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The Big Ride (Part 1)

“Let’s get on our bikes and disappear for a few days.

Adventure-loving mountain bikers often have thoughts like that.

Today we decided to do something about it.


Day 1

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We planned to start in Ipswich, following dirt trails north to Gympie, 380 kilometres away.

Although it was raining heavily, we decided we’d still attempt the ride.  We had good wet weather gear, and weren’t made of sugar, so we rode on.

We could always “bail out” later if conditions became too difficult.

 

After a short roll through suburban Ipswich, we arrived at the start of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

This lengthy track follows the course of an old railway line, and would get us as far as Yarraman, 160 kilometres away.  From there we would follow the South Burnett Rail Trail to Kilkivan, then complete the ride by following quiet roads into Gympie.

In total, it would take us almost four days.

By staying in pubs we wouldn’t have to carry heavy camping gear, which meant we could travel much lighter.

We rolled off the pavement, under the Warrego highway, and on to the mud.

Our journey had begun.

 

The trains, rails and stations are gone, but there are plenty of reminders of the past.

“Muirlea Station!” I said in a laconic Queensland Rail voice.  “The next stop is Pine Mountain.  This train runs all stations to Yarraman!”

We followed the track into the scrub and away from civilization.

As we rode, the rain fell more heavily.

Our tyres slipped in the muddy parts of the track.

They sank in the clay.

Progress was slow.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

We were grateful for the concrete walkway over Fairney Brook.

The creek had risen because of the heavy rain, but we were able to ride over the path unscathed.

At the Fernvale Bakery we wrang out our wet gear, shook off the rain and enjoyed a warm snack.

Wet weather gear keeps you warm, but it doesn’t keep you very dry.

As we set off towards Lowood, the rain intensified.

But we didn’t mind getting wet, and the path didn’t seem too boggy, so we just enjoyed it and pedaled on.

On our right, the muddy brown water of the Brisbane River flowed languidly by.

Despite the higher water level, the river didn’t seem to be in a hurry.

Like a slow goods train from bygone years, we didn’t hurry either.

The old railway lines blurred past us in the wet, we kept pedaling, and the miles dissolved behind us.

At the forty kilometre mark I checked our time.  We’d been riding three hours including breaks.  It was slow going over the soft ground.

The rail trail seemed endless.  Mile after mile of farmland, green pastures and cattle rolled by.

We rode behind a herd of cattle, cautiously avoiding fresh bovine land mines.

Russel lived on a farm as a kid, and told us to talk to the cattle as we approached.  He said they don’t like being surprised.

“Hey there, cow.  Don’t mind me.  I’m just a bloke on a bike.  Moo?”

 

The kangaroos were much more skittish.

They checked us out while we opened a gate, then bounced off nervously when we neared them.

 

We were fortunate.  Apart from a handful of places, the ground was reasonably firm.

Lockyer Creek was a different story.

Instincts suggested we walk down the hill instead of ride.

Walking turned to skating as we slid on the treacherous mud.

 

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

It’s a picturesque crossing.

After emerging from the slippery mud, we washed our bikes in the water.

The old bridge over Lockyer Creek is magnificent.

Built in 1885, it stretches more than 90 metres (300 feet) over Lockyer Creek.  It’s one of the oldest metal truss bridges in Queensland.

We rode into Coominya on the bitumen to allow the rest of the mud and dirt to spin out of the wheels.

On the way into Esk we dropped down into another gully under another old bridge.

Rain fell heavily.

Mist covered the distant hills.

The track was holding up well and was still firm to ride on despite the wet.

We splashed through another gully – the water levels were starting to rise…

…and another gully.

In Esk we stopped for another quick snack, and to shelter from the rain.

Our destination for the day was now only twenty kilometres down the road.

Despite the heavy rain we pushed on.

We were filthy and wet, and had been riding for about seven hours.

It had been raining all day.

The thought of a hot shower spurred us on.

The track was starting to flood in places.

As we approached Toogoolawah, we splashed through another flooded crossing.

We were soaked, our gears crunched with grit, but we were almost there.  No time to stop now.

 

And then we were there.

We’d made it.

Time for a hot shower, a beer, and a huge meal.

Delicious.

Unfortunately, the mud and water had wrecked the rear brakes on my bike.

The pads had fallen out, and I had lost all of the brake oil.

As well as that, I had broken a spoke on my rear wheel, the second break in a week.

I decided that it would be foolish to try to complete the ride in this situation.  To enjoy an adventure on a mountain bike you need confidence that the bike can handle the conditions.

So I bailed out, while my friends continued the next day…

It was odd for me to stand at the start of a ride in casual clothes – the only one not on a bike.

They all rode off, and in less than a minute they were gone.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

Thanks to Peter, Paul, Jason, Calum, Simon, Darb and Russel for a fun day on the bike.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t ride with you the rest of the way.

Thanks also to Justin, who kindly drove out from Ipswich to pick up Paul and me, and drive us back.

Next time you can read about how Simon, Jason, Calum, Russel and Darb fared as they rode the remaining three hundred kilometres to Gympie.

On the first day of this multi-day ride we covered about ninety kilometres in about eight and a half hours including breaks.

Because of the rain and mud, I’ll rate it 8.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

Thanks everyone for a great day.


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