Flow’s Fabulous Adventure | The Colourful Reef to Reef 2022


Mick recounts his epic week at the Reef to Reef

“Who’s that silly guy wearing long pants? He must have juuuust stepped off the plane. ”

I arrived in Cairns for the third running of the Reef to Reef MTB, and I was delighted to be there. Leaving a very damp and dreary wintery Newcastle behind me, the weight of winter fatigue was heavy. So, feeling the warm air on my skin and seeing the lush tropical landscapes and friendly faces lining up for registration at the brewery ahead of the evening before the event kicked off felt bloody fantastic and uplifting.

The Reef to Reef is the newest in the Epic Series, following the popular four-day format of the Cape to Cape, WA and the Port to Port, NSW. From Cairns to Port Douglas via the Atherton Tablelands, the R2R is a sensational event. Designed for the intermediate rider, though there is a competitive element at the pointy end, it’s super chilled out, highly organised and a lot of fun. It’s all about the location, location, location; Tropical North QLD at its best.

It was my second time photographing the R2R, but my work at Flow has taken me to the region many times. Initially, it was racing downhill in the early 2000s for a round of the National Series. After my ‘retirement’ from racing, I would return many times with the camera, documenting the colourful region as a mountain bike destination. From Mission Beach down south to Cairns, up and around the Tablelands and north to Port Douglas.

Then came the World Cup and World Championships, a career highlight for an Australian mountain bike journo, seeing Smithfield play host to the most significant race in the world. Standing at the R2R event centre, the memories of the crowds, the electric atmosphere and the international superstar competition was unforgettable.

The nostalgia of being in Cairns and excitement for the week ahead was real; it was time to kick off four days of ripping around the rainforests and bushland to capture the sights, vibe and feel of the 2022 R2R. So let the good times roll!

Ella and Tim escape the cold of Melbourne and Canberra in classic Cairns gypsy style. Accommodation and transport in one, sorted!
Once Cape to Cape and Port to Port, we were thrilled to see Tony Tucknott trade the microphone for the race bike this week. Legend.
Clean race bikes watched on as their owners displayed a severe lack of commitment to the competition, with beers and burgers in hand.
Mcallister Brewery was the place to be in Smithfield. Their XPA was especially delicious.
Pre-event catch-ups.
Cheers to the week ahead!
Couples, pairs, mates everywhere.
Calm down, cycling fans; give him some space and act normal. OMG, it’s Mitch Docker! The recently retired road cycling World Tour pro is turning his hand to more gravel and MTB events for fun; he was very welcome indeed.
Been there, got the tote bag.
Classic Cairns colour palette.

Stage one – Smithfield MTB Park, Cairns. Riding the famed World Champs race course.

The conditions were perfect. The sight of dust coming off the tyres as riders passed by was glorious; oh, we have missed dry trails!

The first day is a time trial on a short course to group riders for the following days. So if you wanted to be up the front for the singletrack on day two, riders needed to put their best foot forward on day one.

Disappearing into the rainforest, the course is short but punchy, with meandering climbs leading you into epic flowing descents.

My mode of transport was a new Specialized Levo from Pump’ N Pedals (cheers, dudes!), so I felt right at home as I rode around the course. I shot the first few riders off the start, then punched it up the long climb, deeeeeep into the greenery to await the lead riders at the top of the climb. The terrain is mad, dripping with greenery and lushness. I love this place.

Another gypsy, and his wheels ready for action.
From World Champs to Reef to Reef to Crankworx. Smithfield has seen some stuff! This October, it’ll be on!
The course build for Crankworx is in full swing. It felt very real, standing in the shadow of the monstrous mounds of dirt. This one will be the final landing of the slopestyle course.
Em and Karl were greeted with a bright green and purple surprise when they picked up their hire car! So Jucy!
Team kits were on a new level this year; riders looked fantastic!
Colour and selfies, the vibes were good.

 

Rider’s ready!
Aaand, GO!
But seriously, why rush?
Old mate Jon Odams hams it up for the camera, pulling a wheelie at the summit. He is always good for a photo opportunity; thanks, mate!
Sandy, a Cairns local on the A-line.
Yeeeehaaa!
The trails look like they’ve been drawn into the rainforest with a paintbrush; the curves and bends are delightful to photograph and ride.
Karen and Anna fly through the rainforest.
Don’t be fooled; the rainforest hides a few menacing surprises like the Wait-a-While vine. It hangs from the canopy of the rainforest with prickles on its thin stem. Initially, it may look harmless, but when you get tangled in it and try to walk away, you realise how it got its name.
Ribbons of red through the green.
Holly Harris has raced this course on the Australian team, though she was visibly more chilled out this time.
Marathon MTB, AMB, and Mike Blewitt’s social media manager; Mike Blewitt leads partner and teammate Imogen into an amazing descent.
Down ya go!
Ferns, roots, and flowing turns. The trails are predictable and well-signed when there are multiple line options.
Odin from NZ Mountain Biker Magazine and mate Jordan raced each stage with a VB strapped to their downtubes to crack as they crossed the finish line each day. Mmmmm, warm and extra fizzy, so committed.
Winding and hooting.
There is all sorts at this event, from XC hardtails to longer travel enduro bikes with flat pedals.
Father and daughter racing as a pair on a family holiday, how bout that!
Fish tacos, yes, please!
Nino the dog meeting friends.
A time trial format promotes a strenuous effort to the last metre.
Choccy milk, beer, air, beer.
The Crankworx course build raged on in the distance.
The Flux Trail and World Trail crew were busy marking what looked like the Crankworx pump track course. We’re in safe hands with this mob!
Down to Trinity Beach for dinner; it was pumping on a Thursday night! Peak holiday season, it turned out.
Old mate on the electro-sax brought the Kenny G vibes turned up to 11 as we yelled at each other over our pizzas.

Stage two –  Davies Creek, an austere landscape with flowing singletrack

Above Cairns is a unique part of Tropical North QLD, the Atherton Tablelands. Generally a few degrees cooler than Cairns and without the humidity, I have enjoyed travelling the Tablelands over the years. The old timber pubs, waterfalls, fresh produce and great trails make it worth visiting, and for many mountain bikers, the opportunity to see the region during an event is exceptional.

The drive between Cairns and Davies Creek is part of the charm; as we set off early before sunrise, we caught a glimpse of the sun peeking over the horizon as we passed the start of the iconic Kuranda DH track overlooking the city of Cairns. It was going to be a long day, but a great one!

A chilly morning greeted riders as they readied for a day out on the trails; the sun broke through the eucalypts and quickly warmed the landscape. The long lines to the loo were added to the pre-race nerves ahead of the start.

With two of us shooting, Tim Bardsley-Smith and myself, we split up to cover the day. Tim waited for the start as I bolted in ‘turbo mode’ to the singletrack descent to catch the elites shredding the excellent stuff. It paid off, and I snapped epic shots of the lead riders tipping into the fast turns and flowing through the glowing green undergrowth.

Making my way further into the course, I came across the most energetic and well-dressed volunteer marshals I’d ever seen! The vibes were pumping from discos to cheerleaders to rainbow-clad 90’s aerobic outfits! Then, in the middle of nowhere, you could hear the loud cheers of support, and they were still at it, giving 100% as I passed by again on my way back to the finish. Thanks for bringing the good cheers, folks!

Riders were moving quickly through the trails; the dry and open fire roads split up sections of fast-rolling singletrack, dotted with creek crossings and perhaps a sighting of a meandering cow. Finally, I found a large dam out the back of the course, a proper oasis in the dry and austere landscape; it was beautiful! With lilies floating on the surface, and the mountains behind, I could have sat there for hours enjoying the contest between the landscapes.

With little phone reception, riders mingled at the finish, trading stories and washing bikes before heading back to the brewery in Smithfield for the presentation and more beer, of course.

My fellow photographer and old friend, Tim Bardsley-Smith, surveys Cairns from the Kuranda Lookout.
Vandy’s white shoes ‘n socks were back for more punishment.
The leaders of the categories were recognised by their new matching jerseys.
Part of the Shimano crew with their soigneur and one-person cheer squad, Toby.
Brendan was flying down the descent.
Peta and Jarrod were going for gold in the mixed pairs category.
Sophie Knox, dropping in!
Old mate Bobo loves the fast and flowing singletrack at Davies Creek.
Classic Davies Creek, the white eucalypt trees and glowing green undergrowth make for a great picture.
I remembered this tree from last year; the trails are gorgeous.
Fast fire roads made for high-paced riding, munching away the miles under the hot sun.
This year’s volunteer marshals were in top form, bringing colour, energy, support, and loud encouragement all day long!
Gooooo Peter!
The disco beats at this marshal point were poppin!
Tim Webster didn’t hold back when I asked him to splash me, crikey!
This beautiful lake, a true tropical oasis, was way out the back of the course.
Mick Cook risks all the cramps and pulls a wheelie for the camera.
The climbs were challenging, though, oh yes.
Marshal selfie, a photo of a photo of a photo of a photo…
Classic QLD.
Job done! Time for a beer, a scrub, and some shampoo.
Crafty on the mic, keeping the vibes high and the info flowing.
That leader’s jersey smile!
Always nice to see whole families in support of the riders.
All the way from Launceston, these two families always looked to be enjoying the QLD way of life.
A solid day on great trails.
Off to the Squirt bike wash for a clean and re-lube.
Adam from Pump ‘N Pedals was on hand for any bike TLC needed.
Imogen and Mike discuss their competitor’s tactics and where to get pizza for dinner.
Uh oh!
It’s not called Davies Creek for nothing! A stone’s throw from the finish line is this remarkable creek to swim in, and there are even more Instagrammable swimming holes and the epic Davies Creek Falls. It’s glorious.

Stage three – Mount Molloy, a taste of rural QLD, plus rainforests and ruts.

Mount Molloy is a quirky place and about as QLD as it comes. It feels like stepping back in time in a tiny old rural timber and mining town. So much that the same fellow in a cowboy hat was at the bar, same as last year, priceless.

The longest day of the event takes in a wide variety of terrain; this day is predominantly on farm tracks, moto trails and fire roads, so it was time to form a pack and hunt down the miles while enjoying the scenery.

Another brisk morning warmed up quickly once the sun burst through the mist; riders left Mount Molloy on a tour of the nearby cane fields before turning into a stretch of undulating creek crossings, rut-dodging, wild horse spotting and a rollercoaster of rugged moto trails. I set off early to catch the riders in the further sections of the trails, but I messed up and overshot the moto trails. I thought my day was over, but I took the opportunity to ride amongst the riders one-handed, shooting (spraying and praying) slow-shutter motion shots, and captured the action from within.

The race took us through some remarkably lush and dense rainforest, through national parks, and back out through the cattle and sugar cane country.

Back at the event centre, the sun was beating down, riders hid from the heat under the umbrellas with a cold beer, while others rolled up to the Mount Molloy Hotel for a dose of rural QLD culture and a very salty hamburger.

Palms in the mist, Mount Molloy was shrouded in a thick fog when we arrived.
The event crew run a great show, with plenty of feedback from riders on their well-organised outfit.
Ready for a day on the trails.
Riding through classic Wetherby Station and the iconic cane fields is an experience we wouldn’t have without this event.
Colours of cane; burnt, cut and fresh.
Jon and Trekky came into the race as the main favourites for open male pairs, but a flat tyre put them on the back foot on day one.
I hit the turbo button and joined the pack, shooting photos with one hand. It was a wild few minutes!
Hold on!
Surprise! I’m coming along for a bit. 😉
I busted ahead on a climb, grabbed the camera from my bag and snapped this shot of the group I was riding in. They were flying!
Hot, hardpacked and dry; it was a fast course when gravity was on your side.
Or, if you were not in a pack, it was a more lonely affair. Very scenic, though!
My new mate Mitch with Holly in tow, munching the miles under bright blue skies.
Everyone’s mate Tony Tucknott was hauling out there. Big heart, big engine.
“Give me a tow” Tim said to the guy on an e-MTB.
Crikey, look up; there’s a creek crossing coming!
Whhooooooosssch!
Christine Conyers with a smile bigger than the next hill.
This image sums up the last few km of day three.
One stoked Steve across the line.
Orlagh O Connor was proving that flat pedals win medals. Legend!
Cheers folks!
Alex Lack’s custom Trek Top Fuel was glistening in the hot sunlight.
The variety of bikes this year was greater than we’d seen before.
Hard work is paying off, solid teamwork for Nathan and Alex!
Finding shade in Mount Molloy.
Don’t spray the electric bits!
“What do we have to do for you to spray yourself in the face?” Oh, that was easy…
Tasman and Mon, holiday vibes were strong with this group. From crocodile farms to reef snorkelling, they immersed themselves in the trip and came away with the win. Epic!
Our favourite Kiwi tourists, Jordan and Odin, were always up for a photo op. Chur!
This van was not out of place in quirky Mount Molloy.
Ella dives in head first.
Jordan and some Mount Molloy locals.
Tim and a very orange meal.
Videographer Zane trades his Athletic Greens for something more orange and satisfying.
Old mate from last year!
Mitch was revelling in the chill and friendly post-race vibes, constantly saying, “This wouldn’t happen at a road event.”

Stage four – Down the Bump Track and a dash on the sand to finish.

Each day at the Reef to Reef is vastly different; despite the third and fourth days sharing a start line at Mount Mollo, it’s an entirely new day for the riders and our cameras. Day four also means it’s the RRR (Rural, Rainforest, Reef), celebrating its 30th running; the oldest point-to-point MTB race in Australia adds a whole lotta fresh legs to the crowd of riders. The RRR is just one day, and set off after the Reef to Reef, through the cane and cattle country and down the infamous Bump Track.

The words ‘Bump Track’ could be heard whispered around all week, and it felt a little mysterious for those that hadn’t ridden it yet. So what is this track all about? Is it bumpy? Well, it’s not the type of track you’d fly from Melbourne to ride, but throw a few hundred riders into the mix, racing against the clock, and you’ve got yourselves a wild ride down the plateau to the beach that you won’t forget. It’s a brake-burning dash down an old logging road, with water bars to press send for the camera or soak up for safety.

I was on finish line duty for this final day, so I left trusty Tim to head up to the start and to shoot the Bump Track while I headed to the stunning Four Mile Beach for sunrise to wait for the arrival of the winners. It was another perfect day, the sun popped up, and the temps jumped from cool to ‘oh shit, where is the suncream’. I don’t know anywhere that speaks ‘holiday’ more than Port Douglas; it is such a chill vibe. Before the sun had come up, the long stretch of sand was already growing in population, with people making the most of the day. Yoga, walking, running, riding, talking, photographing, swimming. I even saw a lady and her dog paddle out to sea together; the day was done!

Time went fast, and we heard the elite riders were on the beach; we squinted in the distance. The camera was ready! Who would it be? Will Tas and Alex make it four-from-four, or will reigning champs Jon and Trekky stamp some redemption and take the final stage win?

What followed was a seemingly never-ending celebration, with hundreds of satisfied riders crossing the finish line, a steady stream of happiness! The looks on the riders’ faces were so lovely to witness, a genuine sense of achievement and satisfaction, buoyed by their supporters gathered around on the sand to welcome their friends and family to the finish with warm and fuzzy cheers.

Beers were flowing as riders lay around in the grass at Port Douglas Life Saving Club, recounting the day with friends. The presentation was swift, considering the vast amount of prizes to give out amongst the many categories. There was a celebration for the Triple Crown riders, who’d finished all three Epic Series events, Cape to Cape, Port to Port and Reef to Reef, legends.

Good morning, Four Mile Beach!
A quick snap before joining the bus up to Mount Molloy for the RRR.
I see you!
Quick, where is the suncream!
The Ironman crew were out in force, setting up, and bumping out the frameworks for a great event.
Watch the downward dogs!
Jon and Brendan emerged from the beach as winners on day four.
Pew pew!
Tasman and Alex were not far behind and claimed overall winners. Chapeau, guys!
Em and Karl snagged the prestigious mixed pairs.
Mitch and Holly dodge the holidayers to the line. We recommend listening to Mitch’s podcast, Life in The Peleton. Plus, the episode from this week with Holly! 
Nino!
Pals or competitors, same same.
Thumbs up for the winner’s jersey!
Holiday vibes.
These two were SO stoked.
It’s hard not to sprint the finish line.
Odin and Jordan successfully maintained their pact of cracking a beer on the line, warm as it was at that stage. We hope they come back next year!
The soft sand on the finish line caught a few celebrations out!
To celebrate 30 years of the RRR, Mick Cook rode a 1994 GT RTS on the final day.
We were equal parts impressed and terrified for Mick. Bike technology has come a LONG way!
Here is Paul Van Der Ploeg for scale.
Backup surf rescue, if needed.
So much support for all riders, and the atmosphere was warm.
One day, buddy!
We agree the new Scott Spark is a glamour.
Yessss!
Port Douglas holiday vibes.
A sight for weary eyes!
Triple Crown legend!
So close!
This crew were always smiling.
Time to wash the salt away with the complimentary bike wash with Squirt cleaners and lube. Nice!
Peter Blakey was a part of the early RRR; nice to see him still enjoying the event after so many years.
Bottoms up, podium beers!
The mixed pairs brought a lot of excitement at the pointy end of this year’s event. We hope this category grows; who’s in for 2023?
Cheers!
Craig, Shania and Devon from the media and marketing team, cheers for having us!

I loved my time at R2R; getting creative behind the camera with so many subjects and settings was fun; thank you to all the folks that I jumped in their faces to take their pic. Ripping around the trails with the riders was a hoot too.

Other highlights include: the glorious Nth QLD weather in August, catching up with mates, meeting new ones, road tripping with my old mate Tim, gushing for questions with Mitch, going out for dinner with Holly, Paul, Ella, Tim, Toby, Anna, Orlagh, Alex, Karen, Mike and the whole Ironman crew, seeing Smithfield and reminiscing of the World Champs, sunrise on Four Mile Beach, swimming in Davies Creek, the stunning trails and good vibes all round.

Now, Ironman, please make a new music playlist for next year; I’ll be there. So good.

Cheers, Mick.


For results and more detail on the Reef to Reef, head to the official website here.

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