Vista ... View downstream from the new lookout at Red Rocks Gorge on the Canberra Centenary Trail Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
With a dull thud and a puff of dust, I topple face first onto the track. It's my first attempt at riding a pogo stick, and it shows.
It's not that I wasn't warned. As I dust down my hat, the parting words of the generous lady who answered my curious SOS on Twitter for "loan of a pogo stick for a secret mission" - she fetched her tasselled antique-style pogo stick from a cob-webbed corner of her Ainslie cottage - ring in my ears: "Beware, it's very old and may not work too well."
Scrambling back onto two legs and peering up at the spiky low branches looming not far above my head, I'm relieved that her prized pogo responded to my unco-ordinated hops with too little, not too much, bounce. The result could have been far worse.
It's a dog's life .... Canberra Centenary Trail on a husky "sled". Photo: Kirilly Bush
Checking that none of the passing motorists witnessed my embarrassing face plant, I try again. And again. Persistence eventually pays off and slowly I bounce my way along the dirt track which slices through a small patch of bush between Barry Drive and Macarthur Avenue in O'Connor.
Until a few weeks ago, this nondescript track was just a short-cut for hikers and mountain bikers en route to Black Mountain, but come tomorrow, along with 145 kilometres of other paths, bike tracks and fire trails it will form part of the Canberra Centenary Trail (CCT), a self-guided, non-motorised loop trail that will link iconic sites and national treasures
So why the pogo stick, I hear you ask?
Canberra Centenary trail on a slider bike. CCTfunslider.jpg Photo: Kirilly Bush
Well, for almost 10 months of our 100th birthday bash, I've been patiently waiting for my sense of civic pride and achievement to be evoked. And until now a seemingly endless stream of run-of-the-mill annual events - coined ''Centenary events'' merely for the free publicity via the official program - has left me somewhat underwhelmed. C'mon folks, we're turning 100, not 10! However, with this ambitious trail, I believe we finally have something we can all hang our hats on and collectively beat our chests about. In fact, I suspect the CCT will be one of the only true lasting legacies of our Centenary - long after skywhale (sorry I can't bring myself to capitalise it) is perforated and rotting at the bottom of the Mugga Lane Tip, the CCT will still be weaving its way through our suburbs, national institutions, nature parks and rural fringe.
One of the best things about the CCT is because it's close to town you can do as little or as much of it as you like, and because the track is multi-use you can go by just about any sort of non-motorised means that tickles your fancy. Sure, it's designed for walkers and cyclists, but a Centenary Trail only opens once and so to mark the end of my frustrating 299-day wait for something worthwhile to celebrate, I've decided to track-test as many different types of non-motorised transport as I can.
After returning the pogo stick to undoubtedly another well-deserved 30 years of inaction, I swap my akubra for a helmet and squeeze into my neighbour's teenage son's slide bike. As I unceremoniously slip off the track onto a pile of old mattresses, fortuitously dumped near the verge of Dryandra Street, I discover why this low-slung three-wheeler is so named. Next up it's a 30-year-old billycart which does just fine until I realise it doesn't have brakes, but it does have rusty nails on the old seat. Still it's fun, and that's what the CCT is all about.
Canberra Centenary trail on a pogo stick. Photo: Kirilly Bush
With the sun starting to set, and nursing more cuts and bruises than a Labor caucus meeting, I'm relieved when the barking of Siberian huskies heralds the arrival of my last mode of transport for the day. However, the dogs generously provided by husky breeders Richard and Mara Herba must have used up all their energy. As they haul me on the CCT towards the Macarthur Avenue roundabout on the four-wheeled ''sled'', and I holler "mush mush" in my best Nordic tones, an elderly lady pushing a pram outpaces us. But as I said before, it's all about the fun.
High jinx aside, is the CCT something we should be proud of? There's a bucket of 3.3 million taxpayer dollars says we hopefully should be. While most of the trail is a more a formal linking up and upgrading of existing tracks to loop around much of suburban Canberra (I love how it goes up the zigzag at the National Arboretum), there is also 20 kilometres of new track. So after a long soak in a hot tub (Oh, that pogo stick!), next day I strap on my walking boots for an exclusive sneak peek of the new section of trail between Hall and One Tree Hill on our northern border. And I'm not disappointed.
As much of the ACT border country north of Gungahlin is private farmland, the ACT Government had to buy a narrow strip to complete the CCT loop and link Hall with Mulligans Flat. "You get a completely different perspective of our city from up here," says Darren Stewart of Makin Trax, who carefully built the trail to pass more interesting features, but also to minimise any environmental impact. Still green from early spring rains, abundant with flowers and flanked by fences, it feels a bit like the English countryside. That is, until you see a wedge-tailed eagle soaring on the updrafts or a kangaroo bounding down the hillside.
"From up here and you really can see that Canberra is just one big plain punctuated by number of small hills," says Stewart.
Joining us on our morning ramble is Wade Young - ranger in charge of the CCT. He's proud as punch of his knock-out trail, and so he ought to be. Ranger Young particularly enjoys the walk-only section (there's a bike rack provided at the turn-off) which meanders up through a remnant patch of yellow box and red gums to the One Tree Hill summit.
Canberrans long-starved of new places to explore near our northern border aren't the only winners here - the cafes of Hall are perfectly positioned to prosper from the steady stream of thirsty bushwalkers which this section of the CCT will surely attract.
I top off my morning trek with an ice-cream under the shady trees of the 124-year-old Hall Premier Store which sells just about everything from gourmet food hampers to fly swats. Well, almost everything. Despite my best efforts, I can't find a pogo stick anywhere. But give it time.
Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at: canberratimes.com.au/travel/blog/yowie-man