The more I ride the clearer it becomes. There’s only one thing better than rolling out for a wonderful ride you know: rolling out for a wonderful one you don’t. The pulse is always just that little bit swifter when you journey along new roads and climbs, never entirely sure what awaits around the next intriguing corner. Perhaps a gut-busting climb? Maybe a white-knuckle decent? Or how about some local wildlife? Anything is possible. Which is precisely the appeal, of course. (Unless it’s a B-Double on the wrong side of the road, perhaps.)
Having just returned from my second weekend exploring the Victorian High Country on two wheels, I was struck by both the similarities and differences to my first. Staying in the Yarra Valley near Warburton, about an hour and half north-east of Melbourne, we were little more than 150km from our previous riding base which had seen us bunking down at Mansfield and Mt Buller. But the scenery was remarkably different, as were the towns that had a decidedly more rustic feel about them this time.
Whereas much of the 16km road up to Mt Buller is more akin to bush or scrub, the roads in and around Mt Donna Buang, Lake Mountain, Reefton Spur and the magnificent Acheron Way are flanked by noticeably denser rainforest and a seemingly endless supply of giant ferns. For sure, the climbing (2,400m+) was no easier on the legs. But the view getting there was definitely easier on the eye. The other thing I noticed was actually the absence of something: road-kill. On our previous visit to the region, my riding mates and I couldn’t help but mourn all the recently-departed-from-this-earth wombats. This time we saw two squashed blue-tongues and half a snake in three days. That said, on a couple of occasions the unmistakable stench of dead fauna did waft across the road knocking the wind temporarily from our sails; sources unknown.
Another observation as we rode around was how peaceful it was, mostly just the sounds of nature and the whir of rubber on road. The roads were quiet, always good news for cyclists. On the Friday afternoon when I arrived, there was barely a soul on the winding road to the 1,250m summit of Mt Donna Buang and its man-made lookout reaching even higher into the heavens. But even on the weekend, the traffic was delightfully sparse, save for the odd car and a handful of motorbikes. Clearly the region is just far enough from Melbourne to put off the majority of day-trippers.
One of the other highlights of the weekend’s riding was a chance to do something I’ve never done before: ride long stretches on unsealed roads. We were warned we ‘might’ be riding on some gravel. Little did we realise we’d be having our very own Strade Bianche experience right outside the front door where we were staying. The first and last 2km of every ride was unsealed, which even with 25mm tyres required a whole new level of concentration on a road bike, especially given the road itself had a gradient ranging between 3-6% and was filled with corrugations just waiting to claim an unsuspecting wheel if it drifted into the wrong line. There were a couple of punctures and one minor crash on the first morning’s descent. But thankfully the fallen rider was okay and there were no more spills to report on any of our subsequent forays on to gravel roads and rail trails.
As I write this I’m hard pressed to find anything not to like about the riding in this beautiful part of Australia. In fact, the only downside to my entire weekend was my own foolish lack of training (who’d have thought criteriums are no way to prepare for alpine climbs?) which saw the recurrence of an old knee injury, through a painful combination of under-preparation and over-exertion. Twice bitten, third shy.
My home town, Sydney, has some superb riding to the north, west and south. But nothing quite like this; not that I’ve found yet, anyway. If you can get down to the Victorian Highlands with a few friends and your bikes, I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed – whether you choose to find your own way around (GPS is a beautiful thing), or do it with an experienced ride leader with local knowledge as we were lucky enough to do. Whichever way you decide to go, just be sure your parcours includes the Acheron Way, starting about 10km from Marysville and climbing gently towards Mt Donna Buang, first on bitumen and then gravel. It’s one of the great rides. Worth the trip alone.
Carbon Addiction was a guest of RIDE Cycling Review and Jaguar Australia. Our ride leaders were Dan and Jason from Melbourne-based, Soigneur. All photos are courtesy of Beardy McBeard, a fine rider and even finer shooter: instagram.com/beardmcbeardy