On the nose end of the working week, we packed the car and drove five hours south of Perth to Albany in the Great Southern region of Western Australia for the Southern MTB festival. Following a fun ride at the Dwellingup 100 last month I was keen to give the Albany event a go, opting for the more forgiving 37 km length.
On race day I cycle from the motel to the town centre where local tour operator Busy Blue Bus are shuttling riders to the start line, however, this also meant arriving to the private airfield with almost two hours to spare. While the cold wind persisted up on the hill, I was told it was somewhat favourable conditions compared to the sideways rain from previous years. Time passed fairly quickly as I chatted to other riders, traded trail stories and discussed the race course. I found a wind break spot behind a truck, a chance to acclimatise to the Albany cold knowing the shivering feeling would fade away once I was on the bike and pedalling.
I was mentally ready to get going but when the race commenced my response a slow one, taking a good few kilometres to find a nice rhythm.
The tight group of riders enter straight into a bush descent and down towards an inlet before coming back onto the exposed airstrip. I decide my positive mantra for the event simply will be that, I’m going to cross the finish line before sunset and anything better will be an absolute bonus.
I cycle across rolling farm land, for this race though, I’m cycling across the meadow muffin traverse. The wind nudges me side on as I dart across the slope of bumpy thick green grass with cow poo dappled here and there. I make it down and over a bridge, all without being chased by an emu, this was for sure going to be an interesting race.
I encounter an issue with my water bladder, distracting me for a while before I stop under a tree to investigate the interior of the backpack, discovering I hadn’t clipped in the nozzle to the bladder properly which was restricting the water flow. I could only laugh at myself at the technicality because all that time on the airstrip and I didn’t think to check my equipment. I was so relieved to drink some water.
A small group of us approach a very cool natural grassed amphitheatre, I have a feeling up ahead is the short pinch climb, Hall of Fame referred too in the course booklet. I don’t make it, instead hiking the bike to the top.
Still on the grounds within Maitraya Private Estate, the granite crop section I was anticipating the most appears with views of the wild coast in front of my handlebars. It was a beautiful moment, albeit short lived, as I quickly veered right and up towards the steps leading to Maitraya.
Putting some distance between me and Maitraya, I settle into a long and rather straight climb gaining 116 m, which then turns into a blitzing descent on rocky fire track road. The course passes through Gull Rock National Park, a right of passage for mtbers today that isn’t allowed outside of this race. On the side of the trail I see beautiful vivid red scarlet Banksias in flower and a few other wildflowers. I so want to stop and take in the surroundings, I have no idea where I am exactly other than in the State National Park and a fair way from town.
Out of the bush section and on a red dirt road, this stretch is long and I find myself riding solo. A bit distracted by the scenery I begin to have second thoughts that maybe I missed a marker, but it’s okay as I eventually spot one indicating to veer left and back into bush.
Views of the water appear through what has so far been some really thick bush vegetation. The first of the damp compact ground gives me a boost being well familiar with this terrain. I head towards Voyager Park and a little motivation stirs a faster pedal to the end of the first timed section.
I surface from the bush onto a small beach where there are barges waiting to ferry riders across Emu Point Channel. A friendly guy helps me load the bike in, we wait for one other lady who flashes the same smile we all are sporting on the barge, it’s either the temporary respite or the exciting prospect of being on a barge. For me, it is a combination of both. I delve into a Cadbury chocolate and take a quick selfie as the barge cuts through the water.
Off the barge, my bike is enthusiastically hosed down by three people. As we were fortunate to be allowed to ride in national park for this race, the hose down was a precautionary measure to protect the local biodiversity.
The other 17km race starts from Emu Point in about 30 minutes time, I keeping moving and enjoy the ease of the coastal bitumen path towards the next section, which happens to be the beach!
Not yet discovering the secret to riding soft beach sand I run the bike to the water’s edge. The wind is favourably behind me as I cycle the hard packed sand, and I can’t tell you how exuberant I was at this rarity to be in my favour. At this point in time, I feel like I’m in some sort of epic adventure and the aches cease to remind me of the kilometres I have traversed so far. The ocean roaring to the left of me, radiant white sand as far as I can see and weird sounds of shells cracking until the tyres. I’ve never cycled a beach before, so this is the highlight of the whole course and thankfully the sand is hard packed close to the water.
Towards the end of the beach, piles of seaweed appear and I decide to run the bike towards the cycle path away from beach. The previous flat section is a distant memory as I begin another hill climb on a board walk, but with each move forward a glimpse of a view rewards the effort. The chain comes loose and one of the riders I had been riding with for parts of the race helps me out. We cycle together up the hill towards Albany Heritage Park, talking about the course so far, then we carry the bikes up a set of stairs and through a rock garden. He disappears, he’s good at hiking the bike.
A lightning bolt of self awareness comes down, I really begin to focus on the tight narrow trails, enjoying the technicalities, especially the fun Pirate trail. With the Dwellingup race just last month, I’m slightly better riding single track whilst carrying some fatigue. We skirt around the hill which is very big one, cycling to gain elevation which then leads to some awesome descending single track. I pass a sign, it’s a long way to the top – oh yes it is!
Exiting the bush down mud rammed steps and onto the suburban street, I cycle towards the finish line. It is a fast descent towards the Town Centre Square and I enjoy riding the street without cars, thanks to the awesome marshals that stop traffic as I pass through. It’s such a treat to really put some speed into the bike at the end of the ride.
I cross the finish line at 3 hours and 20 minutes and well before sunset too!
The Southern Peaks MTB race may have been challenging (loved the inclusion of all that sand!) but the terrain definitely helped push my mountain bike riding skills that little bit further. Following the race, the festival continued with a BMX jump competition in the evening and the downhill event the next day. It was great to see an event bring together a diverse group of riders which I think is the only one in Western Australia to do so.
Food and drink in Albany
I couldn’t sign off this post without highlighting some but not all of the good places we experienced during the weekend. Albany for sure has a great food scene!
Early morning coffee and breakfast from Kate’s Place
Coffee at the Urban Downhill MTB event day from Beck and Call
Big tasty beef burgers and chips with local sparkling wine and beer from Six Degrees
Live band, sensational pizza and more local sparkling wine from Due South
Local wine and beer to take home from Due South’s Cellar shop
Burnt butter donuts at the Urban Downhill MTB day from Drip Lock
Lastly, unrelated to food and drinks, take a short drive out of Albany and go stand under one of the turbines at the Albany Wind Farm.