Visiting : Warburton, Reefton Spur, Woods Point
Distance : 355km
When : Wednesday 21st March 2012, 7:00am

Last December’s ride to Woods Point was amazing but, for me, it asked more questions than it answered. I’d initially planned to have another crack at it next summer, maybe. Fortunately, I woke up to myself, realised that impatience can also be a virtue and decided to have another crack at it as soon as humanly possible. So, this was another solo ride with the same premise as last December : Woods Point return. No Sleep.

Same destination, different route, very different outcome.

I rolled out at 7am and took a combination of roads and trails – Koonung Trail, Eastlink Trail, Dandenong Creek Trail – to Mt Evelyn where I filled up water at the original COG Bike Cafe. It’s not open on Wednesdays apparently but the water tap is always available out the front. The Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail was next – 30km of flat, well-groomed gravel. I passed horse riders and walkers with a cheery smile as the tailwind pushed me all the way to Warburton.

I found COG2 Bike Cafe at the Warburton end of the rail trail and it was closed too. Oh well. I filled up with extra water here as this was the last place I knew I could get water before Woods Point. I filled my two bidons and also a 2L camelbak bladder that I’d brought along especially just for this long waterless stretch. It started raining while I was doing all this water filling so I changed into wet weather gear as well.

The rain set in pretty steadily as I rolled out of Warburton, past the Reefton Hotel and up the Reefton Spur, a long 19km climb up into the mountains. This was the only really significant climb of the whole ride – I’d planned my route to be a lot easier this time. It looked like there may have been some great views from up there but I couldn’t see them. All I could see was thick cloud and steady rain. The time of day – mid-morning on a Wednesday – and the poor weather meant that I had the whole of Reefton Spur to myself save for a couple of 4WDs. From what I’ve read, it’s one of the most popular motorbike roads in Victoria and I’ve always pictured it as rife with a steady stream of young guns seeing how fast they can race each other to an early grave. Not so on this day.

I turned right at the top of the hill and started the long 60km stretch of dirt road out to Woods Point. It’s an undulating road, very wide and well made though it was severely corrugated in places. This is a fast dirt road that sees a good amount of 4WD and logging traffic. I saw only a handful of vehicles on it, most were polite except for one 4WD that came flying towards me around a corner at god knows what speed, in a full four wheel drift, gravel and mud flying everywhere as he careened off around the next bend, staying on the road I do not know how. “If you’re not out of control, you’re not in control.” Indeed.

It was still raining solidly and the road was heavy with water. Finding the right line was crucial to maintaining speed. Avoid the deep gravel, avoid the sucking mud and the slick rocks, try to maintain your speed down the hills and hang on tight or you’ll be shaken off your bike when you hit the deeply corrugated corners. It was hard to maintain a decent speed, especially with the corrugations – they were brutal and could stop you dead in metres if you chose a bad line. It all added up to hard work. And there were still no nice views to sweeten the deal, just thick cloud and steady rain.

I hit a bad patch along this section. Malingering doubts, misery, bitterness. The constant rain and slow riding was draining mentally as well as physically but I pushed on and finally the rain cleared. I was almost at Fehring Clearing when I saw a beautiful sight – blue sky and endless mountain ranges stretching off into the distance between the trees. At last. I was a happy man.

I rolled on towards Woods Point and took stock of all the wildlife I’d seen so far. Flame Robins, Kookaburras, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Lyrebirds, Rosellas, Parrots, Currawongs and two massive Wedge-Tailed Eeagles having an opportunistic peck at some wombat roadkill on the road in front of me. It’s always a treat to see a couple of eagles close up like that – they took off as I approached but I could still clearly see the incredible size and power of them. They’re the largest bird of prey in Australia and one of the largest in the world. Scientific name : Aquila Audax. A good omen for long-distance cyclists? I took it as such.

The sun was shining as I bombed the final 7km descent down to Woods Point. The road was severely corrugated and I bounced and shuddered and bunny-hopped my way to the bottom and finally popped out onto the paved road before skidding to a stop in front of the pub.

Ha. Made it.

Finally, I got that beer that I missed out on last time. Shame they only had Carlton on tap. The kitchen wasn’t open yet and I still had plenty of food in my bag so I had one more beer for the road, did a quick drivetrain clean/lube, kitted up and started climbing back up the hill to Matlock, leaving the chooks and dogs to wander aimlessly around the main street in peace.

I didn’t feel like hanging around too long at the pub. It was about 6pm and I was only halfway through my ride. I wanted to put as much distance behind me as possible while it was still daylight. It wasn’t long before I was up the hill to Matlock – where I found a guy in a ute on the side of the road talking on his mobile phone – no mobile reception in Woods Point, what a bitch – and on past Gap Getaway to the first of the creeks that rush down the side of the mountain into the gutter of the road.

I’d noted that there were a couple of rivers or creeks that splashed down next to the road so I’d planned to not fill up much water at Woods Point. That way I wouldn’t have to haul two bidons and a 2L bladder up the hill to Matlock. I felt pretty smug as I filled up my bladder at the side of the road. Until I realised that I’d just got my gloves and socks all wet again in the rushing water. Duh!

Night rider

Night fell as a I rolled back towards Warburton on the same undulating, corrugated dirt road I’d come in on earlier in the day. It was still dry and clear and there were so many stars and planets visible along with the well-defined white cloud of the milky way. It was so clear and beautiful and quiet out there. Well, apart from the ruckus in the bushes on either side of the road. The night animals were out now and I didn’t have my Ayups this time, just my single dyno headlight (B+M IQ Cyo), so there was a lot of movement and action just outside my cone of visibility, all glimpsed shadows and rustling bushes. The lazy THUMP… THUMP… THUMP… of a big roo. I hope it doesn’t cut across the road. A low solid wombat shadow thumping and crashing through the undergrowth. A quick fast shadow that disappeared with barely a noise, maybe a fox? A group of big, tall heavy shadows standing at alert in a clearing, must be deer. A quick swoop! and then movement on the tree branch as I roll by – an owl blinking into my headlight, surprised that I wasn’t prey. And then, later on, a little grey fur ball in the middle of the road – it runs left, then right, then left again, dang! Pick a side! I swerve and just miss it, the first of a couple of little mice.

There were ghosts too.

The temperature started dropping as night took hold and wisps of fog formed in the trees and above the road. The way my headlight illuminated them as I approached, it looked like they were wispy white ghosts rushing towards me faster than I was approaching them. It was a really cool effect and it kept on catching my eye and making me dart my eyes sideways to see what the movement was in my peripheral vision.

That wispy fog gave way to solid cloud again unfortunately and another good slab of rain set in. Maybe it’s the geography of that section of the mountain range? All I know is that I was riding that same section of road back to Cumberland Junction in the same driving rain that I saw on the way out. Except it was pitch black night this time. And I mean really pitch black – it was the night of the new moon.

Gettin’ er done

My pace was slowing a little but I was still feeling good and just kept turning the pedals, doing the maths as I passed each kilometre marker with its “W” for Warburton and ticking off the landmarks; Nine Mile Road, Montys Hut, the Big River Valley sign. Finally, I hit the blacktop again, rolled through Cumberland Junction in the pouring rain once more and pointed my bike down Reefton Spur for the long, winding descent down to the valley floor. It felt good to be on the way down – there were a couple of moments up on the dirt road where I’d started to get cold and shivery and the temperature was only going to drop as the night wore on. I knew that it wouldn’t be so cold down in the valley and, hey, maybe it wouldn’t be raining down there either? One could only hope.

My descent down Reefton Spur didn’t set any speed records. It was pitch black, wissing down rain and there was a fair amount of tree litter on the road. But still, I could see why this is such a popular road – long, fast, sweeping turns. It just goes on and on. And I had the whole thing to myself – I didn’t see a single vehicle the whole way down. I’d love to come back and ride it in daylight when it’s dry.

My arse was getting pretty sore as I rolled back into Warburton soon after midnight. Everything was shut of course so I filled up water at COG2 and got back on the Warby Rail Trail bound for Mt Evelyn. Ok, it’s a straight, flat and fast 30km stretch but, at the end of a long ride like this when I’m hanging to get home, when the exciting part of the ride is over, I find that the rail trail can be mind-numbingly boring. It just seems to go on and on and on. And it’s worse at night. I was chuffed when I finally popped out the other end and bombed down York Road out of Mt Evelyn on the fast blacktop at last.

Give me convenience or give me death

I was fantasising about what I’d get to eat when I finally found a servo that was open. I figured there might be something open in Montrose but I knew there was a big servo at Kilsyth that would definitely be open. The lights of said servo were a wonderful sight as I flew down Canterbury Road in a full tuck, tears streaming from stinging, red eyes. And then I saw the golden arches of a McDonalds just behind it and called out loud :

“Heck YES!”

It was about 4am when I rolled into the sterile, brightly coloured, plastic molded, fluoro-lit McDonalds, covered in mud and grime, stinking and dishevelled, bloodshot eyes wincing at the light, face slapped red by 300km of wind and rain. It wasn’t the best cheeseburger meal I ever had but it was pretty damn close.

And from there it was an easy ride home through empty suburban streets. It was still too early for commuter traffic so I took the biggest, most direct roads I could and enjoyed the wide empty lanes. I arrived home just before 6am, hosed myself off in the shower and then snuck into bed to catch a couple hours sleep before the family woke up for the day.

Job done.

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