Thursday, May 7, 2015

Snowy Mountains TD Training Ride - Day 2


 I slept pretty well, in spite of the cold night, being woken a few times by herds of wild horses trotting by on all sides of my tent and more worryingly, wild dogs howling on the distance. I awoke feeling quite refreshed despite what I would estimate to be a 6/10 quality sleep. 

Upon emerging from my tent I was greeted with a stunning sight. All of Long Plain was laid out before me, shimmering in it's covering of frost. My tent also got in on the party, being frozen solid!

 While my sleeping gear aired on a nearby branch and my water boiled for my quick oats, I set to sorting out my front tyre-gear clearance issue.

On the last service where I had the aerobars installed, I had requested that my bars be lowered by one spacer, about 1cm. This 1 cm(just under 1/2in) was enough to lower my clearance. I loosened off the bolts and raised my bars by that one spacer again. Hopefully this would do the trick. After trying to dry my tent in the bright, weakly warm sunlight, I looked at the time and it was almost 8:30am! Time to get going! I stuffed the still wet tent into it's bag with the plan to air it out when I was resupplying in Cabramurra. I should have thought of this half an hour earlier! Curse that mild O.C.D. and my need not to put gear away wet!

 Bumping along Long Plain road my legs were feeling pretty good. 123km(77mi) and who knows how much climbing(3100m or 10 200ft it turns out) was less than I had hoped but I did get a late start yesterday........just like today......d'oh!

 I soon passed the turn off for Long Plain campground. It looked to be sheltered in the trees and hence, from the frost but this is the direction I could hear the dogs howling from so I was happy with my choice of camping spot. 

 I was well pleased to see Rules Point and the sealed Snowy Mtns Hwy. I was due to ride along the highway for a while before turning off onto Wallace's Fire Break. Steve Watson,the organiser of the Monaro Cloudride and evil genius behind the route had told me that the fire break can be soggy if wet and I was seeing plenty of water in the table drains alongside the highway. Wallace's was just a way to keep me off the highway and seeing how I was behind schedule I saw little point in flogging along a muddy, slow fire trail for several hours just to cover 17km or so when there was a perfectly good, quietly trafficked highway alongside. 

 I was soon at the Kiandra turn off to Cabramurra. Kiandra was a gold rush town back in the 1800s where many a prospector lost his life in the harsh winter conditions. Today, almost nothing remains of the town.  Cabramurra on the other hand was built to house workers on the mighty Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric scheme that began in the 1950s and was finally complted in the early 1970s. It is also Australia's highest town.

 I climbed for a few kilometres before rejoining my route with a left turn onto Kings Cross Rd toward Mt Selwyn. Here I crested 5000ft above sea level for the first time.

My brother and I have ridden our motorcycles across these mountain roads many times but as road bikers, we were unaware that these dirt roads even existed. It was like discovering these alps for the first time and my spirits soared again! 

 A few easy kilometres and I was rolling down into Cabramurra.

I spread my tent out over one of the picnic benches to dry then strolled into the shop to fill up.

In hindsight, I should have ordered first, then spread my tent as I was now caught behind four elderly folks who couldn't decide what they wanted. Tick, tock, time is distance to me. What didn't help was the fact that the bloke behind the counter looked like a deer in the headlights and would have been more at home twirling spanners on a dozer in the bush. He was totally flustered when I also ordered a coffee, taking his order book to five! I tipped him over the edge by asking if I could fill my Camelbak from his tap which was right there in front of me. He told me to wait while he dealt with all these orders....... 

 Finally refilled with coffee, juice, pies and muffins and my tent nicely dry, I rolled out(well struggled back up the hill actually) about 50 minutes after rolling into town. Not a bad turn around after all. 

 As I began to descend toward Tumut Pond Dam, one of the Snowy Scheme dams, I noticed that there was still frost on the roadside in the shade. It couldn't be more than 5C( F) at midday. Thank god it was a calm, stunning day!

 I bombed down the next few kilometres, dropping about 1200ft down to the dam then slowly grinding 1200ft and more up the other side.

 I soon came to my turn off, Manjar Rd.

This is part of the Bicentennial National Trail and I spotted the blazes nailed to a tree some distance off. Goodby tar, hello rough, rocky dirt.......and wilderness. 

 This was the section of the ride that I was most apprehensive about. It is pure wilderness and before the advent of sat phones and EPIRBS it was designated remote area for us aviation types, just like the scorched heart of Australia is, only these mountains lie between the most populous areas in Australia.
 Travelling alone, I REALLY didn't want to break me or my bike in here. 

 Bouncing along the trail, it alternated in passing through open countryside, then tall stands of gum trees via short pinch climbs followed by rocky, rutted descents. 

This was hard going as my bike runs a rigid fork. This is suited to it's intended purpose, namely the Tour Divide Race but this ride called for front suspension at least! 

 Somewhere here I managed to lose my rain jacket off the back of my bike!  I would perish if stuck out here overnight without that! So, turning around, I tore back along the track to find it some 2km back. An extra 4km added to the total! 

 Stopping at the intersection of Manjar and Black Jack Rd I took in the vista across the plains to the west of the alps. 

My goal tonight, the town of Batlow, was to the west of the ranges and I began climbing Black Jack rd that way. West or Left. How smooth was this surface? Luxury! Then I looked at the gps screen. I was heading in the wrong direction! Of course, the trail went the other way, the rocky, rough way! Oh well, another 1/2km added to my total. 

No, of course, the trail is to the right here.....

 The next few hours consisted of pedalling up and down through huge eucalypt forest, the road covered with bark and sticks. They were extremely thick in some places.

My concentration was through the roof as I tried to maximise my speed on the downhills while trying to dodge roots and derailuer eating sticks in the mottled sunlight that was managing to filter in through the massive gums. At least my gear wasn't rubbing on the front tyre any more. I however,  felt like I was stuck on an exercise bike and I wasn't making any progress.

 I checked my overall position on my map and I was less than half way to Batlow with the sun starting to sink in the western sky. Bugger! There was a section where this never ending rough fire road turned onto a sealed road, before turning north again onto forest roads.

I thought "screw this, I am going to follow (the much longer) sealed road as I can't take any more of this beating". Then I started questioning why I was going slow. I was carrying extra survival gear that I wouldn't be carrying on The Divide. I questioned my legs next. "Ok guys, with all this gym work you are as strong as you have ever been. What gives?" The answer to what gives was that I had been holding back, spinning easily on the climbs and generally saving my legs in case I "blew up". Well, no more. I cracked the whip and began to power up the climbs. Not ragged-arse xc style but solid, purposeful pedalling. The road even helped out with sections of smooth gravel.

 I was pleasantly surprised that my legs responded and responded well. I kept this pace up until the sealed road then thought "lets take a look at what the road through Bago Forest looks like". If it looks snotty, then I will take the seal but if it looks good the 30km(19mi) to Batlow shouldn't take long.

 At that turn off the road looked excellent. I fitted my headlight, a Lezyne Power Drive that I was trialling. I stretched a bit, then headed into Bago Forest. The next 20 or so kilometres were on excellent smooth clay road and I made great time. This is the sort of road the BNT is made for!

 Exiting the eucalypt forest and entering pine plantations just on dark, the road turned to cobble stone rock that almost rattled my teeth out. The last 10km into Batlow was a misery as I was tired and being pummelled by the road. Add to this some brake searing descents where I had the levers pulled back to the bars and you get the picture. I had done so much braking today that the pads on my BB7s needed adjusting several times but I wasn't stopping to give them one more tweak now! 

 I had a funny experience just out of Batlow. I was belting down a hill, staying well left to try and find a smoother line amongst the cobblestones when a rabbit came belting up the hill, straight at me! I don't know if my lights confused him but he zipped by at full tilt, going the other way and missing my front wheel by less than a foot. Almost a perfect head on smash to end my day! 

 Rolling into Batlow, population 1700, I was going to treat myself to a bed inside tonight. I soon found the appropriately named Apple Motel and was checked in by a friendly and inquisitive lady. "You are on a bike,!" meaning why was I riding in the dark. To which I replied the obvious "well, you just have to keep pedalling. You can't just put your foot down a little more". 

 Next door to the Apple Motel(an excellent little motel actually) is the Batlow RSL. I rocked in, strutting my bike gear and proceeded to order half the items on the Chinese menu. Hole filled, I wandered back to my room for a shower and stretch. I also caught up on 2 days worth of messages as this was the first mobile coverage I had had since leaving Canberra. 

 I had covered a respectable 148km(93mi) and who knows how much climbing.(another 3000m or 9800ft apparently)

 My bike was performing flawlessly and the new 2.2 tyres, a Specialised Fast Track Control up front and a Maxxis Ikon, this time with EXO sidewall protection, out back were providing some much needed volume to help smooth out the ride. I think I was running them at too high a pressure(30psi) though for these trails. Mid 20s might be a better pressure to try so I let a calibrated finger full of air out of each end after the pummelling I took today.

 I went to bed setting my alarm for first light with the intention of getting on the road by 7am. I wanted to make Wee Jasper tomorrow and I wasn't quite sure what lay ahead of me. One thing that was certain, on this Cloudride route, expect it to be harder that it needs to be and you won't be far wrong.......


  1. Good work bro, I'm enjoying reading your off road adventure. I'm interested to see which way you ride into Wee Jasper as when we rode our road bikes in last year we stopped just short of the dirt ride on the tumut side. Was still a great ride with spectacular scenery.

    1. Yeah, that dirt goes forever into the forest but just a few kilometres along is the Micalong campground I stayed in.

  2. You sure woke up to a stunning view. You earned it.

    Good thing you've been working out or your legs might refuse to work by day 3 or 4 with those elevation gains.

    1. I hope all the training pays off. It still won't be enough...........

  3. Great reading! I remember Manjar and Black Jack trails well. Although gor me it was 4wd axle deep mud - difficult in a vehicle and impossible on a pushy. It certainly is remote!

    1. It would be a nice drive. You would want to carry a chainsaw though as there were plenty of limbs down that would stop you.


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