It felt like just last week the forest ride in the Dwellingup 100 was happening and now it was time to travel further south for the Southern Peaks event in Albany. Having completed last year’s 37 km course I knew 2019 would be another adventure. The day before the race I was doing some sightseeing with Dad and from the convoy walk and lookout we were able to preview the ‘lay of the land’ which dare I say was incredible to see all that hilly scenery divided by blue ocean. A bit crazy to think I was going to ride all that way back into town the next day during the Southern Peaks race.
Stage one of the 37 & 50 km mountain bike course commenced following a count down on the airstrip at Maitraya Estate, surrounded by views of rolling farmland. Albany for sure was treating us all to some pleasant riding weather and the course unfolded through the estate along changing terrain from pot holed grass to a short pinch climb called Hill of Shame, one that physically challenged my ‘hike the bike’ choice. Feeling a bit off in the stomach I slowed right down in this stage and walked sections of the sandy hill track and Mt Richard road climb. It was a strange turn of events but the first decent descent was joyous and as I was keen to dismiss the current situation, I focused on enjoying the natural scenery through Gull Rock National Park and one nice stretch of compact sand where I felt like I was really putting a dent into the course. To the side of the track wildflowers and the beautiful Scarlet Banksias coloured the bush, spring season in Western Australia is pretty special. Stage one ended under tree cover descending quickly along a trail adjacent Oyster Bay to the well deserved timed stop at Voyager Park.
Several other riders also made it to Voyager Park and we boarded a small barge with the bikes. Cutting through the sparkling turquoise waters with smiles all the way to Emu Point, it sure was a bit of a novelty to be on the water during a mountain bike race.
Disembarking at Emu point, I rested for 20 minutes or so and attempted to settle my stomach with a cheese sandwich from the backpack, though I wasn’t very hungry and ate only half of it. I eventually set off towards Albany town just before 2:00 pm with a twinkle in the eye and a new found wave of energy. The second stage was going to continue through a host of varying ground and scenery. First up was the beautiful stretch of Middleton Beach through salty air, the tyres rolled nicely on the compact sand (woohoo!) I followed a local who I ended up riding with for quite a while, both of us suffering through the challenges together with some good humour along the way. He leads me all the way to the beach end and up the stairs to the board walk. It’s warm now and a group of us chip away at the hill riding on a boardwalk, ocean views to the left and then into a most enjoyable and easy winding path descent.
I cross the road and carry the bike up a few wood steps, leading to the thrilling (and tiring) chase around and up sections of Mt Adelaide and Mt Clarence. The course opens as quickly underneath the Anzac National Centre as it moves away from it. A sign appears and I groan momentarily at the uphill view ahead, it’s the ACDC climb and music sounds to the tune of ‘it’s a long way to the top’!! This far into the race the legs burn, but two spectators are cheering us on and I stay on the bike until reaching the top. A quick exhale at the top and I move into Pilot’s trail which is an absolute blast over granite rocks and dirt. At some stage, perhaps before or after Pilot’s trail there was a rocky descent which was highly entertaining on the bike because of the multitude of technical line choices. I think I was happy with my choices. We then traverse grass through Albany Heritage Park and on a bit of the Avenue of Honour (a tree lined spot that is a place of memorial for the ANZACs), then back onto some narrow tracks under the trees.
The 37 km participants peel away in the direction of race village and I’m slightly jealous because they’ll be having a drink soon. I follow the 50 km sign on my own knowing I have another mount to conquer, roughly 13 kms left which isn’t very far but I know it will hardly be flat. Just look at those peaks when you arrive into Albany town! I reach a feature laden section, in the form of steep log stairs and an impressive granite rock. It looked fantastic especially the granite rock, but I walk the bike down. Then I’m on a descending dash through town where traffic controllers with precise timing allow me to clear 3 intersections without stopping – sweet! Up to Mount Melville I go and it wouldn’t be a mount without a long climb, but this time on the road so I stretch my back a little whilst the legs continue to pedal. Mount Melville turns out to be the highlight for the day and worth delaying a drink for, because of all the granite sections and fabulous views right from the bike seat. There was an impressively long and steep descent, but I walked it. After this race I definitely want to aspire to ride these descents that I walked! Late afternoon draws to a close and it is just me and Mount Melville for what feels like an eternity, but as the course does a sort of loop back, I spot some riders and motivation kicks in. The finale of features unveils a massive (WA terrain) granite roll over, which in hindsight was probably trickier to walk. Exiting Mt Melville on a sweet flowing section is just what I needed to make up for the regret of not riding down the finale. A brief sightseeing opportunity arises as I cycled under the Amity (a replica of the vessel which bought explorers to Albany) before crossing to Albany Peace Park (a view of the harbour where ships left for Gallipoli) along the foreshore. As I make my way up the pedestrian bridge folks call out words of encouragement. It’s a wonderful finish line on Stirling Terrace in front of the pubs to the sound of music booming and the cheering crowd. What a way to experience Albany I think and I don’t have to go very far to find a cold bevy afterwards!
The Southern Peaks mountain bike festival has brought me down to Albany two years in a row now and I am fairly hopeful a return will happen next year because I just love the challenge of the cross country course and the supportive energy amongst riders is also something really special, though not unheard of in this sport. The Southern Peaks weekend is a multi day event of jumps, downhill and cross country mountain biking events that bring together a range of people who simply love to ride their bikes and also something free to ‘wow’ spectators. Although this year I entered the challenge on my own, I certainly didn’t feel alone. Taking advantage of the free shuttle from town I mingled with some riders at the race start line, a mix of locals and Perth people. During the race I buddied up to some riders and then it was drinks and watching the jump fest into the late evening.
If you are contemplating 2020, I would say give it a good go because the best thing about the cross country event is you can ride at your own ability on a course that will treat you to an adventure through some beautiful Albany landscape and views. 50 kms is a challenge to grow from, 37 kms is a taste and 17 kms is good starting point.