Having doing some silly stuff myself, I’ve started to follow some riders on Strava get up to the same type of shenanigans, and with an opportune RDO one Tuesday, I decided it was time to test my legs with the “Nongs” crew. The same idea as the Kew #RFWYA, but starting and finishing in Ferntree Gully instead. I messaged John Van Seters expressing my interest to come along, and I was encouraged to join – I was wrapped to have an opportunity to ride with some legends of the everesting scene, so got everything together for a 5am departure from Fairfield to make the journey out to FTG.
I don’t have a lot of experience riding in the Dandenongs, and for all the bike riding around Melbourne I have done, finding my way any further east than Ringwood in terms of time has me a bit stumped. But with some pedal stomping from about Vermont, I made it with plenty of time to spare, and was almost concerned when there wasn’t another rider in sight (did I miss the bunch already?). But before long, lit up cyclists rolled in making quick introductions, and me being me, I didn’t manage to remember all the names (I am sorry about this – I really like to know everyone on a bunch ride, but it usually takes me a few outings, and even then, the identification is often from the bike, kit or riding style… Luke Chippindall had me very confused one Tuesday morning when he wasn’t on his Avanti!).
I’ve gotta say, after the initial introductions, I was massively amused by the rivalry this bunch had with the bunch in Kew – especially with Climb for Nepal Challenge going down on Strava. It seemed a bit of a laugh for these riders about to head out in FTG – they were basically assured they were going to rack up more vert. And having seen some ride profiles from previous Tuesdays, it was pretty obvious that this was a bunch ride that was serious about climbing! From the get go from Walmer St, the pace is high and the repeats can be many, but FTG is pretty freaking sweet playground for a whippet like me! The highlight of the ride for me was a stunning city view at the top of one of the climbs as the sun was making it’s morning appearance – so similar to what you’d see on the Kew ride at the same time, but a bunch of kilometres farther out. It was wrapped up with coffee (and a panini for me) at Rapture Cafe in FTG, and me trying to persuade everyone else to call in sick and continue riding.
So, with the early morning riding out of the way, JVS lead me out to The Basin, and the 1 in 20 – taking me up a steep pinch that has has competed a successful everesting. My familiarity with the area is minimal, and my only ascents of the 1 in 20 were whilst on sherpa duty a few nights before, in the middle of the night, for Lewis and Con’s successful attempt. I wasn’t really in the mood for trying to smoke it up anything, and I was pretty set on riding for most of the day, so the pace was kept low and steady up to Sassafras and onto Olinda (I’m sure I’ll have a “fang it” ride up there soon). I have been up The Wall a couple of times, and only with very tired legs, so it was a real blast to shoot down the descent. An aunt and uncle lived literally at the base of The Wall until very recently – if only I’d started riding in the Dandenongs sooner!
From Monbulk, I decided I’d follow my nose to Warbuton. JVS mentioned a road I could take, but I wasn’t paying enough attention, and it was too early to be pulling out maps on the phone. I definitely enjoy heading out on a ride not knowing what I might get into, so following the signs to Emerald seemed like a sensible thing to do. This paid off with some lovely sweeping bends and beautiful forest scenery and very little traffic. But it turned out that Emerald is a lot further south than my mental map was indicating, so I pulled out my phone for some route consultation. A quick decision was made to make my way via Gembrook and Kurth Kiln Regional Park – a decision that really made the ride a fantastic day out.
The road from Gembrook to launching place, through Kurth Kiln and Hoddles Creek is amazing. I was no longer in any wind, I had clear views of stunning forrest and green farmland, and the traffic was now down to about 1 car sighting every 15 minutes. There were plenty of ups, but nothing very testing, and the downs were wicked fast. I’m definitely keen to ride this section of road again – it wouldn’t matter to me if I had to do a huge loop from home again – it would be worth it. The fun ended temporarily as I made it to the end of that stretch and into Launching Place. Although the scenery was still stunning, I was back into traffic and riding a less enjoyable road, and importantly had the task of climbing Mt Donna Buang weighing on my mind.
I’d only been up Donna on one occasion prior, and although I didn’t have fresh legs then (I’d ridden from Fairfield, direct, on that occasion), I hadn’t notched up nearly as many kilometres, and importantly, nearly as much vertical. The cycling from Warbuton to Cement Creek was an absolute slog. I was definitely thinking that I need to get a compact crank set, and something bigger than a 25 on the back. This was interspersed with thinking, “whatever, the bike is light and I’m light, stop whinging and keep pedalling”. I was conscious not to even go near the 25 to start (not that it would have helped anyway, as I knew the chain was going to slide off it into the next gear), hoping to give myself some breathing room. I’m happy to report that I was pretty successful with this, making it most of the way up in the 29-21, and using the 23 for the last 2 kilometres or so. The hairpin at Cement Creek was a massive relief, and I immediately flicked the shifter to dump a couple of gears and got into a much better rhythm, rather than grunting my way up. I still did fatigue considerably on the higher elevations of the slope, and I was a little concerned about my food situation by this stage – I finished what little I had left in my back pocket 2km before the peak – but I was happy enough to push on, get a photo, and roll down hill either back to Warbuton or onto Healesville. I did get that summit photo to “gram” at about a quarter to one, and I was feeling pretty good knowing that it was all down hill to lunch.
Again I was a little ambivalent in route planning, but had it in my head that descending off Mt Donna Buang to Healesville would be a great idea. But I didn’t realise it would involve a large chunk of gravel and riding down a seasonally closed road. My thoughts as I was “ducking the rope” went something along the lines of, “don’t get a flat, don’t crack your frame, don’t do anything stupid that will require the phone reception you don’t have,” and, “it looks like it’ll be really fun, it’s a bloody long way for you to ride all the way out here and you’ll regret it if you don’t, and you’ve done far sillier things on skis and in kayaks – harden up!”. Well, I was pretty happy with this decision too. The descent was rough and unforgiving on 23mm road tyres, but it was such a great experience. There was so much small tree debris on the road, the solitude of the section was self-apparent. At times I was freezing on concave corners that seemingly never see the sun. But I would ride through and onto a convex corner where I could stop and warm up my hands with the streaming light. The forest formed a thick canopy overhead at times, and it was as if I was riding through a tunnel, yet the consistent view to my left of the Yarra Valley was stupendous. I wasn’t winning any awards for speed down here, but I was happy to make it back onto the bitumen with the bike still intact.
|Descent to lunch|
The fun didn’t end though – I still had plenty of kilometres to rip downhill on. For a while I was still on the closed road, but now wider with two clear lanes, all covered in leaves and small branches – it was a relief to ride knowing that I wouldn’t have to look over my shoulder for cars. And even when I did cross back through the gates, there was still very little traffic to be of concern, and you are met with some absolutely ripping roads all the way to Badger Creek before flattening out coming into Healesville. I was happy to make it in for a late lunch and have a bit of a breather. After slamming down a wrap, and in between mouthfuls of a beesting, I was contemplating riding onto Kinglake. Unfortunately my knees had taken too much of a toll grinding up to Cement Creek in the 39-23, and I wasn’t really interested in getting home in the dark after leaving home in the dark, so I set the course for a Yarra Glen – Christmas Hills – Kangaroo Ground – Eltham – return home. All roads that I know very well in a car, and was not going to be too phased riding with sore knees.
This last section home was a real breeze… In the sense that I was quite tired, my knees hurt, and I couldn’t push much of a gear – but it was familiar territory and I knew how far I had to go and how long I’d be going up before I’d get a good break going back down. Traffic was picking up, and the light was fading a little bit, and I could feel the adventure was almost over when I cam back along a regular Eltham route of mine – it wasn’t so much that I felt the home stretch a chore, but I was already missing the fun I’d had that day. My legs carried me all the way back to Fairfield almost 12 hours after leaving that morning and with a little light left still.
I’m left with some great memories, a few photos and a Strava File to view.