BikePacking Shakedown #1 - when google maps is not your friend and you run out of water
With Mawson Trail just around the corner, I finally got all my gear together and was extremely excited about bikepacking for the first time in nearly 10 years.
The plan: As crazy as it may seem, for my first ever outing with all the new bike, gear and bags, little planning was involved, something that will become abundantly clear as you read. In short, I got my last bit of gear on Thursday night and on my way home decided to venture out and go try it all on that same weekend. Pulled out google maps in an effort to get something new happening, track and scenery wise. Narrowed down the destination for day 1 on a remote camping ground 2 klicks from Mooney Mooney Creek in Central Coast. To get there, ferry from Palm beach to Patonga, followed by a hefty portion of dirt tracks. Day 2 would take me around some of the beaches on the central coast, down to Wagstaffe, ferry across to Palm Beach and cycle home. In numbers, a casual 140km in 2 days seemed doable.
Packed gear: For this short trip, I wanted to replicate the load and the gear that I would likely take to South Australia, Mawson Trail. Arguably carrying extra stuff that I would probably not use was something that I was comfortable with. In short I had: - handlebar roll: tent, air mattress and sleeping bag - Framebag: camera + tripod, leatherman tool, Topeak Ratchet Rocket tool, small notepad, pen, spork, lighter and an extra strap - Saddlebag: tools (2x tubes, pump, puncture repair kits and other bits and pieces to fix problems on the bike), casual clothing (shorts, t-shirt and jumper), small stove, water purifier, titanium mug, rain jacket and soft shell, with thongs(flip flops) strapped to the top of the bag. - Top tube bags: camera on one, easy to access food on the other one. - Dry accessory bag: all charging cables, battery packs, spare GPS, wall plug with USB sockets and personal higiene / first aid kit - Water: 4 Camelbak Big Chill water bottles for a total of 3 litres of water - Camelbak Volt backpack: big tripod and food
Fully loaded, Alexa (the bike) was tipping the scales just over 22kgs, nearly 3 times heavier than Raven (carbon road bike)
Day 1: where the hell am I?
This being the first time I'm out with all this gear, it probably wasn't the best idea to do the first half of the day on roads that I know well and expect my performance and speed to hit specific numbers. In the first few minutes I noticed the extra weight straight away but the bike kept rolling fast. The ride to Palm Beach was at full steam, with me trying to hit my regular targets and challenging other riders on the road. I now know that bikepacking is also about sitting upright and enjoying the views from the best seat in the house. Ferry ride to Patonga and I knew things were going to get a bit tougher for the second part of day 1, with a few climbs, dirt roads and bush navigation to reach the campgrounds. Little did I know what was expecting me... Once out of the paved roads, an ondulating fire trail greeted me in what seemed like to be a great ride ahead. The trail then narrowed, got bumpier and before I had time to think things through, hike a bike sections became the norm, whilst I was in full denial mode "it must get better up ahead, no way it will be like this the whole way". Spoiler alert, it was... except from a few sections where I could actually ride a bike, everything else was carrying the bike up and down the mountain. Many hours later, I reach the campground, exhausted, sweaty, with hardly any water and still mad at myself for not doing proper research and checking the trails before committing. Tent up, mattress inflated, eat something and just hope the next day will be easier. Lights out!
Day 2: trespassing for water, inhaling food and racing back home Sleeping in on a tent is not common, especially when I'm used to wake up as the sun rises. Must have been a clue to how tiresome was day 1 of this short trip. Right, pack everything and time to decide how and where to join the road. In one hand I had a walking trail going around the river meeting the road about 2 kms out. The opposite direction was google maps recommendation, a wider walking trail going up a gully and joining the same road further and higher ahead. With no water, hardly any food and low on morale, I decided to not risk another hard session of hike a bike and take the supposedly flatter trail to the left. That was probably the best decision of all weekend with a snake shaped trail following the river, 95% of it rideable, narrow and fast and fun enough to raise my morale levels to the long and steady uphill I was about to face. The hill, bare of shadows, twisty and never ending one. Sweat dripping fast, still no water and no sight of the hill's crest. Take it easy, take your time, don't push it, just get there, there will be water at the top. And there was. Approaching the top of the climb, I hear this factory to my left, with machines working. "They must have water!". Gates sighted, I ride in to this production plant, with big heavy machinery everywhere, yet no signs of workers anywhere to be found. At this point, I didn't give a fuck if I was allowed or not to be there, water, I needed water. Casually walking around the factory looking for a tap of bathroom to fill my bottles, I finally see a worker. He looked quite surprised and upset to see me carelessly walking around heavy machinery and tried hard to kick me out, to no avail. I wanted water and I was gonna get it! He finally mustered a few words and pointed to "water", at last, water! Riding into town, I took a small detour through a side road with some impressive switchbacks according to google maps. With endorphins pumping, I reached the city of Gosford, where food was real at last! After brunch (yes, it was that late) the plan was to ride pass a few of central coast beaches before hitting the last few gravel roads in route to wagstaffe ferry wharf. Unfortunately, with all the hike a bike efforts from the previous day, my knee started to show some signs of pain and dictated a shorter, more direct route to Ettalong's ferry wharf. Back to Palm beach, I had just under 30km to go. The hammer was definitely down on this last stretch in what seemed to be more a time trial than a bikepacking weekend. Finally home, time for a cold beer and some deserved rest.
Things to consider: - plan the route better and check if google is sending you on a walking trail of fire trail - You have a water filter, use it! - Always carry emergency food and fuel cells of alcohol to start a fire - Stop racing guys on lightweight road bikes when your bike is fully loaded with bikepacking gear
Even though there were a few times on this short trip where the situation got a bit hairy, I still believe it was a huge success just to get out and test nearly all my gear in the real world. It definitely helped understanding what I must take with me and what I could probably leave at home to save weight and energy.
This coming weekend I'll be doing a slightly longer trip to Newcastle, taking the long way around the bush. This will be the last test before Mawson Trail in Adelaide, South Australia, starting April 16th.