THE HUNT 1000 (2017)

 

The Hunt 1000 is a journey of as many kilometres across the rooftop of Australia. Connecting Canberra and Melbourne, it follows back country trails through snow gum woodlands, and heads across exposed high country plains. Developed in 2016 by Canberran Dan Hunt, this bike packing route links some amazing campsites and historic alpine huts spread across Australia’s remote Alpine region, mixed in with some challenging hike-a-bike sections and plenty of river and creek crossings. Last year, Soup Bæs CX team rider Nick gave it a shot on his Niner. This is his story. Photo's come via Dan and James – a creek crossing wiping out Nick's own photographic documentation.

 

I: BRADDON

 

With Canberra being the home of Dan Hunt, as well as Hunt Bikes, The event itself starts in the trendy section in Lonsdale Street, littered with fancy coffee shops, pizza places and outdoor stores for last minute resupplies. I arrived the afternoon before by hire car after resigning from my role in Sydney, making the closing time of the local Budget office within a whisker.

 
 
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It was the countless Randonnée bikes leaning out the front of Lonsdale Street Roasters that was the dead giveaway for budding bike packers nearby. Just like myself, I instantly knew they would be making the most of their final hours of nice food and coffee before we would be regulated to a week of servo sandwiches, chocolates and bottles of coke.

 
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After the frantic buying of last minute supplies and equipment, later that night there was a bit of a get together out the front of a local pizza place. It was a chance to shoot the shit and bond with the other people crazy enough to undertake such a hard challenge. Talk of tyres, gear ranges and bags were order of the evening as many stood around with a beer in one hand, a slice of pizza in the other, ogling each others bikes in all their unique set up. Soon they would be taking us into the most remote pockets of the High Country.

Many were quite curious by my approach of Rig. Using a rigid cross country bike, my Inner One9 was designed solely as a single speed, but being shaken up by a shakedown a few weeks previous, I had re-engineered the gearing to a ‘Dingle’ (dual range single speed). That meant I had a gear for the hilly parts, and a gear for the flat parts. The curiosity didn’t stop at the rig – my sleeping equipment was also unique as I was one of the only few who wasn’t taking a proper shelter. Instead I was using only an emergency bivvy (bodybag) and a reflective tarp. The end result would see my setup easily being seen as one of the lightest.

 
 

II: HAPPY'S HUT

 

Nervous and exhausted smiles were in full force the following morning as we gathered out the front of the roasters, everyone frantically making sure that their tracking devices were powering on, and that they hadn’t forgotten anything. I downed my go to brew of a 7eleven $2 long, long black with cold milk alongside a banana and a mini bag of salted cashews. A 7am push off always turns into a 7:20 start, and with Dan setting off we all realised we best get going.

Cycling through Canberra’s infrastructure is quite motivating, as they have kilometres and kilometres of bike paths. A few locals had stood out the front of their homes at certain points to wave to everyone riding out into the suburbs which soon turned to single track. As we head out of Canberra, the clouds that lingered fast turned into clear sky, punctuated by a beating sun. This was a good reminder that even at high altitude, the elements were quite apparent.

 
 
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Within the first few hundred metres of singletrack my phone bounced straight out of my gas bag, leaving me equally worried and embarrassed that I wouldn’t be able to find it again. 10 riders from behind me had each rode past, announcing “Tom’s got it!” One after the other. A tall guy who both looked like he knew what he was doing and fit the profile of a “Tom” passed me my phone completely undamaged. Sheepishly I said thank you and we were back on our way.

 
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As fast as the sun had risen down came the rain. I was already up to my first hill and was pushing my bike up. I knew this would be a common theme throughout, being quite determined to potentially be the first person to finish without the full range of gears. Pulling into Adaminaby in the wet weather, I was super keen to get in and out as quickly as I could. Shopping for food while cooked and hungry can be tricky, as quite often you only get enough food for what you need straight away, not what you need in the future. The local bakery was a little annoyed that when they were looking to close early on a Saturday, 30 or 40 bearded travellers were beating down their door to take whatever they could in a classic Giro cafe raid.

 
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I pressed on up the tourist road towards Mt Kosciuszko while chatting to a guy called James who I’d run into. Thankfully he was paying attention as we nearly missed the turnoff down a fire trail for what would be the first time of many where we would kiss the blacktop goodbye for a while, and it would be the last we would see of civilisation for a little while too. An hour or so up the track we came out into an opening. The river cutting through it was quite fast, and fording it barefoot was the only way across. It was a good opportunity to laugh at the expense of others wading their way through, seeing if they’d drop their entire setup in the water.

 
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Making good time on the first day, I knew we’d soon come across our first hut. It was starting to drizzle again so I looked to take the safe option and call it in while Ben and James wanted to press on. We said our goodbyes and I took the 4km trail that stemmed off to the hut. It was a decision I started to regret as my choice for this hut meant an extra 20 minutes would be spent the next morning getting back onto the trail. As soon as I reached it and set foot on the verandah the skies opened up, but I was safe and importantly dry. I was welcomed into the hut by a hiker who’s face dropped when we saw me walking through the door. Hoping that he would get a night to himself, I assured him that it was only me. That was until we looked out over the plains to see 3 other headlights navigating their way down to our hut.

 
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III: SHRED-BRO

 

After a quick twostroke premix of instant coffee and whitener, I was keen to make headway the following morning. Much of the day was spent tackling hills that were short and punchy, most requiring to be hiked. I spent most of the day hard on the brakes going downhill, then walking slowly back on the ups. The Jagungle wilderness where I found myself is just such an untouched part of the world – so remote and undisturbed, you can’t even drive a car up there. The juxtaposition of being tortured in paradise was all too much.

 
 
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After passing the hydro station, I knew I was getting closer to a flicker of civilisation. Perisher was only around the corner and warm coffee and a hearty meal was playing on my mind. Unfortunately the whole town had closed down with the end of the ski season, the faint reminder of what was left of the busses and services simply scattered around. Instead I persevered onto Kosciuszko after a long, gentle climb. By the time I had got there the time was already 5pm and getting too late in the day to hike to the summit. The walk will need to be saved for another time.

 
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After a big feed at the local pub I opted for the comfort and shower of a backpackers, while Dan and a few of the others I’d run into wanted to press on with full bellies. I didn’t know the terrain past Thredbo, and wasn’t too keen on risking an 11pm finish in the dark.

 
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IV: CAST A LINE AT ANGLERS REST

 

I hit the road out of Thredbo early the next morning, the air very cold and all the grass snap frozen. Thanks to a nice pace throughout the morning, I stopped at 10am for smoko, rolling out my usual instant/whitener premix. The terrain was marginally flatter than the Jagungles, and I even crossed the early bends of the Murray River at a few points.

 
 
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Arriving in Omeo felt like meeting with an old friend, familiar and safe. It was the first time in the 3 days that I had seen some recognisable territory. It gave me peace of mind and made it much easier to plan and supply as I knew where everything for the next few days was.

 
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I called head to the Blue Duck Inn, knowing that the road from Omeo up to Anglers Rest was a gentle climb, enjoying the opportunity to get some kilometres down on tarmac roads while under the stars. Sunrises and sunsets are always a big kicker in long distance events, the pain and being uncomfortable is quickly overcome.

 
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V: NOT QUITE 3 PEAKS

 

It was another early start the following morning as I began the day by climbing up WTF Hill, made famous as the last climb on Bicycle Network’s 3 Peaks. I knew I’d have to walk the first section, but soon after the 10% ramp I was slowly but surely stomping it out. I made a quick pit stop at the Falls Creek Alpine Village at the top before descending down into Mount Beauty where I’d find many of the others were already busy raiding the local Foodworks of their Clif Bars.

 
 
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Instead of hitting the Tawonga Gap climb everyone knows and some people love, Dan in his unholy sketching in route-planning wound the route over another mountain instead. A dirt climb. A rather unridable dirt climb. On the face of the mountain it was crazy hot and sweat was pouring off us all as we pushed our bikes up and over into the Alpine Valley. Getting to the turnoff to Bright, issues I’d be having with my feet reared themselves once more, forcing me to make the 6km detour into Bright in search of a chemist. All they could recommend was some haemorrhoid crème and some antibacterial hiking socks to take the edge off the pain. It was tending to my ailments and cooling down in the chemist where I found out the days temperature – 36ºC.

 
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Aiming to knock out the 3rd peak (Mount Hotham) for the day, I cruised through Harrietville and decided that calling it in for an afternoon was the best option, giving me a chance to escape the heat and rest my persistently sore feet. Local MTB and long distance legend Christine Hamilton was at the local pub for a quick frothy while taking her dogs for a swim, offering up a couch to sleep on and give my clothes a quick spin in the washing machine. A godsend. A few of the others who were struggling with injuries had also taken her up on her offer, then opting to head to Wangaratta to take the train home.

 
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VI: SERBIAN UP A FEAST

 

Getting up at midnight to really get a start on the run for Licola, I managed to get to the summit of Mount Hotham fairly quickly. Knowing the Hotham to Licola section was expected to be the toughest (180km between services, a lot of it to be walked) I would need to make a dossier of stashed food. 2 Clif bars, 2 packets of noodles and 2 nut bars was not going to cut it for the next 24 or so hours of pushing hard.

 
 
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Reaching the base of Zeka Spur Track, I came across a group of Serbian Hunters who were down from Sydney on the search for deer. Their wild antics consisted of them drinking Grappa til 3 in the morning, then heading out on quad bikes to hunt deer. The conversation quickly changed topic to what the terrain looked like overhead, as it was only 35km out to the end of the track. They said it would be tough going, and seeing as the light of the day was beginning to fade I took them up on their offer to stay with them. That night I felt like I’d eaten well over a kilo of lamb, the crew offering the brains of the lamb as a sign of good fortune, something I’d need. To cap the night off was Grappa. I don’t drink, but when a big old Serbian guy dressed in full camo has a rifle in one hand, a glass of grappa extended towards you in the other, you take him up on the offer.

 
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VII: WOODS POINT? IM STUMPED

 

As the quad bikes were warmed up, and buckshot loaded I said goodbye to my new friends and venture out to the 20 or 30km of hike a bike that lay ahead. Just as I set up the drizzling rain started to come back, more or less the last I’d be dry during the Hunt 1000. The big monsoon had started to set in, and many of the other Hunt 1000 participants were calling it quits due to safety. Despite a camp set up close to the river, the hunters didn’t seem too concerned about the impending weather, living the tough-as-nails Serbian stereotype to its very core.

 
 
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Pulling up to Kelly’s hut the rain had really set in. Smoke coming out of the chimney was a sure sign someone may be in there, and low and behold a family who were out 4wd-ing had taken residence and were having lunch. They didn’t quite expect a bike packer to burst through the doors, but all were far too kind in offering what spare food and coffee they had for me. I guess they felt a little sorry for us all trekking it in the cold and wet weather.

 
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A quick pit stop in Licola had me glancing over the front cover of the Herald Sun, confirming my worst fears in the process. The shopkeeper had already told me that many of the participants coming through had already detoured away from the route, but not finishing wasn’t an option. I’d followed the line religiously, and I wasn’t going to be making any concessions now.

 
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The forest tracks down into Woods Point were horrible. My phone dead from 2 chest high river crossings, my Etrex confused to where I was, my brakes completely shot. I was regulated to walking. I could see on the navigations that I was within a couple of kilometres from Woods Points, but the forest roads were so steep and thick that I couldn’t quite work out where I was. I managed to finally pull into town where I was greeted by a big cheer from the whole pub. That night I was the talk of the town as nobody was quite sure if I would make it there.

I was really concerned about my brakes, as not only had I worn through the pads, but I nearly wore all the way through the backing plates too. Huw was kind enough to give me a set of pads and changed them over while I ate a steak the size of my head.

 
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VIII: THE PUSH

 

Locking my soaked shoes in the Woods Point Pub wasn’t the best idea. Having to call upon some of my Frankston ingenuity, I needed to break into the pub to retrieve my shoes. Dan, Huw, Al, JP and James were all going to take a few shortcuts to make it back in time, but I wanted to finish the course without deviating.

 
 
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Once I reached Warburton I was under the impression that it would be flat the rest of the way into Melbourne. How wrong I was. A climb up Mount Dandenong, over towards Eltham and then back through Ringwood is what I had to traverse on my way into the suburbs. The rain was pelting down by the time I had reached Edinburgh Gardens, and it was already dark. Everyone was waiting patiently at Commuter Cycles and as soon as I pulled in there was an enormous cheer. It was over. I didn’t need to be moving forward any more. Some close friends had brought some tracksuit pants and a t-shirt so I could finally get out of my torn and soaked clothes. I ended up unerring to my new house that night, and was so scattered I had to break in.

 
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