Two days after Omeo, the trail became a little easier in terms of steepness. Many, if not most of the hills were rideable. This has allowed for good progress and I’m finally going faster than horses or people on foot.
At this stage I do not recommend the section Healesville to Omeo unless you are after a challenge that will push you to your limits. Any bad luck can lead to having to give up due to injury or irreparably damaged equipment.
The first three weeks have been about gaining some ground, moving forward, even if it’s only 10cm at a time. It’s important and necessary to focus on short term and achievable goals.
For instance reaching some shade, or the next stone you can step on without losing traction and going backwards. Small steps, just some progress, even tiny. I remember getting stuck on those climbs without knowing where to step. I would press the brakes and hold still, looking at the best route for the next 5 to 10 meters, observing the rocks and visually assessing whether they are loose or secure. I was thinking like a rock climber and it had nothing to do with cycling or hiking. A totally different sport.
This part of the trail has been about getting to know and understand my body and its reactions. I have learnt how to use pain as an indicator that it can be time to stop, and how to use it as a tool without immediately trying to suppress it. It’s about listening to all the elements that can guide you.
The fear of the outside elements has become secondary to me now. Only at rest do I have time to think about the prowling, the bugs, the weather – but I soon fall asleep and forget. My priorities have changed. My biggest fear was that my body could not handle the constant hard work. Tensing those legs, again and again, and pushing on my feet like I was lifting a 50 kg weight.
Sadly, spending days and days looking at the ground and watching the altimeter, it’s easy to miss out on some of the things that nature has to offer, sometimes I would have to remind myself to look around and appreciate the beauty of the wilderness.
Travelling alone has some inconveniences but it also has benefits. I’m accountable for myself and can make quick decisions that will only affect me. When you’re travelling in a group, decision making takes longer and one must be very attentive to other people signs of weakness or struggle. Communicating well in such physical and emotional struggle must be very difficult to manage without experience. You need a solid team that is used to working together.
I personally enjoy travelling alone but prefer to camp somewhere where I’m not alone. The last couple of weeks have been interesting at that level. I’ve probably relaxed a little, opened up and got better at the small talk as I’ve been talking a lot and meeting nice people who have given me some help here and there. It could be a dinner, a warm drink, or a conversation. Anything makes a huge difference to my day. I’ve noticed people’s interest in my trip, it’s a nice feeling to receive all this support. In the end I’m not entirely alone.
If I had to do it again? Well, first of all, I don’t think I would. This section of the BNT is far too difficult to want to do it twice. I would definitely love to go back to the Victorian Alps but not pushing a bike on the exact same route. I reckon hiking the Alpine Trail must be a marvellous and more pleasant experience.
If I had to do it again, I’d say there are not many things I would have done differently. The weight of the equipment is an ongoing debate. It has obsessed me for months. I wanted to stay under 50kg. Why 50? Why not.
I’d say 50 kg is light compared to most cyclo tourists, but it’s heavy for off road mountain biking in the mountains. It’s important to emphasise the fact that I’m self reliant. I cannot rely on luck. On a six month trip covering 5,000kms, surely something will go wrong: a storm, a bike failure, a flood. You name it. The longer the trip, the more chances something bad will happen. Now my bike is my home, my only possession. I don’t have a house, I don’t have a car, I have nowhere to get back to, my equipment is a reflection of my lifestyle. Every piece of equipment or food suits my lifestyle and offers me the best chances to be able to continue with limited assistance and most of all sustain it over many months. Some items are luxury, sure. Some are unnecessary, sure. Some are mostly to make me feel good – knowing that I can use the luxury items if needed is necessary for my peace of mind, and that is all that matters.
I stay safe, more or less healthy and happy. We are all different, but debating about equipment, exchanging ideas, and sharing knowledge is a crucial step. Without any previous ultra long trekking experience, I relied on others to help me figure it out. By combining all the information available with my taste and lifestyle, I created my setup, my way of trekking, my lifestyle.
In my opinion, the food is very important. Having to spend up to six days without re-supply and planning for scenarios where I could be stuck in a storm for much longer means I need a lot of food. Dehydrated food is a must, it is light, healthy and tasty. I find that my body has stopped tolerating some processed food and was begging for more fresh food. After a month of porridge for breakfast and heavily processed cheese for lunch, I simply can’t digest it properly anymore. This leads to a lot of discomfort and a huge decrease in my energy. It’s time for a change.
From my experience doing this section of the trail, I found that I need three things: firstly, to be pain free (no injuries), secondly, to have enough energy to be able to process food as I eat it, and thirdly, to have the will to continue. If I have all three, then I’m having a blast. Two out of three and it’s an average or unpleasant day. If I only have the will but not the energy and I’m in pain, then it’s close to hell. A living nightmare.
I’ve had issues with both my knees and my feet. The pain slowed me down and made the experience very unpleasant a number of times. Pain leads to nerves blocking power supply to the muscles. My body was telling me to stop to avoid further damage or it would force me to do so.
I’ve also had issues processing some of the food, despite having a huge quantity of high energy food available. Despite this, I haven’t lost the will. Even if I wanted to give up, I would not know what else to do at this stage. I just don’t have a home to think about a cocoon somewhere where it would be warm and safe. Nada. I can’t think about my bed when I’m cold and wet, simply because I don’t have one, that sounds counter intuitive but it helps me. Not having a plan B is a damn good plan. The only place I’ve got and I’m comfortable with, is the one where I will get a good rest on the Trail. Nothing beats waking up in the nature, as long as you don’t think too much about the repetitive but necessary task of packing up almost every single day.
Statistics since Healesville:
- Around 1,100 km
- 38 days since departure
- 13 days rest, 26 days riding or pushing the bike
- 9 kg lost, 12% of my initial weight
- Over 35,000m Ascent (elevation gain)
- Three states: Victoria, ACT, NSW
- Mechanical failures: 1 loose spoke, 1 derailleur hanger bent, 1 inner tube blow up
- Other issues: tent malfunction
- 1 night with snow
- 2 days of rain only
- Minimum temperature: – 3°C
- Maximum temperature around 28°C
Read from the beginning, Healesville: