Aidan Kempster has been exploring the proposed Great Forest National Park in Victoria by bike since March. The vagabond’s adventures are as wild as his beard and whilst raising considerable exposure for this much needed National Park, he’s also having the time of his life…
It’s wonderful; I have seen magnificent forests, been enthralled by the creatures that live there, drank from tiny unnamed streams and pushed my limits. I am raising awareness about the plight of the central highlands and the critically endangered Mountain Ash ecosystem. I’m also rising to the challenges I set myself with ever increasing aptitude. I am fitter, stronger and more adventurous than when I started and I need to constantly re-evaluate my limits.
Sometimes everyone bails on you and you’re left scratching your bum wondering what to do. I’d made plans sequentially with three separate parties to go for a ride in the bush. For totally understandable reasons all of these fell through. It was about sunset on Friday when I realised I was still in the city with a totally blank weekend ahead of me. I was supposed to be in the forest, but I’d been counting on someone to drive me. It was about this time that I remembered Melbourne trains run all night on the weekends.
Cut to just after midnight, and I’m leaving Pakenham station. The Bigfoot is loaded for touring without panniers for the first time. I found a carry-on sized overnight bag in hard rubbish a week ago, and I’ve dubbed it the kitchen. Underneath I’ve stuffed a small bag with my waterproofs. A seat-post bag completes the back, carrying some clothes and a towel and provides a bit of a cushion. I’ve got tools and a spare tube between my legs, snacks and electricals in the cockpit and my sleeping system strapped onto the front rack. It was a breeze to pack, I know where everything is and it rolls like a dream. Lots of stares on the train. Even the PSOs had to remind me, “That’s a big bike!”
I knew the way to Bunyip, I’ve ridden it before. The first time I did it was also at night, but on a Felt road bike, running road tyres. I even did 5ks through the forest on it, and later lots more. I knew that’d be an easy route to do now with the fat bike. A few clicks of main road before a bit of gravel, another bit of tarmac and then a few more clicks of gravel. Then you’re into mud country. I think this was my fastest trip yet. Riding at night I try to use only as much light as I require, which means there isn’t much else to focus on except your rhythm. It is humbling and calming, just stay on the road and keep going. I was having a ball. Once I hit the forest I knew the first few turns, I didn’t need a map. I wasn’t going particularly quickly, I didn’t need to, I was doing what I had wanted to do. I joined the chorus of nocturnal garbles with a series of wild laughs as the downhill began.
Then it was half past 3 in the morning and I had to figure out a plan. When exactly was I going to sleep? Where? I was getting a bit hungry, but was it time for me to eat breakfast or dinner? Where exactly was I going? I was on a trail that was only open to bikes, horses and walkers, I decided to make a hot snack, take a power nap roadside and figure those things out in the morning. The gliders, owls, possums and foxes couldn’t help but tell me how pleased they were I was back. Then the kookaburras took over and it was time to make breakfast or sacrifice a whole day sleeping. I had a vague notion of riding up Mt Baw Baw, but I also wanted to be back in town tomorrow and that seemed a bit too serious. I would be better off trying to do that via the mains roads, and the fat bike had better things to do. Nonetheless I could head in that general direction, take the scenic route, and figure the rest out later.
It wasn’t long into the morning before I noticed something special. I knew instantly that there were many stories and paths that had crossed this point. I didn’t want to take pictures, and I felt that same compulsion later when I reached the site called ‘The Four Brothers Rocks’. A big part of me didn’t even want to get close without knowing the story to go with it. But generations past saw fit to do a heap of logging in front of the outlook and a quick google search will come up with plenty of images, so maybe I am crazy to have respect for something I do not understand.
Nonetheless my vibe persisted, the same kind of feeling I used to have as a child walking into a church. The more time I spend in the forest the more I yearn to see it age in peace. Indigenous sovereignty was never ceded, and I know only that there is so much I don’t know. My map notes further along the journey that there are many large rocks revealed by logging. While I would like to learn the ways of the land, or at least be comforted knowing they are still known, I know it’s vital the land survives first. I have seen the same sorts of rocks in Tasmania and Wilson’s Prom, with the same kind of staining, are they are all connected?