Race to the Rock is the event that was the start of so many big changes in my life in 2020, the 2022 route was a chance for me to level up in confidence, skills and experience. Race to the Rock is an event that I pay attention to each year because regardless of where it starts, it promises adventure and I know what I’m getting when I rock up for a Jesse Carlsson route and that’s a good thing. Working at Curve Cycling headquarters (AKA The Dream Factory) there’s persistent talk of such upcoming adventures, with reconnaissance missions, start locations, dreams and possibilities. I can’t help but get excited about getting amongst the action.2023 has been a landmark, gobsmackingly good year for me, moving to Melbourne from Adelaide, starting work at Curve Cycling and riding the Tour Divide as well. Despite all of this big life activity, as soon as I heard that the 2023 Race to the Rock route was starting from Brisbane (read: a warm and hilly location), I knew I would have to find a way to get to that start line. I also knew that another 3800 km route would be an ambitious commitment after the physical and psychological fatigue I’d feel after the Tour Divide. The big events take me quite a bit of preparation and planning. This little blast in the warm from Brisbane required none of that; just the simple process of packing Big Kev and booking a flight. I was relieved to find that I didn’t experience much in the way of start line nerves, the weather forecast was perfect and the climbing started almost immediately. I don’t think it gets much better than that. The climbing easily tipped 6000vm in the first 250km, which sounds like a big number but as the climbs weren’t long, and the terrain and scenery was so varied, the amount of climbing felt like a footnote rather than the story.Until the ride was in progress, I hadn’t considered that this was my first bikepacking race on home soil since October 2022. I’d forgotten how fun it is to be somewhere that’s new but also familiar. I was just so comfortable rolling into tiny towns at all hours of the day and night and it definitely added to the smile factor to have friends out there on the trail too. I still get a kick out of crossing paths with mates in weird places, impromptu country pub meetups and the random nature of seeing them sleeping at bus shelters or out in the open at strange times of the day or night. I loved that this route was short and that the nights were warm. I didn’t need to be as organized or manage sleep in the same way that I do for longer challenges. The freedom of rolling into the night and having no idea as to when or where I might want to stop is the stuff I daydream about when I’m at home. I was delighted to find that the critters are busy at night in Queensland. I dug deep into joy as I shared the dark with wildlife that were familiar in form but not recognisable; I’ve never ridden in Queensland before. I shared railway tunnels with microbats (I didn’t even know that microbats existed!) and worked hard to avoid near misses with a myriad of still unidentified, very agile and mesmerizing little marsupials.
The other notable feature of riding in Queensland (aside from the beauty of the silhouettes of the Glasshouse Mountains in the moonlight and the magic of rain forest) is the friendly, yet unobtrusive curiosity of the locals. I enjoyed revealing the Maprogress tracking page for the event to some of the more mature residents of tiny towns and explaining how the silly game of bikepack racing works; a mixture of surprise and disbelief seemed to be the ‘go to’ response during these conversations. I still find it all just as novel, exciting and totally ridiculous. One of the many things I enjoy about riding these events is that you throw routine and all sense of what’s ‘normal’ out the window; I do things I would not do in any other circumstance. During the 993km kilometers that preceded my arrival at the finish, I had napped out in the open in a field amongst cow dung and cane toads and slept on the floor of a public toilet at least a couple of times. After just shy of 4 days of riding, I found myself rolling into Rockhampton. I was ever so happy and relaxed after the time spent alone in the outdoors, but equally, I was tired and muddy. As is often the way of these things, my finishing time also happened to be a very inconvenient time for motel check in. One of the many benefits of never being first across the line, is that there are others who have found accommodation before me! Taking advantage of this, I accepted the kind offer of fellow Curve Crazy Stephen Lane to share his hotel room until the rest of the day revealed itself and the town of Rockhampton opened up. And on it goes, life continues as though the time in the wild never happened and in no time, the wanderlust sets in, and I’ll begin the preparation for the next one.
Words by April Drage
Photos by April Drage, dotwatchers and other RTTR riders