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.

It was very tiring. I ended up walking many of the uphills and downhills if only because I was tiring and wary of having a spill.

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.

When I finally stopped and climbed off the bike I was quite quickly overcome with vertigo and lay down on the track next to bike and ate an energy bar while waiting to feel able to set up the tent.

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.

The track was wide, smooth and downhill. It turned out to be the best bit of riding of the ognr.

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.

Views: 1278

Comment by AdamM on April 20, 2017 at 9:58am

Great write up, thank you Michael. Sounds like a really good ride overall, although as you say, changing plans mid ride can present all sorts of challenges you weren't expecting. I'd love to start doing these sorts of overnight rides, but difficult with two young kids at home. My Singular Peregrine is dying for some dirt!

Comment by Warren Hudson on April 20, 2017 at 3:21pm

Thank you for the details. It was a great read.

I'm glad that you had a few fallen trees though. Something special.

All riders should experience fallen trees blocking a track to appreciate what is involved in continuing on. It is amazing how long it can take to get over one or how difficult to being nearly impossible it can be to go around a fallen tree.

Would you consider taking a pedal spanner to remove a pedal, when hiking-the-bike in difficult country again? A minute to remove the pedal and a minute to replace it. No banged shins, Archilles tendon or calf contusions ...   and being closer and more upright to the bike makes hiking the bike far less taxing.


Comment by Bill Parker on April 20, 2017 at 3:48pm

I concur, great write up, must have been great ride (except for the hills....), a support crew would be nice, some of those convicts maybe  who did such a crap job on the path smoothing, typical infrastructure builders, never thing about the bicycles.

When I saw the tree photos I though we were going to get the Danny (Boxhead) MacAskill Wee Day Out story...

http://www.sydneycyclist.com/video/danny-macaskill-s-wee-day-out (see 1:40 & 5:20)

Comment by Michael S. (Boxhead) on April 20, 2017 at 4:23pm
Hi Warren, I don't seem to bang against the pedal/s while pushing the bike. Maybe I've adapted to the position. I was swapping sides in an attempt to evenly distribute the aches and pains.
I understand what you mean about going around a fallen tree. It didn't appear to be an option. Both the large trees were spread maybe 15-20 m into the scrub on either side of the track. It was awkward but preferable to lift the bike over and across the trees closer to the track. If I'd had panniers I'd have been taking them off and carrying them over separately.
It all adds to the adventure.
Comment by Michael S. (Boxhead) on April 20, 2017 at 4:31pm
Hi Bill, I bet the road was pretty good for riding if I'd done it in 1836. There's obviously been erosion and little maintenance but I also read that it was popular with "recreational vehicles" before it was finally closed to motorised vehicles. I can certainly see why it'd be good for challenging your 4wd skills but it would have accelerated the deteriation.
My mother mentioned that she and my father had driven some of the road way back in the 50's so it was in fair condition at that stage.
A few times along the way, when I was feeling particularly tired and uncomfortable, I did think of the convicts who had worked on the road. You can see the tool marks on the stone blocks used in retaining walls and bridge foundations. Any difficulty I had traversing the road/track would have been a walk in the park compared to what the convicts would have endured while building it.
Comment by Michael S. (Boxhead) on April 20, 2017 at 4:35pm
Hi Adam, I'm in the fortunate position of having grown up children who have both left home. Pencil it in as a future hobby when time permits.
Comment by Dabba on April 20, 2017 at 4:45pm

"having grown up children who have both left home. Pencil it in"

And remember to change the locks when they leave!  ;-)

Comment by Michael S. (Boxhead) on April 20, 2017 at 4:48pm
Hi Bill, I just watched the Danny M video again. You're on the right track. If the film crew hadn't pulled out on day one when the going got tough you would've seen very similar footage. I did as best I could, particularly on the second tree, to show the "trials" route. You'll have to use your imagination to add the action. There's only so much I could do as rider and photographer.
Btw I think Danny would have ridden across both bridges even without the decks. Unfortunately that was a bit beyond me with the heavy bike I took on this trip. I consider returning with a lighter bike and a more resilient film crew.
Comment by AdamM on April 20, 2017 at 5:10pm

I'm hoping to take one, or other, or both of my kids with me when they hit their teenage years. Assuming they want to, of course. A friend here in Newcastle has a 14 year old who is happily riding 140km+ days on gravel roads with his dad, doing 2-4 day trips staying in hotels. It's inspiring, but not so achievable with an 8-year old. Not yet anyway.

Comment by Dabba on April 20, 2017 at 5:19pm

Think tandems Adam! The stronger rider will get the weaker rider there. We did touring on 2 tandems over a few years. They started when the eldest was about 14 and the youngest 10. From memory, the longest day that they did was a bit under 90k's, and they were OK at the end. We mixed the riding around so that they rode with one another, and either myself or the Minister for War and Finance at other times. The important bit was to keep throwing food at them!


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