Bikepacking Albury to Bairnsdale Off-Road

Bikepacking Albury to Bairnsdale Off-Road

One of the benefits of working at Curve Cycling is that inspiration and adventure are ever present and tangible, they’re part of the day to day conversation with customers and co-workers. A slice of gravel riding inspo came in the form of a communal kitchen conversation with Jesse not long after I started at Curve; he mentioned a GRoad called the Barry Way and described it as a scenic diversion from an arterial road between Melbourne and Canberra. When little conversations like this pique my interest, I (literally) take note of these things, just in case an opportunity arises for me to get out there. Usually I watch and wait for a solid run of days off and for weather that lends itself to the terrain in question. 
Another slice of inspiration I had stashed away for a not-rainy day, was the thought of the Jagungal Wilderness area in the Kosciuszko National Park. The source of this inspo is significantly murkier; I assume that perhaps years of doom scrolling the ’gram and absorbing images of the Hunt 1000 might have had something to do with my desire to head out there. It’s a location that has existed on my radar for years and seemed to me to be synonymous with the kind of alpine riding that used to scare me; changeable weather, water crossings, brumbies & people caught off guard by the conditions bunkering down in huts.When this Adelaidean discovered the existence of an extra long weekend in honour(?) of a horse race it seemed like the right moment to quickly weave together a few little bits of inspo with the VLine train timetable and see what happened. With the knowledge that Kosciuszko National Park can serve up some challenges, that I don’t like rushing through rides and that I didn’t have unlimited time, I hastily threw together a route that looked to be comfortably manageable within a few days. In order to achieve this, I kept the Jagungal Wilderness Area kilometres limited and didn’t fight the bitumen slabs in Ride With GPS like I usually would. 
I packed as though I was heading out for a month, taking all the luxuries I’d be sure to leave behind on a bikepacking race; a stove, slippers, extra clothes and all sorts. My plan involved riding my bike straight to the train station from work. My packed bike drew much unwanted attention during the day. Customers visiting Curve HQ, seemed to launch at my bike uninvited, not hesitating to try and lift my little tractor whilst marvelling “how MUCH does THAT way”. Having survived this spectacle, I rolled out of work that Thursday evening and headed straight for the train to Albury, arriving late and catching a little sleep before setting off bright and early the next morning.

Peace and quiet, roads & GRoads all to myself as I started turning the pedals that first morning. I was bound for a ferry; there was no need for this crossing to occur, in the same way that there was no need for my bike trip to occur at all either. The only point of any of it was for the purpose of my own enjoyment. 
Rolling through sunrise and onward on the aptly named River Road alongside the mighty Murray as the sun shone, the week of rushing around evaporated. The first resupply point in the town of Jingellic was in no way needed, but I’m always hard pressed to say no to any drink more interesting than water. My anticipation of the Jagungal Wilderness Area (and the climbing that I assumed would precede it) was large. Beyond the Alpine Way and up to Swampy Plains Creek Road the climate began to change, what had been a hot day became far more comfortable under a canopy of trees. I momentarily wondered how fun it would be to ride this scenic bitumen road on a more suitable bike; even slimming down to Kevin would be a game changer. HE would love it out here I thought.

I reached the entrance to the Kosciusko National Park and subsequently the Round Mountain Trail Head at just the right moments. The sky lit up pink as the evening drew near and I knew I wasn’t too far from the night’s accommodation; either a campsite or a hut was not far away. Fog descended at the same time I did. The rise and fall of the trail matched my breath and before I knew it I was setting up shop in an empty hut for the night, luxuriating over a hot Radix dinner and a cup of tea as the damp night set in. It doesn’t get much better than this!
I set off in the pitch black of the next morning and before long I was doing just what I’d seen others doing on the ‘gram in this particular location. Hiking their bikes through icy water crossings. Shoes off, bracing myself for the bite of the cold that I knew would come as I fought to keep traction with my skinny little feet whilst hauling a chonky Xena the GMX+ high enough to keep her out of the water.
Every successful crossing was met with kudos to myself, then shoes on and hike/ ride up out, then on to the next one. Some of these crossings might well have been rideable in the light of the day, but with solitude and darkness comes additional caution. Besides, I was not in a rush. I was out there in it as the end in itself, I need not do anything more but enjoy it and progress when I felt like it. Knowing just how slow the progress would be on this part of my journey; Round Mountain & Gray Mare trails were the extent of the park that I included in this little window of time I had allocated.
Onward to the scenic Happy Jacks GRoad. Winding my way on dirt and tarmac on to Jindabyne was a joy. The new target was to get myself topped up with more exciting beverages in Jindabyne before hitting the Barry Way. There was a chance that some sketchy weather would come and find me, but all that the sky had managed were some feeble showers; everything was going my way! 
It didn’t take long for me to meet Barry, just a few pedal strokes from Jindabyne. I really didn’t know what to expect; just an average dirt road along a river? I had no real knowledge of this Way; just the line on the map. What I found was absolutely gobsmacking. I’m a sucker or anything that has SCALE, vast landscapes, big rough switchbacks and punchy climbs, the feeling of remoteness and isolation. The Barry Way, albeit rather short, gave me all of this and then some. After the first slab of a descent, I pulled into a lookout and spent a long while just standing there, wide eyed, taking it all in. The way the gravel ribbon of a road hugged the mountains & disappeared into the layers of trees beyond…. 
The scale of these environments makes me feel small and anonymous. I describe big cities in the same way. In the city, this description is synonymous with isolation and loneliness, but out here, it offers connection. The feeling of being part of something bigger, in the same way that the trees and the birds are. It’s powerful, immersive and addictive. 
I continued my descent down to the Snowy River and rode alongside it, until sunset came and went. I had a beautiful, transformative ride that night. At some stage I started ignoring the route, freestyling through the night as towns began to appear more frequently and morning came. Somehow during these nights I receive clarity about things that have been gnawing at me, I reset relationships, make decisions I’ve been deliberating over and find the kind of joy and calm that can be so elusive during daylight in the hustle and bustle of the city.
I arrived in Bairnsdale some time after sunrise. Much too early, but plugged back into life and brimming with the kind of contentment that only wandering around in the dark on a bike can deliver. 
- Words and photos: April Drage


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