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Solo Epic – BikeCamping on the GoldFields

We’ve all seen those great video clips of bike touring adventures, like Matt Hunter in LONE WOLFE – so, how about I give it a try ?

I’ve ridden a stack of 6-hr Vic.Enduro races, and ridden Mt.Buller a bunch of time, and have clocked up many, many laps of my home ground at Lysterfield, but I began to wonder what it would be like to load up, and ride+camp overnight.

Over a few months, I looked at maps and researched on Google Maps and Strava, and decided to try to ride the length of the “GoldFields” trail in Victoria.

The GoldFields trail is advertised as a hiking & mountain biking trail, so I assumed it would be reasonably accessible for my XC 29er, some singletrack hopefully, and some forest roads and railtrails.

Also, I could catch the V/Line train to Ballarat, and then home again from Bendigo.

I was looking forward to a BIG ride, away from my local trails, and riding solo – to escape some recent bad weeks at work, and the chaos of a homelife with three kids.

The plan was simple – catch the train to Ballarat, ride to Creswick for lunch, and then ride to Daylesford and camp overnight.

About 70km on day one, and then ride the remainder the following day – about 60km to Castlemaine for lunch, and another 60km on to Bendigo, and get the train home again. It seemed ambitious, but achievable as well.

Planning ahead

I was wanting to ride fairly light, but I still had to pack a sleeping bag, a roll-mat, and a tent of some sort. My mountain bike doesn’t have mounting brackets for a packrack (carbon frame), so I bought a removable one on eBay, and loaded a bag on the bag, with an octopus strap.

I also had a rollmat, which was strapped under my handlebars, and an inflatable pillow. My shelter really just a space-blanket – it was only $7 on eBay – it was listed as an “emergency shelter” – but it would suffice.

On my back, I would have my 3 litre CamelBak, and some spare tubes & tools, and muesli bars and other food bits.

I’d purchased some maps from the website (http://gdt.org.au), and familiarised myself with the route via Strava – there are some great mapping tools, and you can work out distance, and elevation and so forth.

I loaded my bike the night before, Saturday night, with the ride to take place over the Sunday and Monday of the Melbourne Cup long weekend.

Setting off

After an extra early 5am wake-up call of “help, the kitchen is flooding !!” (burst water clamp on the dishwasher – quick fix, thankfully !), I had brekky, and then loaded up my mountain bike and began riding for my local train station.

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I had to turn back after 5 mins, as my back wheel was rubbing on the pack rack. It has some bolts onto the seatpost, so I just moved it a little higher – and continued.

I caught the train to the city, and got the 8.30 V/Line train from Southern Cross, for a two hour trip to Ballarat – only $6.80 !

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Starting the trail

When I arrived in Ballarat, it was pretty cold and a little hazy, I was hoping the drizzle would stay away, and began to look for the signs for the GoldFields trail.

The initial trail was just a gravel bike path alongside a river, some other riders and joggers out as well. I managed to get lost within 15 minutes, due to the lack of sign-posts, and then followed another rider onwards, missing an arrow for the GoldFields trail, was another 3km before I realised.

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When I finally got myself sorted out, and began looking for the yellow topped posts, I was onto the proper trail. There were some alternating fireroads, and gravel paths – fairly rough compared to what I’d expected – so it was slow going.

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The trails become more mountain bike friendly, and I rode through the Creswick Park region, and onto the main road into town. It was time for a brunch stop (bacon/eggs), and to check the map before the main section towards Daylesford.

Creswick to Dean

After the lunch stop, the trail in Creswick was diverted around some roadworks, before some awesome singletrail flow for about 4-5km. I was really enjoying the trail, even with the heavy backpack, and then the trail ended, and it was back onto gravel roads.

There was about 10km of open fields, and farming roads, with no cars at all, and amazing red earth fields and machinery. I was enjoying the solitude, and finding it fairly easy & cruisey – bike touring !

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Blackfields Trail

It was into the forest again, but there had been a controlled burn through the region, and it was eerily quiet, and all black. I had to simply follow the only un-burnt sections, and look for the yellow-topped signs, and I soon made it out into the next forest section.

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I heard a scurrying noise in the bush to my right, thinking it might be a snake, but it was a scared little echidna – always amazing to see them in the wild.

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I must have missed another signpost as I rode on, and got to a gravel road where some confused dirt bikers rode past and LOL’ed at me. I back-tracked, but couldn’t work out which road I’d come along – this was bad !

I went back to the gravel road again, and decided to follow towards the direction I’d been going, and see if the trail would cross the road. I came to an intersection, and checked my phone and the GPX map I had, and realised I would be on-track again soon.

There was also a sign to a yoga retreat (Satyananda Yoga !), I could always stop in there to check directions if I couldn’t get myself sorted.

Back On Track

YES ! There’s some of those yellow topped signposts – and a rest shelter, complete with a map and some distance signs. It was now only 20km to Daylesford, and some great trails.

I should be OK for a dinner stop in Daylesford, possibly by 6.30 or 7pm.

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I came across a few family camping groups, just beside a river, and waved and said hello to a few kids. Mums & Dads were around the campfire, doing “not much” it would seem.

Into Daylesford

After about an hour and a half, I came into the Central Springs area, and mineral water park just near Lake Daylesford. It’s a very pretty place, and I have some great childhood memories of weekends filling bottles of mineral water. I topped up my drink bottle, and pushed up the main street to Daylesford – and found a spot at the front of the pub.

I’d made it !

I ordered a big parma, and a beer (make it a BIG one), and phoned the wife to let her know.

After dinner

The plan following dinner was to push on for another 10km to a camping ground at Mt.Franklin. There are toilets, and fireplaces there, in an area that is an extinct volcano.

I had my helmet light, and was looking forward to ending my day with some night trails. I had to get through to a main road, and then follow it up to the camping area.

The Goldfields trail goes west out of Daylesford, and loops up and over the top of town (Hepburn Springs), but I decided to head along the bitumen road north – and shortcut the trail, rather than ride the extra bit.

I was onto some great singletrack, with my head torch lighting the way, until it suddenly went OUT.   Uh-oh !   

I wasn’t sure how much further until the campsite, but I couldn’t continue much further without proper lights. I put on my camping headlamp, but I couldn’t see enough ahead, so I pushed my bike for a while, until I could ride along the main highway road.

After about ½ an hour (it seemed), I wasn’t seeing any roads, and it was getting very dark. I’d done almost 100km for the day, and was pretty tired – and getting anxious/distressed – and finally had to concede defeat.

Camping By The Trail

I simply couldn’t go any further, so I found a flat section of grass that was beside a babbling river – at least it would sooth my nerves, and I could get a good night’s sleep.

My rollmat was self-inflating, and I unpacked my sleeping bag, and put on my thermals for a cold night. It was then that I realised my sleeping bag was the ‘summer rated’ one, that had been put in the ‘winter rated’ cover bag. I was glad I had my thermals !

The shelter tent is designed to be held up with ropes, but I had to tie it to my mountain bike handlebars, with the bike laid on it’s side.

The rollmat slid into the shelter tent, and then the sleeping bag. I blew up my inflatable pillow, and got into bed – fairly comfy and warm.

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It was a little disconcerting hearing some animals crashing through the bush, probably a hundred metres away, but sounding a lot closer. I lay on my back, and looked up at the stars, tired and a little sore, and feeling a bit bummed out that I’d gotten lost, and not reached camp – but at peace, and a sense of “a million miles from anywhere”.

I’d ridden 101km, and 1800m – no wonder I was knackered.

I drifted off to sleep, and woke up to birds and some light from over the hillside.

Back into Daylesford

In the morning, with a clear head, it was easy to see how I’d gone wrong the night before.

Being tired and a little delirious, I’d taken the wrong turn out of Daylesford, and instead of heading north, I was actually looping back east, and heading back to Daylesford !

Camp spot is marked by the checkered flag dot.

map-hepburn

The map made sense to me now, but I was needing to grab brekky, and notify the wife that I was alive and well.

I slowly packed up my camping spot – in no great hurry to leave – realising that I’d actually chosen a pretty spectacular spot to camp – with great views that I couldn’t see the night before (obviously).

It was only 5km back into Hepburn Springs, and I quickly found a café, and commenced munching on (more) bacon & eggs and a coffee – and worked out the map/route for the day ahead.

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To Castlemaine

The next section was 60km to Castlemaine, and I had originally figured I’d be able to do that by lunch time.

Bendigo was a further 60km – and that should take me until dinner time, or shortly after.

But, I began to realise that it would be a tough ask – and I wondered if I might actually consider finishing in Castlemaine.

The V/Line train comes through there also, and my sister lives in town, so I planned to finish with a late lunch, and head home.

The trails were less groomed than I’d imagined they’d be – no rail trails ! – and it was actually a some sections of hike-a-bike in parts.

Mt.Franklin

After an hour, I made it to the turn off to the camping ground I’d been aiming for the night before. I don’t think I would have made it there (the night before), even if I’d gotten my directions correct – but still, I’d had a great camp-out – sometimes plans go awry for a good reason.

The descent down to Mt.Franklin was pretty awesome, rocky & flowing – but hard to go too fast with 10-20kg of extra weight – I really don’t know how much extra I had – but definitely a LOT heavier than normal.

The next signpost said 39km to Castlemaine – and 99km to Bendigo – yikes !

Yep, I was definitely going to bail in Castlemaine.

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The sun was warming up, and I was enjoying riding, and stopping for a few photos along the route.

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Water Stop

After about 2.5hrs, I went to get some water from my CamelBak and realised that it was empty !

I hadn’t filled up in the morning, it was full from the overnight stop at dinner, but I’d drank a lot overnight, to re-hydrate. It was a fair way until the next town – I was going to have to call in to a farmhouse to ask for water.

I nervously rode into a driveway, ignoring the KEEP OUT sign, and called out “hello !??!”. A friendly happy dog came up to me barking, and I called out again. I could hear some jazz music playing, as I knocked on the door, but no answer.

I saw someone through the window, playing on a saxophone (!), and waved to him. An old dude about 75 years old came out, saying “the missus has gone inta town, so I can blast away on my old sax, it keeps going outta tune, anyways, what can I do for ya !?”

We chatted for a minute, and I asked if I could fill up my backpack – and he asked where I’d riding from, and where to. I mentioned that I was from Melbourne, and worked in IT, and he said “blah, gotta stay away from them computa things !” (LOL !)

I thanked him, and thanked my own lucky stars, and rode off.

Riding Blind

Not exactly, but ½ an hour later, my Garmin beeped a few times, and gave up – battery was flat ! That’s never happened before, but it had run for ~16 hours by then – after a huge day before, and a few hours in the morning.

And so, I couldn’t work out the time of day, or distance travelled, or average speed – and so it was a simple case of “just keep riding”. So I did.

Vaughan Springs

I made sure to keep track of the yellow guides for the GoldFields trails, and was happy to see them each time, telling me that I was on-track.

I keep plugging along, with some trails a little tricky & rocky – and then some forest roads to mix things up a little.

I could imagine the gold diggers of the 1850’s, and how tough it must have been for them. It was hot & dusty, but only 25 degrees. Summers in the Aussie bush must have been brutal.

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I made it into Vaughan Springs for a snack stop. A lovely oasis in the bush, with people swimming, and some picnickers setting up for a day – complete with BBQ’s and frisbee’s.

I watched them as I collected my thoughts, chomping on (two) muesli bars, and sat to rest for a bit.

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Home Stretch

After Vaughan Springs, I rolled through a tiny town called Fryerstown, and then into the Dry Diggings area surrounding Castlemaine. There were some big uphill sections, and I ended up pushing the bike a few times – before cresting the hill, and seeing a sign for 10km to Castlemaine.

The final section follows a ‘water race’ down the ridge line – would be awesome to charge down, if only I hadn’t been so overloaded, and ridden 150km already (100km on day one, and 50km for the day so far).

My phone battery had run out too – no more photos – and my water pack was empty (again) – I calculated that I’d drank over 10 litres of water over the two days.

By the time I made it to Castlemaine, I was exhausted, and so glad to get to the end !

Finish Line

I had to use a PAY phone (WTF !?) to ring the wife, and let her know I’d finished, and was planning to get the train home after a quick stop in to SubWay.

Luckily, I bumped into my sister, who took me to an awesome souvlaki place – and we chatted about my trip.

It was a well-needed finish to a tough few days of riding.   My body was exhausted, and my spirit/soul was a little deflated & beaten.

I’d done 160km in two days, and about 3,000m of climbing – if only my Garmin hadn’t died along the way.

finished

After a feed, I rolled off to the V/Line train, and headed back to Melbourne. I think I slept most of the way on the train.

Lastly, I caught the Glen Waverley train home, and was met by my adoring wife and three kids who gave me big hugs & smiles.

It was only an overnight’er, but felt like I’d been away for a week.   And glad to be home.

Do over ?

If I was to consider re-doing this ride, or “what would I do different next time”, I think I’d make sure I didn’t get LOST as many times.

Just because you have a map, doesn’t mean you won’t get lost.

Maybe I need to invest in a Garmin with a mapping system – not just a recording device (Edge 500).

I should also see if anyone else wants to come along for the ride, instead of a solo ride.

I had to take it fairly easy in many ways, being on my own, and not many people around. If I crashed, or got bitten by a snake, it woulda been really bad.

Thankfully, I had zero mechanical problems – and no punctures either !

Perhaps I should have considered a hotel room in Daylesford ?

I had planned to camp, and ridden all that way with the camping gear, so I couldn’t NOT use it !

And – maybe I should have checked the gear more closely – I couldn’t believe I took the ‘summer’ sleeping bag – oops !

In the end

Sometimes you have to venture outside your comfort zone, and see how far you can go.

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I think I enjoyed the adventure aspect as much as the riding, and it would be great to plan the Bendigo segment for next time – and take an extra day/night.

The GoldFields trail has some great MTB sections, and some boring roads as well – but then there are some bits geared more towards hikers.

If you’re keen to try something different with your MTB, more than just shuttle runs, or local bike parks, then you should have a try at #bikecamping – it was a great trip !

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6 Responses

  1. Excellent work Wookie!

    I’m hell impressed. You covered some serious kms and found plenty of vert.

    It’s a shame to weigh down a MTB with camping gear, but you couldn’t have gone too silly on the singletrack anyway, for fear of having a big stack and being stuck alone in the bush, all busted up!

    Very much inspired to do my own bikamping trip. Or, maybe I’ll just tag along with you! =)

  2. Awesome ride mate! So impressed.

    Do it again. 🙂

  3. Great ride report Wookie! I hope to do it one day when I stop injuring myself. It sounds like you should carry a portalble usb charger as well,

  4. […] BIG biking event was my two-day bike camping on the GoldFields.   I’d researched off/on for months – and picked the Melbourne Cup weekend to take […]

  5. Thanks for your ride report. Lots of good info on bikepacking here and interstate can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/474293339288710/
    Cheers

  6. Hiya. I did the Goldfields solo from Ballarat to Bendigo over three days (around a month after you). I’m not surprised you pulled the pin at Castlemaine during day two – it’s a massive effort. Just so you know, the Castlemaine to Bendigo section is the least impressive, so don’t despair about missing out. My tip is trade the sleeping bags, mattresses and tents for a credit card and stay in accommodation – it’s hard riding and you deserve a comfy bed.

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