THE SOUP BOYS ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE AUSTRALIAN ALPINE (S-WORKS) EPIC™ tRAIL
While some tried to distract themselves from missing the Tour Down Under with long days on Beach Road or Boulie repeats, our man Benno, rocking a fresh as all hell Seafolly bumbag, and aboard a bike we will soon be profiling, took a drive down from the Soup Boys Regional HQ in Albury/Wodonga to take in the goodness of Mt Buller and surrounds. The first of what will be many in the future, and with rare based insight, we (namely; he) provide you with a Soup Boys Ultimate Guide to a Friday prayer service at the Dirt Church.
Disclaimer: This is a work of pure non-fiction. However, names, characters, businesses, places, events and/or terms such as Epic™, Tarmac™ etc. are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual bicycl–I mean people, are purely coincidental. Carry on.
I have wanted to make the pilgrimage to Adelaide for the last 3 years now, and I thought that 2017 would finally be my year. Taking the day off on the Friday after Australia Day would enable four days of race viewing and premium chilling...if it were on that week. Thanks to some major reshuffling of the Australian Summer of Cycling and the sands of time, the TDU was held a week earlier, meaning no Australia Day weekend on Willunga Hill and no TDU for me. What it did leave me with however was a Friday off work, and while not a Sunday I felt the desire to both thank the lords for thy blessings, and repent for the sin of having not ridden my bike for a couple of months. So like a couple trying to rekindle their love, I went in search of a higher power at the fabled Dirt Church.
Waking on the Friday morning brought my typical breakfast of champions routine, followed by seeing my girlfriend off for work (sucker!). From the Soup Boys Regional HQ to Mansfield and its surrounding wonders it's about a 2 hour drive, or 1 hour depending on the playlist and wind direction. From my girlfriends place in Stanley it was quiet back roads all the way, heading via Everton, Milawa and the King Valley, and Tolmie. The early morning drive was truly magical, despite forcing myself to miss out on the heavenly Golden Arches belonging to the much loved Glenrowan McDonalds.
Now one issue I had to overcome was the geographical and logistical problems of doing the Epic™ trail on my own. See the thing is that the trail starts at the top of Mount Buller, asking you to then flog it down to the bottom, meaning that the 16km tarmac™ climb up would be the first thing on our agenda. My 29er hard tail is pretty efficient but it's still a mountain bike. It has fat tyres and weights 5kg more than a road bike so I was pretty comfortable with my warm up by the time I made the start of the single track (find details on the road climb here – we will provide proper road coverage soon). Sharing a poignant moment with myself, and taking the opportunity to catch my breath it was showtime. Let me take you through it all.
III: SECTOR ONE
For those not in the know, the Alpine Epic™ Trail is the first and only IMBA certified Epic™ trail in Australia. This means it has to be a true backcountry wilderness kind of ride that contains hella single track and remains technical in nature. The first sections of trail out of the village were familiar to me from previous visits and included Gang Gangs, a fun undulating trail that shares its name with the native bird and Max P lyrics, and serves as a warm up for the day ahead.
Corn Hill is then summited using a mix of tight singletrack switch backs and steep fire roads. Plunging down the other side was a flat out fire roads before another fun section of singletrack (Wooly Mammoth) welcomed you with open arms, then provided you with the kind of tight hug expectant of a Mediterranean matriarch.
IV: SECTOR TWO
Stonefly is another of Mount Buller's star attractions. The Epic™ trail utilises the long, often technical Stonefly climb up to the top of Mount Stirling where you are surrounded by well maintained huts at both ends of the trail. The preceding descent is a real treat, and I would have loved to have hit it up if I had the time. While it isn't included in the Epic™ trail its totally worth doing (if you're willing to double up on the climbing). From the top of Stonefly, the Epic™ heads downwards on a series of really fun fire roads past the Salt Lick Hut. Super, super fun, but a bitter pill to swallow, and not the kind of reward I was searching for after such a long and draining singletrack climb. Looking out from the trail at this point you could see a great view back towards the Buller village, and it's here you realise how far you've come...emotionally, physically and geographically...and how far you've got left to go. Short pinch climbs split up the generally flat or downhill run, passing Razorback Hut and helping tick over 1900m total climbing so far.
V: SECTOR THREE
The final descent honestly couldn't come soon enough. And it was absolutely incredible. Finally it was as if my prayers to the higher heavens had been answered. Smooth berms and rollers had the bike picking up like a steam train and all the sore muscles were forgotten as your full focus was on cutting through the trees with surgical precision (fortunately I was a highly renowned Operation Champion by my extended family, shouts to Milton Bradley). It honestly felt like it went on forever, but timed at close to 17 minutes not counting the bonus 4WD descent afterwards. The steep and smooth hill only punctuated by large spoon drains that felt more akin to the long Ski jumps seen at the Winter Olympics. After five more minutes of my best Eddie The Eagle impersonation I was back on the valley floor and had a short pedal back up to the finish. Rolling back towards the car I thought back to all those who, when the trail first opened if the final descent was worth the ride. Honestly it's a bit hard to say. I don't think it would be as special if you could just drive or shuttle to the top. I'm a big believer in earning your turns and boy do you earn them on this Epic™.
VI: DON'T DO WHAT BENNO DON'T DOES
- Try and include the Stonefly descent into your adventure. A must try.
- Bring some friends, it would be mad fun with a whole #squad – regardless of experience levels.
- Bring spares and first aid – some spots are very isolated and in the absence of both Steve Irwin and Russell Coight I'll be the one to remind you that some spots on the trail are very isolated and anything can happen in the Aussie bush.
- Ride this trail, the final descent needs to be experienced for yourself. A real thing of beauty.
- Skip the Maccas on the way there. Sure the playlist was fire, the roads quiet...but those Golden Arches forever left me yearning for the rest of the day. The stomach screamed out for hash browns.
- Drink an Iced Coffee at Mansfield, let alone one of a non-Kiewa variety before spending over an hour ascending a categorised mountain climb.
- Ride your mountain bike up the Tarmac™ of Mount Buller, it truly sucks as much as you'd think it would.