Dirty Valda Recon is Complete!

Dirty Valda Recon is Complete!

 Written and recon by chief instigator April Drage.

As soon as I moved to Melbourne last year, I was itching to ride home to Adelaide. Riding to Adelaide on the road held little appeal; busy bitumen roads with more trucks and caravans than hills, or (worse still) getting buffeted by cross winds whilst trying to enjoy the view whilst riding alongside the Coorong. I was also keen to fill a bit of a gap in the bikepacking events calendar. I’ve noticed that there are a few beginner’s courses around (the Mallee Blast, the Grand Ridge Randonnée and more) but I’m yet to find a route to bridge the gap between those courses and the more physically demanding or remote routes offered in the Hunt1000 and Race to the Rock
I liked the idea of creating a route with enough towns on course for flashpackers (and importantly a consistent supply of quality snacks for all), enough variety in the terrain to offer riders a sense of accomplishment on completion and a way for Victorian riders (who may be new to riding in South Australia) a means to enjoy cycle tourism on the way into Adelaide. 
With this in mind, I sliced and diced routes I’d ridden before and some I’d been saving up for the right moment, until I had created something that I hoped would hit the sweet spot between challenging and punishing and that could be ridden in full or in part by a wide variety of riders. 

Just before the dawn service of Anzac Day, I rolled away from the Melbourne Town Hall on my trusty titanium GMX+ bikepacking beast to find out for myself how this route would roll.  Here is what I found/ where it landed after I cooked the books a bit!   

Rolling out for the first 75km: 

A healthy mix of bike paths and back roads make for a surprisingly safe meander through increasingly urban areas, as the cityscapes and industrial buildings are left behind. If you’ve ever wondered where your McCains frozen chips live before they hit the supermarket then prepare for that mystery to be solved. It’s impressive that there is a relatively low traffic escape from the big smoke, that doesn’t mean that this is an exciting batch of kilometres!

Bacchus Marsh to Blackwood 75km-120km:

Bacchus Marsh marks a bit of a turning point, literally and figuratively. Out of the flats and into some climbs. It feels like a relief to get out the ‘burbs and into a State Park and it doesn’t take long to find the Lerderderg State Park. The park offers a lovely middle of nowhere feel, whilst still being in the middle of everywhere. Wide fire tracks and dirt roads with some solid up and down, are the warm up for the main event for this section; Byers Back Track. Byers Back Track is a narrow, often overgrown and mostly rideable (even for the uninitiated) hiking track that connects O’Briens Road with the picturesque town of Blackwood.

Blackwood to Castlemaine 120km-203km:

A progressive climb on gravel back roads makes for an enjoyable 15km ride out of Blackwood, before the gradients trend down on the ride into Daylesford. The 30km stretch between Daylesford and Vaughan Springs is the trickiest little section of the course, it might even be the prettiest too. The Dry Diggings Track is part of the Goldfields Track; expect mostly flowy single track, a few rocks and tree roots, some parts of the trail you’ll need to hop off your bike and carry it up or down steps. Have your wits about you and have really good lights if you’re taking on this section at night. Beyond Vaughan Springs, the route eases with a wide, rutted dirt road or two to take you most of the way into Castlemaine. 

Castlemaine to Echuca 203km to 374km

Champagne gravel and black top make for an easy exit from Castlemaine into Harcourt. Shortly out of Harcourt the route picks up the Leanganook Track. Leanganook is the Aboriginal name for the nearby Mt Alexander. The track follows the Coliban Water channel, winding it’s way through the Greater Bendigo National Park. Enjoy the climbs (including the little pinches in the last 10km before Bendigo) whilst you can as there is a long flat section coming beyond the 300km mark. The real hero of the route out of Bendigo is Old Tom’s Mine Walking Track. This track commences just beyond the Notley Road camping area. I’m not sure who Old Tom was, but I’m guessing he liked box ironbark forests. Old Tom’s Mine Walk leads to the likely less popular Flagstaff Hill Walking Track. Trust the routing as you’re enjoying this one. I promise that the steep path of loose rocks to the tiny summit that is Whipstick Hill is a worthy (albeit brief) addition. 

Echuca to Manangatang 375km to 641km

Beyond Echuca there is a real long weekend vibe, following the Murray River, passing campsites and holiday shacks, wide shade covered dirt is interspersed with tiny towns, stray emus through the series of State Forests. There are reasons that the route doesn’t follow the river closely all the way through; we should be safe from muddy hike-a-bike and algae covered forest floors but anything can happen on a bikepacking trip! 
Noorong Road is a fast paced (read car-filled) short section of bitumen on the way into Swan Hill; take care! Beyond Swan Hill you can expect short sections of corrugations and sand as you approach the thriving metropolis of Manangatang.

Manangatang to Renmark 641km to 944km

In summary, if you enjoy flat terrain and big sky country then you’re in for a treat! What the elevation profile doesn’t tell you is that this flat riding might not be easier than climbing hills. It’s a mixed bag through here, bitumen, corrugations and for a short section beyond Annuello it’s also quite sandy! The sand will give you a new appreciation for the wide dirt roads that follow.  
The next highlight is the Old Mail Route that commences after Mildura. It’s here that you’ll cross the border between Victoria and South Australia. I reckon I’ve ridden this part of the course two or three times now and in my experience, it’s never the same road twice. After rain it can feel you’re hopping through perplexingly sticky swamps and at other times it rolls like a dream. There’s always the potential for some heavy corrugations and sand. Despite these mixed experiences, there is consistent theme; it’s a beautiful 95km worth. I saw literally dozens of emus on this latest edition and can vouch for it offering a goose-bump worthy sunrise or sunset too. From there it’s bitumen into the good ol’ SA riverland! 

Renmark to Angaston 944km to 1141km

A bridge or two, back roads and the occasional sneaky dirt track links a series of riverland towns. Keep your eyes peeled for the Big Orange and take care on the unavoidable little sections of the Sturt Highway. One of my favourite parts of the route heading into Angaston is the crossing of the Moorunde Wildlife Reserve; home to the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat. This part of the course is followed by Pipeline Road, which will be your first climb for quite some time; a couple of ramps and some ruts and if you’re lucky some rogue sheep too! Angaston is a charming town in the iconic wine region, the Barossa Valley; an exciting indication that you’re getting close to Adelaide.

Angaston to the finish! 1141km to 1281km

It was hard to decide which way to send the route back to Adelaide. I went for the mostly civilized, tourism heavy (for all the Victorian visitors!) option. The highlights reel; 2x Tour Down Under worthy roads (Mengler’s Hill & Corkscrew Road), some sections of the Mawson Trail (climb UP Steingarten Road and descend the infamous Stone Hut Road), a little Kidman Trail to get your fill of some paddock bashing (read lifting your bike over some gates), take in the view from Mount Lofty and enjoy the scenic descent on Steub Trail and Winter Track to get you almost all the way home. It’s hard to even write this without all the feels to go with it; I hope you love Adelaide like I do, and feel pretty chuffed about the journey you took to get there!

What's next? 

To help prepare for your Dirty Valda ride, Curve will be hosting a series of evenings to cover off all you need to know to complete this bikepacking quest. This will include:

Wed, 12 Jun: How to pack and load your bike
Wed, 24 Jul: Electronics & Navigation
Wed, 7 Aug: Bush Mechanics 101
Wed, 28 Aug: Dirty Valda info night

Watch out for these updates on our events page.

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