Cape to Cape Track: Hiking and cycling training tips

Walking the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia
Walking the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia

Deciding where to travel is not always the biggest dilemma. Often, the crux is how to do it. Do you like the idea of blending cycling and hiking into one trip? On my visit to Western Australia, I chose to do just that as part of my exploration of the Cape to Cape Track.

Whether or not you plan to take on this iconic coastal trail, these training tips will help you best prepare for your next multi-day, coastal adventure on foot or by bike.

Why hike and bike?

If you choose to ride, you’ll benefit from covering long distances and no doubt seeing further, faster; but hiking can often take you to areas inaccessible by other means at a slower pace.

This was the very question I asked myself ahead of my trip to Western Australia. I’d been invited to take part in the 10th anniversary of the Cape to Cape mountain bike race, a four-day event based at Margaret River. For the first time, the race would not trace the traditional linear route from Luuewin Lighthouse to Dunsborough township. Instead, they’d chosen to loop around the local vineyards and popular single-track trails.

Keen not to miss the incredible coastal views and a chance to spot migrating whales in the distance, I decided to pack the trail shoes and extended my trip to include a three-day hike along the famous Cape to Cape Track.

A cosy beach corner along WA's Cape to Cape Track |  <i>Catriona Sutherland</i>

My trip down under was limited to 10 days – an ambitious timeframe coming from the UK! To make the most of it, I joined a team to wander the well-known route, covering close to 60 kilometres of coastal terrain. Quite the post-ride warm up! With a day to rest, I switched my hiking shoes for the saddle; this time to ride 230 kilometres of sensational singletrack.

So how did I prepare for this multi-day, multi-discipline adventure? If you’re considering a hike and ride combination, then read on for my top training and preparation tips.

Prepare for the terrain

The Cape to Cape track is coastal and whilst it doesn’t gain much elevation, the terrain can be tough on your body, particularly your feet!

Day after day, you’ll be tackling sandy tracks and long sections of beach, so you’ll want to condition yourself for the endurance required. Distances can reach 25 kilometres per stage, so you’ll need to be ready for multiple hours on the move.

Be beach-ready

The ideal way to condition yourself for the impending sand is, of course, to mirror this in your training hikes. Find a local beach if you live near to the coast, a lakeshore, or muddy ground, to emulate the sticky nature of the sand. If you stick to tarmac or hard-pack trails, you’ll gain miles but your muscles won’t be accustomed to the drag. Make sure to do long-distance efforts on this type of terrain to gain muscle memory and to be mentally ready too.

Dare to bare?

Enjoying a barefoot walk along the beaches on the Cape to Cape Track |  <i>Catriona Sutherland</i>

You might prefer to shed the shoes and walk barefoot on the beach? I hiked a six-kilometre stretch with my boots dangling from my pack. Doing so is a great way to improve balance and posture – but I’d recommend making sure you’re prepared for the abrasion from sand.

Take shorter strolls by the seaside or get used to barefoot on grass, or simply walking around the house. I found this a great method to toughen up the soles of my feet too.

Be bike prepared

When it comes to riding, preparation is also key. For the Cape to Cape, I researched the right tyre choice – your wheels are the contact point with the trail, so you have to be sure you’ve got the best tools for the job. Trails around the Cape to Cape are often dry, rocky and very sandy! Hiring a quality bike will make all the difference, and if you want to luggage transfers taken care of as well, turning to a trusted company like Australian Cycle Tours will take the hassle out of planning.

Take your bike for a spin at your local beach if you have coastal access in order to get used to cycling on varying conditions. If this isn’t an option, cycling on wet mud and slicker conditions offer a similar feel and will help you to find the balance needed.

Bike training for the Cape to Cape Track |  <i>Catriona Sutherland</i>

Carry your gear

Whilst the guided routes on the Cape to Cape don’t require you to lug tents and sleeping bags, you’ll certainly be carrying a backpack with extra clothes, food and plenty of drinking water.

During my hike, the storms set in, so don’t underestimate the amount you’ll choose to take with you – it might even include a swimsuit if the water’s not too cold! Ideally, you’ll be able to train outdoors, but if you’re adding mileage at the gym, consider wearing your pack during the session too. Step machines or treadmills can be a great way to squeeze in sessions around a busy work life.

If you prefer carrying a lighter pack, opting for a guided tour on the Cape to Cape Track with a professional guide and support staff allows you to get an in-depth cultural exploration of the region with extra comforts.

Resting at a beach along WA's Cape to Cape Track |  <i>Catriona Sutherland</i>

Know your kit

Fitness is one element, but you won't go far by bike or foot if you’re uncomfortable in your kit. Whether it’s a new saddle, pack or shoes – be sure to log time with them so you don’t discover any unwanted discomfort on the trail. Equally, be sure to read the recommended kit list or research blogs from those with experience of the area.

Hiking kit
Simulating the actual event is the best way to train – load up your pack and take it on your training hikes or even walks to and from work. Practice using a bottle or bladder for drinking and find out how easy it is to access your camera or snacks. This may seem mundane, but when you’re trekking day after day for multiple hours, you want to make tasks as simple as possible.

As tiredness sets in, it can be easy to not eat or drink as much as you should, so being sure it’s of minimal effort to do so will help you as the days stack up.

When it comes to hiking footwear, the Cape to Cape is ideally suited to a lightweight pair of outdoor shoes as well as gators – a truly useful aid to combat the infiltration of sand! Practice using these and don’t just throw them on the first day of the trek. Also, take a spare pair of socks. There are times on the path when your feet may get wet, so being armed with a dry set will help to avoid the onset of blisters.

Cycling kit
For the bike, the same applies. You’ll be sweating from the heat and effort, so if you’re not used to wearing a pack on the bike, make sure to train with one. Another skill to perfect is eating on the move. When you’re riding long days in the saddle, a top tube feed bag is also a useful addition, so you don’t have to stop to eat or try and dig awkwardly into your back pockets.

Clock the kilometres: mileage munching

Clocking up the kilometres is the best way to prepare for endurance, but many of us have busy lives and have to save the big days for the weekend. Consider if you can walk to work? Perhaps you can get off the bus or train earlier and add some distance to your legs mid-week? Could you walk to work one day, then bike home? Trying to combine walking and cycling equally within your week will ensure you’re not focusing on just one area.

Repetition reaps reward

The key to multi-day is to replicate this repetition as part of your training sessions. If you only have one day to add in the big distances, consider splitting the time between the bike and the trail shoes. Find an off-road route that you can ride, rest, then hike. If you have more time, ride one day and hike the next. Getting your body used to waking up tired and having to go again, is as much a physical training exercise as a mental one.

Good luck on the trail!

Words by Catriona Sutherland, a UK writer and athlete who travelled on the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia. Read more cross training tips from her >

Western Australia, Cape to Cape Track, Hiking, Biking, Cycling, Training tips

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