Words and photos by Scott Cornish
I almost didn’t start the Hunt 1000, as my bike was lost by Singapore Airlines, then located four days later by chance in lost and found, but someone had opened it, and my bike bags, sleeping bag, and mat were missing. Luckily—and with huge thanks—Abbotsford Cycles were able to help out, replacing the missing gear.
The ethos of the Hunt 1000 and its halfling, the Hunt500, is one of enjoying the ride within a social atmosphere. There is no mass start but rather a mass finish. For this edition, it was on December 3rd at the Capital Brewery in Canberra, where riders could meet up for a social afternoon/evening, sharing stories from the trail. Everyone can choose their start date depending on how many days they envisage riding, allowing for fun, social moments en route.
The Hunt is a ride that showcases some of the trails and backcountry riding Victoria and the ACT have to offer between Melbourne’s Edinburgh Gardens and Canberra, from sea level to passing over 1,500-metre peaks. Created as a brevet, not a race, it’s an inclusive event with a diverse mix of terrain and landscapes, some of it very challenging, making it an achievement for anyone to complete. Both distances attracted a broad range of abilities and bikes, from various drop bar setups, to fatbikes, hardtails and full-suspension MTBs, all looking forward to that cold beer at the finish line.
With the wayward wet weather climate due to El Niño that the east coast of Australia had been experiencing (bringing exceptional snow conditions for skiing), Dan decided to alter the planned route slightly as rivers that needed fording were running too high to cross safely, making the Jajungal Wilderness area inaccessible.
The fickle weather caught some early starters with significant fresh snowfall in the High Country, in contrast to the 20°C (68°F) and sunny weather we would experience just a few days later. The signs warning that snow and ice can occur at any time of the year weren’t wrong! From expecting to get regularly wet, factor 50 sunscreen was being applied most days, with some drizzle on the 1st day and the occasional overnight rainstorm.
Being neuro-divergent and diagnosed late in life, group situations and challenges can create a high level of anxiety, having been bullied and marginalised most of my life for being “different” but not understanding why at the time. Finding adventure travel and cycling in my mid-teens became a lifeline, from riding solo to gradually building the confidence to join group rides and events. The Hunt embodies the ethos of inclusivity, and I wasn’t judged for having an “odd” temperament but simply welcomed as someone sharing the ride, meeting some fun, interesting, and inspiring individuals from the first day.
Starting out solo from Edinburgh Gardens, I was soon amongst other riders Stani, Guy, and Burnam stopping to ask if I was on the Hunt as I was pulled up trailside tightening bags. I barely noticed that we had finally passed beyond the city limits as chat flowed easily between us, finding out about each other’s backgrounds and motives for joining the brevet with its not insignificant 25,000 metres of climbing.
Stani is an Austrian living in Sydney, new to the longer-distance routes, Guy is a special needs teacher from Sydney with his class and school watching his dot, who was brand new to multi-day riding, as was Burnam, a student from Wollongong on an older triple chainring MTB that had seen some good use, here to give it a go. We came across Peter on the second day, one of the few riders to embrace the comfort of a full suspension and a great resource on the Mundi Biddi trail, 1000 kilometres of singletrack through the bush southwards from his home town of Perth, set up for bikepacking.
Climbing was a big feature of the Hunt, with everyone finding their own pace. With our lengthy stop at the café in Noojie earlier in the day, enjoying the food and coffee, Peter and I had to rally to beat the closing time of the only resupply point for the next 105 kilometres, the small general store in Rawson.
I ended up riding most of the Hunt with friends Baz, Gwyn, and Rob, who Peter was meeting up with, all of them incredibly insightful about the area and its wildlife. Useful when all the reading you’ve done on Australia’s dangerous wildlife has evoked some nervousness about riding in the bush. Meeting them outside the general store in the tiny town of Licola, as well as Ryan and Kirsty from Perth, they didn’t mind me gatecrashing their group and joining them at the riverside camping spot that night, where it was good to see Stani, Guy, and Burnam roll in later that evening.
There was no bravado along the route, and riders took the time to chat, often seeing the same faces and meeting new ones at cafés, campgrounds, and hotels. Temporary communities of riders popped up at each stop, with folks sharing stories and tending to bikes, especially as rider numbers swelled with the Hunt 500 starting from Omeo.
Dom and Sarah were an adventurous couple from North Sydney, adding the Hunt 1000 to their route tally, instantly recognisable on the trail by the long sleeve fluro jerseys they both wore. Matt and Dan were friends who had made the journey down from Brisbane, Dan not letting his illness define him, living with osteoporosis and its undiagnosed cause for his young years. It was engaging and insightful to be able to talk about personal challenges with a stranger without them tuning out, as he was also neuro-diverse. Burnam was an inspiring young guy, not letting a broken rail strap breaking on his saddle bag derail his ride, finding a solution by strapping it to the front bags despite the load now all on his front wheel, as well as riding through some aching knees.
Getting the inside line from locals is always a bonus when you’ve been looking at events, especially as far away from home as Tasmania. Danny and Lucy were two strong riders from Hobart who we had the pleasure of riding with on our penultimate day and who provided useful info about the 1,800-kilometre Tassie Gift event and the island’s challenging climates and geography. This is part of the Hunt’s charm, the people I got to spend time with and meet along the route, not forgetting Forti, a young guy who had to pull out due to injury but who took the time to ride out from Canberra and set up trail side to hand out sugary treats to grateful riders.
Another part is the riding itself. It took 40 kilometres before we finally reached the edge of suburban Melbourne, all along its extensive cycle path network, barely touching a road. Once beyond the city’s reach, the route ventured into the backcountry across hilly and mountainous terrain and vast, open grasslands.
From the first few climbs into the bush, I was in awe at the majesty of what surrounded me, quite unlike native forests in Europe. More wild, impenetrable, and remote with tall, thick trees. The audible experience was intense too, with a chorus of bird and insect sounds that resonated from all around. Some of the climbing is long and sometimes punchy, but it takes you up onto high ridgelines with views across this expansive landscape.
At times, it was like an endless carpet of eucalyptus trees, giving off their characteristic blue hue from the oil in their leaves, especially visible in the morning light. At other times, there were reminders of climate change, where abnormally hot fires had destroyed swaths of bush across the hillsides, leaving nothing but blackened trunks. Up in the Kosciuszko National Park, sections were like riding through scenes from Mordor, trees killed off by a bark beetle and then burnt, leaving nothing but spindly, blackened remnants of once flourishing trees.
The route was an enjoyable mix of terrain, from faster kilometres along quiet, backcountry roads to smooth and lumpy gravel with deep corrugated sections that made you glad for some suspension and 4WD tracks and trails that meandered through the bush. Nothing was overly technical except the much talked about Billy Goat’s Bluff descent that had many riders off and walking down the toughest sections. It was an incredibly steep, rough, and loose seven-kilometre 4WD track that had disc rotors overheating and had to be treated with respect. It did take one casualty, unfortunately, with a rider losing his back wheel over one of the numerous kickers. He was okay, thankfully, but his ride ended there.
For fluids and resupply, rivers were the main source of water, but a filter or purifying tablets were needed. Even though some riders were drinking from higher rivers without filtering, I didn’t risk it. Water was plentiful due to the wet winter, but a three-litre capacity is recommended, especially in hotter weather, as some distances between sources are long.
There were often long distances between resupply too, and sometimes that was limited to local general stores with early evening closing times. There was always a pub in rural towns and small supermarkets with later opening times in the larger towns. I say large, but that’s all relative for these rural areas. Local cafés featured heavily for food and coffee, where pies featured on the menu if you arrived early enough. Noojie, early on the secnd day, had a great little café, as did the largest town of Omeo, the Crazy Cow. That’s we met Vince of Bikeroutes.au, feeling every bump on his rigid drop-bar 29er. A great find was the café and store in the tiny town of Khancoban at the 730-kilometre point, with excellent food and coffee, which was very welcome after a cold, damp start at the Geehi campground. It became a social hub as riders trickled in, taking their time to enjoy the food and comfy chairs.
The sole bike shop en route was in Omeo. It’s very limited in parts (so do bring spares) but ideal for repairs, which was lucky for Rob, as he was in desperate need with his failing bottom bracket. Not far from Omeo was the Hunt 1000 checkpoint that Dan had set up in the Glens Wills Wilderness Retreat, offering coffee, food, wifi, and comfy armchairs. There was also the option of overnighting here, with a vegetarian dahl dinner included cooked up by Dan.
Accommodation options were numerous. All the rural towns had basic hotels or pubs with various bed options and showers for a good scrub, but you often had to book ahead. Camping out was the fun option, wild camping that first night trailside and using campsites en route, all having a river nearby for water and varying levels of facilities. Some had long drop toilets or the luxury of being a serviced site, although one of my favourite spots was the simplest, a cleared area riverside in the gorge we travelled up through from Licola into the Avon Wilderness Park. Some later camp spots became quite a community of riders. Camping out high in the Kosciuszko National Park at the site of the O’Briens hut, which burnt down in the 2020 fires, was a great but cold spot, with riders hanging around the fire pit until last light.
It was at the Geehi campsite that I finally saw kangaroos, and lots of them, most seemingly comfortable with human presence. They’re mammals to admire from a distance and be wary of on the trail, my fellow riders recounting stories of accidents with kangaroos jumping out from the bush in front of them on descents. As a tourist to Australia, prior to travel, you can get a bit anxious reading about the dangerous wildlife, but the locals are quite calm about it all. A snake bandage is a compulsory item for the first aid kit, although I was calmly reminded that a brown snake bite can be lethal.
The wildlife was the reason I took a tent, to be fully zipped up at night and to keep the mosquitoes out, which were quick to hone in on me, biting through my shorts and jersey, their numbers elevated this summer due to the amount of standing water. Bushman’s spray was an essential piece of kit. In the end, I only saw a single snake, pointed out by Gywn, a large red belly black basking in the sun, which slithered off once it sensed our presence. No spiders and one echidna.
I was sad to leave newfound friends and the Hunt environment. The social side is just as much a part of the event as the riding and the challenge. The weather was on our side for this edition, but come prepared, as the temperature can drop dramatically on the higher terrain if the weather turns. The 2023 event is a work in progress, with a grand finish on December 2nd and some new trails being added. You can learn more at HuntBikes.com.
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