The Mudawangs

The Northern Budawang Range and Upper Clyde Valley form part of a rugged mountain range on the south coast of New South Wales. A thriving Aboriginal community for thousands of years – and, more recently, and, even by Australian standards, somewhat insensitively, a bombing range for the Australian military (complete with unexploded ordinance to keep an eye out for), it seemed like the perfect location for a bit of weekend exploration. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

In planning the route for this trip, I’d been taken by the beauty of the Budawangs, and landmarks like Monolith Valley, The Castle & Byangee Walls.

Our first day of riding was going to take us up and along Barren Ridge Road & back down Long Gully Road – giving us some great opportunities to observe The Castle & Mt Renwick from various spots along the higher parts of the route. The second day would go up via Porters Creek Road and roll around on the high plateau, looking over towards the Byangee Walls, before heading home via 12 Mile Road and Granite Falls. All very exciting.

Anyway, Mike, Beardy & I arrived a little early on the Friday and were keen to get out for a quick ride. We kitted up and set off on a 40km loop that Mike had planned; out via some local bitumen, before coming home via firetrail near Burrill Lake. It was a little damp, but did little to sodden our enthusiasm.

#OYRbudawangs — Day 1: Short Birrull Lake loop on

We weren’t in any crazy rush when Saturday morning rolled around. Blake, Dan and Wellsy had all arrived late the night before, and after a few extra ‘welcome’ beers, we all slept in a little. Plus the weather was looking decidedly average, and we thought waiting until 9ish would give it a chance to fizzle out.

10am, and the rain wasn’t getting any lighter – it was time to roll before the day started slipping away.

We pushed back out along Woodstock Road, continuing past our turn-off from the previous day, before hooking right onto the wet gravel of Clyde Ridge Road. Not bad; it was a nice piece of road. The rain was heavy, but it didn’t matter – we were enjoying the ride. It was mostly flat or downhill on our way to the Clyde River.

Plus, there were no shortage of 4WDs – or leeches – for company.

Near the Clyde River we turned onto Barren Ridge Road, and descended steeply down to the water.

We were, by now, pretty filthy. The 4WDs had been chewing up the road and leaving us with sloppy seconds. The river was a welcome sight.

It was along this first little descent on Barren Ridge Road that we had our first mechanical. It seemed Dan’s brakes were fading, and even with additional tension on the cables his mechanical discs just wouldn’t grab. Slightly bemused, but not overly concerned, we pushed forward to the edge of the river.

Since we were already thoroughly soaked, we waded our bikes straight into the water. Except Mike. He had brought his brand new shoes on the trip and was staunchly determined to unlace them, bag them, and avoid any further saturation.

The hour following the river crossing was unexpected – we just climbed and climbed. The road was muddy and slow, requiring a lot of effort to maintain momentum.

In other news, it was slowly dawning on us that we weren’t seeing much scenery in return for all this effort. The visibility was terrible – just misty trees, and mud. Lots of mud. It didn’t look like we would be getting any of those spectacular views across The Castle & Mt Renwick. This put us in a rather disconsolate mood.

By the time we reached our highest point for the day, at Mares Hill Road, i was feeling positively robbed. The rain was still beating down, we couldn’t see anything, and were barely crawling forward on account of all the mud. At least I knew that this point signalled 45km done for the day, and would be followed by a reasonably long descent. Something to look forward to.

Or so we thought. On an early fast section of the descent Dan lost his brakes completely, needing to plunge his feet into the mud to wipe off speed and avoid flying off the side of the road. Scary stuff, made slightly more terrifying by the fact that the issue now seemed contagious – Wellsy’s brakes had failed in sympatico.

We were now facing a fairly serious problem. We weren’t halfway through the ride, which had taken close to 4 hours thus far. We had no spare parts and were busy doing the food and water maths, knowing we had nowhere near enough of either. Still, we pushed on.

Braking for Dan and Wellsy now required sitting on the top tube and grinding their feet into the mud. Hairy moments – and the progress was slow. The flatter sections were OK, and going up was, for once, the preferred direction of travel.

Then, to add insult to injury, Wellsy couldn’t wash off enough speed on a section of descent, hitting a sneaky cattle grid and causing a blowout in his rear tyre.

I checked my water and noticed I was almost out. I only had 1 bar left. Not ideal.

As a group we’d really hit the wall. We were over it. By this time I had finished all my food and was now onto river water in my bottles. I wasn’t feeling well, and could see others struggling.

We had only covered 20kms since the brakes had failed, and this had taken 2 hours. There were still 40km to go – a long stretch along Yadboro Road, followed by the same section of Clyde River Road we’d come in on, then, finally, the bitumen back to Milton. As long as i thought of it in those three sections, it didn’t seem so bad. Slowly and steadily (and grumpy as hell) we ticked off the kms and got the job done.

The sound of bitumen under sliced & battered tyres made me smile. As we swung onto Woodtsock Road we decided to hit the servo in Milton. The thought of riding straight back to camp was not appealing. The thought of Coke and chips was, on the other hand, very appealing.

Back at camp, we got together to talk through the plan for the following day. Today’s ride, the one that was meant to be nice and scenic, had turned in a muddy nightmare. Two bikes were toast – and the rest not much better. We had been soundly beaten.

We hosed down the bikes, cleaned ourselves up and went back to the bowlo to sink a ton of beers.

Our trip had been cut short, and we all knew it wasn’t going to be cheap to get the bikes running again. But at least it had been an adventure – for better or for worse.

And so, the Budawangs became the Mudawangs – a tribute to the swathes of sludge, silt and slop that cruelled our machines and spirits. But we do not bend quite so easily. Plus we’re more than a little keen on the route we had planned. So, there will be a return to the Budawangs – and this time they better be dry. The Dry Wangs.

DATE May 2 2016
WRITTEN BY Simon ‘Esjay’ James
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Beardy McBeard & Esjay
#OYRbudawangs — Day 2: OYR Budawangs on

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Over Yonder is adventure by bicycle - and cyclocross racing on the side. Curated for travellers, explorers & outdoor aficionados. Brought to you by a thirst for the unknown.

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