Complacency, that’s what it was, not that I didn’t put many hours into the preparation and packing up, a quick bikepacking over-nighter surprised me by showing me my failures. Not for one moment did I think I’d learn anything from such a short trip, after all I’d spent months riding across the mountains of Spain 18 months ago.
Whilst I was back in the UK in 2019, after my accident in Spain, whilst my broken shoulder healed, I used the downtime to prepare my bikepacking gear for my next trip. I swapped the broken items for new ones, I swapped some less efficient items for new ones and also made some additions to my kit. A blog listing these changes will be coming soon btw. Why I'm telling you this is to point out that my bike is now packed with some different items than it was for the Altravesur ride, so there was a few unknowns.
With all these kit changes, it was important to make sure everything packed up into my bike luggage and onto my bike okay, so I fully built my bike up in the UK before stripping it again and boxing it up to take to Australia that Christmas. It certainly felt heavier than before but it looked good! I was hoping that the additional items weigh no more than the weight I have saved with lighter swapped items. One day I’ll weigh the bike to see just how much it does weigh fully loaded.
I flew to Australia with all my bikepacking gear only to find temperatures of 43°C on the day I landed and rising to 45°C a couple of days later. The temperatures remained in the 40s for several weeks and this blistering heat resulted in what is now known as Black Summer, where Australia experienced wildfires of the like they hadn’t seen for decades. Living in the foothills of the Australian High Country and Great Dividing Range, with those national parks ablaze and smoke even in urban areas, bikepacking wasn’t a safe option for me, or the emergency service who would have to rescue me, should it go wrong.
After a spell working back in the UK from March to June 2020, as soon as the Covid locked down borders opened I flew to Spain with all my bikepacking gear, intending to finish the route I’d so dismally failed at the year before. I'm very slowly writing a blog of my time in Spain during this period, I'm finding it hard, as it is very upsetting for me, but I hope to publish it sometime in the coming months. You can see my YouTube showing snippets of that time here. To cut a long story short, a dear little foster puppy came into my life whilst I was in Spain, so my bikepacking plans took a back seat until around January 2021, when, still in Spain I finally built my bike up for a quick two-night adventure, only for the plane tickets that were to get me to Australia to be cancelled on the day of setting off bikepacking. I went nowhere, It took three days to sort my flights out.
Never mind, I’d be going on a tour once settled in Australia, right? Unfortunately, no! I planned to ride part of the Victoria Divide route, I built Bay (my bikepacking steed), loaded him up, subscribed to both Garmin and Ride with GPS, downloaded the route and offline maps, only for my daughter to be so upset on the day I was leaving, because she thought I’d be murdered or injured, I decided not to go.
On arriving in Australia, it was six months into a housing boom, with rapidly rising house prices. I needed to buy myself a house, and with the Australian tax rules, it was necessary for me to A) buy quickly. B) spend more than I had intended. And C) live in the house instead of renting it out. Those requirements meant I needed to get a job and quick smart, so bang goes my bikepacking plans again.
I was beginning to wonder if I should sell my bike and bikepacking gear as I’ve not found a full-time job, although I have done a few casual hours at a local food takeaway. It seemed that bikepacking for me, just wasn’t meant to be. Anyway, I didn’t sell it. Still packed up from my failed Victoria Divide ride, when I had completed the purchase of my house, I rode Bay, fully loaded across town from my daughter’s to my new house. That’s as near to bikepacking as I got before this overnighter. Even though it was just a suburban ride across town, it felt so good to be on the bike. And I realised, even though it is heavy, that it’s so much easier to ride on surfaced roads than on mountain roads!
In the area I live it’s a short drive to numerous mountain bike trails. If I travel a little further, an hour or two, I can be at some of the larger trail centers, or uplift assisted bike parks or out on the remote mountain bushland. It really is a good place to have a mountain bike. But what I wanted was to find some trails close to my house, that I could ride to. My house is surround by bushland and wooded hills after all. So, I set off with Stumpy in my car, checking out local gravel roads to see if they led to the hill rides. After a couple of hours driving around, I parked up at a new-to-me trail head. This was on the same hill but the other side of it, Nailcan Hill, that I often ride some downhill mountain bike trails. The route I was to ride this day was more a 4x4 track running along the spine of the range, aptly named the Ridge Line, eventually becoming the Bakes Trail. Whilst riding this, I was thinking what an excellent little bikepacking trip I could have on this very trail. You can see my YouTube on this here.
When I got home from this short ride, I spent some time on the Ride With GPS app, and plotted the trail I’d just ridden and added a loop in the hills to the North East, continuing on from the Bakes Trail, which I thought would be a good two day ride. A problem with all of these route planning and navigation apps is that they don’t always show the available off-road routes and if they do show them, you don’t know if they’re on private land or not. I find it very time consuming and tricky, especially on the small screen of a notebook computer. Anyway, I managed to create a ride, 24.1Km in total, not far but I don’t ride fast and like to meander, so enough for me.
One of the additional items I have is a Garmin Inreach which is a satellite messenger, navigation device and SOS beacon. After my disaster in Spain, where I fell and broke my shoulder in a rather remote sierra, where there was no phone signal, and having fallen down an embankment on the same tour a week or so before, having some form of PLB (personal locator beacon) was a must for me and my family. Both events turned out OK, but they could have been so much worse had I not been rescued on the sierra and eventually managing to get myself back up the embankment. I was lucky to find the Inreach on special offer at Anaconda whilst in Australia 2019.
With the Inreach, you need to subscribe to a Garmin usage plan. It’s quite economical really, there’s three choices of plan: Safety, Recreation and Expedition, priced at £15, £35 and £65 per month. The excellent thing about these plans is that you can suspend them, online, and there’s no penalty to do so. I believe I pay around £30 per year or thereabouts, to have a contract-free subscription.
Being so short of money I did consider not taking my Inreach with me on this ride, but thought better of it, I am a disaster waiting to happen and you can guarantee if I hadn’t taken it, I’d have had a massive accident!!
I wanted to leave for my ride around 3pm, foolishly I left my final preparations until the last minute! First to be done was set-up my Inreach subscription, upload my route to the device, sync it, activate it and test it. I been through this procedure twice before, for my non-ride of the Victoria Divide and for my non-ride in Spain, having subsequently suspended those subscriptions. I thought it would be easier than it was. I logged into my Inreach account on my laptop and clicked the button to re-activate my plan, and waited, even after refreshing the screen, the app still showed my plan as suspended. I dicked about for around 10 minutes waiting for it to change, but it never did. So I thought I’d check the activation status on the device. It offers to activate when you turn the device on, requiring a direct view to open skies to communicate via satellite. This took around ten minutes to complete, still the app on my laptop was showing the plan as suspended! It's also necessary to carry out a communication test of the device to make sure everything is OK with regards to the SOS and messaging functions, again this took a good ten minutes but eventually returned a ‘test successful’ message. So, I uploaded my trail and synced the device. Phew this took far too much time, next time I won’t leave it until the last minute!
With more time spent on the Inreach than I thought would be necessary, the minutes were slipping by and it was getting on for around 3:15pm by now. I didn’t re-check my gear again, to be honest I couldn’t be bothered anyway, I’d done it only a few weeks before. As the bike was loaded for my aborted Victoria Divide tour, it was fully packed with all my gear. I thought I may as well take a few items out as I’d only be a few kilometres from my house and could walk home at any point. I should have put more thought into the items I removed really.
The following items came out: Head net, Umbrella, Head band, Neck cooler, Clothes, Insect Repellent, Poncho, Holdall, Camera Tripod, Wet wipes, Washing gear, Sun hat and Hand Sanitiser. It was more a going through the motions really! After that, I pumped up my tyres, and got going.
The first couple of kilometres are through suburban areas, then I turn onto a gravel road, which did not seem as steeply up hill when I drove up it in the car! With so much weight to push along, including the bike I’m reckoning on around 40 kilos, it was too hard for me to ride up some of the steeper inclines, so mostly I pushed up the gravel hill. By now it was 4pm and the autumn sun was well on its downward trajectory. I was puffing, panting and sweating to get up the hill as fast as I could! I didn’t want to be setting up my tent in the dark. The ambient was starting to get chilly by now, which helped cool me a little. It’s a good job the weather was fine as I’d completely forgotten to check the weather forecast.
I finally got to the trail head, it was quite a feat getting the wide handlebars of Bay through the narrow opening to the trail, normally you would push your bike through on its rear wheel but with the luggage on, that’s not really possible.
It’s uphill from the trail head too, for a couple of kilometres or so, to where I planned to camp for the night, not too far at all but the sun was rapidly going down and had started to dip behind the trees already. I rode and I pushed, rode and pushed, and was being eaten alive by mosquitoes by this point, well perhaps that’s an exaggeration! I was certainly regretting removing the insect repellent from my luggage.
I arrived at my camping spot just after 5pm, hot and sweaty with steamed up glasses! I dicked about doing a little filming then whipped my tent up. The ground, although flat, was on a slight incline, I can cope with that as long as I have my head uphill. The air was still, barely a breeze could be felt, so I didn’t bother fully staking the tent out and quickly set about unpacking all my gear. Really I should have checked the weather forecast again at this point.
Usually, I remove my main luggage from my bike and unpack it at the tent, often leaving the fork luggage on the bike, as I tend to only pack in them items that are emergency use only. But this time I had propped Bay up against a tree and removed the items as I needed them, leaving the luggage on the bike: Air bed, quilt, pillow, water, cooking gear, power packs, head torch, you can bet your arse that I’d settle for the night and have forgotten something.
I laid Bay behind my tent as I usually do, and cable locked him to the back of the tent, then suddenly it was dark! The mosquitoes were a real problem whilst setting up, I lit an incense stick, to keep them at bay, which works to a certain degree. More of a problem was that my expensive head torch wasn’t working. I had changed the batteries a few weeks before, when I built the bike up. But it was dead, so I changed the batteries again, and nothing, I carried out the internationally recognised electronic repair routine of banging it in my hand, but still nothing. When I say expensive, it was around $150 AUD three years ago, I’d bought it specifically for my trek to Everest Base Camp, it’s seen a lot and had served me well until then and I was hoping to be able to repair it. When I got home, I unscrewed the circuit board, I found it was quite corroded, after a good clean up it would occasionally work, but not light up in all configurations. I thought, I can’t afford a new one, but moreover I can’t afford to have an unreliable piece of equipment, so binned it. I’d actually decided, after my Spanish tour, that I didn’t need the additional tent light I had taken with me, so removed it from the packing list. That wasn’t a good idea on reflection, having no redundancy for such an important thing as light. As it was, I used my small bike light in the tent, only to realise that without having a mains plug, I couldn’t actually recharge it. So, another lesson learned, I’ll add a new front light to my list!
I settled down to cook my dinner. It was only going to be quick noodles, but I hit another snag. I’d bought a Sea to Summit Alpha cooking pot a year or so before, smaller than my old one, to lighten the load a little. I remember I’d washed it but I’m not sure I’d ever boiled in it. Before making my noodles, I made a cup of tea, and yes, I had left something in my bike luggage, my bloody spoon, so I had to get my shoes back on and fetch it. The tea was undrinkable, the metallic taste from the boiled water was very strong, there was no doubt it was from the hard anodising of the cooking pot.
I boiled and discarded water three times, hoping it would clear the awful taste, and it lessened but not to any great degree, then I set about making my noodles. They were edible but with all the chemicals in them, I don’t think I’d have tasted the metallic aftertaste anyway. I made a cup of tea after that, and yes, it was still there.
I really enjoy camp time, especially with a nice cup of tea, so was kicking myself for not properly testing the cooking pot before I took it camping. Whilst camping I often wake up around 2am and like to have a cuppa and check out the night sky. This time I would have to do it without tea because I was worried that if I keep drinking the water from my pot, that I’d poison myself!
It was a cloudy and slightly misty night, the three quarters moon shone brightly, with barely a sound to be heard, it was perfect, well except for no tea! I took some time to go outside and take a night-time photo or two, then settled down to sleep at around 9pm. There was surprisingly little wildlife noise, a couple of times I heard something quite small close by. At one point I had woken when I heard what sounded like someone running through the woodland at great speed, which quite shit me up for a moment, then I realised it must be a kangaroo bouncing along on a mission.
After a reasonable night’s sleep, I woke around 7am and thought, as I usually do when camping, that I just didn’t want to get up and would love to hang around camp. But with the cooking pot situation, I decided to try a coffee, as it would cover the metallic taste more than tea did, and to skip cooking anything for breakfast. The food I’d taken consisted of noodles, quinoa, bread, vegemite, a boiled egg and an apple. And really, I didn’t want any of the items that didn't need cooking either.
After breaking down camp and loading my bike, I had a check around to make sure I’d left no trace, a quick check on making sure my fork luggage was secure, then I set off.
It was a lovely ride along the 4x4 trail, quite a cloudy day but not at all cold. I stopped to take a few photos at the mirador on the top of what I now know is Hamilton Hill, that I’d ridden to on Stumpy a few days before. Then I continued down the steep singletrack that I hadn’t ridden before. That singletrack is somewhat rocky as well as being steep, ordinarily I’d have run down it at great speed, on this occasion, I really wasn’t confident having not ridden with all that weight for some time, so wasted that wonderful piece of downhill by teetering along the steepest section. At the highest point Hamilton Hill is around 450 metres high, riding down on that singletrack made me smile and I thought to myself ‘this is reminiscent of riding down the North side of the Sierra Nevada, at Puerto de la Ragua' albeit that is from a much higher altitude, what was similar was that no pedaling was required, and this trail was quite rocky too and certainly put a smile on my face.
The singletrack ran through pretty meadow land then through thickets of eucalyptus trees, eventually morphing into a 4x4 track. Not long after, the main road leading into Lavington from the North, comes into sight, and far too soon the fun is over and the track ends at a point called Jindera Gap. I was hoping there’d be something interesting there, but I couldn’t see anything of note!
It was around 9:30am by now, on reaching Jindera Gap, I needed to decide if I was going to continue and ride the loop that I had plotted, in the hills from there or not. I’m guessing that loop would take me the best part of the day, and there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t be blocked off by private land. As I was deliberating, my GoPro clip broke, perhaps it was a sign from above! Without having had breakfast, I definitely would have wanted to cook something for lunch, and have a cup of tea or two. At this point I thought I really can’t be bothered to do the loop if I was going to be compromised on sustenance, so I decided to pedal back home on the road which would take me to my house.
I arrived home at 10:04, having left the day before at 15:30, it had been a truly short trip in distance and time! But still, the feeling of being on my bike, carrying my food, shelter and water, was as warm and cozy as it ever had been. I can’t say that I was over enamoured with such a short ‘tour’. Even if I’d pedaled 100 kilometres for an overnight trip, it is a considerable amount of preparation to do. Don’t get me wrong, how I felt about the niggles wasn’t a big deal, the niggly problems were just that, well except for the cook pot! I certainly enjoyed the time I was out there, but I probably won’t be hurrying to do another overnighter, although the urge to get out may override that that feeling!
Apart from the enjoyment, another thing I took away from this ride was that I need to prepare better for any short rides I do, and not be so sloppy with my prep! It's not essential that a ride runs smoothly without niggles, but it does make for a happier and more comfortable ride, giving more time to enjoy the scenery!
I was very lucky, I hadn’t checked the weather forecast the day I left, as it turned out there was a torrential thunderstorm the night I arrived home, something I had no idea was going to happen!
You can view the YouTube of my ride here
I've made a list of things I need to address before my next ride:
Things to buy
Things to do
Resolve the metallic taste issue or buy a new one
Create a crib sheet to remind me of my GoPro settings
Prepare and load equipment close to leave time
Check electrical equipment is working close to leave time
Take what you definitely need, take what you might need, don’t take what you’ll never need
Fully test new items of equipment
Don’t take out emergency items (poncho and insect repellent spring to mind)
Have redundancy for cheap electrical items
Subscribe to all necessary apps a day or so before leave time
Make sure all device offline downloads are setup a day or so before leave time
Check sundown time and plan to leave with consideration to the kilometres and terrain to cover before you plan to camp
Allow time for lack of fitness on a short ride, there is no settling in period
Check the weather forecast the day of leaving and during riding
Write a crib sheet for filming tips