Sunday, February 15, 2015

Blackheath to Campbelltown with two bikepacking noobs

Jamie and Scott take in some natural beauty
There is nothing like sharing your passion with other like minded people, and this past weekend I had a chance to indulge in a weekend of riding in the Blue Mountains with some buddies who were bikepacking virgins. For Scott and Jamie it would be their first attempt at the pursuit. As kiwis on the wrong side of the ditch, they were eager to push the boat out and see a new part of their Australian home. 

Scott or 'Diesel' as he is known for his tendency to chug along at a solid if not remarkable pace, could call upon experience in adventure racing including the sketchy early days of the Southern Traverse. Recently a family of three girls has limited his riding time so the weekend's ride was a nice chance to escape and feel the burn that only a long day in the saddle can bring. 

Scott acquaints himself with one of the joys of bikepacking: Gluttony
Jamie is a quintessential kiwi gadabout having climbed many mountains (literally) in NZ and abroad. Both had never strapped bags to their bikes and headed for the hills, but the weekend was a chance to rectify this oversight.

Jamie gets amongst the lunch spread
In what was possibly the most prepared I've ever been for a ride, the duo turned up on a Wednesday night, borrowing Heidi's Bike Bag Dude gear and the Freeload rack usually reserved for grocery duties amongst other items. They set about halving their gear, then halving it again to take their best stab at the comfort/exertion balance which defines every attempt at packing. I knew they were getting the hang of it when Scott asked if we were going to share chamois cream, before I suggested that this was perhaps a step too far.

One incongruity which became immediately apparent was our respective definitions of self sufficiency. At one end was my hard line view that each person should carry the stuff they needed to survive by themselves, a race hardened approach. Scott and Jamie on the other hand came from the care-bear school of sharing and caring, and my attitude softened particularly at the end of the day when I could offer some boiling water from my Kovea in exchange for a hearty serve of hot chocolate. Definitely a win-win.

Wednesday night packing herald new levels of organisation!
Boarding a Friday night train bound for Blackheath, we grabbed a pub-meal and rolled down to our accommodation for the night. Half expecting to be bivvying in a bunker on the golf course, Jamie had organised an exceptional hookup with his work colleagues' parents playing host in their beautiful home. The hospitality even extended to a cooked breakfast, and in telling them the definition of a trail angel (the bikepackers best friend), I needed to only point to our two gracious hosts.

Blackheath's very own trail angels
It was with heavy stomachs that we left their home for the blast down to the six foot track. The smooth tar seal of the appropriately named Megalong Valley gave way to the roots and rocks of the trail, an entertaining mix of singletrack left ruffled by recent rains. The bumps served as an excellent test of gear stability, and after tightening straps and adjusting for the tractor like handling of a laden bike, we continued on to Cox's River.
When I'd been across this waterway before it had been by wading through the river, but to up the ante we decided to traverse the swing bridge usually reserved for high waters. Floppier than a damp pancake, we wobbled and heaved our bikes across swearing to never do it again.

Scott hefts his steed across Cox's River
What followed was a pinchy climb up the six foot track. Once a year this becomes crowded with runners who tackle its 42 km length, and it was apparent from the dribs and drabs of runners making their way through that the toughness of the course required practice. We were all a bit baffled about how such a dull route generated such excitement, but as we grinded our bikes upwards the only thoughts we could muster revolved around reaching the ridge. Fortunately it came and after a delightful roll down a swooping and switchbacked road, we made it Jenolan Caves for a zoo consisting of tourist buses and pre-teen longboarders intent on capturing the next viral You tube edit of their 'mad skills'.

Sifting at Jenolan caves
After a lunch feast, we tackled the savage climb from Jenolan to Oberon, ascending some 600m in 5km, it required liberal use of granny gear to reach the satisfying summit. A long stretch of forest road and a drenching from a passing shower followed, and it was at this point that the enormity of the ride started to dawn on us. 

Not accustomed to many hours on his skimpy XC seat, Jamie butt was loudly protesting, while Scott's self proclaimed sprinter's legs still felt the wrath of the Jenolan climb. 
This log was more comfortable than his saddle
To make matters worse, a random unidentified object robbed the air from Scott's rear tire, but this stoppage served as an opportunity for Jamie to indulge in a well earned nap.

Scott tends to his puncture
Once back rolling the rain cleared and we plodded on, a fire road detour took us down a gnarly path to a creek, with the resulting hike back up a nice changed for tweaked quads. 

Some gnarl late in the day
Finally making it Werong camp 110km in, we chose to camp for the night. A wise decision given that the ominous clouds chose to drop their load just as dark settled. After a dinner of dehydrated deliciousness, we went to bed dry and warm in our concrete shelter.

Mt Werong - our dry oasis
Morning dawned and after promises of a rapid departure evaporated, we eventually rolled out into the cool haze of the morning. What followed on the road to Yerranderie was one of the highlights, a smooth ridegtop road with perfectly rollable vertical curves that egged you to pedal the downs, with the reward of coasting across the tops. The 45km to the ghost town of Yerranderie passed in a flash, and while we didn't explore in depth, we were in wonder at the audacity of trying to build a town in a place so remote.

All smiles at Yerranderie
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, and while it was light on singletrack there was no shortage of breathtaking views and smooth roads. With a faffing to riding ratio drastically reduced compared with the first day, Jamie and Scott were clearly adapting to the game.

On reaching our destination, it was a great pleasure to introduce them to the joys of ice cream, chocloate milk, Coke and schinitzel burgers in that order. While after a long day of riding the mental will was there, some stomach contraction made consumption of this feast difficult and resulted in a short nap being taken on the grass of the village green.

Post burger grass angels
A final tar seal pedal to Campbelltown and the adventure was over. Happy to be sitting on padded train seats we were treated to a largely empty carriage, no doubt due to the accumulated stench of two days riding. Scott and Jamie were tired  but fizzing by the end of the ride, and hopefully they'll be keen for more adventures after memories of minor suffering have faded. They certainly made for great riding companions if only because we could relax and use the proper English which New Zealanders prefer (bro, cuz and eh were frequently heard). It was great to share the joys and agonies of a proper long ride with Soctt and Jamie and I sincerely hope it will be the first of many!

Stinky but smiling on the train home form Campbelltown



2 comments:

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Johny said...

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