Orphan 500: Part 1

Over the Christmas period, 7 daring adventurers, all misplaced from their usual festive gatherings due to the worldwide pandemic, set out to ride, eat & sleep their way around a 500km+ loop of the Victorian High Country.

The loop: a tour of all the best breweries that the High Country had to offer. All conveniently linked by gravel roads/tracks, testing mountain passes and the occasional smooth bitumen.

Sleeping under the stars, searching for their next feed and sampling all the finest brewed recovery smoothies, the Orphans experienced a whole host of new and unique emotions.

Orphan 500: Part 1

I will keep this pretty short as the wonderful people I had the pleasure of riding with have written and recounted the adventure so incredibly well there is little to add and no more paper to write upon. 

My life is perhaps a little unusual and a little nomadic at times. Traveling the world sharing the gospel of Curve to all that will listen. Seeking out special people and like-minded souls to represent our brand in far-flung corners of the planet. The last three or four yeas of my life have been spent in this pursuit and it has afforded me a unique skill set when it comes to jumping on the bike and heading off into the sunset, My mate Kevin and I are always ready for a ride across a continent or a trip to the local watering hole. It's just how we have been moulded. It's what we enjoy. That all changed in 2020. Gone were the days of 25+ countries in a year. Enjoying Ultra's through new and exciting countries. Our backyard grew smaller and our human interaction more zoom based. How the landscape shifted so quickly, and we were certainly not ready for that adventure but we managed! 

With the realisation that Christmas was canceled as I could no longer return to Sydney to be with family, I thought 2020 had one final pineapple to insert sideways. It certainly didn't disappoint but having spent my time rolling with the exotic punches dealt in 2020, I felt more nimble when the final blow missed and the Orphan 500 was born. A mere 24hrs later we had a route, a rough plan written on the back of a Moondog Brewery napkin and the #orphan500 was born.

I was determined to do a few things with this adventure. Number 1.. Ensure Joe, my mate from the UK, was not going to miss an opportunity to finally see a bit of Australia after spending his entire working holiday locked down in Curve. Number 2... Get JB back on the bike after a rough Covid experience, and entice him to come and help us with our workshop being our lead mechanic. Also hanging out with JB is rad, and weve had many an adventure with our tours in Lesotho and South Africa to every Flashpacking trip Jesse & Sarah have run in Australia. I am so happy JB has done both. Number 3, was for Jess and Iwan to experience the wonderful world of multiday adventures, bikepacking and gravel! Last but not least Number 4 was to see one of my close friends The Gus Wagon! Gus and I have had too many adventures to mention but what I will say is that he is a special man you must have on an adventure. He possesses a zest for life unlike any other! Gus shares my love of adventures that unfold without much planning, having to rely on experience and on the fly decision making. Also, his laugh is the stuff of legend and if you could bottle and sell it you would! I spent a week ensuring it was heard! Another one of my loves. 

The adventure got off to a rocky start when I realised a demo steel bike we had just had returned to us had been damaged. A large impact had been sustained it would later be determined and the downtube had a crack in it. Bit of a shame to realise after we had all taken the train from Southern Cross to Wangaratta and then cycled along the rail trail to Beechworth to begin the adventure. 

2020 came with one final little fruit, though I was again able to ensure that little pineapple missed its mark. Gus arrived from Narrabri! The bloody champion of a man arrived into Beechworth, we loaded little Joe into the back of the cab, his Kevin into the Ute flatbed and charged back to Curve. We realised there was a titanium XS frame that was left yet unsold... Luck was on our side and we were determined this trip was going to happen come hell or high water! 

4 hours of driving back to the "Adventure Dojo" (Curve Cycling HQ), we three-man Formula-1 pit crewed the heck out of the strip and rebuild. Transferring everything from poor Kevin of Steel to Kevin of Titanium. 2 hours later we were driving back to Beechworth. We delayed the trip by 24 hours and the crew left behind enjoyed the amazing waterfalls and delights of Beechworth - the lucky buggers! We had dinner booked by Ben and his wonderful sister at Bridge Road Brewery and were welcomed with a clap from DJ Iwan (a member of the Orphan500), this clap ignited the most amazing response from the packed Brewery as the entire place came to a roaring frenzy of celebratory clapping. News travels fast in country towns! Then...no sooner had we embarrassingly waved to the crowd...  Ian announced to the Brewery that "Gus & Rhino had just got engaged!". The roof being ripped off the place in celebration and pints of delicious Bridge Road nectar arrived without even an order being placed! I tell you if this is how the ride was going to start then by golly we were in for once heck of an adventure! 

I won't recount each day, you can find that on my Instagram as ALL 250 videos have been carefully placed into the stories highlights section for you to enjoy further. What I will add is we had one of the best rides ever. It all occurred in our back yard. I challenge you to realise that you are only limited by your imagination. There's so much to explore regardless of the bike you ride, the kit you chose to wear or the people you chose to spend that time with. Make the most of your time here. Don't live without imagination or in fear that these types of adventures are not for you. I firmly believe you can do anything you believe you can. I smiled when DJ Iwan looked at me up the beast that is Goldie Spur saying this was the hardest thing he had ever done in his cycling life and he loved it. He told me that I was right, the only difference was I knew he could do it, and he was about to realise that understanding at the summit. I was so proud and envious. With my heart full and my belly sore from laughter over this amazing adventure, I will leave the experiences to the crew to share. 

Ryan (aka Rhino)

On the eve of Christmas eve, I bumped into Rhino on my way to Curve. While we were sipping on some black caffeinated juice he informed me that I was going on the Orphan 500 trip, it didn’t seem like I had an option to say no. Fair to say that after a particularly challenging year and sub zero riding since March I was both excited to go on an adventure with my mates but also anxious knowing that my legs were most likely not going to cooperate.

After some last minute packing we found ourselves on the train to “Wang“. Our crew of 7 Orphans was a mix of first timers all the way to world class ultra athletes with everything in between. Yet every one of us would feel the magic that traveling by bicycle brings and the deep bond that it creates. The banter dial was turned to 11 immediately and we were rolling on the transfer/shakedown leg from Wang to Beechworth where the real adventure would start the following day...well at least that was the plan. A few hiccups later and the start was postponed by a day. At last we were ready to roll on the 550kms route provided by the good people of the Gravel Mob, an anti clockwise loop, starting and end in the lovely Town of Beechworth, Victoria.

The first few days were almost entirely gravel, wandering through national parks, dry plains and farmland north of the high country. The  weather was as perfect as the scenery surrounding us and the vibe was even better. It seems that laughing was all we did. We bounced from breweries, country pubs and bakeries as resupply points to feed our 2 legged powered ponys. Sleeping under the stars every night comforted by the sweet melody of my snoring. The stunning route and being surrounded by some of my favourite people, had me totally forgetting about my absence of fitness and, to my greatest surprise, my legs weren’t screaming at me.

We were on a high, living on our bikes, laughing harder than we have ever did and taking in every ounce of this magical place that the High Country is. The amazing hospitality of the locals only adding to the experience. As we progressed through the route, the weather got wetter, the climbs steeper and rougher, but spirits and camaraderie were what helped all of us conquer the mountains and our self doubts. As we pushed through our last day to Beechworth to conclude our adventure, all I felt was gratitude to have such amazing friends in my life, knowing that we don’t have to go to exotic places to live the dreams.

We celebrated our loop completion at Bridge Road Brewery with our favourite hops-based smoothies and delicious pizza, already planning the next adventure while reminiscing about the past week we just shared. We lost some orphans along the way, but what we shared and the memories we created are with us forever. Forget about the numbers and figures (unless that’s your thing, look at the ridewithgps files) this adventure was about friends having the time of their life, sharing what we love doing together after a long and difficult year of lockdown, and for that I am so thankful. 

J.B. (aka Passione)

For a lot of us adventure is something that 'others' do, I never thought that I would be a part of a solid group of people adventuring through the high country of Victoria. When I agreed to come on the very last minute trip, to be honest I tried not to think too much about what would be involved. Being a complete beginner to gravel riding, riding in a group, bike packing, longer distance riding and climbing, the idea seemed like it wouldn't be possible for someone like me. Yet the boys assured me it would be slow, fun and doable, with plenty of laughs and beer along the way. So I was in. 

The night before meeting the Orphan Tribe and our train ride to Wangaratta, I was riddled with anxiety, and much to the advice I had been given to make sure I eat, I couldn't eat a single bite due to how nervous I was. Did I pack correctly? Would I make it? What if I couldn't do it? Would I let down people who were more experienced than me? But from past experience with things that push you further out of your comfort zone sometimes you need to just take one moment at a time, and tackle each part as it comes.  

From the very first moment, I felt welcomed and included in the group. The Orphans already had a tight bond. And finally after a few initial setbacks in Beechworth, we were off. Eating Vitamin G. Enjoying Nature at its finest. Pleasuring in local hospitality whenever we could. Bantering with one another, supporting each other and sleeping under the stars. 

I'll let the others touch on specific route details, numbers, stops and specific brewery and hospitality delicacies, what I would like to expand on was the internal processing that took place on an adventure such as this. Especially as a first timer. Without the safety, openness, support and humor of the group, this type of internal navigation wouldn't have been possible. It was like, the further we went out, in nature, of our comfort zones, there was an invitation to go further inwards, a direct reflection of each other. The more you put in, the more you got out.

For someone whom all of this was new, even packing my bike (with ample help) and knowing how to be on the bike was a constant trial and error of what worked and didn't work. A consistent tinkering of how to make things more simple and what you deemed the most important. You don't really know your style until you are out there doing the work, in the great outdoors figuring it all out as you go along.

At all moments I was forced (or perhaps encouraged) to expand. There is something magical that takes place when all you have is your bike, your self, the stuff on your bike and the immediate people around you. A certain vulnerability emerges.

Venturing into the high country and migrating beyond one's daily habits almost felt like a type of initiation process. It made me reflect on how the more comfortable we get the more we deprive ourselves from life's true pleasures.You don't quite realise the appreciation for the simple comforts of life until you actively remove them. 

Really slowing right down allowed for a true appreciation and AWE for the nature we were travelling through. Without sounding too cliche, it slowly felt like you became a part of the environment, and not so much a visitor anymore but an integral part of its vast landscape. 

This type of trip provided a perspective shift and a disruption to a heavy 2020, and our habitual ways of being. Suspending our current reality and providing an opportunity (if you let it) to recalibrate and reorganise deep parts of yourself. Changing the way you view the environment, the pace at which you communicate and the expectations you have about how things should and shouldn't work. It is almost like you began to co-create this new emerging rhythm, one which is simple and seems to make the most sense. One that is governed mainly by nature itself. Rising and falling with the sun, following the rhythm of your own breath, eating when you can, drinking when you can, resting when you needed, following threads of conversation and being lost at times in thought. It felt almost primordial? 

Time seems to become this illusion where one moment you're deep in conversation, then deep in silence, deep in nature, sometimes 60km goes by and you feel like you have just been peddling for 15 minutes. 

It offered a reflection for the way I teach and practice yoga, the crossing over of deep threads of similarities of the capacity of the human body and mind.  Pain, well pain is inevitable, both on the bike, off the bike, it's a guarantee. What was interesting is that suffering seemed to be a choice. Or perhaps a skill which you work on over time. The more you are able to befriend and become hospitable to the pain, the more you are able to uncover an experience deep in the mind, and inevitably the less you would suffer. 

Problems and conflicts at home became insignificant. Gratefulness becomes overpowering. It is almost like bikepacking and self purpose/reflection go quite well together, whether or not you are conscious of it or not. You attend to similar places deep in the mind as if you were in deep meditation or reflection.Utilising nature, the bike, the company as portals into different worlds, not accessible through regular daily habit. The slow pace and appreciation for the small gifts becomes reflective off the bike and then in the local communities we were travelling through. Slow, long and humble conversations with locals. This pace, the slower one, it challenges everything we have been taught in the western world, where more is better, faster is desirable. The trip illuminated an overstimulation and overload of information which is deemed 'normal'. Maybe normal but it is definitely not natural. 

Time on the bike became simple. you ride, you laugh, you eat, you drink, you struggle, you feel joy and you appreciate it all as it comes in waves. And when the waves of toughness come, it is almost like the mind gets clearer. Kind of like weightlifting for your mind. A weight you can easily lift is useless, compared to one that possesses some serious weight and challenge will be much more effective for transformation.

Taking this type of attitude towards bikepacking, or really anything requires a willingness to let go of familiar habits, to let oneself be remade, it requires an openness for plans to change and uncertainty. It requires you to be comfortable being completely uncomfortable. The reward of DELIBERATELY disturbing or suspending the smooth comfort of one's existence for a few days/week/month will ALWAYS outweigh any of the discomforts felt in the moment. 

Imagine if there was a movement/activity where we could turn things like a disruption of one's way of being into a habit. A habit like bikepacking set up to disrupt daily habits. Bike packing has this quality. It meets all the requirements of a spiritual journey (if you let it). 

I can not thank the boys enough, for the support, humour and bikepacking knowledge. Forever grateful.

Jubbles x 

Jess (aka Jubbles)

We were discussing failed Christmas plans due to Covid at Moondog, and in conversation I mentioned the route that was recently posted up in one of the various FB groups I'd joined. Few beers later and in classic Ryan fashion, we all somehow agreed this would be how we'd spend the Christmas break. So these are my thoughts as a virgin bikepacker!

The biggest thing I'd done previously was a 3 day flashpack from Amsterdam to Paris all on road with a much lighter rig. This was definitely a test as to how far out of my comfort zone I could be pushed and boy did it. I'd never hauled so much gear on a bike (20kg rig), freedom camped by rivers, ovals, parks or camped in spots with no access to food requiring us to haul it from a different town. Going without showers for a few days was interesting to say the least! It took about 2 days to get into the routine of sleeping outdoors and in a Bivvy. The anxiety of bugs and snakes etc does wear off eventually.

Taking in the vast variances in scenery was amazing from flat, dry farm terrain to national parks with up to 18% pinches at times under lush tree shade. Definitely an eye opener as I hadn't seen too much of the Vic regional landscape being mainly a city dweller all my 4+ years in Melbourne. The routes were all comfortably ridable on 700c x 42 tyres and gear ratio of 38 x 10-42 apart from the Dong and Goldie Spur which 650b's and a 46 cassette would have been much more preferable. I pulled out on Day 5 in Bright as the weather was potentially turning bad and given this was my first time, I wasn't game to tough it out in the wet.

My XS Curve Steel Kev performed flawlessly with no mechanicals. The higher top tube meant that given the size, it still afforded me the luxury to fit in a decent sized frame bag along with two 700ml bottles in the triangle. 46cm Walmers at the front helped with space for a front dry bag carrying a towel, bivvy, sleeping bag and some odds and sods. Notable food spots along the trip were Punkah Pub (Porepunkah), Parker Pies (Rutherglen), Billsons (Beechworth) and Mountain View Hotel (Whitfield). Some towns had limited food options due to the pandemic, bushfires & time we rode into them.

Overall it was a great trip! and I have no regrets doing it. The hospitality most of the friendly locals showed us was second to none. It challenged me to see how far I'd be able to dig deep and persist through (Goldie Spur). New found camaraderie with the crew was a good takeaway and probably wouldn't have gotten to the point where I did in the trip without their support. Wish I had it in me to continue with the 2 remaining days but alas theres always next time. For the experienced bikepacker this 7 day trip would have been a breeze but as a first timer, it could be a shock to the system or perhaps consider getting accomodation for a night to break it up.

Ian (aka DJIWaaan)

Riding with others should be fun, it should test your legs but more importantly it should make you laugh. Too often we ride for results, for times, for distances or for results. The Orphan ride was one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve ever completed. Certainly, we rode over some familiar terrain and recognised some establishments from previous adventures but for the most part we were on an adventure. An adventure in our own backyard. A group of mates, some old and some new. Those who had ridden in some of the more remote parts of the world and some for whom this was their first bike packing experience. 

I loved the group that we had, for half the day you could be riding next to someone who’s a highly experience bike packing and ultra racing legend and the other half someone who was full of enquiry and wonder into the process. Having all the experience in the group gave a great sense of support and stability in what we were setting out to do. We made the decision to carry all of our own sleeping gear, this was mostly open bivouacs which would give us an unimpeded view of the stars at night and possibly a few brushes with some redbacks. From my experience the best places to sleep are those removed from civilisation, off the road and with full view of the mountains. Thankfully our sleeping arrangements permitted us to enjoy many interesting sleeping options including school grounds, riversides, football ovals and my personal favourite the cow paddock.

For me it was an opportunity to break in a new rig, a titanium frame Kevin. I’m well familiar with the Kevin of Steel having spent the last year or so making my way around the world on it. Bike packing through Central Asia, Europe, and South America. I’d grown to love to soft feel of the frame and the gentle handling that gave me all day comfort. Riding the titanium frame Kevin was as if I’d put a small but powerful motor onto that platform, my setups weight was cut right down yet that smooth, comfortable feeling remained. With the new CURVE carbon prototype fork I was testing I had a slightly higher stack meaning the front end was raised given me a feeling that I could ride all day, which I did with pleasure. The combination of the titanium frame and the glutenous 650b x 2.2 tyres had me rolling in smooth, fast comfort.

I shall not forget the mission statement of this ride, to sample the breweries of the region by bike. In the heat of a summer’s day stopping into a brewery such as the Black Dog brewery nestled into a small hillside among century old grape vines gives one a pleasure that can only be tasted. A pleasure that can only be truly felt by toiling over gravel roads through forests and along rivers to develop a thirst, quenched by locally brewed lager. I must give thanks to all the breweries along the route, for the motivation and the delicious refreshment. A shoutout to Ben Kraus of Bridge for looking after the Orphans at the beginning and the end of the adventure at Bridge Rd Brewers in Beechworth. All that’s left is for you, whoever is reading this to pack your bags and head out on the great brewery tour with some mates. You will love it.

Gus (aka Guswagon)

Having arrived in Australia from the UK just before the worldwide pandemic took ahold of the planet, I was almost immediately stuck in Melbourne for the foreseeable future. Since that arrival in March I had only really ventured out as far as the depths of the Dandenongs, the nether-regions beyond Kinglake or the Surf Coast. Though great places to ride a bike, none were suitable enough to attain the level of proper adventure!

With little to no plans for the Christmas period, the impromptu, inaugural Orphan 500 fit in snugly to provide 7 days of laughter, great company, scenic (and sometimes questionable) camping locations, breathtaking views, testing climbs and ripping descents! All things considered, the trip was certainly one of the best things to come out of such a trying year.

Despite an initial mechanical hiccup and pre-adventure before starting the route, each day provided an amazing escapade around the High Country of Victoria taking in many of the small towns in the area and their accompanying breweries/taverns for liquid refreshment. The majority of the route was on varied forms of lesser-trodden gravel, which allowed us to stay clear of most traffic and made it far more enjoyable and rewarding at the end of each day.

The #orphan500 has definitely been the highlight of my time in Oz so far, and has certainly got my sense of adventure firing once again! From the generous hospitality of the locals, the struggles of trying to climb steep ramps whilst belly laughing and the sharing of the simplicity of life that bike packing brings, I'm sure like the other riders, I'm certainly looking forward to the next spontaneously planned adventure and cannot wait to see where we end up next!

Joe (aka JoeyJoJo)

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