The ride started at 8am from Wiseman's Ferry. It was freezing cold and everyone was rugged up on the short roll up to the ferry. After telling the lady manning the ferry gates about our ride and promptly being told we were all crazy, we caught the ferry over the Hawkesbury River and hit the gravel climb up out of the valley almost immediately. Layers of clothing quickly came off as the climbs made us sweat and the group broke into 2 groups; one fast and one slow (I was in the slow group). The ride was a 'no-drop' ride so the faster group stopped and waited for us slower riders to catch up every now and then, but that made it hard to keep up in the end because the faster group was ready to head off again by the time the last rider caught up, meaning the slowest riders didn't get a chance to rest or eat properly.
We continued on dirt for a while before coming down a fast, sketchy fire-trail descent where the Mountain Bikes came into their own. I overtook a number of skittish riders on their CX bikes, only to be passed again as soon as the road showed any sign of going up again. We wound our way along the banks of the Hawkesbury on the smooth, undulating gravel road, only being passed by 1 or 2 cars.
One highlight of the ride was coming around a corner to find a very happy looking dog, or more accurately, a fluffy white cloud, out on the road to meet us outside his house. He ran along with us with a smile on his face for a few hundred metres before he finally took notice of the now distant calls of his owner. We stopped a T-intersection and regrouped before heading up into the hills again. I took the chance to down some Vita-Wheats and a can of Tuna and stuff some snakes in my jersey pocket in anticipation of what looked like a tough climb ahead. The group stretched out into a thin line again as we headed up the hill, me in granny gear. A 4WD passed me and the guy slowed down to walking pace driving alongside me until I noticed him from my exhaustion and yelled out to me that I should hold on and he'll tow me up. I must've looked like I was struggling. I managed to laugh and reply with something.
I was riding with a couple of other stragglers, one girl on a Surly, who was a bike messenger, riding in denim shorts and tights and her partner on another steel framed roadie. We had fallen a fair way behind and as we reached the top of a hill they told me they were going to bail and head back. I couldn't blame them, it was a gruelling climb, but I couldn't help but feel let-down, because riding in a group is so much easier, physically (and mentally) with the ability to draft off each other and conserve energy, and also have someone to talk to. They turned around and I kept going, putting in a solid 1/2hr trying to catch up to the rest of the group. I caught up with them close to rejoining Putty Road but had spent too many cookies and was struggling a bit. Luckily there was a big descent down to the Colo River coming up.
I belted down the fire-trail, hopping over ruts and popping off rocks. It was fun passing everyone down the hill and spinning out in the dog. My descent was interrupted by a car coming up the road and I had to skid almost to a stop, but was happy to get a good run in anyway. We popped out at a rickety wooden bridge crossing the wide and shallow Colo River. There's an awesome campsite just upstream from the bridge that I've stayed at before and it reminded me of camping there a few years before and swimming in the clear water and wading across the sandy river to the rock wall on the other side.
The rest of the ride back was mostly on quiet, windy country roads and we crossed the Lower Portland ferry. The wind picked up and I made another solid effort to stay on the faster riders' wheels while on road. Even though it hurt, I knew it would hurt more if I got dropped and had to face the wind myself. I lasted maybe 10km at 30+km/h on my Giant Trance, trying to keep on the wheel of CX and road bikes before being dropped.
We came to another fork in the road where we regrouped outside a caravan park and were told by the guy mowing the nature strip that we wouldn't get back through to Wiseman's Ferry because the road had been washed away in the torrential rain and floods we had here a few months beforehand. We chose to ignore him and ride the 7km in to find out for ourselves, rather than climb out of the valley again to detour the road beside the river. We figured, even if the road was fully washed away we could probably scramble around the side or at worst, carry our bikes while skirting the river bank. Turns out, we got to the part of the road that was 'washed away' and only about 1/4 of the road was washed away, but the council had put up concrete barriers to stop cars and motorbikes from getting through. We jumped the barriers and kept riding. No dramas.
I rode the last 10km in to Wiseman's Ferry alone, bonking hard. I caught up to another guy, a bike messenger, Bart, who was struggling too, on his old Mongoose hybrid with internally geared hub and front pannier rack. We rode the last km to the pub together. Back to where we started 92km and 5 hours later. The Coke and Chicken Schnitzel burger at the pub went down a treat.