Port to Port MTB - Stage 1 (Audrey Wilkinson Winery)

It has been 3 weeks since my epic mountain bike hike through the snowy mountains, so naturally it’s time for the next mountain biking adventure! Today I start the Port to Port MTB stage race, 4 days of riding in the Newcastle area including my personal favourite single-track at Awaba state forest. As with all good adventures, this one starts early in the morning as I leave Kenthurst at 4am to arrive in the Hunter Valley at 7am for the stage 1 race start at 8am. All things go to plan until I reach the destination, which is signposted very poorly. The front entrance of Audrey Wilkinson winery is blocked off and cars being turned around to head a 15min detour around to the back, would have been nice to be a sign somewhere? No.

Once we reach the event parking, there is no obvious way to reach the event centre and again no signage or anyone to help except one lone parking marshal a few hundred metres back along the entrance track. Everyone walking around seems lost so I walk to the marshal and he directs us a non-obvious way through the vineyard and up the hill. It’s quite a way so obviously it means gear up here and get on the bike (not to return to the car).

That’s now 2 strikes against the logistics here, having done the sister event “Reef to Reef” in Cairns last year, and finding the logistics excellent, I have to admit I was expecting better. But wait, there’s more. Once we get to the event centre and register they give us our race bags with registration tags and merchandise, some of which we need to keep until the next day. But where exactly do they expect us to put these? There is no time (or legs) to get to the car and back so again everyone is asking “da fuq?” and a few of us stash them in trees to pick up on our return (flash forward: they aren’t there when we return). Sorry Port to Port, that’s strike 3. Your logistics is not good enough for a race that cost $400 to enter. Please try harder next year. BUT ON TO THE BIKING!

Stage 1 is meant to be kind of grueling, at 1160m climb it is the steepest of any day. The race starts with a slight down and flat along paved roads. Everyone is super fast and super close and it’s not comfortable. For a second there I thought I was in the wrong race as I didn’t realise I signed up for a road race! Once we hit the dirt it’s a long climb as expected, though I did start to enjoy it from this point as at least we were on dirt! The rest of the day was good, but at only the 3rd quarter mark I started to get a cramp. Luckily I managed to get through it without too much trouble and finish with a respectable 2:59:25, coming in just under the 3h I had aimed for!

I have a beer and a burger and relax near the finish line at Spicer's Retreat. Unfortunately I’m a lot more tired and sore than I expected to be so I found myself wondering how the next 3 days would go. Last time I did a 4 day stage race I trained like there was no tomorrow, and found it quite manageable, however this time I haven’t been on a bike in 3 weeks since getting back from the Snowy Mountains and having real life get in the way. It turns out that starting a 4 day stage race without any training, feels, umm… just as you’d expect.

I’ve booked a camp site at Freeman’s Campground in Lake Munmorah State Conservation area. The site is clean, the facilities are excellent, and it’s right next to the beach! I waste no time in taking a dip in the ocean to clean off then cook myself a solid spaghetti bolognaise for dinner. Gotta keep those carbs up for day 2!