“I want to ride my bicycle!”
Be careful what you wish for, says SC Chua who went on a 350km bike adventure in Australia called the Great Victorian Bike Ride.
A friend sold it to me as a leisure ride. “There will be camping, riding past quaint towns, great weather. Come – it will be fun!” Which is why when it came time to sign up for the Great Victorian Bike Ride (GVBR) – an annual cycling event/holiday organised by the good people of the state of Victoria – I didn’t think twice about parting with AUD$625 for the five-day tour (there is a nine-day option that covers 550km) and RM1800 for my plane ticket to Melbourne. But when I was caught underneath a tree drenched in rain on day three, I thought to myself: “I’m too old for this s**t!”
Day 1: Arrival at campsite
So far so good – the first day of GVBR was a free-and-easy day. We made our way with our bicycles (packed all the way from home!) and bags to Southern Cross station in Melbourne to catch our shuttle bus to Albury, our first campsite for the day. No five-star hotels for this cycling tour; we set up camp at different towns each night where we put up with some 4000 other riders sharing toilet and shower facilities. Still feeling great – dinner was steak with mash, veggies and fresh berries served with cream!
Day 2: Albury to Yackandandah
We woke up at 5.30am because we were advised to start our ride early to avoid the scorching midday sun (wait, what happened to great weather?) So did almost everyone else, which explained the super-long queue for breakfast and toilets.
The plan was for us to cover 67km, the shortest distance for the entire tour. The ride started off in picturesque countryside with a cool morning breeze. After a quick sandwich lunch at the pit stop, the cool breeze gave way to unbearable heat. That wouldn’t have been a problem, however with a gradual but extended climb and pesky flies determined to get inside your mouth, the fantasy of a ‘leisure bike tour’ soon gave way to the reality of an “OK, this is not easy!” ride.
Luckily, the last 5km of the ride was an enjoyable (read: fast) descent into the campsite at Yackandandah. With just a few hours left to explore the town, we quickly set up tent, got out of our sweaty cycling gear and headed to the historic town where we plonked ourselves in a tiny bakery and had a really good cup of coffee and a few sausage rolls.
Day 3: Yackandandah to Bright
Bright is said to be one of the most beautiful towns in Victoria. Unfortunately, the only thing in Bright that I saw was our campsite and a whole lot of rain. Oh, and hail stones too. Not quite “bright”.
The 88km ride started out pretty OK. But judging from what we had to endure the day before, it wouldn’t be long before I was ready to throw my bike to the side and hop on the sweeper bus. This almost happened when climbing 10km up Tawonga Gap, which is also a popular training spot for Tour de France hopefuls (to give you an idea of the tough climb).
I managed only 1km before my back started to ache. I hopped off my bicycle and pushed it all the way up the Gap. It was a walk of shame, what with cyclists much older than me pedalling their way up! Why are Australians so fit?
The view at the top made it worth the long walk/push. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stay long enough to admire it because storm clouds soon appeared. Another 10km to the campsite, most of it rolling hills. Easy… except for the part where I pedalled like crazy with the rain chasing from behind, as if taunting to say: “Is this the fastest you can go?” Obviously, it wasn’t because I was drenched and shivering by the time I reached a disgustingly muddy Bright campsite. Don’t even get me started on my soaked-through bag.
Day 4: Bright to Mohyu
Today was a better day – though the heat and flies still proved to be a big issue. My holiday buddies and I decided that we were going to go slow and actually enjoy the ride. Stopped at a strawberry farm and had the sweetest strawberries ever. Hung around a cherry farm and popped juicy cherries freshly picked from the trees. Took a slow ride on a road lined with eucalyptus trees, breathing in the freshness along the way. Visited a butter factory and got an education. Best part? We decided to be lazy and got on the sweeper bus so we didn’t have to cycle in the afternoon heat!
Day 5: Mohyu to Mansfield
The last cycling day of the tour. Oddly, I was feeling sad that it was coming to an end. But that went away when I learnt that the day’s ride involved a long alpine climb up to a lookout. Alpine and lookout – two things I did not look forward to. As it would be the last cycling I would do before heading back to Melbourne, I decided I was going to pedal all the way up – and I did! The trick – just keep pedalling and stop complaining.
So GVBR wasn’t exactly a leisure ride; it was more of a cycling boot camp. But it wasn’t torture. Sure, there were five days of intensive cycling, sleeping on the hard ground and lining up for almost everything (shower, toilet, water, food). What it was is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (or more if you decide to sign up for the next tour, which takes you on a different route like the Great Ocean Road).
Would I recommend it? Sure – if you are tired of your usual holidays and love the outdoors. Just don’t complain that you’re too old for it because the oldest rider on my tour was 84. Hey, just putting things in perspective for you.
Want to sign up for this year’s Great Victorian Bike Ride? Check out www.bicyclenetwork.com.au for detail