Brisbane Valley Rail Trail E2E - 334Km round trip
The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) runs from Wulkaraka (near Ipswich QLD) and runs to Yarraman (QLD). The trail is a disused train line and has an interesting history attached to it. Please look up www.brisbanevalleyrailtrail.com.au for more information.
The return trip to Yarraman is currently 334km - this distance will change when the Toogoolawah to Moore section is opened in June 2018.
The detour is a mixture of bitumen and gravel roads with some brutal climbing.
The challenge was first proposed by Paul Heymans (President of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association) in early 2018 to encourage female participation and support women's cycling. Five men have completed the end to end challenge in early 2018 with the quickest time being 21.5 hours. The first 3 women to complete the trail would receive a ‘BVRT Amazing Achievement’ trophy and a commemorative riding jersey. Only one other female (Rachel Edwards) has completed the end to end challenge. The time to beat would be 22 hrs 16 minutes. I decided that I would love to give the challenge a go and that I would have a high chance of being successful. The spot for the first woman had already been taken to the spot was open for the fastest time male or female) along the route.
For any long distance endurance challenge or race to be successful there has to be a very strong reason why you would contemplate undertaking such a ride. This reason does not include personal accolades, personal gain or money. This ‘why’ keeps you going through the ride or race especially when you are physically and mentally in a really bad place due to fatigue and pain.
My ‘why’ is very personal to me. Currently, I am in training for the National 24 hour mountain bike race to be held in New South Wales (Australia). This ride would act as a foundational training base and a confidence boost for my campaign by ensuring I was happy with the distance and the speed which would be required to have a chance of becoming a National title holder. The ride (being postponed twice due to incremental weather) would be a test to see whether I could recover and hold enough strength and energy to complete two long distance events within a short time space. It was six weeks between the mountain bike 24 hour at Hidden Vale (328km) and the challenge ride (334km). Although I was initially disappointed I couldn’t be the first female to complete the challenge I overcame this and realised that the more women to complete this the stronger voice we would have in the mountain biking community. I wanted to share the experience with other representatives of the BVRT who were unable to commit to riding the trail in its entirety for the whole distance. I would also like to think I can bring positive publicity to the fantastic work the community is doing to upkeep this amazing resource.
Preparation for this challenge could not have been undertaken without the attention, commitment and enthusiasm of Paul Heymans and members of the BVRT Users Association. Three times Paul managed to rally together a group of very enthusiastic safety riders to accompany me on my journey. The ride was postponed twice due to very heavy rainfall and storms on the departure date so it would not have been safe to ride the trail. Parts of the BVRT in places are very rough and remote which results in poor to no phone reception so in case of an emergency you may not be found. The wildlife on the track is abundant and being in the wrong place at the wrong time could have dire consequences. Parts of the Rail Trail also run through low socioeconomic areas so being a solo female is not a good idea.
I have been training with my mountain bike coach for the past year in order to compete at the elite level of 24 hour mountain bike racing and aiming for Nationals and potentially Worlds at this sport. The BVRT challenge became part of my rigorous training program for these competitions so no specific training was undertaken to complete this challenging ride. Training is on the mountain and road bike (commuting to work), indoor bike trainer (Zwift) weekly strength sessions in the gym with a personal trainer, mountain bike lessons, and every other day core work. I also swim and walk and do a weekly yoga session.
Prior to the ride I had organised my food and fluids intake and regular food drops and had also decided what I would need to carry with me. I had been studying the weather forecast from a week out to ensure no rain. I had not envisioned I would be completing the challenge on the coldest night in 3 years in Queensland where it reached 0 degrees C and possibly below. There would be I was reliably informed frost on the ground and that it would be frozen.
So to the start of the ride!
We met Paul at 6 pm at Wulkaraka train station and had a quick handover and ensured I had everything (I forgot the extra battery to recharge the Garmin) and said goodbye to my husband and daughter (who was having an epic tantrum). Dean met me at the station on time and after a picture and trying to get the Spot tracker to work we were off. I have ridden this section of the rail trail a couple of weeks previously so I knew what to expect. We reached Fernvale in a very quick time (1 hour). Dean had asked if I wanted to go any faster as he was at his limit to which I replied ‘no thanks this is a good pace’. Paul met me at the Fernvale with food and exclaimed why would I need food already to which I replied ‘no I meant on the way back’.
John Boggon met me at Fernvale right on schedule at 7 pm and we were off to Toogoolawah the pace was firm but manageable. I think by Toogoolawah I had exhausted John’s resources. The weather was still mild, the stars were shining and I felt very privileged to be on a mountain bike, doing the sport I love and to have great company who I felt very safe with.
At Toogoolawah at 10.30pm, I said thank you to John and met Paul Heymans who would escort me through the detour. I was very fortunate to have Paul accompany me on his e-bike at Toogoolawah as I would have got very lost. Paul warned me about the conditions of the gravel roads and the stock route - that stock route was amazingly rough and the grass made you feel as if you were moving backwards. It was at this point I realised with a sinking feeling that my shorts were not going well with the saddle and that this was going to really hurt as we had hours and hours ahead of us. I took on food and water throughout this part of the ride trying to stock up ahead of the time I would not feel like eating. At Moore, I said goodbye to a very cold Paul and wished him a good night sleep. Unfortunately, this was not to be as I was travelling so quickly I was going to be ahead of schedule at each stop point making up even more time. Paul spent the night emergency scrambling people into position.
At Moore at around midnight, I was introduced to Jason Black who would be with me to Yarraman back to Moore a total of 98km with a 20km hill climb up towards Yarraman. We paced each other perfectly sometimes riding side by side, sometimes me riding in front, sometimes Jason in front and me following his rear tyre. The further up the range we went the colder it got so I put my warm gloves and rode a little harder to warm up. By this point, I couldn’t feel my feet. I was getting a little tired so I had a caffeine tablet and tried to keep eating and riding to maintain energy levels. There were several rather close encounters with kangaroos and wallabies and a massive bird. A bird suddenly rose off the ground around an inch from my left foot and flew off and then another bird was fast asleep in the middle of the trail luckily I avoided him.
At Yarraman around 3.30am we had a quick toilet stop (no trees and no amenities but it was dark so it didn’t matter), Jason did a bit of yoga, we had some food and water and offered jelly snakes to each other at the same time and set off down the range to the soundtrack of barking dogs. We flew off the top of the range (my Garmin reckoned 128km/hr for 3 seconds it obviously lost the signal!) dodging potholes, wildlife and the like again taking it in turns to lead and to follow and ride side by side. I was enjoying my full suspension whilst Jason had a borrowed hardtail. At one point we went over a water bar and it had an unexpected dip the other side due to good positioning on the bike I was fine Jason got kicked around by his bike. We got to the bottom and exclaimed that we were both riding on our limits and we haven’t ridden that fast before on mountain bikes in the dark.
We finally arrived back at Moore around 6 am and took on food and water and I said a sad goodbye to Jason who I’m sure went for a well-deserved sleep in a warm car. I then introduced myself to Malcolm McKenna who would ride the detour section with me. We were at the cafe too early and couldn’t find anybody (apparently there was somebody there). At this point, I was about an hour ahead of schedule and moving rapidly. The hills on the detour were horrendous and I normally love my hill climbing! Malcolm coaxed me through the hills and even lent me his thermal gloves to warm my hands up when I was in agony with the cold. The rail trail will be so much better when the detour is opened at the end of June 2018 and will make for a quicker trip.
We then arrived in Toogoolwah at 7.30am where their market was in full swing. I was meant to meet Neil and his group here but after a couple of frantic phone calls were made they were diverted to Esk. A little time was wasted here waiting for confirmation, using the bathroom and taking on food and drink. Malcolm kindly offered to ride to Esk with me which I accepted as I didn’t want to get lost. Malcolm helped me with the gates and about halfway along I apologised and asked if he wouldn’t mind me keep pushing onwards as I was becoming very conscious and worried about the time. He hesitantly agreed but would keep moving forwards in case anything happened to me. I was very grateful to know that he was there and it provided some comfort and safety. My brain had switched to race mode I pushed the pace and it was light and getting warmer and my water finally was not filled with ice (overnight everything had been frozen including my Anzac biscuits!).
Just outside of Esk at 9 am I met Neil Ennis (an old riding friend where the craziness had started some years ago), Darb, Callum, Paul and Bruce. It was lovely to see familiar faces. I had been riding very hard up towards Esk with an average of 21km/hr. By the time they met me I was in a world of pain and darkness this was the hardest hours of the endurance ride and I wanted to curl over in a warm bed and go to sleep. Darb very kindly gave me 2 energy gels I was so desperate I hadn’t realised one was coffee and I hate coffee but it tasted so good. The crew took it in turns to help pace me and Darb with his fat bike blocked all the wind for me. Following somebody else’s wheels who you trust is a great way of resting your brain though in mountain biking drafting doesn’t work like it does on the road! I asked Darb at one point when on earth were we going to reach Esk he stated matter of factly that we had ridden through Esk 20km ago I was so relieved to hear this!
I then met Andras Deak at Mount Hallen around 10 am who would take over from Neil and crew. By this point, I had left a trail of exhausted riders behind me with every one of them giving me every bit of energy they had for which I am eternally grateful. Andras would ride really quickly ahead of me and open the gates and then shut them behind me this lasted most of the way through to Fernvale where he became exhausted whilst I was pushing hard. I would get to the gates and open then and then Andras would close them behind me. Towards Fernvale I sent him for water he located a tap, stopped to fill it for me and he sprinted to catch back up with me to give it to me the cold water tasted so good.
At Fernvale around 10.30am, Paul met me and I think would have loved to get more pictures here. However, I had been riding with an enormous cramp in my left thigh for hours and was actually in complete agony with this so much so I was scared if I got off the bike I wouldn’t get back on. So we pushed for Wulkaraka the down bits were great and we could get some speed but on the hill sections due to the pain in my left thigh, I wasn’t able to push as hard as I would have liked. The last 15km I followed behind Paul’s wheel and just kept spinning the pedals hoping for the best.
Finally, we reached Wulkaraka train station just after midday and the very welcome sight of my husband and daughter waiting there for me with pizza and hot chocolate. I quickly put warm clothes on and sat down.
Overall this was an amazing experience and I loved the entire journey and enjoyed meeting new people who I am sure will be instrumental in helping me with the next phase of my endurance journey. To undertake this within 24 hours is not a journey for the unprepared or untrained individual. If you broke it down into sections and made the most of stopping and sleeping at some of the towns it’s very doable for most people.
Time started: 6 pm Friday 11th May 2018
Time completed: 12.08pm Saturday 12th May 2018
Total time elapsed:18hr 11 min
Total moving time: 16 hrs 55 min
Total distance: 334 km
Total elevation: 2673m
Average speed: 19.4km/hr