Monday, June 10, 2013

Scone; fresh baked with butter, jam and a dash of cream

It had been a longstanding plan to join Ross (aka the Unknown Rider) and some of his chums on a bikepacking trip into the Barrington tops, a high plateau draped in rainforest inland from Newcastle, New South Wales. While riding induced back spasms ruled out Ross in the week leading up to the start of this particular ride, the show went on, led by bearded Barrington campaigner Brad (B-rad) with locals Jason, Gaz and newbie Chris.

Brad points out an epic trail in the distance
Dashing away from work with my bike and kit, I hopped aboard the express train to Newcastle. While limited space meant I couldn’t take a book, entertainment came from a fellow passenger providing a crack impersonation of Trent from Punchy. His Australianisims and cussing on all manner of topics from Fords to boat people kept the carriage lively.
Waiting at the train station was Ross, who had kindly offered to give me a ride to Brad’s house. From there we loaded up the Volkswagon of doom and headed for Scone, grabbing some sleep and our last night in a proper bed before we were to embrace the bush.

Our Scone digs
Newbie Chris proved to hold on to the vestiges of civilisation for much longer than the rest of us, grabbing a morning shower while the rest of us didn’t bother, knowing our skin was to become crusted with the hard earned filth that only a solid bikepack can bring.
Ollie working on his filth crust
For this ride I’d opted for a Freeload rack with a reprise of the solar charging system which I’d unceremoniously dropped after the disastrous showing of my prototype integrated rack in the Great Southern Brevet (link). While the early morning mist out of Scone produced more dew than volts, by the time the clouds had cleared and we’d made the pub for second brunch the battery was charging happily.
Solar panels at suboptimal efficiency
The road to Moonan Flat had been of the coarsely chipped variety which makes for easy going on treadlies, but as we rounded the corner  and headed to the base of the hill we hit the sweet smooth dirt that willed our bicycles up the climb.

Jason heads skyward
And what a climb it was. Topping out at 1500m, the 20km climb packed a solid 1200 vertical metre punch which got me pretty stoked. This particular fondness for long climbs is one of the more difficult things to explain (especially to non bikers) but a big climb like this (reminiscent of the ones in the Tour Divide) really is a fantastic experience. Twisting and turning up the mountainside while view become more and more expansive by the minute. The higher you go the cooler the breeze  until finally you top out with satisfaction and a bit of huff and a puff at the crest of the climb.
Up till the point I’d conquered the Barrington plateau climb I was convinced that Australia held none of the long ascending delights which are prolific in New Zealand, but this climb certainly set the record straight.

View from the top
The landmark at the end of this particular monster was an amusing Dingo fence, presumably to keep the pesky baby stealing critters from the national park on the other side. As one witty graffiti artist pointed out, the fence didn’t present a particularly strong deterrent.

Dingos welcome
Now atop the Barrington Plateau, the grades mellowed and just before dusk a claggy mist descended, the atmospheric conditions mirroring the muddy double track which took us across the plateau to within a stones throw of our destination for the night, Selby Alley hut. By the time it had got properly dark I’d learned how to make the most of the slippery track, keeping rolling speed up and using my dynamo light to illuminate the small patch of jungle in my immediate periphery.
Mist descends
Turning off down the corker, we switched from a riding focus to searching for our accommodation, an illusive structure built in 1955 which promised shelter from the drizzle, a glowing fire and water for our dehydrated space food.  A brief but exciting encounter with a trail traversing wombat proved a small distraction, but by the time we’d passed the waypoint and had seen no sign of a trail to the hut, we decided to cut our losses and pitch our tents on one of the rare trailside flat spots.
Poor Jason had neglected to bring a mattress (though no fault of his own) and despite my assurances, the lumpy tussocks didn’t prove that ergonomic. He was kept awake by the groaning of what we at first thought was a sasquatch, but later proved to be a windfall tree hung up perilously close to our impromptu campsite. I’m not certain that paper thin cuben fibre would have offered much protection from this falling hulk!

Tree of doom
B-rad and the others soon turned up and we shared stories of the days before grabbing an awesome nights  sleep (except Jason), lulled into sasquatch filled dreams by the groaning of the forest.

Morning cast a completely different light on the situation, and on riding back up the Corker we spied the well disguised trail which had alluded us at night. Slithering down the trail and stepping carefully across the log bridge we found the hut, and a family of some 13 hyperactive kids who had spent the night up there.

Selby Alley Hut
How's the serenity?
Saying our hellos, goodbyes, and restocking with water we kicked off for Wombat Flats, then the Link trail; an exceptional piece of trail which really made the ride. It was wet and stacked with poorly assembled babies’ head boulders which scattered and tumbled as tires grappled for traction. Like a long climb, a technical one gets me stoked, and the fact that any ups were rewarded with giggle inducing slippery downs made this trail the real deal. It was akin to the technical parts of Canterbury’s Wharfedale, complete with the odd fallen tree and wheel swallowing bog which Rohloff and drive belt munched through without protest. The sheer amount of sticks and vines which littered the track would pose a threat for dangly do dads on a derailleur, but with nothing to snag I could charge through the maelstrom with relative ease.

Jason shreds the link
Lunch and another quaint hut and we pointed downhill, taking in an eye watering 20km drop from Gloucester tops to flats, spinning out, tucking and finding the limits of traction on the rain slicked dirt road. Only the odd uphill car quashed the buzz, with fear of becoming a hood ornament keeping us from going proper fast.

Elation of the climb over, we rolled through the delightful farmlets and lumpy foothills to Gloucester, in time for a beer, dinner and a lift back to the train station.

B-rad played the role of ride instigator exceptionally well, and the post ride mood at the pub was buoyant, with a particularly stoked Chris vowing to throw his helmet into the bikepacking game. Personally, after my small taster of the terrain on offer in Newcastle I’ll be back with bells on. Perhaps most exciting is the Big Hurt, which links some of the best trails (ala Link track) with epic climbs for 750 km of totally awesome adventure.  All going to plan I’ll be ling up for this monster in late August, safe in the knowledge of the awesomeness in store!

1 comment:

globalcheyne said...

Hey Olly ! You are a cool cat mate! Love the way you tell a story ! Have you tried embedding soundcloud on your blog ? It is pretty easy soundcloud is free or cheap and people can listen to you - I like doing captions too but it is quite easy to just record my voice aswell even with some background sounds too - Cheers for kerrys details - Working on some ideas -Go hard mate!!