‘The hills don’t seem as steep or as daunting as they did on my first ride,’ I think to myself as I shift my ass to the nose of my saddle, swat flies from my face and keep my eyes on the crest of the hill. The climbs here are longer than what I am used to. The first day that I rode, I huffed and I puffed my way up the hills and even had to walk up part of one. Two weeks later now and I find those same climbs to be fun for their terrain transitions from dirt up onto a rock ledge and different turns as they wind their way through the farm land.
The narrow tracks here demand my attention at all times. There have been many moments where my wheels have strayed from the dirt onto the long grasses that flank these tracks and I wonder to myself if the bike will stay upright or not. A foot touch to the ground is usually what keeps me from having a play date with these hills of the Southern Flinders. Melrose sits at the foothills of the Flinders Range in the state of South Australia. With a mountain that rises out of the center of the town and undulating terrain throughout, it is well suited for mountain biking. The hillsides are often steep enough to wonder if I will be able to stop should I take a fall.
The narrow tracks make for interesting descents. While some descents in Melrose are easy going, winding through the notches and hills of a farm field to traverse one hillside and wrap around another, others are fast-paced with ledges and jumps that keep me on my toes. Those are the ones that make my quads burn as I stand on my pedals for the most of the descent. Some sections of the trail have loose rock paired with ledge drops that force me to make quick decisions, I pedal to keep up the pace in between ledges and turns, always looking ahead for the next terrain feature or turn. For some reason, those are the types of descents I’m comfortable with—the ones where I feel okay with the bike running across loose gravel and dirt and not exactly knowing the quality of traction, yet trusting that the bike will stay up right as I come into the next turn or drop off the next ledge. It’s fun and scary all at once.
The wildlife demand my attention as well. There’s always a kangaroo or sheep that crosses the trail in front of me. The sheep usually run away scared shitless while the kangaroos often stand a few meters off the trail and curiously watch me as I ride past, making eye contact the entire time to make sure I won’t make a sudden move towards them. Some hop away, scared of my crazy two-wheel machine.
Nonetheless, these trails humble me. These trails are new to me and I often don’t know what is around the next corner. I like to equate this experience to how my ski coaches often had my teammates and me ski all sorts of terrain—groomed trails, powder, amongst the trees, the different jumps the terrain park—it was all to make us well-rounded skiers. That is what Melrose is doing for me. It’s making me a more well-rounded bike rider.