Victorian High Plains Super Randonnee
I arrived at Myrtleford Wednesday afternoon and rode the first 7km’s of the course as advised, as I was planning on starting in the dark and the start of the 9 Mile Track is obscured by a farmhouse. Setting off early the next morning, I found the start of the track again without any problems. However a few km’s up the road, I encountered a closed gate with a notice warning of aerial deer hunting. Hoping that someone looking down would notice that I had a headlight, as opposed to a ‘deer in the headlights’ I pushed on. The track follows a ridgeline for around 13 km’s, then turns right onto Mt Buffalo Rd for another 10km’s up to the summit.
With the sun now fully up, I descended to Porepunkah then onto Bright for some breakfast followed by Tawonga Gap next. The temperature was a pleasant 22 degrees as I began the climb to Mt Hotham where it gradually dropped to 10 degrees. Sound advice I received was to always carry a waterproof jacket when riding in the mountains: this is where I put on my Gore-tex jacket, not taking it off for the next 2 days.
Heading back down to St Bernard Hospice then left on to the Dargo High Plains road, the bitumen gave way to gravel within the first 1 km but the surface was generally hard-packed and fast. This continued for the next 50km’s until the sealed road starts up again just before the drop down to Dargo. I made it to the Dargo Pub before the kitchen closed at 8 pm, the locals were interested in where I had come from and the publican was friendly and welcoming. With the recent 2017 increase in the time limit from 50 to 60 hours I opted to get a room and rest up.
I started again the next morning before dawn in light rain which got heavier for the next 2 hours but eased as I turned off onto Freestone Creek Road entering the heavy bush. Although the track was a little slippery due to the rain, the gradient follows the course of the river gradually descending for 30km’s to Briagolong. This was one of the most enjoyable sections of the ride! Coming out of the bush and turning west toward Valencia Creek, I encountered a solid headwind that persisted for the next 2 hours until Glenmaggie. Now in the shelter of the mountains, the weather improved, with the wind easing and the sun coming out for the climb through the valley to Licola. This was incredibly picturesque and the Licola campsite had an open general store where I was able to properly refuel my energy stores and refill my drink bottles.
The road from Licola to the ‘first’ summit of Mt Skene is sealed and provides amazing views over the Macalister river valley and has minimal traffic. At one point I disturbed 3 large wedge-tail eagles only a few meters away in long grass enjoying a dead calf, launching together to circle off to my right and wait for me to move on.
As I approached the first summit the gravel started. Licola is located in the Shire of Wellington and Jamieson is in the Shire of Mansfield and their border dissects the Jamieson-Licola Road. On the east side, it’s a road, on the west, it’s a rutted, corrugated and hacked up 4 wheel drive only track which requires all your bike handling skills to climb and to descend.
I made it to the Mt Skene lookout checkpoint just at dusk and knew that I was not going to make it to the accommodation I had booked in Mansfield by the check-in close time. As I took a photo at the lookout for the control point, I noticed that I had one bar of reception and tried calling the hotel. The bike gods must have been in a favourable mood because it rang and the receptionist picked up. I explained that I would not be in until late and would it be possible to have my room unlocked, “not a problem, I can turn the heater on for you too if you would like”, Yes! a positive review on its way!
It was now 4 degrees and fully dark, moonrise was at 5 am so that was no help but the clouds had cleared and the milky way was bright. Descending was slow and arduous, twice a passing 4 wheel driver stopped to check if I needed a hand. By that stage I was tempted to take up their offer, throwing my bike in the back and drive down. Instead, I thanked them for stopping and pushed on, laser-focused on the track while constantly vigilant for a spooked Black Angus running out of the bush (t-boned by a T-bone would be bad!). It’s dirt practically all the way to ‘Jamo’ with no easy sections. I stopped as soon as the sealed road restarted to replenish my glycogen stores and rehydrate. The ride through the valley around Lake Eldon was cold but I was motivated by the thought of a toasty warm hotel room which did not disappoint.
Day three: rested and doing O.K. for time, I enjoyed a cooked breakfast before rolling out of Mansfield in daylight hours. The Climb to Tolmie or the ‘Col du Tolmielet’ adds a little more elevation before the descent into Whitfield which was very enjoyable. A quick bite and on to the final stretch of gravel, Lake-Buffalo Whitfield Road, this has some pinchy bits but the road is in good condition and the downhill sections flow. Finally around Lake Buffalo itself and on to the home straight to Myrtleford.
Thanks to Audax Australia for hosting this amazing ride and many thanks to Thomas Price for his advice with preparing and planning for this ride.