The ride started early. Ben, Troy and Ariel joined Hal, Dad and me to ride together from the farm to Mount Buffalo and back for a swim and we were eager to start. It’s always crisp before the sun rises in the north east, but we warmed quickly as the sun rose even if it was partially dulled by the intermittent cloud cover. The small ride along the Highway to the base of the Tawonga Gap was a great precursor to the first climb - no cars this early, yet you could already see work beginning on the adjacent farms.
The Tawonga gap climb has such a clear start - one of the aspects of it I enjoy - allowing you to settle into a rhythm early on. It was obvious that everyone was trying not to fall into the trap of going too hard too early so with the exception of Ben’s rapid bursts, all in the pursuit of the optimal photo opportunity, we settled into a comfortable rhythm and as the km’s ticked over we were soon over the first climb and descending. There were lots of smiles on the high speed descent, eventually levelling out into a short flat section and rolling into Bright on the Great Alpine Road.
We stopped for a breakfast coffee at a bakery in bright, happy we had already completed one climb for the day, but all of us conscious that we had a lot more to go.
It is a beautiful ride out to Mt Buffalo as the road swings around to the views of the granite bluff. For Ben, Troy and Ariel it was their first time riding Buffalo, and you could sense a slight nervousness heading into the climb. While we stayed together for the initial three to four kilometres, inevitably the gaps appeared. With Ben pushing on alone up front, Troy and I behind him and Dad, Hal and Ariel settled in just to get the job done. Although I had ridden the climb only two days prior, I still fell into the trap of under estimating the distance and the grinding nature of the climb. On all decent climbs you have to find your own way of getting through it and eventually all six of us rolled up at KB’s coffee van happy in amongst a growing number of riders, tourists, motor-cyclists and bush walkers all enjoying the mountain on a summer morning.
The descent of Buffalo is a cracker. Long, super-fast curves with only 3 or 4 switchbacks to really test your braking and cornering skills – you are definitely ready for the change as you fly through the gates at the bottom. Our two freshest riders, Hal and Ben, dragged us back into Bright and we took a well-earned rest at the Coral Lee cafe, a HBC favourite.
As we approached the return climb on the Tawonga Gap, it was clear there was little nervous energy left, replaced instead with a feeling of dread. Unlike the Tawonga side, the Bright side of Tawonga Gap has a far less obvious start. Instead it begins with a series of rolling humps in the road, slowly transforming into a really solid climb. Only Hal and James had ridden it before, so that, along with the absence of km markers on the road made it just that little bit harder for the Troy, Ben, Ariel and myself. We didn't attempt to ride as a group, instead we all slowly separated, just riding at a pace we felt we could sustain. The series of rolling right turns into sharper left turns almost create a sense of Deja-vu, and left me wondering how many there could be. The humidity had spiked and the pace was slow but we all ground our way up to the look out and knew that the best part of the day was close. Another 20km of descending and then spinning back to the farm saw us standing in the clear pools and rapids of the Kiewa River and an end to our day.
It was a long and, at times, testing ride. For some of us it was the first time on these roads and for some it set new milestones but for all of us there was the simple reward of being together on our bikes in a beautiful part of the Victorian Alps.