The Hume and Hovell Walking Track stretches over 440km in NSW between Yass and Albury and is a section of the route explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell took on their 1824 expedition from Sydney to Port Phillip.
On the Labour Day long weekend a group of nine keen mountain bikers set off to ride the sections of the track taking us from Albury to Canberra. Some well planned car packing and people juggling saw us get 12 people and nine bikes to Albury on Friday night, albeit close to midnight for some.
The party for our 21st century expedition was:
- Steve Hanley (SS)
- Alex Ramsey (SS)
- Al Gribble (SS)
- Aaron ‘call me’ Coles (SS)
- ‘The Seb’ Dunne
- Courtney Shinn
- Lee Rice
- Nathan Versey
- ‘Biking Bethany’ Thompson
Day 1 – Albury to Tumbarumba (165km, 3176m climbing)
A bit of dodgy seafood risotto unfortunately left Courtney hugging the porcelain all night, but she pulled up OK in the morning and we were banging on the door of MaccyDs at 6am ready to be fuelled. $1 hot apple pies at 900 calories per serve… I’ll have two thanks!
The track starts in central Albury at the Hovell tree, meanders along next to the Murray river before taking us through the outskirts of town and towards farm land. Obstacle number one was the attempted crossing of the Murray at the northwest corner of Lake Hume. Apparently not cross-able at 82%, we didn’t really stand a chance as the lake is currently at 98% capacity! We wanted to avoid riding the rather large detour around and decided to chance it by cutting through a farm. After chasing a paddock full of very frightened and deafeningly loud moo cows around for a while, we made it to the highway, cut back in to the road and continued our journey East.
The sun was out, the Canola fields were vivid yellow and we cruised along the road for a while before deciding it was time to find the track again. The walking track maps say to take the firetrails around singletrack that is not rideable. The trouble we had here (and for the rest of the ride) is that there is no differentiation on the map between what is a public road and what is a road going straight through the middle of someone’s farm. Unfortunately for us, a few farmer’s weren’t so keen on the idea of us riding through and we spent over an hour backtracking around, up and down to find the track again.
The most epic of hike-a-bikes I have ever done took us (what felt like vertically) up the side of an enormous hill. The top revealed a green sea of farming land as far as the eye could see; a confirmation that Hume and Hovell’s expedition had indeed identified suitable grazing pastures between Sydney and the South. Spectacular!
Some more ups and downs led us into the lovely Woomargama National Park. The solid climb up to the top of Mount Jergyle (elevation 891 m) had us geared riders puffing and at least a few of the single-speeders walking! At the top we were treated to even more spectacular views across the plains towards Wagga Wagga and a glorious descent down to Tim Mines Campsite where we lounged on the grass an enjoyed some sunshine to warm up a bit.
After about 30km of scenic undulations we left the forest behind and met up with support crew Jess at the bitumen on Jingello Rd. Super lovely angel Jess had made us sandwiches, brought Coke and even took some gear off those smart enough to unload. With dusk approaching we decided to ride the road to Tumbarumba and be done with the day. Navigation would not have been fun in the dark and the group was slowly but surely splintering as the weariness of a long day set in.
Having never been to the Riverina Highlands before, for some reason in my mind I pictured flat green meadows of Batlow apples. Instead, with each turn came another hill and another hill. Turns out that there are a god-almighty amount of hills around Tumbarumba and the Linden Roth Drive ‘wall’ of about 400 meters climbing put me well and truly in the hurt box for the evening. We made it into Tumba after dark, showered, ate and clambered into bed for what we all recalled in the morning as the best night sleep in a long long time.
Day 2 – Tumbarumba to Tumut (90km, 1769m climbing)
The plan for day two was less distance but still reasonable amounts of climbing. Thinking that we should be able to crack out the ride in about four hours, we had a very leisurely start and after visiting the 4 Bears cafe didn’t head out of Tumbarumba until after 9am. While the coffee did not perform it’s waking-up duties well that Sunday morning, the Perkins Road climb up to 1200m and 0.8 degrees C sure got the heart racing. We undulated along the ridge for a long time and it was uncomfortably cold. I had chosen to wear less and carry less to save the knees, thus all I could do at this point was recall rule number Rule #9 and then Rule #5.
From the lookout it was a magnificent descent, 12 km of mostly flat single track and straight into Tumut… or so we thought.
The descent was indeed magnificent: big flowy forestry roads with views out across the reservoir to the Blowering Dam. Towards the bottom we rounded a corner and there were some pine trees across the road but they had been cut so you could get through. We rounded another corner and there was another heap of trees down, but these hadn’t been cut. Up and down, over and under, up and down; we were passing bikes hand to hand along between us.
We felt quite triumphant as we cleared the trees as started riding again. Then around the next bend was about five more trees down. Another team effort saw us get through again. Then there was another lot. We got through again. After seeing the fourth lot of trees we were getting frustrated and tired. The track we wanted to get to was so close, merely a few kilometers around the shore.
Having to continually make the choice between backtracking or dealing with obstacle after obstacle was becoming stressful and there were some tempers brewing. Courts and I were pretty ambivalent and sat back most of the time, watching as the arms of seven guys were waving around and pointing assuredly at the map. Eventually our flat ride into Tumut on nice singletrack was re-routed to 30km with a lot of climbing and a road bash at the end.
We made it to Tumut with an elapsed time of close to nine hours. We were torn up by blackberries, smashed from the hills and feeling a bit dejected really. Luckily, food can fix EVERYTHING! Sally and Marina had been at the winery all day and they had a plethora of biscuits, dips and cheeses for as to munch on. We went out for a great meal and celebrated Aaron’s birthday with amazing pavlova made by the ladies.
Day 3 – Tumut to Canberra (128m, 2714m climbing)
Day three saw a thinning of the troops as Alex had to get home for work, Nathan needed to focus on his Tour of Bright training and Courtney needed to rest up for the Scott 24hr solo in just two weeks. This left six of us to make the trip home. The Hume and Hovell walking track continues on to Yass but after the previous two days efforts, we needed something a bit less epic and chose to head straight home over the Brindabellas. Aaron must have asked for good weather as a birthday present, because it was a cracker of a day. We screamed along at a great pace and made lunch at the Goodradigbee River well before 12pm! I have ridden down the hill into that valley, but never up. Phoar! What a climb. I really love my gears and I have no idea how sane people could deliberately chose to grind up a hill like that on a single speed. But they did, and they all beat me, awesome work guys!
Aaron was absolutely tearing our legs off, smoking it up every hill and riding like a superstar. All those months riding the European mountains has obviously paid off. He is in fine form, so ladies, you should definitely call him. Maybe. I tried, he was too fast…
To finish off a fantastic long weekend of riding, Mr Al Gribble, The Seb and Biking Bethany gained some final altitude by doing the Stromlo road climb. We bumped into my Strava hill arch rival Lisa K at the bottom and finally put a face to the name. I put it in the big dog and tried to beat her. Not really. Seb did though and he got dropped like a stone. She was climbing like a woman possessed and I understand now why I stand no chance of any Canberra QOMs. Enthusiasm quickly waned and Skyline was less than satisfying with dead brakes, shattered bodies (Al was riding SS rigid) and bags on our backs.
It was a really great adventure but I can’t say I would do it again in a hurry. One day it might be nice to walk sections of the Hume and Hovell walking track, because that is what it is after all, a walking track. Big thanks to Alex for the idea and organisation; to The Seb for his excellent navigation; to Sally, Jess and Marina for their great support; and to all the others who came along for the ride! I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Hume, Hovell and their party on their three month expedition.
Over 380km of riding with ~7660m of climbing made for excellent Tour Divide training and I look forward to adding more great and hilarious adventures to the ‘epic rides’ list.
Thanks also to Steve Hanley for the great photos too 🙂