The Start - A new way... - CycleBlaze

October 3, 2020

The Start

Jarrahdale - been here before...



“There are three kinds of people. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

The Bike

Before we start, a word about the bike - it is very "old school." 

The frame is a 1987 Kuwahara mountain bike, built in Japan out of triple and quad butted fully lugged 4130 chrome-moly. It has some sweet lines and has been rebuilt several times over. I cold set the rear dropouts from 130 to 135mm to allow for a bigger cassette and it now runs an 11 to 40 10 speed cluster and a 22-32-44 triple chainring up front. The wheels are rim braked Sun Rynos on 36 spoke Shimano XT hubs, with 2.2 wide 26" Maxxis Ikon tires, set up tubeless. I think my low gear is about 15 gear inches, but I still find myself pushing it up the steep inclines.  I will break well before the bike ever does....  

The Friendly Local dropped me off at the Jarrahdale cafe, a small cafe in the small village of Jarrahdale in the foothills of Perth. The foothills, the Darling Escarpment, run north-south paralleling the coast, about 30 km inland. I shouldn't call them foothills, that implies something larger lurks beyond. There isn't. Elevation wise, the escarpment is not all that high and the hills max out at about 350 metres. The predominant eucalypt species at the northern end of the track is Jarrah, hence the name of the village and the town sits at about 300 metres elevation. So, thanks to the kindness of the FL, I got a free ride up the hill. The other option would have been to catch the train to the bottom of the Escarpment and grind up it to Jarrahdale. It's nice to have a tolerant wife... 

The first four or so days of the Munda Biddi are, shall we say, less scenic and enjoyable than the remainder of the track. There have been many who start their adventure at the beginning of the track (Mundaring) and quickly give up before they can experience the more sublime riding that starts just past the town of Dwellingup. I had a few years previously suffered my way through the first two days/huts of the track and wasn't looking forward to a repeat, so chose to start off at Jarrahdale.

I had wanted to get an early start, but it was such a lovely quiet Sunday morning and .... well, we didn't get there until lunch time. The cafe parking lot and unofficial trailhead was packed, so was the cafe. It was mostly a procession of leather clad weekend wannabe bikers on their very noisy chromed behemoths and the equally flamboyant, but much quieter weekend mtnbikers in Lycra and designer sunglasses. At least their bikes were less conspicuous.  

No Hurry - No Lycra

Captured in all my glory - let the pain begin...
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We were really in no hurry, so we spent some time watching the passing parade before I loaded up the bike and pedalled off. Part of my reluctance to get started was that I knew what lay ahead. Physically, I had done no training and I knew I was woefully unfit and my bike was wayyyy overloaded. 

There would be pain... again. 

And even though it wasn't far to the next hut, only about 35 km, there would be a bit of flat single track, a lot of steep grades and push-a-bike and a fair dose of the infamous Munda Biddi pea gravel. Pea Gravel is just what it says: gravel the size of peas in patches varying in depth from 1/2" to 6". Some patches might only be a few feet in length, others 500 yards or longer. The mind isn't allowed to wander too far on the Munda Biddi...

The track crossed the paved road and then struck off through the bush - delightful single track through the Jarrah forest. That didn't last long, maybe a couple of km because the track had to lose 250+ metres of elevation to cross the Serpentine River. Down, down, down on logging tracks and fire breaks, cross the river bridge and then up, up, up on a well travelled dirt road. I stayed on the bike for most of the down, but was quickly off the bike and pushing the ups until the road levelled off at about 350 metres elevation. Luckily the weather was mild and there were very few pesky flies to bother with. The track left the road soon enough and from then on it was a mixed bag of single track, logging trails and pea gravel. All in all, it was far easier than I thought it would be. Mind you, I was still fairly well worn out by the time I made it to the MBT hut. 

Wide double track section of the Munda Biddi - sublime riding through the forest.
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The hut is a couple of km off of the main track and also, in typical MBT logic, the side track to the hut refuses to follow the contours of the terrain. One short pitch had the trail going straight up a very steep incline. I took one look at it and said, "Oh My!" to myself. My eyes left the track when I look up and I instantly veered off, fell over and said, "Bugger!!" Over the fullness of time, many of the short steep pitches on the track have become impassable due to rainfall erosion - so it was bags off and portage everything to the top of the pitch, then quite literally inch-by-inch drag the bike up to the top of the incline. It couldn't have been more than 20 or 30 yards long, but I was toast by the time I got to the top of it and truly ready to call it quits for the day by the time I got to the hut. 

There was pain... and blood too - on my shins - from the pins on my platform pedals - my shins do not like my pedals... 

Dandalup Hut

The hut perches on the edge of the Darling Escarpment overlooking the coast below - it has quite a nice view. And despite all the lycra clad mtb warriors at the Jarrahdale cafe at the start of the ride, I didn't see a single other rider, coming or going, on the track .  However, I did meet another rider, William, at the hut. He was riding a very impressive looking feather lite carbon fibre fat tyre bike with 5" tyres. Like me, he had his tyres setup tubeless, but unlike me, he floated over the rocks, roots, pea gravel and sandy sections. He said he was going to try to ride the full track from end-to-end in 14 days. I told him I was going to ride for as long as the panadol and magnesium and/or my resolve lasted. We had the hut to ourselves for the night. 

Two panadol, three magnesium and a quick dehydrated (just add hot water) meal later and I was quickly into my sleeping bag as it was a cold night and I was bone weary. I fell asleep instantly, but was woken with a rude jolt when my entire left leg from belt line to big toe went into a breathtakingly painful cramp. It took about half an hour to massage it out. William must have been wondering what the hell was going on at my end of the hut - my goodness - more pain!! 

I started bike touring again in 2011, after a half hearted attempt at the start of my international travels in 1974. Back then, I thought I was going to buy a touring bike in New Zealand and ride the planet. Only problem with that idea was there were no touring bikes for sale in NZ in 1974. I hitchhiked instead. So in May of 2011, I built up a touring bike, loaded it up and took off heading south. I made it to North Dardanup, about 70 km south of home and set up my tent just a bit off Whittaker Road. That night I discovered, rather painfully, that I had travelled far too far for a first day in the saddle when I was rudely woken by violent leg cramps - both legs - from beltline to big toe. They kept me entertained for much of the night. So there I was, nine years later camping directly above that Whittaker Road stealth camp site, making the same bloody mistake - once again pissing on that electric fence. 

A few days later I met someone going the other way who told me that William lasted until Collie. I was sad to hear that and was so certain that he'd make it all the way. 

Lesson relearnt: take a dose of electrolytes at the start of the day's ride; go slow, very very slow for the first couple of days;- and take more magnesium at the end of the day!!

Blazed marker trees. How they used to find their way around in the days before GPS.
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Rachael AndersonYou are super tough! Sorry about your accident.
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3 years ago
Victa CalvoHi Rachael,
I'm certain that my "stupid" outperforms my "tough" any day. I get mesmerised by that electric fence... And my shin skin is in constant conflict with my pedal spikes; I don't even need to fall off to rake my shins when riding the bike - I'm a natural.

Falling off the bike is pretty much a near daily occurrence on the Munda Biddi. The key is to do it slowly, with grace and panache.
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3 years ago