“I’ve been thinking of doing this bikepacking trip up to New Norcia” Louise said, “are you interested?” This is how it started, with one person’s inspiration, and then organisation, to get the group of us together and on the road. We had a planning meeting and figured out important logistics like where to sleep and how many hours it would take to ride each day. The plan was to ride to New Norcia and back over four days, following the Pilgrim Trail. The excitement built as we packed our gear in the lead up to the trip.
In the weeks before we headed off, we had been closely watching the weather forecast. As it got closer to the date we realised the weather was not going to be great. In fact it was forecast to be pretty terrible: fine on the Saturday, but Sunday and Monday had forecast storms, strong winds and lots of rain. Louise checked in with us all – were we still up for the trip? Most of us agreed that yes we were game, we had all our wet weather gear packed and were ready for whatever may come.
We departed at 8:30 am on Saturday morning from Guildford train station, following the Pilgrim Trail up West Swan Road, across Maali pedestrian bridge and along Railway Cres to Bells Rapids. At Bells, we made use of the toilets and rediscovered the joy of hot jam donuts. A few photos on the bridge as we crossed the river, and then we started the off-road part of the trail.
The Pilgrim Trail is designed as a walking track, also open to cyclists. But some sections are more suited to take on foot, particularly the riverside path which is a very narrow cleared trail interspersed with sharp looking rocks. There was a lot of walking and many bruises from pedals in the shins. It could have been frustrating, but we viewed it as just part of the journey, and we had expected the first section to be mostly walking.
After a lot of walking and a bit of riding, we got to Walyunga National Park. Final toilet stop and top up with water, as this was the last supply point until we reached New Norcia in 1.5 days. At this point I was pretty happy I’d brought all my water from home, as the water quality was questionable. Quite a few others filled up here and didn’t suffer any ill effects though. Then we were off up the trail, up some stairs and onto the next segment.
This segment was hilly. Mostly rideable, depending on your luggage weight, gearing and skills. All of us had to walk a few of the steeper bits. We undulated and climbed, saw some views of Perth, sweated and enjoyed the sunshine. We stopped at the top of one of the climbs for a quick lunch and bush mechanic work (adjusting luggage and saddles). We were trying to minimise stops to get as far as we could in the fine weather. At the end of this section we had to go through two farm gates, thankfully we could get them open so we didn’t have to lift our bikes over the fences.
After the last gate, we had a bitumen section (more hills), then a good but rough bridle trail section, which came out onto Chittering Rd (more bitumen). After a decent stint on Chittering Rd and Wilson Rd, we turned up Wanaka Rd – the Moondyne Climb. It started as bitumen and became hard packed gravel, a quite lovely 2.5 km steady climb with views back over our shoulders. Everyone enjoyed a brief snack at the top (including more donuts, because bikepacking).
The rest of the day was double dirt roads, some corrugations, some undulations, some puddles (we could get around them today, but what about on the way back?). We agreed to stop at 4:30 pm as we had reached a spot that looked good to camp (flat and relatively open bush) and had done a good distance.
Day 1 was 70 km at an average moving speed of 13 kph, riding time of 5:20 and elapsed time of 8 hrs (pretty long water refill plus donuts at Bells plus lunch and bike mechanics).
Our overnight camp spot was just a patch of bush. No facilities. We had brought our camping gear, cooking gear, food, water and ablutions (shovel and wet wipes). We each found a spot and set up our tent/ bivy, then congregated near some large logs as our dinner spot.
This camp site had in fact been used by previous riders who were known to Louise, and we made use of the fire pit they had used. It was great to have the camp all set up and start food prep in the last vestiges of daylight. It was also fun to see what everyone else had for food and to share the relaxed preparation and enjoyment of food around a fire (with gas stoves). My dinner consisted of miso soup (entree), rehydrated homemade savoury mince and rice (mains) and hot chocolate (dessert). I don’t tend to drink much on the bike so I always focus on liquids in the evening to rehydrate. I carried 4 litres with me – I had drunk most of 1 L during the ride, and used 1 L for dinner. The budget was 1 L for breakfast (ended up being only half that) and 1 L for the next day’s ride (0 used!).
Eventually we finished our meals and scattered the ashes to put out the fire, then made our way to bed. I snuggled into my bivy with the head vent open, gazing up at the stars, and fell asleep. The wind picked up after a little while, and the rain started sprinkling at midnight. I closed my bivy totally, but found I was too hot and a bit claustrophobic. So I opened the vent a little, enough for some fresh air, and the rain still stayed out. Although I woke up many times, I went back to sleep quickly and was comfortable all night – I slept reasonably well.
My alarm went off at 6 am and I was excited to realise it wasn’t raining and we had a break of at least an hour or so from the rain. Perfect. I quickly got up, got half dressed into my kit in the bivy, got out and finished dressing. Then I packed all my clothes and electrics and other bits into bags, and packed up my sleep system. Everything was dry!
Time to wake up Greg, who had not yet stirred, and get breakfast going. We had porridge with jam, banana bread, and aeropress black coffee for breakfast. Then we got Greg’s tent packed and all our gear on our bikes. Sadly it had started raining quite heavily before we packed the tent, so the tent was wet. On the plus side, we now had all our warm and waterproof layers on and we were ready for the day.
I was wearing a short sleeve base layer, fleecy jersey with DWR exterior, insulated gilet, rain jacket with hood, warm gloves, waterproof thick gloves over the top, cap with a peak (to keep rain off my glasses), buff on my ears, rain jacket hood under my helmet, buff around my neck, short bibs, full length rain pants, merino socks, and waterproof socks over the top. Everyone else had jackets with hoods under helmets, although I noticed most of the others weren’t wearing rain pants (just long bibs or leg warmers). We set off at 8:30 am, just half an hour behind schedule.
The first section through Julimar State Forest was beautiful wandoo bushland, scenic trees to distract us from the ongoing drizzle. The terrain was gravel trail, a bit up and down but nothing steep, not technical but attention was needed to pick the right line as it was a bit boggy and rocky in places. It was cold – 7 degrees for the first five hours, only warming up to 10 degrees maximum as the sun came out briefly around 3 pm.
Leaving the wandoo bush, we had a section along some farm area and then alongside the Defence military training area. Both of these were more exposed to the wind, and the rain, which had picked up to be what could be described as “driving rain”. I was still warm and dry(ish) under my layers, and could still see out of my glasses, and was feeling strong on the bike, so I was happy. The track alongside the military area was probably the most technical of the whole trail, with climbs and descents (not steep) with rocks and ruts and, thanks to the rain, lots of flowing water on clay. I was enjoying myself and conquering the technical aspects well – thanks in part to my excellent bike (Specialised Diverge) with 650B x 47 mm tyres for traction. Others were not enjoying the climbing and technical aspects so much – I tried to help out where I could, by sitting in front in the wind, taking a steady pace, and choosing good lines that others could follow. I also reminded people to keep eating, it is so important in the cold and a surprising amount of energy is used in keeping warm.
Once past the technical section along the military area, we were on gravel roads next to farm areas. People were happy to be on less technical track, but it was more exposed to the wind and rain and less interesting scenery. Our average speed picked up nevertheless. A few people had been suffering with cold and needed a lunch break, so we stopped in a shed that housed huge farming machinery. Most people ate some proper food and put on extra layers. I already had on all my layers and was warm, and I’d been eating continuously so wasn’t hungry. I had a snack and a discreet toilet stop and tried to keep warm by doing star jumps. We were only halfway through the distance for the day, and it was already 12:30 pm.
After about 45 min we set off again. The rest of the trail was unremarkable gravel road alongside farm land. At least the farms were scenic in winter, with bright green crops or yellow carpets of canola in flower. The most technical part of the roads was finding the best line between corrugations and sucking mud. I was still happy and riding strong, but I was starting to think about the return journey. I had to go back to work on Wednesday, so if I didn’t get home until Tuesday evening I’d have no time to deal with my wet and muddy gear. I also had a rent inspection coming up on Thursday – my house was already clean, but it wouldn’t be if I had a bathroom / laundry full of muddy gear. I was pretty motivated to get home a day earlier on Monday evening. I also didn’t really want to walk the Avon River section, which I figured would be mud and would be quite awful to do after four days on the bike. I thought if I could map a road route, I could ride faster and get home in one long day.
By about 3 pm it started to get warmer (10 degrees) and the sun came out. By this time, we were mostly riding in ones and twos at our own pace. I was appreciating all the different kinds of wildflowers, and as the sun came out I loved the sparkles of raindrops in all the bushes, like crystals. It occurred to me that my appreciation for the sun and the beauty was so high because I’d been in dreary rain all day – it is the hard times that make us appreciate the good times. I was also meditating that everything changes. The good times and the hard times don’t last forever. I was definitely feeling like a Pilgrim as we approached the end of the trail.
Then of course the weather changed again and the rain set in for the last hour. We had a brief section of about 4 km on Great Northern Highway, then the turnoff to New Norcia. We stopped at the roadhouse for end of ride supplies (milky/ sugary drinks and salty crisps) and made our way to the monastery guesthouse where we were staying. We had finished just in the last bit of daylight (5 pm) and the sun had come out again to shine on the white walls of the monastery for our finishing photo.
Day 2 we had covered 88 km in 8:30 total time, with an average moving speed of 13.6 kph, and about 2 hours of stops.
We made our way to our respective rooms, all of us contemplating options for the return journey. I mapped out a road route that mostly avoided Great Northern Highway, at 165 km. I figured my average speed would probably be at least 15 kph and I didn’t plan on doing much. If I left at 6 am I calculated I’d finish around 7 pm. That was fine.
After sorting out all our wet gear and hanging it out to dry, plus showers, we made our way to the dining room where we enjoyed a simple but nourishing dinner. The best bit was after dinner when all us riders congregated in the lounge room for dessert and ended up on the floor doing stretches and talking about our plans for the next day, as well as deeper things like creating a life that reflects who you are.
The next morning I set off at 6:15 am. I had left the rest of the crew behind due to injuries, bike mechanical issues and choosing the wiser option of phoning a friend. It was still dark when I started. I had all my rain layers back on, most of which were dry. And it was raining, but that was fine. I was cheerful and looking forward to the prospect of riding all day and getting home.
First stop was Mogumber, about 7:30 am, where I found a couple of old boys sitting on the verandah of the pub. They didn’t seem very supportive of me riding on the roads and thought I was crazy to be out in that weather. But at least I was warm (it was only 6 degrees and they looked freezing). One guy was kind enough to open my cheese and crackers, which I couldn’t do with gloves on. Cheese and crackers for first morning tea, a few stretches, and I was back on my bike.
I was doing quite a good pace, average around 20 kph which was faster than I expected. I had only roughly figured out the distance to Bindoon, which was the planned coffee and bakery stop. Looking at the road signs along the way, I gathered it was around 65-70 km. So that would be around 10 am. I stopped a couple of times on the roadside briefly for bites of a piece of fruitcake, which was second morning tea. The weather was more changeable today – the rain had eased off and the sun had actually come out! On one of my brief stops I went so far as to take off my helmet and remove my rain jacket hood from under the helmet, as I was overheating a bit. It was nice to get some fresh air and more visibility without the hood on, but I realised what a great job the hood had done at keeping the wind noise down.
The route to Bindoon was lovely, after the first 4.5 km on Great Northern Highway, the rest was on smaller roads. Bindoon-Moora Rd had a bit of traffic but wasn’t too bad. Then I turned off that about 15 km out of Bindoon onto much smaller and quieter roads. A highlight was the fun farm animals – including one paddock with a large horse and a small shaggy pony, with matching blankets, lined up next to each other in identical poses, and watching me as I rode past. Super sweet, but I was on a mission and didn’t stop for many photos.
I got to Bindoon Bakehaus pretty much as I’d calculated, around 10 am. I had decided this would be my only food stop, so I ordered a coffee and much anticipated baked cheesecake to eat straightaway, plus a pie and sauce for later. It was quite a long wait for my coffee, so I took the chance to use the toilets while waiting, then scoffed my cheesecake and coffee and got myself organised. I had decided to try listening to an audio book while I rode, so it took me a while to fish out my headphones, get them hooked up and tucked into my buff, put my hood on, get my phone in my jacket waterproof pocket, realise I hadn’t turned my book on, get my phone out again, turn on the book and put the phone back away. I decided to leave off the waterproof gloves for now, as it was pretty sunny, so I also had to attach them into the saddle bag and put the pie in my feed bag. And I bought a lemonade for later!
Finally I was off. It was only about a 20-25 min stop all up. The first 7 km or so was on Great Northern Highway, but there was a generous shoulder all the way so it was quite OK even with a few trucks passing. It also helped having my jacket hood and earphones blocking out some of the traffic noise – I could still hear traffic coming, plus the beeps from my rear view radar whenever vehicles were coming.
I then turned onto Chittering Road for the Chittering Valley portion of the ride. This is a beautiful quiet road winding through rolling hills and valleys, which I had done only once before. The weather continued to be changeable, rain setting in soon after I turned onto Chittering Rd, so I stopped and fished out the waterproof gloves again. I was much enjoying the audio book, I was listening to Cadel Evans autobiography, which was interesting as well as being not distracting and not critical if I missed a few words here and there.
Next stop was towards the end of Chittering Valley, about 11:30 am, as I was getting hungry so it was time for the pie! Although the pie was no longer hot, it was tasty and washed down nicely with some lemonade. Plus the sun came out – I shed waterproof gloves and winter gloves and went for the short finger summer gloves.
Another 15 km or so including a long gradual climb, and I was at the top of the descent down to Bullsbrook. I had reached the end of one audio book, so I stopped and fished out my phone to start a new book. I took the chance to fish out two half-wraps with cream cheese and Nutella. In spite of being three days old and being in a zip lock bag swimming in water in my race handlebar bag, they were delicious! It was a pretty fast descent and there was more traffic so I was paying a lot of attention to the road surface, obstacles in the shoulder, and signs of traffic behind me. Safely down the bottom, I didn’t need a food stop but I saw signs for toilets at the intersection at the bottom of the hill. A quick pit stop then back on the bike.
I had mentally split the ride into three parts – the first part to Bindoon on semi back roads, the second part on quiet roads through Chittering Valley to Bullsbrook, and the final part riding out along Neaves Rd to the NorthLink PSP and home. I was now on the final part and it felt like the home run. A lot of concentration for the transition up Great Northern Highway, Rutland Rd and Neaves Rd to the PSP. Traffic was pretty good, but with the more exposed road the wind started to make a nuisance of itself. It was headwind going to the west – on the aerobars the whole way.
Then onto the PSP. Although it was still about 40 km to go, my calculations had me finishing around 3:30 pm now, which I was super happy about. Most of the speed had been gained by short stops, plus my average speed was closer to 21 kph. I kept snacking on the path, snakes which I could eat while riding, and spoonfuls of peanut m&ms (because they were in the base of my feed bag I couldn’t reach them with my hand, so I had to stop for these). Thank goodness for my audio book keeping my mind engaged, as the PSP was pretty monotonous and the closer I got to the city, the windier it got. I spent a lot of time on my aerobars and had good practice holding a straight line while riding on an angle in strong crosswind.
As I got even closer to the city, I saw a sign on the highway that Tonkin Highway was closed at Guildford Rd. Then I was a massive line of stationary traffic that extended back past the previous highway exit. I decided it was a good day to be on a bike. I got to the end of the PSP and onto Railway Parade, and took the road to Bayswater train station to get onto the Midland- Perth PSP. At the intersection near the train station, there was another line of traffic, which I filleted past on the left and then took the train station car park and footpath to avoid busy anxious traffic at the intersection. A short jaunt on the final PSP section and I was home, as calculated at 3:30 pm. I was super happy with my riding for the day, and still felt quite good.
In spite of the weather, or maybe because of the weather, it was a super enjoyable long weekend. It was more fun being out in the bush than sitting at my desk working! Huge thanks to Louise and the rest of the crew for initiating the trip, planning the logistics and contributing to the supportive and caring vibe of the trip. Looking forward to more to come!