There are adventures, and then there are adventures. There are longer rides, sure, but the Race To The Rock would rate among the toughest when it comes to harsh conditions and remoteness of location. Jake from Treadly has it marked on his calendar. Big adventures need serious preparation, and today we join Jake as he starts to figure out what it takes to tackle rural Australia on a bike, all by yourself.
Part 2 can be found here.
It’s hard to know how hard something will be before you do it. Sometimes that’s obvious and sometimes you just have to go into things knowing that you’re not really sure how they’re going to pan out and to be ok with that.
This September will see the first ever Race To The Rock, an unsupported, unsanctioned bike race from Adelaide to Uluru taking in the entirety of the Mawson Trail from Adelaide to Blinman before getting into some glorious dirt-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see territory. When it was first announced mid-2015, Sam jokingly told me I had to do it, and I half-jokingly agreed.
Since then my mind’s been full of possibilities for the bike, for gear, for methods of carrying water and food enough to sustain me on 200km stretches between towns, and just how much I need to prepare and train for this. I decided to at least get a plan for the bike out of the way first, and after much careful deliberation I set my mind on just three things: a steel frame (after two successful overnight group bikepacking trips on my aluminium CX bike, I felt like having something made up of round tubes would make mounting things to the frame far easier), an internally-geared-hub (too many stories of torn off derailleurs and caked up cassettes had made their way to my ears and I figured if I’m building this from the ground up, I can get around all the things that normally make IGH conversions hard) and Jones bars. There’s just something about that classic Jones shape that screams “I know what I’m doing” even if I was pretty sure I would not at all know what I was doing.
I built up the bike in the last week of last year, knowing that I had nearly three weeks off while Treadly was closed and that the family Christmas in Baringhup (here, let me google that for you) would be a pretty perfect moving-off point for a 5-day tour of rural Victoria, heading into Melbourne on New Year’s Eve. I made rough plans to make it at least as far as Stawell on Day 1, down through the Grampians on Day 2, back across to Ballarat on Day 3 which would allow me to choose between spending Day 4 at You Yangs and Day 5 making it Melbourne for the fireworks, or heading straight in if something went wrong and I lost time somewhere.
After all the hubbub of the silly season was over, I managed to get the bike out for a spin at 1am on Christmas day, making it about 1/10th of the way up Norton Summit Road before deciding that I was too tired, that the bike worked fine, and that I still had two days with the family before I set off on the 27th anyway if I did find something that needed attention.
Christmas and Boxing Day came an went, and on the 27th I got up late, ate some toast for breakfast and set out on the longest bike ride I’d ever undertaken. I packed 6 litres of water and enough food for at least a day and a half, thinking I would stop for lunch in one of several towns on the way, and that the food I was carrying would last me forever.
Lesson 1: Country towns are not necessarily places that have service stations, shops, bakeries, or running, drinkable water.
I made it to the 60km mark before stopping at Redbank to eat lunch, where some of my family had driven to meet me with much-appreciated salad rolls and a water top up. My dad had ridden with me to this point, but we were fast approaching the upper limit of how far he could ride a bike at once, and so after lunch I said a last goodbye and headed up Barkly-Redbank Road – the highlight of the day, and maybe the whole trip. A perfect gravel climb up and over Kara Kara/the Northern Pyrenees and a wild descent had my heart racing and a huge grin on my face when I pulled into Barkly and decided my best choice was to make it to Stawell for dinner – at least there’d be food and water there.
Day 2 started well. Earlier than Day 1 and with more interesting terrain, I managed to find some 4WD tracks to explore just off the main road out of Stawell which kept me out of traffic for the most part, before I took a right turn away from Halls Gap and toward a familiar sight – Plantation Campground at the bottom of Mount Zero. Pines Road was certainly not the highlight of the second day, leading me to –
Lesson 2: Corrugations will slow you down more than you expect, and they’re not on any map.
It took me a good 35 minutes to get down the 5km of Pines Road, riding in the sand next to the road because the entire width of it was horribly corrugated. It took me nearly two hours to finish the first 25km I had (loosely) planned to get to Halls Gap, and I was starving. I stopped for lunch and made my way out towards Dunkeld, with plans to stop again at Jimmy Creek and hopefully find something more interesting than Grampians Road to occupy the hours between it all.
A roadside map told me there was another 4WD track the whole way down to Jimmy Creek from Lake Bellfield, so I worked my way up to it from the main road, only to find that a creek running down the mountain had washed away a good two metres of road, leaving a gaping chasm to try to navigate – I managed to climb up the hill a bit and carry the bike over, but it was certainly not expected. I took a wrong turn back down to the main road and discovered I’d only travelled about half as far as I thought I had – and for all that work! I have to say, it was fun while it lasted. I started to feel the sun beating down on me more than ever and managed to make it to the Jimmy Creek campground where I sat for at least an hour and a half.
Lesson 3: Get out of the sun. It will kill you (and your spirit).
I tried a couple of times to get back up on the bike and get moving, but every time I got back out into the sun I decided it was maybe a better idea to sit back down on the ground. Eventually I put together a plan of attack for the final leg of the day to Dunkeld, which involved a reasonable amount of climbing but a much nicer, probably shadier, and definitely longer way than the main road. I scrapped the plan as soon as I got back on the bike for the easier, flatter, shorter route straight to Dunkeld and figured if I really wanted punish myself I could do it tomorrow.
Lesson 4: Take money. More money than you think you need.
I realised on my arrival into Dunkeld that I’d have to stay at the Caravan Park, all the good camping State Parks were behind me and the day was getting late. I then realised I’d already spent the little cash I’d brought on food and my pay still hadn’t come in – those pesky Public Holidays were to blame, no doubt. A sneaky ATM withdrawal of funds that weren’t there got me a patch of grass and access to some bathroom facilities that were years behind the public restrooms at the Dunkeld Council Office (free hot showers!) and some noisy neighbors.
I was up early planning the first half of the day, some nice looking (if a bit straight) back roads through park and farmland to get me to Moyston, and highway from there to Ararat. A slow morning full of stops to look at cows found me running out of water by the time I got to Moyston, and my phone wasn’t charged nearly enough as I hadn’t ridden far enough, fast enough. I stopped for a midday kip in the Moyston Oval grandstand and wondered how I would get some more drinking water before the last little (hilly) slog into Ararat. I couldn’t think of anything as the local General Store didn’t exist and I didn’t bring anything to purify the tap water with. Funnily enough, I’d emptied the 3L bladder in my frame bag out the day before considering I hadn’t touched it yet.
Lesson 5: Just carry some more water. Yeah, it’s heavy. So are you, relatively.
Will Jake make it?!? Should he have set his affairs in order before leaving? Come back Wednesday for the exciting conclusion of Have bike, will travel!
Part 2 now available here.
All images: Jake Thomas