As mentioned in my intro to this adventure, this was my first ever bikepacking trip; the first time I’d gone for a multiday adventure on a bike and the first time I’d used any of my bikepacking specific kit. Exciting and somewhat nerve racking times! Please note too that photographs are one of my favourite parts of a journey, but I lost them all from my phone, so these are mainly poor screen grabs from instagram, which is a little painful, but I think better than nothing?! 😦
Day One Ride Recap:
“A solid case of #allthegearnaeidea on the first day of my first ever bikepacking adventure 💓 So far, so good. Everything I attached to Valda in a totally uneducated rush last night, surprisingly, stayed mostly in place. I fixed the handlebar roll issue which had me riding for an hour without much ability to change gear (#rookie) 🙈 The sun shone. And although the cows were undoubtedly out to kill me, I made it to my campsite in one piece. 💥 All in all – a fun day of freedom with Valda. Roll on tomorrow”
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
There’s something I really love about kicking off an adventure right from my very doorstep, and this journey was perfect in that sense! I was admittedly a little nervous as I set off, unsure of what to expect in terms of both how comfortable I would be on the bike over these distances, and also what to expect combining carrying gear, riding and camping together for the first time.
It should also be noted that what I anticipated to be a somewhat unremarkable 20km ride from my house to the train station, turned into an absolutely perfect gear test to kick off the trip. While riding from Caloundra to Landsborough, I discovered that in spite of my “thorough” (60 second, slightly tipsy) test the night before, I was somewhat “forced” to ride to Landsborough in a single chain ring as I had packed my bar roll so long that I couldn’t actually change gear, such was the lack of space I’d allowed the lever to move. So, as it transpires, this was a perfectly planned test before I embarked on the rail trail, allowing me time on the train to repack and make some alterations… Who knew!
Having made it to Landsborough in one gear, the train to Ipswich was a blissful moment of calm in what was months since I had actually sat and read a book in peace (…oh how things were to change with the arrival of COVID-19). Notably, this was also the first time I had travelled on a train like this in Queensland. It was super straightforward with a bike and definitely sparked ideas of using railway routes more frequently to allow for different point to point adventures on the bike from home.
Starting the BVRT – Arriving at Ipswich
I had screen grabbed the written route from Ipswich station to the start of the BVRT on my phone while on the train, thinking it would be pretty straightforward. It probably WAS pretty straightforward, but nonetheless, you don’t arrive into the most salubrious part of town and I spent a heap of time checking my phone to see if I was on the right path, feeling a little conspicuous amongst the local morning pub goers and initially missing a key turn off onto a flight of stairs which led up onto a footpath over a big old bridge beside a railway line. On finding it, and carrying my bike up the steps without too much drama, I was pretty happy to see that my super wide Walmer bars fitted along the pedestrian side of the bridge, and so on I rode towards the start of the trail. After the initial few wrong turns, it wasn’t long until I was officially on the BVRT map.
Since the BVRT is signposted in its entirety, I hadn’t put much time into looking at maps or planning routes. To be honest this was part of the appeal as I had a busy lead into this adventure and while I love spending time pouring over maps, it does take time. This casual approach was all good and well until, having been so excited to be on the start of the trail, not twenty minutes beforehand, I proceeded to ignore all of the clear TRAIL CLOSED AHEAD signs thinking, “I’ll squeeze through; she’ll be right”. Turns out, in this rare instance, she wasn’t alright, as I hit what genuinely was, a full closure of the trail. There was significant construction going on and barriers that I just wasn’t going to get past with Valda, the bike. Not only that, but while the official signs helpfully highlighted the closed section of trail; there was absolutely zero indication as to a detour option, which seemed pretty strange. Using a combination of google maps and maps.me, I picked an alternative option, and crossed my fingers, unsuccessfully, as the track I’d hoped to take further down the line was also closed….
With a little more persistence, and to be honest some pretty lovely, undulating road riding, I found my way back to the rail trail via a beautiful gravel road section. At this point, as I was taking a photo of Valda against a rather quaint old “Pine Mountain” railway station sign, I bumped into a guy on a mountain bike who, heading in the opposite direction and seeing the closure signs, was planning on taking the same “I’ll squeeze through” approach as I had, futilely, taken an hour prior. This at least reassured me that I wasn’t the only mistaken optimist around. Moral of the story thus far, and to be continued, don’t follow the GPX files I shared.
Having (not) learned my lesson about pushing on past “trail closed” signs (…let’s face it; there’s always hope), from there on, it was pretty smooth sailing on the rail trail on the 70 odd kilometres from Ipswich to Esk and I barely saw another person, other than in the towns I passed through.
I’m not sure if I really had a fixed plan when I left Ipswich, other than somehow or other getting Esk into my head as the potential overnighter – perhaps because it amounted to almost 100kms of riding which seemed like a decent start for day one and still left a couple of good days to follow. I took my time along the way and generally lucked out with blue skies albeit a little wind; took a heap of pictures and to be perfectly honest, stopped a disproportionate amount of times to check my bags were all still fixed to my bike.
You may see from the pictures, I have a really tiny bike frame (XS Cannondale Topstone 105), and with limited room, the rear bag was sitting precariously close to my rear tyre. In spite of finding an awesomely simple solution in the “Louise Harness” designed by Wayward Riders in New Zealand, combined with a Sea to Summit dry bag, clearance was at a minimum. Having never ridden with this set up before, I confess I did stop numerous times to check it was all okay and that my tyre wasn’t making contact and subsequently wearing a hole through the plastic harness or the bag. It turned out to be fine for the entirety of the trip (although ironically, I did subsequently wear a hole in it on a simple work commute a week later). A few adjustments were made to the harness and bag on my bars along the way too as it became increasingly lopsided over bumpier sections, and not having a natural sense for how everything was sitting, there was definitely some “this is all new to me” extra checking of gear. But that was all part of the reason for the mission!
Riding my bike fully laden for the first time felt super exciting and I realised I absolutely love the feel of that extra weight and the different way the bike moves beneath you as a result. It feels so solid and totally not agile – which can also be read as indescribably grounded and fun. I also came to adore the noise of the wind whistling through the bike as I travelled across open flats, with plenty of breeze. It was as if Valda was singing to me the whole way, and became something I found both really soothing at times and uplifting at others. It is indeed strange the things you find enjoyable when you’ve spent three days in entirely your own company, barely talking to another soul. Not to mention, just perfect as far as I’m concerned, every now and again.
The ride from Ipswich to Esk was predominantly flat; predominantly straight and the surface is really varied from a little bitumen; to single track type rutty stuff to gravel and grassy fields. It was all totally fine on my gravel bike, but I can see why it’s popular with mountain bikers too. It’s not necessary to have a mountain bike, but no doubt in some places, the fatter tyres would add a little more comfort and traction. The trail also featured a variety of gates (I’m told this has improved over the years, as gates aren’t the most fun to open and close when you’re riding) and a few too many cows for my liking. I have some not so favourable history with cows from time on a farm and while you may laugh, riding your bike at close quarters through herds of them can feel a little precarious at times. But, that’s about as wild as it gets on the Rail Trail I dare say.
Following a significant amount of pedalling along singing “Whitesnake” “Here I go again on my own….” at the top of my lungs (with nobody around; karaoke is a phobia of mine, for good reason), come early evening, I was rolling into the lovely little township of Esk.. I had decided (rather ungratefully perhaps) that so far the trail in terms of the riding itself was not super interesting…. realising that I do love climbs, and this route is really, really flat… but, that it was the perfect testing ground for my kit and for my first trip, riding distances back to back which I had never done before.
Prior to this trip, I had only ridden 100kms a handful of times, and this mission was seeing me ride around that distance, or more, on three consecutive days. So, the lack of climbing was actually perfect, albeit not the most enthralling in terms of diversity. I find long stretches of flat, straight riding to be tougher on the mind than the legs! Riding through the different towns however, and seeing the old stations with their signs and old platforms in some cases, was interesting and definitely a strong nod to the area’s history. I imagine if you had been a little more organised and looked at maps, it could be fun to tick off each station as you go past. That being said, after almost 100kms of riding on day one, plus the train trip, I was feeling great, happily all in one piece, and stoked to ride into the campground at Esk, ready to set up my fancy pants Big Agnes 1 person, lightweight bikpeacking tent for the first time.
The staff at the campground were super friendly and since I hadn’t brought a stove with me, they recommended the Hotel for a pub dinner. I pitched my tent in a grassy area, put on some warmer clothes and rode across to the hotel, where I was promptly told that I needn’t worry about locking my bike – it was safe there. It was a strange time as talks of COVID-19 had been hitting the Coast, but in the country, it was as if nothing was happening outside of that little bubble, and life was definitely going on as normal. Revived by some calamari and a glass of wine, and fortunately not winning the meat tray, because, where on earth would I attach it to to the bike, I rode the 60 seconds back to my tent… not really prepared for what turned out to be a relatively chilly night!
I didn’t bring a sleeping bag with me; aiming for minimal gear in Queensland’s mild autumn temperatures. However, a decent sleeping mat; my down jacket and a silk liner did not prove to be sufficient for my “no longer Scottish” status when it comes to warmth. It was apparently 16 degrees, but, perhaps due to the comparative heat during the day and the sun I had caught, I couldn’t sleep at all for feeling so super cold.
If you’ve been cold in a tent before, you’ll know that morning can’t come soon enough on nights like that where you’ve put on every single piece of clothing you have, turned your buff into a makeshift hat, have your hood drawn tightly around your face and still can’t warm up! But, as ever, morning did come, and it was time for day two of my rail trail bikepacking adventure…