I’ve written briefly before about the pros and cons of riding alone and with other people; the trade off between companionship and alone time, safety and freedom, sharing the experience and taking that impromptu detour. Having not ridden by myself for quite some time, I decided to take the opportunity to get away by myself for two and a half days. I wanted to clear my head after a rough week by treading some familiar territory, enjoying the forest casually and taking some photos without the pressure to keep moving.
Battling the tail end of a cold, my progress was slow. I made my way up the mountains late in the afternoon; later than I was hoping. Golden sun rays shone through the treetops as the landscape changed from open woodland on undulating hills to dense forest on steep slopes. Last light lit up the hazy smoke from hazard reduction burns that lingered on the ridgeline. Day turned to night halfway up the climb. I continued to struggle more than I should, with sweats and a racing heart rate making me second my decision to continue on. Plan A gave way to Plan B. Instead of staying at Bendora Hut I stopped at the Bulls Head picnic spot, cooked dinner in the dark and slept under a stone walled shelter after watching for shooting stars.
Although the previous day didn’t quite go to plan, my spirits were lifted when I woke early to see that low cloud cover gave the entire area the look of heavy fog. Keen to make an early start so as to get to Bendora Arboretum while the fog was still around, I cooked breakfast in the dark, packed quickly and headed off as darkness lifted.
The air was completely still and the only sounds were the gravel under my tyres, the drips of condensation falling from eucalyptus leaves and lyre birds that scurried as I passed. The blue tinge of early morning light refracted through the dense fog and transformed the forest into a magical scene. This place I’d ridden dozens of times before was now unlike I’d ever experienced it before.
Before long I reached the arboretum, the sole remnant of 21 government research stations set up to study silviculture and forest management. Bendora, in particular, was established in the 1940s to see which species of trees would grow well commercially in Canberra. Now it is heritage listed.
I strolled casually through the stands of pine, larch, spruce and cypress. Situated deep in the middle of a national park dominated by eucalypt forest, it feels like stepping into another world, or at least another continent. Six or so Flame Robins flitted from branch to branch, the males sporting unmissable bright red chests. They tolerated my company but kept their distance. The silence was haunting yet soothing, like the relief after being frightened by a friend in the dark. I took it all in, breathed deep and finally savoured the alone time.
For the next few hours I rode slowly up the ridgeline, the patchy fog now thinning. While eating an early lunch atop Mt Franklin I watched the clouds clear over the valley below and reveal a familiar scene. In keeping with the casual vibe established so far I decided to head to Pryors Hut, chill out and catch up on some reading. The dappled sun shone through the snow gums, a light breeze blew and the temperature was a perfect 21°. I lay down on the most perfect patch of grass outside the hut and read. Once again I was kept company by a small flock of Flame Robins.
The afternoon passed and Mt Gingera, looking down from on high, called to me with the tempting promise of a killer sunset from one of the highest points in the ACT. Not used to moving without my bike, I traipsed up the walking trail, passing through fields of yellow and pink paper daisies while keeping an eye out for snakes.
The ride and walk there were worth it for the sights atop the boulders at the peak, with nearly 360° views from Canberra to Mt Kosciuszko. It was just me and the birds twisting tightly like dogfighting jets close above, their wings cutting through the air with a high pitched screech. At least it was just me and the birds, until two friendly hikers arrived, having climbed up from Corin Dam via Stockyard Spur. Having been alone for more than 24 hours, I wasn’t too disappointed about sharing the sunset. And what a sunset it was, with the low-hanging smokey haze being lit up in vibrant reds, oranges and purples.
Light gave way to dark and I parted ways with the hikers. Once again I was by myself. I descended the trail by the light of my headlamp, filled up with water at a stream and made my back to the hut under starlight.
The shelter of the hut gave a good night’s sleep and I woke just before first light. The sun rose in front of me as I ate breakfast on the hut’s doorstep. A light breeze had cleared the haze from the day before and stopped any fog forming so bright golden rays streamed through the forest canopy.
Having already climbed to one of the highest points, the ride back down was delightfully gentle. I stopped again at Bulls Head for water and spotted two other cyclists drinking tea. Turns out it was my friend Tashi and his friend Ivan, who’d also ridden up in the dark, just a night after I did. They finished their tea and we headed down Bendora Road together, crossed the Cotter River and headed back along the little known Pipeline Road. It was good to have the company of friends for the final part of my weekend away, to have the best of both worlds in a great part of the world.