Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Storms, snakes and sleeping at Mount Nebo

Heidi does her best cycle touring pose
Heidi and I are pretty much fresh off the boat in Queeensland, and so are taking every opportunity to get out and explore this new place where we find ourselves living. Given my obvious obsession with bikes, Heidi has graciously resigned herself to our wheeled steeds accompanying us on most holidays in the future. So in the interests of seamlessly integrating the pinnacle of transportation that is the push-bike with our holidays, we have decided to dabble with cycle touring.   

Ollie follows suit

We were familiar with the pannier laden exploits of tourists pushing their unprenouncable bikes across the endless headwind battered plains of New Zealand. They were often glimpsed from the seat of a car as we zoomed past with bikes strapped to the rack. Questions came into our mind like where they were going, where they were form, and what luxuries they must be carrying to explain the seemingly excessive baggage. My experience with touring thus far has been of the hasty variety, not really taking time to enjoy the scenery, but cramming in food and miles in an effort to make the next town as quickly as possible. My natural disposition is to want to do things fast, so to see if I could do slow touring was a bit of a personal test.

For me, it is a natural instinct to want to explore the high points of new places first, and I like the idea that standing atop a summit in a new place will provide an appreciation and view of surroundings that you simply can’t get from the flat plains. Mount Nebo was within striking distance of our new home, and so we resolved to leave early afternoon and push for a mountaintop campground, staying there a night then returning the next day. A sampler of cycle touring to see if it was something we could dig, and if I could refrain from turning it into a race, because not everything is a race.

The reality of Mt Nebo, a 40km ride from central Brisbane didn’t quite provide the expansive views we’d expected. A meer hillock by New Zealand standard at 538m a.s.l., the epic undulations leading to the mountain top were not to be underestimated. And at the summit, rather than a panoramic view of the sprawl below, we were enclosed in an eerie tropical tunnel with thickets of palms and twisted vines so stout I was half expecting tarzan to come swinging across the road in full cry.
Rocket booster panniers
For bikes, with my Tour Divide bike awaiting a new wheelset, so I opted for my singlespeed instead. Heidi’s Surly Cross Check eats this kind of ride for breakfast and we strapped on some Freeload  racks, dry bags and panniers to pedal off into the warm but not unbearably hot afternoon.

Gear wise we’d gone minimalist. We’d toyed with taking my uber light Z-packs tent but given the rain forecast and the likely dampness for the second person (me), we swapped this out for the Black Diamond Mesa. We took a cooker, pots, sleeping bags and mats, and enough food to ensure a food induced coma at our camp, just in case the hill wasn’t enough to do this.

The climb to Nebo undulates in the true delightful sense. As if the early civil engineers had playfully wielded their scale rules like paintbrushes, the road pitched up then flowed down in a whimsical fashion. Delightful, at least at first.

The view from one of the lookouts
We’d stop at viewpoints along the way to admire the views to the valley below. Often the road was perched atop a great cliff which afforded a sense of exposure that really added to the vista. I found these regular breaks (usually absent on normal rides), were a great way to embrace the touring mentality, and they certainly helped reframe the experience for Heidi. While I’d feared the hill would have been a sufferfest for her, she was still smiling at the summit, only requiring a single emergency snack stop en-route to our camp.

Heidi gets some emergency snacks
Arriving at the cross roads at the summit, light was fading and a storm was approaching, and after failing to locate our campground we flagged down a friendly local who pointed us in the right direction.

Even these directions weren’t sufficient for our navigational numptiness, and with the first heavy drops starting to fall we made a quick decision to stealth camp at a trail head, hoping that any enforcement officials would take pity on our predicament in the face of the impending storm.

And storm it did, with bright lightning flashes lighting up the sky and deep thunder rumbles echoing through the dense forest. I’d last experienced such epic precipitation on a ridge top in New Mexico, and fortunately the lightning never got as close as it did then.

Thankful for the shelter of the walker’s rest, we set up the cooker and prepared our food, a delicious green curry with a desert of giant jelly pythons.

Heidi chops vege by headlight
Dashing through the rain to our tent, we sealed ourselves in our fart sacks and dozed off, a check of the clock informing us of our early nap time of 7PM. A bedtime more akin to our grandparents, but perfectly respectable for intrepid bike tourers, especially with the thundering storm bearing down outside. There is something about being in a dry tent with a storm outside that makes you sleep well, and when the light finally woke us a 6AM, we’d both had a thoroughly good kip.

Packing up, eating breakfast and rolling out, we stopped to sample an Australian pie (nothing on Sheffield) and climb then descending the last few pinches to home in Toowong.

Heidi fearlessly tackles the steep descent
And shreds one of the numerous sweeping switchbacks

Arriving at 10AM we’d had an excellent adventure in a relatively small amount of time. Both Heidi and I really enjoyed the experience and are looking for new destinations as we speak. Safe to say that a few more sedate paced cycle tours will be in store!


sifter said...

Great stuff, Ollie and Heidi!

RossC said...

When are you coming to ride the HuRT Ollie? That's a ride report I can't wait to read!

Oliver (Ollie) Whalley said...

Next year will be the year I reckon Ross!