Scott Edgar's cry of jubilation ricochets around the trees, as he tears past a sign warning of a string of jumps on the development trail at the Awaba Mountain Bike Park.
He doesn't heed the warning. Edgar is here to throw caution to the wind. He is relishing the thrill of riding and feeling the joy of momentarily leaving the ground.
"I got air off that second jump!," Edgar exclaims later.
For Edgar, riding this track in Olney State Forest at the foothills of the Watagan Mountains is about more than getting out in the bush. It means freedom.
Scott Edgar is a double amputee.
The former chef has a condition called hyperhomocysteinemia, which he explains as "thick blood". As a result, Edgar had his left leg amputated above the knee in 2011, and he lost his right leg below the knee in 2017.
The 49-year-old loved riding bikes when he was younger, but ill health made that increasingly difficult until it seemed impossible.
"Looking back, my life was on pause," he says.
In July, the Kurri Kurri resident received a recumbenttricycle, which cost $16,500 and was imported from Germany.
So Edgar is still getting to know this track, but, in the process, he's getting to know himself once more.
"For me, coming here, it's just trying to get back to being normal," Edgar says.
"And trying to have that freedom. When I was sick, it was really confining. You were sick and you had nothing else to do."
Watching Scott Edgar conquer the track is the Hunter Mountain Bike Association's Andrew Hardy, who was instrumental in developing this course for adaptive bike riders. But not just those riders.
"We look at every stakeholder group; we've got kids, women, adaptive, and an older contingent as well," Hardy explains.
The presence of Scott Edgar on the development trail is about more than "build it and they will come". He personifies the ever broadening appeal of mountain bike riding.
The sport is no longer seen as just for the brave and crazy few tearing through the bush in search of thrills.
Andrew Hardy says in the past 18 months, the Hunter Mountain Bike Association's membership has just about doubled from 215 to 417.
"I've noticed the average age has gone down. We've got 25 per cent under 18, and a lot more women coming out - so mums and sisters and daughters - and that's really great," Hardy says.
"I think this club is a really cohesive group of different people with one common goal, and that's to mountain bike."
THE Hunter Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) was formed in 1985 and initially held events near Charlestown golf course.
The club headed to south-west Lake Macquarie, to the Watagans, after reaching a lease agreement with the Forestry Corporation of NSW in 2007.
It may be called the Awaba Mountain Bike Park, but the 260-hectare site is far removed from the Indigenous meaning of its name. 'Awaba' means 'flat surface'.
But what makes this place so popular is that it is anything but flat, in both terrain and mood.
Volunteers have helped shape tracks amid the trees, down gullies and up the hills, using small excavators, picks and shovels, and bucket loads of sweat and faith.
In addition to the development trail, the park has a cross country network, with tracks ranging from five to 12 kilometres long.
The network takes riders through a maze of gum trees and rainforest remnants, across watercourses, and deep into the beauty of the Australian bush.
For those seeking to raise the stakes and their heartbeat, there's a downhill course, called the Monkey, which has a scary gradient, as the track tumbles down the mountain for about two kilometres.
National titles have been held on the downhill course, it has been a nursery for local riders now on the international circuit, and a training ground for champions.
Coleen Kehoe, from Thornton, has a shelf lined with Australian and state championship trophies. She attributes her downhill riding success to the challenges tossed up by Mother Nature and the Monkey.
"If you can ride the Monkey, you can take on anything," says Kehoe, who calls herself a "gravity rider".
"On the adrenaline side of it, as a mountain biker, you have to put all your skills in the one basket, and you have to think.
"It puts your heart in the mouth at the time, but when you get to the bottom, it's 'Let's go down again!'."
For Kehoe, this is not a solo pursuit. Her husband, Rick, also rides, and so have her two daughters. Coleen and Rick Kehoe met through mountain biking. Rick alleges he was chased by her through the bush.
Coleen Kehoe also coaches mountain biking at the Awaba park, with students ranging in age from school children to riders over 60. Kehoe says more and more women are learning how to ride - and they love it.
"You have women who give you a big hug afterwards, and that's really special," she says.
Coleen and Rick Kehoe are among the club's trail blazers at the Watagans, helping build the tracks and the sport's profile.
"I just love seeing more and more families here," says Rick Kehoe, who is one of the HMBA's trail build coordinators. "The place is alive all the time."
Kehoe's fellow trail build coordinator is Dallas Barham. For the 56-year-old, this bushland was his playground as a kid.
Barham grew up on a dairy farm about three kilometres away.
"I had a dragster. I used to ride up to here," he recalls.
Barham still rides here often. As he explores the two-kilometre development trail, Dallas Barham has a happy kid's look on his face. He seems to pedal away the years.
"I love being in the bush. I'm very at home in this environment," he says.
Bicycles are Dallas Barham's life. He puts people on bikes, as the owner of a bicycle shop in Morisset. As the sport's popularity rises, the mountain bike range broadens, with a bicycle costing from less than $1000 to more than $10,000.
Barham says mountain bike sales have soared in the past decade. These days, he has only a few road bikes on the shop floor.
He is aware the development of the Awaba Mountain Bike Park has stoked local interest.
"It's helped me expand [his business], but I'd like to think I've helped it along," Barham says of the park.
The place where he got away from it all as a kid is now a community attraction, offering people an escape from city life.
"It's a bit sad that kids sometimes think they're in the country when they're driving through a suburban town," he says. "They see trees, and they think that's the country.
"But the opportunity is here, and it opens people's eyes."
Dallas Barham was aware that some were opening their eyes in fear at the prospect of riding the more challenging tracks. The learning curve was literally too steep.
The club realised it needed a more accessible trail. So over the past couple of years, the development trail has been built, with the help of a $450,000 state government grant.
"I love to see young people and beginner riders experience something like this," Barham says.
"My vision was to get kids in it first, then their parents would come along and get bored just standing there watching them. Next thing, they get a bike and go and ride."
As the development trail was taking shape, fellow club member Andrew Hardy suggested to Dallas Barham that they modify the track to accommodate those with physical disabilities.
Hardy has been mountain biking since 2000, when he rode in Thredbo and "I fell down that hill". In the process, he fell in love with the sport and was keen to learn more.
Hardy had read a mountain biking conference paper about adaptive bike riders based on a presentation by Andrew Liddawi, the founder of a group called Break the Boundary.
Liddawi is a paraplegic, due to a mountain biking crash. But that didn't stop him from returning to riding, or, with the founding of his group, from encouraging clubs to help disabled people leave the limitations of the bitumen behind.
Inspired, Hardy wanted the HMBA to have the first adaptive bike track in the region.
"I think the immediate thought is of people in a wheelchair, and how fate has dealt them that hand, and you skip to ask yourself, 'What if that happened to me, just by fate?'," he says. "Being a lover of mountain biking, you just put the two together.
"Those people in a wheelchair wouldn't be able to ride the trails, unless they're wide enough. And it doesn't take us much to make them wide enough. It's just a little bit extra effort for a big gain."
With the government funding and guidelines from Break the Boundary, a team of volunteers helped create the development trail in readiness for its official opening in July - just about the time Scott Edgar received his recumbent trike.
"About a week before it opened, I started talking to these guys on Facebook - 'I'm a new recumbent rider, I've got no legs, I want to find some trails and people to ride with'," recalls Edgar.
Andrew Hardy quickly replied: "Well, come on out!"
Edgar didn't have to be asked twice. He has been going to the Awaba track as often as he can, testing his trike and "recreation legs".
He shows how his left knee is "designed for extreme sports", fitted with a shock absorber from a motocross bike. His prosthetic legs are clicked into the pedals.
On the development trail, Edgar negotiates a zig-zag bridge, which is about a metre off the ground. Edgar is breathing heavily, as his machine goes near the edge.
"You've got to suck it in," he laughs. "It's a bit of a 'fat man, skinny door' syndrome."
Scott Edgar has a support rider, Kristen Hardcastle, who has been working with him for about a year. She has watched his confidence rise since he returned to biking.
"This is everything for him," says Hardcastle. "He's been dreaming of this, to be back on his bike, we've talked about it."
When he rode this track for the first time, she says, there were "tears of joy; he's so happy, he just loves it."
Edgar explains he needs to be accompanied by Hardcastle, in case he crashes: "If I fall off here on my own, it would take 40 minutes to get back up."
As if to prove his point, Edgar's trike slides sideways and topples on a tight bend.
"He was showing me how to go fast around the corners," Hardcastle says.
Edgar is unhurt, apart from a grazed arm - "a bit of claret on the trail!".
He shifts back into the seat and prepares to set off again.
"It takes a lot more than that to beat me up," Edgar says. "I fall every day."
Later, when Hardy tells him that part of the trail is yet to be named, Edgar suggests, "Scott's Corner! Or Tadpole Corner." That's the name for his trike.
Edgar has completed the trail's loop in about 15 minutes. He has averaged a speed of 12.5km/h, with a maximum of 24.7km/h.
"You don't do freedom slowly," he grins.
Andrew Hardy is delighted to see Edgar rip around the track: "I think it's just awesome. It gives me happiness that this place is accessible to everyone. We haven't made something just for people on adaptive bikes. It includes people on adaptive bikes."
Edgar nods and replies, "When you make something just for people with disabilities, it then puts me in a class. I've got two kids. If I wanted to come here, and you made something just for me, I couldn't ride it with my kids. So now it's inclusive.
"I don't have to come with people with disabilities, I can come with anybody. I can ride with everyone."
MICK Plummer stands on a rise overlooking a former quarry, gazing at a mountain bike track squiggling across the landscape like an earthen snake.
He explains this track in the northern section of the Glenrock State Conservation Area is called Seismick.
Plummer is reluctant to say this popular track, comprising a dozen or so switchback turns and berms, was named after him by a NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger.
She wanted to recognise all the work this member of the Glenrock Trail Alliance had done in creating mountain bike tracks in the coastal park close to the heart of Newcastle.
"And I went, 'Oh'," Plummer recalls of the moment he was told of the track's name. "It's a nice gesture. It gets autocorrected and the 'k' is usually taken out, but there you go."
Seismick's name is multi-layered. The track is built on the impact of seismic activity. Plummer says the site "used to be quite a big hole" before it was filled with rubble from the 1989 earthquake: "The Workers' Club and half of King Street is in there."
The past has been continually unearthed as Seismick has taken shape over the past 11 years. Plummer says he once tried to pull out a lump of wood only to discover it was half a power pole.
Yet Plummer and other members of the Glenrock Trail Alliance want to build for the future. At the Seismick site volunteers have helped remove weeds and planted hundreds of native trees.
"What we can do, we're not just here for the tracks, but to rehabilitate as well," he says. "People love this track. Ever since we built it, people have been raving about it."
Indeed, people rave about riding Glenrock's 15 kilometres of dedicated mountain bike tracks.
As someone who has been riding here for more than 40 years, since he was a boy, Plummer understands why the place is such an attraction.
"Glenrock has a lot of features that other areas don't have," he says. "Glenrock has got a huge variety of terrain and different sorts of bushland we ride through.
"It's right on the coast, and it's a beautiful area. It's exciting, inviting and draws people to keep going in, to explore further and further.
"The real number one for local residents is accessibility. It's just on your doorstep."
Mick Plummer says on any given weekend, more than 1000 riders are in the park, with mountain bikers coming from "at least Sydney distance".
"There's certainly a very big tourism aspect around Glenrock," he says. "A lot of people are coming from far and wide.
"And I dare say at this stage it's not delivering what it should be.
"It mostly consists of ad hoc trails that are pre-existing, that we've sort of clumped together. I'd say we need about twice that, and constructed and designed better for more intuitive riding for the recreational rider, and more adaptable for events."
Mick Plummer has been developing a concept plan for the NPWS for a network that improves mountain biking and better protects the environment at Glenrock.
"We need a network of trails that accommodates rides of varying distances and degrees of difficulty for the different riders' skill levels, and that can be easily adapted," Plummer says.
Plummer estimates it would cost at least $1.5 million to build the network. More funds would be needed to help maintain the tracks, arguing volunteers can't do it all. He believes most riders would be happy to pay to use the network.
"Cycling has been called 'the new golf', and you wouldn't expect to play that for free," he says.
"If you expect a sort of mountain bike park, you should expect to pay. Whether you can do that in a National Parks [area] is another thing again."
Dylan Mancinelli is one rider who would be willing to pay to use Glenrock. On this weekday morning, he is taking his $7000 bike for a ride for the first time in months.
Mancinelli has been recovering from surgery after a crash at Thredbo. But that painful experience hasn't discouraged him from flying over a series of "table top" mounds at a site called Six Shooter.
"Just an awesome network of trails really," Mancinelli says of Glenrock. "There's everything from cross country to pretty decent downhill trails.
"If you start to put money into it, it's only going to get better."
Mick Plummer argues the state government should also help fund the mountain bike network's upgrade and maintenance.
After all, Plummer argues, Glenrock is promoted as offering an "iconic" mountain biking experience.
"I can't believe with the demand that this area is invoking, that we're not getting a bit more love."
BACK out at the Watagans, Dallas Barham can see the future amid the trees. He is leading me along an old track straggling across the thickly wooded steep slope, about 250 metres above sea level, at the Awaba Mountain Bike Park.
This track was once used to haul felled timber off the mountain, before time and lantana consumed it.
Barham hopes that within a few months, the trail will be carrying mountain bikes.
Related reading: Glenrock, Newcastle's green jewel
Volunteers are untangling the track from the lantana, uncovering the old route to create an "experience trail" of about two and a half kilometres through the bush.
The experience trail will lead riders through rainforest pockets and past centuries-old trees that reach for the sky. In places the bush clears to offer views to Lake Macquarie.
"You can pull up and look at the landscape," Barham says. "You'll be able to ride through the beautiful bush and spectacular scenery, to absorb it."
The experience trail will eventually link with the cross country network further down the hill.
With its $450,000 state government grant, the club is forging ahead through the bush. As well as funding the development trail and this track, the money is being used to build a junior and adaptive downhill course, which is expected to open in October.
As the Awaba Mountain Bike Park grows, so does its reputation. Barham says it is attracting riders from Sydney, around the Hunter and beyond. Riders don't have to pay to use the tracks.
Apart from government funding, money comes from club membership dues, contributions from companies that rent the park for events, and a little from donations.
Barham doesn't believe the park should charge an admission fee.
"I don't think anyone in this club expects it to become a commercial feeling entity," he says.
He is also confident that the park won't grow too large, or that the number of riders becomes so great it degrades the very thing that makes Awaba so attractive: experiencing a beautiful environment.
"If we give more trail diversity, I think that will take the pressure off any one area," Barham argues. "But I don't think there will be a traffic jam at the front gate."
Down the slope from the experience trail, Coleen Kehoe is helping sculpt the landscape, creating a link from the new adaptive downhill course to the cross country network.
As she rakes a section of the track, Kehoe indicates how it is wider for adaptive bikes but has walls to challenge more experienced riders. She loves the diversity of the Awaba complex.
Generally, she believes, mountain bike tracks have been "dumbed down" to attract a wider range of riders, which, she adds, "is good for the sport".
"Times are changing," says her husband, Rick. "It's difficult as a track builder, you've got to be mindful of everybody, and everybody has got an opinion."
But ultimately the tracks all lead to the same destination - having a wonderful time in the bush. In the mind of a rider, the experience can change how you view life itself.
You wake up in the morning, if you're in a bad mood, come out here," Scott Edgar says. "As soon as you hit that flow, coming through that [track], you're just free.
"You are free."
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