Late in 2015 good friends of Curve, John Griffiths, Liam Crowley and Gareth Pellas attempted to ride from Canberra to Melbourne, mostly along the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT). It was an ambitious plan to cover around 1,000 km over an extended weekend through some tough terrain. We asked John to pen a few words to tell us about their adventure. Read on to check it out...
The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) is a route that has remained an elusive beast for our little riding cohort for some time. First there was the "ride that didn’t happen" when Jesse and Liam attempted a fast 500 km dash from Healsville to Omeo only to have a wheel destroyed by a rogue stick late on their first night. DNF. Then there was another attempt from myself and Liam a couple of years ago starting on the evening of Christmas day. My knee gave out a short while in, and while I limped back to Warburton, Liam went on to face Mt Terrible, and with a non-stop ride to Adelaide two days earlier fresh in the legs, was bought to a grinding halt by the brutal terrain. DNF. Oh... then there was the ‘tip to cap’ ride that Angry and Jesse attempted? DNF. You get the jist. If you’re used to chewing up the miles with relative ease, the BNT has other ideas for you.
Given the history, the schedule we set ourselves was ambitious, but do-able provided all went well.
With some nervous energy (fueled by the additional adrenaline provided by cutting our airport run a bit fine), we boarded a plane to Canberra on a Friday afternoon after work. After building the bikes at the airport and a quick feed in our nation's capital, we rolled out through Canberra's suburbs just after 8pm. A mild night and a gentle tailwind practically hurled us south, our sights set on one of the early high country huts up around Mt Clear. The fast bitumen roads became dirt a couple of hours in, which then became a fun 4WD track dipping in and out the sides of a gully with a creek running down the middle. This meant maybe a dozen creek crossings and wet shoes, with lots of short, pinchy climbs before reaching Horse Gully Hut around 12:30 am. A perfect warm up.
4:45 am. Alarm. Shovel in some muesli bars, bread and banana alongside a creepy mob of kangaroos. A cracking morning revealed itself as we all had our (wet) socks knocked off by the stunning rolling hills and alpine meadows we were riding through.
An early puncture gave us the opportunity to have a "coffee" (read: No-Doz tablet) and check out the view.
The route was a mix of 4WD tracks and dirt roads of varying states, with a splash of bitumen around the sparse services along the way. One of the most challenging things about doing this trip was lining up where we could get fed & watered to avoid having to carry three-days of food. The first challenge we’d set ourselves was Khancoban for dinner of the first full day, 270 km into the ride. If we made this, we had a good chance of getting to the other key resupply points, Omeo, Dargo, then Licola during daylight hours. Seemed straight forward enough….
After some fast dirt roads, we passed through a gate and onto a 4wd track that spat us up. Straight up. A short hike-a-bike lopped a few km/h off our average speed and I started thinking about that dinner in Khancoban. It was going to be tight.
As we headed towards Lake Eucumbene we passed through some mind-blowing country. If you wanted to take an out of towner on a true ‘Australian’ bikepacking ride, this was the place. Following a faint trail through an alpine meadow, a wild brumby cantered across the trail just in front of us. Straya mate.
Gareth’s usual strong legs were showing signs of having not yet recovered from his recent 3,000+ km Japanese Odyssey as some of the big climbs slowed his pace. Re-calculating on the fly we decided that a meal in Khancoban that night was just out of reach so instead set our sights on one of the many high country huts and a delicious dinner of energy bars. We were all ready for a decent sleep given the three hours we’d had the night before and with cold rain on and off, a refuge seemed smart.
We arrived in Khancoban for breakfast on Sunday morning, where Gareth decided that the BNT has bested him and a change of plan was in order. Liam and I parted ways with Gareth as he headed north to Albury. Another BNT DNF. Liam and I continued south towards the Victorian border.
The weather didn’t quite know what it wanted to do. Rain, then sunshine, then rain again. It continued like this until we passed through the Tom Groggin Station, over the Murray River and back into Victoria. It seemed weird that we were in Canberra less than 36 hours earlier. A tough slog up to the top of Mt Hope had us red-lining, walking and hiding from the hot afternoon sun and, as we crested the top a few hours later, running out of water.
As we rolled along the fast, gradual smooth dirt road descending the other side we were watching storm clouds gather and hoping to get off the exposed, high ridge-line before the distant thunder became less distant. We reached the open farmland at the base of Mt Hope and right on cue, the storm hit. Sideways rain and plenty of electricity in the sky meant we decided to dash across a paddock to a hay shed to take shelter. Finding it locked, we just stood up against it as lightening touched down <100 m away in the paddock. “Is next to a big metal structure the right place to be standing?”
After the long, slow slog over Mt Hope, we both started to realise completing the full route was a pipe dream. We were behind schedule, and with sparse services and a couple of hard days riding in the legs, we made a plan B riding along in the pissing rain headed towards Omeo.
In Benambra, a backward little down some 20km from Omeo, we ducked into a Church toilet to refill water bottles (even though there was no shortage of it falling from the sky). “Wow, this place is like the Ritz!” I jokingly commented. (It was clean, dry and pretty spacious). “Well, there is a pub across the road…”
Looking like drowned rats; we tried to nonchalantly walk into the local. After plenty of smart arse comments from the pissed locals, we downed a few refreshing ales and a parma before retreating to our accommodation for the evening – the back room of the church dunny block. It sure beat bivvying in a storm.
So this was how it ended. Not exactly to plan, but we sure had an adventure and got to cover most of the parts of the route I hadn’t done before, including the mind blowing trails and roads around Kosciusko. The next morning we pedalled along the bitumen down to Bairnsdale to jump on a train back to Melbourne.
In the end it was bodies, minds and weather that limited our progress which is far better than frustrating mechanicals – we were lucky to all have flawless equipment, including the awesome Curve Carbon hoops that all three of us were rolling on. Another DNF means there is still unfinished business out there. Who’s up for a ride?