I thought I'd jot down a few notes and reflections on the 2017 Edition of the Hunt1000 before the memory faded too much.
To provide some background context, I wouldn't consider myself an experienced bikepacker by any stretch of the imagination. I've been riding bikes on again, off again for a handful of years after not touching a bike for far too long. I've done some road based touring in Europe with my wife, but the off-road bikepacking thing is fairly new to me. And I'm hooked!
For the 2017 Hunt1000 a mate, Minas and I planned and set out to ride the route together on a 9 day schedule. At the end of the first day we were joined by a third rider, Matt, who we'd met briefly at the start line. At Omeo we were joined by Luke, and the four of us stuck together and rode as a group to the finish. We finished with Ollie and Dave (who I consider the winners if there is such a thing) and a few other riders in the rain and cold of the Melbourne Superstorm. We also deviated from the "official" route at one point by bypassing Falls Creek and Mt Beauty, choosing to ride directly from Omeo to Hotham instead.
All in all, I am extremely happy with how we managed to finish, considering the high number of statistics and the relative (in)experience of our group, Matt excepted. So here are my thoughts based on our own experience; this isn't a how-to guide, but rather some notes around how we approached the ride and what worked for us.
We planned our daily mileage around vertical meters of climbing per day, rather than distance. Even if it meant a shorter day in terms of mileage. I would attribute this as being one of our major success factors. We took re-supply points and logical overnight stops into account (albeit not many) and worked out the best bush overnight points in between those.
One rider we met had printed out daily cue sheets of the elevation profile; pretty neat idea.
Be honest with yourself about your physical abilities, as hard as that is. I can honestly say that I would have been a non-finisher had I tried to complete this ride in the seven days suggested. Plan to take longer if you think you need to.
When you think you've trained enough, train some more. And then some more again. And then some more again. This route is tough, exceptionally so. You will also spend hours pushing your bike up too-steep-to-ride slopes; I suggest some core or cross-training to prepare for this.
I personally think that a minimum of a three day bikepacking trip is needed to get a feel for how your body will respond to back to back days in the saddle. Find a route with similar terrain; look for the biggest and gnarliest hills you can find.
For those based close to Sydney, I think the following route provides a good indication of what a typical day on the Hunt is like: Blackheath to Mount Werong Campsite via the Six Foot Track, Black Range Firetrail and Jenolan Caves.
We were disciplined when it came to rolling out in the morning. We got up early and rolled out early. This allows a buffer in case of mechanicals or delays, and is less stressful than chasing the clock after a late start. We rode hard without wasting too much time on stops and were focussed on arriving at our night stop at a reasonable hour. I attribute this as another one of our biggest success factors as it gave us time to relax and recuperate in the evenings.
Sleep is when your body recovers. The quality of your sleep will have a massive impact on your physical and mental state. My general observation is that sleeping on a camping mat in a tent, bivy or hut is generally a guarantee of a bad night sleep for most people, leading to a huge knock-on effect the following day or even days.
The most comfortable way (if not the only) way to sleep properly on a camping mat is to sleep on your back. My top tip is to practice sleeping on your camping mat on the floor of your house a couple weeks out from the ride. It will take a few nights to get used to sleeping on your back on the thin pad, but persist, it will be well worth it. You may think this sounds weird; I'm drawing on past experience. My wife and I have done some longer bike tours, camping most nights. Once we acclimatised to sleeping on our backs on the sleeping mats, it was bliss!
There aren't many re-supply points along the route, and there is the factor of limited opening hours. Last year there was a shared spreadsheet of services and supply points that someone had very kindly put together, and we used that as a starting point for our own re-supply spreadsheet. Research opening days and hours, types of food or services on offer, and the distances between them.
By and large, we found enough drinking water, although please bear in mind this is a highly variable factor. Previous weather and rain patterns and route options will ultimately determine the availability of water. Ask around for local advice; we found a beautiful spring that way. Most 4x4'ers will generally be happy to provide a top up too, but just don't count on them being around.
For treating water, we carried a variety of filters and tablets between us.
I'd suggest the Hunt is not the time to experiment with new nutrition strategies. Know beforehand what works for you and how much you'll need. Again, bear in mind re-supply food options can be very limited and basic. Think crisps and lollies basic.
Typical fare on our journey was tinned tuna, peanut butter, oats, muesli, flatbreads, cous cous, and dehydrated meals.
I think it's also fair to say that its generally accepted that "real food" is preferable to gels on longer trips like these.
Gearing: Fit the lowest gearing you can. If you are in any doubt, go lower. For what it's worth, I was riding a 1x12 with a 30T chainring and a 10 - 50 tooth cassette, and wouldn't change a thing. There are 3rd party options available to increase the range of your cassette if needed. OneUp and Wolf Tooth are two that come to mind.
Tire width is another highly debated topic; our group had from around 2.2" up to 3" width tires. All tubeless. Personally, I'd pay more attention to picking a tire with a tough, cut resistant sidewall such as the Maxxis EXO range.
Bikepacking Bags and Gear
There are many bikepacking bag manufacturers and suppliers these days to choose from, along with plentiful information online. There are also many ways to carry and strap stuff to your bike, and I don’t think there is no right or wrong way. My only suggestion would be, "secure your load"! Over rough and bumpy terrain such as the Jagungal Wilderness, stuff can (and did) work loose or eject. I even secured my water bottles with a Voille or velcro strap.
I use a Revelate Designs Terrapin saddle bag and love how the drybag has an air purge valve, making it easy to compress down, and also love how the drybag is separate from the holster to get it on and off the bike quickly and easily. Just my personal choice, and in full disclosure I haven't used any other saddle bag for comparison. I'm also a big fan of the locally made Bike Bag Dude gear.
You have used and tested your gear on previous bikepacking trips haven't you?
A casual observation regarding the overall weight of your loaded rig: I noticed a correlation between riders scratching and the (apparent) weight of their bike and gear. The hilly terrain and amount of climbing involved favours those who manage to travel light. Controversial I know, but just an observation I made.
Tools and Spares
Does your multitool have a tool bit for each and every bolt on your bike? Consider carrying some spare bolts for critical components such as brakes in case one happens to work loose and get lost. I'd suggest carrying at least two spare sets of brake pads, and do you know how to change them yourself?. I also suggest starting the trip on new(ish) pads. If you are running tubeless (highly recommended), I suggest carrying a plug repair kit such as the Dynaplug or Genuine Innovations. They work.
I personally prefer the layering approach as recommended by most outdoorsy literature. Bear in mind the weather can be very changeable; it could be very hot, it could be snowing, it could do both. Merino and technical fabrics are generally regarded as better than cotton. Cotton is highly absorbent, becoming heavy when wet, and subsequently takes a long time to dry. If you are looking to get some good photos, having your mates wear bright colours will make for better photos as they will stand out against the surroundings.
I personally wouldn't bother with a dynamo hub for keeping devices or a cache battery charged on this ride; you'll hardly ever be going fast enough for the dynamo to be effective. I used a cache battery and charged it and my devices when mains power was available. I used a fast-charge charger with multiple USB outlets to maximise any charging opportunities. It worked well and would do the same again.
A small tip on the SPOT trackers. If you choose to turn your tracker off overnight, leave it on for a while once you arrive at your destination instead of turning it off straight away. The SPOT only reports your location every 5 to 10 minutes, so give it time to report your overnight location otherwise it could potentially show you as stuck up the road overnight.
- Show the others in the group how to use the spot/plb and where its kept in you kit
The two most popular methods of navigation seem to be Garmin devices and Smartphones. If using a smartphone, chose an app that allows you to download the relevant maps beforehand, and that will work offline. I can't speak for other Smartphones, but the GPS on an iPhone will work just fine even when in Airplane Mode. Essential for preserving battery life.
However you choose to navigate, please ensure you have a backup.
I found my body became progressively worn down and fatigued as the days went by, to the point where my legs would protest at the slightest hint of a gradient. It becomes more mental than physical to reach the finish line. I would suspect one's immune system takes a fair beating too, so think about paying attention to cleanliness and hygiene. It would be a shame for a head cold or upset stomach to spoil the fun after all the preparation you've put in.
Everyone has a bad moment or bad day. Try to remember its normal and don't give up!
Respect and Leave No Trace
Please take a poop trowel and toilet paper and respect the Leave no Trace principles. Our country is stunning; let's keep it that way. I feel that, each one of us, has a responsibility to respect all other trail users and the environment both because it’s the right thing to do, and to make sure these types of rides can continue to be held.
Please also carry out all of your rubbish with you until you can dispose of it properly in civilisation. Bikepacking.com has some good information on the leave no trace principle. and How to dump in the great outdoors
Riding alone or in a group
Entirely your choice, but something to bear in mind. The bigger the group, the higher the chance of mechanicals and other issues delaying the whole group. There are simply more bikes (and bodies) to break.
The absolute essentials:
- Get home safely
- Have fun
- Swim in a freezing mountain stream
- Sleep in a high country hut
- Be respectful, considerate and Leave no Trace
Remember, do your own research, this is just a rambling of my own thoughts