Tag Archives: Australia

IPWR: tales from the road

I write this post about the Indian Pacific Wheel Race (IPWR) with mixed emotions. The tragic end to the race overshadows an incredible experience and wonderful event which was taking shape with such momentum. Originally I was not going to write anything. After Mike Hall’s tragic death we have all banded together, taken some time to reflect and support each other. Some continued to ride the route, others not. Mike will always be in our hearts, with us each time we ride. I will never forget the passion for life and for cycling that Mike had and the way that he inspired us all to get out there and ride.

I am sure he would not want us to remember the IPWR in such a tragic way. It is a route right up there with the most challenging bikepacking routes in the world. We were racing it hard, in the true spirit of ultra-endurance cycling. I think we should share stories about the great race we were participating in and also not to be afraid to keep doing the things that we love and that challenge us.

For me, the IPWR was a ride that tore me in two different directions. Part of me loved exploring this spectacular country that I live in. It is so vast and I felt so tiny. The Nullarbor was like nothing I had imagined and I loved it. It was just that riding on the road, putting my life in the hands of hundreds of truck drivers and caravan enthusiasts, was exhausting.  More exhausting than the riding itself. I found myself longing for those lonely remote hills of Whitefish Divide in Montana, or the sweet wet forests of New Zealand.

Nonetheless, I had thirteen windy, rainy, freezing, sunny, boiling, boring and beautiful days on the road, full of kangaroo stench, desert dust and sea breeze. There were plenty of ups and downs but I’ll save you from a day by day, meal by meal account of the journey this time. Instead, I thought I would share just a few standout tales from the road.

The wind

I was lucky that before I started in Perth I received some sage advice: “Don’t expect a tail wind or you’ll be very disappointed and won’t enjoy a single second of it. Expect a head wind and that way you’ll be mentally prepared and pleasantly surprised by anything else”. Man, it was a headwind we got alright. From day two I experienced day upon day of relentless head winds. It made my mouth dry and my nose bleed. The air was so dry.  Saddle sores were worsened from pushing my body hard into an aero tuck position, looking for any advantage. The wind combined with the intermittent gusts from trucks passing was very mentally draining but there was really no alternative except giving up. That was not an option. Instead, I drew some deep breaths and smiled. This was what I was here for. To experience the real Australia.

IMG_1470

Beautiful nothingness

It was fantastic to have a few riders around so we could laugh about it. At one point I found myself having a time-out on the dusty road verge with Ben and Eion, looking at each others windswept faces and laughing at questions like “this is fun right?” Nearing Eucla and the WA/SA border, I had ridden about 80km in eight hours. F*ing demoralising! There were times when it felt like it was better to sit and wait it out but in the end it was better to just keep moving forward. The wind wasn’t going anywhere. The hardest moment for me was walking out of the Nullarbor Roadhouse in the hottest, most foul wind, to be greeted with a sign reading ‘Nullarbor Plain. Western end of the treeless plain’. Wow. This was one of the most iconic parts of Australia and I had chosen to ride my bike here. “Still beats working!!” I yelled into the wind, laughing. For some reason I kept smiling for hours after that. At sunset the Yalata Indigenous Protected Area was showing off red and oranges against green trees. What a magical place.

IMG_1488

Starting the true section of the Nullarbor Plain

Food glorious food

I am a vegetarian (try to be vegan where possible) and gluten free. I knew that this was going to be difficult and make moving quickly through towns much more complicated. Also if there was no options that fitted into these categories I was worried my guts would revolt if I assaulted it with meat, dairy and gluten all at once. I had slowly introduced dairy and gluten back in over a month. On day two I found myself shivering and wet eating a big-breakfast just to stay warm, and then meat sandwiches and sausage rolls that evening. The camera crew even got me explaining that shopping list on video. Each servo stop always began with necking a gatorate, coconut water and a chocolate milk.

Not even vegetarian lasted two days for me. I easily fell back into my favourite routine of potato chips, Snickers bars, sausage rolls and developed a hardcore hate for muesli bars and more muesli bars. What I did find hilarious was rolling into a roadhouse on day three and staring blankly up at the menu. The lady looked me up and down and then said “Let me guess… veggie burger?” I don’t know what place I was in in the race, maybe around 20th, but it became clear that there were definitely some ‘trendy hipster vegos’ up ahead of me, as the lady so politely put it!!

My guts got the better of me after the first few days of the junk food onslaught. At 2am in Balladonia I was all packed and ready to head out when I got the desperate urge to use the loos. My accommodation had no bathroom but the attendant had given me the code to the caravan park toilets. I ran over and punched it in. No luck. I tried the mens. No luck. Oh god. I attempted to run to the main service station toilets but that failed miserably. So there at 2am in the middle of nowhere, I crapped my pants. I spent the next hour washing my knicks, super worried of the implications this may have for my saddle sores. To make the morning even better, a few kilometres down the road my lights flickered across a sign reading ’90 Mile Straight. Australia’s longest straight road’. This race was getting real.

Sleeping, sometimes

The first night of the race I managed to score a room at the Carrabin Hotel. I’ll admit right now it was a total rip-off for one person but it was bliss to hear the rain falling outside while I was in my cosy room. The second night I rolled into Widgiemooltha after everything was shut, but managed to find the toilet block open and a nice warm laundry to bed down in. The floor was rock solid and freezing but I managed a few hours shut-eye.  The third night, after an epic day in the wind, I stayed in ‘backpacker style’ accommodation in Balladonia. Literally it was two adjoined shipping containers with doors into rooms (maybe 5m x 5m) which consisted of a bed and a space for my bike. No lights, but there were power points galore. Winner!

I bivvied just after the WA/SA border on night five, convinced that I could sleep for 4 hours and the wind would go away (it didn’t). While setting up camp with Joe Donnelly from the UK, he casually mentioned that he was REALLY worried about scorpions and that a truckie had told him they like to try and get in warm sleeping bags. I shrugged off the comment with an “I am an Australian and have never seen a scorpion”… only to turn around and have one sitting right next to my bivvy bag. EEEEEK! As it ran into a hole, Joe and I exchanged tired but worried looks. He wanted to camp down the road but I wasn’t moving. Here was no different to 1km down the road, we were in the middle of a huge desert. I fell asleep dreaming of evil biting things.

I found my sleep system ill-equip to handle bugs or rain. I had decided to go lighter than my tent I usually take, but the open top SOL escape bivvy just didn’t work for me unfortunately. Two nights I distinctly remember getting next to zero sleep, as mozzies landed on my face and I battled to wrap my head up in my emergency bag to get some peace. When you are setting your alarm for two – four hours sleep, getting no sleep in that time is stupid. I was getting really tired in the days and needing day-time naps to make up for my lack of sleep. So, I was always on the hunt for a good old toilet block.

It had been a while since I’d made a public toilet block my sleeping place of choice for the night. In Tour Divide it was mainly for protection from bears and other wildlife, but also for warmth. As it turns out, Seb and I slept in the exact same female toilet in Nundroo, only a few nights apart. When I asked why he had been in the ladies, he reminded me of Mike Hall’s wise words “the ladies are always cleaner!”

One night I completely don’t remember was in Murray Bridge. I rolled into town about 8pm and had some dinner. I had had a terrible day with excruciating knee pain and had spent many hours hobbling along crying. I decided a hotel room and shower was in order. I dragged my loaded bike up flights of stairs to stay at the Bridgeport Hotel. I washed myself and my clothes. Cranked the heater and pulled the three layers of blinds down. Set my alarm for five hours and quickly fell asleep. When I woke up I was shocked by the amount of traffic noise for what I though was 3am. I looked at my phone and it said 8am. I was so confused. The room was dark. I lifted the blinds to blaring sun and traffic. I had slept 10 hours. I was devastated. This was my first accidental sleep in a bikepacking ‘race’ and unfortunately, even though now it seems so trivial, was the undoing of my mental game and ultimately the beginnings of the end of my race. I was furious and rode a long hard day after that somehow believing I could make it up, but knowing I couldn’t.

The most memorable night for me was the next night in Millicent, SA. I rolled into town about 1am after a long day trying to ‘make up time’. I managed to find a luscious green park with a toilet block and covered picnic area with lights and power points. What a score! I set up my bivvy on the grass under a beautiful big tree and slipped into a lovely sleep. I was nearly four hours into my beauty nap when I was woken by a noise I knew all too well. SPRINKLERS! Huge sprinklers shooting water all over the park, me and my bike. Swearing loudly, nearly ripping my bivvy in half, with my knicks around my knees, I dragged my semi packed bike and sleeping gear over to the lit shelter and pulled my pants up. Good morning sunshine!

Ben, Boxes and my race to catch Stu

I had the privilege of meeting and riding with Ben Hirons and Eoin ‘Boxes’ Marshall. I started out leap frogging with Eoin on day two and three. We didn’t really chat much until I plonked myself at his table at the Balladonia Roadhouse “Hope you don’t mind if I sit down!?” We leap frogged for another few days until after Madura where we crashed outside the servo for a few winks. In the basin we caught up with Ben and a few others including Stu Edwards. From this point I had a little race going in my head with Stu. He moved at such a consistent pace and I was a little bit jealous of how fast he could transition through stops, while I would sit there and order half the menu.

It was clear that Ben and Eoin were good buddies, taking Instagrams of each other and telling jokes. I was a bit of a third wheel but they made it fun. After Ceduna we rode together for a few days. It felt like we were night-time bandits. We’d ride until 11pm, pop the NoDoze and go singing into the night on what the boys had coined ‘night shift’.

I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when I told them that the Kimba Roadhouse was run by an Indian family and there was vegetarian curry inside! Almost as good as the look on Ben’s face when we realised we found a 24hr vending machine ‘shop’ in Wilmington. I didn’t see them after this, I left to continue in the 41 degree heat and they were to wait it out and do another night-shift. Unfortunately soon after, Eoin was hit by a car and out of the race. Thanks for the company guys and I am so glad you are recovering Eoin!

I never got any closer to Stu after my accidental 10 hr sleep at Murray Bridge, but did end up catching him in Canberra to give him a hug and a brownie when he came through (after I pulled out).

IMG_1503

Night shift

IMG_1500

Halfway across Australia

IMG_1502

Ben and the Kimba big galah

March Flies

If the mosquitoes keeping me awake all night were not bad enough, the March flies surely made up for it during the days. I conclude that there must something about my blood that they seem to love. Something biting insects love more about me than everyone else. Eoin laughed at the cloud that was flying behind me. They were biting my legs, my ankles, my arse, my shoulders, my neck. After hours of yelping I was nearly reduced to panic attacks, yelling at them, pleading for no more arse biting, and slapping the painful bites. In Kyancutta I ran into a shop asking for insect repellent. They didn’t have any. When the lady saw the crushed look on my face, she went out the back and came back with a can of Mortein. “I can spray you with surface spray”?? I was desperate and said yes. I turned around in a circle while she sprayed, focusing a good burst of spray of my arse. As it turns out, Mortein firstly doesn’t stop March flies biting through clothing. Secondly, it irritated my sweaty skin and resulted in a nasty rash. Thirdly, lyrca appears to not be compatible with Mortein and my knicks where considerably saggy on my butt after this. I am sure they were probably see-through too but at least no one had the heart to tell me that!

The best dot watcher a girl could ask for

My phone had limited battery and I never actually had reception until I got to Port Augusta. Before the race I had spoken to my grandmother and said we were coming through Adelaide. It was going to be hard to have a meal together and I decided that I’d let the family sort out the dot watching, and hoped the stars would align for us to meet. And, as I was riding through Stirling, I heard a lady yell “Beth Beth”. There on the corner of the road was my nan. She had driven herself down to meet me. We shared hugs and stories and then a few selfies. What a highlight!

The Coorong

The Nullarbor was indeed my favourite part of the ride (that I completed) but a close second was the Coorong. I had heard the name before but had no idea what it was. I had not researched this part of the ride too closely and not looked at it on a map. Being a park ranger I have a passionate for nature, national parks and especially fauna. The bird life of the Coorong was spectacular and that was only from my bike seat, I didn’t go to any lookouts. At one point I noticed pelicans flying in Vs above me. They were heading towards a swirling pillar of other pelicans, rising high up into the sky. It was incredible, mesmerising like a dance, but completely silent. I stood and watched for ages. This was nature at its purest. It brought the biggest smile to face that lasted hours until I stopped and bought a peppermint magnum. That was also spectacular.

IMG_1546

Pelicans

My last day

My last day racing the IPWR was crazy. It started being woken up by sprinklers in Millicent at 3am in the morning. I had an easy and very pleasant ride through Mount Gambier, with rain showers on and off for most of the morning. I crossed the border into Victoria and had a roaring tailwind towards Portland.

IMG_1567

State number three

I knew there were storms around but somehow I managed to ride the tailwind through them. About 10km from Portland the route took an interesting turn. 90 degrees to the right, I was now travelling perpendicular to that fantastic tailwind. In the blink of an eye, the storm from hell opened up on me. It was so sudden I pulled off in some trees, failing to even get my rain gear out quick enough. The wind was buffeting me sideways and I could not ride. I could hardly walk. The rain was torrential and the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. I was waiting for my bike to get blown sideways out of my hands. There was nowhere to hide. After 15 minutes I was wet to the core and freezing. I attempted to pull off into a driveway to sit on a house porch. I fell off in the loose gravel and hurt my shoulder which I have had numerous surgeries on. The resident, a lovely lady, didn’t quite grasp the concept of how cold I was until I pulled out my emergency bivvy. “Yeah its really gusting now, the wind farm up the corner will be cranking”. I nodded, not at all shocked to hear it was obviously a windy area. She headed off to get her son from school while I contemplated what to do.

Eventually I ate a can of HTFU and rode the 10km into town. I was so cold and wet I looked for a coin laundry to hang out in. With no luck and only getting colder I got a hotel room. I showered and ordered a pizza. The amazing staff found me a t-shirt while they laundered my clothes. Two hours later, the sun was shining. It was surreal. I didn’t want to waste my $70 hotel room but it was early in the arvo and I could’t stop thinking of my 10 hour sleep two nights before. I convinced myself to keep moving forward. Any forward movement is good movement. The hotel staff were very confused when I dropped the key back, having been there a total of only a few hours.

IMG_1571

The calm after the storm

Back on the road I felt happy with my choice. I’d try make Port Fairy or Warrnambool that night. Unfortunately the weather had other plans for me. About 9pm another storm hit and I found myself looking around for shelter. There was very little tree cover and I started to panic. For the umpteenth time I wished I had brought my tent instead of a bivvy. I was a bit frazzled and not making good choices. A house with lights on was close to the road and I took the chance. I ended up staying the night, having cups of tea by the fire, sharing the room with friendly farm cats and dogs. The welcoming family were so friendly and it was the night I needed. I knew I had sought outside assistance (against the rules) and technically my race was over. I sent Seb a message that I would pull out in Warrnambool and slept the most peaceful night.

In the morning with eggs on toast and warm tea in my belly, I rolled through to Warrnambool train station. I was happy with my decision to retire from the race. I was not getting what I wanted out of the ride anymore. I was unhappy and knowing I had 2000km left to ride made it even easier. If I was a few hundred kilometres from the end, maybe I might have made a difference choices, though I am not sure what I could have done differently to change how my race ended. That night I slept at the farm it poured and howled wind all night. I wouldn’t have safely made that night in a bivvy. Maybe I should have stayed in my hotel room? Maybe I should have pushed on in the storm. All after thoughts I guess.

A conclusion of sorts

The day after I retired from the race it was cancelled after Mike’s death. I spent an emotional day in the back of a car on my way back to Canberra trying to come to terms with everything. It was such a horrific way to end an amazing adventure. I have such fond memories of the days we spent in Fremantle, of the Nullarbor, the Coorong and the lifelong friends I have made. The locals along the route were ever so generous and friendly. The dot watchers and others who cheered us on along the way were so uplifting. They made the fear and exhaustion from the traffic worthwhile. Riding through Adelaide with friends and others I have never met, people just riding along chatting. It was humbling.

IMG_1519

I can’t wait for my next adventure. I am of the opinion that it will be on the dirt but I’ll look for inspiration and see where the road takes me. Thanks Mike for inspiring us to challenge ourselves and thanks Jesse for giving us the opportunity to take the challenge.

17761069_10158406426735468_2748153333913208156_o

Thanks to Troy Bailey for capturing the thing I tried to do most. SMILE!

Indian Pacific Wheel Race

I have been very slack and not provided any info on the latest adventure: the Indian Pacific Wheel Race! This will be an on-road bikepacking event on home soil, from the west coast to the east coast of Australia. The 5500km course will take in ocean views, desert, rolling wine country and travel through the mountainous Australian Alps. We will travel from Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and then finish in Sydney. We’ll dip our rear wheels in the Indian Ocean and ride through to dip our front wheels in the Pacific Ocean!

Seb and I are both racing, and just like Tour Divide, we’ll have a kiss on the start line and wave goodbye! This time we’ll see each other again on the steps of the Opera House in Sydney. There will be a tracking website so everyone at home can watch on. There is a good chance that friends and family will be able to cheer us on the sidelines of the actual course, we will even ride through our hometown Canberra.

This year Seb is riding a titanium Curve Belgie Spirit and I am riding a carbon Trek Domane. I am running a Vision FSA rim on the rear but the rest of our rims are Nextie, both with disc brakes. Both of us have new thru-axle SP Dynamo hubs and Klite dynamo powered lights. We are both rocking a combination of bags including Bike Bag Dude, Wunderlust and Revelate Designs. This year I have tried to go lighter while still being safe. There is the real possibility of extreme heat, cold desert nights and even snow on the alps and I need to be prepared for it all. For this ride I won’t have my usual the single skin tent but rather a SOL escape bivvy, down sleeping bag, plus an emergency space blanket if needed. I’ve ditched the comfy Neoair Thermarest for a cut down car sunshade. I have the capacity for 6L of the water in a MSR dromedary bladder which could be needed across the desert, but makes me flexible to have a lot less when we get closer to regular towns. Hopefully these small changes will help with some zoooooommmm!

As we will both be racing, and possibly with not much phone reception to provide updates, all the links you will need to follow the race are here:

Enjoy dot watching!!

Adventure Beth

After a year long hiatus from cycling after Tour Divide in 2015, an opportunity to try something new presented itself. Adventure racing. The world championships of adventure racing was happening right on my backdoor step in Ulladulla, Australia.

Expedition length adventure racing is an adventure race course run over many days (typically 5-10 days) and consisting of many disciplines. The main disciplines are hiking, mountain biking and kayaking, however anything you could think of can be thrown in on top of that: orienteering, coasteering, roller-blading, caving, packrafting, abseiling, wheelbarrows, snowshoes, ziplining. It just depends on what opportunities are available in the area where the race is held. The legs are often not too challenging on their own, however string them together one after the other for days on end, and some serious sleep deprivation and exhaustion together with the complexities of keeping up with nutrition requirements and maintaining good team dynamics… this sounded crazy and hardcore enough to interest me immediately.

Many years ago when I first met Seb, he was a keen adventure racer and unbeknown to him at the time, he was referred to as the ‘Adventure Seb’ boyfriend in conversations I had with my mum and sister. He competed in the world championships when they were in Tasmania  in 2011 and I had been intrigued ever since. So here was  my chance to have a go at being ‘Adventure Beth’.

Adventure Seb

Famous Adventure Seb

I joined up with three local guys from Canberra and we formed ‘Resultz Racing’ team. They were Michael Reed, Tony Leach and Ross Beatty. We had heaps of adventures together training up for the race. We did overnight trips with hiking and biking, day long hikes, paddling and pack rafting. It was fantastic to be training again for something, and this was really different training. It was great to feel a whole of body type strength from all the different aspects of physical activity. We unfortunately did not get to do any adventure racing together prior to the main event.

13975419_1422907247793709_8458825444290250298_o 20161022_095205

We had some hiccups leading up to the event which disrupted training right when we should have been putting in the hard yards. Two team members came down with bad chest infections and went on antibiotics, and I got bitten by one of my cats which landed me in hospital with a staphylococcus aureus (Golden Staph) infection in my blood. This was serious enough to need two weeks 24 hour IV antibiotics, meaning I couldn’t train at all.

Needless to say, this is what team racing is all about: getting all four of us to the start healthy and ready to compete felt like half the challenge. But we made it and with big nervous smiles we toed the start line.

14853212_1497269230357510_7779419209303664255_o

Ready to rock and roll

I won’t go through the whole race report because it is epic in itself. There are a lot of stories to be told from racing constantly for 24 hours a day over a very challenging course. My teammate Michael wrote a great account here which details the whole of our race.

Some things stood out though to me, as things I will never forget:

  • Paddling into a storm at 12am, two kayaks tied together, waves pounding into our boat stopping us dead still every few meters. Looking out at the lights on the shore, knowing we were barely moving despite all the effort we were putting in.
  • Hike-a-bike like you have never experienced. Dragging bikes over and under trees and roots, lowering them down cliff faces all while clinging on for dear life because all this was happening on the edge of a cliff face.
  • Crossing a river in the dark hours of the night and nuding up so our clothes could stay dry, our head torches exposing flashes of bare bums and other private parts as teams crossed in front of us!
  • Having such excruciatingly painful feet that I got the medic to try and pop a blister which I thought I had on my foot. This turned out to not be a blister at all, and I was yelping at the pain of just getting stabbed by a pin numerous times drawing blood.

In the end my wrist decided that it belonged to Biking Bethany, not Adventure Beth, and there was to be NO MORE PADDLING! My right wrist had developed severe swelling the size of a lemon and was warm and inflamed. I couldn’t move it and the medic suggested I might have a fracture. And that was that, my race was over. I packed my gear up and jumped into a tent for the night, to be taken to hospital the next day. Teams can continue with three people but my team mates decided they had had enough and also pulled the pin. I ended up with no fracture, but severe tendonitis in my wrist. Intersection Syndrome apparently. The two tendons rub over each other with such friction that the sheaths inflame and swell. Mine was so inflamed when I moved my hand there was a chalky audible squeak of dry tendons.

I really loved the craziness of the race. Everything was just hard enough to feel like you were being tested. Would you break this time? What about now? The legs were long enough that you were completely ready to do the next thing, whatever it was. Get off those weary feet and onto the bike. Be done with the hike-a-bike and get into that kayak. We only lasted three days out on course, but the sleep deprivation was a real tricky bugger even in that amount of time. The hours between midnight and dawn were hard. While hiking on the second night the steps in front of me were rolling and merging into one flat piece of path and I was continually stumbling along like I was drunk. Cycling at night and just staring at the one light ahead on the ground was something I was used to but there was the odd slap of the face to reinvigorate myself. I rediscovered no-doze for the first time since Tour Divide, and it was just as fabulous as I remember.

I found the dynamics of racing with three other people very challenging. All the adventures I have ever done where you are so exhausted and not thinking clearly, I have been by myself. You can scold yourself, swear at yourself, sleep when you need, stop when you need. Having to accommodate the needs of three other people was hard and I think teams who race together often develop together as a real unit. Still, we had a great adventure and a sense of achievement for giving it a good hard crack was felt by all.

15137550_1505974322820334_2981304063053935663_o

Adventure racing makes you go craaaazzzyyyyy

So I’ve had some time off. Time to heal my TD wounds and time to try my hand at new things.  I liked the idea of Adventure Beth, but I am not sure if it liked me. One thing I am sure of though, is that it awakened the fire. I am so excited to be fit and ready for new challenges. There are adventures ahead, so watch this space cause Biking Bethany is back.

The GDT

I’m sitting here watching Reveal the Path and laughing out loud a bit because in about the first five minutes, the groups Scottish bikepacking route has turned quickly to ‘bike mountaineering’…. my arms start aching again just thinking about it.

So rewind two weeks and it is Saturday morning, 9th March, and I am at Bendigo train station at 7am with a bunch of other nutters ready to ride 400km along parts of the Great Diving Trail, local singletrack and who knew what else. I didn’t know what else, that’s fore sure!

Admittedly, having only heard about the GDT bikepacking event through some FB stalking a few weeks before, I was going in the deep end a little. I had never been to Bendigo, Castlemaine, Ballarat or even heard of Bachus Marsh. But apart from being an awesome new adventure,  I desperately needed some acquaintance time with my GPS and SPOT, some time to get to know the nooks and crannies of my bike. Only experience can determine what works and what doesn’t!


So here we go, rolling off the start line into the bush and the unknown…

Leg 1: Bendigo to Castlemaine

This was probably the best bit of the trip for me! The group quickly started to split up: the fast boys with little-to-no gear sped off never to be seen again. A group of us including Courtney and Al rode together for a while as we got used to riding the singletrack on fully loaded bikes.

The rocky but flowing singletrack was split up by sections of firetrail alongside water races. There were some decent hills which rewarded us with some great views back to Bendigo and surrounds. It took me a while to get into the swing of things and hours soon rolled into each other in a blur of fun.

Courtney cruising next to the water race

The only real thing I struggled with on this leg was the gates. So many gates. My bike was heavily loaded and even with fresh arms, by the time I had hauled that thing in every way imaginable over more gates than I would dare to guess at, my shoulder was feeling niggly. It is definitely a weak point which I often don’t use because I am riding (not bench-pressing) my bike.

Leg 2: Castlemaine to Dalesford

We rolled into Castlemaine well before lunch with no real dramas. After a restock of the tummy, the water and the food bag we were off. Temperatures were rising quickly and by 12pm it was well over 30 degrees. We had left town in dribs and drabs, our group was now quite split up. After not being able to ride the singletrack with the finesse of others around me, I found myself riding alone for a while. It was nice to set my own speed and navigate with the GPS myself.  I was quite impressed that I got the hang of the Etrex quite quickly. Not too much to do really though, point and ride!

Leg 3: Dalesford to Ballarat

Dalesford lunch stop

Dalesford came and went and as we approached well over 150km for the day the legs were getting a bit weary and crampy. I had guzzled my water in the heat. Silly. And with every corner we were expecting Creswick. I don’t think we really knew what we expected, just some form of civilisation that led us to a town. It never came. Instead we were treated to some twisty and technical singletrack that stomped my previously high spirits right into the ground. I was out of water and I was hungry but I couldn’t eat without water. Why didn’t I even bring a gel?

Mistake #1: not knowing your route and not having a cheat sheet handy.

Then the cramps set in good and proper. Straight up the hamstrings and adductors in both legs.  I was whimpering along in such a miserable fashion, poor Courts must have thought I was goooooone.

We rolled into Ballarat around 10pm and I went straight to Maccy D’s. I guzzled down water, french fries, a burger, banana bread, sprite and two hot apple pies. Delirious and so dirty that I could have easily been mistaken for a lycra-clad hobo, I stood around out the front of MacDonalds deciding what to do.  A few others were keen to keep riding. I went along with the idea but after about 10 minutes cramps returned and I knew I needed rest. I stopped on the outskirts of town with Jarrod Dellamarta and setup camp for the night.

Mistake #2: not having a plan and going to bed without setting an alarm!

Leg 4: Ballarat to Bachus Marsh

I woke up with the sun, but this was close to 7am. Having not set my alarm and getting away in the dark, little did I know the detrimental effects this would have to the rest of my race!

This leg cruised by. Jarrod and I riding together sometimes, sometimes not. Maybe he got sick of me asking a thousand and one questions about Tour Divide, cause after a while the gap between us stretched far enough for no conversation. Open roads, a fair bit of downhill, superb views. We could see Melbourne sykscrapers on the horizon as we made our final descent down into Bachus Marsh.

I that Melbourne I can see?!

Our VERY matching Niners parked at BM subway, I watched Jarrod devour a footlong Sub and then a six-inch a few minutes later. I was jealous as I struggled to get mine down in the heat. It was 12pm and I was looking at the elevation of the next section: uphill for about 50km and it was already 36 degrees….

VERY matching Niners at BM subway

Leg 5: Bachus Marsh to Dalesford

I left before Jarrod but would later find out he had decided to pull out, the heat was getting to him. Smart move!

I began the uphill crawl out of town, taking many stops to sit and rest up that god-awful hike a bike to the Telstra tower. It was like riding your bike in an oven. Sweat was pouring off me like a river and there was next to no shade.

This was me and Aaron at the top of the hill outside BM. The faces say it all:

This was me and Aaron at the top of the hill outside BM. The faces say it all.

The firetrail hike-a-bike mountain was fine, I could deal with that because after going up up up I knew we were going down.

The ‘singletrack’ section of O’briens however, was just plain hard. I am deliriously scared of heights and as a consequence walked for over two hours here.  The combination of the deadly drop to the right, the cliff face on my left and awkward logs and rocks to scramble over left me screaming Ryan’s name out loud for hours.

In Blackwood I met a lovely man who let me use his brand-spanking-new outhouse (it was very very fancy but also traditional looking with the wood shingles) while we got me some cordial. I must have looked like sh*t because he seemed pretty concerned.

After Blackwood I pushed, shoved, sat, cried, swore, dragged, sang, shouted and whatever it took to get my bike through the rotten section of ‘singletrack’. It got to about 8pm and I was struggling to see. I knew Daleford couldn’t be that far but I was moving at snails pace.

Mistake #3: not knowing your equipment (the dynamo doesn’t work below about 10km/hr!!!!)

I had neglected to take a good head torch, all I had was my dynamo light and a small camping head torch. I was walking five meters, spinning my wheel to get some light, walking again, spinning… this lasted all of about 15 minutes and I stopped to make camp.

With only a few gulps of water in my camleback I saved it, had half a muesli bar and attempted to sleep. I was in agony with cramps. Rigid straight legs, whole body shaking from heat exhaustion. This is quite a bit more scary for me with epilepsy because it almost feels like a seizure. It wasn’t, but it made me panic and I lay there awake for hours.

At 1am I saw a light and heard a “hello?” B-RAD! We chatted about how far it was to Dalesford (neither of us could really estimate), about water and the trip in general. He pushed on and I went to sleep with comfort in the fact that I was only semi alone out here in the middle of the state forest, and at least B-RAD knew where I was to be found if I never returned!

I got up early (5am) and made tracks to Dalesford in the dark. It was easy going and I wish I might have persevered those final few hours the night before.

Leg 6: Dalesford to Castlemaine

In  Dalesford at 8am on a public holiday I just looked for the closest place that was open. Some fancy snob cafe with eggs and bacon. PERFECT! Having not slept really all night, not showered or washed for now the third day, I got some good looks. I sat down, changed SPOT batteries, called Ryan and then proceeded to eat their ‘big breakfast’ a juice, coffee and water. I filled up all water capacity and rolled out in high spirits  just before 9am to make the last push to the finish.

Ryan had said people were taking five hours to complete this bit. While rolling over nice firetrail and down huge hills and fun singletrack I thought cockily to myself “hmmm, maybe I am fresh and it will be fine?”

As before, firetrail turned to singletrack, singletrack to rocky pinch-climbs, rocky to hike-a-bike and then to completely horrifying and unrideable moto track.

I was physically shattered and emotionally pretty distraught. I was standing at the top of these entry lines to big creek beds and erosion gullies balling my eyes out. At one point I just pointed my bike downwards, let it go and ran down after it.

I made it back to the highway and sat down under a tree. It was 36 degrees, I couldn’t think straight.  I rang Ryan to ask what the final 12km were like and he was brutally honest “like that bit but worse, very rocky, very technical”. And with that, I was out. I called Courtney from Fryerstown and got a lift back to Castelmaine. I tried so hard to put on a positive face but I was so demoralised. All over red rover.

Pizza, pasta, chocolate milk and a good arvo snooze got me back on track. I was feeling pretty good the next day and was a bit more open to the experiences I had just put myself through!

An awesome amount of organising went into running this ‘not-event’ and so big thanks to Ryan and the boys for that. Well done to all the other riders, and big thanks for Courts and Al for giving me somewhere to stay and looking after me.

Biggest thanks go to Seb who helped me for days setting all my gear up and for giving up his front suspension over the long weekend just so I could ride.

Bikepacking in Australia is well and truly alive!

P1020457

Some vert for the long weekend: GDT Bikepacking

This afternoon I am jumping in the car and driving 7 hours to Castlemaine, Victoria, for the inaugural Great Diving Trail (GDT) Bikepacking event.

The loop is about 400km in length and circular-ish: starting from Bendigo we’ll head -> Castlemaine -> Daylesford -> Ballarat -> Mt Bunninyong (all via the GDT). From the top we’ll make our way down to Bacchus Marsh via Ballan singletrack and then follow the path Bacchus Marsh -> Daylesford -> Castlemaine.

GDT Route (elevation numbers incorrect)

GDT Route (elevation numbers incorrect)

All up there should be around 9000 vertical meters climbing, so not a walk in the park!

With temperatures expected between 30 – 35 degrees C during the day and not dropping below about 12 overnight, I have decided to go without a sleeping bag. I have my Tarptent tent, sleeping mat and silk liner. Hopefully combined with my puff jacket (should it come to that) I’ll be fine!

This will be my first time navigating with the Garmin ETrex, so here’s hoping I come out of the Victorian bush alive… My only goal is to finish, or complete what I can without injury. It will be a steep learning curve I fear, but that is what adventures are about right?

There is a dedicated tracking page for all us starters, so you can watch our dots: http://www.trackleaders.com/gdt13

Report to come later next week!!

-Beth.