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6am on a dead side street of Canberra, 27 bike-packers; 26 dudes, and 1 woman (me) set off with an unceremonious push – to begin the first of 1000 kilometres towards Melbourne. A difficult off-road traverse across the great dividing range of NSW and Victoria’s high country. Through rough and rocky fire trails, alpine walking tracks, and rugged land from where the most iconic stories of Australian bushman were born.

The Hunt 1000 was a romantic ride as much as a physical challenge. It was designed to be a jaunt, casual and social but free to set your own challenge – whether it was to be the fastest, to push beyond your own expectations, or like me, just being at the start line willing and eager was my challenge achieved.

It was only two weeks earlier I was asked to do the Hunt 1000 by Ollie from Omafiets, with no females currently registered I agreed, in order to represent my gender.

I have touring gear (in working condition) but it wasn’t going to be appropriate for this. My gear was selected for 3 years of cycling on road and The Hunt 1000 was short and described as a mountain bike ride. My low hung panniers would bounce around like children on a jumping castle, and the low weight would make for difficult manoeuvring on rocky, slippery, sandy tracks.

 I didn’t want to make the Hunt 1000 more difficult than it was already going to be. I was willing to use and do anything to be at the start line but if I was going to have a chance to enjoy myself I needed to find some equipment.

Gathering equipment turned out to be easy. Generous friends came to my aid. Cheeky Transport in Newtown lent me a bike – The Bombtrack Beyond 2016 model, a dreamy off-road bike that was more capable than anything I had.

My friends lent me lighter sleeping bags, mats, jumpers. I borrowed Oveja Negra, Relevate and Apidura bags from friends – and just like that I suddenly had all the best bike packing equipment.

I started furiously trying to strengthen my problem knee, praying it wouldn’t be a reason I pull out. I bought rolls of strapping and knee support bandages readying myself for the fight that was surely to come.

The amount of climbing we were setting out to do over those 7 days equated to climbing Mount Everest two times over… and then some. I had a feeling my knee would give me grief no matter how much time I spend on it.

Cheeky Transport Newtown

I flew down to Canberra, our nations capital, after work the night before, barely a 30 minute flight. I was sat next to a 68-ish man who had introduced himself immediately as he sat down and we spoke the length of the flight as old friends.

He was a cattle farmer on the Brindabella Ranges. An area surrounded by national parks, it is home to the heritage listed Brindabella Station and the childhood home for the Australian author and feminist Miles Franklin. We were to cross those same Brindabella Ranges on the first day.

He had the well groomed dusty appearance of a happy and well worked man. His well cared for but faded shirt tucked in to his moleskin chinos, heavy shoes and open smiling face. He told me stories of what it is like to live in rural Australia. Like a fight he had with a boar, it’s tusks as sharp as knives slashing his arms and gutting his dog. He was a kind and gentle man, he had a slow, understanding and comforting voice.

I showed him my paper directions that was get me from Canberra all the way to Melbourne. It had notes such as – ‘fill up water at side stream’ – he could name the stream and the different flows it had around the year, the types of fish and dramatic points in its history. He told me about how he moves his cattle through those same tracks I was riding the next day, discussing the surface, and warning me to be careful.

He offered me a lift out of the airport, his wife was waiting to pick him up, I said no with a thank you, just to simplify things and I promised to email. My plan was to put my bike together and ride to the start-line, pull out my Sol Bivvy (an waterproof emergency blanket type cover that would help increase my temperature range of my sleeping bag) and start my camping in a dark corner of canberra’s city centre, if I couldn’t wrangle a place to stay.

I called Brad, an ex-messenger, bike-shop worker, bike packing/mountain biking extraordinaire who I had seen the previous day at Cheeky Transport. We had met a few years beforehand at the Single Speed Nationals in Dungog. He spends most of his time traveling and sleeping in his Van, parking in lush cycling spots, and generally living the free life.

He had dropped into Cheeky Transport on his way down to Canberra, I assumed to join The Hunt  – “I prefer to ride my bike, not push it” he had told someone when they asked him why he wasn’t. He said he would likely be out having a drink and to give him a buzz.

 So I called as I waited for the ‘oversized luggage’ door to birth my bike. He said he was just outside the airport, I looked onto the street through the glass (despite Canberra being the capital it has a very regional Airport) he touched his breaks a couple of times to say hello. “Are you here for me?” I said surprised. “Yep, and I have a place for you to stay”. He took me to Coles to pick up some food, telling me that there wont be anything open that time on a Sunday morning, and once you leave the outskirts of Canberra there wont be anything for days, so we wandered around the aisles getting flat breads, peanut butter, tuna. Balancing between food that will allow me to ride and recover but not fill up my bags with heavy, bulky or too soft food.

Bomb track Beyond Hunt 1000

We drove through Canberra’s dark suburban streets to Stan (Canberra’s Monkey Wrench cycles) and his pregnant wife’s house. Who gave me a flannel sheeted double bed in a quiet room out the back all to myself.

4.30am I blinked furiously to try and wake up – packed my bags while Stan and Brad put my bike back together, popped it back in the van and drove to the start line getting there at 5.55am. I shoved half a muffin in my mouth gave Brad a big, long hug as an expression of my gratitude which he returned in equal measure as a mark of good luck.

I took a few extra chomps of the muffin and put it on the ledge before I jumped on the my bike to join on the now rolling pack.

There were a couple of people I knew, Oliver and Chris from Omafiet’s in Redfern and Krus and Lewis – Melbourne couriers, we said hello’s and hands on backs as we rode along shared paths winding through long, strawy grass, Kangaroo’s watching us pass while we left Canberra.

hunt 1000 bike packing

I fell back from the pack 45 minutes into the ride, once we were on the road the whirring group thinned. I was happily at the back, watching the men fade into the morning mist ahead of me, I had finally gotten my Garmin to work after it had been telling me I was going the wrong way all morning and was teaching myself how to use it as I rode along. It now struck a confident line with 1000km in-front of me.

jorja creighton hunt 1000 2016

The chill lifted and exposed a warm sun, Canberra was alarmingly quick to turn into wide rolling terrain, lush and laden with dew, rivers running swiftly and full of water. I hit dirt roads a couple of hours in and as my front wheel rolled over from tarmac to gravel I felt the ride begin as the hum of my tires became a crunch.

hunt 1000 2016

Rocky and dry fire-trails turned into remote meadow tracks and back again all afternoon. My back was aching which was unusual, the sun was blazing and bothering, I rode with Rupert for a couple of slow km, he was wearing a thick flannel shirt against the sun because he didn’t have any sun block. He was on a randonneur style bike and his 30-something-inch wheels were not coping with the rocky, grassy, and holed terrain. Eventually he fell back and I continued alone. I popped through the tree line of Broken Cart Track around 6pm and entered Long Plain. The day was closing and the sun was setting.

hunt 1000 2016

Long Plain had a light gravel road gently snaking across the long channel of rough meadow. After the jolting and difficult handling of the past 10 hours riding the light gravel track was smooth as silk. Trees lined either side as I rode SW looking for the evenings suggested campsite – It was marked at 119km on my map. I was touching 116km on my Garmin, I watched the sun lessen and lessen, rabbits hopped through the alpine herbs, a cool breeze dried my sweat.

Word had filtered down the riders during the day that everyone was pushing on a further 50km to try and ease the big km days ahead. I didn’t expect anyone to be at the campsite tonight except for the two riders behind me.

I saw two figures in a stream, as I rode closer I saw the bikes. I rode towards them smiling and excited to of finished the first day, I introduced myself to Gypsy and Michael, who had just had an “Australian Onsen” and washed off the days sweat in the small shallow, crystal waterway.

hunt 1000 2016

I took all my clothes off and stepped down into the water, my weak knee wobbling as I put weight from the grassy banks, my feet, hot and soft, hurt in the cold water. I stood there naked and pale and sore in the dusk cupping the water onto my thighs and breasts, neck and face and ass as Michael and Gypsy told me about their hard day with the tubeless tires failing forcing them to fall behind.

I washed the layers of dirt and sunblock away and strode up over and put my dirty clothes back on.

We rode the 100m up to the open plan campsite and towards Cooinbil Hut; the hand made cabin of two rooms, each with a window, and a fireplace sat looking across treeless Long Plain and the headwaters of Murrumbidgee River.

Cooinbil Hut was a sentimental reminder of how the sheep and cattle famers of the early 1900 lived on the high country plains of Kosciuszko National Park.

hunt 1000 2016
bikepacking hunt 1000

The snow gums remaining bright as if lit by lights, well into the sunset. Kookaburras sat above us watching. Two horses belonging to one of the other campsite inhabitants were grazing in a paddock. I gathered firewood as the boys cooked their dinner.

Two cowboy’s came to say hello, wide shoulders, rough and tanned arms, chambray shirts tucked into their blue denim jeans and bent cowboy hats, standing, chatting with Gypsy with their thumbs in their pockets. They told stories of their horses, the gold across the mountain and of Brumbies – The wild horses of Australia.

Brumbies are the descendants of escaped or lost horses of the Australian settlers. The journey by sea from England, Europe and Asia when horses were first introduced to Australia meant that only the strongest horses survived, making the Australian Brumby a particularly healthy and strong stock – helping in their ability to flourish.

An hour later as the sun was well and truly gone we watched three brumby shadows only just breaking the darkness of the night move in to graze with their domesticated cousins. Michael pulled out a 1 litre hip flask of Rum and after a swig each we slipped into a sleep each curled on the wooden floor, sleeping bags up to our ears, and little smirk on my face as the fire crackled us a lullaby.

During the night the cabin lost its heat, the fire had gone out and (especially the boys from Brisbane) sleep became difficult as morning became colder. Alarms started at 4.30 and once the embers were turned into a morning fire Cooinbil Hut came back to life. We were 4, bumping around in the early morning stiffness, packing up bags, slowly cooking breakfast. Michael cooking a chorizo flat bread while I watched amazed at how lush he was travelling. Thinking he must be really seasoned at this.

I had soaked some oats over night in water – it tasted horrible, they were stone cold and watery, but they were quick. I was offered a fancy aero pressed coffee in a saucepan which I could hardly turn down.

I watched the boys set off into the morning mist that hung suspended in the air like on marionette  strings in the shallow valley.

Hunt 1000 2016 jorja creighton
jorja creighton filling water from river

By the time I set off to fill my water in the springs the mist had lifted the the sun already had its warm hand on the back of my neck.

I stopped and pulled my pants all the way down to my ankles on the side of the gravel road and sat butt naked to re-strap my knee. The bumpy rocky terrain of the previous day shook my ankles into an ache, they were sore and since the strapping on my knee was working miracles I strapped both ankles too.

While I was at it, I strapped my shoes which had split clean across the rubber sole where the cleat sat, both shoes now were weak and I feared they wouldn’t last with all the walking that was ahead of me.

jorja creighton

 It was a glorious second morning,

A 10 km ride along Long plain I bumped into the Snowy Mountains Highway marked with bright yellow lines against the jet black tar. It felt like a lifetime since I had ridden on tarmac and rolling onto the inky surface it was like I was floating.

bikepacking australia

I was in Gold Rush territory. Riding along an expanse of wide land, undulating on either side of me, the road struck a confident line through the highlands, a thick and weighty black ribbon through a plateau in the great dividing range.

I found rhythm despite the side swiping gusts of wind, there was nearly no cars, just one or so every 10 minutes. I felt like I had the world to myself.

I slipped into daydream where working men and loud, groaning machines were littered around the landscape toiling in the Gold Rush. Yelling and hauling, movement all around, but the land is quiet and still now. Just the wind and small birds bring movement to the 1800m highlands.

Some large machinery sits in the alpine grasses. Still, as if frozen in time, there as a reminder.

A small decent and a right turn off the Snowy Mountains HWY towards Mount Selwyn, the road an offshoot from the valley, I start small climbs against the headwind.

Water moves all around the alpine meadows, narrow and hidden under long grasses, snaking around in narrow channels, running off tiny waterfalls, joining up with each other. A man stands with his fly fishing rod, gumboots up to his knees – in the middle of a clear narrow stream, he gives me a big wave. I return it equal in size.

Hunt 1000 2016 jorja creighton

50km into the second day I reached Cabramurra, the highest permanently inhabited town in Australia. It was marked as a point where I would need to get food before the next few days riding.

It was a strange town built for the use of the Snowy hydro workers, it had facilities for them to use like a swimming pool, a bristo and a shop. I ate a massive lunch from the bistro and went to the very small shop, that was heavy on junk and where nothing was appetising to someone who had just overeaten.

I bought a couple of cans of tuna and pumpkin soup to put in a fire that night. It wasn’t until I was standing a top a loose rocky peak looking across the vast Jagungal Wilderness 30km later  did I think I was under stocked with food.

hunt 1000 track
hunt 1000 trail

The riding got very slow.

I reached Round Mountain Track at 3pm and it took me to 7pm to make a further 13km.

My back aching again from the rough terrain, and the pushing of my bike under crumbling, loose, rocky dirt. It was arduous. Riding/pushing and managing my fury at the literally thousands of flies that sat on my back and zoomed in and out of my ears.

Through the stumbling and pushing, the dripping of sweat – the flies were sitting in my eyes, launching themselves into my ears, moving around the corners of my lips, the unrelenting humming and unsolicited violation of my personal space.

Diminished and beaten I said “the flies have won, they are the true rulers of this world and there is nothing we can do.”

I pulled out the spare anything cage straps I had in my borrowed Apidura handlebar bag. I weaved the straps through my helmet, so the straps hung around my face, and as I jolted along the track the moving straps kept the flies away from my face. I felt like the smartest person in the world and I toke it back; the flies will never win.

jorja creighton

I caught sight of a group of 30 or so boys in the distance walking in a line along the track some 300meters ahead with tall bags on their backs.

I rode by slowly, saying ‘hello’, my straps bouncing embarrassingly around my face, I tried to tuck them behind my ears. I asked them where they were heading tonight, “Greymare Hut” one of them replied, “1km ahead”.

I said goodbye’s and pushed forward. The goal had been Valentine Hut, it was another 8km, which was going to take another couple of hours.

But now I was dreaming of Greymare Hut… just 1km ahead.

I saw Greymare Hut sitting across the valley on the side of a short and sharp hill. I launched myself down the hill into the valley, past another little group of boys who were sitting, resting on the side of the track on their way to Greymare. I sped past them with a ‘whoop!’ from them and a ‘whoop!’ from me.

I rode fast down the hill and into the small, wide valley, through a river crossing, shooting the water up either side and into my shoes.

The hut was made from corrugated iron, I saw it had a chimney and therefore a fireplace, it stood up on the side of the mountain above the round valley, surrounded by white snow gums and a few left over gold mining machines.

I pushed my bike up the hill to where the Hut was sitting, my body aching, pausing every few meters to rest, knowing this was my limit for the day.

Thinking it wouldn’t take the boys long I started a fire and rolled out my mat and bag. Soaked some more oats and crushed a paleo bar in it for dinner.

The hut had held a few stump chairs, a massive fireplace, with heavy iron grates and pokers, broken firewood already piled in a neat little pile atop a small piece of paper made by the previous inhabitants.

greymare hut hunt 1000 2016

It had wooden bunk beds, a little cabinet of dried pasta, matches, a bottle to use to collect the water from the side stream. Old and faded maps of the park hung on the walls, thin lines marking the walking tracks and triangles the peaks.

I finally heard the voices of the school boys carry clear across the valley, as if they stood just outside. I walked outside and saw in the valley domes of blue sitting in the short grass next to the river, they had chosen to camp in the valley rather than hike up the hill to the hut. I settled in turning my socks that hung by the fire and dried my shoes, the cleats ready to pull away from the sole.

I was falling asleep hungry, scared to eat more food. Understanding just how slow off-road km’s are I wasn’t sure I would make the next town in two days and having 3/4 of a day of food left. It was about to get interesting.

 The stars burnt bright in the ink sky through the drafty window just above my head. I thought how this Australia was unrecognisable to me, I felt the pleasure of the unknown as if I was in another country. Gone are the dry bushy tracks and sounds of the Australian wilderness I knew. It was dead quiet. My alarm was set for 5am ready for another day.

Continued next week…

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