Ok, as a mountain biker I might have a bit of a problem. I’m don’t think i’m a trail snob. I’m fully ( and sometimes painfully) aware of my short comings as a rider. Technically I’m not great and my fitness is no where near what it once was, but for me the essence of mountain bike riding is riding mountains. Remote locations, off the beaten track, challenging trails with lots of vertical both up and down. I know most mountain bike riders ride in a park, in a city, with a big car park and lots of other riders. One way trails that were designed and then graded and signposted, but it just doesn’t rev my engine. Sure its better than riding a road bike or jogging or working behind a desk but its a bit like 4wding in a Toyota Corolla. Im left feeling that there should be more. I guess I’m fortunate to live in Tasmania. We have of thousands of miles of great organic tracks all over the state and we don’t have many riders.
Sterling Valley, Climbies Track and Montezumas Falls in the Wild West, Kellevie in the East, Old Derby, Point Vision and The Dial Range up North are just a small sample of our great mountain bike trails. But my firm favourite is simply called The River. And if you’re lucky enough to have ridden this wild 1000m descent in south west Tasmania you’ll know why its just called The River.
Its not near a river, doesn’t start or finish at a river or cross a river. If it raining, and it usually is, it is a river. The water (and the rocks) usually travels faster than your bike as you follow the stream bed downhill.
Its an old trail that’s has been abandoned because its gradient and elevation made it too hard to maintain. Its different every time you ride it, but in essence:
The top third is a river, complete with running water and river rocks. Its steep and slippery, narrow and twisty. You let the bike go where it wants as it slides and drops and bucks and you try to stay on top.
The middle third is just scree. There may have been soil on this once but now its just a trail filled with rocks the size of bowling balls. You lean back as far as you can and use your front wheel like a battering ram as you try and force a way through. Its not a great place for light weight spokes or rims or anything.
And then comes the final third, this is a gift from above. Its fast and steep and flowing. Its covered in grass and leaf litter and also sticks and limbs and fallen trees. Its always covered in a deceptive mottled light. Each rider has to make a decision: do you travel at the speed that puts the biggest smile on your face and take the risk you can’t spot the hazards in time or do you travel at the speed where you can be safe and sure. You always take the first option. It gets faster and faster as you get closer to the end and the speed becomes intoxicating. You leave it to the last second to heave on the brakes. You try and pull up before the rusted steel gate marked TRACK CLOSED as your mates scream like monkeys “YIEW”, “YIEW”, “YIEW”
The King of The River must be Marty. An incongruous blend of fearless bike rider at the weekend and a dentist during the week. I’ve never quite got my head around that combination. I’ve seen Marty do some amazing Man from Snowy River feats on a bike. More than once, as the rest of us stopped, got off and stared down a slope that mountain goats would shy away from, Marty has called “Track” and just kept riding. Marty showed me The River about 5 years ago and I try and get back as often as I can.
It takes 4 hours of hard riding to get to the top and from the top to the pub, where we usually finish, is another 2 hours. 6 hours if things go well so you cant do it every day. This track was never designed, it hasn’t been graded green blue or black and there’s no guarantee you won’t speed round a corner to see a tree or hole or broken bridge. Decisions about your safety are solely up to you. The consequences of a fall are always in the back of your mind as you start the descent, but that soon passes as you focus single mindedly on the 5m immediately in front of your wheel. Your eyes become big wide saucers and you hold your mouth opens so you don’t even have to think about breathing. Warren Miller called this the Flow State, when you concentrate so hard that you don’t think-you just act. As mountain bikers we all chase this amazing feeling but how often does it happen?
In the southern hemisphere we’ve just passed the longest night and started heading towards summer. Slowly days are getting longer. Its time to start thinking about our next trip to The River. You need long days and good weather to ride The River. For some combination of reasons we usually ride The River on the first weekend in December.
If you like mud up to your bottom bracket, baby head boulder fields, soul destroying climbs,thigh destroying descents ,country pubs that serve beer in nothing smaller than pints and you’re in southern Tasmanian on the first weekend of December, please come ride The River with us.