Grabbo leads a bunch of trail-hungry punters into battle and they live to tell the tale!
This is the story of how VIP Experience #4 became a battle field…
Sitting at the bottom of a waterfall which we needed to ride up to get home before dark, Grabbo begins yelling at me through our Cardo Freecom 4X intercoms.
“I’m losing soldiers up here!” he says, frantically.
I can’t see the carnage happening at the top of the waterfall as my view is obstructed by boulders and riders but I can hear the valve bouncing and smell the panic. The remaining riders still yet to tackle the waterfall track are deadly silent.
I asked Grabbo what was going on and he informed me that a bottleneck had started at the top of the waterfall and there were riders shooting off in all different directions in an effort to stay upright. I decided not to tell the remaining riders what was happening and how bad this next section was.
They turned to me for answers as the sound of metal on rock echoing through the valley filled them with questions and worry. Some looked like they wanted to turn back but that simply wasn’t an option. Going back would be longer and harder. They needed a motivational speech. This was my moment.
I gathered their attention and in my most heroic, Russell Crowe voice I said “I don’t think it’s that bad, hey. You’ll be right”… What an anti-climax. I’d been waiting 36 years for the opportunity to dramatically boost the motivation of my troops and all I could manage was a vague explanation of what was to come. Not one of them believed me.
That seemed to be the theme of the ride. People asking what’s next in excitement and nervous anticipation, and me having no idea. In the end it was comical.
You see, Grabbo has hundreds of kilometres of single track up his sleeve and it varies from easy, flowing stuff to hard core rock hopping stuff and I never really know what’ next. It’s like an ants nest, trails split off at every turn and keeping track of where we are is almost impossible unless you’ve been riding these trails since a wee lad, just like Grabbo.
FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
A VIP Experience kicks-off with some welcome drinks and nibbles on the Friday afternoon at their base in Wallerawang, NSW. It’s a chance to meet your fellow riding buddies, the ones who will be in the trenches (literally) with you for two days. The beer is cold and the snacks easy to consume. It’s also a chance to get to know the GASGAS enduro range and of course Ben “Grabbo” Grabham.
We soon head to dinner, which is a restaurant called the Crib Room. It’s arguably the best grub for hundreds of kilometres, complete with black table cloths and fancy table service. No buzzers and table numbers, this is the VIP Experience, food is even served with gloves. Grabbo continues to ply us full of booze with a selection of wine, spirits and beers all part of the VIP Experience package, which are served at the restaurant’s fancy bar.
Riders ask Grabbo questions about Dakar, Finke wins and all his other two-wheeled accomplishments. But by about 9pm some riders decide to call it quits and retire to their villas. I’m not sure if it’s nerves or exhaustion from a day of travel to get to where we are. From the outside, the fancy grub, delicious drinks and friendly vibe gives off a false sense of security. In less than 24 hours we will be in the bowels of hell.
FIELDS OF GREEN
An early start to devour some cereal, fruit, bacon and eggs is followed by a riders’ briefing given by Grabbo. Each rider selects the bike they want to ride first up. There’s a choice of either the EC 250 or EC 300 two-strokes or EC 250F and EC 350F four-strokes. Grabbo then asks riders if they’d like any settings changed on the bike before loading up and heading off.
Grabbo first takes us to his favourite test loop, an open grass track with some trail sections. There are bumps, ruts and berms to really get a feel for the bikes. The riders switch between bikes to get a feel for the characteristics of each capacity. They find their groove, make a few more changes and after about an hour they’re ready to tackle the trail section.
MEN FROM THE BOYS
We leave the test loop and venture into the first trail section. There’s nothing overly hard, just some tight singletrack and a few hills. This section of track Grabbo uses to work out if the riders are capable of tackling what’s to come in the afternoon. The group pops back out onto the fire road and Grabbo informs me over the intercom that “they’re ready!”
They pass a test some wished they hadn’t. The punishment to come would prove too much for some but before we got to that terrain, we had a bunch more single track to ride. Grabbo takes us through a mix of fire roads and twin trail as well, showing off all the Blue Mountains has to offer.
We dodge major bogs and navigate muddy sinkholes with only a few stuck bikes. On one particular hill climb, Cairns native Steven Cristaldi gets bumped by another rider after they collided with a fallen tree which speared Steve off the main track and into the bush.
It all happened so fast and Steve was heading straight for a cliff, unable to stop. Fortunately, he managed to bail on his GASGAS which came to a stop on the edge of the cliff. Once we’d all caught our breath we carefully dragged the GASGAS back from its perilous fate and it was on the road again without so much as a scratch.
We eventually wound our way up onto Newnes Plateau where Grabbo stopped to issue a warning. “Just be careful through here, there’s a drop off a cliff of over 200 metres only 10 metres from the trail we’re on. If you go off there you’re dead and you owe us a bike!” he says.
The group take it easy as they weave along the ridgeline to a lookout which allows for spectacular views of the Wolgan Valley. We hit a little more singletrack before making our way to the lunch stop, our last stop before the front line.
CARNAGE ON THE WESTERN FRONT
By lunch we’d only lost one rider to cramp and muscle fatigue. The rest of the group were eager to see what Grabbo had in store in what is now infamously known as Jurassic Park.
It’s not long before we’re confronted with our first obstacle. A tree-root infested hill with a singletrack only just wide enough for a bike to squeeze through which catches several riders off guard. Never fear, Grabbo is here! He runs back down to help his soldiers one-by-one, up the wild piece of track.
By the time all riders have made it to the top of the first climb it looks like we hit a dead end. In front of us was a massive cliff with a small crack in it. There was no way around it. Rene from Cairns asked me, “Where do we go now? It looks blocked, do we go back down?”
I pointed to the small crack in the cliff and said “Through there!”
Rene didn’t believe me. I informed him it was just wide enough for a GASGAS to squeeze through. One-by-one we slipped into the crack in the cliff but what the riders didn’t know was that the crack in the cliff was the gates to hell. What waited for them on the other side was scary.
A long, 200 metre climb following a waterfall was our only way out. Riders were drenched in sweat and glowing red, and I didn’t think any of them would survive. Grabbo worked his way with his soldiers up the waterfall as a group, offering advice and tips when it was needed and in some cases riding bikes.
There were cries for help and screams of pain as bikes flipped and slipped on exhausted riders. You could see the relief on each riders face when they made it to the top, alive but the war didn’t stop there. We may have overcome the scariest obstacles but there were plenty more booby traps.
One particular trap was a set of waist-high logs awkwardly spaced. You had to hop one, turn the bike parallel and hop the second using a pivot wheelie technique. Again, Grabbo was on hand to lend advice or even ride bikes over.
After we hopped the logs there were a few tricky hills and we were out! Fire roads and fast singletrack saw us descend back down to Wallerawang where a cold beer and more snacks waited for us.
ALL ABOUT THE BANTER
There’s nothing more satisfying then sitting on a veranda and drinking an ice cold beer after a gruelling day in the saddle. It feels all the more deserved when your back, arse, shoulders, hands and legs are all still in agony. When you’re face is covered in dirt and your socks are drenched in sweat.
We recount every inch of the day’s trails and laugh at each other’s expense. What seemed like torture at the time is now a badge of honour. We conquered Jurassic Park!
The comradery amongst soldiers was building. We washed the dust out and headed in for another two-course feed and of course more booze. There was laughing and banter galore.
We still had one more day of epic riding to go but what was clear to me after the first day of carnage and the banter that followed is that no ride is “epic” if it doesn’t challenge you. Day 1 of Grabbo’s ride was hard and our riders felt it on Sunday morning but they relished the challenge Grabbo threw at them. They sucked it up and dragged bike and body up and down trails they would never have attempted on their own. They accomplished something they never thought possible on a dirtbike and they lived to tell their friends. Now that’s epic!
Grabbo confirmed that VIP Experience have extended their deal with GASGAS into 2023 and they have some pretty exciting rides coming up.
Here’s what they could confirm for 2023:
- There will be five rides in total for 2023. 10 riders per ride meaning 50 people a year get to experience this.
- There will only be two rides through the Blue Mountains next year.
- There will be one ride out of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, just after the Finke Desert Race. Grabbo wants to show punters the Finke track at its roughest and show people how he won three Finke titles.
- There will be one ride out of Bowen, Queensland, which will cover some of the famous Don River Track with coaching on the track.
- There will be one ride out of Mildura, Victoria, including some of the Hattah Desert Track, where punters will get coaching on the famous track.
- All rides will be all-inclusive again from food to accommodation to bike hire, booze, coaching and loads more.
- On a VIP Experience you always stay in premium accommodation with premium food and beverage package!
WORDS & PHOTOS // MITCH LEES