Location: Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, Australia
Participants: Campbell Message, Ruth Stwart, Emma Parker
A number of years ago I purchased an Off Road Handcycle. It was ordered by someone in Queensland from the US, but who no longer wanted it. So I jumped at the chance at a vaguely discounted option! Its hot pink paint job working to underline the less than subtle statement that they seem to project.
Over the last few years it’s been a fantastic way to hit bush tracks, explore downhill mountain bike runs and access places that are too hard in a chair. Exploring the extensive networks of rock pools that stretch around from Inverloch was a great example of this.
Rapid Ascent has even set up an Off Road Handcycle Class in their yearly Giant Odyssey MTB event which is an absolute blast!
Places like Mt Buller offer some thrills, but the downhill tracks can be a nightmare without suspension. And while these machines go fast downhill and the super low gearing offers the ability to go up very impressive inclines, it does this quite slowly (which can be difficult for mountain bikers to keep pace with).
But they are amazing machines… and what else can they do?
After sitting in the office hearing about Ruth’s upcoming adventure to wild and untouched Wilsons Promontory the idea bubbled. Parks Victoria has done some fantastic work in developing accessible facilities and providing equipment to assist ALL people get into our parks (including accessible toilets, beach wheelchairs and the ‘trailrider’ attendant controlled off road access beast!).
So Ruth and Emma went on their trip, keeping keen eyes on the terrain for a potential trip for the 3 of us. I explored options for getting around; an overnight trip meant that we needed to take tents, food, stove, clothes; while the very difficult terrain meant it wouldn’t be possible to use a chair. So we found cargo trailers online that seemed like they may fit on the back of the handcycle.
Apart from an early test with my 3 yr old son as cargo where the rear wheel fell out of the handcycle and the ‘cargo’ was strewn joyously over the footpath, the trailer seemed to be a success. My chair could be strapped on with the tent etc.. in the tray.
We hired the camping gear, purchased delicious dried meals and were set.
We reached Tidal River campground after a hearty pub meal in Fish Creek; set up our tents in near darkness ably supported by our brand new head torches. These new tents are a breeze to set up! We had a beer, said hello to the camp wombat, used the accessible loo at the campsite and then went to sleep.
Day 1. First day of trek.
"Packed up the tents, got some food and coffee from the café, then drove the gear up to Telegraph Saddle Car Park where a number of different hikes start.
Unloaded the gear and with anticipation and hope (that the trailer didn’t break), and set off in the beautiful sunshine with a cool breeze; a merry trio off to explore the prom.
The ease of the graded track soon ended as the first test was about to begin. But more pressing than tackling that was getting some fuel to put into our bodily machines. And when I say fuel, I mean chips.
The track turned into a very soft sandy road. As the rear wheel of my handcycle struggled for any grip I saw my plans of beating the Prom on my own steam sizzle in to the warm sky. But far from being a defeat, the difficulty called for team work! The renewed vigour to beat every wheels nemesis, sand, was found and we utilised ‘The Rope’.
The Rope turned out to be essential. Not just for trudging through thick sand, but more so for what was to follow…
We reached the Oberon Bay campsite after perhaps 3-4 hrs of walking. Not a hugely fast pace, but not too slow either.
Tents were set up, then and after a shortish but difficult (and assisted) push in my chair to the long quiet beach with Off Road wheels on, we found home for the afternoon, flowing into dinner and night. Ruth and Em managed a swim while I snuck a snooze!
Day 2. Coffee, rain and tough terrain.
The night’s wild wind and rain ceased in the morning long enough to have a salty coffee, pack the tents, load the gear and set off.
The beach was long and beautiful, the sand was deep; and then the real work started. Up the first rocky bent track we pedalled, pulled and pushed; trailer getting caught, wheels spinning, people groaning with the main motivation being to get into some kind of cover before the black menacing clouds opened up. Which they then did. What fun.
Seemingly unending rock sized steps (which were in fact, rocks kind of like steps),and blasting rain was the story of the day. But so too was incredible view, great company and fun.
While most of the trip was spent tackling rocky clumps up and down steep terrains in the Handcycle, it was not always possible. Some of the rocks were too high, gaps too small, and the highly specialised technique called ‘Crawling’ had to be employed (as seen in this ‘Where’s Wally style picture, myself being Wally).
Ruth and Em were unwavering in their enthusiasm for pushing the 75 kilos of bike, chair, packs up, down and around.
Around 5 hours after setting off on Day 2 we arrived back at Tidal River. The potato cake and coffee cravings that had been fuelling the last hour could finally be realised.
Parks Victoria staff generously gave Ruth a lift back to get the car and we packed up. Successfully exhausted (well I was anyway).