Sunday, December 30, 2012

Same but different: Day 2

There's no daylight saving in Queensland, so by 4:20am it was well and truly light enough to break camp and get moving.  The forecast called for another scorcher of a day, so I hopped out of bed and set about packing up my gear.  By 4:40am I was all packed up, dressed, fed, and ready to go.  Rudi, however, was still fast asleep in his tent - not even all the noise I was making and the numerous wallabies crashing through the campsite was enough to stir him from his beauty sleep.  I decided to use the time wisely, to explore the camp in the already warm and humid pre-dawn air.

Macnamara's Camp at about 4:30am.  That white shiny thing behind the clouds is the full moon.

Camping right on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

My summer sleeping setup is a Hennessy Hammock.  It really can't be beaten for comfort, coolness and fast setup and takedown.

Dawn clouds on the rail trail

Finally, the sleeping beauty awakes!  The sun was well and truly up by this point, about 1.5hrs after I was ready to depart.

Uphill we go
By the time Rudi got out of bed and got himself together, the horse had well and truly floated out the window of opportunity for us to beat the heat on the morning climb through to Blackbutt.  By the time we set off on the trail again, the temperature was sweltering, and I was already sweating before even turning a pedal.

The best part of me being ready to go so early was I got to enjoy watching Rudi attempt to pack down his tent, all the while offering unhelpful advice and commenting on how difficult it all looked.

Away we go again, climbing uphill through Benarkin State Forest.  The trail continues steadily uphill from here, all the way to the township of Benarkin.

The trail surface in the forest section is smooth and fast.

We crossed under the main highway, where we could see a lot of cars were stopped for some roadworks on the range.  We were definitely having a much more enjoyable trip than all those motorists!

Our progress up the hill wasn't fast, mainly as we were both stopping a lot to get a lot of photographs on the way - one of our main purposes for the ride was for a magazine photo shoot.  Here's Rudi blending seamlessly into his surroundings.

The trail emerges from the forest into a grassy clearing near the commercial pine plantations of Benarkin State Forest.

As we neared Benarkin, we left the thick scrub and rode into more over bushland.  By now it was getting very hot, and I was looking forward to a cold drink in the town somewhere up ahead.

A meeting on the trail
As we pedalled closer to Benarkin, I was sure I could hear the sound of a vehicle on the trail.  It was a very odd moment as the trail is closed to vehicular traffic, and for an instant I was a pretty disappointed that my impression of the place as a peaceful car-free paradise could be shattered.  Approaching a creek crossing near the top of the range, we spotted a white ute down on one of the concrete culverts, carefully rolling back and forth across freshly laid gravel covering the steep approaches to the gully.  I stopped on the side of the trail, and, strangely for me, the driver of the vehicle already knew who I was!  His name was Geoff, a rail trail ambassador, who had been chatting with the other rail trail ambassadors we'd met on the previous day.  As per the day before, I was just blown away by the dedication and effort these guys put in to running the trail.  Geoff was out here rolling out some gravel he'd put over a creek crossing a few days earlier.  He was concerned that the trail was getting too rutted in the approach to the creek crossing, so he'd decided to do something about it, first doing some earthworks in his loader, then coming up this morning to roll it all out.  I kind of had trouble getting my head around just how the ambassadors worked - basically if something needed doing, they just sorted it out and did it.  A very different approach to the "can't someone else do it" mentality that seems to prevail in nearby Brisbane.

Geoff very kindly spent a lot of time with us, pointing out where to find interesting sights along the trail.  He also recommended to head to the Blackbutt bakery for our morning coffee - a very sensible idea.

Rudi approaches the town of Benarkin.  You can almost see the heat in this photo - it was well over 35 by this time of day.

Between the towns of Benarkin and Blackbutt, the trail levels out as it makes its way across the plateau.

The legendary Blackbutt Bakery.  Here we met up with Geoff and his family again, and had a fantastic time chatting to the local people and learning a lot mre about the area.  If you're ever at the bakery, I recommend getting a smokey-dog!

Surely the most photographed sign in Blackbutt.

I hadn't expected to see a rusted old tractor that someone had converted into a giant musical instrument, but here there it was!  The "fins" on the "cylinders" were actually tuned to different notes, and the pedals of the tractor operated the cymbals hidden within the body.  Very cool.

Scorching descent
In our classic style we ended up spending much longer than expected chatting to the locals and seeing the sights, and it was well and truly after lunchtime as we started pedalling back down the hill towards Linville.  It was hot, crazy hot - a look at the weather observations later in the day revealed the temperature in the area was a bit over 41 celcius.  Fortunately, the gradual descent meant we could easily maintain a decent speed to keep some breeze blowing in our faces.

No shelter from the midday sun, even in the forested section of the trail.

This historic railway culvert provided us with some much needed shelter from the midday sun.

Another of the art installations along the trail, made from the parts of old railway carriages.  I quite liked "the zombies", as the locals referred to them.

Pushing my bike up the steep creek crossing on the trail.  It was tough work on such a hot day, although I could have had a shot at riding it like Jer once did...

I was pleased that it wasn't just me who opted to push out of the creek crossing.

Today the ganger's shed took on a whole different feeling from when we had ridden past at sunset.  It was hot, glarey and dry.

Behind the ganger's shed are the ruins of the old magazine, where the trail builders used to store the dynamite used to blast cuttings through the spurs of the valley.

The fires were still burning near Linville, filling the valley with smoke and haze.

A patchwork of different colours across the landscape as a result of the recent fires.

Back at Linville Station.  As I rode out of the station grounds one of the locals at the pub called out "you're nuts in this heat!" She was of course correct, it was scorching out there.

Linville store knows how to get the cyclists in!

I sat on the steps out the front of the shop drinking a fizzy drink.  In the heat and quiet of the little country town, it was all reminding me very much of when I worked in the outback of remote north Queensland.

Linville - the true outback country town experience, less than two hours drive from Brisbane.

A quick blast back along the bitumen back to Moore.

It ends as it begins, chilling it up in the tearooms at Moore memorial hall.

After unwinding with a cold drink, it was time to load up the car, crank the air conditioning up to a billion, and head back home to Brisbane.  I thought I knew the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail reasonably well, but this weekend had dished up a whole bunch of new surprises.  By adding in an overnight stay along the way, my favourite day ride had now been transformed into my favourite weekend getaway destination.  The only logical step for me now is to ride the whole 300+ kilometres of the trail all the way from Ipswich to Yarraman and back again - now there's a new adventure that has to be had!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Same but different: Day 1

I have ridden the northernmost section of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail a lot.  I've written about it on this blog, in magazines, and told anyone who will listen that it is easily my favourite ride in Queensland.  However for whatever reason I'd only ever attempted it as a day ride.  A few weeks ago that all changed when Rudi and I jumped in the car early on Saturday afternoon and hit the road to spend a night camped out on the rail trail...

As seems to be my way lately, I'd selected the the hottest day in ages to go out riding.  When we arrived at the town of Moore mid-afternoon to start our ride, it was still well over 35 degrees and baking in low humidity.  We sought refuge in the Moore Hall - despite having cycled past it many times, I'd never actually stuck my head inside to take a look.

Kicking it off at the Moore Soldiers Memorial Hall

The inside of the hall is impressive and well worth a look.  It even used to be a movie theatre back in the day apparently.

A heroes farewell
Given that the weather was atomically hot, we ended up spending a fair bit of time sitting in the little tearoom attached to the hall, drinking coffee and chatting with some of the Rail Trail Ambassadors.  I was previously unaware of the existence of this group, but as it turns out it were were sitting with the very people who are instrumental in keeping the whole thing going.  As we sat there chatting I couldn't help but be in awe of the amount of effort they put into the trail, and the genuine excitement and pride they have for the trail and their local area.  Rudi and I ended up hanging around for 2hrs or so, just chatting and listening to stories of the trail and the area.  For anyone attempting the trail, the Memorial Hall at Moore gets my 100% full recommendation for a place to stop and get in the zone for the ride.  Something about talking to local people, being surrounded by local art and sampling a truly epic Devonshire tea acclimatised us to the vibe of the landscape.  By about 4:30pm we decided to get moving, out into the baking afternoon heat.  Instead of the usual low key start to a ride, on this occasion we were farewelled by the Rail Trail Ambassadors themselves, waving and wishing us well as we pedalled off towards the trail head.  I felt like some kind of windswept and interesting explorer hero of old times.  It was time to get this little adventure underway.

How much crap can you fit in a 1992 Toyota Corolla?  Two touring bikes, 4 panniers, a tent, 2 handlebar bags and 2 fellows would seem to be the answer.

Rudi rides off into the afternoon towards Linville, the next stop along the rail trail.

The good folk at Fujifilm Australia kindly provided me with a Finepix XP150 to capture my future adventures on, we gave it good shakedown on this trip.  Here's Rudi having a play around with it - it was the first time we'd used a drop proof, everything proof camera out on a cycle trip.

The empty, hot road to Linville.  My body and mind were freaking out a bit starting a ride so close to the end of the day - I'm much more used to getting up at dawn and doing the whole training ride scene.  Certainly the novelty of riding into the sunset put me in holiday mode straight away.

There I go.  And yes ladies, that is 100% genuine chest hair.

Pedalling up to the old carriages at Linville Station.  A fire had been through here recently, which added some unusual colours to the landscape.

Cycling past the old carriages at the station.

One day I will stay overnight at the Linville Hotel.  It looks awesome.

The things (dogs?) that hold railway carriages together in their natural habitat.  We'd be seeing a fair bit more of these throughout the weekend.

Up the hill and far away
Passing by the long abandoned railway carriages still sitting at the old Linville station, the trail turned the corner westwards, as we rode into another world. We began the gentle ascent in silence. There was not a breath of wind, and across the valley we could clearly see and hear a large grassfire slowly smouldering away. The sun was already low over the ranges to the west, cutting through the smoke to bathe the entire valley in a calming orange glow.  Despite having been here many, many times before, I suddenly had no feeling of where I actually was - the combination of smoke and sunset completely confused and excited me.

Rudi rides into the sunset.

This was the first time I'd ridden a laden touring bike in the dirt since my hand surgery.  It was all going well, in fact I was riding more easily than I had over the past 2 years.

Ascending in the afternoon light.

The view from the back of my bike.

Rudi rides past one of the many grass trees dotted along this part of the trail.

Despite the sun dipping below the Blackbutt Range, it was still warm and we were going through a fair bit of water.
By the time we neared the old ganger's shed on this hill, the sun was hitting only the tops of the cuttings, leaving the trail in shade.  It was like riding in another world.

We arrived at the ganger's shed right on dusk, and spent a while quietly exploring and taking photographs.  It turns out that this shed is apparently an original from the days of the railway - I personally find it remarkable that a little tin structure that old is still standing, free from vandalism and destruction.

Some of the railway dogs are used along the rail trail in various art installations.  Apparently they're a bit controversial with some of the locals, but I'll go on the record as saying I like them and I think they add nicely to the whole rusted iron aesthetic the trail has going on.

Speaking of rusted iron aesthetic, it would be remiss of me not to include a shot of my trusty Redline Conquest Classic.  I've added gel pads under my bar tape recently, making a huge difference to off road comfort.

I couldn't help myself, had to take some arty photos.

...another attempt at arty photography.

Rudi takes a photo of me taking a photo - pretty sure that sort of thing is what collapses the space-time continuum.

Rudi wasn't immune to arty photo taking either.  The benches along the way are engraved with the distances to the next town.  Although it was only 16.7km to Blackbutt, we had no plans on making it that far tonight.

We mucked round at the ganger's shed maybe a little too long, and had to make haste as dark quickly closed in.

Camp luxury
We cycled into Macnamara's Camp right as the last of the light was draining from the sky.  As expected, we were the only people there, and indeed apparently very few people camp here.  I don't really understand why that is, as it is a truly premium location - right next to a bubbling creek, with toilet, tables, water and a flat area for pitching tents.  We didn't even have time to sit down and relax when we arrived, and quickly set up our tents and hammocks.  With our camp established, we prepared and consumed dinner - which is to say we drank warm fizzy drink and ate the cheese and bacon rolls I'd bought at the supermarket on the drive from Brisbane.  A truly majestic camp feast.

Macnamara's Camp on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.  A superb spot to stop for a night.

Rudi tucks into the dinner of champions.

An evening visitor who seemed very interested in my bicycle.

By camping standards it was a pretty late night.  I didn't check the time but I think I didn't go to bed until about 8pm - a very late night for me out in the bush.  I lay in my hammock wanting to stare up at the stars for a while, but I just couldn't keep my eyes open.  Even though I'd only been on the trail for a couple of hours, I felt like I'd escaped into another world.  I'd done this trail so many times as a day ride, yet this overnight adventure was an experience that was totally different, and I had a whole day of it ahead of me again tomorrow.  I chalked the day up as a win as I drifted off into a comfortable sleep.