Sixty colorful mountain bikers,
Three iconic rivers,
One big hill,
Several dozen delicious muffins,
And one small pub…
Ingredients for a memorable day out with some great friends.
The fog slowly lifted as dozens of cars descended on Mount Stanley after a two-hour drive north-west from Brisbane. They made an unusual traffic jam amidst usually quiet paddocks.
A few of us have ridden here before – where the Brisbane River splits into the East and West Branches. Part of the joy of discovering new places is being able to share that experience with others, so I was delighted to be able to bring more friends back here.
After explaining the course to everyone, and asking them to be careful, a long line of grinning riders set off along Western Branch Road, following the left-hand branch of the river up into the hills.
My friends Michael and Bernie kindly offered to drive their 4WD’s as support vehicles in case anyone needed assistance. Michael slowly followed the group up the road, while Bernie followed the course in reverse so she could meet us as we came down the hill on the other side of the mountain.
A few of the riders carried UHF radios so we could all keep in touch.
I asked some friends for a collective noun for a bunch of mountain bikers. Scruff? Herd? Cluster? Scramble? Ascent? Chain?
Whatever the name, it’s a wonderful feeling to be part of a large group of smiling people rolling through beautiful country, with the only sounds being the crunch of dozens of tyres on gravel, the roar of the wind, and the chatter of happy voices. Where else would you want to be on a mild autumn morning?
We followed Western Branch Road northwards through cattle grids and over rolling hills. There were no major climbs for the first ten kilometres. We had the road to ourselves.
Every few kilometres we’d cross the river again.
A sign at each crossing told us which crossing this was: “Western Branch Crossing No. 1, 2, 3…” the number would tick over at each causeway as we slowly made our way up the river.
Recent dry weather has reduced the river to a chain of ponds.
I stopped by one to have a look at our pleasant peloton as it howled by me.
It was a long line.
Eventually we left the river and started riding uphill into the state forest.
(Photo: Raquel Brand)
And then we had our first mechanical of the day – on my bike.
My derailleur got caught in the spokes, breaking the hanger.
Tony is a bike mechanic and kindly offered to help fix it.
I didn’t tell him that I had a spare hanger, so he busily got to work breaking my chain in order to convert my drive-train to single -speed.
“Can you use this?” I asked pulling a spare hanger out of my kit.
He groaned, then with a good-natured smile put the new hanger on my bike, which meant I’d still have gears. This would make a big difference on the hill climb.
After profusely thanking Tony, I turned the bike right-way-up and resumed the ascent.
It was a slow climb to the top.
I could hear the low revs of Michael’s black Toyota as he slowly drove behind us.
That came in handy. Russel had ridden ahead of us with the rest of the group while we were fixing my bike. I called him on the radio to ask how far ahead he was. Our 2W radios weren’t strong enough to communicate through the hills but Michael was able to relay the info via his stronger 5W radio.
Group rides on the flat are chatty social affairs, but long climbs can often be solitary as each rider climbs at their own pace.
This was Peter’s first mountain bike ride. He was nailing the hill admirably.
Eventually we reached the top.
Riders relaxed in the shade of the Hoop Pine forest.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. Have you been here long?”
“Not long. 5 or 10 minutes,” some people diplomatically replied.
“We’ve been here ages! What took you so long?” other people joked.
We had reached the summit of the hill.
Ahead lay a long exciting descent down to the other branch of the river.
Crouching beside the track, I watched as scores of brightly colored bikes rocketed down the hill.
Some (like Tony) shot past me in a blur.
Others took it more sedately.
I was relieved. Everyone was riding according to their ability. No one was taking unnecessary risks. Everyone was enjoying it.
At the bottom, Eric sat in the grass directing traffic.
“Muffins, Tea and Coffee are that way!”
Unfortunately our generous bike mechanic was called upon to fix another broken chain.
At the top of the Eastern Branch of the River, on the other side of the mountains, Bernie had set up camp.
The kettles were boiling, and trays of delicious food adorned the tables.
Bernie had cooked these amazing home-made muffins. They were disappearing fast.
I hastily grabbed one. Yum.
(Photo: Raquel Brand)
Eric, can we bring Bernie on more rides please?
I slowly moved around our “camp” and enjoyed watching the happy faces.
People chatted merrily, or sat quietly enjoying the break.
It’s lovely to be in the midst of a bunch of people who like being together.
For mountain bikers it’s a party on wheels.
With fuel tanks topped up we jumped back on the bikes and resumed our journey along the Eastern Branch.
We were now riding downstream. This meant that for the remainder of the ride we would be mostly rolling downhill.
The Eastern Branch Valley is much narrower than its Western counterpart.
The hills are closer, the views are more imposing, and the huge boulders in the rocky river bed look more impressive.
The crossing numbers counted downwards instead of upwards as we neared our end-point.
At “Crossing No. 4” we took a short break to visit “Barrow Annie” – a huge boulder in the river bed.
After rain this is a great spot in which to splash around.
Today Annie was bone dry.
(Photo: Raquel Brand)
At “Crossing No. 1” we left the road and walked upstream a couple of hundred metres.
In the middle of the river bed was a stagnant pool about a metre across – it unceremoniously marked the start of the Brisbane River…
(Photo: Jason Reed)
We all stood in the middle at the junction.
Upstream the East and West Branches of the river converged upon us.
Downstream the Brisbane River started as a dry rocky stream.
340 km down its twisting length, a city bustled on its banks, and ships plied its waters.
Mission accomplished. we made our way back to the cars.
As at the start, Tony was still doing wheelies, and Rick was still trying to grab his front wheel.
Sim, one of the neighboring land owners dropped by in his ute to say “G’day” as the happy bunch rolled in.
As to that collective noun of Mountain Bikers?
I’m not sure, but it would have to include something about smiles.
A “grin” of mountain bikers, perhaps?
(Video: Rick Mason)
Here’s Rick’s video of the day. Thanks Rick!
Max elevation: 563 m
Min elevation: 186 m
Total climbing: 985 m
Total descent: -949 m
Average speed: 19.33 km/h
Total Time: 04:18:14
All up we rode about 45km in four and a half hours.
We climbed about 780 metres in vertical ascent, and I burned about 1,500 kcal.
This is a pleasant ride which would be do-able by most riders of intermediate skills and fitness.
It’s much easier in cooler weather, and much prettier after rain.
Thanks everyone for making this a memorable day. I am lucky to have such a great bunch of friends.
Thanks Michael and Bernie for being our support drivers.
Thanks Bernie for the delicious morning tea.
Thanks to Eric, Darb and Russel for helping out on the UHF to make sure everyone was safe.
Thanks to Raquel, Russel and Jason for letting me use some of your photos.
Let’s do this again soon!