The hidden gem on the road to Bendigo
Finding the trailhead — if you can call it that — is the easy part, three small rocks stacked on top of each other just to the right of the peaty gully about 2 feet deep, just big enough for the wheel of a trailbike or the foot of a trail runner. As I follow the single track up the side of the ridge I am thankful, in a way, that trailbike riders want fast flowing single tracks which wind themselves up and down the hills of Cobaw State Forest. For a runner, these tracks make for honest climbs and fast, flowy descents.
I follow the track amongst tall trees and skirt the edge of giant granite boulders, serenaded by cockatoos. I am a hundred metres from the top of the ridge and my map says to turn left. The hill climbs to my left, towards more large boulders and drops down, briefly, to my right. Smack in the middle is smallest sign of a track, tell-tale tyre tracks from a recent motorbike expedition and some broken branches on the floor are my only clues that this could be the trail, but it follows the contours of the land so seems like the logical choice. At the top of the ridge, I look out over a forest covered in bracken, the hill drops steeply into the valley below, before climbing back up again somewhere in the distance. There is no other noise out here. I squeeze the pocket on my running vest containing the radio.
“Chris from James, come back!”
Nothing. Not even static. I double check my map, I am still on course — they haven’t got this far yet. I push forward, looking forward to the descent and follow the track as it bears to the right before plunging down the hill.
Earlier that day, I’d run with the group. Left, right, straight-ahead are easy decision to be confident with when there are six of you all looking at the same map. But after taking the short-course group back to the start and heading out, on the reverse long loop, on my own — the unfamiliar terrain and the ease in which you can miss a turn means progress is slow — I frequently have to double back.
I descend the hill, running between bracken. Below, I see a larger trail, intersecting another trail — this looks like the cross-road on the map which I need to hit, but as I descend further, I soon realise I am off course.
But how, I don’t understand, I didn’t see a turning. I think to turn around but the climb back up is steep and I am already going to have to do it once more. The arrow on my map says I am 300 metres too far to the left. I have no choice, I need to bush-bash through the low bracken to get back on course.
Pushing along the trail as fast as I dare, I find every 30th stride I am checking the map, even when I know I cannot be off-course, I still need to check — these small, unmarked trails are only obvious when you know they are there. Every 50th stride I squeeze the radio.
“Chris, James. Come back.”
Not even static, just dead air. Still out of range.
I eventually find the group, or they find me. I am expecting to hear radio chatter, to be able to sneak up on them, but they spot me first.
“Whose that stranger?”
We’re a couple of hundred metres away, at best, and still I cannot see the group, if I did not have a radio, I would still think it was just me, the trees and the bracken out here. But I’ve found them, I can turn around now.
Feature photo: Courtesy of Chris Wright & Trail Bus
Trail Bus group and parkour log photos: Courtesy of Chris Wright & Trail Bus