Do you remember those ridiculous vibrating ab-machine infomercials from the 90’s that promised granite-hard eight-packs? If they’re true to their word, then I should be rivalling Channing Tatum’s midriff after biking the backroads of the Glow Worm Tunnels in Wollemi National Park. The corrugating ripples and ruts across the roads were nothing shy of jaw-shattering thanks to 4WDs and logging trucks. Our speed dropped to that of a geriatric slug.
I’d been flying around the city on the Reid Granite for a couple of weeks but felt it was time to up the ante and give it a run for its money. Commuting with the Granite is like taking Ozzy Osbourne to a rock concert; he’ll eat it all up but he’s happiest with the rough stuff.
The thought of the ride alone made my loins burn as it had been some time since I’d loaded up the bicycle panniers with weekend essentials and tackled some vertical gradient!
Tom, Ross and myself met at Central Station to catch the early Saturday morning bullet train headed west. Ross had got carried away the night before and deservedly looked like a turd rolled over twice (a drunk, wry smile was smeared across his bleary-eyed face, indicating he’d probably had a lot of fun). As the fittest in our menage-a-trois, any hindrance to Ross’s speed and comfort, however, was ok in my book.
We made the mistake of booking onto a Country NSW train that didn’t allow bicycles, so we had to hang around for an hour or so until the next one departed, this time a regular multi-stop train to Lithgow for a heel-clicking fee of $5.50.
Whilst Ross slept off his hangover, I gazed from the window as the CBD gave way to sprawling suburbia; as urban sprawl morphed into a greener shade of jungle… the almighty Blue Mountains.
Three hours later we’d bought maps from a local Lithgow newsagent, boshed down steaming meat pies and were peddling towards an arterial route that wound up through the mountains – the State Mine Gully Track – the 4km ascent a punchy introduction to the weekend ride. Despite his grogginess, Ross was off like a robber’s dog, leaving a plume of dust in his wake and in our faces.
Then came the alternative ab-machine road. Anyone that may have overheard our mid-riding chats at this point would have thought we were just a really crap yodelling band.
Around us lay an apocalyptic horizon of felled forest, a sad sight in many ways. The stillness of our quiet contemplation broken occasionally by the sound of a roaring 4×4 or motocross bike whose drivers seemed to take enormous pleasure in blasting us with their dirt as they passed. #bogantastic.
Just as our chattering teeth and flabbily bouncing bellies could take no more, we reached a proud looking sign for the Wollemi National Park, indicating our escape from Mad Max-ville and into the safe, sweet smelling haven of glorious pine forests, flat roads and the mysterious glow worm tunnels.
Like passing through the pearly gates, the landscape morphed into an enchanted land laden with prehistoric rock pagodas, abandoned tunnels and sub-tropical rainforest. The road twists, turns and heads down towards sea level. As the light began to fade the deep greens of the famous Wollemi Pines contrasted with the golden yellow of the sandstone cliffs. It was a magical time and place to be alive.
We passed through the first road tunnel and descended further and further into the Newnes Plateau until we reached a car park. We hoisted our bicycles over a gate and continued down single track, passing curious looking day-walkers on their way to their cars. We were just getting started.
The glow worm tunnel itself is part of an abandoned railway line that was dismantled in the 1940s, leaving behind a 400m long shaft that creates a darkness rivaled only by Donald Trump’s soul. Unless you’ve munched a lorry-load of carrot cake for breakfast, head-torches are absolutely essential to navigating the uneven surface inside.
However, we followed the National Parks advice and took a few steps to avoid upsetting these spectacular little critters. Here’s what they recommend:
- Minimise external light as much as possible – the glow worms will glow brighter in return!
- Set torches to the lowest possible setting or cover them with a thin cloth to dampen the light output.
- Use a red light if you’ve got one – studies show glowworms are less sensitive to red light than other colours.
- Keep lights pointed at your feet, and turn them off when you want to look up, to avoid shining light directly on the glowworms.
- Avoid flash photography! Long exposures will yield better results and won’t blind the wildlife.
- Keep quiet. Noise and vibration will also cause the glow worms to dim.
- Don’t touch. Besides, it’s just gooey chains of bug-spit, who want that on their hands??
Once cocooned in the blackness and moist air, we switched off our lights and looked up.
“F#$k me!” we all said in unison (strangely our harmonic tone was perfect, so maybe we’re a half decent yodeling band after all).
Spread across the walls and ceiling of the tunnel were tiny blue-glowing dots that appeared to multiply in number the longer we looked at them. Pretty. Friggin. Cool.
Once out the other side, it was time to find somewhere to camp. We followed the path that skirted beneath the cliff face and were drawn to somewhere on the side of a rather steep mountain to sling up our hammocks and call our home for the evening. Grub. Whisky. Snoring.
We woke to a glorious morning in the Wolgan Valley, rejoining the ‘path’ and literally lugged and scrambled our loaded bikes over rocks and eroded sections, whilst questioning what the chuff we were doing. We eventually reached an idyllic weir at the bottom and jumped in for a much-needed wash and cool down before rejoining the ab-machine treadmill again.
The Reid Granite is an all road bike that seemed to handle absolutely everything we threw at it without hiccup; it was a test ride that would have put many mountain bikes through their paces. For a bicycle that has also been designed for commuting to work, it’s performance was absolutely extraordinary.
Slogging it past the five-star Wolgan Valley Resort, it’s hard not to compare the cost vs experience of a weekend staying there, to one at the million star hotel. There’s a $3,000 price difference for starters, comparison over. I’d take the hammocks and a couple of mates into the bush any day of the week thank you very much; we may smell worse than a hobo’s undercarriage but I bet we’d have a better story to tell afterwards.
Finally on asphalt again, we reveled in its arse-salvaging smoothness whilst covering the remaining km’s of the 90km loop back to Lithgow in a comparatively rapid time. The only obstacle in the way of course, was a final mountain; a sadistically enjoyable 4km climb that offered well-earned views across the majestic Wolgan Valley at its crest.
After a final stretch of highway dodging dead kangaroos, we rolled into a Lithgow pub tired, smelly and thirsty as camels. It had been another great microadventure – wonderfully simple, easily accessible and suitably wild.
More adventures on yer bike…