Saturday, March 30, 2013

Escape to the Blue ‘Mountains’

Bikes + Train = Fun ahead

Easter weekend dawned and Heidi and I took the opportunity to escape the madness of our new Sydney home to head for the hills. Hills is an appropriate description with the most extreme geographical projections in close proximity; The Blue Mountains only reaching a pitiful 1090m, a mere pimple by New Zealand standards.

Heralded by friends as one of the must visit places in New South Wales, the Blue Mountains have been on the must do list since arrival, so taking advantage of the great train service we loaded up with bikes with gear for the scenic journey into the ‘mountains’.
How's the serenity?
Heidi was riding her mountain bike for the first time in a while, the clammniess of Brisbane making her roadbike her go to steed, but took to the fat tires quickly, enjoying the even playing field that Ollie’s fully laiden pack created on the uphill sections.
After a lot of time on my El Commandante recently, I’d decided to air up the fat tires and take out my more travel endowed El Chucho. This would make me ready for any impromptu hucks that might eventuate, while also getting me get used to the bike which would be my go to ride for the Trans-Savoie Enduro race I’ve signed up for in France this August. While we weren’t expecting the Blue Mountains trails to rate highly on the gnarl scale, I wanted to be ready for any extreme detours that might eventuate.
Gawking at Govett's Leap
Heidi on tent setup duty
Arriving on Friday afternoon we set up camp, and realising on completion that 4:30PM was probably too early to go to bed, we went exploring down a promising trail from Perry’s Lookdown.
Dropping 600m in 2km, this trail posted figures which would compete with the epic descents of the Canterbury foothills for steepness, but alas the sections were too steep, too littered with steps and chest impaling hand rails to consider riding them. Or perhaps I’m just getting lame after too much time across the ditch where properly gnarly trails are as rare as kangaroo eggs.

I would have ridden this if I had my knee pads
The next day we headed further afield to explore some of the trails which were mentioned in local ride guides, namely Govetts Leap, Baltzer Lookout, Anvil Rock and Victoria Falls. Besides a sprinkling of singletrack made tantalisingly rowdy by some water erosion, the trails were largely nice flowing set of 4wd roads. Not too bad all considered, especially as every route ended in a spectacular lookout with a breathtaking outlook across the water eroded valley to towering orange cliffs. The exposure added to the vista, as did the blue haze which permeated the gum forest, presumably the source for this mountainous region’s name.
And this huck if I had a downhill bike
Wind took a toll on this cliff
My favourite parts of camping are eating lots of easy to prepare food, then going to bed at 7PM and logging a solid 12 hours sleep, and this trip didn’t disappoint.  Despite signage and the area’s reputation for ferocious forest fires, some fellow campers insisted on building camp fires, perhaps exercising some idiotic pyromanical gene which Australian’s posess.

Now that we’ve got a feel for the place I’m hoping we’ll be frequent visitors. Only two hours by train, they Blue Mountains are a great way to escape the city, a readily accessible wilderness experience just like in New Zealand. With a bit of investigation and hushed exchanges in the dark corner of bike shops we’ll hopefully find some trails which will justify a bit of hike-a-bike. I’m confident that somewhere in the vast network of trails I’ll find something which rides the fine line between death and elation that can only come from the right mix of gravity, roots, rocks, leaves and dust.  

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