Canberra Anzac Epic 2003

It's become something of a tradition here in Canberra, the all day mountain bike ride on Anzac day. In the late 1990s, the first Anzac epic rides endeavoured to complete a loop of Canberra while keeping to interesting off road tracks and trails, while in later years the focus has shifted to more challenging routes in the nearby mountain ranges. An interesting loop in the southern Brindabellas was chosen for the 2001 epic, and in the wake of the January 2003 bushfires, we were keen this year to see what changes had been wrought in that area by the fires.

Planning began as usual with an exchange of emails between Jim Trail and I. We decided to repeat the plan we had hatched two years ago. Meet south of Canberra in the Naas valley below Fitz's hill - leave some cars for a car shuffle - send some riders 20km up the road to the start point while the rest of us drive those final kilometres to the Old Boboyan Rd and the ride's start. From there, we would climb up the Old Boboyan Rd to the Sam's creek trail, then turn east and ride to the Mt Clear camp ground. At the camp ground, we would turn down the Naas valley and enjoy the big downhill to the Horse Gully hut. Lunch at the hut, then continue down the valley over several short but difficult hills and several river crossings to Caloola farm and finally the cars we had left in the morning.

A good plan for a challenging all day ride. Or so we thought. Unfortunately, with only a couple of days to go before the ride, we found that the section from Horse Gully hut to Caloola farm remained closed in the wake of the fires, so a change of plan was needed.

We discussed and rejected a few plans before settling on a minor variation to the original. We would skip the original meeting place at the base of Fitz's hill, and move the start up the mountains a bit, to the Old Boboyan road. This entails a drive of about 45 minutes south of Canberra. Instead of riding a loop, we would plan an out and back ride, with a couple of options in the middle. As it turns out, the ride was very much an out and back affair. Here's a (very rough) sketch of the route:

Map As fate would have it, the map area I want to show is at the junction of a couple of map sheets. This rough map is the result of some cutting, pasting and sketching.

Just imagine that the blurry titles for 'Mount such and such' mean 'Big hills and lots of climbing.'
There are always concerns when planning a ride like this. When you're going unsupported into a fairly remote wilderness area, over unpredictable terrain and in unpredictable weather, riders need to be prepared with:
  • a suitable, reliable mountain bike
  • good fitness
  • water
  • food
  • tools
  • bike spares
  • first aid
  • clothing for all weather

Skills in the areas of self sufficiency and common sense are important too, though difficult to spell out when you're saying, 'Hey, let's go for a ride!' That's why it's hard to promote a ride like this to all comers. Still, the word was spread, and the riders did come.

I collected Al Bontjer for the drive down at about 8:30 in the morning. Just south of Tharwa, we overtook his brother Richard who had decided to ride out to the start. A quick look at the clock and it was obvious that he wouldn't make it in time without a lift, so we paused and piled him on board. Juzzy, en route from Sydney, pulled up to follow us and a couple of others drove by to form a small convoy headed for the Old Boboyan road. At the base of the dreaded Fitz's hill, we passed Pete Hansen, who had also decided to ride out.  With no more room in the car, we had to leave him to it. He eventually scored a lift over the last few kilometres with Martina and Hugh, who had left Sydney early in the morning.

The Start
Cars, bikes and bodies at the start.

I can't recall the names of all who turned up, but I think there were about 22 in all. From Sydney, we had Gerard (Dr V8) Thomas and his wife Fiona, Juzzy with his droolworthy Specialized Epic, Martina Broder and Hugh Flower. Michael Loughlin made the long drive over from Wagga Wagga, and I think the remainder were from Canberra; Jim Trail, Ben McDuff, Dave Sutton, Paul Mason. Paul Brodie, Steve Hanley, Adam Carmody, Andrew Rowe, Richard Bontjer, Allan Bontjer, Pete Hansen, and about four others whose names elude me... sorry guys.

Juzzy's Spec Epic XTR Dr V8's Dean Yellow spokes?
Bike exotica. L-R: Juzzy's Specialized Epic with XTR everything, Dr V8's Dean, What are those yellow spokes?

A group ride never gets under way exactly when you announced it would. There's always someone who needs to rebuild their bike in the car park. There's always someone who forgot their helmet (shoes / water / gloves / bike / you choose). This time it was Hugh and Martina who were driving all the way from Sydney and called to let us know they would be about half an hour late, so we could hardly begrudge them a few minutes, could we? Their slightly late arrival was a bonus for Pete Hansen who managed to score a lift over the last few kilometres (and the big climb) to the start.

With the natives looking increasingly restless, I decided to get going and when I rolled away, others (slowly) did too. I settled into what I thought was a good spinning pace, but I quickly realised that I looked as though I had the hammer down, because I was all by myself out in front of a big group.

Not to worry. Photo opportunity. It's rare that I'm ahead of the rest, so here they are:
Bikes on the trail
The crew hit the trail.
 Press your browser's STOP  button to freeze the image.

We climbed for a short while then made good time to the gate at Boboyan Pines where the slow walk through the gate brought us all together. The pines seem to have been about half destroyed by the fires. They're an interesting mix of clearfelled trees, standing half-burned trees and untouched forest. After the pines, there's now a clear view to Frank's Hut about 500 metres to the right of the trail, just as the track starts to head up.

And UP is exactly where it goes. In the first heart-starter of the day, there's a good sold climb. It's actually only about 90 metres over about 1000 metres, but it feels a lot bigger.

About 100 metres along, I came upon DrV8 stopped beside the track. I lightheartedly jibed him for slacking, but it turned out that he was actually genuinely suffering. A stop at the top of  a climb a couple of kilometres up the track was called to aid in a minor mechanical repair, but ended up being quite long as we waited for the tail enders to arrive.

One was Hugh, with a leaky air fork, and one was Gerard feeling rather unwell. Gerard and Fiona decided to turn back and call it a day at that point.

And then there were 20.

We kept riding south until:

Ben lies down
Ben demonstrated his unique skills with flair and panache in front of an admiring audience by throwing himself on the ground with no provocation whatsoever.

Several others distinguished themselves by deciding not to run over him.

Having seen to Ben's wellbeing, we continued...
Pause after climbing a stile on Old Boboyan Rd.
A Kona MokoMoko ate its chain. Luckily, Hugh had driven 350km and ridden 15km to pull up just in time to help. Is this a plug for Bike Addiction or what?
Hugh arrives to help
Marti acts surprised
Now, it may not look like it, but Marti is actually riding her bike up a slightly challenging hill here. Burned stumps in the background show that this area was hard hit by the fires.

Dave is without doubt a fine rider, but even the best of us can be forced to enlist shanks' pony when the bike or the terrain are set against us.

Truth be known, this is a photo of Dave walking up a bit he could have easily ridden, but a minor indiscretion knocked him overboard. But I won't tell him if you won't eh? Shhhhhh.

Dave has a brief push

Having tackled the Boboyan valley, we crossed the (not old) Boboyan road and rolled down to the Mt Clear camp ground. Marti and Hugh turned back here unfortunately. Hugh's slowly deflating fork and Marti's lack of recent riding convincing them to return to Canberra, where I hope they managed a lap or two of Majura Pines.

The remaining 18 gathered above the Mt Clear camp ground to debate the next move. Some were in favour of a ride straight down to Horse Gully Hut for lunch, followed by a climb out and a backtrack. I arrived with the debate in progress and gently suggested (well, okay.. declared) that Mt Clear was where we said we'd go, and by golly we'd go there.

With no further ado, I rode off. Unknown to me, one rider dissented and decided to head for Horse Gully Hut by himself, on the understanding that we would collect him after visiting the Mt Clear summit. Oops. We didn't go to the hut.

After showing the way to the keenest of the bunch, I settled back to watch the fun and ground my way up the series of steep switchbacks.

Morning tea break
Morning tea half way up the Mt Clear climb.

Having crawled our way up the steepest part of the climb, we found that the track headed steadily upwards, though perhaps a little more gently. While the 'guns' went ahead, some of us paused for a late morning snack. Actually, if the 'guns' went ahead, why can I see DeathMarch Bontjer, Paul Mason, Andrew Rowe, Dave Sutton, (Jim obscured) Michael Loughlin, Ben McDuff, Al Bontjer and Juzzy in this photo? Yikes.

Reaching the plateau where the 'Long Flat' track commenced, the 'thick clouds' became a solid drizzle. Dave described it as 'Scotch Mist', but since that made us dream about single malt whiskey, we preferred to call it 'rain.'

Andrew and ???
Andrew Rowe and his Adventure racing mates used the ride for training. They eventually headed back to go for a paddle and a run. For fun. Or so they said.


After a couple of hours of riding and climbing, this is what the Clear Range looked like. In fact, the photo doesn't do justice to the rain squalls and the drop in temperature. Anyone who could find spare clothing dragged it out.

At first, we decided to pause here for lunch. With the summit barely a kilometre away, surely we had to press on?
The Lunch Stop

Well, no. We decided to call this the turn around point. Adam pointed out that in his reading of mountaineering literature, the ability to decide that conditions mean 'Try another day' is paramount. We decided to leave the summit for another day. Preferably one on which it might be visible.

We stopped. We lunched. We piled on any and all additional clothing.

Andrew Rowe and his advenure racing mates turned back here.

The Pauls Mason and Brodie elected to continue north down Mt Clear (via the summit) to collect their mate at Horse Gully Hut and complete the loop. We later learned that they succeeded in this with various adventures and arrived back at their cars an hour after we had finished. On arriving at the summit, they tried to walk to the Trig, but half way there decided it was pointlessly difficult and went back to their bikes.

Our return trip comenced with a downhill blast over slick fire trail with hard rain falling. With eyes full of flung mud, we swept downhill as fast as we dared. Those with disc brakes fared rather better than those with V's, but for me the limiter was visibility. The combination of rain and flying mud made the view through tightly squinted eyes barely adequate for the task.

Time and again I had to let the bike go and hope for the best. I wasn't alone, but fortunately, most of us managed not to throw it away.

That was left to Michael Loughlin, who apparently forgot about the switchbacks we had climbed earlier, and attacked them as though there were no physical limits to brakes or traction. In his usual fashion, he flew past Jim in the first corner, sailed over the bars and into a tree. Not content with that, he dusted himself off, remounted, and did it all again at the next corner.

Yes, really.

Michael, you're a worry. Please come again.

Muddy faces
Fun mud. L - R: Allan Bontjer, Michael Loughlin, Richard Bontjer, Michael Carden, Jim Trail.

I'll confess that the final 10km were tough for me. I tailed off the back and spent a bit of time alone, just grinding up the small climbs and keeping it safe on the descents. I quite enjoyed the chance to take a good look at the state of the forests, comparing the untouched pockets with the badly burned and the regenerated bits.

The group kindly waited at the gate on the northern edge of Boboyan Pines, and we were together for the final blast down (and a bit up!) to the cars.

Six or so hours (seven for the Pauls), four abandonments, no major mechanicals, no serious crashes, and a heck of a lot of remarkable alpine terrain covered.

I'd call that an epic.

All photos, Michael Carden and a Panasonic Lumix LC40.Image editing by the GIMP, panoramas by Arcsoft and html by Mozilla Composer. Please don't copy anything you see here without my permission, which you'll probably receive if you ask me nicely.
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