 kilometre mark. We settled down and grabbed a beer and a bite to eat, chatting amicably with some of the other Audax riders as they stopped for a brew.

Brews at the Scenic Rim Brewery


We stopped for maybe a good 45 minutes at the brewery, but it was becoming obvious that we were well into the afternoon now. There was a fairly easy flat run back into Boonah mostly on bitumen, but Justin did manage to squeeze in a nice little bit of gravel right at the end.

Last bit of gravel for the day!

We rolled into Boonah town centre around 110km after starting, around 3:30pm. We’d done about 6 hours of actual riding. I was well and truly cooked by this stage but really happy I’d made it the 110k.

Technically I’m a DNF given I didn’t make the full 150k, but I’ll know better for next time that when you’re riding on surfaces other that road, do not overestimate your abilities!

We had a quick chat with Justin before heading back to Brisbane, stopping off for a quick burger en route.


So I covered 109km with around 2150 metres of climbing and burning over 4,000 calories. The first 70km was extremely tough for me, but the last bit was fairly straight forward.

It’s interesting that my average heart rate was around 150 bpm on the ride and Warren's was around 120. Likely differences in fitness and weight (I’m not exactly light at the moment) do vary the difficulty of rides like this.

Here’s the rough route (which you can grab for yourself via Strava).

A few lessons learned after a great day on the bike.

  1. Gravel riding, particularly hilly gravel riding, can be punishing if you’re not prepared. Also try get a heap of sleep and keep calorie intake up at all times. Good bit of advice I got from a fellow rider on this event — soft pedal the downhills and the flats and conserve as much energy as possible for the hills.
  2. Be prepared for your bike to shit itself like mine did. I was lucky I had a knowledge friend along with me, otherwise I would have been stuck in the middle of no where.
  3. On these kind of rides, better to ride to time rather than distance. I had in my training plan to hit 150k, but clearly this was going to be hard on this ride. Better to just say ‘I’ll ride for X hours’. Perhaps with this mindset I wouldn’t have been so down on my self in the first half of the ride
  4. Yeah, make sure you stash your clothes correctly while riding. I should have considered stopping and making sure my vest was correctly stored rather than stuffing it in the jersey pocket.
  5. Audax is a fun and friendly community. This was my first Audax ride and everyone was super welcoming and friendly. Make sure you check out Audax Queensland website for their upcoming rides (including the great looking Dirty Mee next weekend)!

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Irish-Australian analytics guy working in international higher ed, former UN intern, radio for @4ZZZ, #cycling, #triathlon and #arsenalfc tragic

Irish-Australian analytics guy working in international higher ed, former UN intern, radio for @4ZZZ, #cycling, #triathlon and #arsenalfc tragic