Which bike, which issue?

The Harrow Report 2013

(Posted November 18, 2013)

Words by Rob Shoemark
Photos by Rachelle Wilkinson

The Harrow, it is legend now, five events gone by, five lots of stories of courage and heart break.

Harrow 2013_1

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"It's not super difficult, but if the weather conditions are not good it’s a hard days ride, you have to bring your best game on the day and earn every kilometre. It’s 'The Harrow' and it’s been setting the bar for Vinduro for the past five years. This year the Harrow was no different, many of stories of anticipation, heart break and success.

If you're serious about Vinduro, the last weekend in July 2013 in Harrow, Victoria was the place to be. The quiet little town on the Glenelg River half way between Melbourne and Adelaide embraces vintage off road scrambling and vinduro, particularly one generous landowner, Lauchie Turner. The event has gone from strength to strength due to the enthusiasm of a few individuals in the town and in the vinduro scene. The growth from the 65 brave souls who experienced the horror of the ‘bridge’ into the Glenelg River the first year to the 196 riders keen to get into the six section, 55 kilometre loop this year has been remarkable.

Driving through the broad flat plains in the shadow of the Grampians into Harrow, the landscape suddenly drops into gullies and steep climbs edging the river. The Harrow Vinduro has always been a challenge with the river crossings, off camber rocky hillsides, deep sand, mud, logs, loam, the swamp, steep up and downhills, dodging sheep and kangaroos as well as the cursed ‘polypipe in the grass’. While the event is non-competitive, finishers are rewarded with gold, silver and bronze medals according to laps completed and those who have scored gold medals in the past have earned them. It takes commitment and perseverance to finish as well as keeping your bike going and that’s what makes the event special; even after swearing that the event was too hard, riders start planning towards the next and waterproofing their bikes.

This year’s event started at the Parc Ferme at the Johnny Mullagh Reserve in the main street with sign in and then a thrash around the sand ‘special test’ on Saturday arvo to bed in (and blow up) bikes before the impound that evening. The sight of 196 bikes lined up in the Parc Ferme impound under floodlights at night is one that saw many riders, drink in hand, just staring at a scene that was out of the 1980s.

This year we all gathered at the Mechanics Hall for a catered dinner and the stage show of the Teams Presentation Dinner with MC Peter Drakeford calling up the ‘Interstate Trophy Teams’ and the outrageous three man ‘Club Teams’ for a bit of ‘smack talk’ and general BS and rivalry that has characterised this hilarious aspect of the event.

Sunday morning saw the riders briefing start under heavy skies and then for the first time in five years the skies opened and the rain set in for the next five hours. Great. At least the spectators always enjoy the trauma of the three riders per minute Cold Start Test. Much kicking and a bit of language normally gets the fire lit and then it was off along the river flats at the back of town (avoiding the local policeman’s backyard the ‘directionally challenged’ riders ended up in last year) and onto the off camber under the road bridge which took a bit of skill otherwise you were in the river.

Then it was ‘hunt the arrows’ through the long grass, bush, paddock and river bank until control one. Riders were spared crossing the river here as was done last year as the river was just too high and sent off for a loop in section two and back to Control two and then section three back to the start control/Parc Ferme. Refuel time for bike and body after a wet, muddy 28ks and if you didn’t keep moving and warm your concentration would lapse which caused all sorts of grief. If your boots were still dry and you didn’t do a Dennis Myers upside down highside immersion into the river (Quote:”The river was warmer than riding through the paddocks”) you got them full now crossing the ford for sections four to six.

Spectators loved seeing the riders struggling or dunking through this obstacle and good preparation got most through unless the loose rocks or poor line choice dumped you under. Quite a few ended their chance for a medal right here.

The rain never let up its steady beat but at least the tricky terrain kept riders interested. Some notable bits of the course were in sections 4, 5 and 6 with the sand washes - you had to hit fast in a high gear with your weight over the back, then there were the off camber rock outcrops and slopes and the dreaded swamp. Many riders found the lines into it too chewed up and sank or hit those damned mud moguls sitting like concrete posts just under the water level. The wise found a way around but the dedicated ploughed through at full revs. However, again the unprepared spluttered to a halt even up to a kilometre after the hazard. It was a cold long walk back to the checkpoint. Luckily, help was always at hand with the Welshman’s Rhino and local Paul Penroses’ quad towing out the dead bikes and riders.

Riders struggled back in dribs and drabs all afternoon but the course closed at 3pm (when the rain stopped) and the riders collected their hard won medals from the ever patient and sodden office staff (thanks Barb, Leisha and Diane) and trooped over to the Hall for the great giveaway.

You had to be unlucky not to score some goodies as WURTH and Goldacres donated a heap of prizes. The ACT Trophy Team was awarded the prize for ‘most outstanding Trophy Team’; a WURTH watch to the six members and team manager and Team International 66 won the Barossa Photography Trophies with the most outrageous gear and attitude.

Despite the trying conditions and some riders not even completing the first section,  not one complaint was heard from the entrants. Next year looks to be bigger and better course wise and new landowners have stepped up to replace Lauchie Turner's property as the Harrow community loves the event in their town as much as we all love making the effort once a year to do it.