Waking at 5.30 am, we trailered the bikes and set off for a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and chorizo at Anonymous in Blackheath. Fueled up and ready to go, we walked outside into the bitterly cold winds that would be our companion for the weekend in the State Forest near Lithgow. Unpacking the bikes at The Courthouse Hotel in Lithgow—a traditional pub with basic rooms above—, we rode up the mountain to explore the myriad of dirt trails in the State Forest. The trails here vary from highly technical and boulder-strewn, to graded gravel roads.
That first day, we rode for around five hours, stopping along the way to see the sights; both natures most beautiful views at the Lost City and an array of burnt-out cars that seem to feature in the area. The trails were pleasurable to ride, although required serious concentration to navigate the rocks, gravel, water crossings, and steep descents. The most stunning part of the route was the Lost City pictured below. This was a fun trail through the trees before requiring a steep descent to the lookout area. The Wattle trees were just coming into flower as we sheltered from the wind behind one of the rocky outcrops.
As we explored other trails we had our first encounter with the 4×4 enthusiasts. We stopped to watch in awe as they navigated a challenging, sandy ravine. It is impressive what a purpose-built piece of transport can achieve in the right hands. This was the first of a number of sightings as these drivers pushed their vehicles up and down the mountain trails.
Later in the afternoon, we found a route through the trees that delighted with its mixture of fast open stretches, sandy areas, and big puddles; one of which shot me over the handlebars in a full superman style crash. Luckily no damage, although it upset my riding rhythm until I settled down again. We did this route a couple of times before heading back to The Courthouse Hotel. Famished from the days’ activities, we settled on dinner at the Lithgow Workers Club with its hearty meals and live music. Jed Zarb played the classics along with his own work to an appreciative crowd. This was followed by the Mountain Men who finished their set at The Courthouse Hotel with their stirring rendition of Jimmy Hendrix’s Foxy Lady.
Next morning, The Tin Shed offered a filling breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a warming wood fire to keep the chill-out. Fueled up and hopelessly optimistic, we rode off once again into the State Forest. The wind this morning was so cold it made my face numb under the full-face helmet. Riding up the mountain, we settled on a track that we had been recommended. It comprised riding deep into the forest to pick up the number five track to the Spanish steps. The road started off relatively smooth, winding gently through the trees on a sandy path. Stopping at a sign that warned 4×4 vehicles that the trail was ‘extreme’, we should have known better and turned around.
The trail quickly changed, becoming progressively rockier and steeper until we were committed to a rough, steep section. Navigating this without too many issues; there were a couple of falls in the group, although nothing serious. You have to go forward with confidence as it is often hesitation that causes falls. Resting on a rocky plateau, we heard an engine and explored on foot the next section below. To our horror, this comprised several significant drops offs that had to be navigated. We watched with awe as the Toyota 4x4s climbed up steep rocky sections towards us.
Next, it was our turn. We decided to ride down as it seemed impossible to go back up the way we came. We should have done so as further ahead was the steepest, rockiest section of the weekend. Riding down this first section, I made it down without incident. This provided a massive boost to my confidence as I rode on into the valley, passing through some very deep water crossings; one that was almost waist-deep.
Spurred on by success, we rode on as a group with me in the lead. Following the path up through a narrow ravine, I pushed on increasing my speed to counter the ever-increasing slope to avoid losing momentum. Rounding the bend there stood a wall of rock that had to be traversed. Picking a line, I rode hard along the outside edge, making it two-thirds of the way before the bike lost traction and I fell. I simply did not have the technique and off-road experience to make it. Luckily, more 4x4s were looking to make the drive down this rock wall and together we pushed the bike to the top.
This, however, was just the beginning of our troubles as there were four more riders to get up the rock wall. If it were feasible, we would have turned around. Unfortunately, it was not. None of our group made it to the top with three falling at the same point two-thirds of the way up, while the other two had to be pushed all the way up. It’s probably apparent that motorcycles are heavy, even 250cc dirt bikes. This was a real test of our stamina as we worked together to get the bikes up the rock wall. It took four guys to manhandle each bike up the rock face.
Exhausted, we rested before tackling the final run to the summit. When your confidence has been dented, these last stretches can seem particularly challenging. The guys set off ahead of me, however, my clutch would not work. Feeling initially a little smug as I had brought tools (unfortunately, these were not useful), I was stuck until one of the guys came back to see what was wrong and fixed the issue with a practical wrenching of the bark busters. Setting off up the final stretch, it was rocky and challenging, and I dropped the bike once more. Back upright I made it the rest of the way rejoining the relatively smooth trail. This was a huge relief and brought back some of the fun, although my shoulder ached from pushing the bikes up the rock wall. We rode back to the main track, and the guys decided that they had had enough.
I wanted one more run through the trees from the day before and set off on my own, relishing the extra speed of going at my own pace. This next 20 minutes was terrific, although I fell once more at a muddy water crossing. This last fall told me it was time to join the others and pack up the bikes for the two-hour journey home. Riding through the forest on your own is a dangerous choice and not one I would be making again. I felt exhausted yet exhilarated from the weekends’ riding. Dirt biking is a different beast from touring bike riding, being rougher and dirtier with more falls. I’m not convinced that I will continue with this form of riding in the longer term as I enjoy the custom scene and touring bike riding more.
Initially, I resented having to buy specific gear for dirt bike riding as I already had some much motorcycle gear. However, this weekend’s riding showed me the necessity of the inflexible knee-high boots as stones, and occasionally large rocks are flicked up by my front wheel or by other riders. Once or twice rocks crashed heavily into my riding boots, and the Red Wings I usually ride in would not have been up to the task. Similarly, the body armour worn under my jersey comes in handy with the inevitable falls that arise when pushing your limits on uneven surfaces.