The last time we rode in Elgin Vale State Forest we got lost and were forced to spend the night stuck in Lantana. This time, we were determined not to make the same mistake again.
We started at the top of Cowah Road, in the Conondale Range a few kilometres north of Jimna.
For the next quarter of an hour we rolled downhill, chilled by the cold morning air.
It was a typical Queensland “winter” day. Blue skies. No wind. Bone dry. Perfect weather for long rides.
We took our time on the descent, and enjoyed the landscape.
Cowah Road ended at a farm gate.
The map was quite clear – this was still a road reserve. There was no problem with us riding on it…
…so we passed through and followed the soft grassy track towards the forest..
The trees thickened as we climbed the hill.
At “Dead Sheep Gate” we looked around and were grateful we couldn’t find an ovine carcass.
A koala looked lazily at us from a nearby tree.
We all got excited and scrambled closer to get a good photo.
In response he climbed higher and out of view.
“Old Man’s Beard” (Tillandsia) moss dangled from trees in the gentle sunlight.
“How does it survive with so little water?” Peter asked.
I suggested maybe the early morning dew was enough for it – but I wasn’t really sure.
The road followed Moonarumbi Creek for a while.
This strangely named waterway forms part of the headwaters of the Eastern Branch of the Brisbane River.
After a good downpour, this creek flows more than three hundred kilometres from here to Moreton Bay.
Five years ago we had come along this road before getting lost overnight. I showed Jason and Peter where we had gone on that day, but they didn’t show any interest in retracing those steps.
Instead, we headed in the opposite direction – north-west towards the hills.
In a couple of places the Lantana grew thickly – almost taunting me.
“We got you last time. We’ll get you again”
I half-grinned, half-grimaced.
I felt relief when the dirt road widened into an avenue between tall Hoop Pines.
“Hey, look! A couple of Bunyas” I yelled out.
I love Bunya Pines. To my indigenous friends they’re sacred. To me, they evoke thoughts of community, abundance, celebrations and epic journeys during times long past when darker, quieter feet left footprints in this dirt.
The road climbed a hill.
On either side, the plantation had been cleared leaving a bleak lunar landscape.
Behind us, tree-covered hills stretched to the endless horizon.
We were in the middle of nowhere.
For as far as we could see in any direction there were just mountains, trees or dirt.
Jason powered ahead. I can never keep up with him on hills.
Unfortunately, he had taken a wrong turn.
We called out to him. I blew my whistle. He was oblivious and kept going.
We chased him.
Up, up, up he went, while Peter and I tried to catch up.
Eventually the Lantana stopped him.
Despite what the maps said, there was no way to get through.
We rolled back down the hill and tried a different route.
Down steep hills through more lunar landscapes, and up another tough climb – this was hard work.
At the top of the next hill we stopped in the shade for an early lunch.
There’s something magical about stopping in the solitude of a forest, knowing you’re the only people around for miles.
We started riding again.
The Lantana closed in.
It grew thick. Branches reached out, scratching us as we rode past.
I was aware of this section from checking the aerial photos before the ride. I reassured my buddies – this was as thick as it got, and it only lasted a couple of kilometres.
A fallen tree blocked our way.
We bashed our way through it and kept going.
I wondered. Were we being foolish?
A few minutes later I gave out a “whoop” of delight.
The rugged track emerged at Western Branch Road.
We’d made it through to the other side.
We were atop the Brisbane Range – a low string of hills which marks the boundary between the Brisbane and Burnett River systems.
I joked to myself, “Spit to the left and it flows to Moreton Bay. Spit to the right and it ends up in Bundaberg.”
We followed the gravel road north, and then around the corner towards the small town of Elgin Vale with its distinct “reverse E / V” brand.
We passed over Moonda Waamba Creek (ah those Elgin Valians have funny names) towards the sawmill.
The mill was destroyed by fire in the 1940’s and had to be rebuilt.
It ceased operations in the 1980’s, but has been lovingly preserved.
We pulled into the CWA hall next door to the mill to fill up with water and enjoy another quick snack.
The grassy area next to the hall is often used for camping by people traveling through here on the Bicentennial National Trail.
I made a mental note. This might be a good place to stop for a quick overnight ride sometime.
We left Elgin Vale and started southwards on the return leg of our adventure, heading back into the state forest.
Peter broke his chain.
Thankfully he had a spare chain link, and set to work fixing it while I looked on.
(Reader note: do you carry a spare chain link? They’re small, simple and easy to use. If you break your chain, and you’re in the middle of nowhere, it would be really inconvenient if you had to walk because you couldn’t fix your chain.)
I was riding a bit slower than my riding buddies, so I rode ahead while they did the repairs. That way I wouldn’t hold them up.
I relaxed, and pedaled at an easier pace, enjoying the sights as I rolled past.
Peter eventually caught me, and told me Jason had decided to have a chat with a fellow who passed him in a 4X4.
After a long head-start, I was finally overtaken by Jason again.
It was getting late in the day – this ride had taken a lot longer than I had anticipated.
My GPS told me we had done an unusually high amount of climbing, which helped me understand why we were taking so long.
Eventually we reached Kilcoy Murgon Road.
This is a wonderful road. I’ve checked it on the map, and yes it does run all the way from Kilcoy to Murgon, mostly on dirt, a distance of 124 kilometres.
My feet were sore, but I felt happy. We were out in the bush, on a mild “winter” day with clear skies and the sun gently glinting through the gum trees. Why would you want to be anywhere else?
We stopped briefly at a roadside memorial for a man named Gary who was killed in a motor vehicle accident on this stretch.
Judging from the names on the memorial, he left a big hole when he departed – lots of people miss him.
Life’s fragile. The only meaningful way I can respond to that thought is to be grateful – for family, friends, and wonderful adventures like the one we had just done. We don’t have an everlasting supply of Saturdays to go riding. But while we do, I think this is what I’d like to keep doing.
Total climbing: 2687 m
Average temperature: 17.6
Total time: 07:55:25
We rode a total of seventy-five kilometres in about eight hours.
During that time we climbed about 2,000 metres in elevation, and I burned about 4,500 kcal.
This was a tough ride in rugged, remote country. It would be grueling in the heat of summer, so I’m glad we did it in winter.
If you decide to follow our GPS plot, be aware that forestry tracks are fickle. They can change any time due to rapid growth of weeds, or logging, or fallen vegetation. I’ve been lost in this forest before, and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that experience.
I’ll rate this one 9 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Thanks Jason and Peter for an awesome day out!