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TRAILRIDE | 2023 KOWEN FOREST RIDE | Popular Post | Race Reports | Where to Ride

Zombies, skeletons, ghosts and a penis. There’s more to scare you on the 2023 Kowen Forest ride than just the trails! Check out our ride report.

As the sun set over the Kowen Forest on the outskirts of the Nation’s Capital, something evil was brewing. Darkness would bring carnage and unfathomable pain for some audacious riders of the night, those willing to set foot into the shadows between the pine trees. In the dark of the night, one by one, riders were released into the darkness with only a candle to guide their way for the night ride of the 2023 Kowen Forest Ride.

I was one of those riders. That last beer as the light faded and other riders began to gear up brought a hush about the crowd gathered around our pit fire. Like a battalion preparing itself for their last assault, the riders of the night were silent in nervous anticipation of what lay ahead. There was an eery silence as we connected each other’s head torches to the battery pack carried in our hydration packs.

We headed over the to the start gate of the Kowen Forest Night Ride and one by one the marshal took our number, added it to the peg board of willing participants, and waved us through. He wished us luck and sent us on our way, into the darkness. As we sat there waiting  for our turn to leave, all we could see was a brake light that faded into the night, flickering between the pine trees as the rear-end bounced over the exposed tree roots.

It took a while to adjust to the pitch black conditions. Once I was able to get in the zone and feel the track rather than see it I was able to get on it. Riding in the night had a strange effect on your perception of speed. Because everything was passing by with such speed, I feel like I was going faster than I was.

 It’s not until I went to shift gears that I realised I may not be travelling as quick as it felt. Corners rushed up on me at twice the speed they did in the daylight and tree roots and rocks were often spotted too late in the game to make a direction change. Most of the time I was just hitting and hoping.

As I neared the halfway mark of the night loop, I spotted something hanging from the trees in the distance. Unsure as to what it could be, I stopped and waited for my gang of riders to catch up. One by one I spotted their headlights in my dust and once the dust had past us by we could see what was hanging from the tree. A half rotted human skeleton, hanging by its neck in the distance.

I knew that the crew at the DSMRA had spent months cutting in track out here and there were rumours that at one point they were so low on food that they made the difficult decision to cannibalise the only volunteer riding a 125. Could this have been his remains? On closer inspection it was in fact the skeleton of ex-ADB Ad Guy Dale Johnson who mysteriously went missing after he tried to tell the editorial team what to run on the cover.

I continued on my way but I switched up who led the ride so we could take it in turns eating each other’s dust. A little further up the trail I noticed a commotion of people and lights. There was jeering and yahooing but I had no idea what they were so excited about. A crowd of people had made their way into the night loop to a spot where the loop crossed a bog capable of swallowing your bike whole.

As I approached the bog I noticed a chicken run around it but that had mysteriously been blocked off. There was no way around, I had to go through. One unlucky night rider, let’s call him Shane Lonegrane, had attempted to hit the bog full-noise and managed to wedge his KTM in the slop. Going nowhere he screamed for help as he and his KTM slowly began to sink into the abyss.

The crowd were unwilling to help as they laughed at his demise. Luckily, my brother Al was there to rescue Shane and he emerged from the darkness to drag Shane and his KTM out of the bog and to safety.

It was my turn next. I spotted a slightly better line to the left, loaded up the throttle and dropped the clutch. My Sherco 300 SE Factory reared up and launched across the bog. My rear wheel clipped the edge of the hole and brought my front wheel down in a hurry. It spat my body forward and onto the throttle where I accidentally grabbed a handful of go-juice and went spearing off into the crowd of spectators!

I clipped two spectators before bashing into a tree which punted me in the direction of the trail and a swinging penis! Unable to get on the brakes fast enough, the appendage got me right between the eyes. It bounced off my goggle and went swinging into the next tree. Was it Ad Guy Dale’s old fella come back to haunt me for making fun of his riding ability? It couldn’t be, it was too big.

We kept riding through the darkness, ducking ghosts, zombies and vampires swinging between the trees. The track was booby trapped with nasty creatures hiding in the dark and swinging from the trees that caught us out at every corner. It made for one hell of a ride. About 15 kilometres later we could see the glow of our campsite in the distance and the warmth of our swags. We’d survived the Kowen Forest Night Ride. No amount of night critters or rubber penises could stop us.

The 2023 Kowen Forest Night Ride was another epic event. The riding actually started earlier that day with participants allowed to ride two tracks: a hard or easy loop. Both were roughly 35km in length and consisted of almost nothing but singletrack with a little twin track and forest road thrown in.

A little rain in the lead up to the event ensured the trails were perfect. There was a little dust but epic singletrail made you forget about that. You had to be on your guard to navigate the maze of ruts and tree roots while the rock gardens and creek crossings kept you on your toes.

Back at park ferme, our bellies were kept full thanks to the steak sandwiches, burgers and snags on offer. If you had the stomach for it you could even ride all day Sunday as well but by mid-morning, riders were starting to feel the pain of two days and a night of riding and campsites were being disassembled.

For those that have been reading ADB for years you’ll probably remember our reports on the Kowen Forest rides with over 1000 people participating. Unfortunately COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the DSMRA, with two Kowen Forest Rides getting cancelled at the last minute. So, running an event of that size is not possible now. While the DSMRA will never say never when it comes to returning the Kowen Forest Ride to its former glory, for now, they’re committed to running one and potentially two of these bespoke Kowen Forest Rides a year, which will always include a night ride.

If you’ve never been trailriding at night, it’s something you need to have a go at. It’s completely different to riding during the day and whole different kind of fun. And the safest and best way to do it is at the Kowen Forest Ride where the track is marked out and there’s safety in the darkness. Just look out for those swinging penises, they’ll get you.

Check out the full feature in issue #532 of ADB.

Words | Mitch Lees

Photos | ML & Bernie den Hertog