Running an MTB Exped in Western Australia sounds like a Rift Valley Adventures kind of thing to do...
To put things into context, Rift Valley Adventures is located in Kenya, East Africa, 3 ½ hours from Nairobi, the main city. It sits right on the equator against a vast landscape of undulating terrain, home to the big five; Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, all roaming free in the greater Laikipia region, and Mount Kenya, at 17060 ft, towering high above everything else, shrouded in myth, mist, mystery.
Western Australia (WA) lies across the ocean, covers the entire western third of the country and boasts 12,500 km of coastline, bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and Southern Ocean to the south. WA treasures trinkets of cultural history going back more than 70 thousand years, and its shores are a habitat to more than 20,000 marine species.
Joining Nick for a trip in Western Australia was only a matter of time. This time, RVA Australia was hosting UWCSEA Singapore Students, on a full-on Bike expedition on the extensive track formerly known as the Rails to Trails, and thereafter appropriately renamed, The Wadandi Track.
Margaret River is a small town of big repute. It has several ideal and popular surf spots, small and big farms, wineries, Bike trails, camping spots and caravan parks to the number. The town gets its share of visitors from near and far. It’s the place to go for a short weekend, long weekend, or while you wait for the weekend.
We spent five days on a recce trip of the Town and environs; heading up north past Cowaramup, and back round south, Witchcliffe, mapping a route, exploring the terrain and finding the most ideal camping spots. The route slowly begun to take form so that one minute you would find yourself on an enjoyable double track cutting across farms and open fields, then came the single tracks winding round and down with sleek switchbacks and angled tracks; then came the bitumen roads that led to streets and centers and before you knew it you were surrounded by tall trees on every side; sometimes a familiar mix of maries and jarrah, and sometimes the magnificent carries towering 80m above you. There was thrill, challenge, learning and fun to be had, and a bit of something for everyone too.
The group arrived wearing enthusiasm on their faces. One student wanted to go straight to his bike and set-up his action camera.
We pulled the students in long enough to get accommodation sorted and lunch out of the way, then it was straight into it! One group went off biking, covering intros and M-Checks on the bike before learning the different gears and suitability for each. Meanwhile the second group worked out their menus and budgets because in the days to come they would have to manage, prepare and carry their own food. A biking trip, more so an expedition, has more to it than spending five days on a bike. The students soon learnt that they were entire concepts based around themes of Leadership, Responsibility, Planning and Group Management; technical skills such as splitting a wheel, fixing a puncture and conducting M-Checks, which all came together to determine the success or challenges of a bike expedition. This was learning on the go, learning from experience; learning through adventure.
The route led us out from Margret River Town, due south to Mill Road farm. We set-up camp for the night and the students cooked their first meal of the expedition. The trip was taking form. The following days demanded skills and expertise from each participant, in a consistent build-up of endurance, changing terrain and distances. The track from Mill Rod farm led us to Point Road campsite (27km). The next morning, it was a change of guard and the next day’s leaders took on the task to get the group to Chapman Brook Campsite. (23km). Day 3 set us on the road from Chapman Brook Campsite to Possy Road Campsite via Boranup Single Track Section (25km).
The leaders were diligent with their decisions and navigation that day. But that did not stop us from arriving at the “wrong side of camp”. We got to the end of the track, and there before us, between us and the campsite we had ridden all morning to get to - was a river!
Flowing steadily across, defiantly, as if to tell us, “go back”, the leaders and the group had a decision to make. We could cycle back and around, similar kilometers, or we could determine how to get across, safely and leaving no-one behind. As the discussion went on, time passed. The group had several options and even more ideas. Some good, some, wishful at best. A number of students got onto building a raft, other’s got into setting up a pulley system with ropes while others scouted the banks of the river trying to find a way out, or in.
It was nearly an hour later when a student picked up a bike, passed it through to another, and another and before you knew it, the bike was across. It was simple as that. The students quickly realized this was the way to go. Ferry the bikes across, and they did so, one by one until they were all across. No rafts, no ropes, just simple and straight forward thinking. Although they missed out of the time period they were set to perform the task, thereby forfeiting ice-cream, they did get the value of learning that most times in life, keeping it simple gets it done.
Having said that, Nick had a packet or two of TimTam chocolate treats for the group, and sure as day, they kept it simple this time, and ate them all in under two minutes...
We were now at the peaking point in our trip where the track would take us back around and in the direction we started in. The challenge on day four was two-fold. One was that the track was known as the morning of forty hills - and the hills did not disappoint. Rolling mile after mile they went up and down and up again. This then became the characteristic pace of the group- up, then down, then up again. By lunch time we had covered the same distance we did on day one, yet on a much more demanding terrain. The endurance and fortitude of the group was manifest. After lunch, we hit the track again, and this time made such few stops over such large distances that when we had to stop and fix one or two punctures on the track, the rest of the group stayed on their bikes. Ready to head off at a moment’s notice.
That day we clocked 48km to Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat camp, cabins & lodge and all were glad to be there. As much as the group had its own self-drive over the past few days, two reasons in particular may have played a part in the motivation of the group on this day. One was that Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat camp had hot showers, and as if that wasn’t enough, the camp was just 500m from a single track session at the PINES where we started off with excellent twists and turns on day one. The group was feeling enthused and ready for some more advanced sections of these windy trails.
As promised, we kicked off for the trails first thing in the morning, some students opting to go for an optional surf, simply because such an opportunity is hard to come by.
After lunch, we all go back on bikes for the last leg, cycling 9km, back to Prevelley Camp and Caravan site, on one of the easier rides of the trip. We were back early and in good time to clean trangias, and check-in gear. That evening, the students did their own reflection at the beach as we watched the sun go down, and sink into the sea. We met the second team from a surf trip and had a big BBQ night thereafter. Spirits were high and a great sense of accomplishment for the students.
It was a well-earned trip that ended as it had started - on a high. As the students packed their bags and left that morning, it was goodbye and best wishes, promising to develop the skills they had learnt and put into practice even more.
For the Rift Valley Adventures team, it was exceedingly rewarding to hear the students through their own reflections of the trip, and to see the success the students had achieved in the long haul. It is what make these trips all the more worthwhile.
Time to Leave:
As the students departed, we finished up with the gear and equipment, making sure if we had a trip the next day, all we needed to do was offload the truck. Nick got behind the wheel of the 29 seater manual shift coaster bus, and off we went; bikes, crates, trangias, surf boards, everything. It was a silent drive to Perth. It usually is at the end of such trips. We were all happy to have a bit of a rest, but no doubt at the backs of our minds we were also internalizing the trip, quietly reflecting upon it, from our own perspectives.
Back in Perth, we spent the next two days touring the small town of Fremantle on Bikes.We extended our Bike tour to visit Rottnest Island where we had some of the most breathtaking scenery there was. The 30min ferry ride arrive at the Island by 0815. We set-up our Bikes, and off we went- to discover the world, or get lost. By Mid-day, we had cycled across the island, up to the west point, toured the history of this island, watched seals playing and basking on the reef, and listened, yes, listened, on the most intriguing of winding-up contraptions in the middle of a trail, the folklore of the ocean, the island and how it all came to be, as told by none other than a Whadjuk Elder of the aboriginal people.
Our time in Ausi was nearing a close and we packed Bikes and Bags, ready to head off. We caught our flight in good time and safely travelled back home via the beautiful island of Mauritius. Here, adventure was lurking; we found out that our connection flight was the next morning and that we had to spend the night in Mauritius. Having no prior arrangements we were stuck. This didn’t take long as a gentleman from the airport greeted us and asked to see our travel itinerary. After a few phone calls, he came back to us with a reply. He had booked us into a hotel for the night, courtesy of the airline. Which is how we ended up at the Holiday Inn Beach and San Resort, Mauritius (but that's another story...)
Richard Wachira and Nickson Mwaura...