12/8/11 marked our 23rd Wedding Anniversary. So, we decided that our celebrations would comprise a nice gentle meander along the Esk to Toogoolawah part of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT).
As we are not partial to pre-dawn rises for our cycling ventures, with the exception of Multi Terrain Bike Orienteering (MTBO) competitions, we departed for Esk mid-morning in our MTBO tandem transportation device - Starvin Marvin, which is a 2001 Ford Maxi Econovan. And somehow these pre-ride excursions in "Starvin Marvin" never seem to fail to expose our auditory systems to the familiar sounds of the Bran Nue Dae soundtrack and the Clip Clop Club's "Kylie's Arse". We had a pleasant drive to Esk, making only one pit stop at the BP at Blacksoil, where we had a pre-ride culinary snack comprising Kransky sausage with cheese wrapped in pastry, washed down with a very palatable Breaka Cookies 'n' Cream flavoured milk.
Once in Esk, we headed for the Information Kiosk as we wanted to be sure the Esk to Toogoolawah trail was open. For this part of the BVRT had been previously closed due the floods earlier in the year but was reported to be reopened by the end of July. Anyhow, the Information Officer gave us the thumbs up, so we took Starvin Marvin around to Highland Street and parked him near the Esk Police Station. There we unloaded our big orange MTB tandem, Tiberius, and got ourselves ready for our cycling trek - time check 12:30pm.
What appealed to me about the Esk to Toogoolawah trail, unlike the Moore to Linville trail that we had ridden previously on the 2nd rest day of the Tour de France, was it had a legend depicting the degree of rideability along the various sections. Most of the trail was designated "Easy Grade - even surface" but there were sections of "Moderate Grade - surface may be rough" and "Advanced Grade - rough surface". We found the easy grade to be uninhibited open areas that were fast while the more difficult graded sections were notably slower as they contained patches of railway ballast, which become more prevalent between Ottaba to Toogoolawah, or were overgrown and strewn with potholes. Furthermore, freshly laid river rocks were common in most creek crossings, which made it hazardous for us to ride over so we opted to dismount and walk across these sections. Riders will also encounter stiles coupled with gates that they will have to traverse, as well as the lone stile or gate. Cattle, horses, pedestrians, and cyclists should be able to negotiate the stiles with ease, we did and we actually saw evidence of hoof prints in the dirt around some stiles. But people on motorbikes would have difficulty negotiating the stiles and are in fact prohibited from doing do. Be mindful to close any gate you go pass through so as not to allow cattle to pass. This is especially important when nearing sections of the trail close to major/minor roads.
The trail commenced with an easy section but it wasn't long before we struck our first bit of advanced grade (about 3km out from Esk), which was overgrown and laden with concealed potholes. Mind you, this made us feel quite at home because it was probably the only section that was reminiscent of MTBO terrain. This section was probably circa 1km in length. After that, the terrain opened up again. This made viewing the scenery easy, taking in: the distant picturesque hills, the native flora and fauna, the railway memorabilia, and the grazing cattle and horses who were mystified by this two-headed orange monster before their eyes.
Nine kilometres down the trail we reached a steep creek crossing beneath an old piece of rail bridge. This section was labeled "moderate" but I feel it should've been classified as "advanced" because it was a bit technical to negotiate the 20% gradient down to the creek and out for the route was indirect, winding through under the rail bridge. To compound this, the surface contained loose, washed river rocks that were placed in the creek crossing, which made getting a grip hard. These historic rail bridges were sporadic along the trail and had to be bypassed as access to them was barred. The deviations were generally navigable but this one required the most caution.
By the time we neared Ottaba, which we missed totally due to blinking, the terrain was continuously uphill through cuttings and increasingly high embankments. This is where I had to deploy my Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation worn by Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, so as to block out stress attained from being a tad height. However, I found my glasses to be a little faulty as they needed to be activated by Malcolm saying "shut your eyes". BTW, the southern side of Ottaba contains a cow-mine section, which is probably on par with "advanced". It was after this cow-mine section that I experienced an adrenalin rush. We seemed to be travelling along quite smoothly when all of a sudden we came to a very abrupt halt. And I thought "What the...?" Then I heard mumblings of "oh boy" and "back-back". To my horror, there in front of us, about 1.5 metres away, was a rather angry black snake rearing its head. Malcolm said afterwards he saw it slither out of the grass from our left and thought it would just scamper away when it saw us. But no, this one didn't want to slither out of our path. Instead, it was determined to stay on the trail. Malcolm thinks we were interrupting its plan to either sun itself on the trail or cross to the other side. Anyhow, I'm just lucky that I had my Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses on and grateful for Malcolm's cool demeanour in threatening situations. Because of Malcolm's quick reaction to back-back, the snake no longer felt threatened by us, so turned itself around and went back the way it came. I don't mind telling you that if that had been me in front instead of Malcolm, I would've done the girly thing - screamed and taken flight, which probably would've succeeded in making the snake even angrier. After this, the remainder of the ride into Toogoolawah was incident free.
When we reached Toogoolawah, we had planned on refuelling our depleted energy stores with some bakery treats. For about 7km from Esk, to our premature delight, from the trail we had noticed a road sign saying 12km to the Toogoolawah Bakery. Well after riding around town for a while, being noticed by the friendly locals who acknowledged us by calling hello, we eventually came to an empty bakery with a "For Sale" sign tacked on the front. This left us wondering where on earth were we going to eat? We now had the added problem of limited time because we couldn't linger due to daylight petering away from us - time check 3:00pm. Luckily we had noted some cafes around town when looking for the bakery, so we opted to dine at Dee Jay's because it was near the public toilets. There we had a light feed of ham-cheese-onion toasties with flavoured milk drinks, which was a very tasty snack indeed. Half an hour later we were back on Tiberius and rolling out of Toogoolawah. Alas, no more meandering, now we had a more brisk ride ahead us if we were to make it back to Esk before sunset.
We hammered to just short of the Morden Road crossing where we encountered a 4WD in our path. From what I could see, the driver appeared to be periodically reversing, hopping out of his vehicle, and picking up remnants of old railway sleepers along the side of the trail. When we reached the driver, we exchanged salutations and found that he, Peter, was the person responsible for maintaining the BVRT. Peter was genuinely happy to see cyclists using the trail and suggested we try the Moore to Blackbutt part of the trail, which he said was only a 2% gradient. We told him that that we'd already done the Moore to Linville section and were planning on starting from Linville and riding to Blackbutt but when we heard the Esk to Toogoolawah section was open we opted to ride that for our anniversary. Seeing how Peter brought up the Moore to Linville section, we took the opportunity to mention how difficult it was to find the start of the trail at Moore and how uninviting the start was to ride because it didn't initially follow the actual railway line. Instead, the first couple of kilometres out from Moore were man-made and very hilly and narrow, not something a train would've travelled along. Anyhow, Peter said there were plans to rectify this problem and make the start more cycle friendly. After having chatted to Peter for around 20mins, with the shadows ensuing, we knew light was fading quickly. So we began an uphill time trial. Despite torturing the legs so as to get back to Esk before sunset, there was still time for a little play along the way. When we passed old "30", "40", and "60"speed signs, Malcolm said we had to slow down at the 30's but could open up when we passed the 60's. He also suggested I make appropriate "engine" noises to keep us motivated. Similarly, when we passed old "W" signs, Malcolm called, "whistle". After a few failed attempts at whistling, due to a dry mouth, I decided I'd be better off doing my Seekers impersonation of Morningtown Ride.
About 5km out from Esk, the cool night air started to descend upon us and the shadows were casting darker bands across our path. At this point, Malcolm suggested abandoning the trail for the road as it'd be quicker. While I appreciated his good intentions, I said no because that would defeat the purpose of our journey. So, we stuck to the trail. To my relief, our time trialling efforts paid off because we made it back to Esk before sunset - time check 5:20pm.
Wow, that was an enjoyable adventure despite the pace of the return trip. So, I highly recommend doing Esk to Toogoolawah to anyone wanting to experience a rail trail.
To finish off a nice day riding the Esk to Toogoolawah trail, we had hoped to get a nice meal in Esk but on-street parking was a real issue so we moved onto the next town. At Fernvale we happened upon a café called CJs, which is also a gift shop. There we had a hearty meal of lasagne, chips, and salad followed by Oreo cheesecake for dessert. The people running CJs were very friendly and served up generous portions. It was an ideal end to our anniversary.