The Epic ends. A daily dose of 3000 to 8000 calories + the occasional 10 000 when did 150 km. The daily camp break down load up plan a route pick a destination and hit the trail. Repeat. And then suddenly … nothing. How does an Epic end? Simple, don’t end it. Un-simple … have a plan. For there always has to be a plan. Day trips week trips, perhaps a month or so. To keep in shape, to keep fit, to keep the weight from piling on, to keep sane as the Epic bleeds out from me. The only problem with extended cycling trips is that the other plan to spend time with family will kinda fail. Godda choose. Family? Or riding?
The idea of clearing Christmas and New Year then hitting the trail is very attractive. I decide to resist this temptation. But I godda do something, something that satisfies the Family bit AND the bleed-the-Epic-out bit.
Wil and Jen are planning a short week introducing a couple of cycle touring newbies along a not so impossible section of the Munda Biddi between Donnybrook and Donnelly Mill in the second week of January. I sign up for it too.
In the meantime I take on the first section of the Biddi which runs but a couple of kilometres from Baz and Roz’ house.
With no gear and only water I head off, down Hardey Road until it ends and becomes a hiking path with an impossible to descend-on-a-touring-bike hill. Walk/slide Dreamer a couple of hundred meters, the ride into Helena Valley and pick up the Helena Valley Pipeline service road, turn east run a few steep and loose-gravel hills until I pick up the Munda Biddi. Follow it southbound, discover a beautiful permanent pool on the Helena River. I don’t dwell, instead continue on the Biddi as it does a typical Biddi and ascends up long torturous tracks a mountain goat would undoubtedly enjoy.
But but but … with no load I power up the inclines, oodles of energy directly transferred to the rear wheel which responds delightfully. It’s a lot of fun. Sweaty as hell, but a lot of fun. A mountain bike would be a dream, with front suspension soft fat tires and at least ten kilogrammes lighter.
Funnily enough there ahead of me is a mountain biker and I am remorselessly catching up to him. Eventually he stops and waits.
He looks at Dreamer and remarks “I thought you were on a posties bike!”
“It’s not the bike, it’s the legs” I reply, somewhat enviously eying up his sleek Giant full-floater suspension mountain bike.
Turns out Neil is recovering from an injury and this is his first mountain bike ride since his accident. He’s done a ton of road kilometres, but that’s just not the same as humping it up and down the Biddi. He gives me some insights as to what to expect before I hit the Mundaring Weir Road and we go our separate tracks.
The Mundaring Weir Road is the old service road for the Mundaring Weir and pipeline project. A wild engineering scheme of Mr O’Connor to provide a water supply to the desiccated miners six hundred kilometres east working the Kalgoorlie goldfields. Damned by scorn and scepticism O’Connor committed suicide rather than face the ridicule of failure. But he did not fail and water did come of the pipe three days after the pumps were turned on and the rest is history.
Today the Road joins Mundaring via the Weir to Kalamunda. A delightful winding and somewhat hilly tourist route favoured by the leather-clad brigade and cars. Traffic’s pretty light but I face the same problem as always – lack of space, large automobiles and inconsiderate drivers.
A fantastic decline into Piesse Brook and a long incline out of it. All easy now, on asphalt on a Dreamer with no load. I am thoroughly enjoying myself.
Kalamunda eventually arrives. I lived here, smack in the middle, for a number of years as I became a teenager. An iced coffee in a café where another punter gives me a donut claiming “You need it more than I” as we talk bikes and touring. Past 3 Canning Road where the large Jacaranda trees still stands dominating a carpark in front of small offices in place of the old asbestos weather-board house where I spent nearly three years. Past Stirk Park on the left where we used to hang out and cause young teenage trouble, up Headingly Road which I recall was longer and steeper than it is today. Over Railway Road, left onto the railway heritage trail, a gravel path where the old railway used to make its torturous way up the hills from Midland to Kalamanda over a century ago until 1949.
Old familiar territory. Years ago I lived in Kalamunda and attended Gooseberry Hill Primary School. Two and half kilometres separate the school from where I lived and I regularly walked or cycled along this railway heritage reserve. Back then, ten year’s old, it seemed a long, long way.
Gooseberry Hill turns up but I don’t check out my old school, nor the house at 8 Arthur Road where my life in Australia began over four and half decades ago, on the very eastern edge of the tiny city of Perth and the western edge of vast forest and bushland which extended uninterrupted five kilometres south and hundreds of kilometres east before terminating against the wheatbelt.
The railway heritage eventually dies out and I’m on the Zig Zag, a thin stretch of asphalt zig-zagging up/down the steep hill at a gradient an old steam train could handle. The view over the city is spectacular. Small indents into the bush tell tales where vehicles park to enjoy the view, also a few drinks from the detritus they leave behind in that sad tale of litter.
The Zig Zag terminates against Ridge-Hill Road. Turn right climb, crest the hill race down into Helena Valley at fifty kilometres an hour. I’m damned if I’m going to hug the curb to appease the troubled egos of car drivers who have to get in front of a cyclist even if they are going the speed limit. I can feel them close behind expecting me to move to the left but I don’t and I race towards the inconvenient roundabout taking the sharp left into Helena-Valley Road at over thirty kilometres an hour, a hundred meters’ further right into Scott Street and finally the topographic bottom of my ride at 50 m a.s.l. where the road crosses Helena River. The same river which waaay upstream has that delightful permanent pool.
There’s some two hundred metres climb in some five or six kilometres back to Baz and Roz’s.
The easiest way to B&R’s is another Railway Heritage Reserve. All the really steep nasty bits have been filled in to allow an ancient steam train to make its way up the scarp and into the hills east of Perth. The hardest way is to take the first right onto Clayton Road which pretty much follows the Helena River for a while before ascending the two hundred metres over a couple of kilometres at an average grade of eight percent with a short wonderful twenty-four percent stretch along Ryecroft Road past Helena Valley School. A great hill-climbing training route.
The middle way involves taking the second right at Marriot Road, climbing into Darlington before rejoining the Railway Heritage Reserve avoiding that twenty-four percenter.
No matter which route, the home stretch involves a short thirteen percent to B&R’s house.
I take the hardest route and complete a neat sixty kilometre mixed-ride of bush track, scenic asphalt, amazing descents and leg-working steep ascents.
Over the seven weeks I stayed in Perth I eschewed use of Baz’s car. Instead I was up and down the hill on Dreamer either seeking stuff in Midland: a twenty kilometre road trip, or Perth central: a minimum seventy kilometre road trip. Depending on my mood I choose which of the hill-climbs I wanted to enjoy.
Eventually I did so much hill-climbing with a perverse preference for the short steepest route that my Garmin Edge 520 GPS/cycle computer did not have the time to calculate the gradient as I passed Helena Valley School, returning a paltry fourteen percent. I was racing up it, relatively speaking.
The last time Dreamer saw a service tech was BMCR in Adelaide nearly ten thousand kilometres ago. And aside of the Mighty Maguras, there’s been no pressing need to see a service tech since. It does seem though that the Gates Belt could do with tensioning. That means taking on the infamous Elliptical Bottom Bracket. Basically, loosen the bottom bracket and rotate it until the desired tension is achieved. There are a bunch of ‘buts’ and ‘watch-out-fors’, including moving the bottom bracket laterally, putting out the all important alignment of the belt resulting in the belt working its way off the chainwheel or the Rholoff’s cog. A more intriguing issue involves just how much tension the belt should have. Getting either one of these wrong can have catastrophic results. Then the Rholoff itself should, ideally, enjoy an oil-change every five thousand kilometres. That’s two services its missed. And, finally, I’d really like to work out why my f*cking SupaNova Plug don’t f*cking work!
The debacle of the Mighty Magura’s suggests I should do the work. Given the complexity of such a service though, and again considering the Mighty Magura debacle, it would be prudent to do it in asking distance of someone who may actually know the tricks, the trip-ups and/or offer some sensible advice. Only, who? There are no cycle-shops in Perth specialising in cycle-touring stocking Rholoffs, Gate belt drive systems with elliptical bottom-brackets, nor SupaNova Plugs.
At the famous Baker’s Hill pie shop, just off the KEP track thirty kilometres shy of Northam during a ride to my brother Cob’s farm, I meet a dude dressed as impeccably as a pilot should be. However, he pretty much dissects Dreamer. In a past life he’d been a bike mechanic for Bespoke Cycles in Bayswater and recommends them. Apparently he brought Rholoff into the range and figures they’d be the best bet for the elliptical bottom bracket and the SupaNova. I call them. Bespoke is, apparently, as close as Perth gets to top-of-the-line touring bikes.
Well, of course I can ”… leave it with us” and they shall work it out and charge me accordingly. BMCR did that to me, so I did not learn how to change the oil on the Rholoff. And after their work fitting the eDelux front light onto the Sondynamo I lost power to SupaNova’s Plug. And the twat in Ultimate Ride in Alice Springs did that to me too and fucked up my Mighty Maguras. This is not going to work from my side. I need to know how to address every single issue short of welding up the frame on Dreamer. Having some mechanic work their magic in opaque isolation is not going to move me forward. I explain this, trying to get them to understand that a cyclist several thousand kilometres from any reputable cycle-repair shop will need to know how to fix everything. And the only way to really know, is to do the work myself. Under their direction. Paid, of course.
It’s a struggle to get their buy-in but an appointment is made. I don’t have a good feeling about this.
Bassendean is right along the cycle path into Perth, so I do a random drop in. Tiny shop. Half showroom, half workshop. Steve mans the showroom, Chris the workshop. I speak with Steve who’s on crutches following a bike-fall. He’s hedging. There’s not enough space, there’s not enough time, it’s difficult. It’s also clear that only Chris, in the next room, can actually make a decision about me encamping in their workshop to work on Dreamer under their supervision. Chris is three meters away through an open door. Steve goes “I’m going to have to discuss this with Chris” and hobbles through the door, leaving me in the showroom as he presents my case to Chris in the workshop. I can hear everything they are saying, which means Chris could also hear everything I was saying to Steve. It’s weird situation and my apprehension don’t lift. I walk into the workshop to talk with Chris directly.
He doesn’t want to teach me, he hasn’t the time. And, more importantly, he doesn’t really know either. Rholoff + Gates + SupaNova is technology a bit too far for here. He doesn’t even have a multimeter to test connections on the SupaNova. “I’m not asking for a ‘teacher’” I tell him. “I want to do the work myself and if I hit a snag I’ll ask your advice”. I don’t know where else to go and the servicing has to go right. They try to get me to just leave Dreamer with them but eventually concede that a cyclist in the middle of nowhere has to be able to fix their bike. Reluctantly they agree. The SupaNova they pass off to some electrician a kilometre or so down the road. “Can’t miss it” I’m told, “Just look for all the crazy lights out the front”. Makes sense to me too. Working on an electrical problem without a multi-meter is like trying to paint a wall without paint.
I find the electrician’s shop. More auto-electrician than house and home. I bring Dreamer into the shop and park it were I find space. In a vitrine near the entrance I find an interesting sight: bicycle electrical and gearing equipment. Not Rholoff, SupaNova or Sondynamo, but Simano and Suntour. My mood lifts a little and I go find the Dude, who happens to be called Max and who immediately breaks out a multi-meter and plays around with the wires coming off the Sondynamo, all the while being friendly and engaging and talking bikes. He’s right into them. Has ten out the back of his shop in various stages of preparation to be re-sold. However, without the Plug itself there’s a limit to what he can do. I agree to come in again in a couple of days with the Plug. He makes no attempt to cut me out of this process.
Heading back up the hill to B&R’s it’s pretty clear I godda take control of my Rholoff service and the elliptical bottom-bracket and forget about Bespoke. I don’t have a good vibe with them. Max on the other hand, I’m happy to work with and if there’s one thing I’m likely to struggle with is the Plug. I tried before in Alice Springs and couldn’t work it out. Perhaps with Max I’ve got a chance.
The internet is fine and Google great, but a bit of a blunt instrument. No matter how specific the search terms it cannot find specific information concerning the elliptical bottom bracket that’s on Dreamer. There’s an iPhone app which assesses the tone of the belt when plucked like a guitar string. I have a Nokia-Microsoft thing, thus no app. There are complicated measuring devices which provide a visual analysis of the ‘sag’ in the belt relative to a horizontal line. Where I’m meant to get such a device in Perth is beyond me. Gates themselves simply say “the belt never stretches”. A wise man posted on a forum that “all materials stretch, it’s just a matter of by how much”. And my belt has nearly four centimetres of sag in it. I have not noticed any drop in performance, but still …
Finally I find a Dutch dude taking on his belt’s tension on his Koga – a famous touring brand – on Youtube. In Dutch. That’s fine. I speak Dutch. If the sag is more than two centimetres it should be retensioned to between one and two centimetres. Given the Koga is also a stretched wheelbase touring bike as opposed to a shorter-wheelbased mountain-bike, I figure it’s a good value to use for Dreamer.
I have a bleed-kit for the Rholoff, all the tools and things I think I need for the retensioning and set up in the shade of the back porch, on a tarpaulin so I won’t too easily loose some tiny but irreplaceable screw which is bound to fall off as I undo things.
The Rholoff goes smoothly enough. Though I do drop the tiny locking screw which keeps all the oil in the Rholoff. I find it easily on the tarp. Rholoff done, time for the belt.
There is quite a diversity of elliptical bottom brackets, each with a slightly different mechanism to loosen and adjust them. I can’t find my bottom-bracket being adjusted. But, how hard can it be?
As it turns out, not that hard. The biggest challenge is making sure I don’t move it laterally. The second challenge is to have the right tension, that 10 – 20 mm of play after I’ve resecured and tightened everything. For the act of tightening affects the tension. So I have to do a bit of trial and error until it seems OK.
Tomorrow on the way to the ODI between Australia and Pakistan at the WACA in Perth. I’ll drop into Max’s with the Plug and test the belt as I ride.
Max suggests I leave the Plug with him to “play around with”. It feels decidedly weird to leave the Plug with him with no agreement on how work is going to progress but that seems to be the way Max works and I decide to trust in it.
I notice the belt has migrated to the edge of the chainwheel, suggesting I did move it laterally. Not quite sure what to do, I push it onto the chainwheel with a mental note to keep an eye on it. Perhaps in the hotel room I’ll look at trying to re-set the alignment. However, the belt stays in position and hasn’t moved since.
At the Travelodge, who graciously allow me to take Dreamer into my room I decide the tension is too high, with less than 10 mm play. I resolve to fix it. But first, my first ODI.
E V E R Y O N E knows that an ODI – a One Day International – involves teams representing two famous cricketing nations battling in mortal combat over one hundred overs: fifty allotted to each side to restrict the other to the smallest number of runs with the aim to surpass that total when it’s their turn to face the ball. Or vice versa: to amass defensible target then prevent the other side from matching or surpassing it.
The game starts at 1100 and ends by or before 1900. In that typical quixotic Australian approach to summer sports in a county with some of the highest skin-cancer rates per-capita, where heat exhaustion, heat stroke and general dehydration are part of the National Paranoia, both both-teams AND pretty much all the spectators watch this eight-hour spectacle through the most intense time of the day fully exposed to the sun. And for what must be some fairly obvious reasons sun-umbrellas are not permitted. If all the spectators are covered in umbrellas only the first row would actually see any action.
My ODI involves Australia taking on Pakistan. Pakistan bat first seem to do pretty well, making 263 at 5.26 runs per over in their allotted fifty overs. Australia take to the crease and Marsh starts aggressively and fast, putting on thirty-five in quick-time before nicking a simple catch to the wicket-keeper. Captain Smith comes to the crease just before Kuwaja falls cheaply for nine and Australia teeter on the edge of trouble. Debutanbt Handscomb joins his Captain and immediately nicks one to the wicket-keeper. Out without scoring. Australia are officially in trouble-territory. He’s almost left the field, the Point Of No Return when the Third Umpire reports that the bowler had overstepped the crease and it’s a no-ball. Handscomb returns to the crease. Smith and Handscomb slowly compile runs but again Handscomb is caught. Again it’s a no-ball.
From that moment on there’s no stopping the Australians. By the time Handscomb is really out he’s amassed 82 runs and Smith racks up 108 with Head the supporting act with 23 to see out an easy win for the Australians.
I am part of a victorious partisan crowd as I make my way from the stadium. Although the noisy (in a good way) Pakistani contingent certainly added colour and vibrancy to the atmosphere in the stadium.
I really enjoyed it.
Back at the Travelodge Serge turns up keen to talk bikes, bike touring and Dreams. He lays out a map of the world – Of. The. World. – and we go through various routes, regions and countries. Five years six continents is a lot of ambition. I look forward to following his travails. The first of which is a bike. He’s keen on a Surly Long Distance Trucker. Excellent entry level touring bike with plenty of creds. The dropped handle-bars, skinny-tires, lack of a stand and doubts whether the frame is rigid enough for a trailer push me out of its market. It is though almost identical to the first touring bike I ever had waaay back in the 80s. So I know it’s a good one to start on.
Since I’m now an expert, loosening the belt in my hotel room goes flawlessly. Now for the Plug.
I stop in on Max on my way back to the hills. There is, apparently, no problem with the Plug. Works fine. He shows me it set up to a dynamo on a wheel on his work table. Yep, definitely works. We know the current coming off the Sondynamo is fine. Sooo, why don’t it work?
Turns out the twats in BMCR when they fitted the eDelux lamp failed to re-earth the Plug. As simple as that. The earth wire, a cable with an eye-connector coming off the Plug but not fixed to anything, simply worked its way loose from where it had been placed after BMCR had done their work on the eDelux. I even contacted BMCR about this wire during my own trouble-shooting and was told “We couldn’t work out what it’s for. We don’t believe it important”! Makes me feel a bit foolish I have to admit. I should have been able to work that out.
Max however fixes it. And very well. Watching him tie-off, solder and seal all the wires then attach them to where they needed to go reveals an artisan. I’m glad to have his help.
Finished … “How much do you want for performing magic on my bike?”. Max’s congenial and bearded face creases in a grin and answers “Twenty dollars” and looks at me inquisitively, like I can bargain. Errr … gladly I fork over twenty dollars not quite sure whether to believe him of not.
Strongly recommend Max and a go-to place for bike-electrical issues: Q C Technologies (qctechnologies.com.au) at 506A Guildford Road, 0423 102 488.
Lost in my own world as I peddle along the cycle path heading to Midland I’m brought abruptly back to life by another cyclist calling my name and saying Hi! Neil, the mountain biker I met on the Biddi a week or so ago. Small world. A lot faster now than I on his carbon-fibre road bike.
The highlight though of my brief stop-over in Perth has to be the Donnybrook to Donnelly Munda Biddi ride with Wil and Jen, showing their keen wannabe cycle tourists friends, Barry and Mandy the many glories and benefits of cycling, and how to overcome the inevitable hardships.
A week on the trail in summer just south of Perth means I can pack really light. I buy a cheap 40$ mozzy-dome tent thing. I need only Zi-Biddi and the front panniers – my kitchen and food supply. No rear panniers. No rack-pack. A key benefit of the trailer over full panniers is the weight on the trailer is spread between two axles. Since the trailer couples to the bike on the rear-wheel’s axle the centre of gravity is very low so there’s not top-heavy feeling, and there’s no tendency to lighten the front wheel which can make it want to pop-up and do wheelies making the steering light and sensitive.
It takes 104 km to ride from B&R’s in the hills to Wil and Jen’s down in Mandurah. Trying to find a good way to ride from Glen Forrest to Mandurah is challenging. Dropping out of the hills and onto the flats then diagonally crossing the vast suburban plains of Perth takes me well out of the way of the very, very few cycle paths Perth allegedly has. Both Garmin and Google put me onto such luminary roads as the Roe Highway, the Tonkin Highway and even the Kwinana Freeway. I’m sure I’ve seen No Cyclists Permitted signs at the on-ramps. Even if allowed riding on a woefully inadequate shoulder whilst Australian drivers in their Australian vehicles with their Australian driving mentality would make for a very hairy ride. I don’t think I’m brave enough. Although, although, perhaps, perhaps the fine urban transport designers of Perth have actually put cycle-paths parallel to the highways. Perhaps it’s all gonna work out juuust fine. If not, I’ll have to zig-zag through secondary roads since there’s no road even remotely crossing Perth from North East to South West, except for them highways.
The ride down the hill into Helena Valley then along Ridge Hill Road over the ridge left onto Watsonia Road, right on Gooseberry Hill Road until it become Hawtin Road where it crosses Kalamunda Road, then Hale and eventually right onto Welshpool Road is straight forward enough, the traffic not so bad. I cross the Tonkin Highway and much to my surprise there is indeed a cycle-path and it appears to wind its way towards the Roe Highway. Perhaps, just perhaps there’s one along the Roe Highway.
There is indeed a cycle path along Roe Highway but OF COURSE it’s being renovated. Now what? Some of the lycra-clad Mamil brigade pass me and disappear into a tiny gap in the wall of one of the ubiquitous housing ‘Estates’ Western Australians seem to prefer to live in. Hmmm … I decide to follow them.
I come across one of them parked in the shade of a tree and ask him how to get onto the Roe Highway cycle-path, assuming it does indeed continue and subsequently to Mandurah. His eyes widen just a bit at the mention of Mandurah and even more when I tell him Glen Forrest after he asks me where I started. Apparently there’s another gap in the wall a bit further on that leads to the cycle-path. Once I hit the Kwinana Freeway take the cycle-path all the way to Mandurah. Simple enough.
The cycle-path runs on a thin strip of land sandwiched between the wall of one of them ubiquitous housing estate on the right, a tiny fence and then the Highway left. A large fluffy monster is making its way along the cycle-path heading towards a large interchange a hundred meters behind me. It disturbs me that all the other cyclists (there are not that many) ride past what is obviously a lost dog, happy apparently for the dog to run the gauntlet of the highway, the interchange and the traffic.
I am not. The dog is huge, an Akira or something similar. Waaay tooo fluffy for Perth’s climate. It comes to my call obediently enough. Now I have a huge fluffy dog and a bike and a bike trailer on some scungy bit of no-man’s land. Now what?
I remove a Grunt strap from the rear-pannier, fashion a lead and lead the dog and push Dreamer to a patch of shade fifty metres further up. Dog accompanies me willingly, which is handy.
On his collar there’s a number. Gosnells’ city after-hours help line (it’s a Saturday) answers. After determining I am actually in greater Gosnells and therefore their responsibility they work out where I am and a Ranger is dispatched to come rescue the fluffy monster. A park lies about a hundred meters further up, parents watching kids practice various sports and I lead my fluffy monster to the shade of large trees and plentiful grass to await the Ranger. He’s not thirsty. Then again he’s wet. Obviously been splashing around in some pond before I bumped into him. No one at the recreational area is missing a dog.
Half an hour after taking charge of Fluffy the Ranger turns up, runs a Star Wars thing over the back of its neck and determines it’s got a micro-chip. Fluffy is really well behaved and really friendly, so it’s not a surprise it’s tagged. Mind you, I’m still trying to work out why it chose to piss on my shoes! Perhaps I was not leading him, but I now belong to his pack. I am very happy it ends well and I cycle on with a broad smile on my face.
It takes me six hours to do the one hundred and four kilometres to Wil & Jens. The cycle paths along the Roe Highway and the Kwinana Freeway are really good. Just north of Mandurah I do a bit of dog-leg through some back streets and I’m here. Six hours is pretty good considering there was a bit of headwind.
Next day Barry and Mandy turn up. Mandy’s a tiny athletic woman in her forties who’s had a bike for a while but never really known how to ride it. Barry’s seventy-plus and damned fit. A hard-core hiker he’s keen to see what all this cycle-touring hype is about.
And Wil and Jen are simply the Best People in the World and have flawlessly organised everything. Bikes loaded on the trailer, the Men in the Landcruiser, the Women in Mandy’s Corolla (I think) and an hour or so later we pull into caravan park of Donnybrook, having paid and got the keys from the Dude at the garage.
Mandy and Wil head off to Donnelly Mill to drop off the Landcruiser, since that’s how we’re gonna get back. Jen, Barry and I head into town and … ultimately end up in the pub where Wil and Mandy find us upon their return. BBQ superbly cooked by Wil and it’s an early night.
Camp broken, breakfast eaten, bike’s loaded we head off. Barry races past me up the first and admittedly asphalted incline. Fit dude. But then we find The Biddi. And The Biddi is a cantankerous phenomenon. Even though we are doing ‘easy’ stretches, that does not mean it is always ‘easy’. And we find ourselves grinding up a long six percenter of pebble gravel plus sand. Thirteen thousand kilometres just finished AND having ‘done’ the Biddi already do give me an advantage and I’m waaay ahead. I stop to wait where the track does a sharp left-hander along the fence of a paddock. There I wait, take a few snaps, shout encouragement and otherwise enjoy the moment.
[Full Disclosure: 90% of my photos I, err, ‘lost’.
Deleted when I hit the wrong button during transfer to my Surface Pro 3! Ouch!
Thanks be to Wil for most of the photos of this ride.
Wil’s blog on this ride is available at:
The group is grateful for the rest. I study both Barry’s and Mandy’s derailleurs, gears and position of the chain. Barry’s seems OK. But Mandy’s looks like hard work. Turns out Mandy doesn’t have any real idea how gears actually work. That’s the whole point of this trip so we run through gears, gear-ratios, gear-changing techniques (select appropriate gear before hitting the Incline Of Death, Do Not Stop Peddling, and so on), we even go through tire pressure. Makes a big difference as the ride progresses.
And so it goes on. I’m pretty much always in the lead by shear virtue of extreme cycle-fitness. I’d stop frequently to keep in touch with the group. And, you know, I’m not pushing it like I was when I was solo. I’m taking it easy. And there are moments when I figure, after half-an hour of waiting, that maybe I should go back to find out what’s wrong. Each time, they would turn up, a mix of euphoria, exhaustion and pain on their faces.
I’m well ahead of the group. I’ve got my Garmin 650T on the handlebar and the map of the appropriate section of the Biddi in the sleeve of my Ortlieb handlebar bag. Both are telling me we are heading north, and not west as the map suggests we should. There are no cycle tracks in the increasingly sandy track (and Sand Is The Bike Killer). I’m struggling to remember this section and the Archive part of my Garmin is corrupted so I can’t bring up my old route. I know that the rest are simply following me and I really don’t want to lead them on a torturous and unknown route into Jarrahwood. With the GPS and the Map I’m hardly lost but I doubt I’m on the right track and the wrong track can be very painful. I haven’t seen a trail marker for some time. Pulling the plug I start the painful process of turning Dreamer and Zi-Biddi around and back tracking. A few minutes later I run into the rest of the group and I explain my doubts. Fortunately Wil and Jen have done this section before. And fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – Jen remembers this precise section well coz just up there on the corner she came a cropper right in front of a bunch of school-kids on a cycling outing. Doubts assuaged, we continue and shortly ride gratefully into Jarrahwood.
Camped in Jarrahwood Biddi Hut night one. I’d ended up in the little community house when here last, by virtue of teeming rain and cold. Today though, it’s warm and sunny and delightful. The team are, well, tired. There were no end of short steep nasty sections to faithfully introduce Barry and Mandy to the joys of the Biddi. And, “Yes”, explains Jen to Mandy, “this IS the easy section of the Biddi … “
Jarrawood to Nannup has to be THE easiest section of the whole Biddi. An all but flat forty kilometre stretch along an old railway through beautiful forest. Nannup is a cute little ex-forest town with a number of cafes and restaurants, a pub or two. We set up camp in bright sunshine. A far cry from the cold and rain when I was here last time and sought shelter in an on-site van.
The Biddi does a long – 15 km-ish – and reasonably gentle climb out of Nannup into the hills. There is one nasty little bit right before the crest of the climb where it goes from a mild 3% to 10% or more. Barry and Mandy are ahead of me and Barry hits it first and hits the wall halfway. Mandy on the other hand – the same Mandy who two days ago didn’t even know how to change gears – powers up the hill like a hardcore hill climber. She’s definitely getting the hang of this.
The Biddi between Nannup and Donnelly Mill is the usual mix of hair-raising knee-shaking death-grip on the handle-bars downhills along thin tightly twisting trails through dense forest, heart-bursting red-lining inclines and the odd utterly delightful flat bit. It’s great.
Seven kilometres from Donnelly, literally The Home Stretch, Jen is in the lead, Barry is just in front of me with Mandy then Wil behind. We turn off the rather interestingly named Tin Mine Gully Road (it’s a track) onto a narrow trail which rises steeply up a short-ish hill. I literally see Barry do the mental arithmetic and conclude ‘Godda hit the power’ stand on his pedals and power down. I swear I can see that power transferred through the chain, the derailleur, the cluster and ultimately the wheel and tire. In one of those awful twists of fate I see the knobbly tread of his rear tire pick up a thin short branch off the trail and lay it across the chain and feed it into the derailleur. I see Barry feel the resistance on the chain, assume it’s ‘just a tricky bit’ and power down some more which forces the stick into and through the derailleur twisting it out of shape and snapping one of the rollers clean in half.
It is a spectacular show-stopper and we immediately grind to a halt. Now what?
Reality check. We are in the middle of fucking nowhere, nowhere near a road, seven kilometres from Donnelly Mill with a busted bike.
Group Hug. Wil and Jen are consummate outdoor Aussies, I’m a bush guy and a cycle-hero fully armed with GPS and maps, Barry’s a bush-walking supremo and Mandy has no shortage of energy.
The most obvious is to push the bike up the Biddi for a couple of kilometres until we hit Boundary Road (it’s a track). Wait there whilst at least Wil continues into Donnelly Mill to collect the Landcruiser and rescue Barry.
I’m a man of maps. I don’t like pushing a loaded bike uphill, even if I’m not actually doing the pushing. Should we instead return to Tin Mine Gully Road and follow that for about a kilometre downhill we’ll not only intersect Boundary Road but end where it crosses Willow Springs Road. More options for rescue, less effort
No one can find a flaw in my plan. From the Garmin Montana 650T I write the coordinates for Wil to plug into the Landcruiser’s GPS.
The demographics of the plan now need to be worked out. Who stays with Barry. Who rides to Donnelly Mill and collects the Landcruiser. I’m the best rider and would cover the challenging Biddi to Donnelly Mill the easiest and quickest. I’m also the best bike mechanic and best suited to bush-doctoring Barry’s bike juuust in case we have to try riding it out as Plan B – that the Landcruiser does not rescue us. Wil is by far the most competent 4WD-car-driver dude. Barry being a hiking supremo could literally walk the seven kilometres to Donnelly Mill in Plan C – the bush doctoring doesn’t work. Mandy doesn’t know enough about bikes or bush-lore to justify her remaining. Jen has her ‘Dicky Knee’ which suggests she and Mandy should continue to Donnelly Mill and arrange accommodation and food.
Timing, timing, timing … Seven arduous kilometres to Donnelly Mill: 1 hour. ½ an hour to organise the Landcruiser. ½ hour to drive back and rescue us. Two hours total.
And so it goes. Barry and I hack our way through the re-growth on the Tin Mine Gully track leading to Boundary Road and the shade of some large trees. Wil, Jen and Mandy head towards Donnelly Mill. Wil to collect the Landcruiser and come rescue Barry and I.
Two hours goes pretty quick. It takes Barry and I almost an hour to cover the kilometre to the forest road. An hour, or two, lounging around and having a bit of an explore. Three hours
There could be any number of reasons Wil is delayed. Flat battery flat tire on the Landcruiser. Another problem with the bikes enroute Donnelly Mill. Challenges to find Boundary Road where we wait.
Time for Plan B. The day is running out. We lug Barry’s bike to a flat bit in some shade, I break out the Helinox Ground Chair placing it in position, fashion some stout sticks to keep the bike upright (it doesn’t have a stand), arrange what tools I think I’ll need and go about studying my challenge: create a single-speed bush-bike that Barry could actually ride out of here. Without the derailleur to tension the chain I’ll need to shorten the chain. Fortunately Wil has a good chain breaker, which I now have. Barry’s bike’s not carrying much weight. Perhaps the 32 on the chainwheel coupled to third or fourth on the cluster. Should be doable for the inclines on the forest roads, as opposed to trails, and give some cycling comfort on the flats. Simply glide downhill.
Juuust as I’m about to start, just just just … Barry’s eyes widen significantly “I hear a car” he says. We’ve had a few false alarms when the ‘motor’ we heard turned out to be small planes. But this time Barry is right, this is a car engine. A moment later a huge Landcruiser pulls up. Wil finally makes it.
Apparently it took a good while to make Donnelly Mill: tough hills. Then it took longer than expected to organise the car and accommodation. Then the Landcruiser’s GPS put Wil on the wrong roads. Three hours instead of two. But. We. Are. Not. Complaining. Grins all around.
Donnelly Mill, on old mill village where the former worker’s houses have been converted into tourist homestays, is also home to dozens of the most unperturbed kangaroos, and roaming bands of emus. The kangaroos will follow you into the house in search of a morsel or two. Papa emu with no less than nine chicks is on a continuous hunter-gather loop of the village and regularly pops up checking out if something may have changed in the half hour since they were last here. Cute as and utterly photogenic. But, of course, I deleted all my photos!
Two nights chilling at Donnelly Mill before reloading the Landcruiser’s trailer and returning to Mandurah. A night here and I head back towards Glen Forrest. But not the same way I came. The map shows some very interesting bush tracks leading to the Mundaring Weir Road. Sure, a lot more challenging than simply doing asphalt, but also a lot more fun.
Careful what you ask for, They say, for you may just get it. The day’s cycling stats turn out like this … first forty kilometres, two hours. The next twenty kilometres, five hours. The final fifteen kilometres, one hour.
For my sins, for my impudence for wanting some ‘adventure’, for wanting a bit of bush riding, I got The Hardest Section Of The Entire Munda Biddi indeed the Entire Epic. Thirteen thousand kilometres I have ridden. And the hardest bit of it all is the three kilometres just south of Jarrhadale.
After crawling up the 13% on Kingsbury Road into the hills I rest in the shade of a tree right next to Scarp Road, which you all know, crosses the Biddi a couple of kilometres north. I can then follow the Biddi into Jarrahdale and eventually to the Wungong Hut for the night.
It’s stinking fucking hot and I don’t really have a lot of water. It’s but a few kilometres, literally no more than five from where I am to Jarrahdale. How hard can it be?
Should you read the post from the illustrious moment when I ‘did’ this section heading south, there’s a short viddy in which I wonder how much I should worry about an inpending control burn. By now they have done this burn. Humungous four- and six-wheel drive bushfire control vehicles have been along the Biddi. It is completely fucked up, which deep loose ruts of pebble-gravel. It is almost impossible to control Dreamer as I attempt to ride down the 15% incline and I crawl along at walking pace. For the final stretch before crossing the Serpentine River I am back on Scarp Road. Twenty percent, perhaps more. I’m slip-sliding my way down the hill. Cross the river and the Biddi just goes straight up the hill. I. Mean. Straight. Up. Loose of gravel. I’d have to drag Dreamer up it. I gamble, perhaps should I follow scarp road it’ll present an easier incline. Water is really low and I suffer from dehydration. Jarrahdale is now only 1500 meters from where I am.
I try to recover some energy by resting in the shade of a tree, literally lying prone on the ground to snooze. The fucking midges revel in having something warm and red-blooded upon which to feed and I am driven to move.
Halfway up the incline I am struggling. Not enough water to keep my body hydrated enough to drive my muscles. In the shadow of a shed on a hobby farm a hundred metres off the track I find a small water tank. Cranking open the tap a torrent of befouled red water pours out accompanied by chunks of debris. The water clears and though I lament not bringing my Platypus Gravity-Works water purification system I trust in my “cast iron stomach” as a Ranger once told me, and drink deep and long and return to battle the inclines leading into Jarrahdale.
It takes another hour to make Jarrahdale. It’s one tough bit of the Biddi.
After rehydrating in Jarrahdale the following seventeen kilometres to the Wungong hut is simple.
A night there with two dads and three sons enjoying a cycling weekend, I abandon the Biddi in favour of forest roads I used to drive and even work along decades ago when I lived in the area and this was my backyard. I love this forest. The Marri, the Jarrah, the prickly Moses, the kangaroo paws, grass trees, granite and gneiss outcrops, the smell on a hot summer’s day, the ice on the puddles early in a cold winter’s morning. My world. My first Sanctuary that I’ve never been able to repeat across fifty countries and thirty years of travel.
After crossing the Albany Highway once I leave the hut, I follow Kinsella Road until it terminates against the Brookton Highway. A left and a right I follow Ashendon Road until it finally gives way to the Mundaring Weir Road and riding just gets that much easier.
Until I turn off the road to go to the Mundaring Weir Hotel. That one hundred meters of hill must be 25 – 30%. It’s horrendous. Takes every amount of skill and shear bloody determination to force my way up it. Exhausting, panting, red of face, heartbeat racing I park Dreamer and enter the upper bar of the Hotel not exactly sure what I’m after.
The barmaid takes one look at me and says “Glass of water?” I laugh a short hysterical laugh as she hands me the glass before she asks “Perhaps you’d like a jug of water”. Damned fucking right I would. I retreat outside with my chilled jug of water and bring myself under control.
I love this shit.
Then there was the ‘relearn old skills’ moment, when I went to Keens truck-driving school and found myself in the cab of a humungous Kenworth with a four-speed overdrive and low-high range gear box. Basically sixteen gears on a Roadranger non-synchromesh gear-box. It means every time I change gear I must ‘double-de-clutch’: that fast short single pump down on the clutch shift into neutral another fast short single pump down and shift into gear as I go up the gears. Going down the gears there’s the quick five hundred RPM rev before shifting it into the lower gear.
Now, I actually have a truck driving licence. I am legally allowed to get behind the wheel of a sixty-ton twenty-three meter behemoth and take to the road, along with all them utterly unsuspecting motorists who have no idea that I’ve pretty much completely failed to remember how to actually drive the monster.
After an hour or so we return to the depot. I turn to Jacob and ask “Now, given my performance, would you have guessed I actually have a licence?” Jacob is wonderfully diplomatic and answers (whilst not quite looking me in the eye) “A bit more practice with the gears and you’ll be fine”.
To return to Glen Forrest I could of course retreat back along Kelvin Road, back on the Tonkin Highway, which terrifyingly allows cyclists to ride on the broken-glass and junk-strewn shoulder, onto Hale, the Hawkin, Ridge-Hill Road and into Helena Valley and familiar roads through the hills to Glen Forrest.
I need a ride though. Something to take care of the adrenalin and excitement an hour or so behind the wheel of a humungous Kenworth tends to generate within me. I follow Kelvin until it becomes the delightfully named Crystal Brook Road, start the long eight to ten percent climb up Welshpool Road, another major arterial road penetrating the hills. Fortunately I manage to see a cyclist’s-route marker on the first left and find myself winding through affluent suburbs perched precariously on the edge of the scarp until I crawl back into Kalamunda.
Along Canning Road onto the Railway Reserve and eventually the Zig-Zag which unfortunately leads me back down the scarp onto Ridge-Hill Road and my ultimate hill-climb experience of Clayton, Victoria, Glen and my short twenty-four percenter up Rycliffe Road and ultimately Glen Forrest. Nearly a kilometre of climbing over fifty kilometres. Love it.
The intention is to continue to master the Road-Ranger gearbox and ultimately secure an MC – Multi-Carriage – truck driving licence, giving me the legal right to drive a three-trailered fifty-three meter long one hundred and twenty ton (on average) truck. From insignificant cyclist to King of the Road. Hmmm …
Sadly, the trials and tribulations of my family conspire against me and I find myself increasingly driven to get out, to go somewhere, anywhere rather than stay where I am. The opportunity to drive a Prado from Perth to Darwin proves irresistible. From one day to the next I’m in Pack To Leave mode and swiftly organise everything and find myself in the passenger seat of my mother’s car as she takes me to the Prado’s pick-up location.
Within an hour I am officially heading North, destination Darwin then Jabiru but future well unknown.
Perth, 14 February 2017