Sunday, 26 July 2015

Moreton Island 3 day Wintersun bikepack - day 3

Hehe, frustrated mosquitoes hovered around my bugnet, searching for an entrance throughout the night. Sometime during the night, the wind turned offshore and the sound of surf dropped to a pleasant level, a quiet reminder of your location as the birdlife ratcheted up to 11:

I've lost count of the early mornings I'd drive to the coast for a dawn patrol surf. I don't get the chance as much anymore, but sure is nice to just be there for those first rays of sunrise. Maybe I need to bolt the boardrack to the bike more often, bring it along and catch an early peak - not let a quiet, solo lefthander go to waste.

Breakfast - you know the drill by know. At Rous there is a fresh water tank, sign suggests boiling before consumption. So many different ways to treat water, the correct method defined by many variables (my primary test is smell). In a 'State of Fear' world, some might think I take too may risks with simple things like this - I drank from the tap and topped off the bottles. In my opinion and experience, exposing my gut microbes to a variety of 'controlled digestive challenges' prepares it for travel and off-the-grid reliability. YMMV.

Another cracker of a day. We ride 3 or 4 km south, to the entrance of the Little Sandhills.

For my Iditarod family: 'the trail had blown in' :)

A short trail through the Casuarinas leads us to...

...that first view - a 'Lawrence of Arabia' moment. Confronted with a seemingly endless line of high dunes, but it's only a few km from east to west. The dune lines run roughly parallel to the beach, with vegetation down in the gullies. The western faces of the dunes can be quite steep and loose, with predominant south east winds blowing loose, aerated sand down the back (west side) of the dunes. Care must be taken of route choice - sand avalanches are not uncommon with poor route choices!

Yeah, was a bit windy. Strong south west winds approached 50km/hr in my estimation. Of course, we were...heading...west...against...the...wind. Sand blizzard - all I saw was crunchy snow!

But it's not all bad. The path I take is never point to point, and changes like the shifting sands. I like to zig-zag and flow with the dunes, identify imaginary topo contours, aim for visible firm patches and slowly gain elevation while savouring the constantly changing vista with each turn.

Descending can be a cautious affair, threading the needle on the more shallow angled dune backs. Finding safe descent points is more art than science, so invigorating to be following no path at all.

Follow me to braaaaap!

Midway up the highest dune, remains of an ancient forest that must have been perched high.

Nature finds a way - a stoic termite nest in the trunk with the essentials of food, moisture; and the luxuries of location, great views and solitude.

On the crest of the final dune the wind at full force. Bare skin was grit blasted. Loaded fatbikes were like huge sails, catching the wind and throwing you off bearing. Looking west, the whitecaps in the bay display the winds velocity.   

Down in the gully it's a different story. Heads down, buffs up and pushing to the summit.

It was sooo easy to turn my mind back to earlier in the year on the Iditarod, pushing through the blizzard on the Kuskokwim River and over the oxbow bend shortcuts.

Sand-strugi! Was fascinating to watch up close.

Dropped down to the beach track, high fives all round and head north on the west beach.

Adjacent Big Sandhills, there is a campground with a sand spear hand pump. The water here is fresh and clear, but best advised to pump it a few times to flush out the slightly rusty water that accumulates after a period of time.
The western entrance to the Big Sandhills. Visualise with me in monochrome...sand or snow?
At Shark Spit there are wrecked remnants of ancient steamers, run aground from big storms over 100 years ago.

Clear views of the Glasshouse mtns to the west.

Wrecks of another kind - had to admire the intelligence of the double entendre!

We rounded Tangalooma Point and suddenly the adventure felt over. We had the wind at our backs, and with the resort in view, we very casually made our way over the last few km - trying to wring out the last few drops of adventure. We had a bit of time until the Micat departed, so a hearty lunch at the resort rounded the trip, all smiles after an awesome trip like this. Yes, I'm smiling.

 Let's finish up with some packing tech. Each trip is different, what you take and how you carry it is more art than science, it's an evolution of past trips, the weather you expect, what gear you have at your disposal to pack it all with, blah blah - I think you've heard me mention this all before...

So, in the grey eVent drybag (small size) is my sleeping bag (Mountain Hardwear Ultralumina 32) first secured to the rack with 2 x Salsa anything cage straps, on top of that is a Revelate Pocket (large size) containing sleeping pad (Klymit X frame), silnylon footprint (Gram Counter), Sea to Summit 1 person bugnet, Integral Designs 2 person tarp and some small plastic sand pegs.  The pocket has it's own set of integrated straps that perfectly clip and cinch easily around the rack and drybag. The secondary reflective strap is for, well anything. The Revelate Spocket on the top holds the first aid kit, head torch and blinky taillight. Bungy cord attachment for the Spocket allow for quick stowing of stuff - like gloves.

The framebag has 3 compartments - the side facing the camera is the office - it has flat items stowed: phone, paper maps. The lower compartment is like a garage - spare tube, tools, spares and repair kit for just about anything. The top pocket holds the 4L MSR Dromedary water bladder - I prefer the durability and sturdy fabric of the heavier weight Dromedary bags, instead of the lighter Drom-lites. I have a long, insulated camelbak hose (with quick disconnect) clipped to the bars. The Revelate Jerry Can (near seatpost) holds the camera for quick and easy access. The front Revelate Gastank (near stem) holds my Bonk Breaker bars, spare camera battery and SD card, notepad and pencil, compass, Alpen 8x21 monocular.

Tech tip: I lubricate all the zips on the bags with Ride Mechanic Bike Milk OR Bike Butter (depending on the time available) This improves the slick one handed action during operation.

Front rollbag is a Revelate Sweetroll, in this was my foodbag (2L Sea to Summit cinch top drybag), stove stowed in the pot, , overflow clothes (Macpac pants and TNF poncho). On top of this is my Zipshot tripod and padded bag , then over the top of all this is a small Oveja Negra handlebar bag, from BikeBagDude - in this I put small overflow clothes like the buffs and spare straps. Didn't really need this storage on this trip, but was eager to field test this new product.  

Finally, I sling two Revelate Mountain Feedbags on either side of the stem. I run a moderately long stem reach, so these feedbags don't hit my knees when I climb out of the saddle. The left bag held the 500ml clear water bottle (I like clear bottles, to visually check for particulates when topping up from water sources), the right bag contained a bag of trail mix for quick random snacking.  The side mesh pockets of the feedbags are a great spot to quickly stash rubbish. The wide Arctic Gastank was a limited run bag - much wider than standard - for Iditarod.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Moreton Island 3 day Wintersun bikepack - day 2

You have to 'extend to experience'. It's what I reinforce to my girls - to see that sunrise, to climb that peak, to achieve that goal - you need to extend your boundaries and push yourself to experience some of the incredible things that nature and life has to offer. Rewards don't come to you unless you've earned them.
I felt like a dawn patrol ride up to Cape Moreton lighthouse and back before breakfast, I'm not one for sleeping in. Starting out in complete darkness, it's a delight to watch the dawn unfold and the sky warm to the sun's touch.

I shared the early rays with a pair of pied oyster catchers.

The solace of a sunrise; a bike and a beach with no imprint of mans hand (or foot, or tyre, but c'mon the hand is a metaphor)

On the way back, I passed a campsite, with a guy meditating on the frontal dune. He didn't respond to my wave, can only think he was wishing he had a fatbike.

Always comes back to food, as wifey often says. The pet monkey reckons it always comes back to poo, but she's 9 - kids seem fascinated with body functions.

Okay brekky is a simple affair - 2 packets of instant porridge (just add boiling water and stir) but I also like a bit of a granular/fruity feel to brekky, so in goes a fruity muesli/granola bar for texture and extra sugar, topped with a honey shot just to tip over the calorie scale. This is another simple, cheap and easily packed/stored staple meal. Summertime trips I'll pack rolled oat cereal, mixed in with full fat milk powder and sugar in a ziplock - again just add water and eat straight from the ziplock.

I don't drink coffee at all, but I can't deny the effect of a caffeine hit in the morning - best way for me is via an Espresso Chip Bonk Breaker bar - made with real espresso beans.

With gear packed and stowed, we rolled out to the beach to an instant spectacle of humpback whales directly offshore, just beyond the breakers.

The inland tracks were firm with high moisture content, the next stop being the rewarding walk to the summit of Mt Tempest - at 285m it is regarded as the highest coastal sand dune in the world.

 360 degree panoramas, views extending as far as Cunninghams Gap, Mt Warning, Glasshouse Mtns and Mt Coolum.

 Like any bush setting, there are always bushfires due to seasonal storms (lightning strikes) and unmanaged campfires. For many plants though, fire is essential for life, as it cracks open seed pods and assists with germination. You see many after effects of fire on the island, with charcoal scarred trunks - but it is interesting to see the adaptations to fire. The cork-like bark of this coastal Banksia protects it against the ravages of fire.

Middle Rd - often a churned up pushfest - was totally rideable and the descents put a grin on everyones' faces.

Back onto the west coast for a short cruise south to Tangalooma for a quick smoko.

Tangalooma Resort now have fatbikes for hire too. I'm not sure how far you could take them or the scope of rental, but still great to see. We topped off water bags and bottles, off to the next destination and one that was quite testing to get too. Of course there is an easier way, but 'easy' does not equal my 'type 2 fun'.

 Stairs. I can't read minds, but my basic intuition was telling me that I was the only one that enjoyed this segment. 'The reward is worth it you guys' and 'it makes for a better loop with no doubling back' or 'this way is the easier of the two options' was only having a marginal affect - I don't think they were buying it. I was having fun :) This is just a part of bikepacking, that nobody is shielded from.

'C'mon you guys, push! This reminds me of Iditarod!'

The familiar view of The Desert. Families were out sand toboganning and enjoying the great weather.

The loose plan was to take the left side and just ride the contours down to an area called Lightning Ridge. It's the site of many lightning strikes in the sand and has fused into glasslike clusters. Approaching The Desert from the western edge, allowed us to traverse to the 4wd track and to the Rous Battery trailhead with no doubling back.

Our target for the night was Rous Battery, an old military site with various intriguing buildings, many subterranean and some underground as well (couldn't resist the Coight gag) but first we traverse the Rous Battery track south east. This is a very pleasant track, gentle downhill grade with a surface of firm sand and leaf litter.


No, we didn't eat the mushrooms, but the speed of some of the descents made camera-ing a bit harder than normal. We wandered around the battery - some of the buildings were quite obvious - quarters, lookout post, gun emplacement and armoury.

Rous Battery campsite is a pearler - a few dunes back and enough elevation to feel like a master of the universe. Simple camping again for me, no rain but I could tell early on that the night would be buggy.

A little bit of tech on layering: my day clothes form part of the sleep system, and careful selection and refinement over the years allow me to stay fairly clean, with very minimal use of chemicals (sunscreen and bug repellent). Y'all gotta tolerate gettin' a bit icky too - all part of it.

From the top: I wore a Frillneck hat with full neck and side coverage, over this I wear a Sea-to-Summit micro bugnet as needed; a winter and a summer Buff for versatility; torso baselayer is a sleeveless open 5mm weave mesh (yeah, the kind you'd wear to a Euro rave); a long sleeve synthetic wicking shirt; a synthetic wicking short sleeve tee over the top of that (The North Face Vapourwick is a fantastic technical, multiweave fabric that outperforms many other synthetic and organic options, in my experience); Sugoi bibshorts (the shop kit) with fleece lined cycling leg warmers (I sleep in my day layers - here's a tip: I pull the bibshorts down a bit to allow air circulation around the nether regions - after hygiene routine - and roll down the silicone grippers on the leg warmers, onto themselves OFF the skin, to prevent skin irritation); polycotton socks; Lake MX100 boot with Moxie Gear ankle gaiters (these really keep a lot of sand out of the boots). My final top layers (the only extra layers I packed) were a pair of long pants - Macpac Crossterrain with long ankle zippers (for easy on/off with boots on) and ultra packable TNF Primaloft technical smock with 1/4 zip. It's a fave of mine, it has no hand pockets (extra unnecessary material and zips) and breathable panels in key perspiration zones. Good design and quality materials are the keys to functional layers.

Some of the above may sound disgusting, but it can be impractical to carry a gear change for nights and a time vampire during multi-week races if you're doing multiple changes each day. I follow a hygiene routine with baby wipes followed with talc on the nether regions. YMMV in these instances, but you've gotta practice it to find what works and you have to train your body and mind to adapt to suit. You can travel lighter, faster and enjoy more of the trip without being tied down to a more civilised regimen.

Ultimately, each of us have to devise our own systems that work for us. The only way to do that is to get out there and gain that experience in a variety of conditions - 'indoor' product testing will only prep you so far...

When I need to interact with non-bikepacking civilians, I splash on a bit of product so I don't offend. Ride Mechanic and I worked on a 'scent project' for Iditarod - and came up with a multi-function fluid that has many, many uses - I had several criteria I wanted it to cover:
  • Smell nice (without masking your pheromones to the chicks)
  • Antibacterial properties (wound treatment OWWWWEEE)
  • Degrease a dirty chain (this is so fun to do in the field) 
  • Burns in a fuel stove (pop can stove lightness)
  • De-waters skin without stripping fatty oils (drying out wet skin)
  • Firestarter (when all your kindling is a touch wet)
I decant this into a small eyedropper bottle for ease of use and of course, miniaturisation.

On that note, let's talk food :) Dinner was the same as last night. Meh, food is fuel - it doesn't need to be gourmet, just has to satisfy clean burning calorie needs with moderate nutrition (can always add a multivitamin supplement - your healthy food pyramid will be waiting for you when you get home) We had a decent campfire that night too, but an early one for me! That night I watched the half moon rise from my bed, along with the lightning show in cumulonimbus clouds far out to sea.
This is the thing I fully enjoy the most about open sky camping - the stars, the night silhouettes, the  elemental exposure. Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of tent options and use them as required, but when it's stable weather out, I like to indulge in simple setups. Quicker, lighter and less stuff to fuss over - a nice escape from modern life and I feel you absorb the overall experience deeper too.