The three of us stood on the hot concrete staring at the 'Road Closed' sign at the start of the bridge over the Collie River; the bridge that meant the difference between getting to our destination and turning around and driving some 40km back around through the Wellington Forest to circle back and get to the top of the newly painted dam from the other side of the river. The noise of the releasing water next to us meant we were shouting at each other. The fifty metre high muraled aboriginal girl was fascinated with the gushing pipe between her hands.
The Jeep driver featured big sunburnt shoulders and a thick grey moustache that extended upwards around his nostrils, then drooping downward below his chin - the kind of moustache only a man without a job could own. It was 35 degrees with a hot northerly wind carrying the hint of bushfire smoke. The campervan woman looked distraught as her husband sat looking down at us some distance away in the big van, windows up and the engine running delivering airconditioned comfort. 'It's a bloody long drive back' I said, showing them the maps on my phone.
We each wanted to get to the top of the newly painted dam where the kiosk ('coffee, beer, wine and food, take away or eat in'), and the start of the trails awaited, but it seemed we had come from the wrong side. As the sun beat down a natural leader arrived in a dirty beat up twenty year old Ford. She wound down her window; a large buxom forty or fifty something woman in a Bali T shirt and shorts, I imagined a tribe of kids waiting somewhere nearby at a campsite for her return. 'Just move the signs' she shouted above the roaring water.
Moustache man and I looked at each other, challenged. 'I'm going up to get some beer' the woman gesticulated from the Ford, 'I do this every day'. Moustache man was braver than me, or else he knew when to take orders. He walked to the bridge and dragged the 'Road Closed' sign to the edge. The Ford lady was already behind him in her car and as soon as the sign was aside she accelerated across the one lane bridge, expertly negotiating the barrier on the other side of the river with two wheels spinning up on the embankment. Her pink number plate read 'lucy-69', I wondered idly if it was her year of birth or her preferences. Within moments the rest of us followed, the Jeep, the camper and me on my bike, glad of our rescue, the fear of admonishment extinguished by her fearlessness.
I was here to ride the new Wellington Dam Wambenger trails near Collie. Collie has been a coal town since 1927 but with the coal industry shutting, the state government is investing heavily in developing the area into a trails centred tourism town, building over 120km of mountain bike trails in the vicinity. At the same time the government is also rapidly expanding the national parks and conservation areas, with over 350 000ha of new land brought into the conservation fold. All this is great news for mountain bikers and I was here to ride this part of the new network for the first time.
As well as these Wellington National Park trails, there is a huge range of riding in the Collie area, I have also ridden the Arklow section closer to the town. The Arklow trails are more cross country orientated, with mainly blue and green trails (in truth the 'blue' are generally towards the green end of the difficulty level). I recently did a 50km race at Arklow and didn't ride the same trail twice, which illustrates the size of the network. Great fun, but I was here at The Dam to ride downhill as much as possible.
The trails start right near the top of the dam wall and feature a series of carefully crafted downhill sections and looping uphill trails that make the most of the 100m or so fall from the top of the dam area and a nearby hill, down to the Collie river below. The trails range from true Green trails that beginners should be able to enjoy, with a couple of blue and three black trails. I didn't get to ride them all as the temperature was hitting close to 40, and with fire alerts popping up around the state I was not keen to ride for too long but here are my impressions on the ones I did ride:
Big Dipper - a great 'green' warm up trail. This is a loop trail that takes you down off the Sika trail, into the north-western valley, back up the hill again and then dropping down on the southern side into the Collie River valley. The cornering on the descents is great fun, with switchbacks seeming to go on forever. Probably the only negative comment is that when I did a second run with a bit more speed it is easy to drift up the tight little berms, with the 'fast line' having quite a lot of loose gravel near the top. Probably an unfair comment on a green trail.
Dam It - on the day this was my favourite trail! This one deserves it's 'blue' ranking, with some little jumps at the top, one roller that would be gapped by a better rider, some nice little rock gardens and sweet corner after sweet corner! Great fun, but a nice mix of challenges for a rider stepping up from green trails. Again, some of the corners have a bit of ball bearing gravel if you stray off-line, but that is sort of a Western Australian signature tune isn't it? I took a video on this trail
Wam Bam. This one is an excellent and more challenging trail. It is rated 'black', which is probably appropriate, but 90% of the trail is an easy and fast ride. However there are a few well routed rocky sections that deserve the higher rating. I would advise getting off and walking these granite sections before you hit them on the bike. I was riding alone with an open face helmet and there is one granite drop off on the trail, maybe 70 or 80cm high, that I didn't ride after I walked it because the landing looked like it needed some precision and I didn't fancy getting knocked out alone on a Thursday with the temperature hitting 40! However with a full face helmet and a friend along I would have ridden and loved the whole trail...... next time.
Uphill trails - normally I would not review uphills as I tend to regard them as a means to an end (riding down) than as something to be enjoyed, however these ones are an exception. Common Ground have excelled themselves in constructing loopy, shady uphill sections that are actually fun to ride! Lichen This must be the prettiest uphill trail in the state! The corners near the bottom are constructed out of granite rocks carefully placed to give a unique looping trail that, appropriately, takes the rider past magnificent lichen covered rocks through the jarrah forest. If it wasn't so bloody hot I could have forgotten I was riding up a hill!
Overall this is a really good addition to the ever growing ranks of WA trail centres. I think what I particularly liked about what Common Ground have done is the way they have stepped away from the wide, smooth 'machine built' trails appearing in many locations. These trails hark back to the more natural trails of ten or fifteen years years ago, but built in a sustainable and safe manner that will deliver lots of thrills for riders over the next decade or so,. Nice work DBCA!