The Stonefly circuit at Mt Buller holds a cross-country race as part of the Shimano Bike Buller Festival. What's it like racing an adventure ride?
By: Sebastian Jayne
The rugged beauty of Mt Buller has long been sought after as an escape from the everyday grind of life. The chance to string together adventure across the highest peaks of Australia via the criss-crossing spider web of singletrack goodness on offer is hard to pass up. If the adventure is with your mates it can be a good chance to catch up and spend a weekend away or if it’s a solitary pilgrimage to the Alps, that’s ok. But if you’re after a bit more community, the Shimano Bike Buller Festival can be a great way to not only seek out adventure but also seek out something more.
The three-day festival of all things bike kicks off with a 30 km cross-country loop of the finest variety. It encompasses the who’s who of Mt Buller’s singletrack sections. Gangs Gangs and Corn Hill are perennial favourites and throwing them together with the epic Stonefly loop creates something that challenges every rider and rewards them just as much. In the past, the Buller trails have been noted to be crumbling like a fine crème brulee. Weathering away towards the perfect back country adventure and not a gentle flow trail liaison that’s expected.
Racing an adventure may seem counter intuitive. Aiming to get away but with the added stress and time constraints of a race. But that is exactly what makes racing an adventure something so special. You don’t have time to Instagram your way around the trails and views. You just experience them all in one rolled up hit. You attack the descent with feverish disregard of health in hopes of chasing down whoever is making those dust plumes erupt in front. Only thinking later how gnarly that section really was or how close you came to crashing but didn’t, and rode it out thanks to the adrenaline hit of competition.
The Stonefly loop is a great example of this, as a gentle meander it is not. In the elite men’s race this year, the leading five were wheel to wheel leading into the loop. Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston was in the lead with Cam Ivory, Reece Tucknott, Kian Lerch-Mackinnon and myself in chase. I did drop off as the ascent took its toll, so then it was time for that solo adventure. I could see the group through the snow gums as the course switched back on itself and I could hear the noises of riders behind or maybe it was the ‘wildlife’ as we startled their morning grind.
I’m sure it was a shock to the wildlife with such an adrenaline fuelled raucous breaking what otherwise would have been a pristine alpine morning. The air was still, the sun was shining and the views on offer stretched out for miles just to remind you where you were. The tracks are designed to offer you brief but expansive views of the surrounding ranges that even when your deep in the throes of battle you can still enjoy the beauty.
That battle on the Buller trails is often against the trail itself and less your adversary. Even when you’re wheel to wheel it is the trail trying to break you. Pushing you to take just that little bit too much speed into an uphill switchback and wash out on the black silk dirt. Or, the rock gardens that seem to come from nowhere and grab your wheels to stop forward momentum when you’re climbing. But then the tide turns on the way down and it’s up to you to dish out some punishment. Sliding through berms and sending up plumes of dust, not that you’re looking backwards to check though, as the next section of rock is coming up fast.
I’m sure this news of dust plumes is new to both the winners of the men’s race with Brendan Johnston winning the men's race and in the women’s race Kathryn Mcinerney. To Reece and Cam and to Karen Hill and Sarah Tucknott that came second and third, respectively, those plumes would have offered a tantalising carrot to chase throughout the day. With a blistering finishing time around the two-hour mark, I would find it surprising if any rider could describe every epic moment of the day. For me I remember the drifts, the views, the friends, new and old, and, of course, the pain but also the reward. Would I have got all that on a solo adventure? Probably not.