Sir David Attenborough's narration:
"Here, on the dry plains of the harsh Australian bushland, a single caucasian male of the Dutch tribe is experiencing tumultuous travels along the Big River Road. He, inspired by bike-packing photos and videos of members of different tribes and different lands, realises it's not all that romantic. There are dangers. The unpredictable dominant bogans driving their 4WDs and shooting their rifles. The native wildlife hunting for his food and water. Enormous bushfires and temperature changes throughout the day. And all whilst the male makes impossible attempts at sleeping under a blanket of darkness at night. Rest assured, he will survive. But, left mentally scarred."
I’m at work. Making route optimisation algorithms. Applying fancy maths. To transport prisoners between court and prison. To collect milk from farms. To distribute groceries to supermarkets.
I’m part of a fast-growing early-to-mid-to-late 30's demographic of purveyors of high-end cycling apparel and equipment. That’s an overwhelming surplus of hyphens in that sentence.
In one of many moments of distraction I grab my iPhone. Open the Instagram app. And start scrolling. Posts by Mathieu van der Poel, Jesse Carlsson, Sarah Hammond, Ryan Flinn, North South, Cycling About, Espiritu Libre and other amazing athletes and extremely experienced bike-packers. To paint a Bob Ross picture: That’s my happy little reference. Remember to forget that.
Whilst scrolling, my thoughts wander. I aspire to perform at a similar level as these people. Physically and mentally. Discarding the good ol' four stages of competence. That’s stupid. I'm stupid. I normally ride a road bike, roughly 100–150-ish kilometers a week.
I move my mouse to avoid my computer going to sleep at work.
Bike-packing is becoming more and more popular. Epic drone footage and stories. High-tech equipment. So, I recently acquired a Curve GXR, aka Kevin. Shout out to Saint Cloud. And Curve.
But I don't think some fellow fresh bike-packers are aware of the “dangers” of it. And as a newbie, I made many mistakes: simply jumping into the abyss of adventure. In summary, on my travels I failed to recognise the importance of “basic” things suppressed by my sheer enthusiasm. And a lack of time, because I make route optimisation algorithms for a living and I’m not a Jesse, Sarah or Ryan. Remember to remember that. That said, I think it's worthwhile to continue the conversation about the "dangers" of bike-packing in this relatively young community. For dummies.
Due to the heat, my first bike-packing adventure along the Great Ocean Road and inland surroundings over the Australia Day weekend was aborted halfway. But over the Easter weekend I was determined to do another attempt at an adventure. This time the Big River Road and rail trails. As narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
The plan, in a hyphen list:
- Day 1: Melbourne to Lilydale rail trailing to Warburton at 100-ish kilometres.
- Day 2: Warburton to Enochs Point, along the Big River Road at 100-ish kilometres.
- Day 3: Enochs Point to Bonnie Doon at 100-ish kilometres.
- Day 4: Donnie Boon rail trailing to Tallarook at 100-ish kilometres.
Please, oh please … check elevation profiles! And please, oh please … adjust expectations about average speed of a road bike versus a gravel bike! And please, oh please … ask a friend to join.
...To summarise my learning -wait for it- curve. Ba-dum-tsss!
I arrived at Warburton around 17:00 and stopped to eat at a cafe. I planned to camp at Redwood Forest 10-ish kilometers up the road. I checked the weather forecast and noticed the sun sets at 17:37. But I thought the sun sets around 18:30?! And I realised I didn’t bring lights, because I didn’t plan to ride in the dark. Plans are stupid, planning isn’t.
I departed the cafe around 18:00. In total darkness. And no lights. Ah-ha … the iPhone torch! But - hang on - I only have one powerbank for 2-ish iPhone charges and anticipate no access to electricity for the days ahead. Better stop scrolling on Instagram to conserve battery-life. But - hang on - I also use Strava to record and MapOut to navigate on my iPhone. Mmm?!
I arrived at the carpark of Redwood Forest and noticed a couple of dodgy cars parked. In total darkness. I decided to ride on and find a spot in the forest to set up my tent away from ‘em. In silence. I sprayed some insect repellent. And a couple of cars drove passed. With headlights. And then without headlights. Some screams escaped out the forest. “What the -bleep-?!” Some strange animal sounds. Boars? Koalas? Possums? The screams continue. And this time noticeably closer to my tent. I’m sweating. I grab a tissue. Tear it. Roll it. And put it in my ears to drown out the unfamiliar and frightening sounds. I finally fall asleep.
The next day at a pub in Reefton I came across a group of bike-packers who were going to do the same route as yours truly. One of ‘em bought one bottle of water, because he has run out. One?! On a 30+ degree day? But … it’ll be 100-ish kilometers before access to water in the next town. I planned for 3 bidons and I bought 1 bottle and put it on my back in between my bib shorts harness. We talked a bit and they told one of their friends bailed out because his chain broke. I wished ‘em well and rode on. Moments later I realised it was that group that was staying in the same forest. And scaring one another by screaming. For a bit of banter.
I hit the dust, gravel and rocks of the Big River Road and ride on before sun set and find a spot at a bushcamp to set up my tent again. But I wasn’t welcome at this free public facility, because the aforementioned dominant bogans assured me some mates would come and it would be a wild party. All night. With rifles. And all. So, I relocated to a spot near a bush and a tree. It turned out I wasn’t welcome there either. It was possum central. I’m sweating again. I grab a tissue. Tear it. Roll it. And put it in my ears to drown out AC/DC. And the rifle shots. I thought if I could only use the AC/DC to charge my iPhone. And I finally fall asleep.
The next day I hit the climb on the Eildon-Jamieson Road with an intensifying squeaking chain. It’s dry and dusty. I grab a tissue. Tear it. Roll it. And put it in my ears to drown out … nooo, of course not! I thought of the other bike-packer and his broken chain. And I imagine this could happen to me too. I didn’t bring a chain link or chain lube, because … I’m stupid. So, I decided to pour some of my scarce water onto the chain and cassette. Ride in the shade. Repeat each 2-ish kilometers. Ah-ha … the insect repellent! I apply it and drink the rest of my water. Problem solved! At the top of the climb I run into the boys from Saint Cloud. We talked a bit and I told about my many mistakes. They popped out some proper lube and saved me. Done and dusted!
Sir David Attenborough's narration:
“In our next episode we will explore … https://youtu.be/B33hwfaUgLM”
Meredith takes on her first bike-packing race, the Cloudride 1000: a mountain bike endurance race that traverses the ridge tops of the Great Dividing Range through the Monaro region of south east Australia.
"I took the plunge and ordered a Curve Uprock titanium mountain bike with a rigid fork and dynamo hub. So I had the weapon, I had the Easter Leave Pass and was now devoid of excuses."