“Everyone look over here!” Adrian shouted into the megaphone, pointing at me with a crazed grin. “These two Americans are putting gears on their bikes! What kind of person even brings gears to the Singlespeed World Championships?!” He feigned being absolutely appalled, but it was hard to take him seriously in his black-and-white striped suit.
Adrian patted Kaitlyn on the back as folks nearby booed. Then he laughed, wished us a good trip, and sauntered off, megaphone and amplifier in hand. This weekend of shenanigans was what had brought us to Australia (specifically Kaitlyn getting free airfare to Oz by winning the Whiskey Off-Road singlespeed race in our hometown of Prescott), but it was a bikepacking adventure that was going to keep us there for two weeks more. Or so we thought. But we weren’t about to tackle a rugged traversal of the Australian Alps on singlespeeds. We borrowed some tools at the race to put gears back on our Redpoints, and eagerly headed their direction. Our planned route was the Bicentennial National Trail, a long horsepacking route that traverses the Alps and beyond. We’d follow that as far as Canberra, and then we’d hop over to New Zealand to meet Eszter Horanyi and Scott Morris for some more bike exploration.
But, not all adventures go even remotely as planned. After a few days on the National Trail, it was clear that we wouldn’t even come close to making it to the Canberra airport in our allotted time. A recent tornado had decimated the first part of the trail. Then tens of miles of riding through sprawling burn areas meant hopping massive downed eucalyptus trees every few hundred meters. Then couple that with the steep mountain tracks that seem to never use switchbacks.
What ensued was a frustrated Kurt and Kaitlyn staring at maps high in the mountains, trying to come up with a new plan. Then there was disappointed Kurt riding out of the mountains, followed by overly stressed Kurt trying to cope with suddenly being in downtown Melbourne waiting for a train to head farther north. Next was relieved Kurt after bumping into Adrian in a coffee shop and getting some very helpful route advice from him. And the day ended with exhausted Kurt, stumbling off a train at midnight in some unknown town, trying to find a tree to sleep under. I don’t think I made a particularly good travel partner on that day.
But with that strange turn of events, our trip completely morphed into pedaling from one mountain bike town to another, spending a day or two riding in each along the way. Instead of traversing the Alps, we spent just a couple days crossing them, aiming for Bright. We rolled into a campground that was coincidentally right at the base of the town’s famous trail system. The trails were steep and slimy, and our unloaded Redpoints were a perfect fit. We explored the enduro tracks and their built features, but the legitimate downhill track was a well beyond our skills. The fact that a local trail system has both legit enduro and downhill tracks was quite impressive to me, but I later learned that this is the norm in this part of Australia!
After a couple of rainy days in Bright, we hopped over a divide to the tiny town of Mt. Beauty to ride with Turi, a gal we had met at Singlespeed Worlds. Another destination riding area, Mt. Beauty boasts a trail system of old-school singletrack – steep, tight, and techy. It’s the kind of riding I love and am seeing less and less of in the States. But even the new trails in Mt. Beauty are old school. We stashed our bags in the woods and excitedly chased Turi around for the afternoon.
Eventually, we ended up on the outskirts of Canberra for a few days. Meeting up with Adrian again (this time on purpose) and a few of his buddies, they guided us around some rarely ridden trails in the Blue Mountains. Steep sandstone descents, windy ridgelines, and big views were the themes of the day. We followed that up with a day playing on the enduro tracks in the hills north of town, getting comfortable on the rocky drops and tangled roots. We wrapped up our time in Oz with Adrian’s brother showing us around some delightfully techy suburban singletrack near Canberra.
In very few ways was this the experience we had expected in Australia. We weren’t in the backcountry much at all. We didn’t spend our time riding from point A to point B as we had intended. And we didn’t see any koala bears. But all the shorter rides with new friends along the way was so much fun, and bringing along remarkably capable trail bikes paid dividends on the exciting enduro tracks that have become so popular in the region. It would have been impossible to plan a trip that played out this way, but that was part of what made it so memorable. And next up was New Zealand, but that’s a whole different story with more rain, more roots, steeper trails, and big earthquakes.
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com