“Credit card bikepacking” is a term that I hadn’t heard or even knew existed until recently. In fact, bikepacking was only a word that was easily dismissed as something that other, more adventurous and/or hardy types did. Adding a shitload of weight to a bike and then pedalling off up some boring gravel road to pitch a tent and sleep on hard, cold ground held as much appeal as, well, pedalling off up some boring gravel road to pitch a tent and sleep on hard, cold ground. Ie none.
A vicious headwind didn’t let up for the ride north along the Hutt River Trail.
But as one gets older and therefore slower, things like ‘busting out hot laps’ or ‘xc loops’ or ‘shuttles’ become slightly less desirable, or maybe less doable. Time spent on the bike is planned more carefully for maximum value and minimum faffing. The sense of adventure we experienced as kids on bikes has been rekindled by this whole bikepacking thing that has been booming the last few years, and as someone who loves smashing a road bike down a gravel road, it seemed a logical extension of that. Just chuck on some bags and pick a destination.
It took us about an hour to make it along a 1km stretch of the Hutt River Trail, as there were just too many plump blackberries to eat!
Not being too adventurous though, and wanting to dip the toes into the waters rather than a full backflip to belly-flop, we picked a known route that we couldn’t really get lost on or be too far from safety if anything went belly up. Featherston was the destination, not for its bustling nightlife or stunning architecture, but because it was a convenient distance and at the end of the Rimutaka Rail Trail. We found a great little cottage to stay in and started planning.
All loaded up with some place to go, but no idea if we were ready for it.
Luckily we were well equipped with appropriate bikes and bags. Our review Specialized Sequioa was prepped with the Burra Burra bags and Kristine’s Avanti Giro AR was hastily adorned with a borrowed Ojeva Negra seatbag and BBD mini frame bag from my mountain bike, as her Revelate bags were still on their way. I used a non-biking specific camera bag on the handlebar to carry my SLR and spare lens etc, which did a pretty good job but will be replaced with something better when I can find it. Bodging stuff is part of the whole bikepacking thing though, as I’m finding out along the way.
Tunnels are a staple of the Rimutaka Rail Trail. Luckily we remembered to pack some lights.
As we rolled onto the Hutt River Trail at Petone, we were met head-on by a couple, a dozen, a hundred, a swarm of riders of all shapes and sizes coming at us relentlessly. Our planning hadn’t discovered that the Bike The Trail or River or something ride was taking place, so we quickly decided that rather than take on an army of inattentive kids and angry parents, we’d cross to the other side of the river and continue on the rougher paths. The bonus was a plethora of blackberry bushes bursting with ripe fruit, and we feasted on them until we remembered we had a bike ride to do.
Bridges are another common feature on the Incline, crossing the river at several points.
The river trail takes you all the way to Te Marua on gravel, but if you’re on the western side of the river it suddenly just stops before Silverstream, and a road diversion is needed. At the end of the trail it’s across to Tunnel Gully, more berries, the first of the train tunnels, some mountain bike tracks to distract us, and then a junction where a decision had to be made. We went left and it was a good decision.
When there’s mountain bike trails shooting off alongside the gravel, ya just gotta test out the traction of the semi-slicks. Tunnel Gully.
The summit of the Rimutaka Incline was a welcome stop for some non-berry based food.
If we’d gone right we would’ve been faced with some serious climbing, but a nice long descent. We know this now because on the return leg we took the ‘short cut’ and slogged it uphill for what seemed longer than it probably was, with tired legs and not enough food in our bellies. The ascent of the Incline on the way over though is the gentlest of gentle, which makes it so popular with all manner of riders.
The summit is a good place to take some time out before the tunnels and the descent to Cross Creek.
Once through the tunnels and the Siberia Gully, it’s all downhill to Cross Creek, a former station along the Featherston line. About a kilometre or more of some really fun singletrack adds a bit of spice to the journey, and we’re reinvigorated for the final push to Featherston. The pace has been moderate with a lot of photo stops and chinwagging, which makes for a stress-free ride. We take more time to calm some llamas down before the camera goes away and we pick up the pace as the taste of beer infiltrates our senses.
There’s more than one way to calm a llama down. (Yeah I know they’re alpacas, but that doesn’t rhyme.)
The Wallace Cottage has stood in Featherston since 1890, and is a great place to spend a night in old style luxury.
Of course, on any road ride around the Wellington and Wairarapa region, there’s a stiff headwind punching us in the face along the Lake Ferry road. We’ve been out for about five hours and this last 10km proves to be the hardest. I do my best to tow Kristine along the road, but being a newcomer to the nuances of the road she’s happier to stay away from my wheel and slog it out like the hardcore she is. We decide the best course of action is to get beer and chips first, before we find our resting place. A smart move that I’m sure anyone more versed in the art of long rides will surely know.
Ready for the return leg and hoping for a tailwind.
Another tip we now know is: if you’re going to a small country town, you may not get too many food options. Especially if you don’t eat meat or dairy. This is meat and dairy country! The ladies at the fish and chip shop were pretty helpful and made us some vege burgers with potato patties on them, which was our best option on a Sunday night by far. The next day we scoped out a bakery which had a huge selection of meat and salad rolls, but were bluntly rebutted when we asked if they could make us a couple of just salad rolls. We crossed the street to the Gusto café and got a much better reception, the lovely ladies happily piling up a couple of the best sandwiches ever. We never knew there were so many vegetables!
A bit of karting action at the Kaitoke track on the way up was a nice distraction for the revhead inside.
The cool green canopy on the fun bit of singletrack at Cross Creek.
As with any new pursuit, bikepacking is a learning experience and one that takes time to perfect. Starting out small is key and not loading our bikes with camping and cooking gear was a good move. Carrying only enough food for the ride and a change of clothes for the night means the credit card will get a workout, but for now we’re more than happy to take the hit and build up to more serious trips where self-sufficiency will be necessary. There’s a tonne of huts out there that need to be ridden to and gravel galore to grind. The adventure is back.
That tasted good.
That felt good.
The remains of the bridge where gales blew the Greytown to Wellington train into the Siberia Gully in 1880, killing three people.
Even on a remote gravel road there’s always an impatient driver. This guy passed Kristine only to pull up about 100 metres later.
Beats the crap out of energy gels. The best tasting sandwich ever that fueled us for the final leg home.