Escape from the city is a thing that always bounces around in my mind. Sometimes just quietly in the background and other times loudly and persistently in the fore. Recently the noise became loud enough for me to do something about it and before I knew it, I had my Scott hardtail packed up and pointed in the direction of the Dundas Bush Camp at the top of Mt Nebo.
As opposed to my previous attempt at bikepacking and its accompanying rant about the virtues of pannier bags, this time I decided to contradict that effort and 1) use bikepacking bags instead of pannier bags anyway 2) take on a much less ambitious route. After reflecting on my last trip, even though I did enjoy it immensely, I decided that those pannier bags probably did make life harder than necessary and that I only had myself to blame for my shortcomings in the discipline of minimalism which made the pannier bag situation even worse. I decided that I was thinking about bikepacking all wrong and that I would start again with fresh eyes (and one or two fresh bikepacking bags for my bike).
Luckily, I already owned a couple of cheap bikepacking bags from that big department store of everything in the ether which I tested on my bike-plus-train trip to the Sunshine Coast so I wasn’t too far out of pocket though I did get to see why cheap bikepacking bags – particularly seat packs – may not be the best idea. Seat packs, when fully loaded up can be very unwieldy beasts if you allow them sway or sag and it took some creative kludging to get mine to behave but I got there in the end. A bag of tent poles here, some long velcro straps there and a pair of strategically placed thongs (the kind that go on your feet for those outside Australia) and I had a setup that was almost satisfactory.
As for my efforts at improving my minimalism, well let’s just say that it was better than last time but you could definitely still see that I’m an office sausage at heart.
So, were there any benefits in the bikepacking bags over the panniers? For sure. As many others may already have guessed, the bike handled a lot better, needed to be pushed a lot less and when it did need to be pushed, that was a lot easier without pannier bags in the way. Granted, a lot of that was also due to the fact that the route I chose was a lot easier and that the Goat Track was open this time which meant that I didn’t need to climb up Mt Glorious the hard way (I did miss another Goat Track closure by only about half an hour, however). Despite all the benefits of the bikepacking bags, I still see myself going back to the pannier bags if the journeys get longer and require more gear.
As for the trip itself, Mt Nebo Village and, by extension, Mt Nebo Rd was a ghost town for the most part which was fantastic. That’s what you get when you leave Sunday afternoon and sneak a day off work on a Monday. The lack of traffic on the main road meant that I could dare to stop and take photos in spots where I normally would dare not for fear of being wiped out by some pimply racing car bro with a farty exhaust (hey, we’ve all been there and done it, right?). It also meant that the few little shops up there were closed so if I ran into any supply issues, that would just be too bad.
Where I was headed, to the Dundas Bush camp, it probably wouldn’t have mattered much anyway because it’s just a bit too far from Mt Nebo Village to whip down and grab anything extra but I had plenty of food and water for the night and next day so I wasn’t really worried. Yep, Dundas has no drinking water, toilets, electricity or other facilities but where else can you get accommodation for $6.85 per night? You are provided, however, with a rather handsome timber shelter with an equally handsome wooden table and chairs. Not really made for sleeping in but probably a good hiding spot if you’re caught in a storm. You also get a rainwater tank that is definitely not for drinking but good for a quick sponge bath if you remembered to bring a face wash cloth or similar.
As is usual for pretty much anywhere I go, I could have left home to get there a little earlier but I still made it before dark to set up the tent. That left enough time for dinner before dark which was very little effort because I brought a couple of ready made bowls of tuna and pasta which I ate cold and topped it off with a bread roll and a cup of tea thanks to my tiny fuel stove. Not gourmet but food is food on a trip like this, and besides, I knew that the next day I’d be getting something really tasty at the Gap Village when I got to the bottom of the mountain.
After a decent night’s sleep away from civilization (which is one of the reasons I came out here), I ate the light breakfast I brought with me and slowly packed up my campsite. My gear was a little more compact now and fitted a lot better into my bikepacking bags. I even managed to tame my seat pack so it had almost zero sway as I headed back down the mountain. Before hitting Mt Glorious Rd toward Mt Nebo Village, I stopped at the dump on the way out of the national park to discard the previous night’s rubbish and chatted to the attendant for a while. Once past the village, I ducked off onto a fire trail on the western side of the mountain and followed South Boundary Rd to The Gap. Riding mostly downhill off the mountain, I made good time and my loaded bike felt very well balanced and in control making me grateful that I had left the pannier bags behind at that point.
I stopped a few times for photos and to chat with a bush runner on his way up the mountain but soon I was at the trail head on Gap Creek Rd rolling down the last section to the bakery along the sealed road. This was effectively the end of the journey as I sat outside the bakery eating and reflecting on the past twenty-four or so hours.
So, what of my verdict regarding pannier bags vs bikepacking bags now that I had done a trip with each? Well, I think as with most things it’s horses for courses – some trips will be better with panniers while others better with bikepacking bags. Having said that, to me the oversized seat packs used for bikepacking will always remain a problem child because unless you spend a king’s ransom on one that has some kind of solid stabilisation system that bolts to the seatpost, the sway will never go away. Even if you do buy a really expensive seat pack, I’m guessing that the top heaviness and the limited number of anchoring points to the bike would still cause some sway. For the time being, I’m going to keep the large seat pack I have for when I can pack very lightly but ultimately I see myself heading toward some sort of small, possibly removable rear rack with a set of miniature pannier bags or dry bags hanging off it whose collective volume may be not much more than a very large seat pack to keep the weight and protrusion to a minimum. I think a system like that would be a good compromise between full size panniers and a large seat pack.
If you have any further insights into this, feel free to comment below and until next time, ride safe and see you out there some time.