Cycling in Sydney Australia
Wyong to Windsor via the Old Great North Rd
11-12 April 2017
I planned a simple overnight ride through some of my favourite riding country west of Wyong. The plan was to catch a morning train to Wyong and ride west through the Yarramalong Valley, enjoy an early lunch (plus toilet and water stop) at the Yarramalong store/cafe, continue up Brush Creek Rd through Bucketty and down Wollombi Rd heading towards St Albans. I would camp overnight at Mogo Campground then next day continue to St Albans, Wisemans Ferry then follow River Rd to Windsor via Sackville and Wilberforce.
Straight from the train trip from Sydney I enjoyed a coffee and bacon & egg roll at Alberts cafe next to Wyong station before riding west through the beautiful Yarramalong valley.
It was going to be an early feed but I was looking forward to a burger at the Yarramalong cafe just 20 km west of Wyong. As it turned out the cafe was closed for renovations. Doh! I was able to get water but no food, no toilet. I left the cafe with about 4.5 litres of water.
I was carrying enough food for dinner and a light breakfast with the expectation that it'd be a fairly leisurely ride to Wisemans Ferry on the second morning. So I wasn't concerned about missing what was really an extra feed at Yarramalong.
The ride through the remainder of the valley and up the Brush Creek Rd climb was very pleasent, as usual. The climb up Brush Creek Rd is a longish climb but never steep and always through bush with pleasant views appearing regularly. The road is quiet and the last couple of times I've ridden it I've listened to podcasts. I'm not a fan of grinding uphill and find the distraction of a podcast keeps my mind away from the "are we there yet" thoughts.
Just before reaching George Downs Drive I stopped to admire the view to the north and read this plaque giving some information about the traditional land owners.
The strip along George Downs Drive is bituman road and enjoyable as long as the traffic stays away. It's a fast road with sweeping bends and undulating hills and I have encountered a couple of close passers on previous rides. Fortunately it's not far before I turn off onto Wollombi Rd in the direction of St Albans. Dirt road again. Woohoo.
I stopped to check out one of the convict built walls.
I arrived at Mogo Campground feeling nice and fresh and had a brainwave. Why not change tack and ride to Wisemans Ferry via the Old Great North Rd (ognr), the convict built road through Dharug national park, instead of the open roads via St Albans. A short search for mobile coverage, a short conversation to my wife, and a friend, to advise of the route change. I was carrying a spot tracker so it was important to give some warning to my "dot watchers" of a deviation from the planned route.
Then I was off along the narrow track from the campground to the ognr.
The track met up with the ognr just where the remains of Circuit Flat Bridge can be found.
The ognr surprised me. I had expected something resembling a road, like a fire trail. But what I found was like irregularly shaped steps.
Any elevation change, up or down, was eroded and/or worn down to irregular steps with large marbles scattered around.
It was a full body workout to climb up the steps, or roll down, them and full concentration was required to select a line and technique that wouldn't result in jamming the front wheel and going over the bars.
An injury on this track, by myself, would be awkward to say the least. The legs were pretty good but the arms and body were tired. Most of my riding is on road so I'm lacking in upper body workouts. This was a good reminder.
My goal had been to camp overnight at Ten Mile Hollow campground but I was tiring quickly and decided I wasn't going to make it. Surprisingly there were periods of good mobile reception so at one point I rang my wife to let her know I'd be camping on the track, well short of the campground.
It was another 30 minutes before I found an acceptable site for my tent that wouldn't block the track. I was well aware I was very tired on the bike and, with light fading, needed to stop soon.
After resting for about 15 minutes I started setting up the tent but quite quickly had to stop. My hands and forearms started to cramp up, it became difficult to bend and straighten my fingers. While assembling the tent poles/frame I had to stop because I could no longer grip the poles, my fingers weren't working.
I lay down on the ground, pulled the tent fly over me for cover, put my head on a water bottle as a pillow and wondered what was going on. I lay there looking at my hands fisted up wondering if this would clear itself up or if I'd have to get back to civilisation tomorrow with hands that weren't co-operating. Fortunately after about 45 minutes there was improvement and I was able to get up and continue erecting the tent. By the time the tent was up my hands were back to normal. I was very relieved but still very tired and hungry.
The afternoon on the ognr was far more strenuous than expected and burnt more energy than anticipated. In hindsight I would have carried at least twice the amount of food and another couple of litres of water.
Next morning I travelled slowly and carefully. I was still tired and also under fuelled and with less water than I'd prefer.
The last few kms to the Ten Mile Hollow campground were less difficult and very pleasant in the cool morning air. There were wonderful views over many heavily wooded valleys. Some interesting landmarks were encountered before reaching the campground.
The first was a large tree blocking the track just prior to the remains of Clare's Bridge.
Soon after the bridge another large fallen tree blocked the track.
The Ten Mile Hollow campground looks inviting with plenty of room and a clean toilet.
The track after the campground was easy dirt road passing a buddhist monastry/retreat (Wat Buddha Dhamma) and ascending a longish climb back up to the ridge line where the ognr branched off again as a rough track.
I continued on the ognr encountering more of the irregular eroded "steps" and loose surface. This was taken slowly. Eventually, nearly at Wisemans Ferry, I arrived at the last bit of the ognr - Devines Hill. I met a couple of walkers who offered me water, which I declined, and told me that the buddhist's would have happily fed me if I'd go into the monastry. Not sure if I would have if I'd known but some food certainly would have been welcome at that time.
At the top of Devines Hill there is a sign advising riders to walk their bikes down. I can see it might be an issue if there many walkers on the track but there were none.
A short wait for the ferry and I was in Wisemans Ferry happily eating and drinking.
The ride back on to Windsor was also slow with a more stops along the way to rest. One stop, in a small clearing beside River Rd, prompted a passing motorcyclist to stop and enquire of my wellbeing. I appreciated his interested and I think he was pleased to find I was both alive and in good health. Nothing to see here!
A couple of lessons from this ride:
- don't be overly optimistic about food and water
- be cautious of changing plans mid ride
- don't underestimate the difficulty of unmaintained, unfamiliar tracks
- don't going upsetting the upper body with strenuous off road riding without adequate preparation
All in all a great trip, almost distant enough in my memory to consider riding it again, albiet with better preparation.
Bike: Salsa Fargo, 1st edition, 3x9, Schwalbe Marathon Plus 47mm tyres, SP dynamo front hub, tent on left fork leg, cooking gear right fork leg, 1 litre water bottles in handlebar feed bags, 3 700ml bottles in cages, tent poles in half frame bag, sleeping gear + clothes in saddle bag.