My First Ride in the GFNP

Locations: Kinglake, Mt Disappointment, Mt Robertson, Whittlesea
Companion: Sam 

I LEFT HOME A WEEK AGO, with a loaded bike, my friend Sam and high hopes for the weeks ahead. We rode the short distance from my house to Rosanna Station and caught the train to the end of the Line; Hurstbridge. An hour later we were at the entrance to the Everard Block of Kinglake National Park, and from there the real adventures began. The Everard Track is built for management 4wds, hikers and mountain bikes. By peculiar coincidence, both Sam and I were riding second-hand steel frame Mongoose hybrids without suspension and we handled it fine.

Here we go!

We were straight into scrub, there were no cars to be seen or heard, and we didn’t encounter anyone else on the track. It is steep in parts, and rough, but anyone with suspension would be laughing the whole way. Day 1 of riding on any trip is always a mixture of pleasure and pain. It’s great to be back on the road, but there are muscles that wish you paid more attention to them and creature comforts calling you back to suburbia. You’ve been sweating profusely going uphill at 3-4 ks an hour for half an hour when you think, if I turn around now, tonight I could be home in bed, in the arms of my lover, with Thai food delivered to my door and a movie on the laptop. But that isn’t really why I came out here. I want to see what Victoria is. I want to imagine what it was and what it could be.

Where’s the fun going up hills if you don’t stop for the view?

We stopped at the top of Mt Everard and took a short walk. Not dissimilar to mound disappointment, it is hard to get a clear view from the top, but there are glimpses of rolling hills and pasture through the young trees. Fire has scarred the landscape, the scope of Black Saturday cannot be understated. 4,500 square kilometres of land burned and nearly two hundred people died. When we got closer to Mount Disappointment, the whole skyline was dominated by black needles protruding from the regrowth, like a bed of nails for the clouds to sit on. Part of the reasoning for the Great Forest National Park is that it will provide continuous habitat for wildlife, so that in the case of fire animals have some opportunity to flee. Currently, the Kinglake National Park is already divided into blocks, with private land, two state forests and a pine plantation in between them. I believe the plan is to add the two state parks into the greater park, thereby increasing the continuity of the forest.

We camped for the first night in one of these areas, The Mount Robertson State Forest. It is a popular destination for trail bike riders, and by extension mountain bikers. We had a lot of fun exploring the loose sandy tracks, dodging dried up mud traps and stray logs under the forest canopy. We found a small clearing off the side of one of the tracks to camp and kept riding them the next day. We briefly visited Kinglake National Park again to see Wombelano falls, situated in a wonderful little gem of a forest valley. The flow at this time of year (February) was quite meagre but the serenity was high.

Could ride this all day, look mum no hands!

We spent the rest of the day exploring more of the Mt Robertson State Park before being spat out of a gruelling downhill into a pine plantation. At first we tried to wing it, and ended up dragging the bikes up a massive hill. It took at least an hour to go a hundred lateral metres in the hot sun. After we’d removed the gear and hiked that to the top, getting the bikes up on their own was still a challenge. At one point I was bum-shuffling backwards half a meter at a time, hauling the bike up by the wheel. This was not a good time to get to the top, check in with old mate Google Maps and figure out we could have ridden around this terrible obstacle. Doh! Old mate helped us escape the terrible place, and we were glad to be free of it.

This hill was hell

We fuelled up on pies and spinach rolls in Pheasant Creek. It was a much needed respite. From here we took the highway the long way around to Flowerdale. I got a flat tyre, and used a highway speed barrier as a bike stand to safely remove the drawing pin innocuously left on the road, and replace the tube. The road to Flowerdale from Kinglake West is really pleasant in the late afternoon, it was nice to be going fast and straight after the tracks we were getting all too familiar with. We were running low on water and were lucky to meet a wonderful local before we made the trip up to Mt Disappointment. Richard was only too happy to fill up our bottles, let us use his facilities and tell us about the area and his life. He told us how Italian prisoners of war had worked in logging camps at Mt Disappointment during WWII. It has been a centre of forestry for over a hundred years, and was once a bustling community in the hills.
Mt Disappointment was disappointing for several reasons

Nowadays, Vic Forests is salvage logging the heavily burnt sections of Mt Disappointment. It is a real shame, as burnt out trees provide excellent hollows for habitat, and would eventually increase the quality of the forest’s soil. We camped up there for two nights, getting to the park just on dark we kipped by the roadside and relocated to the No. 1 camp for the next night. It was important to me for us to have a quiet day and relax, touring is a marathon not a sprint, I particularly enjoyed spending hours in the hammock letting my mind wander. It might come as a surprise to some of you, but not all campers are respectful people. I made a bathroom visit and returned to find three swags and a gazebo being erected within ten metres of my stuff. I could spit from my hammock onto two of the swags, I can tell you I felt like it. It was a big ground, and there were plenty of other similarly sized and bigger sites that were going begging. They told me they were likely to be a group of 30, and might get rowdy, they liked this spot and they were already half setup. I did not feel like I was going to enjoy their company based on their manners, and quietly relocated. As one of the most accessible free camping locations from Melbourne, it is an excellent place to catch up with friends and enjoy nature. Just be considerate of others, and make sure everyone can enjoy the place.

This brings me to a pet gripe I have about the park. There’s no water taps, or tanks in the park. I actually spoke to some of the people responsible for this, and they told me that such things have happened in the past, but always end up sabotaged. Someone always decides to shoot the tank or throw road kill in there, frankly I was shocked. Part of me recognises that if it was part of a National Park, camping would be more regulated and the chances of such nefarious business occurring would be greatly reduced. The conservation value may be deemed quite low because of the extremely extensive history of logging and the recent fires but that’s no reason to neglect the area further. The other part of me knows I should have been more prepared for that possibility, although I was always quite aware it would only take an hour or so to ride down from the park and resupply, I didn’t want to do that.

We didn’t do that. We were gifted more water by other campers and rode to the Mt Disappointment ‘summit’. Leaving our bikes stashed behind some trees we did the short and scenic scrub walk, taking in views of the scrub that so frustrated Hume and Hovell in 1824. Those black needles I mentioned earlier were everywhere, though their true calibre could now be felt. These were the trees that were being ‘salvaged’ elsewhere. We took a rather direct route to Whittlesea from the summit, riding down the steep Phone Tk with brakes on pretty much the whole way. I am really glad we didn’t try to ride up this road.

Arriving in Whittlesea we had a dilemma. My bike was beginning to break and there was no store in town. The rear wheel, likely from all of the weight and bumps it was dealing with, was loosening internally. It had lateral movement between the brake pads using just one finger to push the rim. It was rolling ok, but the gears weren’t changing well and I knew that unchecked, it would only get worse, and if it fell apart some greater distance from civilisation I’d only have myself to blame. As with all important life decisions, a cold beer can really help you think. We rode over to the Royal Mail Hotel and did just that. A friend of a friend lived nearby, and after hearing of the dilemma agreed to help us. We kipped at Jack’s place and had a look at the bike in the morning. I managed to tighten the wheel gently, such that it no longer wobbled and everything seemed fine. We began riding towards Toolangi.

This is one of those staged reconstructions for documentation purposes.

Ten kilometres down the road, it all fell apart. What I had done was only cosmetic, bearings had been falling out of the rear cassette for who knows how long. It came right off without effort and whatever bearings were left went AWOL and that was that. Thankfully this was while I was inspecting it rather than riding it. I needed a new one, or a new bike, I couldn’t continue. I write this from my couch at home, while the bike is in the shop being fixed. I was really looking forward to sharing with everyone how anyone could go out and do what I was doing, because I had done it all on a second hand bike I got for $50 and refurbished. The guy in the bike store looked at me funny and was like, you should probably get better components. He’s not wrong. It’ll cost me more than that to bring it up to spec for the rest of the trip, but still cheaper than getting a new bike. So far. If it happens again I might have to think more seriously on the matter.

It’s been great getting started, frustrating getting reset but rewarding to recap. I am itching to get back on the road and I’m dying to get into the old growth Mountain Ash of Toolangi. If you’re enjoying the trip even half as much as I am, why not head on over to my chuffed page and donate a little bit of money towards BeardsOn and their bush regen program. Thanks everyone for all of the likes and comments so far, it has been really heart-warming to know you’re following the trip! Anyone navigating here from elsewhere can check out the facebook page for more frequent updates.

Finally, a massive thankyou to my friend Jackie for picking me up from Kinglake West. Another to Cindy for the cold beer while I was waiting for Jackie. Last but not least to Sam, for riding these first ~140ks with me and all of the great chats along the way. From the scene of my pickup he continued riding, with any luck I can inspire him to guest blog his own thoughts when he touches down for a while. Until then, happy riding to all of you, I’ll be back out shortly!

Gratuitous beard selfie

I should note that most of the photos are on the cameras Sam is still carrying, I will add more when we meet up again!