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Biking the Big Nasty... continued

Alia Parker's picture
Vincent waking up fatigued and dehydrated on the BNT. Cycle Traveller
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CT: Have you noticed differences in the terrain as you've progressed north?

VB: Yes definitely. The BNT goes through three states and one territory. Sometimes it's far from the coast, sometimes closer. Sometimes over the Great Dividing Range, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. It changes a lot, from mountains to farmlands. You don’t get all the different terrain available in Australia, but you get a lot of different things.

However, there are times you have a long stretch on a gravel road and the scenery is pretty much the same all along. The BNT is an amazing trail, don't get me wrong, but if you want to just be mind blown by the landscape and have a postcard type of environment in front of you, you might want to cherry pick bits and pieces of the BNT and other trails in the country and around the world. The BNT is historical, it is a challenge more than anything. But it also allows you to really explore the farmlands and get a feel of how life evolved around farming in these areas.

CT: What are you carrying with you and what's your strategy to keeping the weight down?

Bike cockpit setup. Cycle TravellerVB: When I started planning the trip, I had one rule: no more than 50kg. That included everything: equipment, bike, clothes (even the shoes and underwear I was wearing), water and food. I knew being light would be essential. For many people 50kg is a lot, but it’s an unsupported self-reliant trip in remote country. My only way out of a bad situation is to to call for an emergency rescue, and I don't want to have to do that – I could get fined if it turned out I was not carrying the essentials.

Getting specialised light equipment shipped from the USA took some time too. I would pay huge shipping fees just so I could get it quicker and return it or get something else as soon as possible if it didn't work out. I spent a lot of money. It was worth it. You don't want to go cheap with the adventure of your life.

I carry a decent first aid kit, spare AA batteries, enough food for seven days plus some contingency and emergency rations (in case I get stuck somewhere). I have seven litres of water max, water treatment, mobile phone, spare spokes, inner tubes, tools and so forth. The list could go on forever. I believe I have more than 250 items with me.

Before I bought any new equipment or item, I would check the weight and put it in an excel spreadsheet. Then I would study that spreadsheet again and think again what I could get rid of or replace with something lighter. Even so, I found at the beginning I was still carrying non-essential items. There is always something you have with you that seems important and would not be for someone else. I have a solar panel that I rarely use, I have many spare batteries and I hate running out of power, and I carry a lot of extra food because I hate getting hungry. Although there are some definite essentials, my setup is different from other’s, and that is ok.

The Bicentennial National Trail. Cycle Traveller

The other thing is that going extra light often means throwing away items. I made the mistake of buying light dry bags in order to save a few grams. That was silly as they didn’t last a week and the weight I saved was plain ridiculous. My comfort food was a lot heavier than the bags. Whenever I buy anything now, I go for things that are more durable, even if they’re heavier because replacing anything has been very hard on the BNT. There is not a single bike or camping store on the way!

CT: Have you met many other bikepackers along the way?

VB: That is an easy question to answer because I haven't met many at all. Actually, not a single one riding at the same time as me. There was someone on a touring bike a day behind me. By coincidence, he left from Healesville the day after I departed. He changed route after the Blue Mountains in NSW and we never met.

I have met some trekkers. There was Tim, the young and eager trekker on foot going from the south to the top of Cape York. I was behind him and he was almost as fast as me and for a while it looked like we were racing. We met for the first time north of NSW, just before Queensland and we kept bumping into each other for a while. I would have some days off, and he would eventually catch up. I reckon I’ll see him again somewhere, despite being on a bike.

Then there was Sue with her horse and her husband as her support team. Recently there was another lady, Jackie, with three horses and her parents as support. In Queensland, a young lady had to stop for five months at a farm after her horse got attacked by a bull. And not long ago, I was suppose to meet two girls trekking the other way on foot. We planned to meet but missed each other by nothing. We were camped a kilometre apart from each other and didn’t know it.

So in summary, I met three official BNT trekkers, two near misses, but not a single bikepacker. That is over 5,500km and five months. The trail is underutilised and very few people attempt it on a bike. If they do, it would be for a short section only, which makes sense to me. If not doing the whole trail, it’s better to cherry pick the best sections for a weekend ride.

Cycling the BNT. Cycle Traveller

There are a few more people doing the trail on horses and even camels and donkeys, you name it.

CT: What made you want to ride the BNT in the first place?

VB: I started the trail as a sort of grown up rite of passage. A transition to adulthood although I'm already an adult. I wanted to do something without feeling the need to be validated by my parents or mentors and friends. I wanted to push the boundaries, do something extremely hard and realise at the end of it that I'm still alive, but I would have changed, allowing me to grow.

I started alone and didn't tell many people about what I was doing. I think I wanted to start alone and not tell anyone so that I would not be influenced by negative feedback. I knew I was not mentally strong enough to not care about people's opinion: too dangerous, too hard, don't do it. Now I know what I'm capable of and I'm stronger in that regard. Then the further I went, the more I embraced the support of others and the less I enjoyed being alone.

Bicentennial National Trail. Cycle TravellerCT: Has it changed you?

VB: It has also allowed me to experience another extreme, being away from office work. Maybe I'll find the middle ground at some point. At the beginning of the trip I thought I would keep on living this life for as long as I could – as in cycling and living the nomad life. Now my views have changed and I will use this experience to understand more about what does and what doesn’t work for me. I still have a lot of unresolved questions and lately more doubts. It's a continuous circle, questioning, experiencing...

CT: Any advice for others thinking of cycling the BNT ... advice that you would have appreciated before setting out?

VB: Don’t underestimate the amount of preparation, but make it part of the adventure, part of the fun. It is exciting to get new equipment and train. Most people who have succeeded were very prepared.

It's important to know that it keeps you busy mentally and physically. However, travelling alone, the isolation makes it easy to obsess about things with your thoughts going around in a circle. You need to break the circle one way or another and think about something new. Bring something in that will entertain you or change your perspective a little bit. Books and movies and podcasts have helped me.

The next thing is that if I’ve done it, most people can do it. I’m not superhuman as far as I know. Do it your way – that's the right way. Have a look at what others do, but in the end, it’s your trip, your adventure, you own damn life. So go with what feels right for you.

Rail tunnel. Cycle Traveller

Expect the worst, do some reading and browse the blogs and social media. Riding the trail is extremely hard. When it’s not physical, it’s mentally insane. I find it’s easier to expect the worst and feel relief when the BNT gives me some rest. A friend of mine who has an amazing blog on the BNT, Michael Rogers, calls it the BIG NASTY TRAIL. That should stick.

Helpful links

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Alia Parker's picture

A quick update ... Vincent has completed the entire trail to Cooktown. A big congratulations to you.

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