Sometimes we look for opportunities to ride and explore in areas far over the horizon. Higher mountains, dirt roads or longer rides. However sometimes a look closer to home will deliver just as great an experience.
With the year moving on from summer and daylight savings, riding in Autumn is some of the best riding of the year. From the crisp mornings to the benign wind conditions there is plenty to love. Maybe an extra layer or slip on the warmers and we are ready to go. For this ride we didn’t look so far afield, wanting to use the wonderful Yarra Valley regions for a great two day ride. The region is so good we consider it ‘world class’, but maybe we are a bit biased. Our plan for Day 1 was to ride the 120km/2000vm to Marysville via the ol’ Back o’ Donna Buang climb.
We rolled out from my home, full packed as the weather was going to be chilly, not only on the ride, but also overnight. Needing to put in a pair of runners and a Katmandu vest to suit the chill expected at the other end probably added 3kgs extra. Its all good resistance training. I had packed some different technology elements to test. Expecting a fair amount of sweating and being concerned on the ability to dry kit, I also packed a full second kit for the return home. After the initial kms spent on bike path and trail, we made out way to York Road and Mt.Evelyn, via Joy Avenue and its associated gravel climbs, to bring is to one of the Yarra Valley’s Super-highway’s – The Warby Trail.
Already sweating a fair bit I should have already been taking on electrolytes. Hold that thought. While not a race as we had all day, we pushed along, checking out the Warby Trail in its Autumnal beauty. Trees and vineyards with foliage in shades of yellow and orange as we chatted about days gone by overseas in Europe. While we expect to return there soon, it still seems a long while away. A quick snack and in no time we were turning off at Launching Place and heading for Don Valley. After a quick toilet stop, and a few more kms the road became very quiet. Just the way we like it.
We turned onto the Donna Buang Rd for the Back o’ Donna Buang climb. The road is closed this time of year so again we would have the road to ourselves. There was a greater deal more debris than any other time I had ridden this climb, so a few cheeky sticks in rear derailleurs for the next hour. Its not a horribly steep climb but it is a pinchy climb in sectors. The surrounding forest was vey quite. The only sound was our tyres on the gravel road, punctuated by the electronic sound of the odd change in gear. Recent rains had had the streams and small waterfalls in full swing as they cascaded down to the valley’s below. As we reached Ben Cairn, it had got very cold on Donna. I definitely hadn’t eaten enough too, which was going to become very evident.
The last few kilometres of the Back o’ Donna Buang climb is really beautiful during Autumn. The canopy was a curtain in shades of yellow and orange. The surface was really damp and seemed never to see the sun. There was still a great deal of debris about especially bark from the spectacular Snow Gums. I caught one of the larger bark sheets on my pedal and immediately the muscle bank came calling with a hamstring cramp. In trying to stretch it the quad went into cramp. The lesson here was simple and one many of us already know. Muscles don’t work probably without fuel and hydration. Eventually we reached our highest point of the day on Donna Buang and one of the smart decisions I made for the day paid off. I pulled out my gloves and jacket packed in a plastic bag and they were dry and warm.
Back on the bitumen for the descent and its chilly. The surface was pretty damp, mossy and greasy for the first 5kms so I pulled my head in and just made sure we got down to Cement Creek safely. We kept moving once we reached Cement Creek and headed off on the Acheron Way just to warm up again, but we would need to find a spot to eat. After 2 – 3 kilometres of climbing we pulled over to have a bit to eat. I’m glad I’d made a sandwich before I left and again popped into a snap sealed bag. I know we had recent rains, but this side of the mountain is pretty wet on the Acheron Way.
We started the descent and the surface was pretty damn greasy in places. A couple of little rear wheel drifts were in order. However as we came around the next bend I spotted a motorcycle lying in the mud. There was a rider looking a little dazed trying to work out what to do. It was a brand new Touring motorbike and not really suited to the road surface. Our new friend was a little out of his depth. We helped him get the bike back upright but Old Mate had flooded it. Now it would take a while before he could restart. After checking he was going to be alright and could call someone if he needed help, we rolled off again.
Off the gravel and back on the bitumen and how good is the Acheron Way for riding. It is like a black ribbon draped down the side of Donna Buang. Acheron’s gentle gradients mean you need to keep pedaling but its a really pleasant ride. The banter had returned after a bit of a spell while we were cold, but now it was the verbal was full throttle again. All joking aside I was feeling pretty dehydrated and a bit empty. A lesson in body management to learn. Our jackets and full finger gloves came off and we headed for our next step in the adventure.
Our next turn would take us to Granton Road. This was an unknown entity. I had mentioned it to our mate Scalliwag and all he could do was giggle and wander away. That response had me a little wary to be honest. We made the right hand turn and all seemed regulation. A few bigger than unusual rocks but hey this was off road and that’s part of the beauty of gravel. A bit more banter about Scalliwag, turned a bend and Scalliwag’s response came home to roost. We were greeted with what would be the first of four 15-20% ramps that punctuated this road. They were short and probably only 60sec efforts, but at the end of this day they were biting into what was left of my psyche bucket. At the end of the fourth of these ramps, we joined the bitumen again at the Marysville Rd.
The bitumen was not all welcome relief. We emerged from the wilderness, still some 500-600m short of the top of the long climb on the Marysville Rd. I was flagging but training machine Dale was pushing on up the climb. If this climb was too much longer I would have been a mere dot in her rearview mirror. Thankfully she eased up across the top and I returned to the front for the rollicking rollers into the town of Marysville. Marysville is a beautiful place for riding no matter your discipline. The climb on the road to the ski fields atop Lake Mountain is top shelf. The mountain biking at Cascades is great and of course the gravel is top notch.
Rolling into town was a relief and my mind did slip into ‘How the F&ck am I going to repeat this tomorrow?’ mode. We needed to do some refuel and quickly. Straight to the local IGA to down electrolytes via Gatorade & simple carbs via Coca Cola. They both disappeared quicker than losing politician on Election Night. We headed to our accomm for the evening at the Tower Hotel. After unpacking the bike and heading to our respective rooms, I checked in with the family (who think I’m nuts most of the time), set out the clothes I needed to dry and had a quick shower.
It was still an hour or so before a respectable dinner time so I thought I would lay on the bed and was unconscious before my eyes had completely closed. Luckily I had the presence of mind to set the alarm first else I would have slept through and not refueled. We regrouped and headed to a restaurant, Elevation 423, and I destroyed a Parma, Veggies & Chips. What I considered the perfect fuel for tomorrow. Washed down with a nice glass of red and it was time to head for bed again. We were out on our feet walking back and so I made sure I set an alarm again and true to form I was out before my head was fully on the pillow.
Day 1 done and dusted. 117km and 1875vm, with approximately 98kms of gravel or path. Absolute cracker!
Check out Day 2 action and lessons learned in our next post.