Visiting : Briagolong, Marathon Road, The Pinnacles, Billy Goat Bluff
Distance : ~165km
When : Saturday 13th July 2014, ~4:00am @ Briagolong

This was a ride I did last winter and, in fact, it was the prototypical slacker ride. I wanted to do a “day” ride and I wanted to see some snow and I didn’t care if I had to drive a little and dodge some sleep to make that happen. I don’t know why I haven’t written it up until now but here it is, better late than never, my Pinnacles snow ride.

I’ll try to keep the words brief on this one as it did happen nearly a year ago now. Having said that, my memory of this ride is as clear as if it happened yesterday.

My plan was to drive to Briagolong, ride up to The Pinnacles fire tower, drive home and be back for dinner. I loaded up the Camry and started driving just after midnight, stopped for McDonalds in Traralgon just as the nightclubs were closing (they had security guards working in the maccas, lots of loud kids buying drunk food) and reached Briagolong about 4am. Soon I was spinning up Marathon Road with a massive full moon lighting the way.

I remember a couple of times thinking that a car was coming up behind me because the light from the moon was so bright. The lower section of Marathon Road had very recently been resurfaced and was super clayey and sketchy especially in the dark.

As day broke I saw some nice views of faraway hills. I could make out snow on the tops of these ones and dearly hoped that that was where I was going.

Yep, those faraway snowy hills got closer and closer and soon I was up amongst them. The ride route was a simple one – from Briagolong I’d follow Marathon Road for about 50km, all of it dirt, nearly all of it uphill.

I was stoked to see so many animal tracks in the snow. The top part of Marathon Road is closed to vehicles over winter so I had the place to myself. Just me and the animals. It must have snowed a day or two before and then been cool and dry. No rain to wash away the snow and all the tracks were perfectly preserved. I was pumped! Didn’t even know what sort of animals they were – wombat? deer? possums? I dunno – I was just giggling like a kid and dropping my bike every hundred metres to look at more tracks, take more photos.

Best part about all this? It was all rideable. The snow was deep enough to blanket the track but not deep enough to grind me to a halt. It was hardpacked and dry too, for the most part, so the only difficulty I had was the steep grade and the amount of debris – sticks and rocks – hidden under the snow that occasionally caused me to unbalance. Mostly it was smooth riding, the snow making that squeaky, crunchy sound as my tires compressed it.

It kept going like this for 4-5km until finally I gained the ridge and dropped down the other side toward Castle Hill Track. Oh man, if riding up that snowy road was fun, riding down it was on a whole other level. It was a steep downhill section, steep enough for regular waterbars, fully blanketed in hardpacked, rideable snow. I went cautiously fast, tire grip was fine, I was pumping the waterbars and getting air off them, it was so rad.

I felt this wonderful dreamlike confusion where my brain was registering the scene – “I’m speeding down a snowy track” – and telling my body to move like it was on a snowboard because that’s the only frame of reference it had with which to comprehend the situation. So I was pumping every feature on the track, trying to flick my back wheel out and carve turns, all the while laughing like a fool and, somewhere back in my consciousness, aware that the snow was only a few centimetres deep at best and was barely covering rocks and fallen branches and was nowhere near as soft and forgiving as it might look.

I turned off Marathon Road at last and headed up Castle Hill Track to the Pinnacles. The trees were hanging heavy with snow and sometimes it was impossible to take the correct line with my tires without taking a face shot full of icy snow from an overhanging branch. Just made me grin even bigger.

On and on, riding on snow, road closed to traffic so no other tracks except my own and the animals. So perfect. I remember thinking that I “get” fatbikes now.

Apparently I had a seatbag explosion around here as I tried to get some food out of my bag.I picked it all up, don’t worry. Burger was still good to eat too. Well, as good as they can be…

Mile after mile of perfect tracks in the snow. Big, small, joining the main track for a while before heading off into the bush to go who-knows-where.

The final climb up to the Pinnacles was steep and full of debris, as you’d expect from a seasonally closed road. I probably would have been off the bike walking due to the steepness even if it had been dry. As it was, the snow was soft and increasingly wet on this section, be that due to the aspect of the pitch or the heat of the day. Either way, I was hiking.

Now we’re getting somewhere… looking out east, up near the Pinnacles.

This section looked like a perfect groomer from afar but, as you can see, it was only a thin covering over muddy clay.

The fire tower in the distance. Almost there. I was so stoked.

The track up to the fire tower proper was super steep with big steps and rocks to clamber around. Add in snow and ice on the steps and it wasn’t a good place to be shouldering a bike while wearing tap-dancing shoes. Didn’t care. I wanted to get to the very top. The bike had carried me this far, the least I could do was carry it the final few hundred metres to the top.

Up at the fire tower. All closed up over winter.

The views down over the Wonnangatta Valley were amazing.

Looking back down to the comms/equipment buildings from the fire tower.

Yeah, bit sketchy getting negotiating those steps in cleats with a 29er on your shoulder.

There’s even a dunny up there! I’m guessing it’s mainly for the benefit of the fire lookout dude staff.

I used the drop toilet and had a think about my next move. I remember that I was out of water and was running behind schedule. Predictably, this skewed my thinking and instead of sticking to my original plan which meant back-tracking along Castle Hill Track and then down McDonald Gap Track, which I’d never ridden before, I decided to go straight down Billy Goat Bluff Track to the river. I knew I could find water there and I guess I figured that it’d be faster to take the road down in the valley for a while rather than slogging back along the ridge track that I’d just come in on. In hindsight, I think I just wanted to ride on a nice smooth surface for a while and have a break from HAB and muddy debris-covered tracks covered with treefall.

Anyway, the decision was made.

So, Billy Goat Bluff. Truth be told, I liked the idea of revisiting that track with a more capable bike – last time I’d started riding down it on a Steamroller with 35mm CX tires and bottled out almost immediately, ended up stumbling down it on foot. Safer option. This time I was on fat tires and disk brakes, no excuses!

But first, fresh brake pads on the front. My brakes had been feeling progressively spongier as the day went on and there was no way I was going down BGB without solid brakes.

I passed the spot where I bivvied on my 40th birthday. Heh, didn’t look too comfortable in the day.

The descent was much easier this time. Rode the whole thing but did have plenty of breaks to scope out the safe line and let the brakes/arms cool down. Love that track.

I took a nice photo from the helicopter flat looking back up Billy Goat Bluff Track (on the far right) to the Pinnacles (the knob on the far left). Nice. Love the symmetry of looking back up where you’ve just been.

This was the last photo I took because, predictably, my phone was about to run out of juice. Too many photos of animal tracks throughout the day! So, pretty soon I was down at the river in Wonnangatta Valley, well behind time, off track, with a phone that was almost out of juice. Whatever happened from here, I knew I’d be late home and out of touch with my wife.

To make matters worse, when I reached the valley and had to actually start pedalling again, my bike was making a horrendous noise with each pedal revolution. It sounded to me like the bottom bracket and I started to worry that it might not get me back to the car.

Shit.

The situation was starting to look familiarly fubared.

When a 4wd slowed down as they passed me I started chatting and half-jokingly asked if they could give me a lift. They said they’d been in the valley for the last two weeks and didn’t have room, vehicle was packed full of camping gear and deer. Successful hunting trip I take it. I rode on, didn’t bother asking any of the other vehicles that passed me for a ride. Figured I’d just keep rolling and worry about it when/if it went bad.

Fortunately it didn’t go bad and I made it out to the main road. Bairnsdale-Dargo Road, paved. Luxury. It was smooth rolling now, but I’d gone pretty far out of my way and I was still way behind time.

It was dark by the time I turned off the main road onto Freestone Creek Road. This was now back on my originally intended route. Good good. Freestone Creek Road was a real treat after a long day of rough terrain. All downhill at a beautifully steady grade, lots of nice turns, smooth dirt road rolling all the way back down to Briagolong.

Must have been 7-8pm when I finally rolled back into Briagolong and loaded up the car. Of course, I didn’t have a car charger so my phone was still running on fumes. I think I had enough juice to send a txt to my wife but I was feeling very bad that I was running so late. I’d planned to be back for dinner and then have a nice night in but, at this rate…

I drove off into the night, still not having seen Briagolong in daylight, and started the journey home. I got food and various caffeinated beverages at a servo in Sale, I think, and tried to stay awake. Think I stopped for a powernap around Traralgon. It started bucketing down rain as I gunned it along the long and boring Princes Freeway.

What a shit drive.

Worst part is I hadn’t sorted my car music situation yet so I had no music! I had to sing and yell and tell jokes and talk to other cars and trucks on the road to keep myself awake and amused.

Finally made it home, unpacked, stumbled in the front door. I’d missed dinner, missed putting the kids to bed, missed my nice night with my wife.

It was 11:55pm.

It was only a “day” ride but I felt like I’d pushed the boundaries of that definition and wrung all the juice out of that one day, used up every minute of it and lived it to the full. It came at a cost, to be sure, and not one that would be wise to pay regularly when considering family at home, driving tired at night etc. But that day… I felt like I’d really grappled with it and shaken it by the shoulders until all its treasures fell out on the ground.

A memorable day.

Oh, and did a lot of googling about those animal tracks when I got home, to see if I could work out what animals I was sharing the trails with. I discovered that almost all of them, I hesitate to say 100% of them but, y’know, nearly every one that I could get a good look at and relate my newly googled knowledge to, pretty much every one was made by a dog.

I saw no wild dogs, dingoes or foxes up there that day, but I’m sure that a wild dog, dingo or fox saw me.

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