Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Solo Bike Packing Trip

I am not sure how many posts I have started with the words "Well, it has been a while since my last post" so I will avoid it by saying "Crikey, I've been busy!"

I have had my head down, busy with work and study for sim. With sim successfully behind me for another 6 months, I resurfaced to notice a ride posted by Neil over at Musings. Neil is a regular organiser of "solid" rides here around Brisbane and having a free weekend, I was keen to attend.

Unfortunately, I had bitten off more than I could chew (as usual) by trying to fit Neil's ride around work and also incorporate it into my cunning plans. Something had to give. I made the tough decision to bail on Neil's ride, get some more sleep then head out on a solo bikepacking trip to test my gear and theories. I made the right decision as Neil's ride turned out to be very "solid".

I set out around midday for Gap Creek with a loose plan to climb South Boundary Rd to Mt Nebo, then ride on into D'Aguilar National Park to eventually camp somewhere by dark. 

While I had packed as light as I felt safe to do so, my "normally" 11kg (24lb) bike now weighed in at 20kg (44lb) and I was tipping the scales at 90kg (198lb) with my backpack and camera gear! As there are some big hills in them thar hills, I was very afraid! But South Boundary Rd is like an old friend, almost comforting in it's 25km (16mi) and 800m (2600ft) climb to Mt Nebo.

A pretty solid pedal with only a brief photo stop at the shelter saw me at the cafe' for a warming cup of tea and some carrot cake. Did I mention it was overcast and reasonably cold for Brisbane?

While sipping tea I perused my maps for an answer to my half asked question, "where do I go?" The tea leaves told me to head up Hammermeister Rd (just because I love that name!) then down Dundas Rd, Goodes Rd, The "Side" track onto England Creek Rd and England Creek Camp. 

An unknown factor was how much distance I could cover before dark. While I had lights, I wasn't overly keen on riding unknown trails and setting up camp in the dark. This was to be a proving run of sorts, after all.

One thing I found was that reading from a map, and a "stylised" map at that, progress was slow. Following a gps trace is obviously much easier and quicker but I had forgotten how much so. Having to constantly stop at every small side track to make sure it wasn't one that I needed to take was soaking up time. But then again, I had to keep reminding myself, I had all weekend and so what if it got dark? I could just camp where ever I stopped.

Then I came to a track named "Side" track. I am not sure of the grade but it must have been in the order of 30% as I lost 300m elevation in 1.1km of trail. I was struggling to walk down it. There was no question of riding down.

The camera is level in this photo as I have a small bubble level on the tripod clip, so that is the actual slope. Talk about being pushed downhill by the bike!

At the bottom was a small creek that obviously swells to a massive size during large downpours. It was pleasantly gurgling over some rocks as I passed through.

Down in this hollow it was getting a bit dark, so it was time to put my head down and try to make my "loose" objective of England Creek Camp. A bit of climbing and then some more leg pleasing descent made the distance fly by quickly. I managed to arrive at the camping spot just before dark and enjoyed the ease of setup of my Hennessey Hammock. It was up in just a couple of minutes and keeps me out of the weeds and more importantly, the snakes. I particularly like the fact that you do not need flat ground. You just need a couple of trees or poles about 4-5 metres (13-16ft) apart.

Then it was time to try out my camp stove and dehydrated meal. I must admit, when I last hiked I was a 13 year old boy scout with a cracking voice and no idea about much at all. Dehydrated camp meals didn't exist and excellent little camp stoves like the JetBoil were a distant dream of some visionary. Maybe humping all of the heavy crap that we had in the early eighties helped turn me off the hiking experience? Certainly, all of this uber light, well thought out modern kit has helped hook me back into that world.

It is simply amazing how fast this little stove will boil a cup of water. By the time I turned around, it seemed to be boiling! The Morroccan Lamb meal turned out to be very tasty with some added sultanas. And I wasn't even particularly hungry due to the modest 42km (26mi) ride so far.

 Coming on a solo ride like this might seem a bit irresponsible when my wife was interstate and I didn't have a firm route, but I was able to check in via my Spot Tracker. While I hoped that the green lights meant that my position was being uploaded to someone that cared, the reality was that I make a point of taking measured risks and currently all was ok. The Spot is primarily if things go pear shaped and I need a bit of a rescue......

The night proved to be pretty cold for the sub tropics and in my little hollow it was down into single digits. One of the criticisms of the hammock is it's lack of insulation and sure enough, my back felt like it was hanging out of bed all night despite the rest of me being on the verge of sweating. Not very conducive to good sleep! The light rain that fell all night wasn't a bother with my cocoon remaining dry. The comfort factor was pretty high apart from my back though and I didn't have to fight off any snakes, so I will persevere and look into some insulation for the hammock.

It was bloody cold in my little hollow the next morning and some hot porridge and coffee certainly got me going. Once again the Jetboil had the water piping in less than no time and I was able to warm my hands on a strong black coffee.

Packing up I stuffed the hammock into my seat bag to cut down on the weight on my handlebars. I had found yesterday that my hammock and sleeping bag were too much weight on my bars and made the steering seem ponderous and a bit frightening at speed.

Rugged up for the cold, I quickly warmed up as the ride out of England Creek was all uphill. Very soon I was stripping off layers and my legs were protesting from the effort.

Climbing 350m in the first 5km was a great way to warm up on a cold morning like this and after the first descent of the morning, with it's associated chill, I developed a new appreciation for slogging uphill at 5km/h (3mph).

My plan for today was to head north up England Creek Rd then turn east along Lawton Rd. Lawton Rd had been reported closed last year after the torrential rains of January caused land slips which cut the road. I figured that some repairs would have been effected by now and anyway, you don't need much trail to get a mountain bike through....

Climbing up toward Northbrooke Mountain the road skirted some ridge sides with magnificent views to the west over Wivenhoe Dam.

Coming to the intersection with Lawton Rd I was met with a very weathered "Road Closed" sign and a trail covered in much leaf litter. It certainly didn't look like anyone was using the road. Hmmm. It was a very long way to go back so I thought I would at least have a look. Of course the first few kilometres were steeply downhill and I was very concious of the climb back out if the road was impassable.

I soon came to some slips that had cut the road to half it's usual width but I also noticed that there was a slim trail where walkers, MTBers and dirt bikers had been using the road. A great sign!

Then I came to a huge slip that had taken the entire road away and was about 50ft deep and 30ft across! Bugger! I really didn't want to have to go back otherwise I would be out here all day and half the night. So I dropped the bike and had a bit of a scout around the edge of the slip and found a sketchy, narrow little path across. Testing it out, I left my backpack there and went back to get the bike. Most of the crossing was made across a tangled mass of fallen timber but there was a 6ft section where the tread was about 4 inches wide with nothing to hold onto and a huge drop into the slip on my left. Slightly heart in mouth I managed to manhandle the bike across, all the time hoping that there were not more of these further along the road.

As it turned out, this was the final hurdle and I happily climbed Lawton Rd toward Mt Glorious Rd, where I could hear the buzz of motorcycles echoing around the hillsides.

As I stood here at the gate to Lawton Rd several dozen motorcycles whizzed past. Mt Glorious Rd is one of THE roads to ride your road bike in the Brisbane area. With it's litterally hundreds of bends through the forest and several coffee shops along it's length it is a magnet for motorcyclists....and it was Sunday morning.

For me, the tough part of my ride was over. I rolled along the sealed road quickly. I stopped for a coffee and some eggs on toast which filled the hole I had created by climbing out of the forest. I was surprised to feel how cold it was when I emerged from the coffee shop and rugged up again with my bright yellow rain jacket. This would prove to be an important safety move.

Shortly after getting back on the road I was almost T-boned by a stupid woman in a people mover who was far too intent on getting into a parking place on my side of the road than looking to see if there was any oncoming traffic. "Sorry, didn't see you"!! I couldn't have been more visible in my "rescue yellow" rain jacket and suggested this to her. All I got was two fingers up from her though. So much for her being sorry she nearly ran me over and made my children fatherless. I almost pointed this out when I noticed a baby in the back seat of her car. How do you make these morons responsible for their action behind the wheel.

Anyway, I was buzzing with addrenaline and completely forgot to stop and take some photos of the 100 or so motorcycles that were lining the road outside the coffee shop at Mt Glorious!! I will have to come back on the R1 another sunday morning and soak up the atmosphere.

Turning on to South Boundary Rd I had the feeling that I was "almost home". Funny how this road is now becoming so familiar and comforting despite the 25km and 400m of climbing that still lay in front of me!

Rolling through Gap Creek I had the trails to myself, with no other riders around. On arrival back at the car I had covered 93km (58mi) with 3000m (10 000ft) of climbing for the weekend. My legs were feeling pretty well toasted as I had smashed it down Sth Boundary Rd.

Once I arrived home and checked in on Neil's ride on saturday I was glad I had not added Harding's Paddock and Flinder's Plum to my ride as they covered 50km (31mi) and also did about 1600m climbing. However, with some good rest pre-ride, maybe I could cobble together a route which takes in both of these areas......

As a test of my bikepacking gear the ride had been a success. I had packed about the right amount of food and clothing. The bike handled well enough being loaded up as well. I do need to come up with a better option for water when out in the bush. Carrying sufficient supplies is hard work. A Steri Pen to sterilise water from the various creeks I happened across looks like a "must have" and trying to build some sort of gps trail that I can load into my gps to help speed up navigation also needs looking into.

All in all, I was very pleased with how the weekend panned out and I can't wait to get out there again!



  1. I've got two words for you:
    AWE SOME!!!!!!

    1. No, thank you Neil! Your constant exploring is inspiring me to stop putting barriers in my own way and just get out there whether it is with a group or on my own. Cheers.

  2. You selfish "b.stard" how dare you ride this great country on your own. You need to email, text or send smoke signals so that others may ride with you, unless of course you wish to be alone.
    Great read, great photos, great job, i'm jealous as.
    cheers wayne

    1. Yeah, sorry Wayne. In my defense I only had 2 days to get myself organised and I was away for those two days, so was flat out getting myself sorted. Next time. ;)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Phil. Glad you liked it. I am looking forward to more soon.

  4. FUN! What a great ride report. My legs hurt just thinking about it.

    Thanks for the pics of the hammock. I'd never seen or heard of it before. Looks like great way to make camp and pack light.

    Jetboils are great. We love ours too. Easy to pull over anywhere and make a cup of coffee or tea to warm the hands.

    1. Hennessey hammocks are from your part of the world actually. I think they are on Vancouver island or somewhere very close to that.(well, from here it is your part of the world) Light and fast to set up. I just need to get the sleeping pad/insulation sorted out for next time as there is almost nothing worse than having a cold back.
      Yep, huge Jetboil fan here. I wouldn't use a thermos ever again.

  5. Bloody hell Dave, I'm beyond inspired. I've 2 magazine articles to write and photograph before mid-December, and I've been all "wahwahwah" that nobody wants to head out bikepacking with me since I recovered from the operation and stuff. Since reading this yesterday I've dusted off the Hennessy, refamiliarised myself with the hitches, and I'm going to go it alone for a few nights of cycling, camping, writing and photography. DAVESPIRATION!

    1. Mate, I'm happy to help. Just don't curse me too much when you are pushing up some big-arse hill in the middle of nowhere thinking about a cool ice cream......
      Have fun.

  6. great story. Thanks. Can tell us about the frame bag.

    1. Hi Andy. The bags are all Revelate Designs gear out of Alaska by Eric parsons. I can't fault them. You can now buy Aussie made bags from Bike Bag Dude. I haven't tried them but they look well thought out and built.


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