The title to this story isn't a typo (Who is Bronwyn?) or an incomplete sentence (Meet Bronwyn's what?), Bronwyn's is the name of a downhill mountain bike track at the Gap Creek riding area in Brisbane. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance.
The entrance of Bronwyn's is marked by a large sign that displays a black diamond and lots of serious warnings like "Very difficult terrain" and "Don't ride beyond your skill level" and "There be monsters here" and stuff like that. Passing a black diamond sign can be the beginning of a little apocalypse that ends in tears (both kinds, sometimes), but I've done it hundreds of times on skis and mostly I know what I'm doing. This, however, was my first time down a black diamond run on a mountain bike. (Those signs with two black diamonds are a whole different matter. The only time I ski'd a double black diamond run was at Breckenridge and it didn't go well. Ski down half, fall down the other half, brush the snow out from down my back, walk up half to get the skis, ski down a third, fall down a quarter, brush out more snow, walk up a quarter to get my skis again and then walk all the way to the bottom to meet up with the instructor and rest of the group who have been watching me ski, fall, brush and walk for so long that they've all turned blue and started shivering.)
However, Bronwyn's is not about skiing it's about riding, and even if I didn't know what I was doing I was going to do it anyway! I had read the almost evangelical reviews of this track on mtbdirt and seen pictures of the sensational looking structures that had been built and I was here to ride. Monsters, be damned!
The start of the track is steep and I had to get way behind the seat and really push into the pedals to stay in control. I remember thinking "I've never done this before", but whatever I was doing seemed to be working and I was riding down the hill. It wasn't going fast, but the bike was going where I wanted it to and I wasn't skidding or falling off.
So far, so good.
The all-rock corner (picture #1) was the first big challenge.
This corner is a lot steeper than it looks in the picture and that is because there's a warp in the time-space continuum right at that start of the corner that increases the gravitational pull of the earth. One day scientists will discover this gravitational warp and study it in great detail but until then trust me - gravity sucks really hard at the entrance to the rock corner.
The log at the approach is right where you would want a nice piece of flat track so you can brake, look at the whole corner and get your line and speed right. Instead, I found myself looking under my handlebars, trying to see if there was anything on the other side of the log (perhaps a black hole or a neutron star?) as my front wheel disappeared over the edge. What I could have done instead was follow the advice on the sign and stop, get off, walk down the hill, check everything out very carefully from several different angles, make a few decisions and then go back and ride with the confidence of an assured man. Instead, I was rolling down the hill, looking for stellar objects and figuring things out as I went along.
(Now before you take the "he should be riding safely!" high ground, let me point out that there is a profound flaw in the "check it out first" approach for a rider of my limited skill and experience, and I'll get to that in the context of the next major obstacle.)
After my front wheel landed downhill from the log (missing the invisible stellar object) I was too far on the inside of the corner, with my weight forward and carrying a little bit too much speed. I was on both brakes and steering back toward the middle of the track when I had a big moment that involved a dug-in front wheel and that horrible feeling when the bike starts to rotate around its front axle with rider attached. I thought "This isn't working!" as I got off the brakes, yanked on the bars and closed all open sphincters. It's funny how time slows during these "Is this how it will end?" moments (this could something to do with the gravitational field) because I also remember having enough time to think "Whatever happens next, there is no plan C". Fortunately the front wheel started rolling again and the rear wheel re-united with the earth and I skipped and bumped through the corner. It wasn't pretty, but I somehow maintained vertical superiority over the bike and stayed on the groomed stuff.
No apocalypse yet!
The near endo at the rock corner was the biggest adrenaline rush I'd ever had on a Mountain Bike. Who knew it would be mere seconds before I experienced an even bigger one.
The next section of the track has some great sweeping corners (picture #2) and jumps (picture #3) that all came and went without too much drama.
In fact, some of the jumps had me sailing through the air and landing with a big grin. I probably should have been landing with both wheels simultaneously as well, but that's a mere technicality. As the rear-engineers at Porsche say: form follows function.
I was really getting into the flow of the track and having a ball until I got to Evil Knievil's Grand Canyon Launch Ramp Replica (patent pending)(picture #4).
This thing looked so ominous that I stopped, got off the bike, walked down the hill, checked everything out very carefully from several angles and made a few decisions on how to ride it. The first decision was that I would rather fall over the tree than into it because that would surely hurt a lot less. I really didn't know how fast to ride over the ramp so I decided to ride a little bit faster than whatever speed I reckon is the ideal speed, so that if I did fall I would probably maybe land the other side of the tree.
The alert reader will at this point have seized on the fundamental flaw with the logic behind this decision and it is this: it's a positive feedback loop with no break point. The loop runs like this: speed up until you're going about the "ideal speed", then go a "little bit faster" just to be safe. Now you're really going the "ideal speed", right? Right! So, having reached the ideal speed, go a "little bit faster" just to be safe. Repeat several "little bit fasters" until you realise you're going way too fast and then panic.
That's not the all of it, either. Recall the profound flaw in the "look at everything first and then decide how to ride it" approach I mentioned earlier? Well, it's this: I simply don't know what I'm looking at. I could walk up and down that run fourty seven times taking measurements and photographs and GPS readings, but I have never ridden over Evil Knievil's Grand Canyon Launch Ramp Replica (patent pending) or anything remotely like it before so I have absolutely no idea what to do. I can see it's about a metre tall and it looks steep on the way up and steep on the way down, but so what? What does that mean? How fast does one ride over this thing? How far back does one lean? Does one lean back at all? Does one need to pedal at any point? If so, what gear should one be in? Should one turn one's iPod off? I mean, what if Billy Joel's Uptown Girl starts playing while I'm approaching the ramp and I start convulsing with disgust? I don't want to die listening to Uptown Girl! What if it was still playing when they discovered my body? The humiliation would be more than any grieving family ought to endure. So the net of all that angst is that the only decision I could possibly make about riding Evil Knievil's Grand Canyon Launch Ramp Replica (patent pending) was to ride over it too fast.
Aristotle would not have been impressed with my thinking, but Evil might have laughed out loud if he saw the look on my face as the bike and I inadvertently became airborne at the top of the ramp. I can't say how fast I was going, or what gear I was in, or where my weight was positioned, but I can tell you that for a split second I was so bloody terrified that time stopped. The wind stopped blowing, birds froze in mid-flight and the bush went totally silent as I hovered, all puckered and panicked, over the top of Evil Knievil's Grand Canyon Launch Ramp Replica (patent pending).
I don't think I was more than a couple of inches off the timber because I rode the downhill part of the ramp, albeit with my front wheel hanging in the air, but for a second it really felt like I was flying. After I got back on terra firma and started breathing again I stopped the bike and laughed uncontrollably for a few minutes at the sheer thrill of being alive.
(The Launch Ramp episode reminds me of a story, told to me first-hand, of a soldier who was running towards his Humvee during a mortar attack when the vehicle exploded. The force of the explosion knocked him a over t through the air and he landed, after a full somersault, unhurt and flat on his back. He burst out laughing at having cheated death by mere seconds and lie there laughing uncontrollably until his sergeant's giant black frame appeared out the clear blue sky to drag his commanding officer into the nearest foxhole. I think I know how the guy felt.)
After the launch ramp, Bronwyn's continues rolling along with lots of great terrain and a terrific timber corner (pictures #5 and #6) that is actually relatively easy to ride around if you don't go too fast and stay on the bottom level.
If, however, you ride around the bottom level and then think "That was too easy! I'll go back up and do it faster so I get up on the higher level and have even more fun!" then you might end up discovering, as I did, that it's a good idea to get your front wheel down when you exit the corner otherwise you'll land at a funny angle. Funny, strange that is, not funny ha-ha, because it isn't funny ha-ha to ride straight at a tree. (But it is funny ha-ha to miss it.)
It's fitting that such a great track as Bronwyn's saves the best until last with piece of elevated track that simply has to be ridden to be fully appreciated (picture #7).
It's also fitting that a story like this excludes some of the treasures of this terrific track, so I'll leave it to your imagination what Bronwyn's final fling is really like. However, I can reveal that the ramp is not the same width all the way down, the long black marks you can see are not grain in the timber and there's quite a bit of not much at all at end of the ramp (picture #8).
Now if only there was a chairlift at the bottom of this terrific black diamond run to whisk you back to the top of the hill.
Kudos to all of the people at the SE Queensland mtbdirt.com.au community who put their time and resources into conceiving and building this fabulous mountain bike track and thanks to Pallen for the pictures.