There are adventures, and then there are adventures. There are longer rides, sure, but the Race To The Rock would rate among the toughest when it comes to harsh conditions and remoteness of location. Jake from Treadly has it marked on his calendar. Big adventures need serious preparation, and today we join Jake for the final leg of his journey as he starts to figure out what it takes to tackle rural Australia on a bike, all by yourself.
Part 1 can be found here.
…I rode through a front yard sprinkler that was shooting over the footpath to cool down, and decided I could just make it to Ararat on the last mouthful of water I had. Well, I was going to have to. Luckily the road was so skinny, steep, and full of traffic, I barely had time to think about water let alone worry about if I had any, but I made it in one piece. Straight to the supermarket I went and 2500 calories and 3L later, I went to leave town in the direction of Mount Cole. In the process of putting on my backpack, I ripped off a big, deep scab on my elbow – a remnant from a #fixie crash weeks before. After a last stop to pick up some bigger bandaids for the first aid kit, I headed out towards Warrak with two plans in mind. If I felt ok, I’d take Mount Cole Summit Road (where I’d heard there was a hut I could sleep in at the top) around to Ferntree Gully (yeah, like the movie) and camp there, or I’d cut through Mount Buangor State Park and still go to Ferntree Gully, but skipping the Mount Cole summit. Or so I thought.
Lesson 6: Plan an actual route. If you half-ass everything else, please use your whole ass for this one thing.
I took the “shortcut” and when the sun set I was hiking my heavily loaded bike up 6.8km of gravel at an average of 8%. I rode where I could but there wasn’t enough light to see by – walking with torch in hand proved to be the safer option. When I popped out onto the back of Mount Cole Road to find a beautiful, graded descent in front of me, I nearly cried. I flew down the hill at 10pm, not a care in the world. I made it to Dairy Maid Track, my gateway to Ferntree Gully’s many campgrounds where I would set up camp and eat and sleep and the last hour would be worth it.
Keep in mind that at this point I’d not spent that much time descending dirt on this bike, and it’s pitch black outside the (actually pretty wide) beam of my Supernova E3 front light. Coming down Dairy Main a roo jumps out from the side of the road and I instinctively pull hard on the brand new, Deore XT hydro disc brakes that I decided I needed to stop a heavy bike on bigger hills. My big fat tyres were not big or fat enough to keep a hold of the ground and so down I went, smashing a brake lever, some handlebar and myself into the gravel road. Skippy loped away, probably a little confused.
Lesson 7: If you have not planned to ride at night, don’t ride at night, idiot.
I limped down the rest of the hill with one brake, rolled into the campground and set up my tent, pulled everything off the bike and got inside. After realising once inside that I’d managed to get blood from my hand on a fair bit of my stuff, I proceeded to clean myself up. The sting of Tea Tree Oil on road rash nearly brought me to tears for the second time that night, and the thought of maybe not being able to ride my bike to Ballarat the next day didn’t do wonders for my morale either. The lack of phone reception was a bit of a nuisance, but I’d already let those following my trip know that I’d be heading into the forest tonight and I might not be able to send them the customary “made it to camp, still haven’t died” text.
The next morning I took stock of it all and decided that if I could get a lift back down to Ballarat, I’d work out what to do from there. The family staying at the other end of the campground were heading into town that day anyway, so we loaded all my gear into the back of one of their station wagons and I made my way back to town. Another lift (this time from the ever-helpful and always appreciated father) got me back to the family ranch, where I fixed the brake lever and my hand up as best I could and got a decent night’s sleep before heading toward the train at Sunbury at 6 the next morning.
Lesson 8: Call ahead. The country is not known for its extended opening hours.
I made it through the first half of the day fairly painlessly. A couple of pinches over Porcupine Ridge hurt my confidence a little, but the legs still had some life in them and the Glenlyon General Store was only a few measly kilometres away. When I got there, eager to get my fill of cold water and some much needed calories, it was closed for another week due to the holidays. I found an old lady watering some roses and asked her for some water, as the town’s public water was untreated, to which she gladly helped me out. I made it up Springhill and into Tylden, where I came upon an oasis in the shape of a service station. Two salad rolls, a bag of chips and a coke later and with all my water supplies refilled at the town drinking fountain, I had only 15km to go until I had completed the Festive 500, and 35km to go until the train at Sunbury. A ute stopped at the servo I was sitting at and asked if I wanted a lift to Woodend – I thought about it for a minute and figured I could afford not to ride the next ten k’s. It meant I’d still hit 500, and I would be pretty much rolling down the hill from Woodend into Sunbury.
Lesson 9: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. There is no such thing as a 30km descent at the end of a 500km tour.
I was all set to roll out of Woodend and cruise down to the train, when all of a sudden I was on a 4WD track again. But google had told me this was a real road? I was shocked, disappointed, and finally resigned, knowing that if I just made it through this last push I could take 5 days off from the bike and see the sights (read: eat the food) Melbourne had to offer. I swore and set off, taking any side track I could to avoid the washed out old track that was hardly fit to walk let alone ride. I made it out of Mt Macedon State Park and back onto bitumen, with one last stop just outside Ridells Creek to eat the last of my dates and get a gutful of water before the last descent into Sunbury. I made it, dropped down to the train station and relaxed. I had done it – the Festive 500 and my first real mini-tour were over, I’d kind of successfully lived on the bike for a few days and covered the ground I wanted to cover, and it was high time for celebratory tacos.
Lesson 10: Many of the things I learned out there could have been avoided if I’d just listened to the more experienced around me – you know who you are. Thanks for trying!
I’ve come out of the whole thing with a deeper respect for those who have done huge cross-country trips like the Race To The Rock before me, and for those who plan on doing the race this September. I know now what I need to add to my kit, what I can remove, what I need to find better ways of carrying and what I need to better prepare for. Here’s to a new year of racking up more kilometres!
Any hot tips or examples of what to do/not do for Jake and others who may be undertaking a similarly epic journey by bike? Leave it in the comments below!
All images: Jake Thomas