Ménage à trois – Mt Buffalo, Falls Creek and I

Three years ago I fell in love with Mt Hotham. Before I had this massive crush on Hotham, I felt intimidated by high mountains.

This year I met someone new who I also like very much. To be perfectly honest, there are actually two new climbs about which I need to tell you. I hope you don’t find me flighty.

So I didn’t race the Tour of Bright this year. You think it’s sad and heart breaking? Actually, it wasn’t. It gave me the maybe once in a lifetime opportunity to check out the other climbs on the block.

There is Mt Buffalo. Strong name for an impressive looking mountain. I climbed it in 2005 and 2006 as part of the Tour of Bright. It didn’t leave a lasting impression and I’m not exactly sure why I had so little recollection of this massive climb. It has all the attributes of a superstar.

The head in the clouds, I expected a wet or at least foggy ride in the later part of my ride but somehow, by the time I reached those dizzying heights, the clouds had cleared for amazing valley views.

The early slopes were leafy green with lots of water gushing down the mountain in creeks and waterfalls. Tourists had parked their cars around a switchback and obviously walked off on numerous walking tracks to waterfalls. Signs of sights. Signs of wildlife. Signs of spring. I was in good spirits and the climbing felt easy. A little wallaby jumped out onto the road and back into the scrubby forest just after I had stored the camera back in my pocket. I should have taken the signs more seriously.

And then I climbed. And climbed. And climbed. Along the side of the mountain at a steady 5-6% gradient. No cars. No other riders. Just me, my steady breathing and glimpses of the valley between trees and the gargling sounds of springwater melting off the mountain. And birds. And monotony. And boredom, too. Behind every turn I started to hope for change, a change of scenery, a change of gradient, a change in colour or sounds, or … please … something. Anything!

Finally a lookout that I didn’t recall from previous times. Amazing bold rock faces that I did remember. Memories returned. Devil’s Elbow, where the tour photographer used to sit to take pictures of me, face contorted in agony, body broken all over my bike. It meant I was close to the top.

And as I came over and around the top, the view opened up to a wide rocky wind-swept plateau and more memories flooded back. Memories of a short descent, a sharp left and the two delirious last kilometers, memories of delicious Hot Chocolate at the chalet as a reward.

A sign at the bottom had already warned that the chalet was locked up and closed and had crushed the hopes of warmth and rest. Indeed there was no life up here. Everything looked deserted, there was a chill in the air and no mobile reception and dark clouds moved in. So I zipped up my jersey and hit the descent. Lunch time was fast approaching and I was also keen to find out the race results from the guys. The descent was amazing and I hardly touched the brakes on those long steady wide sloping corners. As soon as I reached the bottom I checked my mobile and my heart jumped with the news of Alberto’s 5th place in stage one.

The next day I threw the bike in the Motorhome (Australian for RV) and drove to the top of Mt Hotham to cheer on the riders and watch Alberto race.

A completely new perspective to watch others struggle and fight up those last meters, and a proud moment to spot Alberto in ninth place, securing an 8th place finish overall. A completely new experience, too, to actually see the Alpine resort because in the previous two years, after crossing the finish line, I never had the energy nor willpower to ride the extra two kilometers into the village.

I rode back from Harrietville to Bright with Alberto, who I had to beg to sit in and allow me to lead out. As I looked back over my shoulder, I saw Mt Hotham majestic in the distance and a smile on Alberto’s face and I wondered if he felt the same quiet sense of achievement that I had felt two years ago after climbing Mt Hotham for the first time.

That afternoon we drove over Tawonga Gap to Mt Beauty but not before stopping at the Alpine Cycling Club’s clubhouse to congratulate the team for their marvellous efforts in organising another amazing Tour of Bright. We parked the RV next to a creek, sampled some local produce and were fast asleep by nine.

Mt Beauty made for a far better base to climb Falls Creek, so Monday morning, bright and early, with stiff muscles but happy minds, we headed up to Falls Creek. The road’s gentle gradient allowed our sore bodies to warm up and the initial few kilometers were rather undulating with short downhill parts. “Not exactly a climb!” I thought to myself disappointedly.

I only had one bottle of electrolyte drink and nothing to eat because we had a good breakfast and intended to stop early in the ride. But when we reached Bogong Village and it looked sleepy, nestled down there by the lake amongst tall pine trees, we decided to press on. The climb didn’t look like much but the wide sweeping bends were very pretty. “Like amphitheaters” Alberto remarked, with forest trees the spectators, entertained by us on the stage of the windy road.

After Bogong Village there were no more downhill bits. We now climbed steadily, around corners, up switchbacks, higher and higher into the mountains but always on a gentle gradient. The landscape changed gently. And in all this gentleness I started to wonder whether there was an end to this climb, an actual destination, a peak, a climax. The mountains around us never seemed to give away their highest point. On any other climb one can see or at least sense the top, measure the progress, but Falls Creek is mysterious and shy. Until we reached the toll booth I kept eyeing mountains around us, trying to guess for which one we were heading. And then the valley opened up wide and Falls Creek Alpine village was visible amongst bare snowgums, long before we actually reached it.

Even though it was 20C, a cold breeze blew through the airy village, the car parks were empty, the snow taxis parked up for summer. I had prepared myself for Mt Buffalo’s frosty heights but hadn’t needed the vest. It had been hot on top of Mt Hotham, too. So my practical approach of travelling light – no undershirt, no vest, only arm warmers in my pocket – left me utterly underprepared for this descent. I stoked the only human being I spotted. She smiled knowingly and reappeared seconds later. I was probably not the first cyclist she handed the previous day’s newspaper.

The views were spectacular and just as I took it all in, standing there on this empty parking lot on top of the mountain, pulling my armwarmers up and stuffing the paper in the front of my jersey, there in this most unlikely and unaware of all moment, I got attacked by the very first magpie of the year.

Of those three climbs I still like Mt Hotham best! It’s like one’s first love. This nostalgic feeling will never fade. But! Falls Creek has a certain quiet and gentle attraction, and Mt Buffalo, seemingly the dull one of the trio, has undeniable steady qualities. It was unjust of me to call it boring and return tomorrow if I could. I would climb Falls Creek often, just for the fun of it, and Mt Hotham … yes … Mt Hotham I would keep as a special treat.

I’m glad I don’t have to choose and can like them all the same in this happy foursome!

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10 Responses to Ménage à trois – Mt Buffalo, Falls Creek and I

  1. A really interesting post – thanks for sharing it with us.We have lots of short & steep climbs up to 25% round here but have to travel to the Alps or the Pyrenees for some decent mountains riding.

  2. Richard says:

    Wow, nice roads and scenery… can I ride with you two?

  3. AMR says:

    I have THE BEST memories!Thanks! Love you!

  4. Richard says:

    I love climbs! I love them, love them, love them!

  5. …groover rides……& embraces the transition with style & aplomb……nice post & nice rides……& wonderfully nice that you two find satisfaction riding as individuals & as a couple…

  6. Groover, very nice post and pictures. Makes ME loving to go down there to climb up 😉

  7. Groover says:

    Trevor – Yes, that's the same for us. We have to travel down to Victoria to have high mountains like these. There are some nice climbs just an hour north and south of Brisbane but it's no Alpine country by any stretch of imagination.Richard – Anytime! :-)AMR – The mind is an amazing thing – forgetting pain so quickly! Great photo of you crossing the finishing line on Tawonga Gap. Let's do this again next year!Richard – Dito! Can you tell?bgw – Riding as expression of individuality? I guess so. That's another thing I like a lot about riding: that you can do it in solitude and find great satisfaction, you can share it with someone … or with a whole group… and don't forget the coffee, which – however – is better enjoyed in company! ;)Anke – You'd absolutely love it. If you ever look for a challenging race in a beautiful part of Australia, then mark the Tour of Bright in your calendar!

  8. What a great post! Lyrical description of the climb, both inward and external; this is a very nice piece of writing on a subject dear to me, climbing mountains on a bicycle!

  9. …with everything else being equal, we all have different styles, we all have different strengths, we all have different body types & with the road between point (a) & point (b) seldom being a straight, flat line, everyone gets to express the best part of their individual self somewhere along that road, yes ???……hey, maybe it's me & maybe i buy into a "bicycle as metaphor for life" thingy a little too much but, honestly, i'm not bothered by that……coffee, 'spresso, yerba mate, hey, we all need our fix & yes, whatever the 'juice' it's a nice ceremony to share…

  10. Hey, I see it snowed on Mt. Hotham recently! How weird is that?

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