This weekend I packed up my bike and a few key things and joined a mate for a bikepacking meet up, called the Jimna Escape. The concept is simple – everyone meets at Jimna Base Camp, which is a school in a timber town that has passed it’s use by date. So now the school building has a camp kitchen, a cafe and some snacks, plus there’s ample camping on the sports field and two amenities blocks. You can even rent the 3-bedroom prinicpal’s house if camping isn’t your thing! There’s not set route – you just get there whatever way suits you, camp out on Saturday night, then head back. Simple.
Jimna isn’t really close to anywhere, it’s surrounded by a couple of National Parks that are mostly second growh forest after forestry were done with the land, plus some active forestry land and private holdings with off-grid escapes. Go further into the valleys and you have large cattle properties, further again and you’re likely back to more state forests. So no visit will be an easy dawdle.
I’d heard about the weekend from my bikepacking mad neighbour, and I ended up suggesting it to a riding mate Matt. We’d done a trip out to a town to the west of Jimna in October, and clocked more like 125km each day – and it was pretty tiring. So this time, we thought we’d map a loop from Kilcoy, north-west of Brisbane, which had Jimna in about the middle of it. Matt found a route of about 110km and downloaded it. And then on Friday afternoon it was time to prepare. I’m no massive stranger to bikepacking, if you consider it in an informal sense. About 20 years ago I did a few trips with a small backpack and not many items into the New South Wales Snowy Mountains. The days were long, the rations meagre, and the memories live on well. I also did the South Downs Way in a weekend with a bothy stay,and have done a couple of flashpacking trips. But this weekend was a good refresher and did leave me with a few things to take into consideration for more trips – here’s what I learnt.
Use what you have
I took my new Factor Lando XC full-suspensions bike. Why? Well I like it, it’s comfortable, and it’s fast. You can’t mount frame bags as easily as on an open-framed rig or a hardtail. And it’s a little tricker to run big seat bags given I run a dropper post. But I don’t own any specific bags save for a Bike Bag Dude fuel tank – so that doesn’t really matter.
I used a Patagonia Dirt Roamer 20L with the reservoir removed. It’s primarily one big pocket, and that was ideal for my needs. I’ve used this for some commuting and hiking, but this has actually been the best use for it so far. The long back is very stable, and it swallowed up a lot of gear.
I also used a small Aeroe dry bag for my sleeping bag and clothing, and attached that to my bars with two 60cm Wraptie straps – which I don’t think they even make anymore. As I also wrapped it around the outer – it didn’t seem to bounce. I stuffed a waterproof jacket in an Orucase 30 seat bag, and some snacks and multitool and pump into the Bike Bag Dude Fuel Tank, and I was set.
Admittedly, given my line of work I do have a few nice items around. But still, this trip was about getting out – not shopping to get out.
This can be hard, especially with a forecast minimum of around 3 degrees. But to me, a sure fire way to make a trip less comfortable is to take too many things. How many clothes can you wear? And how comfortable do you need to be? In Australia water is always a big consideration, but we were looking at about 3 hours or so per day, and felt comfortable with two bidons and some puritabs (assuming we’d cross clean enough water).
I did end up with a little more clothing than I thought – but with a down jacket and sleeping bag back from a professional wash, I’m still uncertain they are lofting as they should be.
One thing – always take a puffy jacket. It’s the uniform. Patagonia is best by a quick count at camp, Kathmandu is ok. My worn out Uniqlo jacket was barely passable. Thankfully the bar was dimly lit.
Study the route
So I just ran on Matt’s choice, and he just assumed the route was good having downloaded it. And for the most part – it was. But it did lead us through private property (which we routed ourselves around) and did take us on a cool sideshoot that really wasn’t needed – but was actually pretty cool. If we were hunger flatted it may have been different though.
Matt has done a lot of time in the great outdoors, and I’ve done enough that I shouldn’t just trust a downloaded route without a quick fact check. We were fine, as we could easily find another route based on the maps we had loaded and with common sense. But if we’d been somewhere more remote – maybe that wouldn’t be the case.
Take some treats
I don’t see bikepacking as a performance exercise. The concept of chasing FKTs or riding sleep deprived are pretty foreign to me. There are plenty of races I can do for that performance mindset. So – why not take some nice treats?
While we ran fairly lean on supplies, I did throw a whole block of Lindt chocolate in. But little did we know what Jimna Base Camp offered. We had icecreams, chips, party mix, coffees, tea and even some craft beer available there. And we sampled all of that. Why not? The art of suffering is just a sales pitch afterall.
On our October trip, we both inhaled food non-stop. It seems like loading up even with a minimal amount of luggage changes your metabolic needs. So we started early, with a double early lunch at the Kilcoy bakery, with frequent food until we went to sleep.
Maybe part of this is not really knowing what the route ahead may hold, or what may be at the destination. In a way it feels like being a squirrel and gathering nuts for winter (or, later that day). Either way, we were there to have fun and ride bikes – not as an exercise in calorie restriction. So we ate, rode full and rode happy.
Sleep is key
I feel like most of what I carried was to sleep comfortably. In part, that was a hearty Raddix meal (800 calories) and the chocolate. But it was also a Sea to Summit inflatable bed roll and an Alpkit Pipedream 400 bag, The bed roll is pretty light and has just about no thermal rating – but I deemed it passable, as it fit into everything. The sleeping bag was just warm enough – it has likely lost some oomph after 15 years. Still, I had my down jacket in a buff as a pillow, my kit from the day in the foot of the bag to stay warm for the morning, plus I wore some jogging pants and a Patagonia Capilene tee and a beanie. I’d say it may have been around 4 degrees – and I was warm enough to sleep. Just maybe not comfortable enough. I think the pillow needs work. More sleep means more recovery.
Distance doesn’t matter
In a way, we felt like we were doing the easy option, riding about 60km in, and about 50km out. Given I like marathon races and stage races, and Matt is handy with ultra distance runs and is eyeing off a 900km bikepacking race – we kind of felt we were taking it a bit easy.
But there is a few things to consider here – bikepacking doesn’t need to be a race. And getting outside on your own terms is about just that, doing it on your own terms. Once we were at Jimna Base Camp we realised most people rode a similar distance to us. One guy had come the long way from Bundaberg, but he wasn’t boasting about it. It was about being there, and getting there. Not the kilometre count.
Take time to talk
This was a big one. The bar at Jimna opened up and so did all the riders. I feel I can say with pretty good authority that most bike riders are a little more socially awkward than others. Especially those that err towards endurance sports. And especially those that like to do that over an extended period.
But while bikepacking as a cycling niche is purpose made for bulk chats on the bike, so is the time at a meet up like Jimna Escape. We swarmed into the community run public bar, ordered some tins, and spoke about gear, routes, other routes, day jobs, shoes – just about anything.
Look up – and look around
I think this is what I like the most, after the eating and the chats on the bike. I like going places, seeing things, and asking questions (with no way of getting an answer). We both filled in some sections on the mental map on this trip, and I got a better sense of some of the areas in beautiful south east Queensland. I saw huge stands of Bunya pines, slopes peppered with hoop pines saved from the woodman’s axe, and rode down valleys that have probably been inhabited post colonisation by people who share but a few different surnames. Places that would have supported countless generations before this.
We climbed from one regional eco system into another, and then another, and descended through the same. I always wonder what parts of the regions around me looked like a few hundred years ago, and I guess by seeing more of them I’m more likely to find some more examples of less touched areas. Or to read some accounts in old pubs. While I look around too much when racing, one of the best things about this weekend was looking around and seeing more of the big backyard beyond my home near Brisbane.
And of course – I have some plans for some great training loops in the area as well!