The quiet tracks and trails near home beckoned again and Saturday saw three of us setting out on another Southern Forests adventure. With the lessons learned from the last mission fresh in our minds, and some new tricks no doubt to be learned, Tim, Ben and I set off on what was for some reason dubbed the Big hilly dirt river loop. The ride goes from near my home in Judbury, over some hills to follow the Huon River before crossing and heading back roughly along the other bank. Sounds simple enough.
The first ten kilometres of the ride is mostly uphill, a grind up Bermuda Road with a couple of really steep sections before the top. Once it levels out there were only a couple of minor navigational challenges before we found the top of the Bracken Ridge Fire Trail - which turned out to be the highlight of the ride. It was narrow double track, lined with trees and ferns, rutted in parts with some mud and some nice technical sections. I excelled myself by wrenching my left brake lever part-way off by hitting the bottom of a descent a bit too hard. Exhilarated at the bottom of the descent, we set off in search of lunch at the Airwalk, briefly encountering one of only two cars we'd see on the 60-odd kilometre middle section of the ride.
I'd been told by someone who knew the area pretty well that we were mad to venture into such parts without mountain bikes. A mountain bike would have been useful in a couple of spots, but the trip turned out to be a testament to the versatility of the cyclocross bike.
Both Ben and I rode Surly Crosschecks (Tim rode a lovely Rohloff-equipped 26-inch expedition tourer, which admittedly took to the conditions like a duck to water too) and they handled the conditions pretty well. I've probably said before if I only had one bike it would be a Crosscheck - the real beauty of this bike on a ride like this is that it makes a good fist of just about any conditions - and with the right tyres - are pleasant and predictable on sealed or unsealed roads and tracks.
Planning our route on via Bikely and using MotionX GPS to upload the track to my iPhone meant we weren't dogged by any of the navigational problems of our last trip through the area. Another excellent lunch at the Airwalk followed by an unsuccessful attempt to fix my rapidly loosening brake lever. Off once more and through some locked gates and then another for a short climb and a long descent down towards the Weld River bridge, but not before Ben has his traditional mid-ride puncture.
Riding along these well-made roads, it's a marvel that we didn't see anyone else on them all day. The forestry road network is well graded and generally smooth and appears to be almost completely deserted on the weekends. It's such a fine resource, it's a shame it's not better known or mapped or promoted or even signposted. The odd forestry coupe might detract a little from the beauty of the forests for some people, but the overall impression for me is of an opportunity lost.
Onwards we sped, past the Veneer Mill and over the last couple of climbs towards home - the Denison Range being the last challenge before the long coast along the river back to Judbury where we'd left the cars. About five kilometres out my brake lever finally gave up the ghost but as I expected was held in place by the cable, so no big drama there. We ended the day with around 70 kilometres almost entirely on dirt roads and tracks, a most enjoyable and memorable ride.
5,851km so far this year.