Trip Reports » BNT, Australia
I have had the inkling to tackle the Bicentennial National Trail for some time now, recently I gave it a bit of a nudge. I only managed to do a small section due to some responsibilities on the home/shop front that beckoned my return. I did however, have a great experience and am keener than ever to go back and pedal the remainder.
Let me explain a little about the BNT. Firstly, it is in Australia and it is long and pretty much set up for horse riding. In Australia’s Bicentennial year 1988, the trail opened but due to it’s shear length is still being refined today. The trail was an initiative of R M Williams, who is quite well known in the horse and outback world where in Aus. It begins in the very South East of the Continent and meanders through ranges to the very North East. 5133km Check out www.nationaltrail.com.au for more info.
The trail is for walkers, horses and bicycles. Most of the trail can be travelled by motor vehicles but the intent of the trail in entirety is for non motorised transport. Some of the tracks I rode on definitely could not be driven on. I have done a little touring and bikepacking over the years and my approach with the BNT was to go lightweight. The country is rugged and in some cases remote, so I wanted to be relatively self sufficient. My plan was to have food enough for 4 days and carry 5 litres of water. I carried a sleeping bag and bivvy bag and a rain jacket. Of course I had basic tools and some spares too. I encountered some pretty extreme weather, so I was thankful of the huts that are strewn throughout the highcountry and provide great refuge for the lightweight bikepacker. Theses huts vary in condition depending on their location and heritage. Many are burnt in bushfires over the years but generally are rebuilt.
The trail’s highest point is 1700m above sea level, so doesn’t have the altitude of some trails such as the GDR. From the photos you can see that it is quite high in places, above the tree line, where the views are spectacular and the air is thin and fresh. For the first 6 days I rode with a friend Trent Lowe (an accomplished road and mtb rider). He was great company and we shared experiences throughout the Victorian high country, swimming in the rivers and
staying in the mountain huts. We saw some of the iconic Australian flora and fauna including wedge-tailed eagles, black cockatoos, wild dogs, snakes, lizards, brumbies, deer and of course kangaroos and wallabies go without saying. (horses and deer are not native to Australia). Both Trent and I are fairly well travelled, here in Australia and abroad but we loved and appreciated being out in ‘our’ country without the distractions of modern living. Trees were aplenty but we would still occasionally slow and point out wondrous shapes, textures or forms to each other. The extreme heat and unusual rain (remnants on a tropical cyclone) made us revel in the simplicity of seeking shelter, food and water on a daily basis.
Trent’s plan was to ride to Omeo and meet with his father and do some hiking. Trent and I covered about 520kms and 10,500 m elevation change in those 6 days. Quite exhausting. I then continued solo, with the aim of covering as much country as I could in the next 20 or so days. Some more rain came from the skies and the little rivers became bigger. One night I stopped in to the luxury accommodation of the remaining roof of a nameless hut (see pic). The next day I woke to be almost enveloped by the Limestone creek that I was camping adjacent to. This proved somewhat challenging for the rest of the day as I had to cross that creek about 5 times on my path to the Victoria-NSW border which is the Murray River.
Of course the intent of any traveling is to move in some way or form and when confronted with a raging torrent of water the focus is to cross that body of water. Single mindedly I did this not without, however, taking a few little risks. At one point I was balanced on a slippery log simultaneously clinging to the log with my legs and grapling the rear wheel of my bike with my hand. I had lost balance whilst traversing the river on a fallen tree and the bike had gone under. Desperately I was trying to retrieve my ride, which was now completely submerged except for the part of the wheel in my hand. I ‘calmly’ assessed the situation and concluded that the bike had been pulled under another submerged tree. With all my effort, the bike would not be pulled toward me. I realized that the bike was only going one way, downstream. The flow of the water was deafening. I reached into the water on the other side of the submerged tree and grabbed the frame with my right hand. At this point I was at full stretch (which is quite a bit if you know me) still clinging around the tree with my thighs and my head was partly in the water, tilted so I could breathe. I then let go of the rear wheel with my left hand and let the bike go under. Low and behold the bike surfaced and I dragged it to the river bank. Water poured from my frame bag and under seat bag. Luckily I had the forethought to remove the sleeping bag and bivvy bag. I gathered myself, thoughts and belongings and took stock. If something had fallen off the bike it was gone now. I made the decision to go on and safely crossed the Limestone 3 further times, each time wondering if going ahead was the best thing to do. Needless to say I slept well that night after crossing the border and staying in the comfort of the township of Khancoban.
My journey continued north through the state of NSW and then into ACT (Australian Capitol Territory), covering some beautiful scenic countryside and finally mild riding temperatures. Often a day would pass without seeing another person, so when another soul was encountered it was nice to have a few words. I look forward to continuing from Canberra which is where I reached on my 13th day of riding. Maybe this year, maybe next…