I’ve been emailed more than a few times about where is that post on ‘this and that, when you rode here and there’, and the first journey to Woods Point is one worthy of a ‘reboot’. It contains one of my favourite cycling photos of all time.
Many have tried to replicate this ride, some with success, some with failure, none without awe of the surrounds of this part of the world and the challenges it presents when it’s just you and your bike.
I look back and think ‘did I really do that?’. Particularly day one’s 200km+ on dirt, sand, rock on a singlespeed CX one gear without an iphone, instagram or strava, carrying an extra 4kg in camera gear for documents sake.
These posts have inspired many to get out on there bikes and push limits and find new roads, helped popularise ‘gravel grinding’, yondering and whatever the hashtag of the moment is, but in truth it’s just #ridingabike.
The words of this story remain unchanged, though I’ve stitched the three day / three post report from 2009 into one. Lily Allen still puts me right back in the Eildon pub every time I hear it.
THE WOODS POINT RIDE.
Any excuse to get out of town, away from the computer is a welcome one.
Dan said this is the ‘hardest ride I’ve ever done’.
Rides such as this cement my passion for hurting myself, finding the limits, tripping over them awkwardly, and laughing about it at the end with friends over a good feed.
The terrain which is predominantly dirt fire roads of varying standards, the weather which ranges from snow toblistering heat, and the choice of steed was a refreshing cocktail called ‘Hurt’.
ETAPE 1 – MELBOURNE TO EILDON.
When Dan mentioned Warburton, I figured the first day was riding to Warburton.
Wrong. We were riding to Eildon, which I always confuse with Bonnie Doon which is ON Lake Eildon.
It was pitch black as I rolled out of the Boonies to meet Dan at Shifterbikes (Collingwood).
Not before I’d filled the tank up to and over the brim….
Dan and I headed east from Shifter Bikes, taking the suburban highway to the Warburton bike trail.
‘I love that sound’ Dan remarking of the rubber crunching rock underneath as soon as we were on the dirt. It was going to be today’s soundtrack.
Some three and a half hours later (4.5 for me) we met UpDave and Adele in Warburbton and headed straight for the bakery. Meeting UpDave and Adele IN Warburton was the START of the ride, at which point I’d ridden 90km. I mused to Dan how buggered we’d be by days end as I scoffed two HCT toasties, a macciato, MAXade, and caramel slice for the road.
Dan had a new set of wheels for this ride, and as segway I should mention the first time I met Dan.
It was Critical Mass’ biggest ride of the year, 2003. The opportunity to ride through the Burnley Tunnel was too good to refuse, so I joined the hippy bretheren of neon clad commuters on another disruptive tour of Melbourne. A smooth looking character on a MINT Malvern Star town bike cruised by. This bike looked like it had never been ridden. I commented on what a nice bike he was riding, and he noticed I was riding a track bike and handed me a flyer for the Singlespeed World Championships (which I still have). ‘Nice to meet you’.
For as long as I’ve known Dan I’ve NEVER seen him ride a hoopty. EVER.
Dan’s custom built CX ‘Problem Child’ ride is a prime example.
White industries crankset, White industries freewheel with pawl and ceramic bearing upgrades, custom handwrapped carbon bars, carbon stem, TITANIUM fork, titanium bottom bracket with ceramic bearings, White Industries hubs with standard bearings replaced with ceramic and seals removed, Ti bidon cages, Carbon SLR saddle, NOKON cable outer, Paul V-Brakes and levers.
It’s at the painters getting a new look, but for the ride Dan excitedly had hand built a pair of EDGE Carbon clinchers with DT aerolites, making his bike weight a measly 7kg – 3kg lighter than my own.
At over a gorilla (1K) per RIM it’s the most blingin’ fixed/free setup on the planet.
Back on the bike, the first cob web clearing was at the foot of Donna Buang. This is a favourite with the roadies as a test of their mettle, throw on 32mm knobbies, a 39:18 gear, a scorching sun and it was a plod up the mount. We left the main road and took a course north and we were on dirt. Dan pointed to a knob way in the east. ‘That’s where we’ll be in two days, Woods Point’.
The day was fantastic, the roads blissfully vacant.
I’d been on the road for a 5 hours, and my feet wanted a break. We stopped in the shade by the bend in a creek and soaked, refilled our bladders, and ate. My caramel slice which I bought from the bakery was a gooey blob of sugar. I shoved it in. Fuel is fuel.
The sun really hit out, the roads got steeper but by lunch we’d clawed on with Marysville just around the bend.
I’d never been to Marysville prior to Black Saturday, and not much stands of the original town other than the bakery. It’s a magic part of Victoria.
More food, more water and a LOT more pedalling ahead of us. Dan pointed the route on the map (where it looked flat) and I just tried to keep him in sight.
After the fires, many of the fire access / logging roads have been covered in sand and loose rock. Lady Talbot Drive was one of those roads.
Powering through the boggy, slippery road was an energy sapping fight for each turn of the crank. My right hand was instinctively searching for the easier gear, but not out here.
The road pitched steeper, and steeper, and rougher until finally I could climb no more. I was walking. I followed Dan’s line and hoof prints in the dirt up the road until the grade eased and I could pedal some more. Then it rose again and I was walking. Eventually I reached a stream, found Dan resting and figured this was the summit.
Wrong. The rode soared for another hour, again Dan was first to the top and waiting in hallowed light.
It was 5pm, and this time last ride, Dan was already in Eildon and I knew what he was worried about. The pub will close, and we will arrive in Eildon with no place to eat. Absolute disaster.
Dave and Adele met us shortly afterwards.
‘Seriously, they should close that road’.
Just when everything looked rosy, and road was going down I hit a massive rut, pinch flatted, and waited for Mavic neutral support.
They never came, so off with the bag, out with the tools, spare tube and pump. There was enough room for a change of clothes, toothbrush, tools, snacks and my camera. With no bidon cages on the CX bike this meant adding 3kg of water to my back, but I barely noticed.
We were NEARLY at the top. Blue Range rd had a torturing series of 10 premature descents THEN climbs before we were finally descending a dusty, rutted road at full speed, painfully grabbing the anchors to maintain safe speeds through the soft corners.
Finally at the the bottom we returned to bitumen. Bliss!
The wind had picked up and was howling to the east. We had a short burst north and I had flashes of Flanders in my head and dropped the hammer. I REALLY did not want to miss out on food at the pub.
My bold move was quickly brought to a halt by my empty tank – I was stuffed. I’d been on the road since 6.30am and it was now 6.30pm and Eildon stlll an hour away.
Our home for the eve was Eildon Caravan park which was only 1km from the Pub.
I had a real Roubaix moment in the showers, I appeared to be wearing my kit even without it such was the grime I’d accumulated over the day.
Lily Allen was playing on the TV, we all hit the bar, ordered, laughed and cried. Day was over, all 215km of it.
Dan wasn’t kidding.
This was the hardest ride I’d ever done and there was 2 more to come.
ETAPE 2 – EILDON TO WOODS POINT / in WOODS POINT, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the salubrious accommodation Hale had organised for the end of Day 1. When I saw the Eildon pub, with a Motel next door I thought he must be a sadist for making us ride a further kilometre out of town to the Caravan park. Experience from having done the ride 4 times prior tells the said motel not only was overpriced, but was ‘turd’. A favourite expression of Dan’s which encompasses many a thing and never a good one.
A filthy foursome arrived 3 hours later than expected and the park owner said ‘When you said you were coming on bikes, I didn’t think PUSH bikes!’ Our cosy cabin which had been cooking in the days sun was warm, but quickly cooled to a pleasant temperature. ‘Dan, have you seen the sleeping arrangement?’ I asked.
The cabin had a double, and two bunks suitable for children. Small children. There was no need to flip for the fold out. Dan took the bunk, I took the couch.
Dawn. Cockatoo’s screeching in true Australian alarm clock style.
Waking after a solid sleep, the words tried to come out, but only a grunt of ‘morning’ came out as I passed Dave and Adele on way out of the cabin. I pulled on my bibs, filled my bidons and without words, we all rolled for the bakery.
You guessed it. Toasted HCT Croissant. Muffin. Coffee. Sausage rolls and energy drink for the road.
Hale pointed the route on the map, but it would have felt the same if he was pointing the north face of Everest. It all looked squiggly with deep valleys cascading either side. Today was going to be tough.
The road wound up and to the left and the sealed section quickly resumed the familar rutted dirt roads that were yesterdays norm.
I’ve given up with showing the elevation since MapMyRide only provides it for up to 100km.. It was a roller coaster of dirt, the bergs were big, the descents were big and the sealed roads were few and far between.
The first lung opener of the day was a steep twisty sealed road enveloped in the morning shade, and I was feeling pretty good so thought I’d try and drop Dan for a bit of fun but came to my senses quickly. Every little bit of energy saved now would help come the afternoon.
It was at this point Dan and I had been waiting for Dave and Adele. Adele appeared. ‘Where’s Dave?’
Dave had a flat, and figuring he could handle himself with a minor mechanical we waited.
Finally we’d decided we should ride to his aid, which meant climbing a massive pitch we’d just descended. Over the climb was Dave coming our way. Phew!
The ‘road’ keep narrowing and soon it was a 4WD track that crept through the bush. Nothing but the sound of bird calls, the crunch of dirt under your tread and your lungs heaving. It was still cool and shaded when I found Dan, waiting at the next turn. As soon as the roads got too steep he continued to trickle away out of my sight until I’d reach the next junction to find him waiting, throwing stones aimlessly into the bush, or catching up on some ‘reading’.
‘That was amazing’ would also follow in an exchange of words. When Dan set out into the bush on this ride the first time he had no idea of the road surfaces, route he should take, amenities along the way and most of all the gradients. This I can tell you is scary. Especially if you bonk or have a major mechanical.
In my first MTB race at Officer in the 90’s, not only was I shocked by the intensity of a real RACE compared with the ‘King of Training Ride’ tempo, but I was also shocked when a branch as thick was my arm went through my rear wheel, ground me to a halt, and took 15 spokes along with it. Stranded, I had to walk back to the start. If that happened out here, it would be a LONG, LONELY shuffle.
The road continued it’s MAD MOUSE of ups and downs until finally it was time for morning tea at a park by the Jamieson river.
Out come the baked goods from Eildon and we shared stories of the morning. Someone had installed a line of rocks to stem the waters flow and it was the perfect spot to relax in the shade.
I had an ‘Into the Wild’ moment, and knowing, well kind of knowing that most berries in Australia are edible, took in some natural sweets. Blackberries fall under the Weeds of National Significance category. They tasted fair.
We had the mother of all climbs ahead of us to reach Jamieson, an hour and half stretch of grinding up the dirt.
Just before the top, an oasis appeared. Bitumen!
As soon as my knobbies engaged the blackness I felt like I had a bigger gear, a lighter bike, and images of Pantani passed through my head. I was nearly at the first summit of that day and I was chasing the leader in BLACK jersey. The saddle where the Jamieson Rd, and Mount Terrible meet was where I found Dan. Basking in the sun and his own sweat.
The view and the ride to reach it. Breathtaking.
‘It’s all downhill from here to Jamieson’.
The sealed stretch of black carpet was fast, twisty and long. Massive gusts of hot northerly wind made it far from refreshing, but it required no effort to belt along at 60kph. For that I was happy.
The Jamieson Brewery was the lunch spot. Over a raspberry ale or three we ate hearty lunches and took stock for the afternoon ahead.
While chatting with the publican he mentioned how Simon Gerrans would ride out to Buller and back, a 150km loop, often with Phil Anderson who also resided in Jamieson in the 90’s.
If you think that beer looks good, imagine how good it looked after an entire morning in the saddle, battling it out in the heat.
Another energy drink (beer), and we remounted our dusty steeds headed for Kevington.
Dan had said that the road carried us gently along the river, gradually ascending until A1 Settlement, at which point it soared into the clouds.
We stopped in the town of Jamieson, stocked up on water, sweets and pushed on. Full of food, I felt really good and was happy to sit at my own pace which for a first was faster than Hale.
Then it hit me.
Something was not sitting right in my stomach.
I considered Greg Lemond in the Tour when he was struck by a similar sword in a stage of the Tour. I did not want that to happen.
This was serious. I sat up and waited for Dan. In desperation I knew I could use his ‘reading’ material and run into the scrub – but he was no where to be seen. My only other choice was to mash it as fast as I could to The Hilton in Kevington. Problem was I didn’t know how far that was, just that it was the next blip on the route.
I got in the tuck, and maybe only Fabian could have moved faster on a singlespeed at this point. A sign appeared ‘KEVINGTON’, but where was the Hilton?
It came into view and I can only imagine what the blokes and publican at the bar thought of a sweaty, lycra clad stranger bursting in and demanding ‘Where is the toilet?’.
I made it by mere metres. Whatever the cause, and my mind quickly pointed at the blackberries, I had avoided major embarrassment. At least for now.
I stood by the side of the road and wondered if Dan had passed, if Dave and Adele were far behind. Figuring Dan may have missed my bike leaned against the pub, I jumped on a made a brave attempt to reel him in but this just exhausted me further and somewhere in the middle of nowhere I realised I was alone, far from anyone or anything. Hungry, hot, fatigued, with no map, just water, and a small bag of sweets and the words ‘A1 Settlement’ in my mind.
The river stayed by my side for what seemed an eternity, and with each rise I thought to myself ‘this must be A1 Settlement’. I soldiered on realising I was not at A1 Settlement. Dan had also mentioned that Day 2 was the only part of the ride he’d had to get off and walk.
The road briefly returned to bitumen, and in the middle on nowhere (Gaffney’s Creek) the road became so steep it resembled a skate Vert ramp. It was ridiculous. Figuring this was the bit Dan had to get off and walk I knew I had to conquer this – and I did.
There was no fanfare though. The road fell equally on the otherside, returned to dirt and continued. This was getting hard.
A lone wedgetail soared at the level I was going to be at Frenchman’s Gap. Still a long way off.
I crossed Raspberry Creek, where beer does not flow, but all the same filled up my bladder for what I’d hoped would be the last time. I passed a rickety house on the hill, the entrance to it was a rusted gangway over the river with multiple signs emblazoned ‘TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT WITHOUT QUESTIONS ASKED’. At least that’s how it read when you took into account the remote location.
Finally a sign saying A1 Settlement appeared. I knew this was the beginning of the hardest part. It rose very sharply to a bend that took the road out of sight. I dug deep and heaved all the way to the bend.
The only problem was when I got to the bend, it revealed the road climbing steeper and further into the distance. I resigned to the fact this was where my pedalling ended, and walking began. I was comforted slightly by the distinct trail of Dan’s tread and SIDI hoof prints. It was a LONG walk before the gradient eased enough to remount. As soon as I did, it rose again and I was walking again.
I lost track of the time, but it was a long time before I was able to ride again and when I did a lone piece of paper, pinned down by a rock appeared. Hansel had been dropping the crumbs, I was on the right path and I laughed out loud. My face brimmed with a massive smile. It should have been the summit, but it wasn’t. The road descended, then continued to wind up through the trees, switchback after switchback.
To give you an idea of how far Dan was ahead of me, this is what he’d constructed in his delirium, a beacon of hope to keep the rest of us going.
The descent was arguably the hardest part of the day. The faster I went, the more the hands were belted by each rut in the road.
Woods Point Gun club came into the distance, and there was a certain vibe to the place which was familiar.
Woods Point. The pub on the right.
I pushed open the doors to the Woods Point Hotel to find Dan clean, going over the days paper with a cold glass of beer by his side.
I grabbed the keys to our room upstairs, showered and joined Dan to share stories of our own trials and tribulations that had passed.
An hour passed.
Dan and I racked them up, and had a few games of pool over another cold one.
Still no sign of Dave and Adele. The kitchen was to close at 8pm, and as 7.45 rolled by I decided to ask the Police if they’d mind rolling up the road to find our friends. Just as I exited the pub the distressed pair collapsed outside.
‘What took you so long?!’
5 flats, leaking tubes, exhaustion, frustration.
Parma, Mixed grill, garlic bread, pints and stories flowed on from there.
On the wall was the A1 Settlement Marathon honour roll ( yes – they have a foot race from A1 settlement, to Woods Point!) , and the Woods Point Loser Trophy, holders of which are etched into the plaque ( a disassembled shotgun) along with the act earning them the title.
Time for bed, a good rest would be needed for the final day of the Woods Point ride.
ETAPE 3 – BILE NEVER TASTED SO GOOD.
It’s day three.
The legs are sore. The hands are sore. The backside to put it delicately on the saddle, is sore. The mind too is sore. Anyone would think it a reasonable time to complain about such things. The truth couldn’t be further, certainly further than Melbourne.
Two days prior were packed with kilometre after kilometre of punishement, the body pummeled by pushing a single (39:18) gear over the dusty bergs.
I stumbled down the stairs, one hand on the balustrade, each downward thud felt in each thigh.
Dan was already halfway through the cooked breakfast that was included with the nights accommodation. He talked me through the days route as I worked my way through runny eggs and fried toast. I can recall none of it. Im sure it entailed much of the same climbing, twisiting and turning, descending only to climb again.
Yep, that’s a map.
Tired? Sore? Call someone who cares. Another huge day on the bike awaited. UpDave was praying for less than 5 punctures today.
‘It’s straight uphill for 7km to Matlock’. Dan ‘the chook whisperer’ wasn’t lying.
It was straight up from the very foot of the Woods Point pub, and didn’t stop till the top.
It wasn’t even 7.30am but the glints of sun that split the trees was like a bar heater on my back. I’d stuck with Dan for the first kilometre, and like every other climb let him pedal to the beat of his own drum. I felt my breakfast rise, and got half a mouthful of bile. It tasted horrible, but it couldn’t spoil the magic of being on the bike with friends, beautiful surrounds, and not having to think about anything other than getting to Matlock. Dan and I regrouped towards the top, sweating beading down our faces and exposed skin, dust sticking to it forming a natural UV barrier.
Dan and I waited in a log hut at Matlock overlooking the valley below. Dumped the bags, ripped off the helmet and downed as much water as we could. Both of us looking pretty shabby. ‘When I rode this with Scooter and Ugly it was snowing’ said Dan. Maybe it was the delirium kicking in, but words and even images don’t do this ride justice. I imagined being as tired and some, and having to deal with extreme cold rather than heat. Did Scooter really manage to make it all the way up the climb from A1 settlement? Impossible! The perspective I had on this ride now cemented it as the hardest and most gratifying I’d ever done (so far).
Miles from anywhere. The anywhere’s where miles from somewhere I’d heard of.
The days ride was constantly undulating dirt roads along the ridge of the ranges, with bizarre perfectly sealed sections of a kilometre in the middle of nowhere a cruel taunt. Not as cruel as the fox deterrent though.
‘..and doncha come back here none’
For the velospotters.
I was running 39:18.
BREV FYX chainring up front, White industries in the back and a basic Izumi chain holding it all together. Next time I’ll remember to bring lube.
32mm Maxxis rubber, Weinman canti’s and Dura Ace throughout. The old reynolds 531 Gazelle is a mack truck compared to the feather-weight Columbus Life/Spirit Problem child with ti fork and carbon wheels – which I’d like to think explained Dan floating up the climbs, or maybe I need to harden up.
Dan and I had got a full head of steam after a few sharper pinch’s and had a few minutes up the sleeve from our fellow adventurers, much like the hare it seemed a perfect opportunity to lie on the ground, and let the blood drain back to the head in the shade. It was so peaceful to be still, silent and hear nothing but your own breath and feel your chest rise and fall.
UpDave and Adele greeted us with candy, and according to Dan the hardest part of the day was through – almost. The memory can get a little blurry, it all starts to look and feel the same.
All the climbing was finally rewarded with one of the most exhilarating descents ever. Reefton Spur. I only knew of it through avid motorcyclists, and I could see why it was so popular. This road which essentially goes nowhere is like a black magic carpet with cambered twists and turns. Someone dropped an imaginary flag and Dan and I were tucked low trying to reel in UpDave who had the advantage of gears. The descent seemed to go on forever, there would be a short flat section, then down again at full speed. My cheeks hurt from smiling, my legs hurt from trying to spin at 180rpm while descending. The Yarra Valley to the right, a wall of rock to the left, and wind blasting past my ears. ‘That was awesome‘ I said to Dan. Dan had been in hot pursuit of the Salvodelli award. ‘When you snuck ahead, I was using the trees as time checks to gauge the distance I was behind you!’
With Reefton done, McMahons Pub provided a soothing ale and shade from the hot sun. As hot as it was one of the customers who rolled up in the ubiquitous holden ute was wearing ugg boots. None of us could make sense of it, but we’d just ridden 450km on dirt over 3 days. Who was the crazier I’ll you let decide.
Warburton. A semi-civilised oasis. UpDave and Adele had met us here two days ago and thankfully their vehicle was still there. ‘Want a lift back to town?’ Dan and I looked at each other. Call it ESP or the knowing without speaking an old married couple gets after years of marriage, we knew exactly what the other would say. ‘Yes please.’
All that remained of the ride was the 80km slog back into the burbs, battling traffic, horns, lights. All the things we’d avoided with ease in the country. We had the legs for it, but neither of us had the patience for it. We ate and drank heartily at the cafe in Warby, loaded all 4 bikes and adventurers and rolled out.
UpDave and Adele dropped us back at the (old) Shifterbikes HQ, and thanks to the mad southerly and some brilliant skitching I made the commute back to the boonies in record time.
What I have learned from this epic experience? Nothing I didn’t already know. Nothing and I mean nothing beats riding with good friends.
Thanks for tagging along.
More photos at the top.