From Wooroolin to Wisconsin, wherever the trail takes us

Sarah Hammond from Melbourne, smashing the 2016 Trans Am bike race.

Sarah Hammond from Melbourne, smashing the 2016 Trans Am bike race.

And here is Episode 15 of the Briztreadley pod for 2016,  hosted by Andrew Demack:

  • Sarah Hammond from Melbourne is doing an amazing ride in the Trans Am bike race. We talk with last year’s Trans Am winner Jesse Carlson about what’s going on.
  • Andrew pops up to Kingaroy to get a sneak peek at the Kingaroy to Murgon section of the new Kingaroy to Kilkivan Rail Trail, to be opened later this year.
  • Hayden Lester interviews an intrepid overseas bike tourist, with cool stories of touring around Mt Fuji and all over Japan. And the intrepid tourist? His brother Joe.

Listen, enjoy, and share it with your friends! I’m going to try something over this weekend (Ootober long weekend), so hopefully nothing too weird happens!

 

 

And Quiet Flows The Con

White Swamp Road, White Swamp.

White Swamp Road, White Swamp.

There’s a jokey saying on the internet: pix or it didn’t happen.

Well, as it happens there are quite a few photos of the three-day bike-packing excursion that Brad and Emma and I went on, exploring parts of the Scenic Rim, especially the source of the Condamine River. So it surely happened.

On our way home from the ride, Emma said to me: “Are you going to do a write-up of this trip?”

I’ve had a slight internal resistance this year to writing something for Briztreadley every time I hop on the bike with some friends. As far as new content for the site goes, 2015 has been a major departure from the past, in that the main focus is the podcast, rather text and pictures.

And that’s going pretty well, I think. I did a couple of interviews during the Asia-Pacific Cycle Congress, and there’s enough there to put together another new episode soon, which will be the 20th this year.

Apart from podcasts, if I’m scouting for new Briztreadley content, I’ve only done three bike-packing overnighters in 2015. And this trip was the first for our trusty trio of Brad, Emma and myself.

But this ride pretty much demands its own article. It was that good.

About halfway through the Queensland cyclocross season, Brad and Emma and I were planning something to do with the next group of races, when the topic of a bike-packing trip came up.

CX took a momentary back seat as we ‘work-shopped’ a three-day window in the calendar that would suit everyone. It would be just after Cycle Queensland, that’s OK I’ll be a bit tired and I won’t have ridden much in the lead-up, but it will be something to look forward to.

We had to shift it forward a day or two because of other family commitments, and Brad’s days off, and eventually it was the anointed day, and we grabbed our stuff and got ready to go.

There were different levels of preparation needed for this trip among the different people.

Since the last time all three of us were on a bike-packing trip together, Brad has changed bikes (now riding a Kona Explosif 27.5), hand-made a complete set of bike-packing bags for the new bike, including a place to put his axe, and his tent-poles, and a place for everything.

Emma and I were just using our same old stuff. My gear in particular is looking pretty second-hand. The frame bag Dean made for me a couple of years ago might not hold on for too many more trips.

Grubby, but still good. Pictured at the Killarney Hotel, after a tough day on the trail the previous day.

Grubby, but still good. Pictured at the Killarney Hotel, after a tough day on the trail the previous day.

We set out south of Boonah, for a meeting place at a strategic corner on Carney’s Creek Road. Emma and I drove down together, through intermittent rain. Which as we got closer to the start of the ride, got heavier. And heavier.

Until for a few moments we were in the middle of a short hail storm.

Not an auspicious start.

Eventually the storm passed over us, and we got the bikes ready, strapping bags on and strategising the available light of the remains of the day.

Up Carneys Creek Road to the NSW border, and down White Swamp Road to Koreelah Creek.

It was a good steady climb up Carneys Creek Road, a dirt road of good surface. And a lovely roll down to the camp site in the late afternoon sunlight. A couple of photos were taken as we disturbed yet another herd of grazing cattle.

Riding into the late afternoon light.

Riding into the late afternoon light.

Koreelah Creek campsite was damp and so were we on arrival. As seems usual, we quickly set up our various sleeping quarters in the time remaining before dusk.

My setup ... did OK on an evening where drizzle was a contant possibility. And I stayed warm.

My setup … did OK on an evening where drizzle was a contant possibility. And I stayed warm.

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We ate our dinner and stood around the fire, chatting about Cross Vegas and the things that bike nerds and friends chat about. Emma and I had just come back from Cycle Queensland, and had spent a couple of quite cold nights on the Darling Downs. It seemed to me that Koreelah Creek would be a similar temperature to Warwick, if the cloud lifted.

Soon enough we could see the stars, and the temperature was on the way down.

I don’t know how cold it got … I was warm enough on an insulated sleeping mat on the ground, but Emma had the typical hammock camper’s problem of a cold back in temperatures below 10 degrees C.

The next morning was grey and drizzly.

We ate breakfast and packed up our still-wet camp.

Today’s route was along Trough Creek Rd, up to the border again, where we would (perhaps) find Acacia Scrub Road.

We set off along Trough Creek Road only to be pulled up short by a gate proclaiming “Private Property”. Hmmm.

After some discussion we decided to see if we could find someone to ask permission from, on our way through.

And we rode through a property that was being set up as some sort of eco-camping retreat, we did indeed find the owner, and had a nice chat and received his blessing to ride through. Bikes were fine by him, he was trying to restrict the number of motorbikes riding through.

So off up the trail we went. We climbed for a couple of hours, up to 1100 metres, on a fire road which had seen very little traffic, and was quite soft. The drizzle continued.

The road wasn’t particularly steep, but it was hard going with the heavily laden bikes and our (my) lack of fitness.

Interminable climb up a soft trail into the mist. That's Emma disappearing away from me.

Interminable climb up a soft trail into the mist. That’s Emma disappearing away from me.

I can’t tell you what time it was when we reached the border road, or really what the name of the road alongside the Qld-NSW border is at that point. The NSW side (which we were on) was rainforest. The Queensland side was a cleared cattle property.

At some stage in the climb earlier in the morning through the forest, I had joked to Brad: “We’re above the cow-line”, as unlike the previous day, we had seen no evidence of cattle for quite some time. But once at the top of the ridgeline, the truth was there: You’re never above the cow-line around here.

The descent along the border road was muddy and pretty rough. Brad and Emma took it steady, and my natural descending advantage of much greater mass than the other two came into play. I also like to stay off the brakes when descending, as much as reasonable.

We emerged into the beautiful farming area of Acacia Plateau. There can’t be much nicer country than this for farming. My photos don’t do it justice. Time after time we rode past cows so contented that they barely nodded at us we rode past them.

After the tough morning of climbing though, we were contemplating our next move. We decided to drop in to Legume for late morning tea, and then onto Killarney via the bitumen road for lunch.

We made it to Killarney around 1pm, and quickly worked out that there was no appetite amongst the three of us for spending much more time that day riding in the rain.

The original plan was to ride out on the Condamine River Road and find a wild camp along the way. With no certainty of fine weather, I was no longer keen on that plan, and suggested an afternoon and evening at the Killarney Hotel, and attack the Condamine with fresh legs the next day. My friends agreed!

Getting ready to ride, at Killarney after a night of non-camping.

Getting ready to ride, at Killarney after a night of non-camping.

After a night of relative luxury in the Killarney Hotel, and a breakfast room shared with eight enduro motorcyclists who were about to depart for Armidale on their modified KTMs, we set out to find the headwaters of the Condamine.

Condamine River Road sets out from Killarney all calm and considered, just climbing imperceptibly through farming country on the edge of town. The first time the road crosses the Condamine River is over a small bridge.

Soon after that the road becomes gravel … but a nice, well-maintained gravel surface.

And very soon after that the river crossings started. The photos will tell the story better than I can, but here’s what I remember:

  • Emma and I both stalled on our first crossing, through riding into the shallow water just slightly too tentatively.
  • Brad smashed the first crossing, with a low gear/high cadence combination that just worked perfectly, and promptly declared that his feet were just as wet as if he had waded across.
  • The river crossing surfaces were always gravel of varying sizes. Often we could see the bottom, but it was difficult to work out how deep each crossing was. The deepest spots were only knee deep, but it was possible to get on the wrong line and not be able to pedal through it.

First successful crossing.

First successful crossing.

Pix or it didn't happen.

Pix or it didn’t happen.

Reduced to the core experience, basically we had a ball. We were cheering each other on, stopping mid-crossing for photos, going back for a second go for a different photo. Our feet were freezing, but that didn’t seem to matter. The scenery was amazing, the climbing was barely noticeable, but each new corner and each new crossing brought a new smile.

20km and 14 crossings as we rode through the Cambanoora Gorge. I would recommend it to any mountain biker. It’s not a hard ride. It is a fun ride. Your feet will be wet. You won’t care.

P1020832-ANIMATION

We eventually, reluctantly rode out the far end of the Gorge, and the weather got worse for a while, moving from occasional drizzle and low cloud, to proper steady light rain. We made it to the top of Teviot Gap and prepared for the dangerous bitumen road descent.

Just as we made it to the bitumen, my bike started making clunking noises. I thought at first that the chain had lost all lubrication from the river immersions. Then I thought it was the bottom bracket. Then I listened to Emma, and she thought it was the rear free-hub.

The noise got worse and worse, and fortunately my bike held together for the rest of the ride, back down to the cars. The descent from Teviot Gap was perfectly manageable for three experienced riders on bikes with very good hydraulic disk brakes, high-volume tyres, and bikes with well-distributed loads. I’ve ridden down this road before, on a road bike, and found it much harder work.

By the time we reached the cars, the sun was out, drying us off. We had plenty of time for a light lunch at a cafe in Boonah on the way back home, and a visit to Far Outdoors, the excellent camping and outdoors shop in the main shopping street of Boonah ( also found on the web, here: http://www.faroutdoors.com.au/)

A couple of days later, I’m still enjoying the memory of this ride. That’s what this article is about, for me. I’m not really writing this down to share it with you, dear reader. I’m writing it down to share it with future me. But I hope you get a little sense of what it was like, because the Cambanoora Gorge is a ride that anyone with a mountain bike and even the tiniest sense of adventure, will absolutely love. Get out there.

Also …

 

 

S24O to Duck Creek Road

cup_brekky_viewThe best invitations have an element of mystery.

Flyboy Dave posted a grid reference to some of his mtb-riding friends (S 28 11 14.68 E 153 05 46.06) with the invitation to meet him there on Sunday night for a camp out, and ride back to whence one came, the next day.

I plugged the grid reference into Google Maps, and then into Ride With GPS. It was at the top of Duck Creek Road, which is a dirt road back way from Beaudesert to O’Reillys.

Even though I had never been on that road, the idea sounded pretty good to me.

There’s a difference, though, between the idea of a bike ride, and the ride itself.

I know this VERY well. And I also know that every time I plan an adventurous ride, there will be some moments on that ride where I hate it, and can’t imagine why on earth I ever thought it would be a good idea to do this particular thing.

To get to Duck Creek Road, I started at Beaudesert. After a busy (& fun) weekend of church, family and social engagements, I left home around 3.15pm, and started riding from Jubilee Park at Beauey a little after 4.30pm.

With the sun scheduled to cease providing illumination in our part of world a little before 6pm, I knew there was no way I would ride 35km to the rendezvous spot in daylight. But luckily for me, Dave was in the same situation.

Dave left home even later than me, parked his car at Beaudesert as well, and caught me just at the start of the big climb.

Have I mentioned that Dave is really fit at the moment, because he is training for the Tour Divide, one of the most gruelling off-road races IN THE WORLD.

The sun set. A half-moon provided enough light to walk the bike. At riding pace I had a headlight.

We rode & walked the climb together. That is, when it got too steep for me to ride, I got off and walked, and Dave waited for me at the next natural re-group point.

By this method we climbed about 540 metres of vertical in 7 km. That is one of the harder dirt-road climbs in SEQ. I had some bad moments, and some better moments.

We arrived at the best lookout on Duck Creek Road about 7.45 pm. By the half-moon’s light, we could see over the valleys to the south and west, back down to Kerry, and the headwaters of the Albert River, and down to Duck Creek.

It was a spectacular view even when I couldn’t see it. It was better still the next morning.

The view from Duck Creek Road.

The view from Duck Creek Road.

Only a short further climb was required to find our camping spot, which had a sensational view to the north.

Dave set up his swish new Tarptent, I rolled out my shelterless setup (groundsheet, air mattress, sleeping bag). I had a bivvy bag in reserve, but if it had rained, I would have been quite uncomfortable. And wet.

Fortunately for me, the weather stayed fine. There was some food, some chat, followed by some snoring. The next morning, some packing up, and then some more riding!

A great overnighter to finish off an excellent weekend.

Sumer is icumen in*

In the forest, with some friends. At night!

In the forest, with some friends. At night!

And for the bike-riding population of SEQ, it poses a few problems …

When should I ride my bike? If I start at 4.30 am, when it is surely light enough, I have to go to bed at 8.30pm to get sufficient sleep. If I go to bed before 10pm so I can start at 6 am, I’m a stinking sweaty mess by 7.30.

The afternoons aren’t much better … if the storm doesn’t come then its still 30 degrees at 5pm.

Well, of course the answer is that you should ride your bike at night.

That was the reasoning behind last Friday night’s CX social ride from Stones Corner up to Toohey Forest and back. And we had nearly the perfect combination of post-storm drizzle and nicely damped-down forest trails. It was great fun, and nobody did any lasting damage to themselves or their bikes. The rain was a blessing in disguise, because the Facebook event had 31 people who said they were going. In the end we had less than half that number. Which was plenty to keep track of in the forest at night!

Night riding is such a fun thing to do in summer. And you can make it into a micro-adventure by including a camp-out at the end. Or you can finish as we did on Friday night at a bar or a cafe.

Or, you can just ride through the night somewhere away from the traffic and the city. I couldn’t fit the Midnight Century into my schedule this year, so I’m going to have to come up with my own version. Stay tuned for crazy ideas.

swan-road

Road-riders, my advice is to pick up one of these at your local bike shop. It’s the best accessory for a rainy summer, other than having two pairs of shoes, so you can have one pair drying out in between rainy rides.

*“Summer is a-coming in”, the oldest known song in the English language, apparently.

You are the submerged 90% of my iceberg

Image from the (US) National Ocean Service found on Flickr.

Image from the (US) National Ocean Service found on Flickr.

Pretty soon (24 November), the special travel issue of Australian Mountain Bike magazine will be available in the newsagents.  And you can rest assured that I will promote the hell out of it.

But when you get to read my piece about my ride along the Munda Biddi trail in WA, you won’t get to see one section that I wanted to include.

And that was the Acknowledgements section. It went like this:

Acknowledgements

I received massive amounts of help when preparing for this trip from a lot of good people, and I want to thank each of them. Everyone mentioned is a good friend who provided not just great ideas and practical support, but encouragement along the way.

  • Bruce Lanham for adapting the Carradice Bagman support to my bike.
  • Dean Winchester, for my custom-made frame bag, incorporating recycled materials.
  • Emma Best (of Bike Bestie) for maintaining all of my bikes, and especially building and looking after this one, Black Betty.
  • Aiden Lefmann of RLC Sport for Lefty expertise.
  • John Pittendreigh (of Epic Cycles) for loan of the Biknd Jetpack bike bag.
  • Dave Hoswell for loan of his Spot Messenger personal GPS tracker.
  • Mike Blewitt and Imogen Smith of Australian Mountain Bike magazine, for such great support!
  • Annette Demack, for three decades of love and support and being the voice of reason when needed.

So when you finally get to read the article, please mentally insert this section somewhere appropriate. Don’t cover up any photos, and don’t put it in a smaller point size than the rest of the text. Because it was important stuff.

Birdsong is brilliant

Enjoying Belli Creek Road, early on Day 2. Before Mount Buggery sucked the fun out (for a while).

Enjoying Belli Creek Road, early on Day 2. Before Mount Buggery sucked the fun out (for a while).

Sometimes I think that our planning for bike-packing micro-adventures is so random that the route comes down to a hashtag that sounds cool to Brad.

#KIPT was last weekend’s ride. Kenilworth-Imbil-Peach Trees-Kenilworth was the loop.

And the memories will be about the birdsong in the morning at Peach Trees camp site, the shocking, brutal heat when we walked up Mount Buggery, the hilarious conversation about estimating numbers over dinner at the Railway Hotel, the cool of the rainforest canopy over Sunday Creek Road, the never-endingness of the 70s and 80s music floating across Imbil on a Saturday night, a cuppa and plenty of trail chat with the amazing Dave Wright at the new Jimna Visitors Centre, the spectacular descent into Charlie Moreland, and dream-catchers and tomato relish at the Imbil markets.

Thanks again to the bike-packing crew: Emma, Brad, and JD. It’s great to have good friends to ride with, and I have more than a few, so I’m a fortunate man.

  • Note to self, no 1: avoid places with names like Mount Buggery.

We look hot cos it was hot.

We look hot. Cos it was hot.

  • Note to self, no 2: Any time from October through to March, bike-packing trips have to include a place to swim … preferably more than one per day!

Yabba Creek at Imbil. Great pic by Emma.

Yabba Creek at Imbil. Great pic by Emma.

Even the bikes needed a rest sometimes.

Even the bikes needed a rest sometimes.

  • Note to self, no 3: I reckon this #microadventure thing has worked out pretty well in 2014.

We just like going for a ride, somewhere away from the city. It's not complicated.

We just like going for a ride, somewhere away from the city. It’s not complicated.

Peach Trees camp site ... home of every bird you have ever heard sing in the Australian bush. At 5 am.

Peach Trees camp site … home of every bird you have ever heard sing in the Australian bush. The chorus starts a little before 5 am. The two hammocks belong to Emma and JD. The green ‘hutchie’ is me.

Sunday Creek Road. On a Monday.

Sunday Creek Road. On a Monday.

Get some Garmin up ya!

You went ‘full hobo’! Never go ‘full hobo’ …

Smiley McWhiskers ... would you talk to this man?

Smiley McWhiskers … would you talk to this man?

Bike touring is an immersion into a different worldview. One in which you have everything you need with you at all times.

This is a world in which you are essentially homeless. My friend Flyboy Dave was the one who noticed the similarity between the bikepacker and the hobo, and I think it’s really apt.

Actual hobos don’t have mountain bikes valued in the thousands of dollars. Nor do they spend hundreds of dollars on the lightest, most efficient camping kit they can find, after months of research and debate. Also they might not wear merino mtb riding gear and SPD shoes.

But for most normal folks out and about, whether in a big city like Brisbane or Perth, or in small towns like Toogoolawah, Dwellingup, Blackbutt and Donnybrook … well to them you look like a hobo, you probably smell a bit like a hobo after a few days on the trail, and if you’ve started talking to yourself after three or four days on your own, well it’s an easy assumption to make from there.

One of the ways I can tell that the Munda Biddi Trail in WA is not yet a roaring success is by the looks I got in the small towns on the trail. I stopped and spent money on food and drink and supplies in Jarrahdale, Dwellingup, Lake Brockman, Collie, Boyanup and Donnybrook.

And everywhere I went, I parked my heavily-laden bike within view. Some folks chatted to me (where did you ride from today? Wow! where are you going? OK, wow again!), but lots of people just had a good stare at the bike, with a mixture of trepidation, distaste and mostly total lack of understanding. Who IS this person and what the hell are they doing?

I’ve refined my bikepacking setup over successive trips. I think for this occasion, being on the road for eight days, I went as far as I could towards ‘full hobo’ (bearing in mind the cautionary words of Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder).

As a measure of how much I looked like a hobo, I counted all the things directly attached to my handlebar, and I think I came up with ten! Let’s see if I can remember:

1. Sleeping kit in big drybag (sleeping bag, thermal liner, hiker fly and pegs)

2. Which is held to the bars by a Revelate Designs Sling.

3. Jetboil stove and accessories (in a clip-on bag originally designed as a dump pouch for ammunition, according to its description on eBay)

4. Front headlight.

5. Clip for hydration hose (coming up from the frame bag, where the water bladder was stored)

6. Camera bag (with Panasonic DMC-LF1 inside)

7. Water bottle & snack pouch (in the same style as the stove pouch, just a little smaller, also bought from a military supplies store on eBay)

8. First Aid kit.

9. Garmin eTrex20 GPS.

Well, maybe it was nine, or maybe I was including the Spot Messenger GPS Tracker, which was in a top-tube bag attached to the stem, not the handlebar. The overall effect, though, is of someone who is carrying everything he owns.

IMG_0019-0.JPG

When you go full hobo, you meet some lovely people who think you’re doing something slightly mad.

“I could never do that!” they say after a few minutes of conversation, with a hint of regret or envy in their voice.

“I could never do what you’re doing …”

But I think it’s a trick that we bikepacker hobos are playing on the rest of society. Cos going ‘full hobo’ for a week or so isn’t all that hard, and it is a hell of a lot of fun, and a really great way to see parts of our scenic and beautiful world.

I’m hoping to get out in my hobo kit again real soon, just in SEQ. Before the end of the year for sure. And I will make every effort to add one more thing that tips me over the edge to ‘full hobo’.

If you see me out there, I’m really not that scary.

NB. Homelessness is a real problem still in our society, and I’m not downplaying that problem, or making fun of people who find themselves facing hard times.

Le Tour de Anduramba … a new benchmark is set

On the BVRT What makes a bike ride memorable? Is it the route, the conditions, the difficulty, the weather, the people you ride with, the obstacles or challenges you face along the way, the experience matching the anticipation??

It is probably all of these. I know at this point I should say “it’s the people”, because I’m just back at the computer after three days of superb mountain bike touring with four absolutely delightful friends.

But I think as well, the company you are with yourself is vital to getting the maximum out of these opportunities.

Some basics. It was a three-day tour, largely on gravel roads. We started & finished in the Brisbane Valley town of Toogoolawah.

Our overnight stays were in Blackbutt and Crows Nest. Hence the weekend’s hashtag was #tbcn. Emma and JD at Linville

The team was: Emma (founder and CEO of the internet-famous Bike Bestie, and possibly mentioned on this site before), Brad (a.k.a. Mr Cyclocross), John (“J.D.”, author, tourer, once co-worker with Emma at Epic Cycles) and Susie B (South Bank Bunch’s bubbliest, always up for a new adventure). And me.

Emma and Brad and I have toured together before. JD has toured all over, but this was my first multi-day ride with him. And Susie, although a very experienced roadie and former triathlete, is new to mtb touring.

And the set-ups illustrate this spread of both experience and depth of involvement in mtb bike-packing.

Emma has the most pro bike-packing set-up. Of anyone anywhere on this planet. She rides a Gellie Custom steel-framed bike that is start to finish purpose-built for this type of riding. It has 650B wheels with nice big tyres, a rigid steel fork upfront, high-efficiency hub dynamo lights, 14-speed Rohloff internal geared rear hub, Gates belt drive, and she has fitted it out with a full Bike Bag Dude kit, including front bags, frame bags, chaff bags x 2, and rear seat bag.

And the gear she carries is likewise always fully researched and there are solid reasons for every choice, so there are names like Hennessy Hammocks, and Trangia, and Sea To Summit, and Patagonia and Ground Effect. Emma likes quality kit.

My set-up (the ‘Black Hornet’) I’ve described before, but the best adjective for it is idiosyncratic. The addition since last time is that I bought an equivalent to the Bike Bag Dude chaff bag, mounted on the handlebars. Mine was an eBay purchase, as I was looking for something larger (& cheaper) than standard, so that it would provide a place for my Jetboil stove, which until now had been taking up a good chunk of room in my seat-bag.

So I got a “small nylon waterproof military MOLLE pouch”. Does the job and it cost $12.80, which is less than $60. It worked so well mounted on the right hand side of the Black Hornet’s handlebars, that I will get another, smaller one to mount on the left. There’s less room there, however, because of my Cannondale Lefty fork.

Brad has a combo of DIY and bought bike-packing kit on a vintage red GT Zaskar (complete with weird dual-control Shimano XTR brakes/shifters from about 10-12 years ago). He made his own frame bag, and mounting points for his front dry-bag, and bought a Revelate Designs holster thing for his seat-post mounted rear dry-bag, and chaff bags. It all worked super well, but he didn’t find room for a stove. Plenty of room for snacks. Brad brought lotsa snacks.

JD was all dirt-road touring ready with his sweet Soma Groove and a rear rack and panniers set-up, and a spacious handlebar bag. He is pretty much ready for any road, anywhere. Perhaps not for single-track, but this trip wouldn’t have any single-track anyway.

And Susie had bags strapped all over her Giant hard-tail mtb, mostly to a seat-post mounted rack. And a new tent. New sleeping mat. Etc.

Our new friend Chris took a pic of us at the Crows Nest National Park camping ground on Monday morning. It gives you a glimpse of the variations in set-up. Team at Crows Nest NP

So after a bit of car-pooling and fussing around putting bags on the bikes, we were all ready to go on a Saturday morning, mid-winter in SEQ.

Team TBCN

Here’s the happy crew, ready to roll.

Our first day was advertised (by me) as an easy warm-up to the more challenging ride on the second day. We rolled out of Toogoolawah past the showgrounds, which hosts the sky-diving fraternity most weekends. There were parachutistas floating gently to the ground as we trundled past.

The road surface soon enough turned from bitumen to gravel, and the ride proper was under way. There was plenty of light-hearted chat as we got used to the way our bikes handled with all the gear on-board, and how each of our touring companions rode. It was a solid couple of hours before we made it to Moore, via Colinton and a little bit of the D’Aguilar Highway.

There are three cafes at Moore. We chose the one with the outdoor eating area, and proceed to fuel up and chat for a good 90 minutes! Butterfly at Moore Leaving Moore

Eventually we had to get back on the bikes, and start riding again. It was bitumen to Linville, and the scenic surrounds of the start of the best bit of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, the Linville to Blackbutt section. The pictures tell some of the story, but it is the best, most gradual way to gain 300 metres in elevation. The trail just slowly rises, and you rise with it.

cruising on the rail trail

lonelytrailBVRT

A couple of us were feeling the effort though. It seems possible in retrospect that none of us had done very much specific training for this event. Emma in particular had been super-busy with her work (which, ironically, is all about getting other people on bikes!) and had barely ridden for quite a few months.

So it was pretty late in the day that we made it the Blackbutt showgrounds, which are just off the trail as it reaches the township. We reccied the site, as you do on your bike, by riding slowly around, picking out our potential camping sites.

Emma and JD picked out a perfect spot for their hammocks, and Susie set up her new tent. New tent Team Hammock

As the rain clouds rolled in, Brad and I chose to set up in the covered entertainment area.

Blackbutt showgrounds has great hot showers available to the camping set, who are of course mostly grey nomads.

We availed ourselves of the showers as well, and then waited out the passing rain showers before walking to the Radnor Hotel for dinner.

Brad had been served lamb shanks at a previous visit to the Radnor. JD had been building up the idea all day. It was a letdown to get there and find that the menu had changed as a result of new owners.

Undeterred, in typical JD fashion he asked the bar staff person what they would get. ‘The porterhouse steak’ was the response. So JD and Emma ordered up what turned out to be substantial chunks of deceased cow.

The rest of us made our choices as well, but it was the porterhouse steaks which got the oohs and aaahs and the oh-my-goodness what-have-I-dones when they arrived at our the table.

Nobody ordered dessert.

A steady walk ‘home’ to the showgrounds, and everyone had retired to bed by 8.30pm.

I slept quite well, but some of the others didn’t have such a great night. Susie in particular claimed to have barely slept. Claims made around other people’s snoring are always best left ‘on tour’, especially because I’m often named as the culprit. But on this occasion at least I didn’t keep anyone else awake (because I was nowhere near Susie’s tent).

Blackbutt sunrise

So it was a slow start on a cool morning in Blackbutt.

Brad was buying breakfast in town, so after he was packed up he went to find the popular wood-fired bakery to make him some breakfast AND lunch. I had to buy some more batteries, after looking at battery meter levels on my camera and GPS, so I also went up town before Susie and JD and Emma had got their stuff together.

By the time everyone was finally packed and ready to head off, Brad was on his second coffee, and I had munched through a breakfast muffin and slurped a coffee, and Emma was teasing me about my lack of patience.

Straight out of town, we head south on Blackbutt-Crows Nest Road, which makes sense because we’re going to Crows Nest. But I knew that wasn’t the road we would be following for most of the day.

So we got to the first possible intersection to find the way to Nukinenda and Anduramba, and I got my Garmin eTrex out of my jersey pocket.

The thing is, although I had planned the route super carefully, it was along roads I have never been on (to be fair to myself, these are roads that very few people have been along).

By contrast to the first day, which both Brad and Emma had ridden the whole route before. But from hereon out on the second and third days of our ride, nobody knew the route first-hand.

So we were relying on the route I had planned and downloaded to the eTrex.

Which is fine if I was totally in command of what I was doing with the eTrex.

Which I wasn’t.

I’ve only had this unit for a little while … it used to be Emma’s. I used it for the first time on the ride to Spicers Gap, where it disgraced itself by running out of battery. So I knew that I needed to have spare batteries with me this time. Sorted.

But reading and interpreting the pointer triangle and purple and blue lines on the maps on a Garmin, on the side of the road, in various light levels, while four people wait for me? Tricky.

What made it even more of the tricky was the fact that I really had not properly understood how to follow along a pre-planned route. I had the Garmin eTrex in my pocket, because I had run out of room to mount it on the handlebars.

In theory it operates just fine in a jersey pocket. In practice, the unit can get just a little confused by being turned upside down as you get it out of your pocket, and it can take a few seconds to work out whether it is Arthur or Martha.

So I would hold the eTrex the right way up, and look at it. And it would confuse me because the map wouldn’t represent anything like what I was seeing before me. It would say that we were heading East, or North, when we were heading south, or south-west. And the road which was going to the left would be off to the right.

Eventually (it took me most of the day) I worked out a method of getting the eTrex out of the pocket nice and early, holding it as still as possible, and trying to wait maybe 15 seconds before looking at it. I think for future tours, I will have to find the device a spot on the handlebars. Then the only problem is reading the screen with my ageing presbyopic eyes.

So after a few minutes I chose the road which I thought would take us down a massive hill to Emu Creek. Which it did. The road sign just said ‘The Valley’.

What goes down

We would be finishing our ride on this day at a slightly higher elevation than we started. So 300 vertical metres of descent in 6 km was fun. But it meant that we were now at the low point of the day as we crossed Emu Creek, with boulders and trees. It was pretty! But it meant that what happened next was pretty … hard.

Emu Creek gorge

What Brad and Emma saw.

What Brad and Emma saw.

The climb out of Emu Creek gorge was about 1.8km, and gained back about 200 metres of elevation. I don’t know what the average gradient was, but it was a bloody steep dirt road.

We paused at the top (we paused about three times on the hill as well) and got our breath back. “I’m sure that was the hardest bit of today’s ride,” I said, blithely unaware of absolutely all of the roads ahead of us.

But what followed was some of the best riding that I have done anywhere, ever. Big skies, rolling hills, grazing beasts, a smooth gravel road, and four cool friends to share it with. We rolled along, drinking in the scenes as though we were mountain-biking through the Baz Luhrmann film Australia. A few of our photos attempt to capture it.

This is Australia sign

towards_nukinenda

As the ride and the day wore on, legs began to fade, and bodies started to weary. We were starting to pay the price for the effort of climbing out of Emu Creek gorge. “How far till our lunch stop?” was a persistent query.

We stood by our bikes at the intersection of Nukinenda Rd and McGreavey Rd. For more than a few minutes I was unsure which was the correct turn. Eventually we picked the right road, and soon after we pulled into the front yard of the Anduramba Community Hall, with just 37 hard-won yet spectacular kilometres under our wheels.

In the shade at the side of the hall, Susie lay down beside her bike. It seemed possible that she was preparing to spend the night at Anduramba. Only a strategic offer from Emma of some Vegemite to go on her crackers sparked Susie up again.

We ate our lunches, Brad took a selfie in the mirror in the toilets, and off we went.

Team TBCN at Anduramba Hall, after a reviving lunch.

Team TBCN at Anduramba Hall, after a reviving lunch.

The road we left on was ominously named: Anduramba Range Road.

And then further ominousity — a sign ROAD CLOSED in 3.5km. Well, we didn’t have many alternatives.

We had not expected any road closures. We hadn’t researched any alternate routes. I wasn’t skilled enough with the Garmin eTrex to map out a different route on the fly.

So, as foreshadowed, Anduramba Range Road was indeed quite closed. We battled past a barbed wire fence, and got to where the damage was from the 2013 floods.

2014-07-27 14.46.40 2014-07-27 14.52.37

The road had been partially repaired, and was no challenge to navigate on a bike. What was a challenge was the gradient, but fortunately it was semi-paved, with a hard-packed road base. At almost the top of the hill was the other side of the road closure.Another chance to get snagged on the barbed wire, until I noted a gate into the adjacent paddock. Brad could see another gate out of the paddock on the other side of the road closure.

So we added trespass to our list of sins for the day. And went on our way rejoicing.

2014-07-27 15.00.12

There were only a couple of small rolling hills left, and we were quickly onto a road which descended from The Bluff into Crows Nest. Not a moment too soon, as I think all of us were feeling fatigued by the climb up from Anduramba.

We rolled into Crows Nest about 3.30pm, and once again we saw a couple of different ways of managing the bike-packing experience. Brad ‘no stove’ Norman sought out the pizza shop while the rest of us went to the IGA to grab supplies that we could cook or snack on (or drink!).

So we come out of IGA with our pathetic snacks, and find that Brad has negotiated that the pizza shop will deliver out to the National Park, 5km out of town. So much pizza and garlic bread was ordered!

Along with their helpfulness on matters pizza-related, the staff there also had information about the weather (it was going to be cold, but stick around cos in a week it’s going to be freezing), and the likelihood of dingoes looking for food at our campsite (possibly just a ruse to ensure that city folks didn’t leave food scraps lying around the place).

We finally made it to the campsite around 4.30, and were set up before dark. Brad and Emma were building a fire as the pizza delivery guy showed up.

Now don’t think that just because pizza and garlic bread had been ordered that all other cooking had ceased. Not at all. Susie’s got half a chook and noodles. Emma and I are both making pasta, and JD’s prevaricating about his Moroccan cous cous.

But with the arrival of the pizza, we managed to eat ourselves into a stupor. There was enough left over to offer a substantial amount to our neighbours in campsite 7. With much discussion of dingoes, we all drifted off to bed, away from the glorious warm fire.

fire in the morning

And as the fire slowly subsided through the night, so did the temperature continue to drop. The apparent temperature in Toowoomba that evening got down to 1.8 degrees C at 5.30 am.

I can’t find any online observations for Crows Nest, but I suspect it would be quite similar. I had gone to bed originally with my down jacket (from Aldi!) on as well as baselayers top and bottom.

But I quickly removed the down jacket, and went to sleep. The second time I got up for the loo, the down jacket stayed as I zipped myself back into the sleeping bag. I was warm enough in the bag, except I couldn’t find a way to close the hood enough to keep my nose warm. So my nose was freezing.

But in the morning, I discovered that a cold nose was the least possible thing to complain about. Both the hammock dwellers had been uncomfortably cold in the night. John froze all night, said he had never been colder. Susie, with a 3/4 length sleeping mat, also said her feet were very cold.

So Brad re-stoked the fire, and we warmed our delicate extremities once more over tea and porridge and coffee.

The last day’s ride seemed on paper to be by far the easiest. Much more descent than ascent. The thing about that is that even when there’s lots of descending, which takes very little effort, whatever climbing there is still requires the same amount of effort that it always does.

on the way to Perseverance

So there were quite a few sharp hills, mixed in among the good times of the downhills, as we surfed the ridgeline down from Crows Nest towards the back end of Lake Perseverance.

The road turned north after a while, and after a beautiful picnic spot at Ivory Creek, we climbed up a bit and met up with The Bluff Road.

The closer to Toogoolawah the fewer downhills we got. And the more bitumen. And even some traffic. After three days of absolutely no traffic, it was necessary finally to keep left and stay tighter together.

With about five km to go, JD launched a surprise attack off the front. In some story-telling session earlier in the trip, I had mentioned the long-running tradition that Bruce and I have, that if you nominate the name of the town first, you are allowed to sprint for the town sign.

Well it seemed JD was making a pre-emptive burst. So I sat about 50-100 metres behind him, towing Susie along. Eventually Emma came past us both, and put in a strong effort to bridge across to JD.

By that time all of us had realised that in between us and Toogoolawah, there was one last stinking hill.

I was the only one with the energy or stupidity to sprint up the last hill, although it would be a charitable interpretation to use that term if you had seen the speed at which the ‘sprint’ occurred.

We regrouped for one last time just over the crest, and rolled triumphantly into Toogoolawah. It was an awesome three days. There was not a cross word spoken amongst any of us the whole time.

Friendships were formed and deepened, the roads were kind, and the sun was shining. Bikepacking is one activity that gives great reward for the effort put in. As I said on Emma’s Instagram post a few hours after we had all made it to our respective homes: A++. 5 stars. Would bikepack with again.

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