Diary of the Cairns to Karumba on a new eMTB

Diary of the Cairns to Karumba on a new eMTB

By Lynne Prentice

The seven day Cairns to Karumba (C2K) bike ride has been Queensland’s greatest fun bicycle ride for the past 24 years. In June/July each year, over 250 riders, volunteers and support crews travel through the unique and historic outback towns of the iconic Savannah Way raising funds to make sure bush kids get a fair go. Riders can choose to participate in the 780 kilometre ‘Road Ride’ – Rugged Roadies or the rigorous ‘Dirt Ride’ – Dirty Boys  and girls that works its way through stations right across the Cape.

I’d ordered a new basic level e-MTB in November 2020 and entered the fundraising Cairns to Karumba C2K event around the same time.

The Trek Powerfly eMTB finally arrived on the 1 June 2021 so despite earlier cold feet my husband and I decided to make a holiday of a road trip to Cairns and return from Karumba.

Pre-ride preparation

My bike shop fitted Tannus Armour inserts in the tyres. C2K insist on Tubeless or similar for the Dirty Boys and Girls off road ride.

I had been doing the regular Pedal Power Monday Dirt rides plus my regular training routine of weekly trainer session, hill reps and endurance road rides. I’d only actually managed one longer Arboretum 50 km ride on the new e-bike but heck it can’t be that difficult I thought.

The journey to Cairns from Canberra – 2,556 km via Gilgandra, St George, Emerald, Charters Towers. Done over five days of 500  to 600 km each day. This drive was very pleasant and allowed time in each of the towns for some sightseeing.

Friday 25 June 2021

At 5 pm there was the ride briefing and jersey collection. There were about 70 MTB riders and 75 road riders in this year’s event. This included five ‘Ken Behrens’ and over 100 support persons including my husband.

Saturday 26 June – Cairns to Tolga (overnight at Tolga Turf Club) – 54 km

A short ride out of town before we loaded our bikes onto trailers and headed up to the Atherton Tablelands in the comfort of 2 Coaches. Destination Davies Creek Mountain Bike Park. An area with easy and intermediate trails. An excellent park and time for me to start getting used to the beast that is an eMTB. I experimented using the Eco, Tour and eMTB powersettings and tried to keep my cadence as high as possible. BUT whoops going too fast around a right hander I lost the back wheel as it skidded out and down on my right knee I went.

Yes the tracks were a bit drier and more gravelly than Canberra and tyre pressures were too high but damn I missed the back suspension. The heavier front takes a bit of adjusting to. Number one stack – a surface graze luckily cleaned up with my water bottle and men’s hanky plus when dry the patch bandaid I always carry with me. The rest of the day was super enjoyable beside canals and across grassy areas that were ideal for cruising on an eMTB. Limited battery energy used.

Sunday 27 June  – Tolga to Mt Garnet (overnight at the Mt Garnet Traveller’s Park) – 60 km

It was an easy ride through Atherton while the Fast Pack explored some of the extensive trails around Atherton. We Fun Pack riders headed straight for a historical rail trail through to Herberton. The line and sleepers are mostly still there so the ride is on a very narrow track beside it.

Day 2 along the rail trailbikes slowed, and one could find oneself on top of the front rider very quickly. I was chuffed at the end of this day with the adventure and the developing friendships.

Post ride – Unfortunately a number of participants from Greater Sydney were advised to return home as the NSW Covid-19 outbreak had begun.

Monday 28 June – Mt Garnet to Mt Surprise (overnight at Bedrock Village) – 80 km

All dirt ride today was through typical savanna country. It was more my style and I rode in low power Eco most of the day and this felt like a very similar effort to riding my light carbon MTB. There were many creek crossings and some corrugated areas with sandy sides as well as termite mounds and Brahmin cattle.

The lovely family from Springfield Station provided ‘smoko’ foods for us with lunch. The park at Mt Surprise is wonderful with hot showers etc.

Note to self – Duel suspension would have been really nice on the corrugations. I should have fitted the suspension seat post I’d planned to do.

Tuesday 29 June – Mt Surprise to Georgetown (overnight at Georgetown Rodeo Grounds)–  66 km

It was Superhero day so we all set off in our costumes to visit kids at a local property. Dirt roads with many corrugations were to follow. Oops time for stack #2 and to open up that knee again. I hadn’t worn my hydration backpack and putting the drink bottle back  when I hit a patch of deep corrugations with one hand on the handlebars. The rest is history for the same right knee. EMTBs are heavy and if you’re slightly off balance they’re harder to control.

After morning tea and a patch up by nurse Rochelle  it was time for bush bashing beside the Caterpillar range and then on to Ooralat Station (43,000 acres). We crossed over Junction Creek that was recovering from a massive flood earlier this year. Many people rode through this but it was wet feet walking for me as I was not needing another oops and dip. Lunch was by a river and the it was on to Georgetown where we upgraded to a room at motel and had a great dinner there with new friends. An exhilarating day! 

Wednesday 30 June – Georgetown to Croydon (overnight at Croydon Rodeo Grounds) –  43 km

This was my best day on the bike in my ‘Silly Sox’.  On a beautiful morning we started from Georgetown rodeo ground for a 10 km MTB peloton ride in four bunches on the bitumen to Turner Station turnoff.  It was time for some Turbo but it was frustratingly limited to 25 km/h with electric assist and anything over 28 km/h was hard work. There was a dirt track interest stop at a rock crusher then the technical and challenges began.

Rocks, deep sand, creek crossings. MTB skill exponentially rising. It was great entertainment getting trailer vehicles through dry sandy creek beds. Then it was on to Turner Station for our packed lunch. We had a long, pleasant drive along the Savannah Way into Croydon for a trivia night but was very tired so crashed in the tent.

Thursday 1 July – Croydon to Normanton (overnight at Normanton Rodeo Grounds) – 76 km

Out we rode to Tabletop Station owned by the Kidd family. Agricultural motor bikes then led us up around their property. Bull dust ++, rough tracks and lots of sand = tough day on the bike. There were herds of cattle everywhere looking fat and skittish. We stopped at a remote cemetery to fuel up then had a massive ride to the river for lunch.

Used Eco and Tour energy levels for this and high cadence through the sand. Most of us hot and dusty riders dipped in the cool river before a huge lunch was served to us. A short ride out took us to the buses,. Not much battery power left by the end of this day. We had a road trip to Normanton, complete with singalong to our last camp at Normanton Rodeo ground.

Friday 2 July– Normanton to Karumba (booked cabin) – 45 km

We left Normanton and found the Powerline dirt road that would lead us to the Norman river crossing. This was a dead straight, very smooth road out to the salt pan. I took advantage of the Turbo setting to power up the slight inclines early on to get near the front of the group but on the dead flat people sped past me pushing my modest 25+ km/hr. A couple of cars followed us with morning tea. Five loads of us later, we had all crossed the Norman river on the Crab and Croc boat. Then it was more flat single track to take us in to Karumba and lunch.

We had done it. I was proud too especially of the $1000+ my family and friends (who had sponsored me on the ride ) had raised for outback education of the kids on rural properties.

We had  crossed Cape York in stages experiencing different properties and townships  along the way. A very different experience to the roadie teams but MTB rides really rock.

That night we all gathered at the sunset tavern and said farewell to our new found friends. Such an incredible experience I will always treasure.

Post script:

The eMTB allowed me to participate in this ride and gave me the confidence to finish each day. Now in my senior years I’m slowing up especially up the hills but I still enjoy biking adventures. Around Canberra on shorter rides the bike of choice remains my duel suspension carbon MTB.

We wished we’d stayed longer to relax at Karumba but our journey home was amazing through Boodjamulla National Park and Adels Grove, Mt Isa, Winton, Longreach, Bourke and Cobar. Stories for another time.