A RETURN^TO VICTORIA’S^HIGH COUNTRYA RETURN^TO VICTORIA’S^HIGH COUNTRY

A RETURN TO VICTORIA’S HIGH COUNTRY

July 19, 2021 Michael Back, Bethie Chadwick & Fiona Millburn Photography – Paul Spurling

Nestled deep in the Victorian High Country, below Australia’s highest alpine peaks is a small town called Bright. While it may be a 325km drive from Melbourne, at MAAP HQ we still like to think of it as our backyard.

And after a year at home, we decided it was high-time to gather the troops, hit the open road and head for the High Country. With a 10 strong crew, we had a few familiar faces and welcomed a few new ones too. On the cards were four days of cycling, exploring, coffee, craft beers and everything else the Victorian High Country has to offer.

A ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

While revered for the alpine climbs, valley roads and epic MTB trails, we knew there was more to explore. We decided to head a little further afield, somewhere, where the sound of the tyres would crunch, where the dust from the riding efforts would linger in the air and not a soul would we see.

Day 1: The Myrtleford Monster Loop
Distance: 121.65km
Elevation: 1205m
Surface: Road, Gravel

On paper, a ride that perhaps doesn’t seem too challenging. But throw in some lumpy gravel roads, pinchy dirt climbs, and plenty of adventure, the riders were in for a real treat.

Mt Buffalo was the backdrop for the day and as the hot sun rose above it, the sweat beaded on the riders and the dust clung to their skin. As the kilometers and elevation ticked away, the legs grew wearier and the smiles grew wider. It was the kind of day that has us all scratching our dust filled heads and asking ourselves…. Why don’t we do this more often?

A solid ride should always be amply rewarded, and there was no better way than a hearty meal and a few locally crafted beers at Bright Brewery. Stories were regaled, banter was flying and the whole crew were in their element.

As dinner wound down and the following days' ride plans were laid out, you could feel the anticipation, the excitement was more than palpable. On the cards were winding valley roads, epic mountain climbs and some more gravel, just to keep everyone on their toes.

DEEP IN THE VALLEY

The morning was completely still, there was a quietness you only hear in the country, then the first light began to hit the valley and it was time to roll out. Riding two by two, the conversation flowed freely, the shared passion of cycling, the individual life stories, you could sense the bonds of friendship forming.

Day 2: Buckland Valley and Kiewa Valley
Distance: 124.25km
Elevation: 1406m
Surface: Road

An early start had us catching the town waking up to a cool and overcast day, which also had us craving a mid morning coffee more than normal. A small dirt turn out beside a paddock of cows was our coffee shop today, with the crew pouring pre-brewed Sixpence coffee into china cups, it was a juxtaposition that had everyone smirking.

Fuelled by caffeine, good company and the beauty surrounding us, the kms and time ticked over quickly.

Before we knew it we were swapping the farmlands and views of Mt Buffalo, for the wide open bushscape and beauty of Mt Bogong in the Kiewa Valley. The road undulated and weaved alongside the river, narrowing and widening without rhyme or reason.

The riders perhaps following the same unwritten logic halted their previous chatter and quickly replaced it with leg and lung burning efforts over the rises, sprinting to hold the wheel and digging deep to pull a turn. The challenge that arose from nowhere, but everyone knew it was coming.

Another 120kms+ in the bank and it was time to call it a day.

THE MOUNTAINS WERE CALLING

We had been hoping for early morning light and a beautiful sunrise, finally we got what we were looking for. Perfectly clear skies, crisp air and riders awake at the crack of dawn.

Day 3: The Horn
Distance: 90km
Elevation: 1800m
Surface: Road, Gravel

Rolling out of Bright, we crossed paths with the local peloton, there was a nod of acknowledgement between the riders about what was to come.

Mt Buffalo had been the backdrop for the past two days, now it was time to tackle the almighty mountain. The first 20kms is deceptively friendly, an average gradient of just 5%, the steady climb winds through dense forest with glimpses of the mountain above and the valleys below.

The journey for most, finishes here, but not for us.

We headed higher, towards The Horn. Another 8kms of sealed road, before the final pitch. The riders were greeted with a few kms of gravel; put in enough effort to get to the top, but not so much your wheels spin on the loose surface. The reward was worth the effort, breathtaking views all to ourselves.

The cool morning had given way to a hot afternoon and after almost a 90km ride with a 30km climb, the riders were ready to cool off. A small detour at the bottom of ‘Mini-Buffalo’ to a local swimming hole did the trick - the water was icy cold, perfect for soothing sore muscles, and a few cheeky beers for quenching the thirst.

Another bucket list ride was complete.

ELEVATION AS HIGH AS THE STOKE

Day 4: Mt Hotham
Distance: 80km
Elevation: 1,279m
Surface: Road, Gravel

A few bleary eyed riders were up while the sky was still as dark as night. Coffee in hand to awaken the soul, silence was the only sound to be heard.

The anticipation of a sunrise over Victoria's most iconic climb, Mt Hotham, was drawing the motivation for the final ride. The fatigue from 350kms and 3400m elevation over the past three days was evident, but as the legs began to spin, the sensations of heaviness eased and it was time to pull all the reserves to tackle the grueling 30km climb ahead.

Some riders are drawn to gravel and we may have had more than one of those in the mix. A side road captured our attention and it was time to explore some unknown territory. A sudden steep descent and a stretch of gravel, this was Dargo High Plains Road.

While some played, ripping the gravel road and punching back up the steep incline, others took the opportunity to rest weary legs and enjoy watching the show.

But the summit was calling our names. We made our way up the final part of the ascent, watching the sun wash over the expanding vistas, the mist in the valleys dissipate, there was a sense of calm and clarity that took hold of us.

Standing side by side, on the peak of Mt Hotham, we took in the views. Those early mornings, late nights and long days in the saddle were all worth it, just for this one moment in time. While the views were magnificent, it was more than that. It was the bond we had formed and the experiences we had shared.

A final wave goodbye to signify the end of the trip, we rolled our separate ways out of Bright, with promises of returning again soon. Four days, with riders from different places, backgrounds and experiences - the connections were real. It’s easy to see how the cycling community continues to grow and weave its way across the globe. This is what we are here for.

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