Must-Ride: The Canberra Centenary Trail

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Words by Damian Breach | Images by Damian Breach

“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

Long distance riding isn’t something that I can say I enjoy. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago I would have rather rubbed my eyes with extra coarse sandpaper followed by a chilli infused eye bath than go on some epic long ride. But maybe as I have aged I have softened some and every now and then something grabs my eye as a must-do ride – no matter how long it is.

This time it was the Canberra Centenary Trail. From the very first time I heard about the plans for this trail I wanted to do it.  The idea of being able to ride around (literally) the town I live in and explore areas I have never been to grabbed me.

What is the Canberra Centenary Tail? It’s a ACT Government funded 140km (or so) muli-use trail that is a mix of singletrack, doubletrack, fireroad, road, and cycle path which all connects to provide a trail to easily ride or walk around the whole of Canberra. It is designed to be done in sections over multiple days. It was officially opened only a few weeks ago and is one of the hallmark features in Canberra’s year-long celebration of the Canberra centenary.

I had never ridden more than 100km before so it was a little daunting. Riding long distance is actually physically hard for me as I have spent most of my cycling life focused on very short distances and my body type revolts against too much time in the saddle. Usually I cramp, vomit, and then cry at the four-hour mark and I knew I had 10 hours or so ahead of me. But I had a plan; take it easy, go slow, rest heaps, eat heaps, drink a beer or two and enjoy it.

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The essentials. Gummie bears, salted cashews, multi-tool, watch, zips ties, two tubes (I am tubeless but these are good for tyre slashes and snakebite bandages), tyre levers, rim strips, c02 canisters (one wrapped in tape to use for tyre slashes), replacement hanger, rain jacket, spare gloves, pump, torx key (my multi-tool doesn’t have one), co2 head, and tripod for camera.

So, 7.15am yesterday I headed out alone on the trail, right from my doorstep, on a bike I had literally never ridden before. But I didn’t care, I just wanted to ride the trail and enjoy my own company for a whole day.

The ride was amazing and I recommend it to all.  It’s not an epic singletrack journey for the whole 140km but you have to remember that the trail is built for everyone.  The only negative was a lack of signage in the urban town centre areas (the signage in the off-road parts is perfect). The ACT government has yet to complete the urban signage and it did make my trip much longer than it needed to be (I got lost a few times). I was helped along the way by people who know the trail intimately and they acted as my call centre for directions. Make sure you do your research and know where the off-road trailheads are as you’ll be able to navigate with your phone to those points. Detailed maps are here. I can also answer any questions you may have so feel free to contact me.

(If you’re a hard core mountain biker and just want singletrack then the Murrumbidgee River section and the Northern Border region are a must).

In just under 11 hours I finished. Yeah I was stuffed by the end, that goes without saying, but not as bad as I thought. No chaffing, a little bit sore, only lost 1 kg, and had no cramping at all. I stopped heaps, drank beer, sat next to rivers, relaxed, chased kangaroos, got lost, had two meat pies, enjoyed an ice cream, chatted to folk along the way, and took my time. That was my plan. I had finally achieved something I had always dreamed about and that was what it was all about.

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The reward. It wasn’t as hard as I thought and the key was plenty of food, water and taking my time. Not every achievement has to be a race and I am more than happy to have my ride recorded in my head.

At the end of my trip I looked over Flow’s Facebook account and could see all the “Strava” comments. I didn’t even have a GPS or odometer with me and I was enjoyably blind to how far and how fast I had ridden.  It was refreshing, and I will say this as my parting words: Why is everything a race? Why can’t we leave behind our egos and just ride for the sake of it? That way you will actually get to enjoy the amazing environment you are riding through.

I will get off my soapbox now and let you enjoy my day through the photos.

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The morning started early and the weather was perfect as I headed towards the Murrumbidgee River. This section of trail is a highlight for us mountain bikers as it follows a pretty cool river.

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The river was running full and fast due to recent rains and the sound of the rushing water was a nice soundtrack to accompany the singletrack.

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Red Rocks Gorge is a famous part of the Murrumbidgee River and sometimes you will see people rock climbing.

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While some parts of the Centenary Trail are groomed by machines, some are more rural as you cross pastoral lands.

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These signs are your friends. When you’re away from the urban sections there’s little need to worry about what direction to head but unfortunately the urban areas are a little different. It pays to know the major trailhead locations as you cross between urban and off-road.

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Canberra does have beaches. Nice sunny beaches with no people to annoy you and there is actually a nudist beach just down the river from here.

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One reason the Centenary Trail was built was to highlight the history of the region. Several places along the route you are invited to check out historic landmarks and information.

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The trail takes you through some very different things and luckily Canberra has some old linkages that were used to avoid some roads.

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The views are amazing. As you actually circle the whole of Canberra you get many different views of the city, from many different angles.

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Isaacs Ridge is piece of Canberra MTB history. As the trail is designed for multi-use it doesn’t take in any of the pine forest singletrack but if you know your way you could divert for some fun on the way.

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One trail head is hidden right behind the War Memorial.

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My route took me past this place. I should have done a big skid down that hill and then they could have screamed, “stop the bikes”.

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Eating on a long ride is important and the great thing about the trail intersecting urban areas is the ease at getting the extra calories needed. It was actually good as it enabled me to carry less as I knew I would be able find food along the ride with ease.

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What is a bike ride without a bakery stop? Meat pie #1.

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Recent rain meant greener scenery but more water than expected in other sections. Nothing too hard to navigate through and actually better than the dust it could have been.

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Yep, there is a lot of fireroad riding, I am not going to lie. But realistically there would have been no other way to make the trail. I would have been too expensive and probably 350km in length if it was all singletrack.

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As you approach the gates of Mulligans Flat on the north of Canberra it feels like an entrance to a secret military base. I was actually ready for the strip search. Cameras, electric fences, and high security are all there to protect some very fragile and endangered flora and fauna.

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Again, the views take away any pain you may have. Despite what you may think about Canberra, it is set in a beautiful setting and when you ride around the city you get to see how the mountains wrap their arms around the whole town.

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Apart from kangaroos and a million birds (and one magpie attack) these were the only creatures I saw on the ride. It was cold, and that sucked, but it also kept the snakes at bay.

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This was a ride for fun and not a race. I frequently stopped for rests and to explore what the trail was showing me. I recommend that you take your time and do the same.

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NSW on the left and ACT on the right. This is how far north the trail goes.

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The trails along the Northern Border region are an absolute highlight of the ride. The crew at MakinTrax have done an absolutely amazing job in building what could be one of the best sections of trail in Australia.

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This was the hardest part of my ride. It was exposed, windy and pretty hard going as the fireroads and doubletracks were left behind for amazing singletrack that went on forever. If I was to recommend one section of the trail this would be it.

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Canberra really was miniature from way back on Oaks Hill. From there I could see where I had to finish, and it was a long, long way away.

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Refuel and bike check. The trails were a little wet as it had rained for a couple of days prior but surprisingly they weren’t too bad. I was riding a Giant Anthem Advanced 27.5 which was straight of out the box. I had only ridden up and down my driveway and this was its maiden voyage. It didn’t miss a beat, not a single problem, and even with a new saddle I was comfortable the whole ride.

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The Centenary Trail goes right past this landmark. I think I had about 40 kms left before I had completed my loop so I needed some extra carbs to help me finish. At this point I had never ridden further in my life. Any trail that goes past a pub is a good trail.

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You will find yourself on a cycle path or two as you navigate through urban spaces between off-road sections. These are a highlight of living in Canberra. The ease of getting around the city without having to use the roads.

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Hall is a small town north of Canberra and is right on the trail. It’s also a great place to re-supply with food and water – either before or after the long Northern Border section. The trail is multi-directional so you choose which way you go. I went counter-clockwise.

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By now I was too tired to take many more photos but at the base of those hills is where I started. Not long to go now.

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The scenery changes so much as you ride the 140km trail. Never was I bored of what I could see and this cork plantation was one highlight.

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You can’t have a ride in Canberra without seeing these. I wonder if they think we’re dumb to be riding our bikes rather than just lazing around and eating grass.

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