Everything was packed and more importantly, our Specialized bikes were securely strapped to the bike rack. Yep… Car ready… Sunday Smoothies Session here we come!!
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, windows down, music on as the car cruised up the highway as we headed north on a two hour drive to Oxley Island where we were staying overnight on a 100 acre ex-dairy farm.
An overnight stay at Fernvale Cottage meant that for the next morning we only had a 15 minute drive to Kiwarrak (pronounced Kye Warrick) State Forest, Taree, home to some of the most wonderful MTB tracks on the north coast of NSW.
But this was not just any old Sunday ride… this was the Womens Sunday Smoothies MTB Session - Taree. Along with the Taree Tip Riders club I had been organising this ALL ladies group ride for weeks. Our aim was simple, a group ride, ideal for beginners through to intermediate riders.
Heading towards Taree, we took the exit from the highway, venturing into unknown territory, trusting google maps and aided by a hand drawn set of directions on how to get to the farm. This little experience was keeping us on our toes.
Gravel road- tick, what looked like a drawn fork in the road- tick, 2 garbages - tick, farm road gate with padlock- tick…and presto the code worked, brilliant! Maneauvering the Kombi down the track, dodging (usually squishing) cow paddies along the way, another farm road gate- tick then…voila!!!!! We had arrived at the Ferndale Cottage. The homestead was massive, situated right on the Manning River, our stopover destination came complete with its own jetty, canoes, bonfire pit etc.
This was going to be an awesome weekend and no one for miles!
After finding the stashed house keys (which was a story in itself) we opened up the house, placed dibs on what bedrooms we wanted and then made a mad dash to the large blue shed near the jetty. A quick look inside provided the answer to our burning question, fishing gear was everywhere and the team was keen to catch some fish before the sun went down.
So our next big decision, would we fish from land or sea? Conveniently, that decision was made for us because at the end of the jetty sat one perfectly reinvented catamaran, unfortunately without the sails, but with platform big enough, and more importantly strong enough, for us all to board. We aptly named it HMAS Drift.
However our trusty vessel wasn't complete, something was missing. A short but intense reconnaissance provide the solution, sticking upright in a nearby garden was a homemade flagpole along with a large pirate buccaneer flag. We reefed it out of the ground and placed it precisely at the front of HMAS Drift. PERFECT! We then quickly acquired a few boat oars for paddles, gathered our rods, reels and lures, lifted the anchor and off we went…… downstream. The tide was strong and I've got to tell you the passing speed boats made a hell of a wake. Rocking and rolling we made our way over to the other side of the river so we could cast our lines. How we didn’t sink, I’ll never know.
Yep… lost a few lures in the marshy bottom and even cast off into the trees a few times but despite our inexperience, we did get results.
Three flathead! We were on fire!
Now unfortunately the size and the numbers were not quite enough to feed the crew so we decided to catch and release but not before we took a photo for evidence of the HUGE fish we caught!
Just as the sun started to set we noticed more car lights coming up the track. Yay… more Drift Chicks arrived.
We sat around the camp fire and filled our bellies by smashing down a lavish dinner of snags and salad followed by dessert, YUM!!! Laughs and stories rolled on with music blaring from the old LP stereo inside the blue shed. I can’t believe we were listening to Suzi Quatro but it certainly set the mood for the night.
Morning came around real quick. I for one was definitely not used being woken by the sound of cows mooing but regardless it was a very effective wake up call! The sunrise was magic. This was a wonderful start to a day of riding.
We packed up the house as we found it, locked gate after gate and ventured over the highway and into The Kiwarrak State Forest.
We turned left into a fire road to see a Manning River Tip Trail Club marque with Tina Clemens and the crew all waiting for the start of the days event, The Womens Sunday Smoothies Ride.
The whole idea of The Sunday Smoothies Session was to provide the chance for women mountain bike riders to make more riding contacts to unleash unequivocal amounts of fun and adventure.
We were blessed that the crew leaders took the stress out of navigating the trails, showing us the way around a few of the Taree Tip trails. What's not to love hey!
We also had the presence of two skilled female instructors (one being myself) on hand for added encouragement!!
We were emphatic that everyone was going to get something meaningful out of the day.
No one got left behind and we made sure that everyone was given a good chance to have a GREAT TIME together with everyone riding at their own pace and skill level.
We were able to teach new skills to the complete beginners and provide fun and instruction for intermediate riders as well!!
Our little venture had attracted a total of twenty eight ladies to experience the many kilometers of flowing single track, with nothing too technical for the beginner rider at all. We made sure to take time to demonstrate where needed. Positive peer group support was in abundance. The large log roll over after a bit of instruction and demonstration proved very popular. The group had crowded around and provided an awesome atmosphere through their encouraging chants…One by one each of us made it over! Smiles and smiles for miles and miles.
Next we would tackle the descents and in preparation we talked about the importance of scanning and looking ahead, getting over the back of your seat especially when taking on those steeper parts. You could see the apprehension on each of their faces as they started to come to terms with what came next.
One by one they took on the descent! The smile and elation on their faces were priceless. They had conquered their fear and quickly realised they had done something that they never thought they could do! A little ‘weeeeeee’ as they flew down the hill and a ‘high five’ slap when they met at the top!!!
Braking evenly, gear changing to get flow happening and concentrating on feeling your pedals under your feet. Nothing too technical, but all very relevant to take full advantage of the magnificent trails we had been afforded on today’s ride. There were some low lying wood planked bridges here and there but the ladies rode over them with ease and confidence. They nailed it!
This forest was a thing of beauty moving in and out of rustic sparse woodland to unbelievably dense and tropical greenery. We were very lucky that the weather held off. A few claps of thunder and a strike of lightning made a brief appearance along with a few drops of rain to cool you off, lightly dampening the track for a perfect riding surface.
The session went all too fast but in saying that, we were riding non stop for 2 hours. This was so much fun! You could hear the girls screaming with laughter and excitement as they flew down each hill and the giggles as they struggled up the other side.
And yep there were always a backlog of riders on the other side, complete with a ‘sorry’, a smile and a giggle. This was true MTB fun indeed.
Riding up the last fire trail I was so sad to know that the end of the ride was just around the corner.
A little get together afterwards at the trail head with cake and coffee and a chin wag to get to know each other.
You could hear all the stories of fun and laughter, achievements and accomplishments, “I did this”, “I did that”, “I cant believe I was able to do that”, “I learned so much today”. I’ve got to say, it was so good as we all hung out together drinking, eating and getting to know our new riding buddies, which was the whole aim of the day.
It was a fun filled cracker of a day with beautiful ladies of all ages and abilities and I feel quite blessed to be able to say I was apart of it all.
To me… it was the ideal 'Healthy Catch Up' weekend in every sense of the word!
Thank you Specialized for supplying us with gifts and for helping to make this day a very special one for ladies in mountain biking.
Bring on the next one!!!! I cannot wait to do it all over again.
- Jo Nelson