Visiting : Toolangi State Forest, Cathedral Ranges, Mt Margaret Gap
Distance : 155km
When : Sunday 24th July 2011, ~7:00am @ Toolangi
Another long one with lots of dirt and lots of climbing. This will also be the first TWBD that I’ll ride on a geared bike.
We’ll start from Toolangi and dive straight into the awesome Toolangi/Black Range State Forest and head north to Taggerty before ducking around behind the stunning Cathedral Ranges for a good solid climb up to Mt Margaret Gap (1100-ish metres). Then it’s down to Buxton for a refuel before heading back into the State Forest to go up and over the Black Range again back to Toolangi where we started.
There’ll be about 2750m of climbing (nearly all on dirt) and there’s a very good chance we’ll encounter snow on Mt Margaret so gear up accordingly. There are no easy bailout points once we get on the other side of Black Range and there are only two places to get water and food (Taggerty at 68km and Buxton at 111km. There are NO shops at Toolangi) so be self-sufficient or be prepared to hitchhike home. Make sure you’re equipped to carry enough water and food to get to the next town – there are no other servos or shops or anything to pull into halfway. Mobile phone coverage might be very patchy. A space blanket and emergency rations might not be a bad idea.
I’ll ride to/from the start at Toolangi and treat it as a “transport stage”. Feel free to join me for all or part of that if you like. Because I’m riding to the start, I ask that you contact me so we can swap phone numbers so we can coordinate on the day. I won’t wait around at Toolangi unless you’ve contacted me beforehand to confirm that you’ll be there.
This is going to be an amazing ride. So much dirt… so much climbing…
Cold and wet. That was a real winter ride.
I rolled out from my place in Macleod about 4am and headed straight up to Kinglake via Eltham/Smiths Gully. First time I’ve done Kinglake from the Hurstbridge side on the main road. It was raining and pitch black but the views back to the lights of the city were nice. Quick water refill in Kinglake and then I cut across to Toolangi to the official start of the ride.
Campbell was in the tennis court carpark getting geared up when I rolled in. A couple of text messages later and we realised that no-one else was coming. I blame Cadel! So, Campbell and I rolled out about 7:30 and headed into the Toolangi State Forest.
It was raining on and off and, the deeper we got into the forest, the more insistent the rain seemed to get. The first climb around Mt Tanglefoot seemed a lot shorter than the last time I’d ridden it – maybe it was the company – we were talking non-stop until the first descent. Awesome, awesome forest. Huge trees, big ferns and muddy slick roads. The descents were fast and fun but the rain was pretty solid now and we were both covered in gritty mud.
We started heading north on Black Range Rd which is a relatively major logging road that runs along the top of Black Range. Lots of short sharp ups and downs. It averages about 800m so we were well up in the clouds and visibility was poor. We didn’t really get any nice views of the surrounding area – the whole place was thick with cloud and rain and we stopped chatting and went within ourselves for a while. Everything feels close up there. You get tunnel vision – just the muddy, rocky road, thick trees on either side and grey cloud smothering everything. Every now and then we’d come to a section that was being logged and there’d be a big empty clearing of smashed stumps and roots and torn up earth with heavy metal logging machines sitting there like armour plated sentinels, dripping cold water in the mist.
It was a lonely place.
I think we were both happy when we finally saw the turnoff that would take us down the other side of Black Range to our first stop at Taggerty. I really wanted to get somewhere warm. Campbell said he was so cold he’d stopped shivering, which didn’t sound good. I was shivering pretty badly and hadn’t been able to feel my feet for ages.
I was eager to bomb down there fast so we could get warm but my brakes seemed to be working really badly so I was taking it easy, not knowing what was around the next slippery corner. We regrouped about halfway down and Campbell said, “I’ve got no brakes whatsoever!” Our brake pads were absolutely smashed! The rain and grit had just torn them up on the descents and left us with nothing.
Our levers were pretty much hitting our handlebars and having no effect. Campbell adjusted his cable tension to get some more life out of the wasted pads. I went to do the same but I was running Shorty Ultimates – great brakes, work well, easy to setup, look awesome, but they need about 17 different allen keys of slightly different sizes in order to adjust them. So, I had to leave them as is, levers almost touching the bars, and hope that there was enough pad left to make it home.
We rolled on to Taggerty General Store and got warm and dripped muddy water everywhere. The guy in the shop looked like a Harry Potter wizard with a long grey beard and hair and curled-up eyebrows. We chatted with him about where we’d been and where we were going and and he got out some maps and showed us a few (dirt road) shortcuts back over Black Range. It became pretty obvious we weren’t going to continue with the rest of the ride as planned. If we did continue then we’d end up coming down even more steep, muddy descents from Mt Margaret Gap which is even higher up than Black Range. Neither of us had the brakes for it – we’d fly off the side of the road for sure.
One option was to ride back to Toolangi on the main roads via Healesville. That meant riding the Black Spur which is a beautiful piece of road that is always full of tourists, is narrow and has literally no shoulder, just a steep steep drop off down into nothing. I’ve seen enough dangerous interactions on that road between cars and busses and wide caravans and trailers and whatnot that I really was not interested in riding it at all. Especially not in the rain with no brakes!
Another option was to go north on the main roads and skirt round the top of Black Range where it peters out around Molesworth. Then we could stop in at Yea and take Whittlesea Road back up to Kinglake and then shoot across to Toolangi, That was a safer option but also much longer.
As luck would have it, Campbell knew a guy who lived nearby so he gave him a quick call just to see if it was a possibility to get a lift somewhere if we did decide to bail out. We were still weighing our options and talking to the wizard dude. What if we went north up to Yea? Should we just ride the Spur? Maybe if we could just get to here…? Why don’t we just…? And then Campbell’s mate barged into the shop, “Right, let’s go! Who’s coming?”
Campbell had had enough of the cold and rain so he accepted the lift back over Black Spur by car. I really wanted to keep riding so I headed north to Yea. So we both took off out of Taggerty without even seeing Cathedral Range which was meant to be the centrepiece of the whole ride.
But hey, the mountain’s not going anywhere. There’s always next time.
There Will Be Main Roads
So, I rolled north on the main road towards Alexandra and then cut across to Yea on nice flat paved roads, skirting right round the top of Black Range. Quick water refill in Yea and then onto Whittlesea Road which is familiar territory and made for an uneventful ride homeways. One highlight was that I finally rode the steep side of Junction Hill between Yea and Flowerdale – I’ve walked up it once or twice when riding singlespeed but this time I had gears so there was no reason not to sit and spin.
It was getting dark as I passed Hazeldene so, once again, I called in for a pickup at Kinglake West so I could get home in time for dinner and put Max to bed. Also, I didn’t fancy the descent down Humevale Road in the dark and rain with next to no brakes.
Even though this ride was cut short I still learned a lot.
Clearly, gears make a big difference to the work your body has to do. This was the first one of these rides I’ve done on a geared bike and I was able to spin up hills that would have previously had me out of the saddle, mashing it with my heart rate through the roof. Redlining it like that not only takes its toll on your body but also your mind – the sight of a steep rocky hill in the distance can be soul-crushing when you’re 200km in with only one gear. I found that, for me, gears really took the bite out of hills. Even after 200km I was still ready to climb anything – no big deal, just sit and spin. Of course it helped that my smallest gear was 34:32. If I couldn’t get up a hill with that…
This was a pretty wet and muddy ride. The only thing that did a decent job of being waterproof was my Showers Pass jacket. Everything else got pretty soaked. Radbot tail light – started malfunctioning (works now that it’s dry). Revelate Designs “Tangle” frame bag – had a big pool of water in the bottom of it. Topeak saddlebag – everything inside was wet. Deuter Speed Light backpack – all wet inside but it’s an old bag that’s seen a lot of use. Sealskinz gloves and socks – thoroughly soaked inside and out, though they were still windproof and hey, socks are really hard to keep water out of unless you ziptie them to your ankles or wear long pants. I dunno, the only thing that really bothers me about that list is the tail light – the rest is just an inconvenience but I need my tail light to work 100% reliably. Even more so when it’s pissing down rain.
Peace of mind
Last gear thing that deserves a mention is my new Spot Satellite Tracker. I turned it on in the morning and then didn’t touch it all day. It sat on my shoulder sending position updates all day and allowed my wife to track exactly where I was even when there was no mobile phone reception. I got a message from her before I even got to Toolangi saying “I love this tracking device!” For peace of mind, it is awesome. About 300 clams to get you up and running but worth every cent if you tend to disappear into the bush by yourself, leaving behind a worried wife and child who know you’re going into remote places that have no mobile reception.
So, that’s that. Another one for the “unfinished business” list. Thanks Campbell for the great company and for soldiering on in the face of hypothermia. It would have been such a different ride if it wasn’t so cold and wet! We’ll have to do it again in the warmer months.