Werrikimbe National Park
Racecourse Trail ride, 26th April 2003

 Anzac Day was sunny enough at home, and with all the other mtb-oz listee Anzac Day epics happening, I decided I needed an epic ride of my own, but somewhere a bit more interesting than my usual riding areas.
Werrikimbe National Park (NPWS info page)  is located in the Great Dividing Range, approximately mid way between Walcha and Port Macquarie, NSW. Access is North of the Oxley highway via several gravel roads, the ones on the East side of the park being better suited to 4WD vehicles, especially in the wet.
 Leaving Loomberah after lunch I headed towards Walcha and then down the mountains to Yarras, a locality on the highway. It was very late in the day and I had been driving through fog and rain descending from the top of the range, but it was slightly clearer around Yarras, with a view to the East of some Cumulus towers, one with a nice cap cloud, so no doubt it was wet on the coast.

Cumulus pilius

Heading North along Forbes River road though open farmland I could see cloud ahead covering the mountains as it became dark quickly under the overcast skies, and as I started the climb towards the National Park it started raining, and shortly afterwards I was in cloud once again. Just as well I had a 4WD, as the road was very slippery with a lot of water in the wheel tracks, not a good sign for the ride tomorrow. I camped the night at Plateau Beech campground, which fortunately had a nice big shelter to sleep under, the ground around it was totally saturated, I would have slept in the car rather than setting the tent up in pouring rain with 2 or 3cm of water flowing across the ground, in the dark.

Waking to a chorus of bird song in the morning I found a walking track to some cascades on a nearby creek, the path being partly overgrown in places, so I was keeping an eye out for leeches.  It was still raining lightly, with the cloud base not far above me as I drove ~10km north to Grass Tree camping area, just a short drive west from the larger Brushy Mountain campground, which is over 1100 metres above sea level, so the temperature was rather chilly.
Pulling on cycling clothes plus a warm jacket and waterproof jacket over the top I realised I was going to be really hot before too long, but it was nice to be feeling warm to start. The Racecourse Trail heads west through World Heritage listed Wilderness areas, making this one of the very rare areas that allows vehicular access. It emerges at Mooraback campground on the West side of the Park, about 27 km from Grass Tress camping area. There are a number of other tracks in the Park accessible to MTBs, and I plan on more visits in the future, I figure at least 3 days of riding would be possible, with potential for overnight camps, Polaris style.
 Initially the trail is slightly undulating with plenty of gravel, so no sign of the mud I had feared, at least to start. Descending gently towards the Forbes River after a few kilometres for a knee deep crossing the Racecourse Trail proper starts.

The surface becomes a bit rockier and muddier, but still in good condition despite the rain and the few 4WDers who had decided to drive though in the wet conditions. Not long after the Forbes River crossing the terrain becomes rather more than undulating,  and it was on the 2nd climb I began to overheat and removed the warm jacket, but keeping the waterproof top on as the rain was persistent and the air temp only about 10C.

Not long afterwards the gravel content of the track seemed to vanish, leaving sticky, slippery mud, which made riding rather difficult. I was amazed how well the new Geax Sedona 200 tyres held on in the conditions, biting in nicely on the climbs where I was expecting to lose traction completely. The tyres were handouts at race registration at the Topbike Mt Beauty Boomerang 2 day event in early April, plus I managed to pick up a couple more afterwards for 3rd in the M40+ category, so I have a good supply of them for rides in conditions with poor traction like this.
 A section of the track near the Racecourse swamp area had the most sticky mud I had encountered in a long time,  even on the flat it was hard going in a low gear, and keeping the rubber side down was a challenge. Reminiscing the Canberra Mont 2001 24 hour mudfest I had thoughts of turning back at this stage, but decided it couldn't really get much worse and pressed on westwards.


 I'm happy to say the XT gears worked flawlessly the whole time, except a single chainsuck coming back through the worst of the mud when I hadn't de-mudded the drivetrain area for quite a while. No doubt this good performance was helped by my home made Slippery Stuff (TM) chain lube which kept the chain remarkably quiet under the circumstances.
 I tried to minimise brake use where possible, the sound of rims grinding away is not pleasant. Despite the appearance of the tyres caked in mud in the above photos, they shed mud very well once a little speed was gained.

 After about 20 km I came to the intersection of the track to Youdales Hut. There is a camp area there, but you need a permit and key to get past the locked gate if driving. Someone was obviously down there,  the gate was open. The hut was about 6 or 7 km from the intersection so I thought it might be worth a look, but after a few hundred metres the track headed steeply downwards and looked like it might continue that way for some time, plus there was lots more mud. I decided a long walk back up wasn't for me, I'd leave it for a return ride in the dry. Back onto the Racecourse Trail I made quick time on the much better surface along the western side of the Park to Mooraback campground. Only 2 tents set up there in the rain, and no people around, so I turned around and started the return ride 2 3/4 hours after I set off from Grass Trees.

On the way back the sun peeked out from behind the clouds a few times for first half of the return ride, slightly drying the track and allowing a bit faster riding than on the way over, when I was being ultra careful on the descents due to the remote location and being on a solo ride. A few km into the return I decided I better eat something before getting too hungry, so a choc CLIF bar was consumed, followed by an oven baked apple fruit bar. In the middle of the long nightmare section of goopy mud on the return I took a break, wandering over to check out the scenery at the edge of the escarpment.

I didn't see all that many birds on the ride, probably due to the weather, but one spectacular sighting was a Glossy Black Cockatoo that flew over me, and just below the above photo of pool and cascade I noticed a Wedge-tailed Eagle watching me carefully, and was able to snap off a few pics before it flew away.

After all the recent rain there was plenty of fungus on the ground, this purple toadstool being one of the more interesting specimens.

After several more wipings of mud from the drivetrain and brake areas of my bike I rode through a couple of creeks which washed more mud off the bike and then back to the walk across knee-deep Forbes River and the final 3 km back to the car.
Here is me after the ride, that's mud, not freckles.

It took quite a few hours to clean the bike, I plan to return to Werrikimbe in the not-too-distant future and explore more of the tracks though the wilderness.

Total riding time 4 hours
Total time,         5 h 40m
Distance            54 km
punctures           nil
stacks                nil
mud                  too much

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since 2003 05 01