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Let me set some context for you. What is Bikepacking and what does a Bikepacking race involve?
BRISDIVIDE, 3rd-5th October, 2020
640km 90% off-road loop, 14000+m of elevation gain (lots of climbing steep, rough trails/forestry roads).
Bikepacking is essentially... strapping a bunch of stuff to your bike (storage bags, bottles mainly).
Depending on how long you’re going for determines how much and what stuff you need. Think of it like multi-day hiking but on a bike. Things need to be lightweight and stuffable. If going to remote areas you’ll need the ability to cook on a stove, heat water etc. If venturing not too far from towns, then a credit card, some sleep gear and some snacks are probably all that’s needed as you can just buy supplies from wherever to keep on truckin’.
For the BRISDIVIDE being a Bikepacking race, the prerogative for us was to pack light, keep things tidy and move relatively quickly. I did the race with my two long time mates Robbie and Tony. Robbie has done a bunch of adventure racing so knows how to grind it out over a week, and TB threw himself into Bikepacking at the end of last year and has banked a bunch of overnighters including a week long expedition in NZ’s North Island from Wellington to Auckland over 7 days. For myself, I have a history of outdoor activities including many week-long and multi week long hiking expeditions throughout NZ and even 3 week trip to Everest Basecamp in Nepal, plus all the rock climbing, sea kayaking overnighters I used to do 20 years ago. It was our first Bikepacking race, but not the first trip we’ve been on. Normally, these races are done solo, but we decided to stick together for this one, which worked well and likely was lucky as we all made a few little errors along the way and helped each other out.
Personally, I went into the race conservatively. Both nursing a sore lower back, and not as fit/strong as the lads, I wanted to get through it, so I paced myself accordingly. This likely wasn’t ideal for the boys who could quite easily have kicked on and gone a fair bit faster. But in the end, the extra rest they got, the spare Clif Bars in the last few hours, and a handy spare tube probably helped them out.
The course started and finished in Brisbane atop Mt Coot-tha. On sunrise we headed south-west and ventured out and connected with the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) before heading north to Nanango, back across to Borumba Dam, Kenilworth, Kilcoy, Nuerum Creek, Mt Mee, Mt Glorious, Mt Nebo, and back to Mt Coot-tha. Plus a few other little towns along the way. The majority of the course was off-road and a mixture of really rough forestry roads, gravel roads, 4WD tracks, the odd single track, and a few short stints on sealed roads which felt amazing after the constant shudder and distinct lack of flow on the rough dirt.
Day 1 started at 5:30am and we rode through until around 11pm clocking up about 250km with a heap of that being pretty fast riding along the rail trail which in the direction we were going was slightly uphill the whole way… 1-2% grinding all day. A couple of flats and a bent derailleur stalled us by a good hour all up across Day 1. We stopped for water refills, a bakery binge, and a burger in Blackbutt, but other than that we moved well all day and by the end of the day, my old man back felt better than at the start. I got talking to a 78 year old, recently retired fruit farmer from Blackbutt whilst waiting for my burger. Randomly he told me about an old dinosaur fossil he had ploughed up a while back and had it in the car. He asked if I wanted to see it… be rude not to really and what else was I doing at Blackbutt on a Saturday night whilst waiting for my burger? He also asked if I wanted to take a photo, so I kindly obliged. Turns out it was pretty cool (see pic) and is of a three toed something or other. He was taking it to sell to someone.
After Blackbutt we followed the GPS route down through a sketchy looking “Private Property-Keep Out” sign and ventured down then up what can only be described as a dried up, boulder lined, white water rafting river bed with some resemblance of a skimpy little trail, that my dynamo light sure as hell couldn’t see very well. What an adventure it was hike-a-bikepacking down through that valley and back out. We were lucky to get through there unscathed really. We finally made Nanango and found a delightful, well lit, kinda shady (as in felt spooky), picnic table and roof to set up camp for a few hours. Rookie error number 1 for me - forgot to put my thermal pants in so I froze my nuts off for 6 hours whilst listening to the humming, knocking, and snoring coming from a cacophony of pool pumps (turns out we were next to the town pool) and the lads’ snoring their big hearts out. I had a bivy and sleeping mat, sans sleeping bag, TB a sleeping bag and mat, and Robbie just a sleeping bag. Nutbags! Night 1, I think I had maybe 20 mins of broken sleep and woke feeling very cold (shaking like a rattle snake) and rather shite.
The plan was to sleep for four hours then get up and hit it for Day 2 (Sunday). Six hours later one of the lads made some noise and we sprung into action. A quick stop at the local servo for a $1 coffee and a sanga and we were off.
Despite not a great deal of climbing initially, Day 2 had a fair chunk of flat but really rocky old farm road that seemed to go on forever. It was flattish, but technical, so it was a hard slog through to Jimna for lunch. TB fell victim to the sleep dragon and passed out on the side of the road for a power nap whilst Robbie and I had a coke and chips party. TB got his second wind and we headed for Jimna. He’d also, in his OCD highly organised spreadsheet living life, pre-ordered us a lunch/dinner pack each from the coffee van at Jimna, and the guy had prepared it and left it out for us the night before. We were only about 18 hours behind where we thought we’d be, but man it was good to arrive there, see a couple of other racers, and chow down on a few sangas.
Logistically we were behind the mark a bit and chasing tail to reach Borumba Dam/Kenilworth on time to eat a meal or refill snacks and food. But we hightailed it and got lucky… twice. At Borumba Dam, there was no visible potable water and the camp shop had closed earlier, but randomly I asked a lady if she knew where I might find some water and she just happened to be the owner and kindly opened the shop and gave us some bottles of water… score!
After a brief climb out of Borumba, we settled into a good rhythm over the smooth forestry road (yep smooth for a change) to Kenilworth we arrived to a ghost town! Nothing but people cleaning floors with the ugly lights on. Robbie (the nicest guy in the world) must have sweet talked the other nicest guy in the world into opening the kitchen and reheating us some lasagne at the Kenilworth pub… winning! Leaving Kenilworth at 9:15pm we had ahead of us the biggest climb of the trip up Sunday Creek Rd topping out at 830m elevation, it took us about 3.5 hours to ride about 18k up the climb… hectic. We road through until 1:30am and set up camp for a few hours in the bush. Again, I was cold and had very broken sleep (if any).
We set off at 4:30am for Kilcoy and ventured down a very rough and steep downhill before popping out into prime farming country and a few of the straightest, smoothest, country roads I have come across. Another flat tyre saw TB chuck a mini tantrum after realising he packed the wrong size tube (hehe). Borrowed tube, (slow mate to the rescue) and we were off again.
Kilcoy provided the best bakery feast ever… potato top pie, chicken wrap and a coffee. Food supplies stocked and home is calling. A brief stint on road before we hit the forestry/4WD roads for the rest of the day/night, and some of the steepest, roughest climbing and descending of the trip. The climbs on that final day were unrelenting. It was hot, dusty, rocky as all hell and steep.
My knees felt the pinch on Day 3… not sure whether it was the uphill grinding, the downhill bracing, or the constant unclipping to stop for a quick drink that caused so much pain. Note to self, loosen pedals and keep lubed.
I succumbed to two nights of next to no sleep and had a 20 min power nap on the grass at ‘The Gantry’ (wherever that is… I think near Mt Mee?), which was unreal. We hit the top of Mt Glorious after more of the steepest fire trails in the country, and were greeted by the smoothest road of the trip on nightfall and from there to the finish was fairly well downhill (apart from climbing back up Mt Coot-tha to finish). We hooked it downhill as best we could, the boys were running super low on fuel so we traded Clif Bars and this got them through to a last minute stop at Maccas before scaling Coot-tha for the finish at 10:30pm on Monday night. 2 days, 17 hours later (65 hours).
What an epic adventure. It was a solid challenge for me. I paced it well based on my current fitness, and despite the lack of sleep and knees having had enough, I finished pretty well.
Would I do it again? Hell yes. I’m already looking for another one and fine-tuning my setup some more.
Gear and Tech
My bike is a gravel bike. A Bombtrack Hook Ext-C. Running a SRAM mullet AXS 12 spd 1x groupset. Hunt 650b wheelset with a SON Dynamo front hub connected to an expsosure revo dyno light and a Sinewave USB converter to charge electronics.
I navigated using a Garmin GPS Maps 66i which has built in SOS and tracking technology. For these races where you have to rely on the gpx files for navigation (pre set and reccied by the person setting the route/race) and you have to have a tracker, this device was awesome. I had a back up 10000mamp powerbank which I kept charging during the day.
I carried 2.6 litres of water, plus a raincoat, thermals (sans leggings), hygiene stuff, tools, spares, food and first aid kit.
Given the race was over 3 days (potentially more), my plan was to eat a variety of snacks and meals and compliment this with water (and coke when the opportunity presented itself and was needed).
I pre-made 3 x Vegemite and cheese sandwiches before we left and ate them periodically across Day 1, and mixed this in with a couple of bakery stops and a burger and chips for dinner.
Because the intensity was steady/aerobic, I went more with the ‘eat whatever you want approach’ than strategically sticking to easily digestible carbs like gels and bloks.
I had a Clif gel every couple of hours, a couple of Clif Builder’s Bars each day, bought wraps from bakery stops, sandwiches, a couple of pies, and the best reheated lasagne I have ever had at Kenilworth pub.
I was super diligent with my fuelling and just kept feeding the entire time really. I didn’t monitor carb content as such like I would a one-day event, but I was definitely mindful of not getting behind and having enough food logistically between towns/shops. Variety is key for these long events… too much of one thing and you’ll end up with flavour fatigue, especially the sweet stuff. Job done.
How did I end up venturing into the world of Bikepacking?
TB went there first out of our crew. We’ve been looking at gravel bikes for a few years, and he took the plunge so we followed and haven’t looked back.
After snapping my ACL a second time at the end of last year, I hit the pool, training for rehab and training for a marathon swim but that got canned and when opportunity knocks, I sold my TT bike and dived head first into the gravel world which has also been doubling has rehab for the knee.
I’m back running a bit now, and looking forward to doing a few tris next year, as well as off-road tris, 12-24 hour mountain biking events, mountain bike marathon races, maybe a stage race, and another big bikepacking race! Whatever comes really, if it fits in with my work and family 😊
Ask not why, but why not!
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