Written by April Drage
The Mallee Blast is a bikepacking race in regional Victoria. The route was developed by local bikepacking legend Ross Burrage a couple of years ago, with the intent that the route would offer an entry point for people wanting to dip their toe in the waters of a bikepacking race. There are two starting locations and two distance options available, either 500 or 1000 km. The route passes through enough towns to make flashpacking (staying in accommodation) a viable alternative for those without the equipment or will to go camping and offers little tastes of the sort of excitement you might find on more epic offerings; hike a bike, a little single track, a few steep climbs and descents and in the wet there’s the potential for some fun in the mud too.
I participated in the inaugural edition of this race in 2021 and in this race, as in the others I’ve entered I noted how few women seem to find their way to the start line. I wondered about the reasons for this.
To satisfy my curiosity, earlier this year I teamed up with a couple of mates to try and find out why. We put the word out to potential women, transgender and non-gender-conforming first time bike packing racers to see if they’d be keen to commit to the race if others were. We wondered, if offering a community or a forum in which they could ask the questions, receive some support and learn a few things from each other to allay the fears or other barriers that have prevented them from getting to a bikepacking race start line might help in address the lack of diversity in all the races I’d entered before.
My mates and I have been humbled by the response to this simple invitation; this crew (known as the Mallee Fledglings) are solidly outnumbering the men in registering for this event for the Swan Hill start location. We have all enjoyed meeting new people, getting together to share knowledge about packing and fixing bikes and playing with all the gear that gets used in these kinds of events. I’ve personally had an absolute ball sharing the fun of night riding, jumping in on people’s longest rides ever, sharing snacks, bikepacking bloopers and everything in between. Some of these Fledglings were willing to share a bit about themselves and their thoughts about this first bikepacking race of theirs, in the hope that it might encourage others to back themselves and take on a new challenge sometime too.
Bikes Take you Anywhere, so Blinman the Adventure bike and I will ride the Mallee Blast, cause if we don't the coulda, woulda, shoulda thoughts will never go away! We've had a few trips, but this will be the first time without the support of my riding buddies, and the thought of being alone is a little scary, but that can be good, right? There is only one goal, and that is to finish the 1000kms, and the time frame… let's see how that plays out.
It’s super exciting and mildly terrifying embarking on my first big ride without accommodation booked. However, I feel that there has, and is, so much support from experienced riders that I’m in a good position two weeks out with my fitness, set up, and motivation.
The last 6 months has been a heap of learning, including bike mechanics, bamboo undies, packing crap, night riding, bivvy sleeping, and satellite technology. Add in my longest rides with the most vert and I think I’m ready!
I’m riding with a small crew of varying experience and plan on this being a few days adventure with a lot of laughs and fun along the way. Thanks to the Curve crew for the great rides, encouragement, support and laughs.
Why am I riding? Doing a big bikepacking event like this is something I've always wanted to do, but has felt very out of reach. Having a chronic illness and managing a kidney transplant means both my health and fitness are constantly in flux. I remember looking at the Mallee Blast event in previous years and thinking to myself, "maybe one day..." But, I'm now 3 years post my second kidney transplant, and starting to find some stability. The Mallee Blast Fledglings group started and I joined, deciding that it was time to give it a go!
What motivates me? I absolutely love riding my bike, especially in new and pretty places. In recent years, existing in the pandemic as a highly vulnerable person, it's been the ultimate tool for social and emotional freedom, allowing me to participate in life in the safety of the outdoors. The bottom line is, riding and creating new experiences, and meeting new people, is one of the main ways I embrace and celebrate my second chance at life. I'm motivated to enjoy every moment, because it might be a cliche, but life is short and unpredictable! Gotta make the most of it while I can!
My approach: My goal is just to complete the 500km! I'm riding with my friend Min, and we are going to take it "Party pace" over seven days. I'll be doing my best to keep my body happy! My packing plans keep changing as I learn- and no doubt, that will continue throughout the event!
What scares me? Honestly, a number of things! Mostly around not managing to complete the event. With how my body is I'll need to have a low threshold for calling it a day. But I'm hopeful!!
Excited to be taking on my gravel riding up a notch with the Mallee Blast! Test out the bike set up, gear, mind and body with an achievable goal. I’m riding with a couple of friends who have been on the same journey of preparation and are also new-comers to this type of event. It’ll be great to have that support (with a healthy dose of fun and laughter in the mix!). When April and Carly offered to mentor women riders for MB, it was just too good an opportunity to miss, and felt like a natural extension of the fantastic inclusive women’s rides Curve (Sarah) are already doing. It’s also given me permission to step out of life’s routine and busy-ness make it happen!!
April keeps calling the Mallee Blast a race, but having entered after severe overdose of FOMO at the 11th hour means I’m keeping to the more general term ‘adventure’. This means I’m loading up the CX bike, taking my mini tent and will definitely have a few leisurely meals and coffees along the way. And if by 300kms in I agree that it is a race? Well nobody said that a leisurely meal couldn’t be consumed on a bike!
I’m planning on flash packing the Mallee Blast over a few days and looking forward to seeing lots of friends out on the course. As it’s the first time I’ve done anything like this it’s super reassuring to know others on the course. What motivates me the most is having the opportunity to be in the middle of nowhere, feel connected to nature and hopefully see some beautiful landscapes and sunsets. I’m also pretty curious to see how my mind responds to and experiences the whole thing including the various challenges along the way. I’ve really appreciated encouragement and support from April Drage, Sarah Hammond and Carly Williams and the great community at Curve Cycling.
First time racer; long time Instagram lurker. I’ve been wanting to take on a ride like this for a few years now. So grateful to this Fledglings group for helping me to jump out of the safety nest, and for making the process more fun than I could’ve possibly imagined. I could give a very long and detailed account of why I want to do this but a distilled version of it is this: 1. bikepacking gives me a sense of autonomy but also connects me to others. 2. I love being in the outdoors 3. There’s something beautiful about people pushing their physical & mental limits. 4. I just really enjoy the momentum and physicality of riding my bike. Am I nervous and a bit shit-scared? Absolutely!
Excited to roll into the unknown with my first-ever 500-km gravel race at the Mallee Blast. The thrill of charting new territories on my bike is unmatched, and this adventure promises to be the epitome of that excitement. Heart rate is already racing just thinking about it! Now, onto the scary bits: snakes (I heard they are meant to be more scared of me, but I might leave them plenty of space, in case they are having a bad day), the dramatic weather forecast (currently in negotiations with my bike to figure out its kite potential), and the looming threat of a mid-race bike assembly - let's just say I'm packing enough tools to build a bike from scratch if need be.
So, ready to embrace the tempest and enjoy the beauty of the trails!
Party Pace for life! And it’s our (Tammy, my teamie) strategy for the MB. So you’ll find us at the back of the pack. Wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for April, Carly and the Curve crew. So big thank you to you all. And even before hitting the road I know I want to do more of this adventure bike stuff. Very excited to see how my Wondercross and all the gear goes. How good are bikes?
I’ve made a bunch of amazing friends through the @ curve Thursday morning ride… Sarah, April and Carly have been instrumental in creating an amazing community and this pedal from Swan’ll to Torquay is icing my 2023 riding cake.
If you’d like to track the progress of these Mallee Fledglings and the other bikepacking racers, the grand depart is 730am on the 24th of November, the tracking page for the event is HERE. Race coverage can be found in the Mallee Blast 1000 Instagram page @mallee_blast_1000.