Thursday, 18 September 2014

Colquhoun Forest

I'm half wondering if Colquhoun might be a local aboriginal word for "place that would be heaven if it weren't for the mozzies".

My idea of mountain biking paradise is a good loop trail which gives you the chance to enjoy the scenery with a bit of a challenge thrown in here and there, and of course it has to go through an area where I want to stop and take lots of pictures ...

Colquhoun Forest, which is between Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance,  has all of that in droves.

Setting off ...
Straight into gorgeous flowing trail down a creek line
First little hurdle for the day ... bring it on
... or maybe we'll go around.
Lots of pretty photo stops.
That black dot is Kim on the ground having just gone flying over her handlebars at  the top
of one of the 'lollipop' drops.  In her defence, I'd just gone over there and thought
"oh*t that's steep and badly rutted", but got down.  She'd come over thought "Oh, g*sh" touched her front brakes
and the rest was history.

The lollipop run was so fun ...
Like, really, really fun.
More gorgeous trails ...
Enjoying where we were.
... and then there's a couple of these to let you know when to ride.
Enjoying a short bit of rail trail
Kim going over one of the ramps.
Colquhoun forest, unfortunately, also has droves of mosquitoes, and conversely not a single other mountain biker in site.

Yep, almost felt like Tassie with the trails all to ourselves.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Blores Hill MTB Park

Locals are legendary.

A few minutes with a local and a map at a trailhead can be worth ten times the time spent with the best maps or track notes by yourself, and that's why Kim and I were so lucky when we rocked up at Blores Hill MTB park to find a single car parked there (albeit that we later found out that a new 'official' car park has been built around the corner from where it was shown on our map ... but that also had nobody in it so is probably irrelevant to this story).

A few minutes after we pulled up a lone cyclist came in off the trails, so I say hello, and we get talking about the trails and soon enough the maps out on the front of the car and he's plotting a recommended route for our afternoon ride.

He also noted something I'd missed ... that it was already pretty late.  In fact due to late flights and GyPSy's usual interesting route choices, it was already 3pm when we pulled up, and given it was still over an hours drive to Bairnsdale, where we hope to find somewhere to stay the night, we really didn't have time to ride the full 20kms+ of trail in the park.

So he showed us what he'd ride if he just had an hour, and also cautioned us about the trig track as being pretty technical and somewhere we might want to avoid if we didn't like technical riding.

Now the great thing about Kim is she is completely disinterested in routes and directions and distances and so she was completely ambivalent to the fact that I was pretty much bee-lining us straight to the technical stuff to see what 'technical' riding looks like in Victoria.

That said, the only way to 'bee-line" our way to the technical stuff was to ride everything else in between and we had a smashing good time riding around fast, smooth, flowing track (our local legend had told us that there is a another local guy who has some injury, so he regularly walks all the tracks clearing them  - I'd crown that guy a saint and vote him in as Mayor of my town if he did that in Tassie).

The Trig track was a wee bit technical, but only for a very short distance (and they'd even put down carpet on one of the climbs to help you out).

The switchbacks and trails after that were heaven and it really was a hard decision as to whether to continue on into the dark or head back to the car when it came that time because we were enjoying ourselves so much.

Pretty little area.
Smooth flowing tracks, some nice small berms when you want them.
Heading up to trig track.
Trig track.
Kim waiting for me at the top
Kim ... not so sure about one of the small drops.
... but she rides it anyway because she's super awesome.
The sign says it all "switchback heaven"
... and even a few little man made bridges.

All up we only rode about 10km (so probably half the trails) but we were both buzzing when we got back to the car and would have happily spent another hour there riding the rest of the trails if time had allowed.

So far ... Victoria is good.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Coolaroo Hotel

You know those moments in a horror movie when someone does something really stupid and you're just sitting there watching it and thinking "no one would jump in a river when they know it's infested with a mutated cross between great white sharks and piranhas ..."

But sure enough, that's what they do, and then they die.

That's what happened to me last night.

Well ... except the piranha - great white shark and dieing bits.

Specifically I was fast asleep in my bed at the Coolaroo Hotel (it was about 10:40pm) when I was woken by what sounded like a knock on my door.

I lay there for a second wondering what had woken me and then as I started to drift off to sleep, I heard a second knock.  Thinking it was some dickhead that didn't know someone was in the room, I yelled out something like "what?" and then rolled over and started to try and get back to sleep.

A minute or two later there was a third and louder knock on my door, this time followed by a loud "Security".

Now at this point I was still half asleep and pretty angry at being woken up (but also worried that maybe something had happened to my car), which was when (in hindsight) I did something pretty stupid ... I threw on some clothes and just walked up to my door and without asking any questions, I just opened it ...

Now, if I were watching this movie, I'd be yelling "Don't open the door you idiot, there will be an axe murderer out there. No one would open that door."

But I did.

Which just goes to show that people do do stupid things.

I shall spare you the following exchange between myself and the security officer who told me he'd been sent to bring me to the manager because I was staying in my room without paying.  He seriously wanted to frog march me (half dressed) down to reception to pay my bill then and there.  

I insisted, with the use of much profanity, that I had paid my effing room charges and that I did not appreciate being offing woken at 11o'clock at night to be effing told otherwise.  I then tried to slam the door dramatically in his face, which also didn't work like it does in the movies (he just moved his foot forward and stopped it closing)

As it turned out, there had been an error in their processing my payment when I'd checked in and so the payment hadn't gone through which the manager had just picked up, but I still don't think you send a security guard down to wake up a hotel guest at 11pm at night to drag them down to pay when you're the one that has made the mistake ... a polite note under the door, or a phone call early in the morning maybe ...

Even the Queen Bee would know that.

Lilydale - Warburton Rail Trail

A while back I'd had a little burst of energy thinking I should decide where we were going to go on this trip and so I purchased four rail trail maps.

I'd even opened the envelope when they arrived and had a quick glance through them.

Admittedly that was all that I did, because as Kim will attest I actually did the planning for this trip on Thursday night ... about 11pm ... when I sent her a proposed itinerary which sort of said "We'll start in Melbourne, ride all these places and be back in Melbourne a week later".

Just for the record, I then got up at 5.30am to pack and went to work early so I could leave at 2.30pm in time to get the ferry in Devonport (but as we all know, not with enough time to buy something to eat before hand).

However in my packing extravaganza on Friday morning, I did throw those rail trail maps into the car, which turned out to be a god-send today, because as I was sitting at the closed Buxton MTB Trailhead thinking what to do seeing who they were closed, another cyclist who was also there said to her friend "maybe we could go and ride a bit of the Healesville Rail Trail instead" ... and there was my Plan B.

Lucky I'm always so prepared.

After I managed to find my way to the start at Lilydale, I set off with the vague plan of trying to ride about 50kms and not get lost ...

Got to the start (sort of)

Yep, I can take plenty of this.

First (and only) tunnel

It was a really pleasant ride (I only went as far as Launching Place which was about 58kms return), lots of people out riding, many more walkers and even a few horse riders.  The promised climb was a doddle (though I met a few people who disagreed) and although not a huge fan of rail trails, I can see the attraction of this route with it's convenience to Melbourne and lovely country feel.

The population and use also helps support a few cafes along this way, including this very cool 'Carriage Cafe' which seemed a very popular turn around point for many.

So 50kms ridden.  Check.
Pleasant ride: Check.
Didn't get lost on the rail trail: Fail (Yep, I actually missed a turn and went off on some aqueduct trail for a while).

Still, if I wanted a social ride near Melbourne ... this trail would definitely be on my options list.

Buxton MTB Park

I have to preface this post with the background that when I turned up at Lysterfield MTB Park yesterday, I had wandered down to an information booth only to find a poster indicating that about a third of the trails were listed as closed.

This hadn't really worried me as there were plenty of open trails still to ride, and so off I went.  But then when I got to the closed trails, there was no sign indicating they were closed, and as I sat there wondering what to do, a veritable flood of cyclists came past me in either direction.

So I joined the flood.

This background is important, because this morning I was sitting in Healesville Bakery and on a whim brought up the Buxton MTB Trails website only to see a warning that the trails are currently closed ... reopening next weekend (of course).

Now normally this would stop me then and there, but then I thought, "Wasn't Lysterfield 'closed' yesterday as well ... Yea, I know what closed means in Victoria" ... so off I set to Buxton ...

Yep, if you ever want to know what to put on a sign to turn around a bunch of mountain bikers who have just driven 45+ minutes to get there ... I'd recommend taking the Buxton approach ...

A bit of information and self interest mixed together ... works for me
With that said, two mountain bikers did also come back from the trails just before I pulled in and I couldn't help but note the thick layer of mud over their bikes ...

So an hour and a half after leaving Healesville Bakery, I was back there again looking for a Plan B.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Lysterfield MTB Park

You probably know the answer to the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” (if you don't, it's “to get to the other side” … come back to me when you stop laughing)

But do you know the answer to the question “Why does the rambler cross the ditch?

It’s to see what’s on the other side.

Lysterfield MTB Park

Yep, I spent last night crammed into a tiny cabin, with three other guys I didn’t know, trying to get some sleep after having eaten what I swear was one of the worst meals of my life, ever.

Seriously, if you’ve ever wondered what happens to those people who don’t make the grade preparing hospital meals ... well I'm about to tell you … they go and cook at the Captain’s Table restaurant on the Spirit of Tasmania.

I got BBQ chicken wings (which were undercooked and inedible), I tried the butter chicken (which turned out to be the highlight of the dinner because it’s only fault was that it was pretty much tasteless). I tried the quiche (at least I think it was supposed to be a quiche), but it was so dry I couldn’t swallow it, and then I had the roast (which was again so dry I couldn’t stomach more than a few bites). The roast also came with steamed vegetables which had the dubious distinction of being both cold, soggy and tasteless ... but I ate all my veggies because it was a “get as much as you can on your plate, no repeats, buffet” and I could only eat the butter chicken and veggies.

Now before you tune out and think I’m just having a whinge, I’ve included that review of this meal because it highlights the point of the blog (OK, more honestly I got this far and thought “Gee that sounds like a whinge, I had better justify it”).

My newly created point is this: Sometimes without the perspective of what’s out there in the wider world, we think Tasmania is the most awesome place that there is (or we think that the food we serve on the ferry is good enough), but when I go on my frequent sojourns from our beautiful little State and see what the rest of the world has on offer, well I often find myself thinking “Huh, turns out we aren’t so special in that respect after all”.

Which brings me to Lysterfield Park in Melbourne.

The original plan for this trip was for me to head down to Lorne to do Amy’s Gran Fondo tomorrow. I even forked out my $200+ (non-refundable) entry fee, but unfortunately I’ve been quite sick over the last few weeks (see, I don’t whinge about everything on this blog) and having been unable to do any training at all, decided to pull out leaving with me two days to kill in Melbourne before Kim flies in to join me on Monday.

I had an idea of what I was going to do with one of those days as soon as I made the decision not to go … I had seen a Dirt Art photo of some new trails up near Buxton and I knew I just had to ride those, however I was less sure about today ...

Which was when I stumbled across the Lysterfield rides on Strava Heat Map, and so after a lazy morning breakfast with Kerry at Southbank, I found myself driving to the main trailhead at Lysterfield

And that’s when my world view jumped sideways several large steps.

Heading onto the trails
Typical, fast flowing tracks
Nice woodland
And the grassy under storey ... I loved it.
A park for the kids (lots of parents with kids here)
Did I mention that grassy under storey  ... 
The fearsome "rock garden".  I know don't laugh. 
I was told here by some guy that the left track was the shortcut
and the right track was a really hard to the top of the hill.
I opted for the climb.  It wouldn't be considered a bump on the Monster.
Views from the top.
Out on the more distance tracks there was quite a few of these guys. 
Heading down.
Arty shot
I loved these raised boardwalks - several throughout the route. 
The beautiful forset around Blaire Witch.
Love Upper Blair Witch
... and one last grassy under storey shot.
Yes, I was on the outskirts of a city that has eight times the population of Tasmania, and yes it was a nice sunny Saturday, but there were still more cyclists in the car park than I’d seen since the Wildside MTB event back in January.

Once out on the trails (and oh, what magnificent trails) things were never crowded, but you were also seldom alone for more than a few minutes and it seemed to me that it wasn’t unusual for riders to pass one another without even a cursory ‘howdy’.  I say this because, by contrast, I was saying hello to every cyclist I saw and I did get a few strange looks (but more importantly I got lots of smiles and hellos back).

I loved Lysterfield, I had low expectations of the place which may have influenced this, but it was still near perfect riding as far as I was concerned with lots of nice easy climbing and descending (don’t be fooled by all those contours if you download the parks map – the place is as flat as a pancake compared to Tassie riding) and most of it was through gorgeous eucalypt forest with grassy understorey … which just happens to be my most favourite type of forest in the world.

The tracks were in the main flowing with enough obstacles in there for a bit of a challenge if you wanted it, but the signage was missing at quite a lot of junctions (but follow your nose and you'll find your way around).

I may disagree with their technical ratings because I thought pretty much the whole park (except for a small Rock Garden on the old Commonwealth (or was it Olympic?) games course was easy riding, not the blue and black that it was often graded, but …  in case you've missed the point ...  WOW … I was buzzing the whole way around.

Don’t get me wrong, I love and am super excited about what’s happening in Tassie ... the Meehan Ranges, Pickles Hill, Pilchers Hill, Derby, Hollybank, The Dial Ranges … and even as I write this today I see with moves are afoot to try and get some official recognition for the Coningham trails and get a new MTB Hub going over on the West Coast, Tassie is just abuzz ... but WOW ...  if Lysterfield is anything to go by, we’ve still got a big challenge in front of us for Tasmania to get known as an epic place to go for mountain biking.

Personally, I think we need a plan, and that plan has to start with those meals on the Spirit of Tasmania.

Yep, if we don't fix them, then the drive and tour mountain bike market is dead before we even get it off the ground.

See, told you I had a point.