Saturday, July 11, 2009


Over the weekend I went up to Melrose at the base of the Flinders Ranges for the weekend. The kids were with Paul for three nights, and even though I knew I should have been spending the time doing something productive, like plastering the cracks in the walls, or gardening, or housework, I decided to go away for the weekend. Of course.

Melrose is well known in the mountain biking community here as there is an extensive network of trails around the town, and the town is quite supportive of the sport. Each year over the June long weekend they hold a Fat Tyre Festival where tons of people from around the country camp and ride. I’ve never been there, but read about it each time there is an event held up there and keep wanting to visit. And finally I did.

I really didn’t want to spend tons of money so I decided to camp, despite it being the middle of winter. It wasn’t actually too bad at all. I did doubt my sanity for a while there when I spoke to the caravan park owner and she said ‘an unpowered site? Just for you? Really?’ like I was some sort of insane freak. The setting was lovely, I camped literally at the base of Mount Remarkable, which really is remarkable as you drive up to the town and see it looming out of the plains and towering over the township.

Photo: Mt Remarkable above the road into Melrose. Hard to get a real idea of the way it imposes above everything, even when shrouded in fog.

Photo: My campsite at the base of Mt Remarkable. The road in the distance leads up to the start of the trails.

I had contemplated asking my usual riding partner Amanda to come with me but in the end was looking forward to just tootling around by myself for the weekend. It didn’t quite work out like that as literally five seconds after I arrived in the town, I met a guy called Clive and ended up spending just about all of the weekend with him. There is a really great mountain bike shop in the town which I stopped at first just to have a nosy and get a map to the trails [valiantly NOT actually looking at any of the awesome stuff they were selling]. This guy was in there getting his bike tinkered with (an Ibis Mojo, only my favourite ridiculously expensive mountain bike). We only briefly said hi but then later when I went to pay for my camp site on my way out for a ride, he was in the office too. Obviously I was kitted out in bike gear so he said he was just heading out with a couple of other people he’d met the day before and did I want to join them. I hesitated for a moment – he was obviously way fitter and more serious about riding than me ($5000 bike was a bit of a hint there) but assured me that the other girl that was with them was new to mtb and wasn’t very fit either. So I threw caution to the wind and agreed. The trails they were heading to were at a local winery, about 6km out of the township. He was riding out there, the others were driving. With no room for me or my bike in their van, I joined Clive for the ‘warm-up’ ride. Of course, the 6km was all uphill. By the end of that, I was already wiped. Clive of course was quite merrily chatting and not even the slightest bit out of breath, despite claiming to have not ridden for several weeks due to a knee injury.
The couple that we met were very nice, Paul and Narelle. Narelle had only been mtb riding for a few months, but was actually quite fit. Paul, well, Paul was hardcore. He built lots of the trails around Beechworth in Victoria, owned a sports business and obviously rode a lot. The trails were a bit disappointing but still fun – mostly through paddocks and up and down gullies and not necessarily that well signposted. I trailed everyone the whole day. They were nice enough to wait for me and there were plenty of hilltop chats to enjoy the view and listen to the sheep. The day was a bit misty rainy and the trails were pretty damp, so we got MUDDY! Clive also had the dubious honour of managing to ride through a patch of cow dung. Paul had a border collie, Bindi, who ran with us as we rode, which was an interesting experience. The dog was lovely and well behaved and had a great time chasing everything around (including a massive farm cat).
The ride home from the trails was a lot easier, all downhill and pretty fast – I was excited to crack 50km/hr coming into the town.
Photo: The hardcore Paul. You can tell he's hardcore cos he shaves his legs.

Photo: Back from Day 1's ride. Muddy!

Photo: The bike was muddy too.

After cleaning our bikes in the creek and having the standard caravan park hot shower (ages to warm up, impossible to get temp right, hot water running out) we went to the local hotel for dinner. There are two hotels in Melrose and both apparently do great food. We had a very nice meal, the highlight being Clive’s ‘Belgium chocolate mousse’ (which irritated the grammar Nazis amongst us), spectacularly presented as a big swirl on top of a mound of berries.
The nights were actually quite mild, not as freezing as I’d feared – it was quite comfortable to sit outside until way too late, especially the second night when we had a campfire.
On the second day, we walked up Mount Remarkable in the morning as Clive’s bike was back in the shop (he spent $700 there over the three days getting his bike tarted up, they were good salesmen!). The climb was pretty cool. 12km round trip up a 1km high mountain. And not that it’s a competition, but the projected 5 hour walk took us just a smidge over three hours. That includes stopping to admire what we concluded could only be light plane wreckage on the middle of the mountain, and compensating for Clive’s still sore knee.

Photo: Clive way off in the distance, on the other side of the gully. Slow.

Photo: Every gully on the mountain was filled with rocks like this.

Photo: See, we did make it to the top! Clive doing his best home-boy impersonation. I did ask him to pose 'Japanese tourist' style, but he was obviously confused.

Photo: I had some photo ideas dictated to me ("If I had a camera I'd take a photo of this..."). And to be fair they turned out well. The cyclists amongst us will notice the sweet single track to the right of the shot...

Photo: Thanks, photo dictator. I think this is my favourite pic of the weekend. Can you imagine riding this stuff? It's on the walking trail but the lads from the shop allegedly ride it to the summit on occasion.

We went our separate ways in the afternoon after I made lunch (yet another convert to vegemite and honey sandwiches, haha!). I was feeling pretty slow and just wanted to try out some of the intermediate trails around. Of course, once I finally got out there, ‘a quick lap around a blue trail’ turned into ‘just another lap around a different blue trail’ turned into ‘perhaps I’ll give one of the black runs a go’ turned into ‘I’ve been out here two hours and I’m totally exhausted, very far away and it’s starting to get dark’.
The trails were very nice, mostly through open paddock again, rocks, a creek, and plenty of kangaroos. By the end I was really had-it, with very wet feet from going through the creek so many times, and my bike was creaking and moaning like it was fifty years old. I was far enough away and without a map that I started to wonder how to get back. All the trails are loops so you can’t get too lost, but you don’t want to start out the wrong direction and have to do five extra k’s you didn’t have to before you get to where you want. As I made my way back, I was wondering how they do search and rescues… there were a few 4WD tracks, but not many, and lots of km to cover if you didn’t know exactly where someone was. I’d brought my mobile phone specifically to have on the trails but it had no reception there (and it was totally my phone’s fault – Clive is also with Telstra and his worked fine, even with my sim card in). I knew I wouldn’t stuck out there all night – both because the trails looped and also because Clive was expecting me back for dinner and would no doubt raise the alarm if I didn’t show – but still the thoughts passed through my mind as I slowly headed back.

I finally shortcutted to the top of a hill and then followed a 4WD track all the way to the bottom, come out in a totally different place to where I entered the trails. Funnily enough though, a couple I’d chatted to right at the start were standing there admiring the view at the place I came out. 2 hours later and at least a couple of km away.
It was my turn to get a meal cooked for me (I think I had the advantage though – I made sandwiches in daylight as opposed to stirfry in the dark). I got to sit around trying to get the camp fire started, finally caving in to Clive’s repeated ‘advice’ to tip the bottle of citronella oil on it, after which it burned very nicely, assisted by various objects we felt the need to add over the course of the night… including Clive’s stylish ‘pleather’ knife which broke under the strain of the onions, and the wine bottle which disappointed us by running empty, but only AFTER the pubs were shut.

Despite the incredibly late night I was awake early the next morning (damn 6am body clock, and raucous kookaburra alarm) and went off for one last quick ride after I packed up my tent and things. I was keen to try a trail Clive had gone on the previous afternoon, but my muscles weren’t. In fact, when I got on the bike and started up a very slight incline, my thigh muscles yelled ‘you have got to be KIDDING!!’ (only with a bit more profanity) and pretty much refused to move. I persevered and they warmed up a bit, but it was still tough going on the trail. Off-camber on the side of a cliff and about two tyre tracks wide, it was pretty hairy. I only headed out for a couple of km before giving it up and heading back in.
We called at the bike shop one last time before we headed on our respective journeys. I’d pretty much steered clear of the shop to avoid temptation (not that I had any money anyway) but wanted to go chat to the owners and have a better look around. They were great guys (even telling me about some friends of theirs who live in Gawler and are looking for people to ride with) and it’s a lovely place, with a roaring fire and free coffee. Of course, Clive more than earned the coffee with all the money he spent there. Although I spent no money, on that last morning, *I* even had a coffee (my first one ever)! And I have to say, it tasted pretty good. I thought it might be prudent, given the lack of sleep and the long drive ahead of me, to caffeine myself up a bit. It seemed to work – the drive back was fun, bopping to the presets all the way.

So it was an extremely enjoyable weekend, great weather, terrific rides, nice food and pleasant company. I drove about 450km, rode about 40 (fortunately I have no stats on the calories I consumed or the alcohol imbibed). I’ll definitely do it again. If no other time, when Clive heads back through on his epic Australian road trip. Which I google mapped since I’m a geek and at work with plenty of time. A massive figure 8 all over the country. A mere 14,000km which I note you can do in a week if you don’t sleep. Or kill yourself.
I was extremely envious of his plans – as well as mountain biking, he kite surfs and snowboards, and other than some commitments in Qld is just going to meander around the country from fun spot to fun spot. Some people have all the luck. :P

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Michael Field said...

Wow, very impressive. Sounds like you had a great weekend there.

Lee said...

Wow that weekend sounds incredible!! Hmmm maybe I shouldn't sell my bicycle before I've even given it a chance.. :p

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