Course Review Series
There are many runs and rides over your lifetime that will live in your memory for many and varied reasons. Maybe it was lung-burningly hard, or breathtakingly picturesque, or possibly an awakening watershed moment that opened your eyes to your potential. Whatever the reason, you know you have experienced a great course because it continues to live and grow in your heart and mind as your body get older and your achievements fade. Your perfect course is always a happy place that you can revisit to reminisce and re-motivate yourself.
It is my goal with this Course Review blog series to give you a feel for some of the more significant ride and run segments around the Sunshine Coast, so you too can have more of those ‘happy place’ locations to draw on. For those of you who live locally, you can try something new or relive it again through my words. Or if you are travelling interstate or internationally for a family or training holiday you can sample some of our beautiful training spots. I do apologize to those local who are trying to hold onto their little piece of paradise, but I doubt we will have a tsunami of tourists descending on our ‘point breaks’ stealing our best ‘waves’. If you do notice someone new, please smile and wave and show them that not only do we have some of the best training spots in the world we also have the nicest athletes.
Palmwoods-Montville Road Climb
I want to start this series with my favourite course of all time and the reason I decided to start writing this series. It is also the reason I wanted to come to the Sunshine Coast to live. As a young boy growing up at Redcliffe, my family used to drive up to the Sunshine Coast to visit the beach for the kids in the morning and then drive up the hill into the hinterland for lunch at Maleny or Montville for my mother. The quaint village atmosphere bored me to tears, but the promise of ice cream and freewheeling down the hill on our way home in the afternoon made the antique furniture, art galleries and curio shops a little more tolerable.
There were two possible routes home, if Dad was driving we would shoot straight down Landsborough-Maleny Road (possible future review). If my brother was driving we would go down the Palmwoods-Montville Road hill. I would beg him to turn the engine off and I would lean out of the back window and ‘hound dog’ it down the hill with the wind flapping my jowls in the breeze, attempting to keep my eyes open if I could. I loved the hill then and I still love it now.
Back then I loved the feeling of ‘surfing’ down the hill, how it recreated sliding down the face of the waves as I had done in the morning. Now I prefer pushing myself up the hill and experiencing that amazing sense of achievement when I reach the top. It never seems to get old, just as the back window surfing never got old for me when I was a young kid coasting down the mountain. I hope through the following review you get motivated to come and experience this amazing 6km piece of paradise.
When I came back to the Sunshine Coast, I called Palmwoods home which is the town perched right at the bottom of the hill. As I dabbled in endurance triathlon this hill would be one of my favourite courses in my staple diet of run, ride and repeat. If I could swim uphill I would have chosen this hill to do my swim training on as well, such is my love for this climb. I am not sure how many times I have ascended it, but probably not as many as I think. Memory inflates the actual achievement, so I won’t embarrass myself and attempt to guess. Let’s just say that I know this hill extremely well and even as a 50 year old I still post some top ten Strava running KOM’s. Although that may be because few are crazy enough to tackle the climb on foot!
As a hill climb it is not earth-shattering. It doesn’t rank anywhere near the top cycling or running courses in the region, let alone the world. It is 6.2km long with 336m of elevation gain, at an average of 5.5% gradient. The surface of the road is average at best and riding down the hill at speed is an effort is stupidity. The unevenness of the road, the potholes and cracks that seem to spring up overnight, means you are an incredibly brave person to lift the shackles off on this descent.
It is fairly traffic free and I have only been abused once over the years by a driver. As there are two main routes to get to Montville from Palmwoods people usually choose the more direct route up Razorback (possible future review), so you are pretty much left to your own devices on an early morning weekend training session.
I suggest that you start you adventure at either the Palmwoods Primary School car park or Lemon Park, which are 8km from the summit. It allows you a nice gentle 2km roll to the bottom of the hill. This gives you a chance to warm up your legs, but be warned that looking up from this two-kilometre false flat is not advised, as you will see the effort you are about to put in and feel it shadowing your every pedal stroke or running stride.
Once you set off, you will pass over Paynter Creek bridge which is slightly narrow so be careful of cars following you at speed. If you are running, use the path on the right-hand side of the road. The path only goes for a few hundred meters, but it is the only running path on the course so take advantage of it while you can. Once over the bridge you will see a right hand turn for Hunchy Road (aka Razorback) which is a whole new world of pain. Attempt this one only on your best day; it is brutal to say the least. But for today I highly advise you to go straight ahead and enjoy the beautiful ride through the country side for the next 1.5km. The speed limit along this flat part of the course is 80km per hour and there is no shoulder on the road to escape onto if cars do come long your way. Single file only along here and all the way up the mountain is advised.
Approximately 1 km from Lemon Park you will find your first slight rise. If you are riding with a bunch there will probably be an effort at this section as the adrenaline kicks in and people may want to ascend the climb via brute force rather than caressing their way up the hill. A strong rider/runner can get away with attacking this rise, but they probably won’t enjoy it. I suggest a gentle touch to enjoy the effort and get the most from it mentally and physically.
As I tell most people, the first kilometre of the hill is brutal. It’s like the road engineers were simply just going to get up the hill as quickly as they could. After the first kilometre, they realised their foolishness and decided to put some switch backs in to make it less nightmarish. As you ascend this first kilometre it will seem like you have just stepped into a boxing ring, if you go out too hard the hill will just knock you out. To make it through to the next round you need to build into the effort and quickly decide on a gear and a cadence that is sustainable.
At the end of the long false flat you come to your first right hand corner and meet the first of many characters on the climb. Living in the house on the corner are two cattle dogs and they will lie in wait for you in the table drain. They mean you no harm and when I run the hill I usually challenge them to run with me. They run a few meters, then bark their disapproval, before going back to their lair awaiting the next ‘sheep’ to herd. Thankfully, they have never paid me any attention while riding.
As you round the corner and say goodbye to the dogs you will be faced with another long section, but it is not flat. Half-way up this long stretch the Strava segment will start; this has been sign-posted by some Strava tragic. Look for the wooden spilt post fence, the 60km/h sign and finally the bike warning sign as your key that the segment is starting.
If you are brave and look directly ahead, the summit appears before you. Unfortunately it is 336 meters above your head and you need to put 6.2km of road under you before you reach it. Straight after the segment starts there is a 6km 10% gradient sign to remind you of what you are taking on. The combination of the noticeable change in gradient, the exaggerated signage and the summit looming ahead makes this spot the most mentally challenging of the climb. As you round the bend beyond the 10% sign, you tackle the steepest ‘pinch’ of your journey, and the only stretch that actually reaches the forewarned 10%.
As already stated the first kilometre is brutal, for me anyway. I always chuckle to myself in this first kilometre that they decided to put in a reduce speed sign in fire engine red. As more cyclists use this hill that motorists, I am assuming the chances of this sign being disobeyed is rare to say the least.
For this first section, it is head down and put your mind into happy place as you get used to the steepness of the climb. There are minimal turns, just a series of 4 or 5 left right chicanes followed by demoralizing straight sections where the road rises mercilessly in front of you. Hang in there and make it to Kirby road where you can rest if you wish, or press on knowing that the climb is going to get little less hard and a lot more interesting. Just after Kirby road you will get your first sign that you are making progress as the Montville town sign comes into view. There is also a koala crossing sign, but in all my years on this hill I have never once seen a koala. Maybe that was because my vision was always misted red with the efforts.
The second section is marked with less houses, forest that grows right up to the pavement’s edge and beautiful fig trees and ghost gums growing over the road, providing much needed shade during summer ascents. As the vista around you grows more beautiful, the road under you inversely deteriorates. They have made efforts over the years to keep the road usable, but it is a patch work quilt of rough chip, smoother bitumen and concrete in some sections. Part of me hopes they never fix it fully, as it will only encourage the rev heads to test their engines rather than their hearts on the hill.
The steepness of the hill now feels more tolerable, possibly because your body has accepted its fate, but more likely because the road engineers have put in some switchbacks to break up the gradient. As you go through this second section look for Ocean Cottage with the big red bird, indicating that you are well and truly into the thick on this climb. You are also in for more eye candy treats for your effort.
After you pass Ocean Cottage you will come to a gradual left hand switch back that will steadily open up into what appears to be a gentle flat section ahead. It’s not flat, but your mind will embrace this as being flat so just go with it. On your left you will see a carpet of forest floor vines with vivid blue flowers and a house perched on the ridgeline. Looking right your will see the mini valley that you have left below you as proof you have steadily climbed over the last two kilometres. Looking straight ahead you will see the road once again disappear around the corner and you have your first positive thought of the ride. I can do this! With 3 kilometres to go it is once again best to just go with these positive feelings and try not let any negative feelings rob you of your forward momentum.
The third section is marked with another 10% gradient sign, marking 3km remaining. Shurvell Road lies 500 meters ahead of you and you should use that as a sign marker along the way that you have climbed more than you have to go. After Shurvell Road the valley below really opens up on your right hand side. The road quality continues to be ordinary, but the trees draping their limbs over the road and the rock cuttings that the engineers carved your path through gives ample shade and makes it pleasantly cool. As it rains a lot in the hinterland, and it naturally catches all the dew from the ocean breeze, the mountain road is often wet under your tyres/feet. If the sun hits it can get very humid, but much of the time the microclimate of this climb is close to perfect.
From Shurvell Road you will travel approximately 1500m along a section that has a similar mind-numbing collection of chicanes and switch backs and collection of beautiful over hanging trees and glimpses of the valley below. There is enough to keep you interested, but the full majestic beauty is still hidden by the trees at this stage.
I would describe the pain of the climb at this point as annoying but not intolerable. Your mind is distracted enough with the beauty around you to forget about the searing pain in your legs and lungs. Go with your mind at this point, if you focus on your legs most would simply turn around. The end of this section is signalled with a concrete retaining wall on your right hand side. From this point forward you will move into the final section of the climb and the most enjoyable.
After the concrete retaining wall, you will swing on a long sweeping right-hand corner which will give you your first glimpse of the top of the hill and the road winding its way up the final 2km toward the summit. A few hundred meters further ahead you will sweep left and the whole valley floor from Mooloolaba to Bribie Island will be revealed before your eyes. At this point I guarantee that all pain will leave your body as your mind will be so busy processing the grandeur in front of you.
As you then make your way around the right hand hair pin and you will have a chance to look down at the road you just travelled and check on any of your training partners that you may have brought with you. From this point forward the ride will end much quicker than you think. There are so many different views to take in as the tree line recedes and the northern part of the coast is presented before your eyes. No matter how many times I do this climb the views are always different. In the wet you see the sheets of rain spreading across the valley, in the morning you see the sun rise over the ocean, in the afternoon you see the twilight tinge the sky with hues of pink and in the brightness of mid-day you see the vivid greens of the grass in the paddocks below. It never disappoints!
As you near the end you will see another concrete retaining wall to your left-hand side. This is your moment to steal the ride from your training partners if they have held with you this far. The concrete retaining wall indicates that you have only a few hundred meters to reach the finish which is hidden from view. I suggest a sneaky “is that a koala in that tree” statement and a point over your shoulder before stomping on your pedals to steal the day. There will be a stop sign and a T intersection at the top to signal the ride is over. From this point, you have four options:
1. Turn left and head along the ridge line towards Maleny, 14km away. Some great coffee shops await you after a lumpy ride. Be careful as this is a major road. I have only gone this way once. The caravans and trucks scared me back down the hill.
2. Turn right and head into the village of Montville, 1km away. Share the stories of your victory over coffee and cake. Little May coffee shop is the pick for me.
3. Turn around and free wheel down the hill to enjoy the views from the other direction. You may even want to do the climb again. It is very addictive!
4. Pull over, rest your bike against, the guard rail and simply gaze across the valley below you and marvel in the accomplishment that you just achieved.
Hope to see you out on the hill soon. Enjoy!