Ed’s Note: Euan Pennington from the land of Madness and Vegemite sandwiches brings us another story of adventures from the Land Down Under! Thanks Euan! Photos by Jo Foley.
A week off work. The cat at the cat sitter. We had a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it was dark, and we were wearing sunglasses. What do you say? (If you don’t know what to say at this point, go and watch the Blues Brothers again, so you don’t look embarrassed when everyone else gets the joke). Whilst you do that, my partner and I are off to Erica.
Erica, nestled in the hills of Gippsland, is an easy two hours from Melbourne. (The south east corner of Australia, for any confused punters reading this). Noted as a timber town, it was built on logging, and historically its inhabitants liked to relax after work by cutting wood. With chainsaws. Or drinking. Or shooting stuff. Consequentially, it came as a surprise to us to learn it had a mountain bike park. We just had to check it out, so we planned a grand tour of the pick of riding destinations north of the Gippy Highway.
The Erica mountain bike park turned out to be some choice trails carved into the precipitous slopes outside the town and after a day on the tracks the realisation came that there were only two problems. The Thompson river catchment is way steep, and also really steep, with steep bits as well, so our lungs pretty much leapt out of our throats and ran up the tracks on their own, just when they were grievously required. In addition, most of the trails had been visited by a local creature redneckus trailbikus, so were the rutted cut up mud pits of doom. We had fun, but you might say, “not a classic”. So where to from here?
The nearby town of Walhalla had a goldmine some hundred years ago, and traversing the hills like veins were tiny railways, used to haul timber to the mine. It is still possible to access some of these routes, so we pondered that perchance a day on the rail trails might be a panacea after the unexpected lung busting of the day before. With hope in our hearts and coffee in our bellies we set off on a quest for adventure, singletrack and scenery. (And of course, more coffee. Fingers crossed Walhalla had a café).
What was unexpected was that this was to become one of the best days riding we’d had for an age. Rail trail suggests something paved in gravel that Mum, Dad and the kids could enjoy on the way to the beach, but this was a completely different animal. These were shelves about six feet wide carved out of the hillside with cliffs above, and drops below. The men who built these must have been giants, with picks, shovels, much bad language, and marsupials nesting in their beards. Towering eucalypt forest would suddenly give way to a cutting, and it was like being in Jurassic Park, with overhanging ferns, shadowy light, and swooping pterodactyls. I was swooped twice, honestly, it was not the red wine from the night before affecting my perception. We were constantly wafted with lemon scented gum, wattle, groovy plants I don’t know what they were, whilst being subjected to a full body work out, because we didn’t just ride, we also walked, lifted the bikes over dozens of fallen trees, forded streams… This was fatbike heaven. Everything from broken rock to gloopy mud, with bits of choice firm single track in between. Stunning views, good friends, it’s what riding is all about. I had the right tool for the job, and the IGH never picked up a stick, unlike some derailleur equipped bikes I saw out there…
Yes, once again a simple ride had become a day’s micro adventure – destination uncertain, new country, rough conditions, and a campsite opposite the pub when we wended our weary way back to the vehicle. Sometimes it’s not the technical groomed trails that grab you by the gonads, it’s the road less travelled, and if that’s your fancy then the Erica trails should be high on your list of destinations. I’ll look forward to seeing you out there.