Portland is a hotbed of creativity. Readers of Cycle EXIF will be well aware of the profuse number of custom frame builders located in Oregon’s most populated city. It’s also home to Poler Camping Stuff, a range of well-designed implements that are aimed primarily at folks who focus on having fun in the great outdoors — whether it’s camping, snowboarding, surfing or road tripping. I took their Rucksack on a 220 kilometer off-road trip and it proved to be a great accompaniment.
My good mate Adam Macbeth is a super-keen adventure biker, and regularly conquers multi-day off-road rides through the Australian countryside. He’s an ardent Salsa fan, recently adding a Mukluk, their fat-tire model, to his quiver. He’s been trying to convince me to accompany him on one of his mad treks and when he offered me the use of his titanium Salsa Fargo, I finally agreed. It’s been years since I seriously rode on dirt, although it was my native terrain when I was growing up.
I felt a certain amount of trepidation when we embarked on our journey. On Friday night, Adam, Felicity and I drove to the Imperial Hotel, a grand old ‘pub’ in the Blue Mountains village of Mount Victoria. The Blue Mountains is a section of the Great Dividing Range — a 3,500 kilometer-long line of peaks and highlands that run from the northern tip of Australia, down the east coast to the southern state of Victoria. We would drive from the ‘Imp’ to Lithgow and rendezvous at dawn with Nathan. Then ride approximately 110km from there to Sofala, an old gold mining town, and back again on Sunday.
The Rucksack was packed with what I couldn’t fit in my frame bags, and didn’t need to access regularly, namely my thermals for sleeping in (being winter in the southern hemisphere) and lunch — a loaf of sourdough, a chorizo sausage and a block of sharp cheese. Oh, and a hip flask full of a single malt whiskey. On Saturday, our first stop outside Lithgow was the Mount Lambie truck stop, after a 10km ‘shakedown’ stretch. Here Adam silently contemplated the road ahead, mainly because, being a regular visitor to the region, he was quite aware of the pain awaiting us.
Soon we turned off the highway, ironically following signs to Portland, NSW, Australia. It felt good to hit the B roads, but I was enjoying the asphalt surface because it was about to run out and the dirt tracks would begin, and would continue until we rode into Lithgow the next day. The Rucksack still felt comfortable, once I’d adjusted the straps to the appropriate length. It was only filled to a fraction of its potential capacity, but sat squarely and didn’t float around at all.
At this point we turned onto unsealed roads and barreled along trails that ranged from hard pack to highly enjoyable single trail. A welcome lunch was had at the top of a peak that offered a sudden view through the trees of the valleys below. It was great to finally be out of the city, breathe the clean air and listen to the silence that was broken only by the calling of native birds and the whir of Chris King hubs.
It soon became obvious we weren’t in Kansas anymore, the only sign of civilization being the odd farm house and shed we passed every hour or so. The dry landscape soon took on a wonderful dusty hue and, after an unsuccessful negotiation of a steep section of single trail, so did I. The Rucksack took the brunt of the fall but held up well, with no tearing.
Finally, after racing kangaroos through eucalyptus forests, gazing at magnificent views, several crossings of the Turon River and cracking a deraiileur hanger, we arrived at the Royal Hotel in Sofala. Several burgers and beers were quickly swallowed before carting our bikes upstairs to our rooms and drawing straws to find out who first had the pleasure of a hot shower.
The Royal Hotel was first licensed in 1851, and not much has changed. Adam reckons it’s haunted but if it is, the resident ghoul was unable to rouse us from our slumber that night.
In fact, the only spirit to be seen was the vast amount of beer we consumed as we sat at the bar, chatting with the locals and watching the steam curl up from our Sidis, drying above the roaring fire.
In its heyday as a gold mining town the population of Sofala swelled to about 40,000 but currently has a population of about two or three hundred. They consist of hunters, farmers, a motorcycle ‘social club’ and others who prefer the slower pace of life. As you can still find traces of gold dust in the Turon River, Sofala also attracts the odd local fortune hunter, who proudly showed us his finds.
Breakfast was at dawn, where we encountered some of the locals in the kitchen, still drinking from the night before. A dehydrated meal of bacon, eggs and hash browns later (it’s actually not bad… just ask Adam), the second day’s riding began. It was frosty — perhaps 5 or 6 degrees Celsius, and shortly our first river crossing appeared in front of us. The only reason the river wasn’t frozen, I believe, was because it was flowing. To avoid spending the rest of the morning riding in cold, wet shoes, we took them off. And walked the bikes across. Our feet turned blue but we managed to rub some color back into them before setting off.
The day warmed up as the sun rose and we settled back into a familiar routine of riding and eating and drinking in the views, which were breathtaking. As were the climbs.
I’m sure Adam had inflated his 3.8″ tires with helium as he seemed to float up the slopes, while Felicity and I did our best to encourage each other behind him.
However, to the victor goes the spoils and after an endless series of ecstatic descents and torturous climbs, we were rewarded with an aspect of the Great Dividing Range rarely seen from the main road:
Before too long, the shadows got longer and adrenalin kicked in as we realized our goal was near. Headlights were ignited and we summoned every last dram of energy in our tired legs to carry us into Lithgow. An odd 220kms later, we bundled ourselves into the car and we headed back into Sydney; tired, dusty, smelly and happy. The Poler Rucksack proved to be a capable and comfortable day pack, although I sure wish I brought the Napsack along as well: it would have come in very handy. Next time.