Saturday, March 3, 2012

A different kind of Glorious

I must admit I have been doing very little in the way of cycling since returning from riding in New Zealand last November.  I've led a charity ride, ridden the northern section of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail once, and gone on a few little rides around town, and that's about it - the combination of heat, stormy weather, traffic and injury has meant my touring bike has spent most of the summer gathering dust.

A few weeks ago I got a request to write and photograph a ride guide for a cycling magazine, so I made the snap decision to ride up to Mt Glorious, via South Boundary Road.  South Boundary Road is a disused logging track running through the D'Aguilar National Park, pretty much right on the doorstep of the Brisbane CBD, and only a short distance from my house.  I used to ride there all the time when I did a lot of mountain biking, and figured the higher slopes of Mt Glorious would be the perfect place to escape the summer heat for a day.  I'd also been spending a lot of time looking at the inspirational Bike Overnights website, so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to do a little bit of bush camping up in the cool evening air of the mountain and see what this overnight tour thing is all about.

Given that I was only going away overnight, I didn't put in a huge amount of preparation.  On the morning we were due to leave, I wandered around the house throwing random items of food in my panniers, grabbed my hammock and headed out into the midday Brisbane traffic.  My companion for the trip was my riding friend Rudi, who has joined me for a number of other adventures over the years.  Riding through the insane traffic of Brisbane was bizarre on a loaded touring bike - as I left my house I didn't feel like I was having any kind of getaway at all, it felt more like the world's most hot and difficult trip to the shops.  Fortunately after about 15 minutes we were out of the worst of the traffic, and on the quiet bike paths leading through the suburbs to the start of South Boundary Road.

We looked fairly odd riding touring bikes with panniers and tents past families walking their dogs and playing cricket in local parks

A number of the bike paths in Brisbane have been totally re-modelled since the floods of January 2011.  This nifty little switchback was an unexpected delight

Switch to adventure mode
After a short ride through the suburbs, we arrived at the edge of D'Aguilar National Park, the start of South Boundary Road.  I generally have a lot of trouble getting into "touring mode" at the best of times, and knowing I would only be away from the house for 24 hours wasn't helping.  However, as soon as we hauled our bikes over the stile at the park entrance, we immediately entered another world.  Although we were only about 10 minutes drive from the centre of the city, it was as though Brisbane had just disappeared.  All we could see was scrub in every direction, and the only sound was wind and birds.

Rudi switches out of Brisbane traffic warfare survival mode, and into adventure touring mode

The start of South Boundary Road overlooks Enoggera Dam.  The day was getting very hot by now - it was good to know we'd be riding into the cool of the afternoon

As soon as we crossed the stile, the road went upwards, and upwards, and upwards.  I hadn't ridden this route for a few years, and it was now very much all coming back to me.  On a mountain bike parts of the climb are tough - on a touring bike this had the potential to be a long day

Rudi gives it a good go on the first climb.  One of the advantages of being the photographer on a trip is that whenever it gets hard, you can stop on the grounds that "this would make a great photo".  Another advantage is being able to whine about the extra weight of the gear

Quote of the day from Rudi: "not only is it an expensive walking stick, it's also fucking heavy!" I must admit, I was finding it tough going in the early part of the ride, and was also walking my bike up the steeper climbs.  Most of the ride is constantly up and down as the road gradually makes its way to the summit of Mt Nebo

After a little while I managed to get into the rhythm of the road.  It basically goes up a steep climb, across the top of the ridge, down a descent to a saddle, then up another steep climb to the next ridge - again and again and again

Rudi hammers through one of the saddles and begins the next climb.  The trail surface is firm and compacted, and mountain bikes at high speed have worn a very clean line all the way up the mountain

Soon we left behind the rocky lower slopes and moved into more lush scrub a little further up the mountain.  With the temperature a little cooler, I was beginning to get my climbing legs back and was spending a lot less time walking the bike

Through the scrub we could see glimpses of the landscape below.  At one point on the climb we emerged into a clearing under some power lines, and could see almost all the way to the NSW border.  We'd already climbed a long way

Rudi rides past the water tank on South Boundary Rd, near the spot where the track makes a sharp turn to the left that a lot of riders miss.  Rudi 

A few hundred metres after the water tank, the landscape suddenly changed from dry open scrub to hot rainforest.  I remembered that just uphill from the tank awaited the two most brutal climbs of the ride, steep and long ascents up rocky inclines.  We arrived at the first climb together, and immediately dismounted and started walking our bikes the 1km or so to the top.  Even on foot I was leaving Rudi behind, and waited around for him at the crest.  As I waited, I saw him walking around the corner, and shouted at him to ride his bike for a bit so I could get some photos.  He valiantly climbed on his bike, and to my surprise started charging up the hill towards me at a fair pace.

Rudi was looking so good in the climb, I was beginning to think he was faking his earlier weakness.  Then suddenly about 20m from the top, he got the wobbles.  Looks like he's going down...

...not quite.  He managed to stop, screaming in pain with leg cramps

Being such a caring friend, I didn't stop shooting as he stood their attempting to stretch out his legs.  I could see his quadriceps going into spasm from where I was standing

Rudi had been saying for the last half an hour or so that he wanted to stop for a break, and I had been trying get him to keep going, giving it the whole "we'll stop at the top of the next hill" routine.  Now it did seem time for a break, we rested the bikes on the embankment on the side of the road and had a drink and some food.  My general rule for trail stops is a maximum of five minutes - any longer than that and my legs cool off too much and I have trouble getting moving again.  As my trip computer switched itself off I knew it was time to get moving again, and told Rudi I'd meet him at Scrub Rd bush hut, a small camping hut about 6km up the road at a junction.  He seemed to be feeling better, so I shot off through the forest towards the hut.

As I got closer to the hut and closer to the summit, the large climbs abated and the track flowed along the ridgelines

The mountain landscape changed continuously.  Halfway up a gentle climb, the soil suddenly changed from light brown to red, and the grass and trees looked a lot greener

The welcome sight of the Scrub Road bush hut.  I was relieved to get there as I had run out of water on the hot climb

It all goes a bit wrong
I arrived at the Scrub Road bush hut at about 3:00pm.  Our destination for the day was another bush hut further up the road, in the saddle between Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious.  The plan was to spend the night up there, then in the morning it would be a matter of a reasonably easy ride back into the Samford Valley and home, and I'd be able to make good use of the last hours of today and the first hours of the morning to stage some riding photos around the summit.  I estimated we still had about 20km to ride to get to the other bush hut, and about three hours of daylight left.  I sat in the shade of the hut and sterilised some water from the tank.  Rudi had never been further than this hut before, and had no means of treating water and probably no map, so I decided to wait for him.
Scrub Road bush hut, one of many bush camping spots on Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious

Sterilising tankwater while I waited - the steripen is a lot quicker and easier than boiling, which was handy as I figured Rudi would only be a few minutes away

Since my last ride through D'Aguilar National Park a couple of years ago, sign posts have been placed at every junction making navigation a lot easier.  I got the big camera out and walked to the junction hoping to snap some sort of depth-of-field shot of Rudi as he rode around the bend.  After about 30 minutes of waiting around, he never showed up, so I wandered back to the hut.  This wasn't the first time I've had to wait a while for Rudi, so at this point I wasn't too concerned

The view from inside the bush hut - turns out this was my view for quite some time.  As the sun got lower, I became progressively more concerned about getting to the campsite on Mt Glorious before nightfall.  After an hour of waiting I became concerned about what had happened to Rudi in the 6km since I last saw him, and started rolling back down the hill

I found him a little way down the road, squatting next to his bike trying to ease his leg cramps

At this point it was pretty clear that Rudi wasn't going to be going much further that day.  He was the unhappiest I've ever seen him on a bike, and was covered in dirt from rolling around on the ground trying to work his cramps out.  He'd covered six kilometres in about 1.5 hours.  He bravely tried to soldier on past the bush hut, but within a few hundred metres it became clear he wasn't going to be able to make it to our planned destination on Mt Glorious, so we rolled back down to the Scrub Road bush hut to set up camp for the night.

Before getting too carried away at setting up our camp, we sat in the hut with our shoes off and took a few minutes to relax.  As we were sitting there, a group of four mountain bike riders arrived at the hut - and announced they were planning on camping there the night.  They were really nice guys, but this was a bit much for me to handle.  The day hadn't gone my way - I was already a bit disappointed about only getting 28km from my front door and not making it into the high rainforest to camp, and now the prospect of not finding the solitude I was expecting was making me feel anxious and somewhat claustrophobic.  The riders mentioned they didn't have tents and were hoping to sleep in the shelter, so Rudi and I volunteered to set up a camp a little way up the road so both parties could each enjoy the solitude of the bush.  As the we set up camp and cooked dinner in the setting sun, my earlier disappointment quickly faded away.

After the initial disappointment of not getting as far as I'd like and having unexpected company, securing a ridgetop camping spot started to turn things around

Camp Velo Cetera - the new ultralight setup

Tonight was the first night I tried out my new Hennessy Hammock

I was intrigued to learn that while Rudi doesn't carry a map or cooking gear, he can't leave home without a clothes line and pegs

Relaxing in the late afternoon sun, drinking cans of hot lemonade.  Our food choices for an overnight tour were amazing - basically lemonade, chips and lollies

Sunset in the scrub on Mt Nebo.  After the tribulations of the afternoon, I was looking forward to crawling into the hammock for a sleep.  I had also forgotten to bring any kind of torch, so an enforced early night was on the cards

Best sleep ever
After quickly scoffing my dinner in the rapidly fading light, I climbed into my new Hennessy Hammock for the first time.  Apparently you're either a hammock person or you're not - and upon climbing in and lying down, it became very clear that I am indeed a hammock person.  This hammock is a clever rethink of a basic concept, and provided an amazingly stable and comfortable platform for me to spend the night.  It was something of a novelty to be out camping in the bush, yet in total comfort with no rocks or hard floor to contend with.  The mesh covered inner of the hammock was tall enough for me to sit up in, and I spent a long time just looking out into the silent bush around.  The hammock also features two side lines which pull the main platform of the hammock out into a rough diamond shape, giving me a lot more room to lie on my back, my side or even my front.  One unexpected advantage was that every time I moved position, the hammock would very gently sway - an entirely pleasant and relaxing sensation.  Whenever I'm camping I usually wake up numerous times in the night thinking how uncomfortable I am, and spend ages trying to find a comfortable position to lie in - with the hammock I did wake up a couple of times, and I remember just thinking "this is so comfortable" and happily drifting straight back to sleep.  It was probably the best night sleep I've had anywhere for the past few years - maybe even better than my own bed.

Early the next morning in camp.  I spent a total of ten hours straight in the hammock that night, and was a little unhappy when I finally had to get up.  The Hennessy Hammock has definitely earned a place in my bike camping manifest

Packing up the hammock was another revelation.  Rudi was struggling with his tent and getting covered in dirt scrambling around on the ground - I just pulled the two sleeves down over the hammock, undid the rope, coiled it up and stuffed it in my pannier.  The whole process took less than 30 seconds and the hammock never touched the ground.  Breaking camp is my least favourite part of camping, and now it was all but eliminated.  As you can probably guess by now - I reckon this hammock is the best piece of touring equipment I own

More of the same
The first order of business for the day was to continue up South Boundary Road to the top of Mt Nebo.  The weather was humid and hot, even in the early hours of the morning, and it was with some relief we eventually hit the cooler rainforest on the higher slopes.

Rudi rides into the cool leafy rainforest.  He seemed to be feeling a lot better this morning

With the larger climbs behind us, we made good time towards the end of South Boundary Road

The western end of South Boundary Road, where the dirt meets the main sealed road between Brisbane and Mt Glorious

Before  we rejoined the sealed road for the remainder of our ride, I stopped to pump a little more air into my rear tyre.  Rudi was standing next me, and once I put my pump away I started turning my bike around to head onto the main road.  Rudi decided to slowly ride, and almost as soon as he got his feet clipped into the pedals, he hit a rock in the road which instantly halted his forward momentum.  He fell over into me, knocking my bike out of my hands, although I managed to remain on my feet during the whole thing while I was surrounded by a tangled mess of bikes, panniers and Rudi.   Naturally, my most immediate concern was getting to my bike in time to get my camera out and get a photo of Rudi swearing and flailing around on his back like an upturned turtle.  Alas, I wasn't quite quick enough - I must start carrying my camera in my pocket.

Rudi quickly rights his bike and tries to regain his composure to avoid any photographic evidence of his mishap

Although the dirt section of the ride was behind us, we still had to make the challenging climb up the tarmac from Mt Nebo to the summit of Mt Glorious before we could descend back into the Samford Valley.  By now I was very much in touring mode, carefully metering out my energy as I steadily climbed up through the humid air of the dense rainforest.  Mt Glorious is a popular destination for Brisbane cyclists, and all the time I was getting passed by an assortment of lean and fast riders.  A few of them mentioned that it must be a tough climb on a loaded touring bike, and one guy even threw out a touring bike related heckle "are you moving house or something?" - well played!

Rolling through the rainforest on the way to Mt Glorious

It was still early in the day, but I could almost see the crushing humidity

Rudi on the move through the rainforest

After a promising start, by the time we reached the top of Mt Glorious, Rudi was exhausted again.  He sat unhappily by the roadside eating the rest of his food before the descent down the mountain and across the valley floor to Samford

The top of the brake-searing descent down Mt Glorious to Samford.  The road reaches gradients of 15% for a few kilometres, through a series of tight and blind switchbacks.  Not for the faint hearted, and a little terrifying on a loaded touring bike

Rudi at roadworks on the descent.  The red light certainly broke the rhytym of the ride

Before too long our mountain adventure was suddenly over, and we rode through the lifestyle residential blocks across the valley to the village of Samford, on the outskirts of Brisbane

By 9:00am we were back in Samford, only about 15km from my house.  The weekend's riding had taken its toll on Rudi - shortly after I headed off to my house, he phoned his wife and got a lift home.

 Bike overnighters are awesome
My little weekend getaway had not exactly gone as I had planned - we didn't make it to our destination, everything took a lot longer than I expected, I hadn't explored anywhere I hadn't been before, and I only just barely had enough photos to submit to the magazine.  Despite all the hassles, I had one of the best and most adventurous weekends I have had for a very long time, literally within a couple of hours of my front door.  D'Aguilar National Park is an amazing place - it's quite remarkable that such a huge park exists so close to a major city.  The fact that it's completely closed to vehicular traffic gives it a really remote feel that it seems only a few intrepid cyclists and hikers take full advantage of.

The concept of the bike overnighter is a stunningly simple one that I have long understood, but for some reason I'd never done, instead choosing to focus only on long and elaborate tours or just day rides.  Turns out I've been missing out on the simple pleasure of just getting on a bike, riding somewhere, sleeping under the stars, then riding home again.  In only 22 hours and 80km, I'd managed to recreate the same feeling of achievement and adventure that I had returning from three weeks of touring overseas.  Bike overnighters are certainly a cheap and easy way to capture the vibe of adventure cycling - whether you're a seasoned cross country camper or a novice tourer, there's sure to be an exciting overnighter destination somewhere near you.  It's just a matter of getting out there to find it...