Otway 300 – Gravel, double and single track greatness.

The Otway 300 is in it’s second year this year, and I am stoked to have ridden it. It’s a 2 day race, covering 300km and 6500m of climbing, around the town of Forrest in the Otways. Being down by the Great Ocean Road, the scenery ranges from timber forest, to lush tree-fern bush, to open farmland, and even includes some stunning beaches. Riding in pairs, the event has a unique charm, that attracts everyone from elite 24 hour racers, to weekenders looking for a challenge.
My riding mate and I had met only once, nearly 2 years before at a ride I did in Melbourne. Through the socials we realised we had similar interests, and so decided to ride together. I would say ‘race’, but with a somewhat casual build-up, we were a pair of roosters looking for a good time more than anything.

The day before the race was when Mike Hall passed away whilst competing in the Indian Pacific Wheelrace. It was all anyone was speaking about the night before, there was a tangible air of sadness amongst everyone. Event organiser Norm Douglas decided to neautralise the first few kilometres of the day out of respect. He drove at the front at a set pace, which gave people the opportunity to talk to the rider next to them. Riding in light rain and in the dark, with a river of lights flowing down the road, setting out on a long and tough day, it seemed a really fitting tribute to Mike, and an appropriate way to mourn his passing. Thank you Norm for creating that moment.

Soon enough we were underway properly, which coincided with the rain stopping and the sun coming up. Riding gravel roads through timber forests, with a light mist in the valleys around was gorgeous. Go to the Otways and ride, stunning. The long descent out of the range, dropping down to the coast was a real highlight. Laughed out arses off coming down there, the trail, the views, the amount of mud we covered ourselves in, all just tops. Could ride that roller coaster every day, and I’d still be in love with it’s curves.

 

Popping out into Apollo Bay, we had 4 treats at our disposal:

1. A rest stop with sweet beach views

2. A rest stop with mechanics to fix Lance’s mechanical woes

3. A rest stop with top food and top people.

4. A rest stop with views of the local hawks and tigers footy game.

The real point here is that the rest stops on this ride were TOPS. The topsest. The food was great, the beats were pumping, and every single station offered outstanding banter. Seeing as our little pair were not challenging anyone for a prize (we actually were dead last in our category), we thanked the volunteers by offering our wit, charm, dance moves and a healthy appetite. A standing round of applause for this squad – top shelf service.

The light rain made for good, dirty fun

From here we rolled across some open paddocks, corrugated gravel roads, sandy 4wd tracks, and some very slippery single track. It was glorious, legs-of-iron-hard, but glorious. We laughed a lot.

That got us to the half way point. All of that, and only half way… But there were only 2 things left to ride in the second half. We had to climb back up the range, and we had to ride on some old rail trails. That climb… OMFG. Never steep, and a good, grippy surface, but it. Just. Keeps. Going. Looking back on the ride file, with only a brief descent in the middle, we were climbing for more than 30km. The forest closes in on you when it’s like that. There is no more outside world. Just you, the upward pointing road, your bike and the forest. When we did pop out into farmland eventually, we just laughed. It felt weird to be on a normal road again!

Riding back to Forrest, the route followed some old rail trails. In the old days, they used to use trains to get the timber to where it needed to go. They have since been abandoned, and converted into shared use trails. We followed them downhill, and got to fly down as just reward for the grind to get up there. The local pale ales and beef went down a treat in the pub that night. 175km and 3700m down.

Day 2 and the old man groans were audible across town. Some tired legs were getting about. This was not aided by the information that there was 500m of climbing in the first 10km of the day. General distress occurred when in the first couple of kilometr a there was still a lot of descending going on. Reflecting now, I can say that what the second day lacked in distance, it made up for in general difficulty. When we finally made it to the 64km aid station, we had climbed up and down the whole range 3 times, all on wet tracks, for a total of 2400m gained. The first climb was awful, I certainly didn’t see anyone who didn’t have to walk some points. Climb 2 was hard, but manageable. Climb 3 was rude. Soul crushing. We rode all of it, no walking, but it was touch and go. When we got to the aid station at the top, we only danced a little bit, and our jokes were only mildly funny. That rate of elevation gain is like doing an everesting on a 7% gradient hill… That is muddy… Even my joy of riding was beginning to dampen, as those hills threatened to crush my soul.


At last Norm eventually shows some compassion, and the route opens up to some more serene country lanes. Reaching a checkpoint out here, we were greeted with the somewhat disappointing news that the winners had crossed the finish line, whilst we still had 50km to go. Our tactic of lulling the leaders into a false sense of security seemed to have failed. In better news, we were firming our grip on the Lanterne Rouge…


The kilometres ticked by until we finally reached the famed single track runs. These are both a crowd pleaser, and a solid sting in the tail. The trail is enjoyable, but when north of 250km into the race, they were a real effort, and certainly a way to slow down the finish.

But finish we did. Last place was ours! It didn’t matter though, that was an awesome weekend, and would go back on a second. They really are sitting on a monster there. The course is outstanding, hard, but achievable, with stunning trails, and even better views. The markings are impeccable, we had the course on our Garmins, but didn’t ever need it, there were multiple arrows at every intersection. Even better were the aid stations, the best volunteers getting around.

Couple of sports drinks to finish

If you are thinking about it next year, by all means do. Any off-road bike will work, they have a CX category, which honestly next year I would probably do.

If you want to check out the race some more, click on either their website or facebook page. If you’d like to see my two ride files click on Day 1 or Day 2.

Thanks for reading.

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