Monday, December 30, 2013

The Aussie Ride: Nine Days Along the Great Ocean Road

Cathy and I signed up for this months in advance and the experience did not disappoint. It was a full-on expedition shared with more than 5,000 other cyclists who were drawn to the Victorian coast to do this iconic ride. 

Bicycle Network is the organization that orchestrated this event. To support a mass cycle of this scale and length, countless hours are devoted to the logistics of feeding, sheltering and caring for a diverse band of riders. Though there are options to do the ride in relative comfort, most folks camp in tents pitched in paddocks or cricket/footy ovals. Each rider has a lanyard with a scannable card that entitles one to the meals provided thrice a day, including one in the middle of the day's journey.

We were fortunate to have loaner cycles from our good mates in Melbourne. Cathy rode Alistair's Giant while I rode Robert Villella's Scott. Both bikes were sleek, lightweight road bikes that served us well. Nary a puncture over the 650 kms! Featured below are Cathy and our kind friend Keith who drove us to the start of the ride via Hamilton, a quaint western Vic town. The bikes we rode are mounted on the rack attached to Keith's Subaru. 

The ride began with a miserably rainy day that included a headwind. It was a mercifully short day, only 42 kms., but it set the tone of the ride in the sense that one needs to face adversity and bash on with grit and a positive attitude. We conquered it and were rewarded with a wet camp. Given that our two years of living in Melbourne were in drought, the rainfall was mildly surprising. 

The remainder of the ride was smooth and we grew in strength as it progressed. We established a rhythm whereby Cathy pushed out of camp shortly after breakfast and I would get our bags in the truck before following her. We maintained different paces which reflected our tastes too. Cathy is far more observant and therefore stopped to take lots of photographs of the surrounding landscape. As we were following the coastline, the view to our right was often a gorgeous seascape. Thank goodness Cathy had her wee IPad with her for the duration.

The midway point offered us a rest in Port Campbell which is a sleepy cove on the western edge of the Otways. It was a brilliant sunny day. We lolled around in the town and even went in the ocean to cool ourselves. I will always remember an exchange with a trio of men in their 60s and 70s who had done the ride several times. One bloke, Ted, had done it 17 times and he was undaunted by the upcoming Lavers hill! a climb of about 500 meters. 

The second half presented the group with both elevation and descents. The former require a steadfast resolve and core strength. The latter afford you the value of gravity and yet one becomes concerned about excessive speed. We stayed to the left and had our left hand judiciously poised to engage the rear brake. 

The penultimate day culminated in Torquay along the surf coast. If you have not been there, go. Even for those not inclined to surf, you will appreciate the grandeur of the ocean. It is is rugged and inspiring.  We gathered in the coastal town of Lorne before being allowed by the local traffic cops to cruise onward to the surf town for our final night in a tent. 

The final day brought us close enough to a "city" that one could distinguish between the laidback pace of a country road and the buzz of an urban or suburban highway. However, we did pass through the wonderful communities of Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove (home of Cadel Evans) en route to the final ground in Geelong. It was a lovely end to an eventful ride wherein we met so many interesting folks, mostly Aussies, who came together bonded by a love of cycling and the open road.