THE STORY OF THE 3 UNWISE MEN
A weekend tradition hijacked by the expansion of the AFL (looking at you Giants & Suns) the first weekend of October holds the Gears & Beers festival in the heart of Riverina NSW. What began in complete innocence as a backyard piss up a few years back has progressed year on year. First it moved from the backyard out onto the street, introducing a pub crawl down the main strips of Fitzmaurice and Bayliss the year after. Each pub would be left dry until there were no more pubs in Wagga Wagga left, not even the Tolland Hotel. The solution to this problem? Invite some of the hottest craft brewers from Southern NSW and Northern Victoria, pair their libations with some of the best local food around, and hope things wouldn’t run out. For the third year running the SBC were venturing to the canola fields of the Riverina for another weekend of km’s and hops based sports drinks.
I: A LITTLE YELLOW BAG
In an iconic shade of yellow, finished off perfectly with their beautiful wordmark and revolution logo; Pedla musettes are the ideal companion to your bicycle touring needs. We didn’t know beforehand, and we won’t do much to drop spoilers (please read on) but this particular weekend proved that there is absolutely no need to fork out literal hundreds of Australian dollars on proper bike packing gear, when for the price of a bite sized Melbourne breakfast menu item you can pick up all the luggage you need. Sure its not Rimowa, hell even Samsonite, but you’re the one who should be supplying the wheels.
But how about the stats? Well, the thing is made out of shit lighter than titanium, polycarbonate AND carbon. Cotton. Incredible really. It’s light as fuck, meaning that if you’re going on a weight-weenie/pack light travel far adventure you’re well sorted. It comes with a highly ergonomic shoulder strap (included & installed), and a press stud front and centre for keeping the shop well and truly shut. What can it carry we hear you ask? Adrian put this to the test for an entire day (the details of which you are about to find out) and managed to fit the following: x1 pair of sneakers, x1 pair of socks, x1 pair of underwear, x1 Limited Edition Soup Boys t-shirt, x1 pair of shorts (with belt), x4 clif bars, x1 chain lube, x3 bananas, x1 phone charger, x1 camera charger, x1 wallet (pretty light), x1 toiletry pouch containing: sunscreen, moisturiser, face wash, comb, tooth brush and toothpaste. You could argue that bike bags are more aero, and comfortable, but let us rebut with the following: why aren’t the sherpas of the Himalayas and the Andes using them?
II: FOLLOWING THE STAR
This weekend in 2015 introduced the idea of aero-bikepacking to the world, with many people still very much indebted to Benno for shedding light on such a thing. After a brief hiatus, the Rapha transfer rides held from Bairnsdale, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra would be matched by a Soup Boys edition. Three unwise men, Adrian, Okky and guest participant and late call-up Howie would make their way north, following the brightest star in the sky (the sun), where they hoped to find refuge in their destination, and to witness the birth of our saviour. But the time was 10:30am, and Adrian was pulling in to the car park of the Wodonga railway station.
11:30am: There we were, sitting in the shade opposite the Kergunyah Pony Club, sharing a few bananas and clif bars before an official departure. The sun was out, and if it wasn’t too late by almost-lunch one could say the day was shaping up nicely. Chains were cared for, bike packing strategies tested for the final time, and so began our journey north to Wagga Wagga.
12:00 noon: By high noon we had gone up and over our first climb of very few for the day, Bryants Gap – descending through Tallangatta and onto the southern shores of Lake Hume. Despite a clear blue sky, we had been hit with a few specks of rain, hoping the clear looking BOM radar wasn’t doing one over us. With a gentle tailwind we crossed through Old Tallangatta and wound up through the orchards and llama farms of Georges Creek, Mount Granya looking daunting to our east. Saving Granya for another time, we hit the gravel climb to the top of Georges Creek Road, taking in the views of another large branch of Lake Hume before shooting down the -10% descent. In 50 or so kilometres we’d come across no more than a handful of cars. Primo.
1:30pm: We’d been following another southern shore of Lake Hume for a little while, the roads rather reminiscent of a particular evening in June this year, only with the added bonus of daylight. It wasn’t too long after we passed Rocky’s new startup that we hit the Wymah ferry, our golden ticket into New South Wales via the ring of a doorbell and a wait of a few minutes.
2:00pm: The ferry ride provided us with a good opportunity to recover, make friends with the stoned dog and munch on some clif bars and fruit. Refreshed by the breeze blowing over the fresh waters of Lake Hume we jumped back aboard our bikes and towards the Wymah shop, also the reception for the local accomodation.
Never mind, they were closed. But a safe to drink tap was close by, and we were back on the road, soon adding to our gravel kilometre count a few corners later.
3:00pm: Graced with the presence of tarmac only to make it possible to get to the top of a climb just out of Wymah, we were back on the gravel of River Rd, a route which couldn’t hug the northern shore of Lake Hume any tighter. It was halfway along River Road that evidence of extraterrestrial activity became evident through motorbike burnout marks, closely surrounded by the fresh tyre marks of a small group of cyclists. Perusing Instagram later that night, we would uncover the culprit.
3:50pm: While it wasn’t all that hot, our bodies demanded that we regroup in the shade. We were back on tarmac from here to the finish, and a food break was not far off. We waved goodbye to Lake Hume and turned onto a road that would spit us out at Woomargama.
4:20pm: Tunnel Rd, New South Wales. It could have been a mix of the unexpected, the bags on our backs, the days diet of bananas, water and clif bars. It was an incline that didn’t show itself on the Strava recon, and was described as “not too bad” by Benno, lead route planner who weirdly enough was not in attendance. The initial ramp we thought would be rather difficult to get up went around a corner, and turned into another difficult ramp. Another corner revealed it would flatten, only to head skyward after the next corner. A process that continued for just short of ten kilometres, and for the most part 20%. Sitting at what he prayed was the “summit” was Adrian, sitting on the roadside eating a bag of Allen’s party mix like it was a bag of the slightly more adult type of lollies during an Above & Beyond set.
4:40pm: Still waiting. Any minute now.
4:40pm: The extended wait had resulted in shoes coming off, party mix being eaten dry, and the clif bar/banana count moving down to one each. But thanks to the quiet surrounds, the harmonious buzzing of a bicycle wheel hub echoed through the valley. The sound crescendoed to Howard coming flying around the corner, joining Adrian to curse Tunnel Rd with all of our remaining collective spite.
4:50pm: Okky rolled through, the 3 Unwise Men back together once more, gifts intact.
5:00pm: We had rolled into Woomargama, parking up at the hotel along what was the Hume Highway in the pre-bypass era. Pushing through the mirrored doors we were greeted by a number of locals and travellers who had stopped to catch the final quarter of the AFL Grand Final. Bemused by the sight of a bunch of cyclists rocking up out of nowhere, seats were pulled up to the bar, chips and pints consumed as Richmond took a win. Adrian, a lifelong Richmond supporter let it sink in silently, knowing very well that he would be returning to a sombre Soup Boys HQ with 2 other Adelaide supporters on Monday.
6:20pm: Richo had cried on the sidelines, the cup had been lifted, and Adrian’s (non Richmond) tiger tattoo had featured on a randoms Instagram account but it was time to hit the road to a slowly setting sun. Getting north of the Hume Highway would be the official passing into the Riverina, and signal the final almost entirely flat stretch of our arduous journey.
7:00pm: As the sun set over the idyllic canola fields of Morven, the three unwise men bounced down one of the roughest roads they had ever experienced. Warnings had been heeded by a local at the Woomargama pub who questioned the decision making behind taking that road, but we considered it a major over exaggeration. As our teeth rattled, and hands had to reach around to stop things popping out of our bags, he couldn’t have been any closer to telling the absolute truth.
III: FINALLY AN INN
It was just after 8pm, darkness resuming its role as our old friend for the last 45 minutes, fifteen of which was spent riding alongside a kangaroo hopping too closely for comfort down the middle of a pitch black road. The temperature hovered just above zero, the drawback to clear skies and minimal coverage from the elements. Just short of a double century we pulled into the familiar setting of the Mangoplah Hotel.
IV: NO MANGER
If the looks from the folks of the Woomargama Hotel were “bemused” then there isn’t a word fitting enough to describe those of the people inside the Mangoplah Hotel as they watched three cyclists walk in the door at 8:20pm to order pints of Lemonade. These were shortly followed by coffees and chips offered to us on the house. Instead payment would come in the form of us explaining what the fuck we were doing.
Most were a few tins deep, and following the rather predictable breadcrumbs would lead you to learning that most had heard of the Gears & Beers festival. While the Mangoplah had been an early afternoon stop off in previous years, in the dark of night and with a days worth of dust and sweat on our faces we were complete strangers, but the inner warmth of a few beers and Jack Daniel's cans, combined with the euphoria of a once in a blue moon premiership meant spirits were high, and we were welcomed with open arms. One of the locals in the pub was Dave, a man who had been working as a tattooist throughout the country for the last 35 years, rather predictably retiring to Mangoplah to kick his feet up and collect Malvern Star bikes. Not that the amount needed repeating for it was so extravagant, but Dave told us stories of his 550 strong collection of fully built Malvern Stars, dating back to the invention of the wheel. Accompanying his collection of bikes was super rare hubs of yesteryear, and old bike parts. It could have been that his stories were that captivating, or it could have simply been the fact that it was probably below 0º outside, and we still had 30km to our beds, but we let Dave entertain us with the kinds of stories only a handful of grenades can supply.
The tide of conversation quickly moved from vintage bicycles to tattoos, a keen interest towards Adrian’s tiger and bike, and Okky’s leg tattoos. It was while Dave’s wife took photos to show their 18 year old son who would think they were “fully sick” that Dave recommended that they drive us into town. There was only a few minor hiccups to that plan. First and foremost, Dave wasn’t going to be doing any driving. Second of all, he and his wife had been to the Jugiong Markets showing off some of their vintage bicycle parts, and the van in which they transported it was still full. A quick trip home to unpack the van would happen while phones were charged, second and third coffees consumed, and games of pool played. Upon their return it would be Brownie, the publican of the Mangoplah Hotel that would put his hand up to jump behind the wheel. So there it was, at 10pm on a Saturday night that we were loaded into the back of a Toyota Hiace with peeling paint and the strong smell of varnish in the back, bikes in tow, Brownie behind the wheel, Dave in the passenger seat nursing a few more for the road, the Mangoplah Hotel under the care of the patrons for a brief period. For those who have travelled down the Wagga-Holbrook Road know how bumpy it is, you should try it loose in the back of a Hiace, its a rodeo without the animal cruelty.
It took a stop off at the Tolland Hotel for a piss and more beers for the road, and ten minutes trying to find number 17 on a suburban street, but we were finally loaded out the back of the van and onto the nature strip of our accomodation. We had arrived at least sound if not safely. Dave and Brownie disappeared into the night, arguments on whether they should stop for more beers for the road fading into the darkness of night.
V: ARTIST FEATURE
For our third attendance of the Wagga Gears & Beers we enlisted the incredible talents of local artist and designer Adele Packer who gloriously put together a small postcard to commemorate the occasion. A friend of Adrian’s since the earliest of teenage years, they shared a house together at the beginning of lengthy university stints, riding fixies around regional cities before they were joined by those priced out of Sydney joined them and made it hit the mainstream. But a postcard, a feature and an introduction doesn’t come for free. We shot off a rapid fire bunch of questions for her to answer.
Let's start things off with something simple – tell us a bit about yourself:
Hi I'm Adele, a twenty something living in Wagga Wagga, NSW. I'm a freelance designer, co director/editor of the zine Salad Days and work at the local art gallery.
What drives you to create and to design?
I guess to put it simply being creative makes me feel good! Growing up I never felt very artistic because I couldn't draw or paint, however over the years I’ve discovered what I’m good at and what I enjoy making. I love tangible things - zines, collaging, textiles, print making; and I love trying new things and surprising myself.
Is there a piece of art, or a work of design that has inspired you more than any other?
Oh good question! That is difficult.. I would have to say the Guerrilla Girls “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” poster. Everything about it is genius, obviously number one is the message but also the colours, collage and type (which is Futura, my favourite font!).
Where do you see your creative career taking you?
Recently Salad Days has been exploring other initiatives outside of releasing our seasonal zines and we’ve got some exciting projects happening in 2018. We’ll be curating an exhibition for International Women’s Day and launching an independent book fair, Halfway Print Fest, in Wagga Wagga. These projects are challenging me to work outside the realm of being just a “designer” and juggle the many hats that come with projects like these. But I’m excited about what we’re doing and it’s been great branching out and trying new things.
I have been a freelance designer for four years now and as much as I love it, I’m really craving to be around other creative people when I work. In the near future I would like to be working in a studio to be around other like minded creatives and absorb as much as I can!
Long term anything arts related would be a dream!
What are your favourite things about living in the Riverina?
The landscape, community, weekend drives to neighbouring villages, eating amazing local produce and cheap rent!
Tell us a little bit about your bike, what's the story behind it?
I have a plain ol' single speed road bike. Swapped the frame for a 6 pack, which I got powder coated and then built it with my partner mostly using parts from my old bike. I love my current bike but I've had it since summer of 2015 so I feel a new project might be coming soon :)
What's a song you can't stop listening to right now?
Hey by The Pixies, it’s constantly in my head!
Describe your perfect Sunday:
Sleep in, then coffee and brekky at home in the sun. Then it would be either heading back to Bethanga to visit my fam on the farm or I'd potter about home until the afternoon then catch some food/drinks/music with friends.
Finally what was it called in high school? Downball, handball, foursquare or something else?
Downball for sure. VIC ftw.
In this modern day life of ours, who doesn’t love mail day? Whether you’re one for steady hands, or going toddler style on Christmas morning, we want you to revel in the beauty of mail day. That’s why for some spare change you can pick up a postcard delivered straight to your door. Stick it to your wall, send it to a friend, keep it as a memento for an event that you may or may not have even attended. You won’t just be celebrating the Soup way of life, and the running of the Gears & Beers festival for 2017, but you will be supporting the talents of our friend Adele. 100 percent of the funds from purchases of this limited edition postcard go straight into her pocket, what’s not to love?
VI: THE REBIRTH
Pizza that wasn’t consumed at midnight became breakfast, before the gang ventured out into the misty dawn and down to the Wagga Memorial Gardens for the official Grand Depart. Ben had driven up before the sun had risen, waking an hourly earlier than intended thanks to the coinciding of daylight savings. The gentle warmth of the sun greeted us head on as groups weaved their way through North Wagga and Estella before hitting clear air in the fields of Wagga Wagga soon after. An absence of gloves kept us awake and unable to use either our brakes or shifters for the first 20km, feeling returning to them as the mist dropped right before the entry to the second gravel sector, a rider dropping in unison for the second year running, overestimating his #cornerlikecaseystoner abilities. 1 like = 1 prayer.
It would be at Coolamon, at the official rest stop that we would all regather, swapping brief stories with other riders, chatting with the famed Spurlo Style who was the official photographer for the weekend, and to indulge in homemade Anzac biscuits, supplied by the local rotary club. A rest stop turned into a proper demonstration of procrastination as we knew the hardest part of the ride was ahead, an often windy and lumpy drag along a pretty heavy stretch of road. So it was all aboard the Soup Boys Express to Marrar, much to the voiced delight of some Sydneysiders who sucked a wheel or two.
While it was running express in every sense of the word, it did have to make a single, unscheduled stop – fortunately located at what could have been the highest point of elevation of the entire ride. Not a bad place to get our first ever puncture in the 3 years of Dirty 130 attendance. But it wasn’t all bad, the stars we had so valiantly followed the evening before had realigned, bring us a one Nick Skarajew who happened upon the scene of our rear puncture repair. With air back in the tyre, whistles wet and life saving BelVita biscuits dispersed amongst the squad, we were back on our bullshit with only the hardest gravel sector to go – those bite sized yoghurt and wheat hugs fuelling us to our fastest finish yet.
VII: THE CLEANSING OF SOULS
With the festival already underway, a rapid wardrobe change was all that stood between us and the real life manifestation of daydreamt burgers and beers, hallucinations that were getting more and more intense by the passing minute.
Our boy Josh joined us for the festivities as the squad, a picture of pure living knocked back frothy chops and burger after burger after burger, shifting from one stall to the next as they ran out of food. Soon enough all that was left were huge ass donuts, and the inviting comfort of shaded parkland to rest our weary feet and minds. Who knew the combination of Gears & Beers would be such a surefire hit. #Chapeau!