One Van, Two Bikes and “That Hill”

Mikey and I recently had occasion to take our bikes out for a couple of leisurely mountain bike rides. The occasion being that Mikey got his car fixed, mine was on its way, I’d recently got a kick-arse guide of some other LUMCers and we tend to do stuff like that from time to time. After consulting the possibilities we decided to take the VW of Doom out near Yan Yean Reservoir first and Kinglake afterwards.

The first ride started with a scenic, uphill climb (you don’t climb down a hill on a bike, come see me and I can explain it more) heading towards Kinglake. It may not have been the Alps or the Pyrenees for any Tour de France fans, but this wasn’t road riding (even though it was sealed to start) and the mist really made it pretty. The top of the climb left us a little warmer and definitely ready for a descent, but perhaps not what we were soon to encounter.

After a few Ks rolling up and down through some farmland, including what Mikey described as the steepest seeled road near Melbourne, we arrived at what we’d come for. The guide book gives a distinct warning to take caution on this particular hill, “The Yan Yean Drop-Off” – a “Decent with Attitude”. There was even a caution sign at the start as I approached, but I couldn’t read it all because Mikey barrelled-off in front of me, so I had to catch up. But we shouldn’t have been so hasty – this was not a hill to be shirked at, and a bigger gap between riders was definitely needed. It was that steep that you’d probably needed some gear to climb up back up for any climbers reading, and rough as anything to boot.

Large rocks look scary when you see them coming on a downhill section like this, and the shit-scared factor multiplies when all you can really see to react to is the rider in front. But even that wasn’t likely to happen, for amongst dodging the rocks and riding the brakes (which seemed to have little impact for either of us) I realised that I was picking up a little more speed than Mikey and edging within a few metres of him. “I’m going to have to stop!” I yelled out, anticipating a major stack, resulting in over-the-handle-bars action, and perhaps taking Mikey out in doing so. “What?” Mikey yelled back, not having heard what I’d said in his attempts to negotiate between rocks and a ditch. By that stage I’d realised that with this speed and this gradient, stopping was not happening, so I just continued being thrown around by this massive descent – being tossed into the aforesaid ditch and then thrown back out just as quick.

I’ve had some pretty nasty crashed that I didn’t see coming, and some that I’ve realised mid-motion, but on this hill it felt like I was going over the bars almost the entire way. I was seriously concerned that I’d be spending another month in a sling – at the least it would have been many metres of sliding on rock cutting open lycra and skin. Every bump threw the back wheel far more than what I’d usually be comfortable with, and every attempt to get myself over the back wheel was denied by another jolting rock. We’d let down the tyres, but we’d neglected to do the same with the saddles. “This is going to hurt” I kept reminding myself, and for a long time to – it was straight, steep and long – but I was able to make slight corrections with each threatening shove. Surely this was not a good idea without even inspecting what we had in store.

It kept going and we kept getting thrown around, with hands locked around the handlebars, index finger extended over the brake-lever. Eventually the hill sloped into a run out, with Mikey and I looking at each other speechless for a few moments. “I’ve never done anything like that on a bike”, were Mikey’s words, accompanied by a face both scared and exhilarated. I quickly agreed with amazement that I’d survived. We’d certainly approach that one with more caution next time – but it would take us a hell of a lot of convincing to do it again – but maybe not as much as another crazy ride we’ve done before, but you might not get that story out of us :p. The remainder of the ride was certainly not as exciting, a little up, a little down, a lot of calming our nerves and talking about what we’d just done. Oh yeah, and Mikey took us left when we should have gone right, a detour of about 15km involving a stretch of flat, boring, sealed surface including Plenty Road. The remainder of the day’s itinerary was left to my navigation.

On return to the car, we ate, a lot, called my mechanic, “The car’s good now – except for the clutch, you’ll need to replace it soon”…who cares, we almost get shredded on a seriously gnarly hill. We were ready for ride number two, but that was nowhere near as exciting. Out to Kinglake in the van, enjoyed the trails which were much more wooded this time, and even some fun sections of single track. We survived the “Yan Yean Drop-the-@#$%- Off” but came a little unstuck on some of the technical bits on this track, just some very low speed, “can’t get cleat out of pedal in time type stacks”, leaving us muddy and a little bruised at the end of the day. But it was certainly enjoyable and left us keen to ride out in that particular area again, if only to muck around jumping puddles. Some people say two-wheels are better than four – I can only agree when I do rides like this, especially when the uphill is paid off by a crazy descent.

More up and down to come

(And please excuse the lack of photos, we were busy riding)

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