Visiting : Werribee Gorge, Brisbane Ranges NP, You Yangs
Distance : ~224km
When : Sunday 7th November 2010, 7am @ Fed Square

Time to head out west into the Werribee Plain and beyond where it’s not about lush, muddy old-growth forest, it’s all ancient geology, gorges, volcanoes and granite outcrops clawing up to the burning sky from beneath antediluvian lava seas.

It’s a straight shot out west to Bacchus Marsh and then we’ll hit Werribee Gorge and continue on up by the train line before visiting the infamous Mt Wallace (going down!). Then we’ll double back and do a top-to-bottom tour of the Brisbane Ranges National Park for more volcanic landscape under the food-hungry eyes of wedge-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons.

Turning back east for home we’ll cane it across the plains with the wind at our back and go straight up and over the You Yangs for some tasty singletrack action before rolling on to Werribee and hooking onto the Federation Trail for a flat and fetid return to the Big Smoke.

This is a long ride but mostly dead flat with only a couple of significant climbs around the gorges. Lots of dirt road and lots of sandy, gravelly loose rocky terrain. I’m considering gearing a little higher for this one due to the looong flat sections.

Boundary Road

Tom and I rolled out at 7:15 and headed straight out west to Boundary Road which was about 20km of dead flat, dead straight road. It started off as a major truck route – two lanes going each way – servicing all the factories, distribution centres and warehouses in Laverton North. We were shielded from the wind by the huge warehouses on either side but at each cross street we were blasted sideways when our cover temporarily disappeared.

And then suddenly the big buildings stopped, Boundary road turned to a single lane of gravel and we got the full force of the cross-wind belting us sideways as we zig-zagged across the loose gravel trying to find a nice line through the potholes and trying not to get blown over into a patch of sandy soft stuff.

Low pressure system

I stopped to let some air out of my tires around here – front down to 25psi, rear down to 30psi. Blakey turned me on to the likes of Jan Heine recently and I was eager to test Jan’s “supple, wide tires at low pressure” theory. Ok, so 40c Schwalbe Marathons are hardly supple or light but they were the best I could do at short notice. Of course, they’re way too fat for my Steamroller so I did a quick frame-swap and built up my Crosscheck around the Marathons.

40c Marathons weigh 720gm. Each. That’s without tubes. They’re freakin heavy. So, I got my head into “bus” mode and prepared to enjoy the heavy yet comfortable ride that these fat bags would offer. And, I’ve gotta say they worked out pretty good. At 25/30psi I was floating over the gravel road like it was smooth. The tires were soaking up all that high frequency chatter and jarring that my body would otherwise have absorbed – and over 200km that’s a lot of energy that didn’t enter my body.

No resistance

Rolling resistance? Previously I’d always thought the higher the pressure the less rolling resistance. Some say yes but contend that the sweet spot where the benefits of higher pressure meet the drawbacks of too high a pressure is actually quite a lot lower than we’re led to believe. Too high a pressure and the tire is so rigid that it transmits all the surface irregularities directly through the bike and into your body – and absorbing that energy in your body means you get tired quicker, yeah?

And anyway, we were riding on very mixed terrain, from smooth paved road to rocky trails, and on singlespeed bikes, so it’s not like we were missing out on a bunch of high-end speed. Comfort is king on these rides so I took the weight penalty, enjoyed the comfortable ride and let the engine work as hard as it needed to. Did it work harder because of the extra weight and (possibly) increased rolling resistance? Or did it work easier because of the smoother ride and less energy being wasted absorbing surface noise? Who knows for sure but I can say, subjectively, that I didn’t feel penalised by the weight and I did feel super smooth on the rough stuff so I’ll give these solid snakes the thumbs up for now.

Of course, the real enemy of the day was the wind.

Blow it out your ass

The forecast was for a gusty 50km/h norwesterly and we ended up copping it big time. We had crosswinds of varying degrees all the way to Mt Cottrell – a big old volcano and popular stolen car dumping point it turns out – and then just after we crossed the Werribee River we took the wind right in the face for the long slog up to Bacchus Marsh.

Boring, boring road miles. Dead flat roads. No cover from the wind. Mentally draining.

We fuelled up at Bacchus Marsh and rolled on for the first climb of the day – a short sharp wheezer up the side of the Werribee Gorge where we met the train line which we’d follow all the way to Ballan. Sweet dirt roads up there and plenty of visibility for miles around – wunderbar – but we were still pushing northwest straight into that wind. All the energy of the morning had melted away in the wind and sun and we were into the mid-stage miles already – only 70km out and still heading directly away from home into that relentless gale.

Into my hypercube

Lots of time to think up there – not much talking between Tom and I – the wind made it hard to hear each other anyway. I felt loneliness.

Faaark, this ride is too long. We’re knackered already and still heading away from home. We’ll never make it. I’m going to be too late to put Max into bed. So far away from home and still pushing further and further away. Even the wind is trying to push me back home but I’m fighting against it to get away. Why can’t I just go home? Just keep going. Always keep going. There’s Ballan, stop talking to yourself. Ok.

Ballin’

We got to Ballan and sat down outside a takeaway place for a good feed and a rest. The local rascal kids hassled us about our bikes and kept asking Tom where we’d come from and where we were going and how fast could we go and how much are the potato cakes etc. etc. We fueled up and rolled out and suddenly it was a completely different ride. We turned south and found ourselves freewheeling downhill with the wind at our backs. Man did that feel good.

From grimacing into the wind all morning, hunched down trying to make ourselves small as we grovelled out into the unknown, to sitting up tall with the wind pushing hard on our backs, averaging 35km/h while barely turning the pedals and, for me, mentally at least, very much on our way home.

Lost in a forest

We rolled an easy 20km to our turnoff (decided to skip the Mt Wallace downhill and get straight to the dirt) and pretty soon we were in the Brisbane Ranges National Park and deep in the scrubby dry bush on wide well-made dirt roads. Nice. This was what we’d come out here for – dirt roads deep in the bush – Tom pointed out it was not unlike Disappointment State Forest which we’d visited a few months ago. Rolling hills, awesome views glimpsed between the trees, strange birds, dragonflies everywhere and so much scrubby, wildflowery, rocky bush.

We fanged it on a nice downhill towards the Little River Picnic Area and it got quite rocky and technical in places. I was loving the speed and lofting big bunny hops over the worst of it but one section was too big and my low psi strategy almost bit me in the arse as I bottomed out big time on the rocks – both rims took a beating and god knows how I didn’t pinch flat. Grins all round as we chilled at the picnic area for a while and watched the dragonflies and the drudgery of the windy morning was far behind us. Yeah, it was worth it to come all this way – of course it was!

You dirty switch

We pushed on and found the road going up and down now. Steep pinches and switchbacks (ah, that’s why it’s called Switch Road) to test the legs, tire traction and Tom’s new Garmin machine. I don’t know if I trusted the elevation readings it was giving but I do know we were both close to the redline and covered in sweat and dust.

Tom smashed a gu around this point and I kept digging in the food pockets for sustenance and we did some maths to see if Tom could make it to the You Yangs on his remaining water or if we should take a small detour to Anakie to refuel. We decided to push on and suddenly the national park ended, just like that. And there we were on a major road with a nice wide shoulder and fast, fast descent down off the ranges. Nice.

So, on on to the You Yangs. Down on the flat again and heading in a mostly easterly direction. The wind was still angry but I think it was starting to swing around east. It was a mostly downhill run too so it felt fast and good. The unmistakable silhouette of the You Yangs drew closer and closer while dark clouds threatened overhead.

Big sky

We stopped for a breather on the side of Granite Road, surrounded by wheat fields, just two small dots in the middle of the vast plains. And we looked around and realised that, due to the flatness, we could see pretty much the route we’d taken since that morning – the big loop from Bacchus Marsh, up next to the gorge and on over the hill to Ballan, then right down the long line of the ranges and then off them to where we stood now.

We were eager to get to water so we rolled on and the road down to the You Yangs main entrance seemed to go on forever. Finally we arrived and sat down for a rest and refuel at the water tap. We both scrounged for food in our pockets and drank our fill and, annoyingly, sneezed and snorted and scratched our histamental eyes. Gah! The hayfever had hit us hard on that last leg – I don’t know what it was that triggered us off but it was wreaking havoc. It was pretty much as bad as the hayfever gets for me, which is pretty mellow actually, it’s annoying but not debilitating. Tom, on the other hand, was having major trouble with his eyes and I can only imagine how it must have felt.

Track!

We rolled on and, though we were both hanging to get to the singletrack earlier in the morning – it was as if the You Yangs was our final destination or something, we just had to make it to the You Yangs – well, now we were both too knackered to care so we stayed on Great Circle Drive and took it all the way up to the top and only then did we get onto the number 1 n00b trail and roll it easily down to the Drysdale Road carpark. We waved and called out to all the mountain bikers we saw but, with 150km in the legs already, we were too far gone to hang around for extreme offroad action.

Another quick refuel at the carpark and Tom asked how far it was to Little River v-line train station. I don’t think I fully grasped how bad his eyes were. He’d been suffering in silence for hours and now his eyes were swollen blood red and his vision was failing. We rolled on down the country roads and pretty soon we arrived at Little River. We decided to check the train timetable and, if there was a train coming soon, we’d wait for it, otherwise we’d keep pushing on to Werribee and catch the suburban train back to town. Turns out there was a train coming soon so we decided to wait for it. We turned off our motors, rested our bones on the platform and I started nodding off at one point while we waited for the train to take us back to civilisation.

V-Line riding

We chatted idly on the way back and the surly conductor sold us tickets. Tom’s eyes were still very scary to look at but nothing permanent I’m assured. He reckons it could have been “thunderstorm asthma” that hit us both – it did get stormy on that leg to the You Yangs and the wind had been kicking all day so there would have been a buttload of allergens up there in the sky. So maybe it was the storms that dumped a hell-bucket of itchy powder on us as we rode along unsuspectingly through the fields.

Who knows.

All I know is that we each did close to 200km for the day, my hastily-built Crosscheck performed like a champ on its maiden voyage despite no chain lube, slightly rubbing brakes (bloody cantis!) and mangled bar tape (i ran out of time, sue me!) and now we both have strong, strong memories of our time out in the windy west.

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