With busy lives that seem to follow us all, long weekends spark a strong temptation to cram in an extended adventure. Whether by fortune or design, the four and a half day break over Easter 2014 coincided with the inaugural Monaro Cloudride. At 1000km long, it is the longest ride in the burgeoning Australian bikepacking scene. Starting in Canberra, the route headed south for the hills, packing in a whopping 30,000 vertical metres of climbing. Held in the style of New Zealand’s Brevets, the self-supported ride featured long stretches with no resupply options, and hellish hike-a-bikes which wore toe spikes to nubs.
With the constraint of just four days off work, the dial was tuned more towards 'hare' than 'tortoise', but along the way I still managed to discover a beautiful part of Australia that I had no idea existed. While the Snowy Mountains push the definition of what constitutes a mountain compared to the proper peaks of New Zealand, Europe or Nepal - the variety of terrain combined with critter and cultural highlights makes the Snowy region a top pick as an off road touring destination.
Following the Cloudride course, I crested rocky peaks, slid down loose gnarly fire breaks, plugged through knee deep swamps and enjoyed the type of long winding roads which take one to a Zen like cycling state.
Coming from the relatively critter-free environs of NZ, encounters with brumbies, caterpillars and wombats were a cause of constant awe and amusement. Wombats at night are an interesting affair, with the fuzzy microwave sized creatures either defending their territory with a threatening growl, or scurrying away into their bunkers on sight of my lights. The cool temperature of the season meant that creepy crawlies were few and far between, with none of the little biters which can be an annoyance at other times of year.
The culinary highlight was the subsidised food at Cabramurra - Australia’s highest town that also boasts its lowest priced bikepacking fuel, with a full basket of high calorie snacks costing only $21. Bargain. A remnant of the extensive hydroelectric developments in the 50's and 60's, the cheap food keeps workers (and the odd malnourished bikepacker) content.
April is an ideal time of year. Below freezing overnight temps made me thankful of my Ground Effect winter gear, but riding temps during the day were perfect - topping out at 15 degrees, and only a sprinkling of rain on the last day requiring the donning of proper rain gear.
The region is well setup for road touring, with delightful historic towns like Tumut, Numeralla, Nimmitabel and Jindabyne providing places to resupply, or parks to nap in. Support from the Delegate Pub was beyond hospitable, they took in this dusty dirt-bag biker and offered lashings of casserole and even prepared special sandwiches for the next day. Without their friendly banter in the back of my mind, I’m not sure I would have survived the soul crushing ascent of Mount Tingaringy - definitely worth avoiding on self-propelled bicycling trips.
Next year's course is likely to undergo some fine tuning after the ten starters were whittled down to three finishers. The plan is to cut sections of hike-a-bike, and the crossing of the Snowy River on which I almost lost my bike - a big deal for a bikepacker who carries their life on their bike.
Rolling down the final epic descent to Canberra filled me with the satisfaction typical of knocking off one of these big rides. Rather than squashing my desire to return, it whet my appetite for riding in the lumpy terrain hidden away in southern New South Wales. Once snow reaches the mountains they’d make ideal fat bike terrain, so winter adventures are already in the planning. Even if the Cloudride event is not your thing, I’d whole heartedly recommend a visit to explore the area. Start in Canberra and head for the hills. You are unlikely to be disappointed.