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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.