27 bike-packers; 26 dudes, and 1 woman (me) set off at the end of November 2016 to begin ‘The Hunt 1000’- 1000 kilometres from Canberra to Melbourne over 7 days.
The Hunt 1000 was a difficult off-road traverse across the Great Dividing Range of NSW and Victoria’s high country, through rough and rocky fire trails, alpine walking tracks and rugged land from where the most iconic stories of Australian bushman were born.
I took the ride slowly, my purpose being to enjoy myself and represent an un-represented gender. I fell behind after the first day, by the end of the week I was 2 days behind.
Although I’m an experienced bicycle tourist having cycled on nearly every continent (I’m looking at you Africa), every trip I take I learn new things about myself and about the world around me.
Here’s what The Hunt 1000 taught me:
Alpine Australia is top notch.
Coastline, bushland, tropical or desert, we all understand Australia is an eclectic place, however I always felt a sense of longing despite this, never completely environmentally fulfilled.
My heart belongs to alpine meadows; crisp air, icy streams, hardy foliage with petite flowers, early sunsets and stars that seem to be just an adoring reach away. I have just never considered it to be something I would find in Australia, but I was foolish.
Riding on the Hunt 1000 I was lead upon a rocky and mysterious trail that went blazing through the Jagungal wilderness. I crested over the Round Mountain track and entered into a dewy, rocky, Australianised alpine region of the Snowy Mountains.
The region is an uplifted plateau, rather than peaks and mountains, it makes for rolling views on top of the world.
Choked but not burnt in the 2003 and 2006 bushfires- the Snow Gum trees have turned a ghostly white almost silver colour creating a morbidly pretty and unfamiliar landscape.
Of all the alpine meadows I have seen this was the most striking.
When riding alone, cooking is a waste of energy.
I wanted to go as light as possible; no tent, no change of clothes and no cooking equipment. The minimalist’s dream. I by-passed coffee, hot meals and fresh clothes and instead ate stone cold oats and wore clothing leaden-with-sweat. It was the first time I hadn’t attempted to cook on a bike trip – on fire or stove. I realised for this kind of trip (short and mostly solo) hot food doesn’t bring much – the satisfaction of having a hard day’s riding, exhaustion, hunger, pushing on and looking forward to the next days brings more gratification than being able to heat up some water.
The Hunt 1000 route had minimal resupply points, and besides a bag of oats, I had nuts, flatbread and peanut butter to last me those few days between food.
What’s more was when sitting in The Golden Age Hotel in the very cool town of Omeo, I was drunk off a single beer. I was lovingly eating a steamy bowl of vegetables and cherishing the warmth of a bowl of chips, the wait making that moment priceless.
Never shop for food on a full stomach while out in the wilderness.
Another food lesson. Cabramurra was the first resupply station since leaving Canberra and it is the highest continuous human settlement in Australia at 1,488 m AHD.
It had a bistro and I had eaten a huge lunch, easily enough for two people. I walked over to the GROSSLY understocked store (considering the next town was hundreds of km’s away).
With a belly set to burst, the chocolate biscuits, and packets of crisps, cans of spam weren’t appetising and just picked a couple of cans of tuna with a ‘should be right’ kind of attitude which wouldn’t have been there if I was hungry.
When I crested overlooking across the boundless land of the snowy mountains and the lunch having burnt off I very quickly realised I was hugely understocked and started rationing my very little supply.
There was a lot more pushing my bike than I expected, steep 20% + gradient of loose and rocky walking track. I was averaging 3-4km an hour with maximum energy being used. With such little ground being made I calculated it would take me 4 days to get to the next town.
I fell 7km short of the campsite that night and camped at Grey Mare Hut instead.
I heard voices across the valley and found some young school boys setting up camp in the valley below me. I had spoken to the camp leader, hinting that I needed whatever food he could spare, (being more delicate and subtle than that so I don’t appear like a liability). He had gotten the hint and in the morning I set off early in the morning with a ‘care package’ of half a carrot, some raisins and a nut bar in my pocket.
I love to listen to locals stories.
I have toured mostly in countries where very little shared language is spoken. Meeting people was exhausting and subconsciously avoided interacting, thinking I was just not-a-people person.
Touring my home country has been an eye opener because I am able to meet people I share so many commonalities with. Their stories are more lively, more relatable.
Take a cattle farmer on the Brindabella Ranges. An area surrounded by national parks, it is home to the heritage listed Brindabella Station and the childhood home for the Australian author and feminist Miles Franklin.
He had the well-groomed dusty appearance of a happy and well-worked man. His well-cared-for but faded shirt tucked into his moleskin chinos, heavy shoes and open smiling face. He told me stories of what it is like to live in rural Australia. Like a fight he had with a boar, its tusks as sharp as knives slashing his arms and gutting his dog. He was a kind and gentle man. He had a slow, understanding and comforting voice.
I showed him my paper directions that would get me from Canberra all the way to Melbourne. It had notes such as – ‘fill up water at side stream’ – he could name the stream and the different flows it had around the year, the types of fish and dramatic points in its history. He told me about how he moves his cattle through those same tracks I was riding the next day, discussing the surface, and warning me to be careful. It was an impressive amount of knowledge.
I rode along the Tom Groggin Track at the border of NSW and Victoria. It had been closed for winter and only just opening that week, I bumped into a ranger who was sawing through the trees that had fallen across the trail, I spent the next hour jumping in and out of his car helping him move the debris as he swung axes through trunks with astonishing precision. Getting to know him and his 25 years of being a ranger.
The stories of Australians living rural are top notch.
The survival cabins in the Kosciusko national park are the most romantic place in Australia (in my opinion).
Littered through the Kosciusko National Park are huts of all different shapes and sizes each with its own brand of rustic. Some with dirt floors, some with wooden bunk beds, some with a wood fire stove and others with giant stone fireplace, others with nothing. I have never experienced such romantic cycling as I did throughout this ride.
The huts are a sentimental reminder of how the sheep and cattle farmers of the early 1900s lived on the high country plains of Kosciuszko National Park. The scattering of gold mining equipment still and lifeless in the grasses allow you to walk or ride along with your imagination in full fire.
I cannot recommend it more.