“I’m planning a bike tour to the High Country, if you’re keen. It’s called “The Death Ride”.”
Of course, Daniel, what could be more appealing? Sounds like fun. But who is the greater fool, the fool or the one who follows….
Thus it came to pass that three of us girded our loins and met at Southern Cross Railway Station to take a train to Sale, preparatory to next day setting out to prance willy nilly about the Victorian High Country for three fun filled days. The nomenclature of “Death Ride” came about because we knew it would be on the edge of adventure and possibility – not that the ride couldn’t be done, but could it be done by three middle aged velo warriors with questionable training programs and untested bikes?
Daniel was riding a dual suspension bike that he had recently, (i.e. the night before) converted to tubeless, and wasn’t sure that his tyres were holding air. Julian was riding a dual suspension bike whose front shock we knew for sure was not holding air, and I was riding a bike I had built myself. Although it had about a thousand kays on it, this was its maiden off-road tour, so my frame building and wheel building were facing their first real load test. Plus, the route chosen was…. Ambitious.
Day One was far from arduous. A train to Sale, first class seating, and the conductor securely tucked a napkin labelled “Sale” onto our bikes, so there was no confusion where they needed to be unloaded from the luggage car. Dinner with Daniel’s Aunty Pat saw us fuelled with steak, potatoes and dessert by Sarah Lee in traditional suburban style so we were ready to confront the High Country the next day. No deaths so far.
Our first day’s serious riding was to take us to Dargo, and begun correctly. Some easy tarmac to warm up, and by 1030 we were firmly ensconced in a local caffeinated beverage emporium indulging in brunch, a fine way to do business. If the whole tour were like this, we’d be laughing. Post brunch was 40km of dirt up a charming and seldom trafficked river valley, complete with gentle temperatures, birdsong and the iconic smells of the Australian bush. This gave way to more tarmac, and a few introductory hills to remind us we were leaving the foothills and entering the mountains.
Dargo is an internally combustion fuelled town, and our arrival was akin to a movie cliché. With rooms booked at the pub, the out of town weirdos bucking convention pulled up at the hostelry to be greeted by three shearers who informed us that we were mad, (good to know), engines had been invented for a reason, (of which I have no doubt, as I own one), then proceeded to try and pick a fight. So surreal, like being transported back in time; open mindedness, alive and well, or not as the case may be. I walked away; I don’t deal well with these situations. I’m not trying to prove anything, guys, or preach to anyone, I just want to ride my bike and have a beer at the end. Death by Bogan was not in the ride description.
Putting aside the warm welcome the Dargo Hotel is a fine place, with good parmas, great showers and clean towels. The included breakfast was monumental, although the lads turned down the spaghetti that went with the bacon sausage, toast, tomato, eggs, cereal, fruit and so on, a decision they were later to regret. We were going to need all the fuel we could get for Day Three of the Death Ride.
The third day we anticipated was going to be what climbers call the crux move, from Dargo to Licola. It involved going up a small hill, down the other side, up a medium hill, down the other side, up a big hill, along the top then down the other side. 100km all up, some thousands of meters vertical, and the first 40km on rough 4wd tracks. Let me summarise the day-
*Small hill, no worries. River crossing to medium hill. 3km pushing the bikes, it was well steep, as they say, followed by a howling downhill that cooked my rear brake. It was a steep and sketchy descent.
*Big hill was a 7km walk, so steep the cycle computer would not read a speed; we were way too slow for that. By 4pm we were 40km into our ride having averaged 5km an hour, but the uphill was done. (As an aside, I had suspected some walking might be done, but was confidant my plastic soled cleated cycle shoes would be up to the task. I’d walked in them before, they were comfortable to hike-a-bike. What a poor decision that was.)
*5pm, 52km into the ride and it had become apparent that the uphill was not done. Stop for a map check, a quick calculation revealed this was actually a 120km day, not 100. Bugger. Luckily we were now on 2wd dirt roads.
*5.45pm, 60km mark. Half way! Shame it was getting dark…
*Somewhere in the darkness we ran out of mountain, crossed the top of this particular High Plain, and began descending. Descending for a long way. Tens of kilometres, it was like burning frequent flyer miles, getting something for free. Whilst I was clearly the slowest uphill, painfully so, it was apparent I was the most confidant descender. When I could no longer see Julian’s light behind me, I thought, “Hmm, tired bodies, long day, 50 kays an hour, loose gravel… What could possibly go wrong? I’ll just slow down until I can see him again.” This lucky thought meant I was going much more slowly when all the air fell out of the front tyre.
*Long story slightly shorter, we arrived in Licola at 8.45pm. Colin, a saintly friend, was there to meet us with beer and wine and pasta, and quite possibly saved our lives. He had been worried about how late we were, but the good-natured trail bikers in the next camp had consoled him with questions such as, “Will you miss them now they’re clearly dead?”
Colin was joining us for the last day, so four of us set out late for Walhalla the next morning. The annoying nature of the High Plains means that if you park the night in a scenic river valley, and we did, there will be savage uphill at some stage to get out and move to the next valley. We’d seen it the day before, and this day’s ride did not buck the trend. Not quite as steep, so only 6km of walking.
The good news is that “that which doesn’t kill you can still really hurt”, but in this case as with the day before many hours of toil was rewarded with some really astonishing downhills into the charming town of Walhalla, where we had spouses waiting with vittles and reviving bottled products that made for a most convivial and celebratory evening.
So in the end no one died in the making of this blog post. At times there was pain and fatigue, and we probably teetered on the edge of what was possible for us at the time, but that uncertainty made for the essence of adventure. I could probably draw something meaningful out of that, but really, just go ride your bike and have fun. You’d be mad not to.