Visiting : Toolangi, Marysville, Woods Point
Distance : 350-400km
When : Wednesday 30th November, 7:00am
Where : Click here for route map
This is the last TWBD ride of the year so I thought I’d give myself an early xmas present and do something I haven’t done in a long time - a long solo ride. I love riding with small groups but I also love getting lost in the bush by myself and I’ve been long overdue for some lonely time.
The rough plan was “Woods Point return. No Sleep.”
As always, some things went very right and some things went very wrong.
The full story
I’ve wanted to ride to Woods Point for years now. For that I blame the ARST crew - Andy, Dan, Dave, Adele, Scooter. Andy’s write-ups of their 3-day rides had me salivating. Big hills, big dirt, big distance. But it was always out of reach - I couldn’t get there and back in a day so it remained on the todo list. Years passed...
Then a few weeks ago Blakey mentioned that Scooter said something about doing Woods Point with no stop-overs - just pushing on through the night with no stops at hotels or pubs along the way. My ears pricked up and I started doing the maths. Y’know what, that could actually work. Maybe I’d found a way!
So, stealing the idea wholesale, I planned out a rough route that’d be about 350-400km - depending on how I felt on the day - and set about convincing my wife that riding through the night by myself in the bush was a good idea. It all came together and I rolled out at 7am on a Wednesday morning with the promise that I’d be back for breakfast the next day.
Just me, my bike and 24 hours. Yessssssss.
|A bagged Brooks. What a dork.|
It was bucketing down rain when I set out. Thunder, lightning, the lot. I really didn’t mind though. I had full fenders, rain jacket and pants and I was happy that it wasn’t going to be too hot. I rolled on through the rain to my first stop at St Andrews for a quick natural break before starting the climb up to Kinglake. The climb went quickly and pretty soon I hit the bakery at Kinglake for a coffee. Everything seemed to be working ok - rain gear was fine, bike was fine, all good.
|No love for logging trucks|
The mostly downhill run across to Toolangi was fast as usual and soon enough I was entering the Toolangi State Forest for the first dirt of the day. Excellent. Familiar roads through here and all empty. I was expecting to see more logging trucks but the area was deserted. Just me and the animals. It was a Wednesday morning after all - I guess the ubiquitous 4WD and trail bike crew were still toiling away at their day jobs dreaming of the weekend.
|Toolangi State Forest|
I enjoyed the solitude and the fast downhills before stopping to fill up water as I crossed Murrindindi River. I’d decided to do the ride on two bidons and refill regularly at creeks and rivers. I figured that they’d be clean enough and I had a bunch of Aquatabs with me if the water looked dodgy. I’d checked my maps beforehand and it looked like there’d be enough creek and river crossings to keep my bidons filled all day and night.
It was while filling up at Murrindindi River that I found a fat black leech attached to my leg. Bastardo! Haven’t had to deal with leeches before but I was pretty sure that you shouldn’t just yank them off so I left it there and figured I’d deal with it in Marysville, my first major stop, which was only an hour or so away. I looked down at him regularly and noticed that he was slowly getting bigger.
|Plantation Road. All downhill. All fun.|
I bombed down Plantation Road out of the Toolangi State Forest and popped out onto Maroondah Hwy just after Narbethong. The heavens opened again and I climbed up Marysville Road in the rain, sweating into my clammy rain gear. Ugh. Fortunately the climb went easier than last time (when I was running 54” singlespeed) and I flew down the other side into Marysville and headed straight to the newly-rebuilt shopping centre for supplies. There’s still a lot of rebuilding going on - Marysville was devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. I like visiting and spending money there.
I ordered a couple of meals from the pizza place and then hit the supermarket for more supplies. I picked up a small cigarette lighter here, went straight to the foyer of the shopping centre, knelt down and held the flame to the greedy leech. It jumped off and immediately went inching around on the ground looking for something else to latch onto. I wasn’t hurrying but I was trying to be business-like about refuelling and getting out of there so I didn’t even think to get the leech away from the front door of the shopping centre. I hope it didn’t find one of the locals.
So, I packed all the food into Opsaks - which are fancy waterproof and odourproof ziploc bags - chucked them all in a shopping bag, lashed it all onto my handlebar bag and started the climb out of Marysville and up Lake Mountain.
|Big climb ahead|
A man road a bicycle up a hill. He wore his rain jacket like a cape.
Up Lake Mountain
I cranked out the miles up Lake Mountain. The last time I rode up here I was running 54” singlespeed and was deep in oxygen debt just trying to keep the pedals turning. It averages about 8% for a few kilometres. My buddy on that ride, Scott, just shifted down and pedalled away from me into the distance. It was that climb that convinced me to build up a geared bike after riding exclusively one geared bikes for a few years. And now, here I was, returned to the scene, on a geared and be-fendered bike. I'd made the right choice.
|Climbing Lake Mountain|
|All animals stay away!|
It was about 5pm. I didn’t see another person until 4am the next day.
A couple of k's out of Cambarville I hit Eildon-Warburton Road. The start of my loop. I could have stayed on the main road here and gone all the way to Woods Point but I just couldn't bring myself to do a "boring out'n'back". I knew the main road (it was still dirt) was the safer, more reliable option but where's the fun in that? My loop would take me down to Big River Road and straight east towards Woods Point. Then, when Big River Road turns sharp north, I'd keep going east on some small logging roads and pop out onto the main road again at Frenchmans Gap, just a couple of k's from Woods Point. Easy. And a fair bit shorter than taking the main road.
So I was happy bombing down Big River Road, singing "Ça plane pour moi" as loud as I liked and passing by all the empty camping grounds. Mostly downhill, all beautiful dirt road through the bush. Wunderbar. It doesn't get better than this. The rain had passed by now too so it was nice and sunny, cruising through the tall trees while Big River splashed and rushed down in the valley below.
|Big River Road|
I was getting pretty far east on Big River Road when, coming round a corner I surprised an animal on the side of the road and it ran across to the other side and disappeared into the bush. What the hell?! I got a good, albeit brief look at it but I literally couldn't believe me eyes. My internal dialog went something like this :
"Did I just see that?"
"Yes, yes you did."
"Could it have been anything else?"
"No, it couldn't."
"Really? Out here? For real?"
...and so it was a second or two before I convinced myself that I actually saw what I thought I saw and yelled out loud :
I kid you not. It was a large black cat. At least twice as large as any domestic cat I've seen with a beautiful short jet black coat with no markings. It didn't look like a panther but it didn't look like a domestic cat. It was big and it looked and moved like something wild or exotic.
|Black cat sighted here|
I don't know but I'm sure there's a prosaic explanation for it. Just a feral probably. Maybe crossbred with something exotic, maybe just a big wild domestic overgrown and thriving after it suddenly found itself well and truly at the top of a food chain with no predators even coming close to it in size. Whatever it is, it's out there right now feasting on native wildlife and not giving a damn what people think it is.
Incidentally I googled it when I got home and found one other report of a sighting of a large black cat in the same area. I took this as confirmation that I didn't hallucinate the whole episode. Though the report said that the cat was five feet long which the one I saw clearly wasn't.
Unless the one I saw was only a baby...
After I'd finished marvelling at what I'd just seen, I rolled on. The road was still great, the sun was still shining and pretty soon I came to the bend where Big River Road - and Big River itself - turn north and head up to Eildon. I stopped at the next place I could actually access said river which happened to be the confluence of Big River and Big Bend Creek. I filled up water, ate a banana and looked at the time. 7:00pm. Where did the day go? Oh well, better get the Ayups mounted before it gets dark.
|Big Bend Creek|
|Big Bend Creek meets Big River|
I figured it would only be a couple of k's before it leveled out and I could ride again. And hey, I had all night, right? I'll get to Woods Point later than I expected but the pub will probably still be open and I'll get to sit down, drink a beer and just enjoy the serenity of being in Woods Point, the place I'd dreamed about riding to for so long.
So I kept hiking and sweating into my jacket. Took off my jacket. Took off my gloves. Swigged water. Saw the surrounding hills slowly getting lower as I climbed higher and higher.
|Cambarville Logging Road|
|Cambarville Logging Road|
|Cambarville Logging Road|
Pretty soon the sun had gone down and it had become pitch black night. My world was reduced to the cone of light that my Ayups threw out. No more mountain views, no more picturesque sunset, just the steep, rocky, leaf-and-bark covered road directly in front of me. My perspective had contracted. I was no longer just a small dot on a huge scenic vista stretching away for kilometres in all directions. I was now the only thing in the world, perched on the edge of a ten foot cone of light, surrounded by darkness on an unridably steep track as I pushed my bike up the so-called road ahead of me and scrabbled my cleats clumsily over the increasingly rocky terrain. Not far now until it's ridable. Not far now.
I finally got off Cambarville Logging Road and onto Ryans Spur Track at about 9:00pm. It was much the same - long steep rocky climbs punctuated by short flat or downhill sections. I kept trudging up the hill, one foot after the other, pushing the bike ahead of me, cleats scrabbling over loose rocks, nothing to see on either side except trees fading almost immediately into darkness. Occasionally I'd hear animal noises, leaves rustling, sometimes a pair of glowing eyes reflecting my lights back at me from the blackness though the animal they belonged to was never visible. Kangaroo, possum, drop bear, black cat.
|Finally, a signpost|
So when I started coming across unmarked side tracks and began to have trouble finding myself on my maps, my frustration levels spiked and I swore loudly into the night. I wasn't lost, of course. I just didn't know exactly where i was at that point in time. I had a detailed and current topo map of the area (carefully sectioned and placed into individual ziploc bags for protection) so when I started taking wrong turns it usually wouldn't be too long before I'd realize my error and backtrack to a known point. Except the wrong turns always seemed to be down hills so I'd have to ride or hike back up after realising my mistake. And it seemed like I was taking every possible wrong turn that I could make. I'd be flying down a steep rocky descent thinking "Yes! Finally moving!" before the track dwindled to nothing and I'd skid to a stop, check my map, pore over the topo lines, flash my headlight around to see if I could make out any geographical features and then call out "Faaaaaaaaark!", turn around and start pushing my bike up the hill back the way I just came.
|Finally getting somewhere|
It was a morale highpoint as well as a physical one. I felt somewhat recharged and ready for the descent down to Frenchmans Gap and then on to Woods Point. I was at the top of the highest mountain around, it had to be all downhill from here, right? Well, there was some nice downhill, then some more steep unridable uphill, then some more navigational screw-ups but at least the altitude had brought my iPhone back to life and I had enough reception to bring up google maps which made it easier to make sure I didn't get too far off track. And then the last section, Frenchmans Gap Track, was all downhill. But, in a cruel yet not entirely unfitting twist, it was so steep and rocky and loose and rutted that I found it, the longed-for downhill - completely unridable. I had to scramble down it on foot, holding back my bike so it didn't take off down the hill away from me, feet slipping and scraping over loose, ankle breaking rocks.
Jesus, people actually drive on these roads?!
|Surrounded by ghostly shapes|
And so I was. I rolled onto the main road at Frenchmans Gap, took a photo, noted the time and then got on my bike for the most welcome, most longed-for, fast downhill run that I'd had in a long time.
It was 11:30pm. That 16km "shortcut" had taken me four hours.
Look what the cat dragged in
Flying down the hill, I heard rushing water to the side of the road. I immediately hit the anchors and pulled off the road. Maori Creek. At last. I drank and drank and filled both bidons before eating some food and continuing the nice roll down the hill.
|Thank you Maori Creek|
I rolled into Woods Point at midnight and it was an anticlimax. Everything was closed of course. There were some streetlights, some lights were on in the pub but there was no movement inside. There were lots of 4wds parked around the street. All sleeping. Everything closed up for the night. I took a picture, noted the time, and just kept riding.
|Woods Point is asleep|
Time to go home
Woods Point is at the bottom of a big dip - whichever way you come from you go down to get in and you go up to get out. So I started the climb up out of it and knew that I had a bit of a grind ahead of me. The climb is no big deal but I wasn't at my best so it was slow going. I stopped once or twice on the way up to have a breather. Mostly it was just a long slow seated climb. Just gettin' 'er done. I was tired now. Physically and mentally. I didn't mind that I was going so slow, I just turned the pedals over and knew that I'd get to the top when I got there. None of the grasping frustration of the hiking section to Frenchmans Gap. Now it was just turning over the pedals, just keep moving, just keep going. No anger, no excitement, no frustration, no longing, just keep moving. The goal had come and gone in a spectacularly unspectacular anticlimax. I was on the return leg now. The goal, the big excitement, the victory had come and gone.
Now I was just some idiot riding home in the dark...
It was about 1:30am when I finally reached the top of the climb and arrived at Matlock. Matlock is not a town but I think it used to be back in the gold mining days. Now it's just a tourist waypoint on the side of the road. A big open gazebo shelter thing with a few picnic tables and some toilets and some rough walls to help keep the wind out. It’s at about 1000 metres and on top of a ridgeline so it's cold and windy and bears the the markings of a long history of travelers stopped for the proverbial dunny break. The place is covered in graffiti. Scrawled messages of the "so-and-so woz ere" variety. I rolled into the shelter, parked up my bike and shone my ayups around trying to find some familiar names.
Ah, there they are...
|Messages at Matlock|
|Prolink and baby wipes|
|Good as new!|
|Not a comfortable bed|
Constant forward motion
So I ground out the miles and enjoyed the fact that I was moving with speed again. The road tends downhill the whole way back to Cambarville - some beautiful long fast descents with a few short mellow uphills to keep it interesting. I’d love to come back and ride this section again in daylight and with less miles in my legs. The views are probably spectacular but I couldn’t see a thing. I was moving at a reasonable pace now and even though the road was in excellent condition I still had to focus and watch out for potholes, corrugations and gravel drifts.
Kilometre after kilometre of watching the reflector posts snake away around corners.
Red on the left, white on the right.
|Pushing on through the night|
There wasn’t much else to see or to focus my mind a great deal so I just pedalled along and kept moving through the night. My reaction time was way down and I didn’t even flinch when something charged out of the bushes at my front wheel on one nice fast descent. It stopped just short of my wheel and I flew past it at about 30km/h. A bloody wombat. I may have been half asleep at the wheel but I had the presence of mind to realise that if I’d hit it I would have been over the bars before I even knew what happened. Those things are fast and solid - like little brick shithouses. I realised how close I was to a major stack but, testament to my state of mind and tiredness at the time, I couldn’t bring myself to care very much.
Almost hit a wombat and came off. My ride could have ended right there. Oh well...
Red on the left, white on the right.
|Following signs into the distance|
Realistically I was probably only doing 40km/h or something but it felt like I was flying. I was just stoked to be putting so many easy miles behind me. My water was starting to run low again and I was looking forward to getting to my drop bag. My handlebar bag was low on food and I’d resorted to smashing gels. Not my favourite nutrition but a necessary evil at this point. It was 3am and my body clock was at low ebb - I should have been asleep but I was pushing on, forcing my body to keep working and eating when it really needed rest. I took a few small breaks along here. Just stopped pedalling for a while, coasted to a stop, put my elbows on the tops of my bars and hung my head down on my handlebar bag.
Not long now. Keep going. You can’t just stop here. You can't just close your eyes and magically wake up in Cambarville. No-one’s going to pedal the bike for you. There's no-one else here. There's only you. And the quickest way to get to Cambarville is to pedal. So just pedal.
And so it became a death march. A slow, zombie-like, grind. Mind as spent as body. Half asleep in the cold and sleet. Red on the left, white on the right.
Until I saw something up ahead. What's that? Headlights. A logging truck coming the other way. He dipped his lights and slowed right down. I was still blinded by his low beams but I squinted up at him and gave a little wave as we passed. It was about 4am. I was coming back to civilisation.
That encounter perked me up a little and pretty soon I started noticing outlines of trees appearing in the darkness. They slowly became more definite and the sky started lightening to grey. It was a very gradual transition but the sun which had disappeared off to the west the previous night had now finished its lap of the world and popped up behind me.
Don’t let the sun burn a hole in your ass William Blake.
I was heartened by the increasing daylight and had a feeling of return, of release, of making it through. I was still absolutely knackered but at least it was daylight now and I could see where I was riding and could see beautiful things down in Big River valley, a sea of low cloud sitting on top of the trees down below, birds waking up, making noise, distant hills in sunrise colours. It was beautiful.
|Good morning Big River State Forest|
Short cuts mean long delays.
I rolled on up the blacktop, easy going now. Not far to the drop site. Cambarville looked fantastic in the morning light. Beautiful mountain scenery all around. And when I rolled off the road to my secret spot... it was all intact, exactly as I’d left it.
|Good morning Cambarville|
A man road a bicycle up a hill and went off into the bushes. He kneeled down over a plastic bag and ate food from it.
|Food cache looks intact|
|Devonshire tea in the dirt|
(Note: Phone was perilously low on battery now. No more photos!)
I packed up the rest of my food cache - chicken parma sandwich, M+M’s, a bottle of beer - made sure I didn’t drop anything - always pack out what you pack in - lashed it all onto my handlebar bag and rolled on up the road to Marysville.
It was clear that I wasn’t going to be home for breakfast. That was the original plan I’d made with my wife. Home for breakfast. It’d be more like home for late lunch if I kept riding all the way home. I’d taken two days off work for this ride - one to ride, one to recover and relax with my wife and son. I didn’t want to cheat her by taking two days for the ride and leaving her with nothing but a shell of a man falling asleep all over the place. I’d put her through enough by disappearing all night as it was.
So, I grudgingly made the call and asked how she felt about a nice drive to Marysville. She said she'd load up Max and start driving out to meet me. So it was decided, I’d pull the plug at Marysville and we’d enjoy our family day together. I would have liked to finish the ride as planned, but honestly I was pretty rooted so it didn’t take much to convince myself to bail out.
I rolled on up past the turn off to Lake Mountain ski resort and then bombed the fast paved empty descent all the way down to Marysville. The same road I'd sweated up the day before, wearing my jacket like a cape. I got back to Marysville about 7:30am. The shops were still opening up, people were walking their dogs, picking up milk and the paper, calling out good morning to each other from across the road, just starting their day. I found a nice warm park bench in front of the post office, kicked off my shoes, stretched out my legs, put my hands behind my head and let the morning sun burn my face.
At last I could rest.
Once again I’d bitten off more than I could chew but, as always, I’d had a hell of a time chewing what I could. And that’s fine by me.
In the end I covered about 250km - probably a bit more due to wrong turns - in about 24 hours. Where did the day go? I’ve ridden longer in almost half the time. But not over this terrain and not with a four hour uphill hike in the middle of it. If I’d gone the main road to Woods Point - out’n’back - I think I’d have made it all the way back home. Without the stupid hike up Corn Hill I think the 350km version would have been doable.
Woods Point return. No sleep.
And a reason to keep riding and planning and poring over maps and reading about other people’s epic rides. And looking forward to next time.
There’s always a next time.
It's the last TWBD of the year so it's time to give thanks. Thanks to the ARST crew for inspiration and ideas. Thanks MGG, Dirty Deeds and all FOA crew for keeping me honest. Thanks Sean for the bike. Thanks Sheldon, Jacquie and Kent for giving me something to aim for. Thanks all the people who came out with me on rides this past year and embraced the spirit of adventure by letting me lead you out onto unknown roads and sometimes stupidly unridable trails. And most of all thanks Rae and Max for always being there when I get home. And bailing me out way too many times!
See ya next year!
>> Click here for ACTUAL route ridden <<
>> Click here for more photos <<
Rawland rSogn (MD)
Front wheel Schmidt SON20 to Velocity Synergy 650B
Rear wheel Hope Pro 3 to Velocity Synergy 650B
Grand Bois Hetre tires 650B
SRAM Apex mechs, cranks, BB, cassette
SRAM TT bar end shifters
On-One Midge handlebars
Ozriders handlebar tape
Cane Creek brake levers
Pro stem 80mm
Avid Shorty 4 brakes w/Shorty Ultimate cartridges + Koolstop pads
Brooks B-17 saddle (shopping bag from Coles)
Shimano MTB pedals
B+M IQ Cyo headlight
B+M Toplight Plus taillight
Nitto M-12 rack
Velo-Orange Campagne handlebar bag (heavily modified!)