The time had come to start the Big HuRT, due to work commitments we were unable to make Grand Depart so opted for an ITT, kicking off on Tuesday 24th September. We had a stopover at Sebbeth’s in Canberra and caught up with some good peeps. Arrived in Woy Woy on Monday after I had accidentally pushed the window windup button not realising Al’s fingers were on the outside, after a few yelps I wound it down and not too much damage was done! Went out for dinner and went to pay but realised both of us had taken our money/cards and put them into a bike-bag-dude bags so had no money to pay!! That night we got minimal sleep in between Al coughing up a lung on the tailend of a cold, bogans doing burnouts in a 2 stroke motorbike, bogans yelling in the main street and police sirens keeping us awake.
7am departure from the bakery saw us head out on a 30km loop with some cool singletrack and wicked views, we had some steep hike-a-bike sections (HAB) (up and down) and some moonscape rocks that were really fun. Back into Woy Woy for a danish, water refill and toilet stop before heading out for another 40km loop, but not the most aggressive magpie on the planet decided to have his say. Some pretty steep climbs combine with moments of hmmm…. how am I going to get up that and is that really where the track goes? On hindsight this hike a bike wasn’t even that bad compared to what we were in for the next day!! Came into Gosford at the 70km mark and downed some powerade, chocolate milk, vegemite scroll and restocked for the next part. Although overcast, the temperature was in the high 20’s and we had lost a few bit of fluid! We realised then that if we wanted to achieve the initially planned 160k’s that day we would miss the next 2 resupplies and would be required to carry enough food for 12hrs of riding plus dinner and breakfast. Knowing there was some epic HAB we discussed camping near the 125k mark so we could wake up and have breakky at the next resupply. On this next section of trail I think is where we encountered “Chads Fault” I had read about this and was fearing the moment the waypoint comment would pop up on my garmin, but secretly hope it would just pop up so I could get it over and done with. It was a scetion of trail that apparently is only 400m long, however it really does take an eternity to get through. It’s like a dense bushland with razorsharp branches that you must get through somehow. Gloves and sunglasses are a must and if it wasn’t so hot I would have put arm and leg warmers on as when I did finally emerge into freedom I was covered in bad-ass scratches from head to toe! Not only were there sharp, stiff, painful branches stabbing us at every move, there were massive rutts and a few huge holes that you had to try to navigate your bike and body around without falling down. It was gnarly. It was stupid. It sucked.
Turns out we wouldn’t even make the 125km mark, as the course got epically hard. HAB is all we did for the next 6 hours. On the Great North Walk we entered the rainforest and carried our bikes up and down massive boulders and on slippery mossy stones that weaved their way up and down the mountains diagonally, trying to position the bike to help leaver myself up or down without slipping was tiring and at times scary. I rode past a massive green and black snake and then later on as night fall I came across a sign explaining it was a python, mix this with having been on the bike for 13 hours = from then on all I saw was pythons. A branch wrapped itself around my rear wheel and I thought it was a python, a bright green leaf in my head light and I thought it was a python ready to strike. I was intent on getting close to the shop but when I came across Al asleep in his bivvy at 10pm after with 107km on the Garmin, I decided I too would stop. (14hrs riding and 1 hour of stops) That was the slowest 107km of my life and I’m sure always will be!!
I didn’t sleep very well, it was a windy night and I had setup my bivvy on an incline. Doh.
Up at 530 and packed everything up. Finally got my sleeping bag and bivvy on to my bike and then realised I had no socks. I spent 15 minutes looking for them, surely I didn’t leave them in my sleeping bag, which takes me the longest to pack!! Yep apparently I did, so I quickly unpack and repack it and then I was on the trail again, through some awesome single track, more HAB and a gnarly descent we made it to the Yarramalong store. Inhaled the best toastie of my life, a coffee and stocked up on chocolates, one lady stopped for a chat and told me “you poor girl, look at your legs they are so filthy you can have a shower at my house”, I thanked her but explained I would only be getting dirtier as the week went on!!
The next 7.5 hours were in the baking sun, up some massive long climbs and through some big-ass motto rutts, we spent a good few hours HAB and going down some gnarly rutted out descents. Legend Ross Cairns and one of the course designers came out to say g’day and take some photos. Some massive boulder HAB and descends, one in particular involved me slipping down a boulder on my butt and the bike landing on top of me with the burning hot rotor scolding my leg.
Later on that arvo things got abit scary, we had both run out of water and had enough food to get to the next resupply, and according to the notes the next town’s shops would close at 5.30, it was 5 and we were stuck on some awesomely fun singletrack but hard to enjoy as we weren’t sure if we were going make resupply and were both making navigation errors. Al had a stack and banged his knee and was suffering the effects of dehydration. We made it into Cooranbong at 5.20, and a friendly MTB’er who had been following us on trackleaders came down to say gday which was lovely, meanwhile I inhaled the tastiest vanilla slice, lemonade, powerade, chocolate milk, then headed to a take-away shop which was in fact open until 8 and ordered chips and a vegie burger, Al met up with me there and after a few mouthfuls of fish and chips threw them up, he was suffering from heat stroke and was not in a good way. I decided to stay with him awhile as he tried to rehydrate, he also made a call to Rosco as he was worried about his knee. We headed out into the dark and came across the longest HAB piece of s&i4 hill pushing our bikes up in disbelief as it JUST KEPT GOING!!!
We were soon having a ball on the single track at Awaba MTB Park but after 12.5hours of riding/walking in the hot sun we were both cooked and setup camp in the park!
I got up earlier than Al, polished off my vegie burger from the night before and finished the Awaba loop, what I thought would be an easy hour descent into next resupply was in fact a 2.5hour slog on shitty motto track with massive ruts that I had to walk most of. At 9.00 rocked in to Freemans Waterhole and had an icypole and subway footlong, the temperature was already roasting and it appeared at the pace we were both going it would be 7 hours before we got to the next resupply.
Big climbs, more HAB, really really hot, really really windy. The conditions were very similar to Black Saturday, high 30’s, really windy, like being in a hairdryer. The bush was really dry, I remember riding through the bush and hiding under my bike hoping a branch wouldn’t fall on me, I have never been so scared in my life. I had long run out of water and had eaten 1 mars bar in 7 hours. I kept finding myself off the trail and at one point I came off the correct track and on to a fire road which had whirly-winds swirling dust everywhere, I couldn’t see more than 10cm in front of me, I even rode up to a pile of metal which from a distance I thought was Al laying on the road. There was a gnarly descent but I was unable to enjoy it as I was stopping to check my garmin every 10 metres to make sure I was on the right track and was feeling nauseous, so thirsty and suffering the symptoms of dehydration. All I could think was, this is perfect fire conditions, and when a helicopter appeared above me, I started to wonder if there was indeed a fire nearby, and how I would not stand a chance against it if there was, there would be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
After what felt like an eternity I found Al outside a takeaway shop, bought a gaterade and sat down to ring Ross asking about fires as I was seriously concerned and felt mighty unsafe out in the bush, and wonky with dehydration. And this is where I made an epic mistake. For some reason I thought we would ride past a heap of shops coming straight in to Newcastle, for some unknown reason, I think perhaps because I wanted to keep up with Al who was heading out and I wasn’t thinking due to being dehydrated, and I didn’t fill up my water bladder.
The course didn’t take us past any other shops, it took us into the bush again, and for the next 2 or so hours I tried to ride and push my bike with no water/fuel. I have collapsed from dehydration in the past, I know the signs and symptoms and I knew I was heading that way, which sent me into a panic, I was starting to feel drunk, woozy, my arms weak and unable to push my bike, my legs gone unable to climb, I was thinking, what if I collapse out here? (Al wasn’t riding with me at this stage) and I started hyper-ventilating with panic and then trying to calm myself down. I could hear the road, I could see it on the map, I phoned Al who told me if I continued on the trail it would send me back in to a valley with HAB, he told me to try to get to the road. I was unable to make any decisions at this point and knew if I didn’t get water soon I was in serious trouble. It took me about 15 minutes to go the 50m to the road, through dense barb-wire like scrub, it took a lot of focus to ride in a straight line so I did not get skittled by all the buses/cars/trucks hurtling down the highway.
Made it to a bottleshop and bought a heap of water and powerade and lied out the front in the shade trying to drink it. Soon after Al made his way in and took a seat. I jumped on the HuRT facebook page and saw a post about the fires in the Hunter Valley, looked at Al and said, you’re welcome to keep going but I’m going to the train station now. He said “sometimes being a good adventurer is knowing when to finish up, so you can have another adventure another day.”
It took us a nearly 45 minutes riding up hills in Newcastle to find a train station, got on the train and back to the hotel. Straight to bed, woke up the next day feeling like I’d been hit by a mactruck, and turned on the TV to hear there were 60 fires in the Hunter Valley and one had been deliberately lit by a 16yr old right where we were about to ride into. This made me feel sick, how could someone do that???
This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I felt sick and exhausted for the following 5 days, felt way more smashed after this than GDT and 24 hour solo’s combined. I learnt a lot, I am now much more confident with my garmin, gear setup, and I needed to carry much more food and water. I think I would have had more chance of finishing had the conditions been more favourable, but I do think I was under prepared with lifting my bike and HAB and if anyone is thinking about doing this make sure you do LOADS of HIKE A BIKE and upper body strength!! As much as the epic amounts of HAB sucked, the views were EPICALLY AMAZING, the singletrack awesome and the challenge MASSIVE!!! I look forward to training more specifically now I know what I’m in for to have another crack at finishing The Big HuRT. Thanks to Rossco and B-Rad for making an epic course!!