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Riding for the Great Forest


Written by Carmel Killin—Community Organiser and Communications Volunteer.

Aidan KempsterIMAGE: Aidan Kempster | Patrick Casey

There’s a guy on a bike. On a track in a forest with the tallest flowering trees on earth. He’s singing to himself. Tyres crunch on the downhill roll. His smile is as spectacular as his beard.

On and off, for nearly two years now, Aidan Kempster has been exploring the Central Highlands of Victoria on two wheels. Often by himself, sometimes with a mate or two, Aidan has been mapping and sharing his bike trail routes, along with great photos and evocative story-telling on his website, Riding for the Great Forest, which he set up specifically to support the Great Forest National Park.

Aidan wants you to visit astonishing native forests that most people don’t even know exist. He wants to share his profound respect for these forests that sadly, need our protection. He wants you to get your bikes out of the shed, pack a lunch and join him on shaded dirt tracks into some stunning bushland that is right on your doorstep, Melbourne.

Aidan Kempster IMAGE A pitstop | Leonie Williams

On Saturday 24 February he’ll be taking a group on a day ride to magnificent Big River. Down a magical valley just over the back of Lake Mountain. No idea where this is? You can check out the route here.

If you’re at all concerned about your fitness level, your biking skills or the difficulty of the trail, Cath and Gayle share some insights from a recent group trip through the Bunyip State Forest on Boonwurung country.

Aidan Kempster IMAGE Gayle McGaw | Leonie Williams

Gayle McGaw felt quite nervous before starting out on her first mountain biking experience with her husband.

Both were seasoned road cyclists but as first-timers and in their 60s, Gayle in particular had some niggling concerns. All her anxieties melted away though in those first moments of meeting Aidan and catching sight of the “motley bunch of mixed ages, abilities and cycling machines.”

Taking full responsibility for yourself and riding to your ability is the key to these tours and is what you sign up to on the day. Cath Stephensen put this to the test the hard way.

She was riding the same trails that day, enjoying the forest air, the huge tree canopies and the “softness of the soil” under her bike tyres. Only recently recovering from splitting her knee open and feeling a bit dubious about her level of fitness Cath had been drawn into this forest ride after following Aidan’s Facebook posts.

That soft soil she describes probably didn’t feel so soft when, travelling a little faster than she knew she should on the descent, she “performed a spectacular crash”. Yep, hit a rock and broke her shoulder. 

Aidan KempsterIMAGE Cath before the spill

Cath has a new shoulder these days. Not only does she have high praise for how her guide and crew helped her in the aftermath of this, er, mishap, but incredibly, the accident hasn’t made the slightest dent in her enthusiasm for mountain biking, in fact she is burning with desire to get out there again, into that immense, quiet forest.

You can read the full account of her adventure here

The Hinterland Big River Day Ride is free, covers about 50k and promises to be a fun, cruisey day in the forest with plenty of stops for photos, snacks and just to catch your breath. It’s suitable for all ages and abilities and if you’re still not sure, maybe thinking, “nah, I’m not really a bike person,” Aidan even knows where you can hire an electronic mountain bike. 

Aidan KempsterIMAGE: Aidan in a happy place | Leonie Williams

The great thing about biking with a passionate, knowledgeable guide like Aidan is that you’ll be given an insight into local history, native forest ecosystems and the Great Forest National Park Campaign, all while enjoying a superb day in nature and possibly forming new friendships.

To contact Aidan, read more inspiring stories, check out the route or sign up for the ride you can visit  Riding for the Great Forest, like Aidan’s Facebook page and follow @greatforestrider on IG.

If you’re still not convinced I think Gayle sums it up nicely. “Aidan’s deep respect for these natural wonders, so close to home, is inspirational and reminds us to slow down, breathe and treasure our environment”.