A year ago, or maybe less, I’m not sure if I had even really heard of “bikepacking”. As a trail runner – “Fastpacking” – travelling fast and light on two feet, sure. Bikepacking? Essentially the same on two wheels (although arguably not always that “light”), perhaps not. And then a good friend started sharing videos of utterly incredible women like Lael Wilcox, and before I knew it, I too wanted to be riding long distances, sleeping in a ditch along the way and filling my soon to be purchased Revelate top tube bag with greasy, salty, hot chips.
And so it was that as a Christmas gift to myself, I purchased Valda – my Cannondale Topstone 105, gravel bike from Dean at Hit Bikes. The dreams of long days in the saddle and sleeping in random locations outdoors soon began to unfold. Having never been bikepacking in my life, nor cycled further than 100kms at a time, naturally, I found myself signing up for a 2000km gravel bikepacking race around tropical Iceland in June. A modest event which required you to follow a GPS route solo; and ride almost 200kms a day for 12 consecutive days; sleeping wherever works (huts, a ditch, your tent, who knows). It sounded like the most unimaginable type 2 fun and having never yet really signed up for an event where my chances of failing were awesomely risky and high, Valda and I were inevitably IN. COVID-19 of course has put a stop to this (for now), but I’ll ride that route one day, and in the meantime, having gone all in with the bike and a few bits of kit, back in March, I was keen to test it all out.
Before I really start, I just want to be clear, if you have a bike, and a backpack – you can bikepack. You don’t need all of the fancy specific bags, and indeed, the more I look at the set up of other bike packers, there’s such a wonderful variety and a real culture of improvisation and experimentation. Living up to my “allthegearnaeidea” handle and knowing how much I personally find riding with a backpack pretty uncomfortable on my daily 3 hours of commuting, I did purchase quite a few bikepacking specific pieces for transporting my kit on Valda – I’ll discuss the set up in another article.
So, what’s the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail? My awareness of it came from some crazy ultra running friends who have run the length of this trail, and being relatively flat, all off road, and with plenty of towns along the way, it seemed like a perfect testing ground for my new set up – which, it was. “Now the longest rail trail in Australia, the 161 km Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) follows the disused Brisbane Valley rail line that commenced construction at Wulkuraka near Ipswich in 1884 and was completed at Yarraman in 1913.” (Note: I stole that copy from the BVRT website which also mentions coffee stops every 25km…possibly a slight motivator).
I live on the Sunshine Coast, and love the idea of an adventure from my doorstep, so I chose to break it up as follows:
Day 1 – Part One – 20km – ride from Caloundra to Landsborough railway station
Part Two – Train from Landsborough to Ipswich. Valda enjoyed the ride. Me too actually, it was the first time in forever that I’d sat quietly and read a book (Brene Brown, Daring Greatly).
Part Three – 74km – Ride from Ipswich station to the start of the trail and then onto Esk (via an unexpected trail closure – I did zero research) –https://www.strava.com/activities/3178901599
Day 2 100km – Esk to Yarraman – I actually got lost, on a signposted trail. Yep, I’m pretty special that way. I looped back on myself! And then feeling sunburned and a little averse to bumping into the same hikers for the third time, abandoned some of the trail to ride road to get to Yarraman. Don’t use my strava file unless you’re into weird chaos and feeling like a total numpty getting lost on a point to point, well signed trail https://www.strava.com/activities/3181102627
Day 3 – 155km – Yarraman home to Caloundra (not on the BVRT except for the beginning where I rode the stuff I’d missed while being a navigationally challenged individual the day before ) – https://www.strava.com/activities/3184274513
And so it was that the night before I was due to ride off to Landsborough station, I found myself loading a bike up for the first time ever, in a mild rush after work. With little strategy beyond “stick it on and stuff it all in”, I started attaching my various new pieces of kit to my relatively new bike and packing these various pieces of kit with “the essentials” for my first weekend away on a trip like this.
I’d love to say I’d spent days researching and preparing, however, this definitely was not the case. Picture me at this very moment, still in the skirt I wore to work, riding down my pitch black street, after a couple of wines, seeing if my newly laden bike felt “balanced” – in what was possibly an awkward scene cut from a “Bridget Jones Goes Adventuring” sequel. I have no idea what a balanced bike feels like at the best of times, let alone after a long day and a couple of glasses of Savvy B. But, after some haphazard packing; a little bit more faffing and generally prodding stuff to see if it would fall off or not with a robust “prod it and see if it falls off” test, I eventually deemed Valda ready to roll and off I went to bed.
With a whole heap of wind and rain forecast, I was both excited and nervous for the start of a new adventure the following day, feeling somewhat unprepared but generally okay with that state of affairs – provided nothing fell off my bike overnight and hoping that there actually would be coffee stops every 25kms as advertised…
Trip review to follow…