Tour De Orbost - Bikepacking the East Gippsland Rail Trail

The Idea

We had 2 weeks off over the Xmas/NY break.  What could we do?  Shane was injured, so our usual head to the mountains for hiking/running was out, and well we couldn't just stay at home!  We had often talked about riding one of Victoria's rail trails, and had even bought a rail trail book, but like most things, ideas pass, and books go walkabout...  Until now.  Borrowing a friend's railtrail book, I sat down and found the longest one in Victoria, 97kms from Bairnsdale in Victoria's east, to Orbost.  And with no way back from Orbost (you can't take bikes on V/Line buses on that route), it quickly became an out and back of around 194kms.  4 days/3 nights sounded about right.

Done, thats what we were doing.  That was easy.

Our Rail Trail and/or Multi-day Cycling Experience

Shane - none, nada, zilch.  Though he's a long distance, often multi-day, ultra runner, and has done his fair share of road riding and mountain biking over the years, so pain is not new to him.

Richelle - zippo, big fat zero.  I've never done multi-day anything.  Tho i do sporadically ride my mountain bike for 2hrs or so once every few months, and a few years back I did some crazy road rides, including the 210km Around the Bay in a Day.  So I had a slight inkling as to what I was in for - and without an ounce of training, I assumed there would be a bit of hurt to go with it!

Day 1 - Bairnsdale to Bruthen 31kms

30 degrees with a 1pm start (after the 4hr drive from Melb) kept the day short, and Shane was very keen to not kill me on day 1!  He showed he was human too, suffering from a cold, it was time to find some shade and the river.

Highlights:

  • Flatish trail, a bit of douche grade (you know the type, it looks flat, but for some reason its a struggle!)
  • Brand new picnic shelters on the trail
  • THE most comfortable campsite you could imagine, right on the Tambo River, the Bruthen Caravan Park run by Wally, the hippy caretaker, who gave us both hugs when we met him!  The bathrooms even had pretty floor mats and doilies on the sink.  We have never seen a place so clean!
  • Laying in the afternoon shade at the campsite, half napping, half listening to the live music coming from the pub across the river.
  • The Porterhouse from the Bruthen Pub for dinner!

 

Day 2 - Bruthen to Orbost 67kms

So today's intention was to smash me!  Haha!  And it worked!  It was a big day on the trail after yesterday's ease in.

Highlights:

  • A very sore bum!  For both of us!  Not a highlight per se, but a lingering theme for the whole trip!
  • Trestle bridges, 2 of them, just before and just after Nowa-Nowa - so picturesque!
  • Picnics.  Today Shane introduced me to my hourly picnic.  Like clockwork I seemed to hit a wall every hour or so.....a combo of saddle soreness, heat, my pack is too heavy and I haven't ridden a bike in way too long-ness!  The picnic was a 10 min sit down, feeding me with party mix, muesli bars and water.  In no time I was like a new one!
  • Shane seeing a massive monitor lizard crossing the trail in front of him
  • THE storm!  We watched and heard this one coming for a while, thunder, lightening, driving sideways rain, a drop in temperature by at least 10 degrees for the 20 mins it lasted.  I was riding one-eyed - the left one was getting slapped with the rain, but like drowned rats, we pedaled on through!  Then when it stopped it was awesome to watch the steaming ground around us.
  • The 10km downhill fun coming into Orbost (put the next morning's return journey out of my mind, and enjoyed!)
  • Arrival in Orbost!  Such a sense of achievement!  67kms was a very big day for me!  I had only ever heard of Orbost in the weather on the 9 news at nights, and it always seemed like the end of the earth, but here we were, and we had ridden there!  Also timed it perfectly to meet up with Carley who was passing through at the same time in the car!
  • Pizza!!  Tucked into a back alley behind the chemist, we found a pizza joint, a hole in the wall, The Snowy River Historic Bakery, featuring a big, long haired pizza chef, rocking out to some punk tunes as he created his masterpieces in front of his wood oven.  This was the best BBQ Chicken pizza Shane had ever eaten, and that's saying something!  Pizzas were $20 each, but they are huge, we couldn't even get through the whole one between the 2 of us!  
  • Surviving a night in the tent with some massive winds, yay, didn't get blown away!  Tho unfortunately the only caravan park in town is also situated on the main trucking route.  Nothing like feeling like a truck is going to run over your head at 3am in the morning!

Day 3 - Orbost to between Nowa-Nowa and Bruthen - 53kms

Highlights

  • Sore bum!!!
  • The climb out of Orbost was fine, nothing more than douche grade, smashed out the first 30km of the day feeling great.  But then according to Shane, I blew up!  But it was so fun!  But it then meant that the final 23kms I was the Mayor of Struggletown!
  • Burgers at Mingling Waters - delicious, though what cafe doesn't do chips with burgers?  So Shane had to back his up with pancakes!
  • More picnics - the only thing that got me through
  • Water barrels kindly provided by Snowy River Cycling.
  • Bush camping right on the side of the trail.  Perfect setting, unfortunately we happened to camp on top of a mosquito rave party, which meant that far from sitting under a tree reading a book for the arvo, it was a mad dash to get the tent set up, just so we could be held captive by these blood-sucking ravers for the afternoon and evening!  Mental note, Aerogard does nothing, must bring the Bushmans next time!
  • The serenity - the only thing to wake us up was the birdsong, no people, no cars, no trucks, it was bliss!

Day 4 - Bush Camp to Bairnsdale - 44kms

Highlights

  • Shane attached his sleeping bag to his handlebars to make more space in the bag, a great idea, until the ties came undone on a bushy downhill section of trail, and $700 worth of sleeping bag in a dull grey colour bounced off the trail and down a ravine...oooops!!
  • Sore bum! 
  • 2hr 40 marathon - anyone would have thought I wanted to get finished!
  • The end!!!  Still pretty stoked to have covered nearly 200kms over 4 days, and had so much fun in between!!!

 

The Gear

The plan was to fill 30L backpacks with our camping gear for the 4 days, and wear them as we rode our mountain bikes.  Shane's weighed around 15-16kgs, and mine 8-10kgs.  So that's what we did.  Shane recommends it, as it removes any excuse from just getting out there.  I'd like to note my thoughts in that heavy packs on backs on bikes don't mix.  They are uncomfortable and dig in where they shouldn't.  BUT, it was definitely doable!!   We were green with envy looking at the panniers attached to all the bikes we passed....sigh... I wish we had panniers!!

In saying that, we were also very lucky that we could be self sufficient with camping gear and clothes for 4 days, and food and water for 2-3 days in just 18kg of stuff.  

Tent - MSR Nook (2 person) only 1.6kgs - many thanks for lending it to us Kylie and Adz.  After being held hostage one arvo and evening by mozzies, I was very relieved Shane and I weren't sharing his 1 man tent!

Rollmats - Shane had his ultralight Exped Synmat UL7M , weighing next to nothing and taking up even less space.  I borrowed a mountain designs rollmat, thanks again K &A!

Sleeping bags - again ultralight and packed small, we had Shane's Western Mountaineering -100 degrees beast  (ok, Shane says I shouldn't exaggerate, its a -7 degree bag, same same - either way definitely overkill for this trip, but you make do with what you have!), and his Mont half bag, again, super light and super small, perfect for this trip.  

Clothes - of course we both took too much.  We were very lucky with the mild weather (well except for the kick ass storm!), so the thermals and the puffy jackets and wet weather gear went unused, but we would still pack them in case they were needed.  I also splurged and brought my fave trackies, space takers, yes, but very worth it!  I ended up tying my clothes bag to my handlebars to move the weight off my back a bit, which was a great relief.

Food - 2 min noodles, Ainsley Harriot cous cous, tins of tuna, muesli bars, porridge sachets, gels (don't take gels, they weigh a ton!), party mix, a packet of ginger nut biscuits, tea and coffee.  We only ate around half of these though, as we did eat out quite a lot on this trip!

Water - We both had 1 bidon on our bikes, Shane carried 1L in his camelback and I carried 2L in mine.  For the most part it was overkill.  All we really needed was the 1 bidon, and maybe 500ml in the camelback, as there were a couple of points to fill up.  The Snowy River Cycling Club very very kindly placed out some water on the trail in marked kegs in 2 spots, so the max between water would have been around 15-20km.

Bikes:  Shane rides a Giant Anthem 29er dual suspension MTB, and mine is a Trek Fuel EX dual suspension MTB.  These were great bikes for the rail trail, though you could do it on a hybrid, or a roadie with fatter tyres.  I wouldn't recommend a roadie with slicks, as the hard packed gravel is soft in parts, and there's also some rougher sections.