I wake up well-rested, warm and dry in my double bed at the Snowgoose Apartments in Thredbo, and for a moment I could easily forget that I’ve got one day left in the most gruelling mountain biking adventure I’ve ever attempted.
So I continue on and immediately come across the start of the works where trees have obviously been cleared in the past few weeks. The further this goes, the more ominous it gets. I come across what seems like the end of the cleared sections and think “maybe that was it, maybe it is finished after all!”, however after the 3rd one of these I stop holding out hope.
The bit that still seems strange to me is the silence, I’ve seen no people or vehicles and heard no cranes or chainsaws. I’m still holding out a slither of hope that maybe they are finished, or at least they aren’t working today because after all it is the week between Easter and Anzac Day… then I see it.
So far everything has basically gone to plan, no serious stacks, no injuries, no bike mechanical issues, in fact not so much as a flat tyre- except for the Forester of course! My planning and training has all paid off, and each night I’ve ended up exactly where I wanted to be (even though it all would have worked out if I didn’t). Naturally to think a thought like that is risky, especially on the last day, and I’ve tempted my fate… this is where things start to unravel.
I leave the accommodation early with my darling parents still fast asleep, and ride the sealed road out the top of Thredbo Village and up to Dead Horse Gap. Here there is the Cascades Trail-head, and a popular one-way full day mountain bike trip through the Pilot Wilderness to Pinch River. Being a well defined mountain bike trail, and obvious day route, there is lots of information available from National Parks and very little guesswork required as to where I go, how long it will take and whether its even rideable. However I come up to the trail head and see the sign “Trail Closed”. Shit.
To come this far and not complete the last leg would be massively disappointing, not least of all because I’ve been trying to do this particular trail for 3 years in a row but various logistical problems had gotten in my way. Further to that, despite having done all the hard parts, Thredbo is nowhere near the southern end of Kosciuszko National Park so I wouldn’t be able to tick “MTB the length of Kosciuszko National Park” off my bucket list!
Thankfully, or not, depending on how you look at it, the end date range was a little hard to read, it either says the closure ended yesterday… or tomorrow. So I take a punt and go for it. I figured worst case I get half way and have to turn around and come back. At very least I’ll see the first hut, I’ll just have to watch the time.
The ride starts well, and I’m enjoying it and quite relaxed (despite the impending doom of potential track closure). I’ve chosen to leave all my overnight gear with my parents rather than carry it for this last day as the final 5km is a very steep, very serious descent and I’m going to need the best possible chance in order to make it down safely. After 6 days of climbing the tallest mountains in Australia on a 30kg tank-bike, it's safe to say that today I feel as light as a feather.
The first stop before the hut is a rock shelter known as Devil’s Kitchen. As usual this landmark is only a few hundred metres off the trail and I have the GPS coordinates, but with no marked side track it still takes a bit of searching.
From here it’s on to the first of 3 huts today, Cascade Hut. A beautiful little historic wood log shack set amongst the gum trees, idyllic, until I look inside and find the next sign.
This one is unfortunately quite clear on the date, and the closure ends tomorrow. I read it more carefully and weight up my options of turning around now or continuing on to find the definite track closure. I’ve made great time up until here, and I’d basically get back to Thredbo as my parents are getting up, however that also means I have a lot of daylight left so I decide that I should keep calm and carry on. I make this decision based on 2 key things:
- Yes I’m going to come across a closed track at some point, but the fact that I’ve physically made it to the closed section means I’ve absolutely ridden as far as I could go and it will feel like less of a failure
- The reason the track is closed is because they are removing some trees which are at risk of falling on the track- this will be a loud and obvious procedure, with a clear barricade, so there is no risk of accidentally getting myself in danger (as long as I don’t climb any barricades I’ll be safe!)
Up ahead the orange barricade I dreaded the entire time, and worse I hear something fall. There are works ahead, in the distance yes, but definitely there. So I stop, sigh a sigh of “Shit. Oh well, I tried.” and I take the photo of my failure- the bike on the barrier.
I read the big warning sign next to the barrier and it says “No unauthorised Entry”, but then it does have a radio and says the channel number so I think hey why not, let’s give them a call- being told no doesn’t make it any worse! So I turn on their radio, and try to make contact, but of course I can’t get through. Honestly they seem too far away based on what I can hear and this radio is only 2W.
But before I resign myself to failure I have one further thought- it is still a long way to the actual works, and I’ve got my own radio. So I decide to tentatively ride past the sign and repeatedly try to make contact every few hundred metres. But just when I think I’ve come far enough and shouldn’t go any further, I finally get an answer on the radio!
The genuine good guy crane operator answers and I ask to speak to the site supervisor. He replies dryly “yeah mate, it’s just me” so I say I’m a mountain biker and ask if there is any way I can come through. Honestly I expected a no, and then I was going to ask when his lunch break was and if I could come through then, but it doesn’t take anywhere near that effort- he just says yes!
So I ride on around the corner to the works zone and give him a wave from a distance as I pass. I don’t really slow down as I’m not keen to risk being stopped now that I’ve been given the go-ahead, but I’m glad I radioed him because I would have come around a blind corner right into the thick of it if I didn’t. As I leave the other side of the works zone I radio back to him “leaving the works zone, cheers mate, you’re a legend” and he simply replies “na worries mate”.
The next stop is Tin Mines Hut where I sit down, relax, and eat some lunch. At this point I’m over the moon, just happy to know I have made it through the barricade and finally sure I will be able to finish my epic Tour de Snowy Mountains! I sign the hut log book with elation and thank the good-guy-site-supervisor once again.
The final stop on my journey is Ingeegoodbee Hut, right at the turn off for Nine Mile Trail which descends into Pinch River. This hut is more rustic than most, but has some great antiques inside and some great character, but I can tell you I wouldn’t be choosing to stay here unless it was a genuine emergency.
I’m now on the home stretch, and I know it. It’s a slight uphill to the peak but I race up it, knowing that the last 5km is descent only. Once I reach that descent I stop to take a selfie, possibly for the coroner, because the angle of this slope is simply insane.
In the last 5km I will descend a full 1000m vertical meters, and given it alternates between steep and flat sections I hate to imagine what angle the individual steep sections are on! Every 5 or 10 minutes I stop to catch my breath, or possibly just to prove that I’m still in control enough to actually stop. Even hanging back to keep my weight on both wheels, I’m constantly losing track on one then the other, sometimes both. If I accidentally pick up a bit of speed it is often not possible to slow down safely until the next flat.
Once I reach the bottom, and see the Pinch River campground and associated signage, I breath a heavy sigh of relief. I have made it, I am alive, my bike is in one piece. As was to be expected, I’m well ahead of the scheduled pick up time so I find a secluded bit of river to stick my now aching legs in.
In the past 7 days I have travelled a total of 338km and climbed 9380 vertical metres while carrying, for most part, up to 19kg of gear in addition to my 12kg bike and 70kg human. Despite the trials and tribulations of the last day, I would call this trip a complete success. At each juncture my gear and time sanity checks passed the bar and I arrived at the check-ins within reasonable time. I had no major injuries, stacks or other damage to person or property, and even more impressively I managed to keep the parental panicking to a minimum.
I have so many people to thank for the many steps that got me to this moment, from Matt Thompson and his BP Ramble crew who took me on my first multi-day mountain bike trip, to my uncle and his many kinds of mechanical repair knowledge, but more than anyone else my incredible Mum & Dad support team. Without them I wouldn’t have gotten here, I mean physically, they drove, but also mentally. Using them as a sounding board to make them happy enough with my plan gave me confidence it would work, not to mention their physical efforts over the last week and boundless optimism. They are the only reason it was possible for me to ride my Tour de Snowy Mountains.
(Bonus video: The full 2 hour SLOW TV version)