This is the route! Originally made by our friends at Gravelmob, the course had never been ridden in its entirety over consecutive stages until the Orphans assembled to conquer it! During the speedy preparation, the Orphans split the route down into around 6-7day stages. This was done to make sure they had ample fun, food, water and rest for each day, but also so they could spend quality time at each brewery to truly sample the wares on offer! Extra distance was covered on some of the initial stages to make up for a lost day, but also to ensure they made it to Bright for New Years Eve. Overall, each day was broken into manageable chunks that were challenging yet easily achievable over the week, and also provided much needed respite from trials of the year just gone!
All good journeys start with a train ride! The Orphan 500 was no exception to this rule. Meeting at Melbourne's Southern Cross station on Boxing Day, the Orphans excitedly gathered in eager anticipation of the journey set before them.
After just over three hours on the train spent by checking over the route, snacking, snoozing and staring out the carriage window at the Australian countryside, the fresh-legged Orphans alighted their initial transport at Wangaratta and prepared to tackle their first sector of riding up towards Beechworth.
Heading out of Wangaratta, the Orphans took to the road for a short section towards Everton, after which they linked onto the Beechworth-Everton Rail Trail. The trail is a gradual incline all the way into the centre of Beechworth itself, traffic free and smooth surfaced, which were all gladly appreciated by the Orphans before the coming days of gravel tracks and bigger elevations!
After the train journey and transfer ride, the Orphans eventually arrived at the starting point of the ride in Beechworth. On arrival there was only one thing on their mind. Food and liquid sustenance! Given it was Boxing Day not many places were open to feed the weary Orphans. Luckily, they fell upon Billson's Brewery which revived their spirits with a selection of delicious cordials, small plates and finely crafted beers!
After being refreshed at the brewery, the Orphans were ready to set up camp for the night and rest up for the first big day of riding. Setting up camp near one of the rivers, the sound of the steady stream and the sight of the stars overhead sent them off into pleasant slumber and ready to tackle the Orphan 500.
Transfer Day: Wangaratta >> Beechworth
Due to an unforeseen mishap, the Orphans delayed the start of the ride by a day and eventually started on the 28th December. This setback was maybe a blessing in disguise as the heat of the previous day had reduced to a "cool" 27°C, and with a decent climb ahead of them the Orphans were ever so slightly pleased to have a cooler day on their side. So they thought.
Setting out from Beechworth, the route took them down the Malakoff Rd descent towards the Woolshed Falls. Stopping almost as soon as they started to take in the views of the falls, the Orphans carried on along the Woolshed Rd as it meandered gradually downhill towards Eldorado. With an hour or so in the legs and the fabled cooler weather no where to be found, a stop was made for some cooling refreshments at the McEvoy Tavern cited to be the smallest pub in Victoria!
After the refreshments, the route headed towards Old Coach Rd which took in both the Mount Barambogie and Mount Pilot ascents. All on gravel track, both climbs are a great initial challenge during the ride with rewarding views of the valley below provided at the top of Pilot. From Mount Pilot, they headed towards Chiltern for a refuel and cool down in the local swimming pool after which they headed through the Chiltern National Park towards Rutherglen the final destination for the day.
Given the time of year, there was very little open in Rutherglen apart from one or two pubs. None, however, were serving food for the weary travellers, yet some advice from the friendly locals had them acquiring copious amounts of fish & chips to eat in one of said pubs. Full to the brim with food, they settled in for the night at the local cricket oval whilst reminiscing on the achievements of the day and planning for the days to come.
Day 1: Beechworth >> Rutherglen
Waking up with the sunrise, the Orphans crept out of their minimal slumber stations to the sights & smells of what would become a morning ritual in the making of caffeinated beverages whilst taking in the surroundings of the nights camp and recounting tales of the previous day. Once packed and sufficiently caffeinated, the Orphans headed back into Rutherglen to fuel up for the next stage with breakfast pies, a chocolate milk or two and more yet coffee.
After breakfast the Orphans made a beeline for the border! Unable to cross due to the border closures (and given a border crossing was not on the route!), the route headed south to take on the Killawarra State Park and Mount Killawarra itself, the Warby-Ovens National Park and the Warby Ranges State Park. Towards the end of the route in the Warby Ranges, the Orphans descended the Cellar Track which was an amazing flowing, yet technical, track down in the valley below which ended conveniently at the brewery stop of the day, Black Dog Brewery.
After a tipple or two to quench the parched Orphan's thirst, they headed off to their initial final stop of Glenrowan. However, again, their options for food where limited due to not many outlets being open. The luck of the Orphans was well and truly working though, as they managed to find the Vintage Hall Cafe which not only provided them with a meal on their arrival but also a packed dinner due to nothing being open later on in the evening.
Though Glenrowan was the end point of the day, the Orphans decided after not much deliberation that the town was not going to be their last stand, à la the infamous Ned Kelly, and decided to press on further to gain some extra distance and reduce the pressure on the coming stages after the delayed start. The town of Milawa became the final end point of the day where the Orphans treated themselves to a stop over in the local campsite to have a shower after a hot few days! The day ended with a few beverages in celebration of one of the Orphan's achievement of their first ever 100km+ ride!
Day 2: Rutherglen >> Milawa
After a "luxury" night in the campsite, the Orphans grabbed some egg & bacon rolls, coffee and the obligatory chocolate milk from the Milawa General Store to set them up sufficiently for the new day. Fully prepped for the next day of adventure, the Orphans set down some relatively flat and flowing roads through towards Whitfield. A small pinch climb before descending into Whitfield provided the day's major dramatic hilarity. The cause: A chain swap mid-climb by one of the Orphans who had decided to run a waxed chain on a multi-day bikepacking adventure!
After much amusement and one chain swap later, the Orphans arrived in Whitfield for an extended lunch at the Mountain View Hotel. After restocking the snacks and pre-preparing an evening meal at the General Store, the day was still young enough to push the distance a bit further again to reduce the load on the next day. Passing through Cheshunt, the original end point for the day, the Orphans took the Rose River Rd over the top of the long steady climb and down into the valley below at the base of the access track leading to Goldies Spur Track.
At the base of the access track was a paddock next to where both the Rose and Buffalo Rivers meet. They decided to set up camp for the night in a covered section of the paddock to get an early night so they could rise early to tackle Goldies track before the heat of the day! After a wash in the river, a dinner of sandwiches brought all the way from Whitfield and a reccy of the area for stray would-be bovine intruders of the night, the Orphans turned in for the evening with a spectacular, moonlit view of Mount Buffalo to aid them drift off to peaceful slumber in the pleasant warmth of the night.
Day 3: Milawa >> Base of Goldies Spur Track
Unscathed by wandering cows in the night, fuelled on coffee and raring to go, the Orphans rolled out early doors to begin the ascent of the SEC Access Track a.k.a. Little Goldies Spur Track. With the early morning pep in their step, the Orphans made light work of Little Goldies in just under an hour fully loaded. After a brief stop at the top to refuel, they descended down the back of Little Goldies to the next hump in the road, Goldies Spur Track itself!
Once on Goldies, the pace settled into individual Orphan's efforts, the minds grew focused towards the task ahead and yet a sense of clarity and simplicity ensued. Everything else faded away with the one main goal of reaching the top, one pedal over the next, however long it took. The surface under-tyre turned from light gravel to tennis ball-sized chunks with everything in between throughout the climb. Towards the middle of climb the gradients became consistently steeper, the gravel larger, the traction more and more minimal, yet the determination and desire to reach the top became ever greater.
The Orphans split and regrouped, pedalled and hiked their bikes, cheered and encouraged one another, ate handfuls of jelly snakes at a time, gasped in awe at both the picturesque surroundings but also the never ending track that just kept going up. Then finally, the crest was in sight! Each Orphan mustered their final drops of energy and pushed towards the top. They'd made it! Jubilation, achievement, awe, pride. All the feelings were felt!
What goes up must come down, however, and down they did have to go! What took nearly 2hrs to climb culminated in as little as 12mins to descend! The Orphans charged down the technical and winding northern point of Goldies Spur straight into the Buckland Valley. Reminiscent of the Austrian Alps, the Orphans road through the Buckland Vally towards Porepunkah to a much anticipated and deserved beer and meal.
After sufficient rest and refuelling, they carried on along the short strech of rail trail to the town of Bright where they would spend the rest of New Year's Eve. A swim in the watering hole, a bbq in the park, a meeting of new friends and an early night all ensued! Though still two days to go, arriving into Bright seemed to feel like a strange finale. The end of strange year maybe? The achievement of putting in the extra distance to reach Bright for NYE? Whatever it might have been, the Orphans slept soundly that night in the knowing that they'd tested themselves and overcome the biggest obstacle on the route.
Day 4: Goldies Spur Track >> Bright
Of all the things the New Year had brought to the Orphans compared to the previous day was precipitation. Having had glorious weather every day on the route so far, the rain they'd previously been successful in dodging finally caught up them. On top of the rain, the other major event was the news that two of the Orphans were going to depart the ride at Bright! Returning to Melbourne for various reasons for the duo, the Orphan's numbers were being whittled down to a select group to tackle the final two stages of the Orphan 500.
After saying their goodbyes, the departing duo left for what turned out to be quite the time trial back down the rail trail towards the train at Wangaratta. Making it to the train with just two minutes to spare, they were safe and sound on their way back to the city. For the four remaining Orphans back in Bright, a short sharp stage lay ahead of them for the day. Given it was such a short day, some bike maintenance was completed at the local bike shop, as well as the consumption of a New Year's Day sharpener (or two... possibly three) at the Bright Brewery!
Once the figurative cogs were greased sufficiently in the remaining Orphans, they set about tackling the main climb of the day, Dungey Track. After an initial search for an item of dropped equipment, they began to ascend up the track passing through a river crossing near the bottom, climbing sustained 13% pinches and searching for marginal traction throughout on the slippery gravel under-tyre. All this whilst crying and gasping for breath from all the laughter due to the convoluted stories they were creating to pass the time!
Once at the top of the track, the Orhpans were treated to the fast, flowing and technical descents of the Pyramid Hill Firetrail and Simmonds Creek Road that lead all the way down into Mount Beauty. Waiting for them at the bottom was a further treat in the Crank Handle Brewery that provided them with further liquid refreshments to end the day on a high. After an evening meal of pizza and burgers sat in the local petrol station forecourt, the Orphans set up camp near to the local school and dozed off in preparation for the final day of the Orphan 500.
Day 5: Bright >> Mount Beauty
After 5 days of riding the end was in sight. One final day to conquer and the inaugural Orphan 500 was complete! The one small matter was that this stage was the longest of the whole route, and at just shy of 170km and 3000m it wasn't going to be a short day. With this prospect in mind, one of the Orphans made the call to take the more direct route back to Beechworth due to a longterm physical ailment that had started to flare up during the previous days. The mighty Orphans therefore decided to divide, two heading the direct route to Beechworth and the other pair the long and winding road towards Tallangatta and back.
One final cafe breakfast together then the Orphans set off on their separate ways. Two heading straight down the Kiewa Valley Highway and the others straight up the long drag of Mountain Creek Rd to the long descent of Trappers Gap Rd right into Mitta Mitta. Stopping at Mitta Mitta Brewing and filling up on plums from a tree by the side of the road, the remaining duo ploughed on over the undulating terrain towards Tallangatta, Tangambalanga and Yackandandah.
Unbeknownst to them, the pair on the shorter route had hatched a plan to surprise the others with accommodation for the night in Beechworth and use their car to find them somewhere on the route and provide the last ounces of support to the weary Orphans! Just outside of Yackandandah, the remaining Orphans reunited! With just the testing Yack Gate Rd climb being the final remaining major obstacle, the Orphans on two wheels cruised on through the remaining kilometres, not without a close brush with the dreaded bonk, to the finishing line at Beechworth.
Recovery smoothies in hand and pizzas galore courtesy of Bridge Road Brewing, the Orphans toasted a solid final day on the pedals and also a magical week riding around the Victorian High Country with many memories etched into their minds. With that, the inaugural Orphan 500 was done!