After a quiet morning at home I board a train at 1 and by 2.30 I step off onto the platform at Marshall, a quiet station in the suburbs of Geelong. Despite a light rain falling, it’s still quite warm.
Since returning from the Hunt 1000 I was thrown straight into the relentless chaos that is the Christmas rush. Having fulfilled my family obligations, it’s now Boxing Day and I’m looking forward to a solo mission and a bit of reprieve from the madness.
The Otways are a mountain range in western Victoria, known for its sub-tropical rainforest, that separates the Southern Ocean from sprawling farmland. It will be my first time riding in the area but I’ve drawn up a route that will see me climb up onto and traverse the ridgeline that follows the coast, before dropping down to the ocean and climbing back up and over, inland of the range for an opportunity to experience all the region has to offer.
It’s only a few blocks from the station before the bitumen ends and the familiar crunch of gravel beneath my tyres welcomes me back. The rain eases but the air is still thick with humidity and the smell of eucalyptus. The first 30km of riding is a flat but bumpy time-trial through heavily corrugated farm roads. As I pass through the final few kilometres of farmland towards the Otways, I’m confronted with a dense canopy of trees stretching away ahead of me as far as I can see.
The rain continues on and off as I climb gradually up Gum Flat Rd and then Hammonds Track. The corrugations continue and during the brief stretches that I’m not being bounced all over the road, the soft, sandy gravel road surface does its best to suck my tyres and slow my forward progress. As the afternoon wears into the evening, the road condition mildly improves, though I’m not here for the perfect road, infact the opposite. The willingness and ability to cover terrain of all types is what allows me to get off the beaten path, away from all the masses.
I join Mt Sabine Rd, a winding gravel road that continues to climb steadily, lined with mountain ash, tree ferns and other dense greenery. I slowly ascend to Mt Cowley, taking the slight detour to bag the summit, before continuing along Mt Sabine. I’ve been increasingly aware of by diminishing water supplies, having not had the opportunity to refill since leaving Marshall. Looking at my map I notice Curtis Track, which I’m about to pass, drops down to the Cumberland River before a short but steep climb back up to Wye River Rd, which my planned route follows. In the waining daylight I make the decision to drop down to the river to refill, turning my lights on before the descent. After making the river crossing with dry feet – always a victory – and filling my bidons from the running water I start the short hike-a-bike up to rejoin my route.
Shortly before reaching Wye River Rd, I find an appropriately grassy clearing off the track to throw out my bivy for the night. At this point the sun has well and truely set and I’m completely relying on my lights to see. Now having water to drink and prepare food with I’m happy to call it a day with 100km and 6.5 solid hours of riding under my belt, leaving myself a short descent into Wye River to start the morning tomorrow.
I sit perched on top of my bivy, listening to an owl hoot and waiting for my cous cous to rehydrate. This trip I opted to leave the stove at home, so rehydrating with cold water takes around 20 minutes: just long enough to set up my bivy and relax for a minute before it’s ready. Having eaten, I crawl inside my sleeping bag and drift off to sleep to the eerie and aggressive grunts and groans of several local koalas watching over me from the tree tops.
I wake early, it’s still dark which means, if I hurry I can catch the sunrise over the ocean at Wye River. Quickly packing my bivy back into my saddle bag, I’m on the road within about 5 minutes of waking, shoving a fruit bar into my mouth as I roll along. A small amount of light is starting to creep into the sky in front of me, but I once again find myself relying on artificial light to see.
Flying down the descent, through the trees I can see the sky turning orange off over the water in front of me and have to fight to keep my attention on the road. I start skating around on the loose gravel beneath me. Quickly scrubbing some speed, I turn all my focus back to riding. The trees flying past me are blackened from the fires in this area last summer, but they’re all already green and fuzzy with regrowth. It’s a quick 12km drop down to the beach. The best of the light show is over by the time I get down there, but I sit myself down on a rock, eat some oats and watch the light slowly fill the sky before the sun pops over the horizon, briefly showing its face before hiding away behind thick cloud cover.
A short stretch along the Great Ocean Rd warms up the legs, a few rollers along the coastline carry me into Kennett River before climbing back up to the forest and into some low lying morning fog.
Cresting Grey River Rd back up to the ridge, the cloud finally clears and I’m treated to blue skies – for the first time on the ride – for the final push up to Mt Sabine summit.
After descending down a muddy and rutted out 4WD track I enjoy a short stint on the sealed (and deceptively named) Turtons Track before returning to the gravel along some back roads around to Beech Forest. A couple of quick detours on the way at Hopetoun Falls and the Californian Redwoods gave me the opportunity for a quick break. From Beech Forest my route followed the old disused railway down into Gellibrand before veering off towards Forrest.
I never made it to Forrest. The non-existence of a road threw me way off course and I decided that rather than looping back around and then climbing back up to Mt Cowley and retracing my steps along Mt Sabine Rd back to Geelong, as I had originally planned, I would devise a new route to head towards Birregurra to catch a train home. My new route would end up being a 65km tour of Surf Coast farmland that would eventually carry me to Winchelsea Station, after checking the train timetable and seeing I had several hours to kill. Though the rain had set in again, and once I turned east was pedalling into a steady headwind it was still great riding.
Bikepacking trips don’t always go to plan but that doesn’t mean they’re a failure. In fact, more often than not something will catch you off guard and being able to adapt on the fly is all part of the adventure.
In all, it was a pretty successful mission for my first time exploring the Otways by bike. I’m really happy with the route up until Gellibrand. I was never really sold on the original plan of retracing my steps and that’s part of the reason I changed it, but the planning all happened pretty last minute and nothing else really popped out at me on the map at the time of drawing the route. With an alternate ending this route could really be something pretty great.