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I've just spent 5 days riding around the Victorian Alps with my brother and a bunch of friends and friends of friends. I know a lot of AC'ers have been to the area before (for Three Peaks Challenge and the Audax Alpine Classic) or are heading there soon (for the 2012 Three Peaks Challenge). This was my sixth trip to the area in the last 10 years (AAC twice, Tour of Bright, Three Peaks and one previous cycling holiday). Most of us flew to Melbourne with bikes packed in bike bags, then picked up hire cars and made the 4 hour journey up the Hume Highway to Bright, the biggest town in the area and one of the most beautiful towns in Australia (if you ask me, which you didn't, but I'll say it anyway). We stayed in the Bright Holiday Park just a short stroll to the centre of town and a mere 5 minute stagger to the Bright Brewery, home of some excellent locally made beers. We stayed in some flash-harry cabins overlooking a small stream than ran through the caravan park, providing the constant sound of running water, endless supply of ducks and somewhere to cool off and revive sore legs after each ride.
The weather forecast for our stay was not looking fantastic, showers and thunderstorms, but lucky for us the thunderstorms always held off until we got back home every day, the sun shone and the mountain tops were warm and windless. We couldn't have asked for better weather. Cool in the morning, warm to hot during the day and a refreshing thunderstorm in the late afternoon/evening.
We arrived Thursday afternoon and after quickly assembling bike headed out for a 50km round trip to Harrietville up the flat(ish) valley road south from Bright. I could happily ride this road every day without ever getting bored. Forested hills on both sides with Mt Feathertop and Mt Hotham looming in the distance. Harrietville is another beautiful town, a nice coffee shop and the pub (I am told) serves decent food.
Friday we woke to clear skies and were pretty keen to try and get to the top of Mt Hotham before any rain arrived. Almost every time I have ridden in this area it has rained, which is OK on the climbs but freezing cold, dangerous and expensive (on rims and brake pads) on the descents. The Mt Hotham climb is possibly the longest and hardest climb in Australia. From Harrietville its 30km to the top at an average gradient of only 4.6%, which belies the 1300-odd-metres of vertical ascent and the numerous sections of 10-14% gradients. If you want to know the nitty-gritty of the climb then take a look here. I rode this climb as part of the Three Peaks last year - in thick cloud, rain and hail, and can't remember any of it being that difficult (read about that little pootle here). I think my views on Hotham were shaped by the fact I couldnt see more than 10 metres in front of me and the weather distracted me from the actual act of pushing a bike up > 10% gradients. On a nice sunny day when you can see the summit for almost the entire 30km, there is nothing to distract you from the routine of pedalling, and you can see the whole way up the long steep sections (therefor being fully aware just how much more there is to go).
CRB Hill (about 2/3 rds the way up) and the few final pitches to the top felt particularly difficult. But we made it, with 360 degree views across the high country, and a decent coffee at the ski village.
By contrast, the descent flew by and the only downside for the whole day was almost getting run over by the Harrietville CFS truck on the road between Harrietville and Bright. Beers all round.
Saturday we decided on a slightly easier day, riding the Gaps Loop, which involves heading north from Bright to the small town of Ovens. The main road between Bright and Ovens can get a bit heavy with traffic so we rode the superb railtrail instead. Fully sealed and wide enough to ride two abreast, safe from cars and plenty of time to admire the scenery.
At Ovens we turned right along the Happy Valley Tourist route to Rosewhite Gap, a short and gentle climb, then a smashing descent into the valley to the east.
A long, but very scenic ride up the Kiewa Valley Rd to Mt Beauty with Mt Bogong and Falls Creek looming in the distance.
The bakery in Mt Beauty is, well, a beauty. So good in fact we ended up back there multiple times over two days for coffee and sustenance like this...
From Mt Beauty its a tough little climb up and over Tawonga Gap. Its a nice climb, but can get hot in a few open sections in the afternoon sun. The ClimbingCyclist has written about it here
Sunday we headed off on the longest ride of the weekend, from Bright, back over Tawonga Gap, back through Mt Beauty (with another bakery stop) and then up the 30km climb to Falls Creek. Falls Creek is another classic climb through beautiful forest, ending at the Falls Creek ski village. The climb is all tall eucalypts and manferns, sweeping bends and mostly manageable gradients.
We stopped briefly at Falls Creek for some food and drink and then continued on another 10kms past the Rocky Valley dam (which supplies water for a hydro scheme and the snow making machines in winter) to the Bogong High Plain, a really beautiful place on a still, sunny day.
With thunder clounds gathering we scuttled back to Mt Beauty and then back over Tawonga Gap for the third time in two days. I think we had earned our dinner that day....
On the last day we headed for Mt Buffalo, the shortest climb of the big three, but I think the most beautiful. The whole way up you get fantastic vistas of either the huge granite rock slabs that face the mountain or the view out over the valley to far off mountains. The ClimbingCyclist talks about it here.
The view from the Chalet at the top is just incredible and well worth the 20km's of climbing. Another super descent back to Bright, pack the bikes up and head back to reality.
Anyone who likes climbing, or drinking beer, or sitting in ice cold rivers surrounded by nice scenery, should head to Bright, either to tackle the Audax Alpine Classic (held on the Australia Day long weekend), the 3 Peaks (mid March), race the Tour of Bright (first weekend in December) or just to ride their bike knowing that there is a cold beer and a good feed at the end.
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