Piping hot bacon and egg rolls, cooked over the campground BBQ, were best consumed in an improvised campground squat stance. Our crispy, crackling breakfast done, and our tents packed, we headed for Merlin’s Lookout.
Henry Beaufoy Merlin was an Englishman who arrived in Australia with his mother at 18. He became well-known as a travelling photographer, using a covered cart, pulled by a horse, as a darkroom. He was commissioned to photograph parts of NSW with a view to the images being used abroad to encourage immigration, including what became known as Merlin’s lookout - a breathtaking view over what was, at one time, known as "the richest quarter mile in the world".
In our case it was a fairly handy view of some derelict gold mines across the valley.
Next up was the Bridle Track, but first, coffee. After ducking back through Hill End for some supplies, and a surprisingly decent cup of joe, we made our way to the head of the track and a sternly-worded sign warning us of the perils ahead.
Unsurprisingly, from here, things started to get hairy.
A bridle track is, generally, a foot or horse-worn trail between towns (named for the piece of equipment used to guide the horse). The Bridle Track, as it turns out, is so-called largely due to a last-man-standing-style attrition. Other tracks have become named roads, or have been lost to overgrowth and history. This one has stayed largely unchanged (and, as we can testify, unimproved) for well over a century, and has, therefore, seemingly held onto the name by default.
Accordingly, we agreed to take it easy and run our tyres at low-pressure – to spare them from the frequent, jagged rocks. Still, we could feel them perforating almost immediately – but the sealant held.
The descent down to the river was long and precarious, with a steep fall into the valley below beckoning – should anyone stray too close to the edge.
From the river, the trail turned into a pleasant climb up to Monaghan’s Bluff. Monaghan wasn’t bluffing by the way, sending a rockslide down his Bluff (hence earning its geographical stripes) a couple of years back. The resulting carnage had torn part of the road away and blocked most of what was left with an imposing boulder (Monaghan’s Boulder?); restricting passage to those on two wheels, or legs.
There would be no 4WDs for the next section – we’ll have a beer in your name tonight Monaghan, you magnificent bastard.
Tragedy soon struck Esjay’s already disintegrating rear tyre. A huge gash putting him in a near ride-ending bit of bad luck. With a hasty boot-job, a tube, and a ton of goodwill, we set off cautiously on a lovely stroll alongside the river (albeit with one eye peeled for Monaghan’s Fury)
Out of nowhere we hit some fresh downhill asphalt with flowing corners. It felt like Christmas. Unfortunately Ben couldn’t handle the excitement, overcooking a corner and flying off a low causeway into a dry creekbed. He did it properly too, folding his downtube like a pretzel and eliminating himself from future festivities.
The rest of us pushed on – there were still a couple of long climbs to go.
The first climb ended in a close encounter with a spooked ‘roo, who couldn’t seem to jump over the fence on either side of the road, and, unfortunately, instead found its way under the front bumper of an oncoming car. We’ll have a beer for you too tonight, mate.
As the light and our energy faded, we finally found ourselves in the tiny town of Sofala.
We purchased what can only be described as the most expensive VB in New South Wales, and held our two tributes; to Monaghan and that most unfortunate kangaroo.
Some locals gave us unwanted campground advice before sharing their thoughts on the new NSW bike laws: “I didn’t escape from the Stasi only to be faced with laws like these!”. Kids these days!
The campsite had few luxuries, but it did have a rather friendly kelpie to help keep us entertained by the firelight.