Beating fear

After spending a lovely week in Melbourne, catching up with friends, doing a little work, hanging around, it was time for me to head home. Not directly, of course, but another 3-day adventure ride!

Our plan was to explore a bit of the coast between Orbost & Mallacoota – we had thought of going there after new year, but called that trip short.

We’d had a discussion during the week about my riding skills. Well, a long email (R), lots of sulking (me), some hard thinking about what kind of riding I want to do long term (me) and a couple of follow-up discussions. Long story short – fear is holding me back.

My fear (though a healthy one of crashing) makes me ride too cautiously, which makes the bike harder to manage. This makes the fear worse, then tires me out. This makes me slower, until I feel every rock and rut and bump in the road, and ride like a nanna because of it.

It’s only when I push myself to focus and go faster that things start to smooth out and riding becomes a little easier. The problem is staying focused…especially with so many lovely rivers to swim in! Once I stop and relax, it’s hard to push myself again. And the less I push myself, the less I learn, and the longer I spend nanna riding. If you read between the lines in my ride reports, you’ll be able to see this pattern. To break the pattern I need the skills to be able to push myself without crashing to the ground or something similarly unpleasant.

So planning for the weekend revolved around what I really want to do with riding, and what I need to learn to do it. Riding comfortable dirt roads is a quite different thing to going exploring without knowing what’s going to happen. I really had to think about what I want to do and eventually decided that I do want the skills to be able to go exploring. I don’t want to choose a series of safe roads because I don’t know how to go up and down hills, or because there may be sand in the way. R made a rough plan that would be fewer km than previous weeks, with options for developing my skills without pushing me too hard.

But first I had to get there.

Day 1: F*** it’s hot!

Map of the route from Melbourne to Marlo

Slabbing it from Melbourne to Marlo

The whole of eastern Australia had been in a heatwave for a week. Melbourne had seen consistent 44℃ temperatures. The forecast for Friday was no different. I had about 400km to cover and hoped to get away early enough to get through some km before it started to heat up.

I had about 2 hours of OK temperatures, then they started to climb. The last 2 hours was awful. Everything was furnace-hot. I stopped every half hour, drank water and soaked my t-shirt. I was very glad I’d bought my new jacket & pants – they both have excellent venting so the air can flow through and cool me off (home-made evaporative cooling). I closed the vents in my helmet and shut my visor to reduce the hot air flowing across my face. I just rode minute to minute. It was tiring and draining. My poor tyres!

At last I reached Marlo, where the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees. We were staying at Jungle Beach campground, about 15km away & I headed there straight away.

As I turned onto the road to the campground, I noticed it was gravel, and there was sand in the corners. Immediate nervous reaction! I rode the 2km like I had never seen dirt before – I just couldn’t settle my nerves. Naturally, that made me anxious about the weekend. I had a nap and went into Marlo for dinner (but abandoned that – the pub was full and I really wasn’t up to eating alone in a full pub); bought beer and came back to cook soup instead. I was better both times on the road, but my head was still doing me in. I thought up a few excuses (blazing bushfire to the North, not far away) but knew I wasn’t actually going to wimp out.

R arrived, we talked about the plan and went to sleep. While we were asleep, the sea breeze came in, then a stronger wind, bringing cooler weather. It also brought an endless hail of noisy gumnuts on our tin-roofed caravan annex – that was one of the strangest sleeps I’ve ever had.

Day 2: Killing the sand demons

Map of Marlo to Mallacoota, via Bemm River and Cann River

Marlo to Mallacoota, via Bemm River, Cann River and Point Hicks

Our plan today was to get to Mallacoota, with a ride of about 260km (all new roads to both of us). R had said there were likely to be some stretches of sandy track, but I hoped there weren’t too many.

I led off, so I didn’t have to eat his dust, and he didn’t have to constantly watch over his shoulder. It wasn’t very long before I spotted the first sandy part of the track.

I hesitated for just a second, then remembered what I’d done last week and what we’d talked about. Weight back, throttle steady, look at where I want to go. The front wheel wobbled about for a while, then bit into firm ground and just kept going. That was OK. Then there was another bit. And another. About 20 minutes of it! At the end I was running on adrenaline, panting a bit, but hadn’t hesitated. I was shaking and needed to sit down for a bit, but felt amazing. R was just a little bit surprised – he’d thought I’d see the sand and stop. He showed me some better technique (I wasn’t moving my weight back far enough) and we continued.

I can hardly remember the next section of the ride – I think it was a fairly decent gravel road, with some corners, some sandy parts, some rocky parts. But the end result was that we ended up in Cann River (via Bemm River) and R said he had never seen me ride so well. He was right too!

After a burger, we headed out to Point Hicks Lighthouse. Again, normal gravel road. The gate on the lighthouse road was closed, and it was a 2.2km walk up. It’s quite picturesque.

Point Hicks Lighthouse

Point Hicks Lighthouse

After that, we’d planned to take the Cicada Trail. This was my first trail on this bike – everything else had been ‘road’. It started with a lumpy downhill, to a creek crossing. I am incredibly embarrassed to say that I chickened out on what was a quite shallow creek crossing. I don’t know what was going on, but even though R took my bike across and back a couple of times, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The impossible creek (far out, I'm a wimp!)

The impossible creek (far out, I’m a wimp!)


Then on the other side of the creek I couldn’t get the bike off the side stand, and by the time I finished the ascent out of the creek, I needed a Gatorade, cool down and a rest.
Having a rest on the Cicada Trail

Having a rest on the Cicada Trail

I was enjoying the trail – there was lots of variation – dirt mounds, sand, rock, corners, ruts and branches. I do like picking my way through a trail, finding the best line, figuring out what to do next. We rode for about 12km before I realised how badly I was starting to ride. Again, my pace was way too slow for the bike and trail, and my corners were woeful (however, every time I hit sand, apparently I got some really good speed up, even around corners). We decided to cut out to the road and abandon the rest of the trail. On the way out, I had a lesson in crossing logs and did the most embarrassing thing ever by asking R to ride my bike through what turned out to be a hard-based PUDDLE! He has permission to tease me forever for that one.

We rode to the highway, then to Mallacoota, where we got the second-last campsite, right on the water.

The campsite - you can't see the neighbours, but we can hear them

The campsite – you can’t see the neighbours, but we can hear them

The trailstar, set up with 2 mozzie nets and still plenty of room for gear

The trailstar, set up with 2 mozzie nets and still plenty of room for gear

The camp ground was close-packed and relatively gross, but had HOT SHOWERS. I walked to the shop for beer & groceries, cooked completely revolting soup, went to bed at 9pm and wished people would just shut up.

Day 3: The great luggage switch

Map of route from Mallacotta to home

Mallacoota to home, via Imlay Rd and Bobeyan Rd

Sunday was just a day to get home. I planned to take Imlay Road, then some back roads across to Bobeyan Rd (the dirt road I always leave home on). R planned on finishing the track we hadn’t done yesterday, then slab home.

I wasn’t loving my new luggage, and R had wanted to try it. I had planned to buy the luggage he had, but thought I couldn’t put it on my bike without a frame, so didn’t buy it. When I looked at how it worked on his bike, I realised it could work on mine without a frame. So we switched – he went home with a Giant Loop Coyote and I came home with Andy Strapz pannierz. I’ll write a separate post comparing them. If we both are happy, we’re just going to keep them.

The wrap up

This was yet another interesting weekend. On one hand, my skills ramped up dramatically. I am no longer scared of sandy tracks (I may not be riding the Simpson Desert any time soon though). Except for when I was almost exhausted, fear didn’t rule me. On the other hand, I still am trying to control the bike (instead of letting it move around under me), am completely rubbish at cornering and am hitting exhaustion earlier than I’d like.

But I have 2 plans. Plan 1 is that two friends have offered me paddock space to practice all the low-speed manoeuvres I need to learn how to tip the bike in and balance with my feet (I need this skill to do it at speed). Plan 2 is to find a route to ride regularly, focusing on improving every single time. I will enact this plan in the next two weeks. I will probably even tell you about it…

I also have some gear sub-plans. I need to buy a tent (we fit in R’s trailstar fairly well by making a spare bedroom with the extra mozzie net, but I can’t always do that!), buy new boots (my Gaerne Adventure boots fit beautifully but the sole just isn’t stiff enough for multi-day rides – my arches hurt like mad after 10 minutes) and buy gloves that don’t rub so much (mens gloves are wide across the palm & move around too much). Ah, the never-ending search for the perfect gear.

But first I should find beer and unpack.

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2 Responses to Beating fear

  1. Julian says:

    I can find a lot of similaraities in your offroad adventures and my own. Except you pushed on and conquered your fears! I wish I could have done the same but instead I made the decision that I was going to focus more on tarmac touring. However at some point down the track I am will have the fitness and time to learn to ride offroad properly then all I need to do is to stop worrying about crashing.

    • donna says:

      You’d be better with a lighter bike too. That’s all the difference in the world. What I did the last two weekends on the WR would have been too scary for me on the big, heavy bike.

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