This ride took place on Taungerong Country and we pay our respects to elders past, present and future by acknowledging that sovereignty of this land was never ceded and thanking the traditional custodians for their care in maintaining the country with the fervent hope that indigenous curation of the land is maintained and respected into the future.
About this article:
This article was written by Elizabeth Moore. It is her first article about riding bikes in the forest, but in all likelihood far from the last.
The video at the end of this article was filmed and produced by Rick Viola.
As usual, the route (also included at the bottom) was designed by Aidan Kempster and he notes “This is easily the hardest day ride route I have organised.”
The Hinterland Big River Day Ride
Without a bike or knowledge of the terrain, let alone the country, a normal person might exercise some caution before signing up to a 50km bike ride. Clearly, I am no normal person and this article wouldn’t exist if I were.
This was the first serious ride I’d done in the country. The first serious ride I’d done full stop. I had no experience mountain biking or an adequate level of fitness, all of which made things a little fruitier.
Arriving in the morning to a campground within The Big River State Forest, the start of the ‘trail’, myself and a fellow biking compadre; Kim, (whom I had met that morning to car pool) were greeted by the rest of the crew. There was the host of the ride, Aidan, and a lady named Clare who had both ridden around 90km to this rendezvous point the night before and two gents with some serious gear whose names have escaped me. There were concerned looks at my ‘cycle around the lake’ style bike, with its 3 gears, smooth tyres and mud guards. I ignored these, assuming I’d be fine.
At 10ish, we began. The hours following were hard to differentiate but mostly in a good way.
The first ‘up and down bit’ involved quite a few hills that my bike could not handle. I found myself walking my bike quite early on (spoiler alert: this turned into a bit of a theme), just to try and catch up with the chaps, who were breezing up each incline on their fancy bikes with all the gears. Not that anyone could move particularly fast in the lower gears, but that wasn’t the point either. We were here to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings and understand the threat that was posed to it whilst dabbling in some fine conversation. This up and down section was not a bad way to start and prepared us for what was to come.
I welcomed the change of arriving at Van’s road and moving onto a flatter, dry section of mud and clay. It was a great opportunity to soak in all of the surroundings. It was flat for a few kilometres which allowed us to make progress at a reasonable pace. The gents with the serious gear bid us adieu at this point and departed to tackle the route at their own pace. At this stage, we were probably only 15km in, if that.
There were refreshing spells of rain, which I found extremely welcome in the heat. I will point out at this stage, I am from England and anything above 25 degrees is an especially hot day and on the day in question it was between 28-30 degrees. I sweated a lot and strangely the rain didn’t seem to matter at all. We were totally immersed in wildlife, dwarfed by tree’s decades older than my tortoise, standing tall under the late summer sun, birds chattering away and the odd rustle of a branch being landed on in the distance. An aroma of eucalyptus and fresh summer rain danced into our noses. Then my bike stopped moving.
Turns out that mud plus mud guards plus a back-peddling brake is not a great combination. So begun the problems with my bike. Unfortunately when this happened, I was kind of alone at the back of the pack. The rest of the group had cycled on, after all this was a self-supported ride. Fortunately for me, they returned and together we tore my bike apart to get it working again.
Rolling on with a moving bike, we got to the base of the mountain. There was a lot of uphill pedaling to be done from here on out. A lot of downhill holding-on-for-dear-life too. My memory of this part gets a bit fuzzy but I did a lot of uphill and downhill walking. I remember feeling guilt for not being fit enough and not having a good enough bike and for slowing the pack down. Then I looked around and realised that in the grand scale of things, it really didn’t matter.
There are many things to be said for riding a bike through the bush and each person that does it will find a new way to express their feelings about it. There are so many words to explain the beauty and the awe but none of them seem to do it justice on the page. Looking around, I could not understand how anyone would want to destroy this beauty. As we rode, we could hear the hum of trucks driving in the distance en route to their demolition sites. To realise that Australia is losing beauty that so many had never seen before, was both astounding and saddening.
The other riders had been snacking all the way along the road to keep their energy up. This was a valuable tip that I learnt from them after the fact. We stopped at an abandoned campsite so I could eat and rest a little. It had all the amenities you could ask for; a giant tarped tent area, two broken chairs and a half-bent metal bed frame (where one of the springs would likely call up its spring gang to ‘take’ you out). My legs had begun to feel tired but the mood was positive and we were all eager to crack on once we’d snacked to our satisfaction.
The next part of the climb was better, it was smooth uphill that I could actually ride. It was about 5km of this, before the incline became too great and my now burning thighs could bear no-more. I dismounted and walked. At least the temperature was cooling down with our altitude, but we still had to be vigilant with the factor 50+. I walked and rode the next few kilometres, until we came to a quick stop for fluids at the bottom of a rock free incline.
The hills that surrounded us were a patchwork of greens, echoing with bird’s songs I had never heard before. On a hill to the east, small clouds danced around its side. Our view was incredible but we did not have time to dally too much. As we rode up the hill it was clear that we were reaching the highest point in our course. I rode several meters behind the pack and within half a minute, they had disappeared. We were all slowly being engulfed by a very moist air parcel.
We met once more at the top (this was our highest point, some 1024m above sea level) and discussed how wonderful it all was that we could see nothing of the stunning scenery we knew should be there. But on the flip side, we were in a cloud. Not your typical Saturday afternoon.
We began the descent and well, I remember a lot of loose rock rubble. Of course, I did a lot more walking my bike. A few times, I saw other members of the pack walking their bikes too. The steep, loose, rocky terrain slowed us all down. It didn’t help that on some of the decent hills that I should have been able to ride down, I couldn’t as I was unable to move my centre of gravity back effectively. My back-peddling brake would cause the bike to come to a sudden stop. For anyone new to this, if you move your butt to be more over the rear wheel, you have a lot more control when going down a hill.
There were a few little ups along here as well but it was mostly down. A big up and a few more downs and then up and down for as long as I can remember, but this was good. It was a good thing. There were no pavements, no man-made straight paths for convenience. This was raw. This was nature.
The pack did well to keep up the spirit in the afternoon as we were well beyond the time that we thought we would be done by. It was fortunate that the 4 of us had nowhere better to be. After the final big up, which was a slight alteration to our intended path as it looked to be a bit friendlier, we were on the major descent path. I walked most of this part too.
There was a section, where rubble was at a minimum, the incline was not so great, the pack were cycling together and I thought ‘what the hell? I’ll jump on my bike and ride as one of them’. I followed the tracks of Clare and after a few minutes of descent I thought ‘maybe I’ve got the hang of this, finally!’.
It was a huge rock, the size of your head and it came out of nowhere and took my bike as its prisoner and made me its victim. It was actually a rock the size of a golfball that caught my back wheel in such a way that I came flying off. My only thought in that 2 second flight was ‘Don’t break anything. Don’t break anything’. I ended up with bruising up my legs, a bashed hand, some cuts on my face and helmet from bramble thorns. I was shaken, not stirred and unwilling to quit.
I walked a considerable amount more of the rubbly path as the adrenaline diluted in my blood stream. Our terrain and road gradually became gentler and more civilised, unlike the hills we’d met thus far. I rode a greater section of this and the pack soon found themselves riding closer together, holding longer conversations and sinking into a much more varied ecosystem to that of the top of the mountain. The trees became bigger, the path we took widened and the ground cover became more varied.
The paths were gentler but time was pressing on and by 6pm we still had around a third of the way to go. There was a brief stop at the river to rest but Kim and Clare decided to storm on ahead back to the campsite.
The following 15kms or so was gentler but my legs were tired and the smooth, flatter road, was still a form of torture on my legs. I rode and talked with Aidan for this stretch. The road had some gentle ups and down, nothing like what we’d faced so far. Along the road, a mysterious bug formation presented itself. After some photos and hypothesising about a hostile alien invasion, we continued, trying to race the light. It wasn’t too long after that the bike lights had to come out and we lost visibility of our surroundings, though we could still hear its colourful inhabitants.
We arrive back at camp at about 8.45pm hungry and a bit worn out- well at least I was. The others were used to cycling this much and were all pretty chipper. Kim and I stayed to chat for a short while around the fire but headed off home in the car, thus concluding our day’s ride.
The moral of this rambly story, I guess, is Australia is beautiful, varied and exciting. Until you are out there witnessing it, you cannot fully appreciate its beauty and how quickly Australia is losing it because consciously, we do not want to accept this reality. Also, never take a bike with 3 gears into the bush to ride. Never.
Special thanks goes to Aidan Kempster for contributions to artwork and editing.
The Big River State Forest Ride Video by Rick Viola
The Route: Hinterland Heaven #2
As should be evidenced by this article and the video, take a mountain bike and tell someone where you’re going if you are heading out to tackle this route.
To read more about the two different versions of Hinterland Heaven, click here to read the route description.