Five Minutes With... Emma Flukes

Five Minutes With... Emma Flukes

23 February, 2021

A woman who's completely at home on her mountain bike exploring the lost lands of her Tasmania, Emma Flukes is no stranger to self-inflicted adventure. We catch up with her as she finishes her preparation for her second race at Victoria Divide following her silver medal at last year's edition.

You’re a proud Tasmanian and are the creator of Tassie Gift. Could you tell us a bit more about this event and why you decided to create it?

It’s no secret that I think Tasmania is one of the best offbeat bike adventure playgrounds on earth. For such a small island, it has an extraordinary amount of wilderness – 20% of the Tassie land mass is World Heritage Area, 40% is National Parks, and more than 50% of the island is forested. The place has a rich history in mining, trapping, forestry, and hydroelectric industries, which have laid down an enormous capillary network of (now largely abandoned) bush trails through some incredibly remote tracts of landscape. Exploring these forsaken tendrils by bike and restoring long-forgotten connections is something I do for fun, and I can’t understand why more people don’t do the same. I have a deep love for this place, and the Gift is just my attempt at sharing a tiny sliver of paradise with whoever is interested. It’s gritty, it’s vicious, it’s breathtaking, it’s fierce, it’s violent, and honestly it’s a little terrifying. But that’s the true essence of Tassie – the one they don’t show you in the tourist brochures. Nobody needs an invitation to come play in my sandpit, but if it takes an arbitrary route and a calendar date to get them out the front door, so be it. The Gift is all about making lifelong memories. If it does this for just one person, it’s done its job.

Here's the first of Emma's many diaries from last year's Tassie Gift. There's plenty more where these came from if you keep on swiping!

What are your ambitions for this year’s Victoria Divide?

I’m so used to riding alone, I genuinely feel quite uncomfortable riding around other people. This makes me a really rubbish competitor, and that’s fine with me. I enjoy ‘racing’ because it gives me an excuse to push myself harder than is socially acceptable… but at the same time, I dislike being ‘raced against’. This year, I’m pretty fat and slow and have done zero specific preparation (haven’t even booked leave from work yet!). My ambition is the same as always – to push myself as hard as I can, to (but not beyond) the point where I’m still enjoying life, and get home safely at the end of the day. Ultimately, it’s a holiday for me, and I’m there to have my own weird flavour of fun. What that’ll look like in terms of time on route, or positioning relative to anyone else, I have no idea.

The forecast looks good for the first 48hrs which means you should get home dry! You mentioned that you only used approx. a quarter of your gear in last year’s race. How has your kit list changed this year based on the forecast and lessons from last year?

I haven’t started putting any gear together yet, but it’s unlikely that anything will wholesale change. I’m a firm believer in carrying whatever gear is required to stay safe, in any (feasible) conditions, with any (feasible) incidents/accidents. For me, this includes a rudimentary sleep system, plenty of warm clothes (layering is king), an absurd amount of food, and proper waterproofing. I fully expect to use less than half my gear again, but I’ll feel good about being safe out there. I’m a very long way (and a sneaky ocean) from home, and I can’t just phone a ride to come collect me if I get into strife!

📸 NORTHSOUTH from Race to the Rock 2018

You’ll go into this edition as a race veteran. What did you learn from the last edition that you will bring to this year’s race? E.g. tactics, course knowledge, local resupply.

To be honest, I don’t remember all that much about last year’s ride. I think I get a bit of sensory overload when I’m riding in a totally new environment, and all I took away from the ride was the ‘vibe’ of the route, rather than specifics (but clearly I enjoyed that vibe, as I’m coming back for more!). The terrain and complexity of navigation is all pretty similar to what I experience regularly at home in Tassie, and logistics/resupply are much easier than I’m used to. So I guess, if anything, the main thing I’ll bring to this year’s ride is feeling more comfortable (less intimidated?) by what’s ahead.

How do you expect the pandemic and the Aussie lockdowns to affect the form racers come into Vic Divide with?

Victorians have been utterly crushed by COVID-related state government lockdowns. I can’t even imagine how difficult life has been for them in the last 11 months, with so much situational volatility and long stretches of suffocating lockdowns. It’s not just about the impact that has on people’s ability to train – it takes a massive toll on mental health, and I believe there’s been some long-lasting psychological trauma inflicted that will take years to unpack. I think all of this has made a lot of Victorians hungry to reconnect with going bush and being anywhere but home. The fact that Vic Divide entries reached maximum capacity (COVID capped) weeks before the event speaks volumes. As far as physical/mental prep, COVID lockdowns certainly have made life more challenging, particularly for Victorians who’ve been hit the worst by these. The impact this has had on individual fitness will vary a lot depending on how people managed their personal situation – some turned into super-athletes on indoor trainers, others found it difficult to stomach cutting blockies for 59 minutes <5km from home and are possibly coming into the ride a little underdone. One thing we’ll all have in common is a high degree of stoke to be outdoors and permitted to move about relatively freely. Hopefully…

What are you most and least excited for in this year’s Vic Divide?

I’m most excited to be able to traverse a pretty decent whack of Victoria and watch the landscape slowly change as I move through it under my own steam. That’s my number one favourite part of bikepacking. I’m probably least excited about the sleep deprivation terrors, if I choose to dabble in that paddling pool again, because honestly they’re not much fun.

You’ve expressed interest in the Silk Road Mountain Race, will you be racing this year? What other events or records are you working towards this year and in the future?

I would really love to ride SRMR one day. Kyrgyzstan is a part of the world that has always fascinated me, and I’m aware that infrastructure developments are threatening to irreversibly alter it. The route looks incredible and I really respect that Nelson is constantly changing things up to showcase more regions and maintain an enigmatic vibe. Realistically, there’s no way anyone in Aus can think seriously about international travel with the current pandemic situation, so it’s not on my horizon in the immediate future. SRMR aside, I’m not focusing on anything specifically right now as my life is pretty chaotic and I find it difficult to plan more than a couple of weeks in advance. Bikes are just a hobby and big chunks of absence from home are hard to juggle with full-time work, so it has to be something pretty special to drag me away from this place. I have a few ideas brewing away, but none I’m confident enough to articulate yet.

Having started cycling in 2014 and first racing in the 2018 Race to the Rock , how would you say racing and riding long distances has changed you?

Yep – picked up a MTB in 2014 and had to learn to ride pretty much from scratch. I kind of just fell into the long distance thing after ‘normal’ XC MTB and roadie duties gradually lengthened, Race to the Rock was starting virtually on my doorstep in 2018, and I decided how hard could this bikepacking thing really be? Bought some bags, fronted up to the start line, and made some great memories. I’d say that riding long distances has made me increasingly bad at riding! Sure, I can tick along at a consistent effort, but raw power / explosivity / tech skills (all the ‘normal’ desirable aspects of a rider profile) have suffered badly. That’s the stuff that people get really hung up on and think matters in a timed long distance scenario, but actual riding ability is probably only about 30% of the picture. You don’t need to be a fast rider to travel through the landscape swiftly, and that’s what I love about this sport.

I wouldn’t say any of it has fundamentally changed me as I’m a pretty stubborn person, but it’s taught me a heap of stuff for which I’m super grateful: to be patient with myself; to stop and evaluate a situation before reacting; that pain is just your perception of a sensation in that moment (and it’ll almost always pass); that actually, you probably can do that thing that everyone says you can’t; that we’re so much less significant than we think; that supermarket hot cross buns are unrivalled snacks; and that those of us who have the life and situational freedom to explore this quirky idea of fun, are so bloody lucky.

📸 NORTHSOUTH at Race to the Rock 2018