For 12 years now we’ve been taking riders on a journey. A journey along narrow country lanes, and through lush private farmlands. A journey fording rivers, and plunging into stunning fern gullies. A journey that snakes through some of Australia’s most renowned flowing singletrack, and winds across rocky, technical terrain. A journey that rewards riders for conquering climbs with scenic views, and leaves riders with a euphoric sense of achievement. A journey past weird and wonderful sights from confessional boxes and choirs to beer bars and bongo drummers.
In the lead up to the 2016 Highland Fling we added some history and background so riders could either take a trip down memory singletrack or learn more about what makes and made the Fling the iconic event it is.
THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FLING
Posted 18 July 2016
Some will know, but many won’t that whilst Wild Horizons has been based in the beautiful Southern Highlands village of Bundanoon for 21 years – the Highland Fling was not our first race. As we went around the country running adventure events, starting in 1997, we were always keen to run one in our own backyard. Somewhere we could check the course, talk to the locals and ride the course by just hopping on our bikes from home. An event that could contribute to our own community and economy.
The first ‘Highland Fling’ was not the Highland Fling MTB Marathon you know today. We used to run an event called the Polaris Challenge, a peripatetic event that, for 11 years, moved to a different part of NSW each year. In 2002 we ran it in the Highlands and, given the Polaris always had a theme, the 2002 version was all things Scottish. The Flinging Jimmy, portrayed today going over the handlebars in the Highland Fling logo, was the mascot of the 2002 Polaris. So in some ways, anyone who says they have done all the Highland Flings, needed to also have done the 2002 Polaris Challenge. Hands up anyone?
We saw the need for a great mountain bike marathon in NSW, saw the potential of our own backyard and combined the two and so the Highland Fling MTB Marathon was born. The first event ran on the second Sunday of November 2005, a date we’ve stuck with ever since.
More than any marathon in Australia, the Highland Fling takes you on a journey; a journey through native forest, farmland, villages, snaking singletrack renowned across the land, pine forest and much more. And, just like it’s beginnings, each Fling normally has a theme…
A FLING FOR EVERYONE
Posted 29 July 2016
‘I got to the 10km to go sign and I’d already done over 100km. That’s bullshit’ is a reasonably regular refrain from riders in the Full Fling (less so now than early years perhaps). The Full Fling has never been and will never be 100km long which, due perhaps to other events using the 50/100km distances, too many who did not read the race details would presume.
Each year the Full Fling, the Blue Riband distance, will be somewhere between 105 and 115km. We tell you beforehand of course! The Full Fling takes in what have become known as the Ground Effect Stage, the Shimano Stage and the GU Stage.
The Half Fling is not 50km and nor is it necessarily half of the Full Fling. Traditionally the Half Fling is around 55 to 60km and is the most popular distance in terms of participant numbers in the event. The Half Fling does the Ground Effect Stage and the GU Stage.
HIGHLAND FLING COURSE HISTORY
The 100Mile Fling was introduced in 2006, the second year of the Highland Fling, thus making it Australia’s oldest imperial century MTB marathon. Initially the 100Mile (approx. 160km) distance had pretty severe cut-offs but as we’ve mellowed with old age (just like fine wine) so have the cut-offs. That said it is still a massive undertaking that relatively few people attempt; around 20-30 each year, and many still don’t complete. Finish times run from less than 7 hours to more than 11. Katrin Van der Spiegel was the first woman to complete the 100Mile Fling then in 2012 6 women completed the distance with the podium split by a mere 90 seconds. The 100Mile Fling does the Ground Effect Stage, The Shimano Stage (twice!) and the GU Stage.
The ménage a trois of mountain biking; a Flinging Threesome offers a relay style opportunity with one rider doing each of the 3 stages that make up a Full Fling, transitioning at Bill O’Reilly Oval in Wingello village. For those more traditional couples, you can also do it as a Twosome where one rider does two of the stages and the other does one.
The Casual Fling
In our mind there is nothing more satisfying than a Casual Fling. Relatively short (around 15km) requiring less commitment, it is designed for those who don’t want to be timed in a race but want to be part of the atmosphere that is a Highland Fling weekend. After many years, in 2015 the Casual Fling was caught out and replaced by the more zippy Some Fling. Like all pleasurable affairs, it might return one day…
The Some Fling
Sick of the little whippets lying about their age and sneaking into the Half Fling and recognising we needed to offer more particularly for the 12-15 year old racers, we introduced the Some Fling, a 23km course taking in the first 7km and last 15km of the Half Fling. Whilst it is our shortest distance and thus suited for less fit riders too, be warned it does feature some of the more technical aspects of the course.
The Dark Side
Usually prefixed by the words ‘The World Famous’ the Dark Side are the people who keep the wheels and gears of Wild horizons events rolling along smoothly and with a sense of fun and professionalism. Many Dark Siders started off taking part in our events and then either due to perhaps an injury or a desire to ‘put something back’ put their hand up to help. Many Dark Siders who did that find they’ve never escaped to ride again. For some this has gone on for 15 years or more…
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE THE START OF A JOURNEY
A Traditional Highland Fling Welcome
Riders, and their support crew of family and friends, are welcomed to the Highland Fling event centre in true Highlands style. The dawn piper heralds in race day, waking those still sleeping (camping at the event centre the night before the race is highly encouraged and a great way to ensure you’re on time), along with reminding people that the queue for the coffee van is growing steadily.
And there’s nothing quite like the anticipation of riders gathering, taking stock of the competition by looking at race plates and guessing ages, admiring enviously blinged up bikes, and finally lining up in the start chute ready for to set off!
AND WE EMBARK…
Posted 12 August 2016
Three, two, one, gun! This is where the real Highland Fling journey begins. As riders roll out of the event hub to the sound of spectators cheering and some high adrenaline music pumping, they might wonder what the course may bring. Over the coming weeks we’ll share (in course order and using the Full Fling course route as our guide) what riders will encounter.
The Bottlebrush Tree
The trail is pretty busy at this early stage in everybody’s race, but if you look to your left about 4km in you’ll see a tree fruiting with bidons and, on occasions, brushes too. Lovingly tended by the farm staff using those bounced out bidons that are inevitable in the early rush each year.
Free Bike Wash
Invariably deep, always sandy and always forced to go through the middle, The Free Bike Wash is one of the rare treats you get to enjoy twice in the Fling. On the way out about 8km into The Ground Effect Stage and on the way back with about 15km to go. Nice on a hot day.
WATER WATER EVERYWHERE – EXCEPT WHERE IT’S NEEDED MOST
Posted 19 August 2016
For many years (2005 through until 2012) the Free Bike Wash made sure riders were cleaned-up, which was apt because not far up the road they would need to look their best as the journey continued onto the Yacht Club…and then continued beyond.
The Yacht Club
A long time ago, long before the memory of most Highlands residents, a 10metre long steel yacht appeared in the pine forest. No-one knows quite how it got there or why. Was it a latter day Noah worried about global warming and rising sea levels? Was it stolen from the residents of the mosquito ridden coastal swamplands far, far below by the sea? For years the Fling would pass by the yacht and some riders were convinced they could hear the midshipman piping them through. Then, as mysteriously as it arrived, in 2014 it disappeared. Yes, a rusting hull weighing 10 of tonnes just disappeared. Regardless, local riders still traditionally pay homage at the site on Xmas Eve each year to toast the festive season with champagne, mince pies and other delights.
A rather strange resident of Bundanoon decided one day it might be fun to try and prevent thousands of people having fun on bikes and contributing to the community and economy of the region. Enough said.
Posted 25 August 2016
From Fenwick’s Folly the journey leads you to what is definitely a photo opportunity. If you decide not to stop (it is a race after all) we captured it for you in this beautiful artwork by Nicole Grimm-Hewitt to celebrate the Highland Fling’s 10th anniversary. This is followed by another chance to clean-up – how clean depends on the weather…
Most people remember that beautiful section through scribbly gum forest on the GU Stage where Lomandra grasses brush against calves as you climb up from the river on languorously ascending singletrack. Jack’s Jaunt is named after Jack Jeffreys, the owner of the farm on which this delight delights.
Early Bath/New Early Bath
In 2007 170mm of rain fell upon the Southern Highlands in the days just leading up to the Highland Fling. Rivers flooded everywhere. One of the beauties of the region is that once the rain stops, the sandy soils soon drain away and you’re left with tacky trails and perfect riding almost within a day of the deluge. In this year the rain finally stopped on the Saturday morning. Race conditions were perfect but alas the Early Bath, a 10 metre wide crossing of Paddys River in The Ground Effect Stage, stayed resolutely swollen. The water was still, not flowing, but it meant a waste deep wade at best whilst for the shorter of stature the waters lapped against chins with bikes held high above heads. Always unrideable, sometimes cold, often deep, The Early Bath has not featured in the Fling course these past couple of years. However it has been replaced by New Early Bath: always unrideable, sometimes cold, rarely deep and occasionally complete with claw foot bath perched upon the rocks.
Posted 2 September 2016
Boags Draft/Pigs Fly
For many years the Highland Fling crossed Paddys River at the Early Bath and moved onto Robert Boag’s property. In the early years Robert had a problem with some wild pigs tearing up his paddocks. This coincided with the Bowral Brewing Company releasing an ale called Pigs Fly. Hence the sections Pigs Fly and Boags Draft were born. The former sponsored the Fling, the latter didn’t…
Bill O’Reilly Oval
Sir Donald Bradman eh? Bradman Oval. Pah! Nestled in the little hamlet of Wingello and acting as the Transition Area for the Fling is an oval named after someone Bradman called ‘the greatest bowler he had ever faced or watched’. ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly moved to Wingello when he was 12 years old. So cricket tragics, tug on your baggies as you arrive and pay homage to the great man.
SUNDAYS ARE FOR…SINGLETRACK
Posted 16 September 2016
One of the first sections of singletrack encountered in the Shimano Stage and taking a fun, mostly downward line, it is, don’t worry atheists, not a religious sign. There once was a manager for State Forests who had the surname Chaplin who was for some time rather averse to singletrack. However when this section was built with his blessing it was named Padre’s Blessing (Chaplin….Chaplain….Padre….)
When we built this section of trail in Wingello State Forest in 2013 it offered a bypass to the steep and for most people, unrideable Wall. So it was initially called Where’s Wall-y, as in Where’s The Wall but soon became Where’s Wally?
WHAT IS THIS WALL SPOKEN OF IN HUSHED TONES AND WITH PAINFUL EXPRESSION?
Posted 23 September 2016
No journey is truly complete without challenges to overcome, and which can be spoken of for years to come…
But of course The Wall was a Fling fixture from year one in the middle stage, The Shimano Stage. We couldn’t miss it out, even after Where’s Wally? had been built. The Wall is a short, very steep section of fire trail that, in the middle 20 metres or so, has riders hanging low over the bars while still trying to keep some weight on the rear. As Pink Floyd put it ‘All I don’t need is another Slip on the Wall.’
So with what some might say was typical Wild Horizons bastardry, Full Flingers and 100Milers get to ride almost to where the top of The Wall levels out and ducks into All You Need. Then, watching aghast other riders coming up from The Wall, they ride Where’s Wally backwards and make their way around over a couple of kilometres to…The Wall.
All You Need
Is to be rewarded…and All You Need does just that. It’s the first section of a fast 3km long sweet singletrack section twisting and starting at the top of The Wall – it will literally leave you singing, and leads to…
SINGLE MINDED FUN
Posted 7 October 2016
During this part of the journey we’re staying single and loving it!
Oi gutter and innuendo types go wash your bidons out…
We can’t remember the year but some Flinger, not looking where he was going (and surely standing tall on his pedals?) managed to give a horizontal tree trunk an almighty thwack that rendered him somewhat fuzzy headed for days to come. The offending bit of timber is there no more, having we’re sure, been loosened by the hammerhead.
The Great Wall
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story…
In the early days of building the Wingello trails in 2006-2007, we worked hands on tools with a few workgroups from CVA; Conservation Volunteers Australia. One of these had a large component of South Korean Backpackers for a few days and they helped to build a section where, if you look carefully, even after all these years, you will find a section of benched trail held up by expertly placed rocks. South Korea abut North Korea which borders China which has a bloody big wall. The Great Wall of Wingello may not be seen from space but it is probably more fun to ride on than the other one.
This week we’re sharing a fab video from MTB-TV that shows you footage through the singletrack journey we’ve just shared.
Check it out here.
Posted 14 October 2016
Oh yeah, we’re still single and absolutely loving it – so much so in fact we named part of our journey after it.
Love Love Love
Love, Love, Love…Only opened in 2015 and the second section of machine built trail in Wingello Forest – we defy you not to fall for it.
Conjuring up images of AV Jennings or Masterton Homes in a suburban suburb, the reality is something different. A section of, we admit, sometimes sandy singletrack twisting through banksia trees on the edge of Wingello State Forest. It’s not as flowy as most of this flowy network but it pops you out at the top of the fast descent to Fern Gully.
A fast (can be very fast) firetrail descent leads to a sharp left turn across a well, umm, ahh….ferny gully followed by a steady climb all the way up again.
WE ENJOY A JOURNEY THAT TWISTS, TURNS AND PLUNGES
Posted 21 October 2016
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve taken what you think is the same journey, there are always some new twists and turns…
Leech Street & Dailemma
Notable as the first sections of machine built trail in Wingello State Forests and opened in 2014 this descends via bermed corners amongt ferns and rainforest to a crossing of Nyes Creek before a lengthy but well graded (OK there are a couple of tricky corners….) ascent.
Leech Street? Suffice to say it’s not the best place to get a flat or stop for a breather. Dai West (not to be confused with Mai West although he does wear a skirt) is the current incarnation in the mythical and legendary position of Highland Fling Course Director. Wearing his other kilt, as a leading light of Highlands Trails, our local trailbuilding group, Dai scoped out the route and guided the machine into the depths of Nyes Creek. Dailemma.
You know when your mind goes a blank? You can’t remember the name of people you know well or why you did something or when? Perhaps we’ve just been around too long. So it is with Everglades, a section of singletrack built around 2008 that the climb out of Dailemma transitions into and which takes you on your merry way toward Flinging Scotsman and all that follows. We’re buggered if we can remember why it was called Everglades (Ed’s note – but it is Ever lovely to ride).
For a number of years at the Fling, as part of our ‘we can do better for this beautiful but fragile little planet’ efforts we tried to get a charter train from Sydney to Bundanoon happening to bring Flingers and their friends to the event. We got the train, which we called The Flinging Scotsman, but alas not enough passengers to make it viable. So it never made it down the tracks. Meanwhile, in the depths of Wingello State Forest, Flinging Scotsman became its own track.
WILL YOUR JOURNEY GET YOU ON THE FRONT PAGE?
Posted 28 October 2016
As the trails of Wingello State Forest were trying to make their way in the world, trying to get themselves out there, a posse of magazines came to see what all the fuss was about and took photos of death defying stunts and more mundane stuff. One of the latter, featuring a middle aged bloke on a mountain bike, graced the front cover of one such magazine. It is not known whether or not his mum paid money for it to happen.
Long before even the most basic of mountain bikes and bikers were seen in the forests of NSW and long before the Highland Fling was born, a young man by the nickname of Tangles (real name withheld to protect his innocence) got a job in the Southern Highlands for State Forests, or whatever it was called back then. As the trees got older so did he, as they grew up and out so did he. In 1997, for the very first Wild Horizons MTB event, The Polaris Challenge, he took some timber to Berrima Jail and there instructed the inmates to fashion a trophy for the winners of that event. That perpetual trophy continued to be sought after by all for the 11 years the event was held. Tangles has been friend to riders ever since, through good times and bad. When one of the earliest and most twisty bits of singletrack was built in 2006 what else could it be called?
BACK TO WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Posted 31 October 2016
We know, not a particularly inspirational or original name. Actually come to think of it did kick off a pretty well known book and is a term for original things. As you might expect Genesis was the first bit of purpose built singletrack in Wingello State Forest. It’s changed a bit over the years in line but still has the most challenging corner in the network (as evidenced in this quick grab from the crew at www.markie.com.au)
Not well loved when built, particularly by a particular princess. But after instructing her serfs to work on the line with love, Princess’s Revenge became much improved, and continues to be improved thanks to our friends at Highlands Trails.
HALFWAY…OR IS IT?
Posted 2 November 2016
You’d think both the location and the name signify something quite straightforward; halfway in the Full Fling. But where is Halfway Hill? Is it at the start of the long fast descent to the crossing of Joe the Marine Folly Creek (a fine name in itself and, at 520m, the lowest number of metres above sea level of any part of the Fling course) or the crossing itself? Or is it at the top of the hill after the crossing. Perhaps one year someone knew and perhaps that year it really was halfway. Best now just to say approximately Halfway Hill. Some know it as Halfway Hell…
Highland Fling neophytes reach the top of the stiff climb from Joe the Marine Folly Creek, thinking that’s done, as they head into a fast descent to lose the height gained. Then begins the long, equally stiff pull up The Kick. So named as if you thought Halfway Hill was it, then think again.
The place furthest from Bundanoon that the Full Fling/100Mile Fling reaches in the Shimano Stage.
The Wild West
Named after Dai West, kilt wearing (but of non-Scottish descent) Highland Fling Course Director but named at a time before he reached such lofty heights when he was mere ‘Wingello Stage Coordinator.’ A loose, rocky bit that can catch weary riders unawares.
Once upon a time (but no longer) and long before the Fling existed, there was an angry lawyer type (he claimed to be a partner of a big multinational legal mob) who tried flourishing big words in an attempt to claim the council road verge outside his house was his to do as he desired. This included suggesting cyclists not be allowed to ride on a public road. He lamented this attempt.
‘Leave something in the tank for the last 15km of the race’ is what we tell all Flingers. Some listen, many don’t. Boundary Rider, in itself not taxing, marks the start of these last kilometres. On one side farm paddocks, on the other Paddys River below.
We probably don’t need to describe this trail; some names are rather self-explanatory. When we were planning the original route of the Highland Fling, we explored this private property whose owner said ‘check out this trail I’ve just put in.’ We checked it out and it was perfect. That trail, then wide enough to drive along and for the first half dozen years run in the opposite direction, has narrowed over the years. But the 3 steep little pinches have got no easier (perhaps even bonier?) and the rocky descents similarly so, particularly some 45km into a Half Fling, 95km into a Full Fling and 145km into a 100Miles.
Whilst not technically true, perhaps subconsciously, the next section of the journey may have been the inspiration for this year’s Wild Wombat…
Wombat’s Wander/ Wend’s Wonder
Some animals make mountain bike trails; some better than others. Sheep tend to create stuff a bit pockmarked and narrow, cattle can be good although often leave additional steaming obstacles. Elephants are the best although their obstacles can be insurmountable. Trust us we’ve ridden them. There’s no elephants (well none we’ve seen) in the Southern Highlands however Wombats wandering along a pre-determined route can provide quite a fine trail with a little human grooming. So it is along Wombat’s Wander.
Some say that behind every man is a good woman and there is little doubt that the woman behind the founder of Wild Horizons and The Highland Fling is one of the most wonderful. Wend’s Wonder carries on where Wombat’s Wander left off.
‘Robs from the rich, gives to the poor. Robin Hood, Robin Hood.’ We empathise with the morals of Robin and his merry men as they went about their business, hiding away from the Sheriff of Nottingham in Sherwood Forest. But alas this short trail section is not some socialist Utopia. No, Jumping Rock, upon which many of the GU Stage Trails are built, also contains an old school ‘we can build you anything’ workshop business, Sherwood Engineering. Sherwood Forest doffs its bow and arrow in the direction of such enterprise.
Lord Jim, a fine man now of Kangaroo Valley but of South African descent, created this ascent and sharp right hander that flummoxed many in its early iteration but is much easier now. Jim’s Joke indeed.
Do you note we left this particular part of the journey until registrations had closed, and you had already booked your spot on this journey 🙂 There always has to be at least one part of any journey that we have a love hate relationship with.
Perhaps of all the places that make up the Highland Fling journey, Brokeback sees more grown men and women break down on its flanks, many found sobbing uncontrollably. We like to think of it as a gay and happy place with fine views and only 10km to the finish. Others generally demur and it is as commonly known as ‘that bastard grassy hill’ as by its real name.
All this said, it is not for broken men nor Heath Ledger movies for whom this whale back is named. Greg, the property owner, many years ago ascended this hill not by 2 wheels but by the 4 of a quad bike. However 2 of those 4 left the ground and left Greg with a suspected broken back and a helicopter ride to Sydney.
Don’t worry we don’t have it in for the legal profession. Indeed some of our favourite people and even family practice the black art. But when we talk of practice we must tell of a Fling Training Weekend some years ago where a member of the profession caught a pedal on a stump and, in a pinball style manoeuvre, bounced to a tree and then catapulted forward, lay prone and sore. We gave this legal some aid and discovered the breaks were not too severe and no legal papers were subsequently served. We couldn’t put an image of this of course, so we’re going with this because it looked like a fine leap indeed (and he could be a lawyer.
Once you’ve broken the back (we couldn’t help ourselves) of Brokeback Mountain, the fun starts with some fun singletrack you only get to ride as part of the Fling. Enjoy!
‘The Best Fling Since Sliced Bread’ was our 2010 event theme and as bakers and bread ran riot across the event we built a section of trail dedicated to Mountain Biking – The Bread of Life. Thin Sliced, The Oven, Warm as Toast, Racing for the Dough Today all feature in this rocky road of singletrack that wearies limbs with perhaps 7km to go.
The Bridge of Thighs
For some years now Wild Horizons has taken small groups to enjoy the stunning landscapes, architecture, food, wine and mountain biking of Italy. La Dolce Vita indeed. In a break between 500km of riding in Umbria, Tuscany and Romagna and a final week across the Dolomites we stop off in Venice for a look see. This usually includes checking out The Bridge of Sighs. Nothing though, not even this, compares with The Bridge of Thighs, flying graciously across a fenceline at the end of Bakers Delight.
The journey rolls on…there’s a flutter of celebration, or is that perhaps a tinge of sadness because you know the journey is nearing the end? Don’t let this spoil the fun sections still to be had before you get there
2013 saw the Fling celebrate introspection or was it narcissism with the See Yourself theme. Mirrors and mirror balls in weird places confused riders. Imagine, you’ve ridden 50km of your Half Fling or 105km of your Full Fling and you see a sign ‘Mirror mirror on the tree which of the riders do you see?’ before seeing yourself heading toward yourself on the track. What the? Then a late realisation that it is indeed yourself reflected in a full length mirror. By the time you’ve taken this in, you’ve turned away from your reflection.
The Flingstones took over the event in 2014 with Fred, Wilma, Pebbles, Barney and Betty all seen on Stone Age bikes. Double Rubble, the last piece of singletrack in the event, mirrors the theme as it winds through boulders and slides down rocky ramps. Yabbadabbadoo!!!
Great Sandy Desert
Old Argyle Road was the original road from the Highlands to Goulburn but is now a rocky firetrail interspersed, particularly in dry weather, by sandy stretches that sap the strength in the last kilometres of your Fling.
We know it’s pretty tough to make decisions when you’re a little fatigued, but we’re going to make you anyway…
This is just plain unfair. You’re completely knackered, hungry, cramping, dehydrated perhaps, but you know you’ve less than 5km to go to finish your Highland Fling. Then you reach a sign that states ‘Your Call – Go left for steeper and shorter – 550 metres; Go right for longer and leveller – 900 metres’
What to do? How can you make clearheaded decisions in your state? But you have to go one way or t’other. Left is indeed steeper and features some loose rock and solid step ups. Right is indeed leveller but longer. Research has been done, theses written on Your Call. On the day before the race riders can be found checking out both ways. With fresh legs is seems quicker to go left but will it be in the race? And what if someone comes off in front of you and you have to dismount too and walk? Ultimately on the day it’s Your Call.
And now, the end is nigh – so we’ll say goodnight – and see you for a new Fling journey tomorrow…
It’s been a great…looking forward to the next journey.