Yengo National Park
Chose to sleep on the grass outside sheepskin hut rather than the dirt inside it. I need a tarp!
The light patter of rain against the tent wall justified my lie in that morning. I had already decided to keep the day short but not for the reasons you may have thought. I figured from here it would be a hard push to make Newcastle in one hit and frankly, I was enjoying myself too much to end the trip over the sake of a little additional bragging rights.
The planned ride to Laguna would only be 80-100km’s but with limited food and another section through Yengo park with limited water, I had still origionally hoped to get underway early, even with a little lie in. Some how that didn’t pan out as I fumbled around camp packing, repacking, and fixing things, finally rolling out once again around 8:00. I did however leave with a new confidence in my navigation. After 2nd guessing myself constantly the day before only to discover I was always on track, every turn sign posted or not, was exactly where I predicted. The going was fast but the temperature was increasing quickly and before I knew it, it was starting to question my water supply. It wasn’t too long before I was out on Putty road (with my first and only flat) and refilling my bottles at a small creek just after the start of the Howes Valley fire trail.
I was making good time on the sandy trails and increasingly hot morning sun, but now running on emergency rations and so trying to keep to a pace that wouldn’t see me gobbing down high levels of food and water. The pace and confidence (and perhaps a little excitement) picked up a little as I passed the Big Yengo District right on cue; the improved road surface a sign that civilisation was not that far away and made the going a little easier. It wouldn’t be long before I took the incredible descent off the ridgeline down into the Yengo “township”. A small gap in my maps left me confused at perhaps the only intersection in the area but looking for an actual bed for the night, I took the advice of a local and headed to Wollombi instead of Laguna. Fast flat roads had me there quickly, rounding out the 100km’s for the day in a little over 6 hours.
Wollombi wasn’t the gold mine I was hoping, but I was able to do a little resupply and a cafe that was closing fed me up on minestrone soup she had made for her own family. After a long wait and a lot of help from Steve at the general store, I eventually found a cottage to stay at. Wollombi has a pub, camping, and is a tourist town, but isn’t generally open (bar a few cafe’s which close early) during the week. Arriving there Thursday, the town was mostly closed… I would later find out that the Laguna general store is *the* place to be midweek, and indeed my hosts for the night would pull themselves from there late to let me into my cottage. I should have stuck to my instincts.
Here comes the rain…
Road into the Watagans was a little soggy but ok while the rain held out
I had heard it on the roof through the night, the patter of rain falling hard outside. Not a good sign when you plan to head out through dirt trails the next day, and indeed it was still falling when I awoke the next morning. After a hunger interrupted nights sleep, I managed to get away a little earlier and was back at the Laguna general store just on opening at 8am. From here I would turn eastward into the Watagans and the start of the final run into Newcastle.
The run down Watagan Creek road was spectacular; High valley walls lined green pasture fields, interspersed with giant granite boulders, spectacular creek settings and the odd cow. Light rain would come and go, but surprisingly I wouldn’t notice it much, sometimes putting my jacket on if only to keep the mud and cold at bay a little. A little moisture made the roads tacky but also left some picturesque scenes as little water falls and runoffs developed. I found myself deep in the Watagans when the rain finally kicked in
Plenty of very pretty sections through the Watagans
Battling with my 1:100K map and flat batteries on my Garmin, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was. I nearly stopped the moto’s, who were darting in and out of single track in the forest, to ask when I was somewhat saved by a sign post. The road was starting to turn into a bit of a quagmire but the pines camp ground and Watagan forest road would only be 4km’s off where I could make the call. The rain continued to fall and I could hear my brake pads grinding away, cementing in my mind which way I’d be heading once I got there. After a wee restroom break, I headed south east back to civilisation and tar roads for the run into Newcastle rather than continue north along (the Dirt) Watagans Forest road
It was still raining while I road past Killingworth on the tar, a little content with my decission with memories of soggy mud filled 8hr races flashing into mind, but somehow feeling like I cheated by hitting the tar. The excitement of finishing was growing though, but equally I didn’t want it all to end. After spending the last 6 days almost entirely on dirt, the last 50km’s on the road into Nobbys Beach was almost an anti climax. I took a moment as I leant my bike on the hand rail by the beach, that smile of having completed something pretty special creeping in. Approximately 780 Km’s of mostly dirt in 5days 8hrs and 7mins; perhaps a soft target for any that may follow in my foot steps :) Turning my phone on the first time in 6 days, a barrage of messages came in, many from those watching my spot tracker as I rolled in. But my focus for the moment would be a shower, a meal and a bed before heading out for a little clothes shopping and a beer!!
Tech & Tips
The Finish... 5 days 8hrs 7mins since departing Canberra
I normally do this anyway, but I thought I’d jot down some thoughts that are still rattling around. I’m sure this may change over time since it’s been nearly 3 months now since the trip but I still have a pretty vivid memory of it all and all the issues.
The KISS Principle: The biggest lesson from this ride was around bags and gear. Keep it real simple; anything that requires strapping, tightening or repacking with thought is likely to be too complicated. While the FreeLoad rack worked a treat, the act of strapping my dry bag to it every day seemed to get more and more complicated. Add to it trying to cook, charge electrical devices and general bike work, and even after only two days, a tired, slightly addled brain just didn’t cope very well. so what’s the answer? this is what I was thinking:
- Bags: Frame, seat and handle bar bags I think are the way to go, permenantly attached with simple enclosures. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t have to stop, check, and tighten something multiple times. To me, that’s just plain annoying and sometimes, my head just didn’t cope.
- Electronics: Again Keep it Simple applies here: A computer that uses plain batteries and has a reasonable burn time. An AA to USB battery charger for my Garmin worked ok, but next time I’ll use Lithium ones if I can get them, and I generally found the performance was bad in the cold. I took to slipping the Garmin & charger into my down vest pocket while I charged it but took a couple days to figure that out. Reduce the amount of electronics you bring is the way to go IMHO. I didn’t use my phone as a phone between departing Canberra and arriving in Newcastle, but it was good to have and took reasonable photos. I didn’t take an iPod, and didn’t miss it. Between navigation and just plain looking at the scenery, i found I had enough to keep my mind occupied.
- Tent: The megalight was more than adequate, but at times overkill. A lack of proper ground sheet made sleeping in the many huts & shelters along the way difficult, and finding a 2x2m space to pitch the ‘mid was sometimes equally difficult. Again, pitching and packing it up every day was sometimes just a chore when all you wanted to do was sleep or get going. Where shelter and conditions allow, I reckon a bivvy and ground sheet will be the way to go!
Gear: I could list everything, but I’d undoubtably forget something anyway. All my gear worked fine though and I used everything I took bar my first aid (well I hit the painkillers a few times) and other emergency bits and pieces. The only thing I regret not taking was my Mains USB charger though if I was thinking straight, could have got away without it by charging up maybe at flynnys while I stopped there.
Food: I really underestimated what my daily food intake was going to be by day 3 or 4… it’s one thing to shop up on riding food, it’s another to get enough for riding, and your increased consumption. I thought I took a lot out of Lithgow but I was starving and had but 1 Gu left by the time I got to Wollembi
Make a list… and check it twice. The fuzzy brain experience was not something I was expecting. Anything outside of reading maps, distance arithmetic, satisfying bodily requirements or turning the pedals somehow became unimportant. The subsequence of this is when you had to do something, it seemed to take me ages to get my head into the right space. Next time, if I need to do something, I need to start a list on paper, or perhaps a laminated card and wax pen?
This truly was an incredible experience. Everything from the solitude, the scenery, the riding to the challenges that had to be overcome really did make for an amazing experience. The route had perhaps everything from a little snow, fantastic trails, hills, sand, mud, creek crossings and was a dead set joy to complete. A combination of the large sections of BNT and mostly well mapped dirt roads I think would make it highly accessible for others too, a route I perhaps would like to see evolve over time! It was somewhat of a rude shock to get back on a train and listen to the woes of those on it having just spent 6 days virutally alone in the wilderness.
I do plan to do the route again though. Now with memories of the route firmly sketched in my head and some perhaps alternate routes in mind, I think I could complete it in maybe 4 or 5 days but there are also many places I would like spend a little more time at where I rushed through in an attempt to make up time so we’ll see
Definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, perhaps opening the door for many more I think :)