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:
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.
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.
- 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!
- Note to self, no 3: I reckon this #microadventure thing has worked out pretty well in 2014.
Get some Garmin up ya!
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.
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.
It’s not till you can plug your Garmin into the computer that has Basecamp on it that you really know what you’ve done. So here’s another post about my Munda Biddi trail adventure, as told through the medium of my recorded tracks.
Perhaps. I’m not that great with my Garmin (an eTrex 20). To support that premise, here are three examples of my uneasy relationship with this particular piece of technology.
Exhibit 1 … I had to edit the first track shown here, from the train station at Kelmscott up till lunch break on that day, because it included the distances from my flight from Brisbane to Perth. Unless you reset the trip computer, the Garmin thinks your trip started when you last turned the bloody thing on.
Exhibit 2. The number of times in this series of tracks when I turn the Garmin on at the start of my pack-up process, and start riding half an hour or more later!
Exhibit 3. There are no tracks from Day 2 or Day 3. On Day 2, the Garmin would not fire up properly, and then flunked out again straight after my long lunch stop at Jarrahdale. It decided to start working again at the end of Day 3.
Here’s the first half of Day 1. From the train station at Kelmscott, up Canning Mill Road, and 20km later onto the Munda Biddi trail. A lovely warm day!
The rest of Day 1. If you look closely you can see where I miss the turn for the campsite at Wungong, ride for about 6 or 7 km, get a little confused, look at map, ride back, still looking, looking, and eventually find the camp!
Day 4. After my first night on my own in a hut in the bush, this was the longest day’s ride, 77km from Bidjar Ngoulin to Yarri.
Day 5. An easier day, from Yarri into Collie. But the hills still hurt!
Day 6. Collie to Nglang Boodja. Not a long day, but geez there were some hard bits in this one. The section in Wellington NP was some of the most technical riding on the whole trail. And a fully-loaded mountain bike is pretty tricky on a technical descent, let alone a sketchy climb.
Day 7. Nglang Boodja to Donnybrook.
Day 8. Donnybrook to Capel. If only a Garmin could record headwinds. And rain. If it could, they would be recorded on this day. It wasn’t too far, thankfully, and at the end there was a cafe to recuperate in.
I’ve just recently finished a week-long expedition on the Munda Biddi trail in Western Australia. I will be writing a piece for Australian Mountain Bike on my experiences on the trail, and how good it is (and that is, plenty good).
1. During Cycle Queensland (Bicycle Queensland’s annual 9-day ‘holiday on wheels’, during which BQ staff work their little backsides off), on the rest day, which is the only “time off” in about two weeks, I like to squeeze in a bike ride, traditionally with my friends from Epic Cycles, Emma and John. We’ve ridden around the white dirt roads of Stanthorpe, the wonderful mtb trails of Atherton, and other places I’m sure which are less memorable. But we always have a good time, and we get away from the campsite for a couple of hours.
This time, mucking around on my cyclocross bike while riding a bike path from Bargara north to Burnett Heads, I spectacularly stacked it by losing my front wheel on re-entering a concrete path, and slid across the path on my left knee. The damage to my knee immediately seemed to me, as an internal panic-merchant, as something which might stop me from riding the Munda Biddi trail. It turned out two weeks later, to be no issue at all, other than bits of scab falling off my knee all week.
2. The day before I left on the airplane to Perth, I had a call from Annette. Carol had some sort of mystery accident or fall at work or maybe getting on or off the bus from work. Nobody knew what had happened, but Carol wasn’t walking. I took her off to the doctor, and then to the X-ray clinic, all the while thinking: the WA trip is over! It wasn’t. Carol was in a wheelchair for a couple of days, and we thought the worst, but she has been able to get where she needs to go, mostly walking with Annette’s or my help, if even a little slower than usual.
3. Rebuilding my bike (Black Betty), at a friendly person’s house in Kensington, suburban South Perth. I took it very slow (as I also do when packing up the bike to go in the bag for air travel), because I want to think about everything very clearly before I do it. So as I fussed with my rear derailleur, preparing to screw it back into place ever so carefully, because cross-threading the rear derailleur would be fatal, I noticed that the cable end had come out of the ferrule and was fraying with random bits of cable sticking out. Oh no. This is way beyond my toolset! And at the very edge of my skillset even if I had the right tools.
A quick trip to Garland Cycleworks at South Perth (which my host Ginny had already identified as their local bike shop), and a lovely young bloke called Zac oohed and aahed over my bike (Garland Cycleworks is a Specialized shop, so he liked that it was a Spesh, but then with a Cannondale Lefty?? Dude, what the??) and quickly, easily, competently trimmed the cable, reset it in the ferrule, and put the right tension back on the cable so the rear derailleur operated faultlessly for the next week. No charge my friend, and of course you can use our track pump to top off the pressure in your tyres. Local bike shops rock! No problem!
4. Building my bike (no 2). This one is so funny, because it’s happened to me before with mtbs that are set up with tubeless tyres. I decided to add a few PSI front and rear as I built the bike up. About 35 or so would have to be enough with my tiny little mini-pump. But as I finished pumping up the rear tyre, and unscrewed the Lezyne pump hose from the Presta valve, the removable inner core was what unscrewed, rather than the pump hose. Air gushed out. This has happened to me with this very pump before, notably once at the Gap Creek trailhead a couple of years ago with Gina’s Giant Anthem (and with Emma and Gina both right beside me, chuckling at me/the situation). I tried a second time. Same result. This time I had to get it right myself. I found some pliers in Ginny’s garage and screwed the valve core in as tight as I could, pumped the tyre up again, and oh so nervously unscrewed the pump connector. SUCCESS. Off to the bike shop for the other repairs!
5. There is no number five. Thank goodness for that. Four was heaps.
Fortunately I am actually also a total optimist as well as a minor panic merchant.
I don’t know how that really works, but with only three or four tiny moments of further panic I was able to get riding on the Munda Biddi Trail, and spent the next eight days following its ubiquitous yellow markers, going the Full Hobo Bikepacker.
I loved it. It was hard at times, pedalling uphill on a bike that weighed twice as much as it’s designed to. But most of the time it was an unforgettable experience, mixing physical exertion and flow on the trails, anxiety and delight, joy and loneliness. I would do it again in a heart beat.
More MBT posts coming soon!
Because Flyboy Dave is a general all-round good guy and a generous friend, I have a Spot GPS Tracker for my Munda Biddi adventure, which starts, oooh, quite soon now. Saturday.
Follow me here. You know, if you want to. It’s not compulsory or anything.
Every now and again I see articles and videos online to help new bike riders learn how to fix a flat tyre.
I critique these resources from the point of view of someone who has changed lots of flat tyres, and seen many more changed.
Here’s one I’ve just seen:
But YouTube is full of them …
I have also spent quite a few Bicycle Queensland events doing roving support on the BQ postie bike. And spent plenty of time sweating away in my motorcycle gear on the side of the road fixing flat tyres.
And I think that a few things are often missing from these tutorials.
I’m probably not the most organised tip compiler in the world, and it occurred to me when I was halfway through this article, that the tips might be in the wrong order. That’s OK, you are unlikely to be reading this article at the exact moment in time when it will be useful, so it is probably OK that following the tips in the order presented would be sub-optimal.
Tip No 1. Never ever pump up a new tube in a tyre until you’ve found what caused the flat.
I don’t care if the bunch is getting antsy, or the sun is going down. If you rush past this stage of the process, you will be repeating it at a time nearer than you had hoped. This is related, of course, to Tip No 2.
Tip No 2. Whatever caused your flat is probably still in the tyre.
It is the exception rather than the rule if the shard of glass or short piece of wire that worked it’s way through your tyre, burrowing far enough in to pierce the inner tube, has now just fallen out onto the road. Much more likely is that it’s still there. And it can be only just getting through the tyre, not enough to feel when you run your fingers around the inside of the tyre. So just because you did that, and found nothing, doesn’t mean that the cause has been removed.
That’s one of two reasons why I think the “fingers around the inside of the tyre” check is over-rated. The other reason is if the cause is still there, and is sharp, and is protruding, then the result is a cut finger or fingers.
Which relates in turn, to Tip 3.
Tip 3. Inspect the outside of the tyre first.
You are on the side of the road, moments after the depressing realisation that you have a flat. There might be a group of your bike-riding friends standing beside you, offering “helpful” advice.
But don’t rush into removing the tyre from the rim. Sure, take the wheel off the bike (another top tip, if it’s the rear wheel, change the derailleur across to the hardest gear before removing the wheel … it will be much easier to line up the derailleur when you put the wheel back in later). See this demonstrated perfectly by YouTube sensation Bike Bestie.
Now, with the wheel in your two hands, and the top of the tyre at the perfect viewing distance for you (this is why I take a small pair of reading glasses with me when I ride), go around the outside of the tyre slowly and methodically, looking for cuts in the tyre. When you find a cut, pinch it open and look closely for the glint of glass or metal.
When you find a piece of glass, you can usually lever it out with a finger nail. Don’t worry about making the cut in your tyre bigger as a result … getting the glass or metal out of the tyre is much more important. Finger nails too short or blunt? The flat blade screwdriver in your multi-tool will probably do the trick.
Ok, you’ve found the thing which caused your puncture. Go around the rest of the tyre anyway, and check that you have looked in ALL the cuts on this tyre, because you might remove the potential cause of your next puncture. Or you might not have found the actual cause yet.
Let’s proceed with some more top-level tips for removing the tyre and replacing the tube.
Tip No 4. Tyre Levers are a fallback position. You can change (most) tyres with just your hands.
I’m not going to claim this tip as anything other than knowledge gained from others. Learn from the master mechanic Jim Langley here: http://www.jimlangley.net/wrench/flattiresbyhand.htm
I learned this first-hand by watching John Pittendreigh of Epic Cycles, even though I have a tip for reinstallation that is subtly different from the Pittendreigh method.
Now, some 23 or 25 mm road tyres on some rims are a very tight fit. So the hands-only method doesn’t always work. You need to carry tyre levers for that eventuality.
But for hybrid or cyclocross or mtb tyres … you really don’t need tyre levers. And it’s not about hand strength, it’s about technique, and pushing the tyre into the well of the rim. Look at the Langley link for more details.
OK, so we have the tyre off, we already found the cause of the flat, and now we are putting our new tube in. As all the other tutorials, say, put a little bit of air in the tube to give it shape. Put one side of the tyre bead on the rim.
Tip 5. The valve goes into the tyre first, but gets put on the rim last.
When you put the tube in the tyre, start with the rim held in front of you, resting on the ground, with the valve hole at 12 o’clock, and put the valve through the hole. So far, so standard. If you have a little bit of shape to the tube, you can usually drop the tube straight into the bottom of the tyre, which is waiting with only one side hooked onto the rim.
BUT WAIT! Don’t start working the tyre on from this position. Instead, with the tube all inside the tyre, turn the wheel around and start at the far side of the rim working the tyre back into place.
The reason for this is that the valve can be a useful ally in helping the tube sit properly inside the tyre, preventing the tube from pinching when you pump it up.
So as you work the tyre into place (using the techniques learned above from Langley, or in my case from John Pittendreigh), you will eventually get to the tricky final section of tyre which will just pop into place (hopefully). And just before (and after) you do that, just push the valve into the tyre, ensuring that all the tube is inside the tyre.
There you go. These are the finer details that I think are often missing from the Internet tutorials.
None of this is any substitute for practice, of course. Which is why when you are on the side of the road with the bunch all looking impatiently at you, you can just breathe deep slow breaths and say (to yourself): “This is an opportunity to practice my skills. Slow and steady wins the race.”
Have fun. It’s actually a good feeling to be able to ride around and not be concerned that a flat tyre will spell the end of your ride. Gives you the confidence to go further and have more fun!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Really enjoyed the episode of Squeaky Wheel that we recorded this afternoon.
Jordana Blackman makes a great point about the vital importance of person-to-person relationships for people getting into bike-riding. Have a listen!
Great contributions from Emma, and from Alix Everton as well.
It’s good to work with good people.