Review: Yellowbelly Track – Norm and Jess

I want to start including more reviews by riders of these routes. I always find it useful and interesting to see things through the eyes of strangers.

Norm and Jessica Douglas rode part of the Yellowbelly Track in the Victorian winter of 2021.

Jessica Douglas is a former world 24-hour MTB enduro champ. She has ridden and competed in many countries around the world. This is her blog about her recent ride on the Yellowbelly Track section from Echuca to Shepparton.

VIC WINTER TOUR – THE FINAL NIGHT ON THE GOULBURN RIVER, GEAR RUN DOWN, DAY 6 & 7

For keen preppers Jessica’s blog also includes the full list and weight of everything she packed.

Norm Douglas posted a video on Youtube with his take on this part of the journey – see below.

.

Yellowbelly Track – with a Tour Group

Some people don’t have the time or inclination to plan and organise their own multi-day bikepacking expedition. I’m not being judgmental, that is just the truth.

A guided tour is an alternative option for prospective Yellowbellies who prefer to have others carry their bags and sweat over logistics.

If you are reading about the Yellowbelly Track and thinking – It would be great to do this ride but without all the hassle that goes with organising all the fine details for your own ride – then this tour could be for you.

AllTrails – Goulburn River Trails 2022

I don’t have any personal or commercial connection to this group. However, I am happy to promote them as an alternative option bringing cyclists into this area of Northern Victoria.

As always make your own inquiries and risk assessment to decide whether this is a good option for you.

The GABCY Network

The GABCY Network is an integrated set of backroad cycling routes in Northern Victoria.

The GABCY Network covers 5,800 square kilometres, bound by the Campaspe River on the west side, the Murray River to the north, the Goulburn River on the north and east side, and on the south side, the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and Puckapunyal Military Area.

There are more than 20 individual loop routes in the GABCY Network and the total distance is over 1,700 km, although some routes overlap occasionally.

The building blocks of the GABCY Network are 50 to 90 km loops that interconnect. The aim for each loop was to find the most scenic backroads, to avoid traffic and main roads, and to include places for food, drink and accommodation along the way. The loops include many gravel backroads, and occasionally earthen lanes, in order to avoid traffic and to add to the scenic and adventure experience of your ride.

See details about the GABCY Network routes on this page – GABCY Network

Meet the Yellowbelly Track

Introducing the Yellowbelly Track – a 200km bike route in Northern Victoria, from Echuca to Tallarook, following the Goulburn River.

Route priorities were to stay close to the river, to minimise interraction with vehicle traffic, and to use river tracks and gravel roads instead of sealed roads where possible.

Read about it on this page – Yellowbelly Track

Nagambie Meander – the wet edition

Well the planned sedate Nagambie Meander turned out to be a lot more epic than expected.  Heavy rain, between 1 and 2 inches in an hour, will do that.

For those interested, details of the ride route are here.

After a run of days with temperatures close to or above 40 degrees we were happy that Sunday was finally cooler; the forecast was high 20s with possibility of rain in the afternoon.  We started the ride a bit earlier to avoid some of the heat and perhaps some of the rain.

As we approached Kirwens Bridge, a local stopped his ute to tell us to make sure we walked our bikes across the bridge as he had seen two riders go over the bars when their wheels dropped into a gap between the timber planks.  We had already planned to walk the bikes across.  It is the prudent thing to do; one of my wheels dropped into a gap even walking.

Bridge gaps small

We progressed down the gravel roads on the west side of the Goulburn River without any concerns.  There was very little traffic and the road condition was good.  Occasional patches of corrugation were avoidable as they did not extend all the way across the road.

The area feels more remote than it actually is.  It was a good opportunity for fauna spotting – we saw kangaroos, a group of emus, and flocks of corellas erupted from trees ahead of us in a series of waves.  Mark claimed to see turtles from every bridge we crossed.

Emu small
Spot the emu in this picture

After stopping for water and coffee at Michelton we headed on to Tahbilk.

As expected the last kilometre to Tahbilk was more difficult riding.  The road gravel isn’t local – I think the natural surface here is silty clay.  It looks like river gravel was brought in and graded over the road to make it usable all year round without becoming too muddy.  This gravel is hard riding on bikes because it is thick, soft and loose all across the road.

Tahbilk gravel 1 small

We were happy when we finally arrived at Tahbilk Cafe.  And happier still after our meal – the food was excellent.  The cafe was busy, many people had travelled to eat lunch there.

When we left the cafe we could see storm clouds gathering in the west but we decided to take a detour through the 4 km of wetland trails anyway as it wouldn’t take long on our bikes.  I’m glad we did, it was quite beautiful and dramatic as we rode around the wetlands with darkening skies and flashing lightning in the distance.

Ecotrail small

Ecotrail 2 small

Cafe small

We decided we wouldn’t be able to outride the rain, so it would be better to head to the Cellar Door and have a few wines till the rain passed.  It was a good plan, unfortunately the storm hadn’t read the script.

We reached the Cellar Door just as the rain started; it was heavy and big drops, not a good sign.  However, the Cellar Door was quite a pleasant place to be waiting – tasting the local reds, reading the information guides, and wandering through the barrels in the cellar.

Cellar small

We came back up to inspect the weather.  Rain was falling in sheets and it had also started to hail.  We switched to tasting the ports.

Before long people started to arrive telling us the roads were flooded and we wouldn’t be able to get through unless we had a 4WD.  We noticed some people were wearing life jackets.  We switched to tasting the Muscat.

After a brief discussion we decided to continue the ride.  The Cellar Door was closing soon so we couldn’t stay there and we didn’t want to delay much longer as visibility was already poor and it was probably going to get darker.  I had driven the return route and knew it was flat and we didn’t have to cross any creeks or causeways – so any water we came to should be just shallow surface water.

The photo below shows the exit road on a dry day.  However on this day the road was underwater for long patches.  We rode along the ridge in the middle of the road as this was the highest point.  Sometimes the ridge was just was poking above the water, often it was a few inches below the water level, and occasionally 10cm below water level.

Tahbilk exit road small

Surprisingly the road didn’t collapse as much when it was under water as it had before lunch – water pressure helped us here.  When I reviewed my strava file it showed we rode this waterlogged section at the same speed or slightly faster than the dry section before lunch.  Because all the pebbles were rounded they tended to hunker down and hold their positions.  We didn’t come to any sections were the slowly flowing water had gouged out parts of the road surface.

We passed one car that was stopped on the gravel road.  However our bikes just kept rolling along; up to 10cm of water didn’t trouble them at all.  It rained all the way back to Nagambie, but we made it without incident.

After packing up our bikes and changing our clothes, we met up in the local pub for coffee and hot chips.  We admired Sue’s nice yellow rain jacket that she was wearing now, but had decided not to put in her ride back-pack that morning as it was going to be hot.  Everyone was happy.  It was a good day and a fun ride.  The day was made more epic and memorable by the rain, but we had survived, as had the bikes and any cameras and electrical devices we had with us.

I check the rainfall when I got home.  Graytown, about 20km west of Tahbilk, had recorded 79mm of rain so far for that day.  That’s 3 inches!  I reckon we saw a lot of that.

Anyway a big thanks to my riding companions for their company and good spirits throughout the day.  It was a success.  The Nagambie Meander is a ride well worth doing – just take notice of the weather forecast before you head off.

Other photos from the route (click any photo to open gallery) –

Strathbogie Slider – Day 2

Well Strathbogie Slider Day 2 was eventful.  More riders, a bigger range of bikes and a bigger range of experiences.

For readers just joining us, see these links for background details of the Strathbogie Slider ride, and the ride report from the first day.

Pre-ride

This week 9 riders were to meet at Violet Town to catch the 8:15am train to Seymour for the start.  After the scramble of last week, I was confident we were better organised this week – we were meeting on the eastern platform where the train stopped last week, and our 9 bikes were listed on the the train luggage manifest so the conductors were expecting all our bikes.  What could possibly go wrong?

Firstly 2 riders were running late and went to the closer Euroa station instead – not a big deal, they just had to get back to Euroa at the finish of their ride.

Then the train pulled up at the western platform (where we were last week!).  Again we had to scurry around with our bikes to get onto the train.  The conductor said she was taken by surprise as well and had the train doors open on the wrong side.  She said the train driver just decides which platform he wants use.  It might be just me but I don’t like the idea of train drivers arbitrarily deciding what train tracks to use.  Bad shit can happen – for example Violet Town is the location for one of Australia’s worst train crashes; 9 people were killed in 1969 when the southbound Southern Aurora passenger train from Sydney crashed head-on with a goods train travelling north on the same track.

Anyway off my soapbox, back to our ride.  We all caught the train and loaded our bikes. Putting all the bikes on the luggage manifest worked well; there enough free bays to easily stow our bikes, 2 or 3 bikes to a bay.  After Euroa all expected riders were on board.  I became aware 3 riders had not read much of the prep information and were unsure what to expect.  These 3 were riding more conventional road bike setups, so it would be interesting to see how these riders coped with the ride (as a guide to how much pre-ride info is necessary).

After disembarking at Seymour, we headed to the closest cafe for pre-ride coffee and a bit more chat.  This was also the rendevous for riders joining us at Seymour.  There was a greater range in the bikes this week – old and newer road and touring bikes, plus modern carbon CX bikes – so it would be interesting to compare how they all fared on the slider route.
bikes

The ride eventually started at 9:45am.  While our target start time was 9:30, I don’t think it is possible to start much earlier.  The cafe stop is important as people have traveled many hours to get to the start, and the next food stop isn’t for 2.5 to 3 hours.  So unless we find a different cafe that is able to serve all the riders faster, a more realistic target start time for future rides is probably 9:45am (given the current train timetable).

The Ride – Seymour to Ruffy

The weather forecast was again good – sunny day and temperature in mid 20s.  The wind forecast was a bit less favourable – East to North East, starting at 10km/hr and building during the day – meaning headwinds on our route.

My ride didn’t last long.  About 7km from Seymour my left crank arm started to wobble and quickly became so loose that it came off altogether.  After inspection I suspected it was just a problem with the crank nut and BB thread; but without the right tools to clear the threads and put the nut on tightly I couldn’t do much about it. I didn’t want to ride with the crank connection loose and risk the spindle and square hole in the crank becoming rounded.  So I rode back to Seymour using only the drive side leg.

Although it was a shock to finish my ride in the first hour, I wasn’t so disappointed.  Mainly because I had done the ride the week before.  There were some positives in that I would be able to see how the riders coped with just my direction documents, and I could get my car and meet up with the riders later along the route and take some photos that weren’t just bum shots.

I can still report how the ride progressed using feedback and photos from the riders.  Most riders reported that when they first started the gravel section they were quite apprehensive, staring at the 10-20m of road in front of them as though it was a minefield. As they progressed they became more confident in just trusting their bikes to keep rolling irrespective of minor changes in the surface.

There was a brief delay on this first gravel section when the next mechanical occurred. Tony describes the situation – “A pinch flat on the rear tyre of one of the road-bikes was quickly sorted out. The location was well worth stopping at anyway; in a valley by some rocky rapids in a fast flowing creek. Very picturesque.”  The riders look in good spirits in the photo below ..
Pinch flat 1

The physical situation of the road and landmarks was covered in the ride report for ride 1 so I will not repeat that again here.

However, I would like to make a better effort at describing the effect of the surroundings in the first part of this ride up to Ruffy.  In many ways photos don’t do it justice.

I’ve concluded that it’s like riding through the golden summer of an Australian impressionist or Heidelberg school landscape.  Many of these artists painted the southern end of the Strathbogie Ranges.

Tom Roberts’ Trawool Landcape (1929) ..
Tom Roberts Trawool Landscape 1928

Arthur Streeton’s  Afternoon light Goulburn Valley (c1927) ..
ArthurStreeton_AfternoonLightGoulburnValley_1928 small

Streeton declared “gold and blue” as “nature’s scheme of colour in Australia”, as evidenced in Golden Summer – Eaglemont (1889), painted closer to Melbourne ..
Arthur_Streeton_-_Golden_summer,_Eaglemont small

Many of the locations these artists painted – Heidelberg, Eaglemont and Beach Road, Mentone – have long since been urbanised.  However, the idealised landscapes they sought are still able to be experienced in the Strathbogies, with little traffic or modern development.

As well as being beautiful, the ride takes you back to a time in the early 20th century when much of south east Australia looked like this and cycling on unsealed country roads was the primary mode of transport for many workers such as shearers.

Creek looks inviting

Ponkeen Crk rd

Everywhere you look

Road on hills ahead

IMG_0860 small

With the right turn onto Tarcombe-Ruffy Road riders are snapped back to reality by the gravel climb up to Ruffy.  Out on the road I find this is a strange little climb because it is hard to see where it the climbing happens, even after driving it a few times.  I thought a lot of the elevation gain was at the end, but that isn’t really the case as shown in the profile below ..
Climb to Ruffy

The climb road starts with a short sharp hill getting up towards 10% and then comes all the way back down again.  Descending the first hill you can see the next slope rising directly in front of you.  It looks very daunting – the base is quite rutted and the climb gradient looks very steep (because you are viewing it from a steep downward slope). However, despite appearances it isn’t as steep as the hill just climbed, although it is a bit longer.  Thereafter the climb happens in a series of short steep bursts followed by flatter sections.

Large granite rock formations start to appear on one of the flatter sections mid-way through the climb.  The most prominent rock is called the bishop’s mitre.
Strathbogie Slider (5) small

The final 600m of the climb is sealed but it isn’t any steeper than other climb spurts.  It is significant though because it marks the end of the climb and riders know they are only 1 easy kilometre away from Ruffy feed break.

Ruffy

Tony describes Ruffy as a welcoming oasis – “The café at Ruffy is an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Expansive old oak trees shaded the outdoor lunch tables. Permanently installed retro bikes adorned the cafe’s fence and added to the atmosphere. Occasional acorns dropped in our vicinity, and bike helmets may have come in handy if one of them dropped on a rider’s head. Nixtrader had set up a much appreciated water refill station at this café the previous day, so our bidons were replenished as required. The food, drink and service were great at this lunch-stop.  We could easily have called it quits there, as it was so relaxing sitting under the oak trees enjoying good food, drink and company.”
Strathbogie Slider (9) adj small

The large sausage rolls that made such an impact last week were still on the menu.  Nick, a rider this week, describes them as “life changing”
Strathbogie Slider (12) - small

Strathbogie Slider (11) - small

Ruffy to Galls Gap Road

The riders continued to make good time compared to last week.  Again they were happy with the unusual terrain variations in Sinclairs Lane.

The tour continued across the rest of the western plateau along Killeens Hill Road without incident.
view with llamas

Unlike last week this group attacked the gravel descent down Killeens Hill Road a bit more – the riders on modern CX bikes leading the way.
Descent to valleyThe nature of the descent – a series of steep, tight corners, with deeper gravel towards both edges of the road – means that it is safest for riders to string out in a line a few seconds apart.  One rider on a more conventional road bike had 2 consecutive pinch flats along this descent and was left behind for a while, until his companions came back to look for him.

Shortly after this the 3 riders on conventional road bikes decided to leave the slider route and head for Euroa.  Although they all enjoyed the ride so far, one had an appointment in Melbourne he had to return to, and they didn’t have many spare tubes left between them. However, with the map provided they knew where they were, and were able to navigate their way back to their cars easily. Circulating mobile numbers pre-ride also worked out well; these riders were able to sms that they were leaving so the other riders were not concerned about what had happened to them.  I got their sms when I was on the train back to Violet Town where my car was.  So I also knew what was happening on the ride even though they were in an isolated area.

After both rides we can say that tyres have an effect on the ride experience for this route. In general, wider tyres, a bit of tread and lower air pressure provide a more stable contact area and easier steering on gravel roads, and more comfort on the occasional corrugated sections.  Sharps on the road didn’t seem to be an issue; all three punctures across both rides appear to be pinch flats on conventional road tyres.  So a suggested guide for future riders is that your bike should have bigger tyres with enough wall stiffness that you can run a lower pressure, but still not bottom out and squeeze the tube on corrugations, or when the tyre rolls across the rim on tight corners. That suggests a 28mm touring type tyre is probably the minimum practical tyre for this ride – unless you are prepared to change a few flats or ride fairly slowly.

Galls Gap Road climb

The remaining riders progressed to Galls Gap Road and the base of the steep climb onto the Eastern Strathbogie plateau.

The day before the ride I went to this climb to take some photos.  This young woman was riding up and down the last section of the climb.
IMGP2064 crop adj small

However, the word ‘riding’ is a conservative description for what she was doing – head down, butt up, smashing it up the climb as hard as she could.  As she rolled past on a descent we had a brief conversation that went like this ..

Her – Hi
Me – Are you doing hill repeats of the last part of this?
Her – Yes
Me – You’re crazy!
Her – Thanks!

This conversation is probably the best introduction I can give to this climb.  The profile is below …
Galls Gap Rd climb

It is what I call an inclusive climb – it has enough bite to attract and excite people who enjoy steep gradients and high heart rates, but it is still short enough that less able ascenders can scramble up it somehow and so it isn’t a deal breaker to prevent them wanting to do the ride.

From the turnoff, there is a slight downhill across a narrow bridge.  The next 1.5km at a steady 5% provides a warm up for what is to come.  The fun starts half way up the climb with a 300m long step at close to 15%.  This left bend is what the start of the step looks like on the road …
IMGP2065 adj small

In general when the road kinks left on this climb it gets steeper.  The steep slope continues to the right around the corner ..
IMGP2069 adj small

After that there is a brief respite where the slope returns to 5% (recovery!).  The final kilometre takes the intensity up another notch.  It starts at this driveway with another left turn ..
Last km start - small

The next 500m seems to average 10%, then there is a 200m bite between 17-20% before easing back to 12% for the last 300m.
IMGP2062 adj small

This took a toll on riders – some zig-zagged, some stopped for a breather, some walked. Most wondered whether those Ruffy sausage rolls might have weighed half a kilo. Heather reported her Garmin showed 20% at one point and I think that is probably accurate.

After regrouping at the top, the riders headed straight to Strathbogie town.  By this time the forecast stronger head winds had arrived and, scenic though it was, the riders just wanted to get that section over with and have another break.

Strathbogie

Strathbogie was also where I caught up with the riders again after getting my car at Violet Town station and driving the route in a reverse direction to find the riders.

We exchanged stories over muffins and milkshakes.  Bidons were replenished.  The riders were well ahead of the slowest time guidelline, so time wasn’t going to be an issue this week.

The riders decided to split into two groups.  Some elected to progress straight to Violet Town taking the shortest route which involved all sealed roads and the very pleasant Harrys Creek Road descent.

Two riders chose to continue the challenge of the slider route.

stratbogie store stop

Strathbogie to the plateau edge

Although most of the hard riding is done by this point, there is still some work to do on the ride across the eastern plateau.  The profile is below ..
Strathbogie to Boho drop inc gravel

There are 150 metres to climb in 20km, but that is net – actual climbing is more like 300 metres with 150 metres descending.  And the climbing happens in short sharp hits. By this point riders have been at it for at least 4 hours, including some steep climbs, so are quite tired.  The feeling I had along this section is that it is like a struggling through a shore break and repeatedly getting hit by a series of big waves.  The climbs and descents are frequent enough that it is hard to get into a rhythm.  Many climbs are sufficiently steep that I tended to just freewheel down the backs to catch my breath rather than continue riding.

The first gravel sector, Brookleigh Road, has an initial hill that descends to a very basic bridge over a creek.  The gravel road condition is a bit worse on the other side of the creek where riders have to climb back up out of the creek gully again ..
Brookleigh Rd

I like gravel sector 5 with its silver trees and smooth silver roadway – a nice descent near its start is also an attractive feature.
Sector 5 small

Sector 6 (Upper Boho Road) starts with a pleasant 5km ride out to the ridge where the descent starts.  The road condition is good here as well.
gravel sector 6 flat

Descent to Violet Town

Although riders still need to be attentive, this descent is a lot easier than Killeens Hill Road. There are occasional rocks and corrugated patches, but mostly its smooth and fairly straight, and steep enough riders only need to pedal rarely, for over 8 kilometres.  It passes through natural bushland alongside a rocky gulley.  It’s a great way to finish the ride.
Upper Boho descent

On this ride, progress was stopped by a large brown snake on the road.  It eventually moved on when we moved back up the hill a bit.  We initially moved up the hill with the intention of getting a bit more speed in order to ride passed the snake.  However this movement away acted as a release for the snake.  We were now far enough away not to be an immediate threat so it moved off the road by itself.
Snake

Looking across the gully running beside this road ..
Upper Boho gully

Violet Town

Both groups met up again at the pub in Violet Town.  The riders finished close to 5pm so the timing issues were resolved this week.  The other group completed their ride without incident.  Our general awesomeness was the main topic of conversation.  Cold beer, soft drinks and chips were popular supplements.

All-in-all another successful ride day on the Strathbogie Ranges, and another great group of riding companions.

Thanks to Heather, Greg and Andrew for photos, to Tony for his extensive ride report, and to all the riders for their feedback.

Strathbogie Slider – ride 1

Writing reports about my activities is something I am not very good at.  I have many half written posts that I never finish.  I usually get distracted by my next epic scheme before I finish writing about the last one.

However, I will write up the first Strathbogie Slider ride to assist riders for the following week.  I will not repeat basic information about the ride, so for the details about the route see the Strathbogie Slider ride page.

The inaugural Strathbogie Sliders were a small select group.  All were excited by the challenge and the adventure of tackling a new route, and all completed the ride without mishap, not even a puncture.

Pre-ride

Despite all the planning it is always possible for unexpected things to happen the first time you try something.  Three of the riders met up at Violet Town to catch the morning train.  We were all on the old Violet Town station platform 10 mins ahead of the train time.   However, when the train came it stopped at a different more modern platform on the east side a little way down the track.  So we had to scurry with our bikes down to where the train was, with railway staff encouraging us to move faster as we were holding up the train.

The old station building is in the upper right corner of the image below, under the train icon.  The level crossing on the main road is in the upper right corner as well.  The platform we needed to be on for southbound trains is the long pale diagonal line pointing towards the lower left corner.
Violet town station

We loaded our bikes into the luggage van.  The van had places for bikes, but other luggage was spread out in most of the spots.  The train started off while we found spaces to secure our bikes and sorted our tickets with the conductor.

The cafe in the cafe car was closed.  Apparently it closes at Violet Town so the barrista can clean up and get off at Euroa, the next stop.  Another barrista gets on and reopens the cafe from Seymour for the trip to Melbourne.  But unfortunately for us no cafe bar on our trip from Violet Town to Seymour.  I’d also found out that the retro cafe in the old waiting room on Seymour Station was closed weekends.  So that meant we would have to go to a local cafe in Seymour before the start.

The train was a few minutes late and we unloaded our bikes.  The fact we loaded and unloaded our own bikes is a good thing I think.  I had a brief but helpful discussion with conductors about better planning for bikes next week, then we went to the coffee shop.

By the time we had coffee, got all the riders together, and rode back around to the east carpark to start it was 9:50am.  As this ride took much longer than expected, it is important to start on time next week.

The Ride

The weather forecast was good – sunny day and temperature in mid 20s.  However, after a week of southerlies, the wind had moved to a less favourable quarter.  It was forecast to move between NE and NW, starting at 10km/hr, becoming stronger later in the day.

We started at 9:50am into a slight headwind.  Highlands Road had a bit of traffic close to Seymour, but this thinned out as we moved further away from the town.

Strathbogie Slider profile
My Strava profile of route … click to make bigger

Time passed quickly as riders who didn’t know each other chatted.  Soon we turned onto Hughes Creek Road and then surprisingly quickly we heard the first crunch as our wheels rolled off asphalt onto gravel.
Hughes Creek Rd

As expected the unsealed road surface was quite hard.  The pebbles scattered around the surface were a bit bigger than I expected, however they were rounded and didn’t impede riding.

We made good progress to the creek crossing, with a brief stop at the Bankin memorial.

After the creek crossing the road deteriorated, although it was still rideable.  Ponkeen Creek Road had more corrugation than I expected.  There was plenty of sliding around when the corrugation was combined with loose gravel and a banked corner.  Occasionally there was a hole in the road surface where part of a pipe culvert had collapsed underneath the road.  We also encountered a breakaway group of cattle on this road when we rounded a corner.  We completed this section without incident, but it was slower going.  It was a good reminder to only proceed at a speed where we were able to stop safely before any hazard.

A right turn onto Tarcombe-Ruffy Road marks the beginning of the first major climb up to Ruffy – see profile below.

Ruffy climb
Strava profile of climb to Ruffy

The climb happens in short sharp steps.  There are some ruts in the road climbing out of the first valley.  Many of the little ramps include short bites with double digit gradients.

Riders who look up from their stems will see striking rock formations along this climb.
Ruffy rocks cropThe climb ends with 600m of sealed road that is probably the steepest section.

After more than 20km of gravel and a steep climb we arrived at Ruffy Produce Store for the first feed break.  A large table was set up for us under the big tree out the front (see photo below).  I was very happy to see two plastic barrels of chilled water from a natural spring out the back of the cafe that the owner had put out for us. We all commented that it was unusual to pull up at a cafe stop and feel this welcomed.

Hamlet with gourmet cafe for first break

I ordered a “big sausage roll with home-made relish and salad”.  It was a huge sausage roll and was the butt of many jokes, even from people wandering passed our table.  It isn’t often a cyclist can’t finish what is put in front of him on a ride.  My companions went for the cottage pies with salad and were happy with the results.  This is a very pleasant place to sit around and chat – we were here for over an hour and could have stayed longer if we weren’t on a mission.

Eventually we started rolling again – up Buntings Hill Road and into Sinclairs Lane.  Sinclairs Lane is the most borderline section of this route as it is close to a track.  However, consensus among my companions was that it was quite rideable and a bit of fun, and I should keep it in.  It is a mixed bag with some short rocky sections and even a short stretch of sand.

Sinclairs Lane is an exception; for the most part, the surfaces of the gravel sectors on the plateau are better than they were on the climb up.  In general the unsealed road surfaces get better the closer riders get to the end of the ride.

After a quick connecting link on asphalt, we turn left onto Killeens Hill Road.  This road was to be our companion for some time.  It has 3 distinct stages – the plateau, the descent and the valley.  The plateau surface was pretty good – it had some longer straight sections, with scenic outlooks and then a series of tight bends following the ridge line and avoiding trees where the surface was a bit more rutted.
Bill - Killeens Hill Rd plateau

Controlled is the key word to describe our descent.  Everyone kept their bikes on a tight rein and took a wide central upright line around the many corners where gravel was thicker on both sides of the road.  I was happy my bike had in-line CX type brake levers here and gravel tyres, although riders with more conventional road bike setups also got down without incident.  Later analysis shows we descended at a slightly slower average speed than the previous plateau section which I wouldn’t have expected pre-ride.

When we regrouped at the bottom it was apparent we had a timing issue.  While everyone was very happy with the ride experience, it was taking much longer than expected.  We were not yet half way and it was already 3pm.  However, with the exception of Galls Gap climb, I expected that we should be able to do the remaining part faster and so make up some time.

We had a slight headwind as we headed north up the valley and the gravel eventually turned into a one lane ribbon of asphalt.  The short 2km link on the major Euroa-Mansfield Road was uneventful – we didn’t see a vehicle.

This bought us to the foot of the biggest climb of the day … Galls Gap Rd.  See strava profile below.  The strava KOM for this segment is under 20 km/hr.
Galls gap climb

The first 2km averages about 6%.  The fun starts at half-way with a 300m long step that averages about 15%.  Then it levels off a bit before finishing with a last kilometre at over 12%.  The strava KOM for the last kilometre is under 15km/hr.

I make no pretence at being a climber; I don’t mind admitting that I walked a lot of this.  So I don’t have a graphic tale of my suffering to share.  I can tell you the road has quite a pleasant outlook – it is surrounded by trees and follows a scenic but very deep creek gully up to the plateau.  I think I was passed by 2 cars, so riders should expect some traffic on this road.

Resuming riding on the plateau, we became aware the wind had moved to NW and was cooler – so we had a cool breeze across our backs which was refreshing.

The lead group didn’t stop at Polly McQuinns weir, but we laggards did.
Swimming hole 2

It is a pretty spot.  It was great to sink my wrists into the cool flowing stream and soak my buff and wipe my face and head, before putting it back on.  I recommend a brief cooling stop here even though it is only a few kilometres before Strathbogie.

Before long we were in Strathbogie town for the second and final feed stop.  We still had about 35km to ride, and it was 6pm by the time we left.  I was still optimistic we would get faster as we had done all the hard stuff.  This didn’t prove to be the case.

We didn’t make any more stops and rode till the end.  I think the long day of riding was starting to take its toll.  Brookleigh Road was the slowest section of the whole route.  The asphalt sections were undulating and I found it difficult to get into a rhythm and pick up the average speed.

The lead group of riders missed the last turnoff onto Upper Boho Road and so descended on Harrys Creek Road which was sealed.

The laggards which included me took the risk and decided to chase the thrills of the gravel descent in fading light.  The 5km ride out to the ridge edge at golden hour was very pleasant.
gravel sector 6 flat

The road surface for the descent was very good for an unsealed road, but we still kept our bikes under tight control as there were occasional lumps of white rock and corrugation to swerve around.  Dropping off the ridge, through a forest, in fading light, on gravel for 8km with sections at -8% was a memorable experience.  I could hear startled kangaroos bouncing through the trees at the road edge.  But I dared not lift my eyes from the gravel ahead to see exactly where the roos were – I just hoped they stayed off the road.  Fortunately, we reached the bottom of the descent and finished the gravel while there was still some light.  While this was an exhilarating experience, I don’t think we should try to repeat it.

The majority of riders were not carrying adequate lights and both descent routes had many kangaroos at dusk.  So a key issue for riders next week is to carry lights and to manage the time better to get off the ranges earlier.  After riding the route it seems there are several slow sections, but no real opportunities to go fast and make up a lot of time (or not safely anyway).  And this was without any stacks or mechanical issues.  Even 1 puncture in our the group would have meant a much darker descent.  For next week I will make up a time schedule to help riders realise when they are starting to fall behind the time needed to get off the range and into Violet Town while there is still good light.

However, the long ride time was the only surprise.  Everything else came out well.  All riders stayed upright and there were no mechanical problems.  The gravel roads were all rideable with care, and didn’t contain hidden sharp objects to rip tyres and cause lots of punctures.  The weather was good, the scenery spectacular and the stops very enjoyable.  All riders enjoyed the experience very much and the different bike configurations all made it through.  A special thanks to my fellow riders on the day – the inaugural Strathbogie Sliders.  Your company made it a very special day.