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 each week we’ll add some history and background, take a trip down memory singletrack of what makes and made the Fling this past dozen years. Enjoy!
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…
Join us next week to see where your Fling journey might take you…