I rarely ride alone on Saturdays. My regular riding buddies were all occupied today, so I took advantage of the opportunity and spent the day exploring the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail between Fernvale and Toogoolawah. I ambitiously planned a loop of about 140km which I hoped I would finish before the sun set.
I set out bright and early from Fernvale and headed north, greeting happy walkers out enjoying the fresh morning.
The 8 km section of the trail between Fernvale and Lowood is scenic and very smooth. It would be perfect for a low-impact roll on the bike with kids, to enjoy views of the Brisbane River serenely flowing past. I grinned and enjoyed the picturesque river while effortlessly gliding along on the bike.
I rolled past numerous farms and herds of contented cattle. Some of them were grazing on the trail, but didn’t seem too worried by me. Whenever I saw cattle on the trail ahead I started talking gently to them – I figured if they heard me from a distance they wouldn’t be startled, so I wouldn’t have to deal with stampeding livestock.
Wisps of cloud streamed off the D’Aguilar Range to the east. I’ve often ridden up there, but have rarely seen it from this side. As usual, the mountains looked gorgeous.
Near Coominya I moved onto the paved road. There were few gaps in my Map that I obsessively wanted to close.
Last year I rode around Atkinson Dam with my friends. Today I wanted to retrace some of those tracks, so I made a slight detour from the Rail Trail, past numerous farm and industrous workers in the fields.
Contented after joining my tracks up, I then headed north to join back up with the rail trail near Coominya. The land round here is flat, the sky is high, and I had a wonderful feeling of space and freedom as the gravel crunched under my tyres.
And then I returned to the scene of a nasty injury I had last year…
A while ago while crossing this creek with Eric I slipped and tore the ligaments in my knee. This resulted in a long recovery period over several months, during which I couldn’t ride. As I came back today, I allowed myself the indulgence of defying misfortune, and lofting my bike above my head. I had recovered from that injury, I had returned to the scene of the accident, and I let the rocks and trees there know that I had overcome this obstacle. I was victoriolus and wanted them to know about it.
It felt good
I stayed well out of their way and waited for the dust to settle.
After almost 60km and three and a half hours of riding I reached Esk. The smell of sizzling sausages wafted from the BBQ in the market. I ignored the temptation to stop, and kept going. If everything went to plan I would do a loop through Toogoolawah and arrive back here in about 90 minutes. I could eat then. Normally I would have stopped, but I was constrained by the amount of time available to me, so I pushed on.
Rather than just ride up the rail trail to Toogoolawah, I made another detour and cycled west along the road to Crows Nest. A while ago we had ridden along here on our way back from Cressbrook Dam. Another gap in my map had been lovingly and obsessively closed.
I then followed familiar back roads towards Toogoolawah. This linked up with yet another ride we completed a few weeks ago via Nukinenda.
I had finally reached the “turn-around” point, and was ready to start heading back home. It was 1:30pm and I had about three and a quarter hours of daylight to get back to Fernvale 60km away at the other end of the Rail Trail.
While riding on the Rail Trail is a enjoyable experience, I found two things frustrating as I moved into the later stages of the ride:
Firstly I had to stop to open and shut dozens of gates. In a group this isn’t so bad because people can take turns at opening and closing, but as a solo rider pushed for time the numerous gates slowed me down.
The other minor frustration was the imperceptible gradients. Although the rail trail is reasonably flat, it still rises and fall, but the gradients are so small they’re difficult to see. On a gentle downward gradient this was fun as I was able to ride quickly and skim over the rough terrain. On a gentle upward gradient, however, even though I pushed hard on the pedals, my speed was slower. This made the ride rougher. Psychologically this would have been ok if I could see a big hill in front of me, but I muttered in annoyance when the track seemed flat but I still could only bump along at 12 or 13 km/h.
At Esk I stopped for a quick lunch, and to refill my water.
The gradients were in my favour on the way back to Coominya – mostly downhill. I worked hard and completed that leg in under 90 minutes This made the ride smoother, and calmed my fears that I’d get home late.
The sun was getting low in the sky, the air cooled, and the bridges looked softer in the gentle light.
Just outside Lowood, the light started to fade. Grateful for lights that had been given to my by my older kids a couple of years ago, I lit-up and kept pedalling in the dusk.
The Brisbane River outside Lowood looked like an oil-painting in the dimness.
Just outside Fernvale, I lost the light completely. It’s a strangely pleasant feeling rolling along in the pitch black, with nothing but a pale oval of light to watch on the track ahead.
I rode just over 138km, with about 940m of climbing, burning about 4,700 kcal.
Although I was relieved to get back, I felt great!
I honestly could have kept going, and think the reason was that I was able to ride at my own pace – not too fast, nor too slow. I had kept hydrated all day, and made sure to keep my electrolyte intake up, especially in the latter stages of the ride.
Given the cool weather and easy pace, I’m going to rate this ride 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter. It’s an easy scenic ride. While I wouldn’t recommend that everyone try and cover those distances in a day, I think most people will find they can ride a little further than they first thought, given the flatter terrain.
I’d like to say a big “Thank you” to the hard-working people who care for the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. It’s a wonderful resource, and allows people like me to have some wonderful adventures.