Today’s ride was one of the most challenging and rewarding rides I’ve ever done. I will never do this ride again. Neither should you. Here’s why.
We started on a perfect winters day in the southern Queensland town Rathdowney, and headed out under the railway line, along “The Lions Road”.
Ahead lay the McPherson Range: a line of tall peaks several hundred kilometres long, which marks the border between two states.
“Enjoy the flat terrain while you can,” I muttered to myself as we followed quiet back roads.
We aimed to ride to the top of the mountain range, then follow the border fence for a while through the thick cool rainforest at the top.
Philp Mountain Road marked the start of our climb.
It starts reasonably steeply. We clicked the gears as low as we could, and mashed the pedals, climbing at whatever pace suited each of us.
The landscape dropped beneath us as we gained height.
To our right, the jagged peaks of Mount Barney cut the horizon sharply.
Eventually the road grew too steep to pedal, so we pushed.
A 30% gradient is a little too steep to ride…
…unless you’re Jason 🙂
The road ended at the rainforest.
The temperature dropped sharply as we entered the shadows.
One of the local land owners was fixing his road.
We told him we were hoping to follow the border fence for a while.
We had done this ride before, turning right when we hit the fence. This time we thought we’d turn left instead – and see what the track would be like if we headed east instead of west.
What did he think?
“I don’t want to wreck your day,” he said, “but it’s rough. The road disappears in some places, and you might not get back before dark.”
“It gets cold up here at night. You’re not really equipped for it. You could probably get as far as the waterfall, but you may have to turn back.”
We discussed what the landowner had said, and decided to try to get to the waterfall. Once we reached that point we would decide whether or not to keep going, or to head back.
We followed the border fence though lush forests.
Moss-covered hoop pines formed a majestic verdant cathedral over us.
What an amazing place.
The track ended at a ridge, but the fence continued.
On either side the ground fell away sharply, leaving us a strip about a metre wide on which to walk.
I put my bike on my left, and clung to the fence. If anything was going to fall, it would be my beloved bike, not me.
On our right, Long Creek Falls cascaded through dense scrub over a rocky cliff.
Should we keep going?
Our eyes followed the fence up a steep slope.
“Let’s give it a go.”
It was too steep to push the bikes…
So we formed a chain, passing the bikes up the hill.
“Geeze your bike is heavy,” I said to Darb.
“Geeze your bike is light,” Darb said to Simon.
There was no track. We just followed the fence.
This fence serves an important purpose – and does more than merely mark the border between two states. Construction started in 1893 to keep rabbits out of Queensland farms. Intrepid workers from the Darling Downs – Moreton Rabbit Board regularly patrol the fence and maintain it.
We clambered upwards, enjoying views of the Running Creek Valley through the trees.
At several points we noticed a some really clever contraptions near the fence.
A narrow sheet of roofing iron sat atop a barrel. Sometimes the sheets would be tied to a tree, sometimes perched on the fence.
It collected rainwater which could be used in an emergency by hikers and Fence workers.
I smiled inwardly knowing if we got stranded up here, at least we’d have something to drink.
At one point I looked down at my feet. There was daylight under the tips of my toes. We were on the edge of a steep cliff.
This was crazy.
But wow! The view was amazing.
It was impossible to ride up here. We were grateful when the terrain allowed us to push the bikes instead of having to carry them.
Going downhill was also challenging.
We scrambled down over rocks. This was no place for bikes.
The terrain grew smoother and we were able to roll carefully downhill for a while.
Ahead, the valley opened up: a massive amphitheater of green, blue and yellow.
There was about twelve kilometres of fence between the top of Philp Mountain Road and the main road Richmond Gap. We had come barely five kilometres in ninety minutes, and were exhausted.
We started thinking about “Plan B”. Should we bail out and follow one of the steep cattle tracks down the hill to a farm below?
Around that time we encountered a mowed section of track and decided to keep following the fence. If someone could get a mower up here to keep the grass down, we should be able to ride our bikes here too.
It was mown. But it was still steep.
We pushed the bikes some more.
At the top of another hill we encountered a more sophisticated shelter and water tank.
Our situation was improving. Now if we got stuck up here, at we’d have something to huddle under, and something to drink 🙂
The track now headed downhill most of the time. Our progress grew easier. All thoughts of “bailing out” vanished.
Frowns turned into smiles.
We were going to complete this.
On the final section of the track we hung on tightly and let the bikes do what they were made to do.
The remaining kilometres flew by in a blur.
We crossed over to the NSW side of the fence for the last hill. There was a farm ahead, and we figured we would cause less distraction to the livestock if we stayed out of their way.
And then it was over.
We had made it.
We skidded out of the bush, down the hill and onto the road.
Everyone stood around in the middle of the road stunned for a few seconds.
“That was awesome!”
It had taken us four hours to go twelve kilometres. We had walked most of it, but we had done it.
We sighed with relief, pointed our steeds down the very steep road, and released the brakes.
Above us on our left, the steep rampart of the McPherson Range towered imperiously over us.
It looked impassable, but we had helped each other to conquer it. We had ridden, walked and crawled that razor edge, dragging our bikes with us.
As I looked up, I felt a sense of accomplishment, but also of admonishment. Yes it was an impressive feat, but it was risky. The border track around Richmond Gap is no place for bikes. It’s definitely a “hike-only” track.
We rolled back down the valley towards Rathdowney, crossing Running Creek several times.
This is a stunning part of the world. It always makes me happy to visit.
Max elevation: 740 m
Min elevation: 83 m
Total climbing: 1969 m
Total descent: -1934 m
Average speed: 16.03 km/h
Total time: 07:49:55
We rode fifty-five kilometres in about eight hours.
During that time we climbed about 1,700 metres in elevation, and I burned about 4,000 kcal.
This adventure rates ten out of ten on the tough-o-meter. We all agree it’s the toughest ride we’ve ever done. We also agree that it’s NOT safe for bikes, although it would be worth hiking this track in future.
I am so grateful to our team. This would have been physically impossible to complete solo. How could we have ever dragged our bikes up some of those rock faces by ourselves?
Thanks to Darb, Simon, Jason and Paul for a memorable day out – you guys are legends.