It was possibly the toughest bike ride I’ve ever attempted. The Riding Way tradition on Melbourne Cup weekend is to spend it on a bicycle journey. Initially a BMX road-trip, packing our car and heading to far off lands but for the last couple of years we’ve focussed more so on the bicycle touring/bike-packing style of adventures and this year we headed out to Murrindindi, Victoria.
With a rough head-wind, I started the ride from Narre Warren and was testing from the get-go. Heading off from here, it was easy to set a route with some solid climbing and while it was fairly ambitious, at no point in the planning stages did it occur to me that I might not be able to make the distance. I headed out through Emerald where a couple of ‘real’ roadies tagged along for a while with much much appreciated conversation and seemingly mesmerised by my journey plans talked that perhaps they’ll join me next year.
After arriving too early for my planned breakfast stop, I continued on towards Woori Yallock and making fantastic time getting to Healesville, I was pumped on just how well the ride was going. My tent was big, heavy and along with a bunch of other heavy gear, my rack was near the 30kg weight rating, I’m sure. For future adventures, I’ll be sure to look into lighter-weight tents and camping gear or simply doing more training leading into the ride. I’m fairly fit; I’m at the gym two times a week and I am constantly on my bike riding anywhere from 10 to 40 kilometres a day and on recent rides gave myself false ideas about how well I could ride up hills. I pride myself in always having a few gears left on climbs and often do them without leaving the ‘big ring’ up front but in underestimating just how much weight I’d stacked on my Topeak Super Tourist DX carrier, I found the bigger hills pretty tough. Leaving Healesville along Myers-Creek Rd was about to provide some solid testing for my legs. It was here, as I entered the Toolangi State Forest, that I knew I was home. There’s something calming about the sounds of the wind in the trees, the birds singing and the smell of the Australian bush. This is where I belong. Even though the climbing was tough, the ride was perfect.
Gravel roads are all the rage at the moment, something I’ve never really understood, and the 30km stretch between Myers-Creek Rd and Murrindindi only adds to this confusion. I assume it’s because the logging trucks are massive and carry heavy loads that the rocks they’ve used seem over-sized and offer a substantial challenge to my 32mm wide road tyres. Silvia Creek Rd, that ends up being Murrindindi Rd, offers some of the steepest roads I encountered on the 100 or so kilometre bicycle ride. Steep both up and down. Bouncing around heading up tested my patience and heading down into camp tested my bike handling skills and grip endurance. With all my weight packed on the back wheel, the front-end was unresponsive and often skated across the road giving me clear visions of dirty gravel rash but I managed to keep it upright, much to my knee and elbows’ delight. I think the next trip I’ll have to reassess my bicycle choice.
I set up my tent and sat down and an hour later, awoke to the sound of heavy winds. Obviously worn out and my mid-afternoon nap out of the way, I went out to explore my home for the night. As the winds blew fiercely, I checked out the Murrindindi River, the Water Gauge Suspension Bridge and met a few of the families who had also camped out for the weekend. We spoke of the chance of a tree coming down but brushed off any concerns and got to cooking dinner.
Spending some solid time to myself, something we often forget about in the busy lifestyles of the modern era, I contemplated the next couple of days. I’d watched my daughter break into tears the night before leaving so getting home earlier than I planned was thrown into the mix. I was tired, worn out and was not at all interested in riding back along the logging road so I re-adjusted the plan and after one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in I don’t know how long, awoke to a glorious Spring morning. After more discussions with the neighbours, I opted to take the easier & quicker way home along the Melba Hwy. That reduced the dirt road section by about 26 kilometres and gave me a few more options.
The hills started to get to me by the end of my ride and as my parents’ home was on the way, I pulled in there and cut my ride short. I was beat. Once home and I’d stopped, my body decided it was done. My knees swelled and my muscles ached and stung like I’d just PB’d my squat. I could barely move and my eyes were struggling to stay open. I didn’t want to look at my bike and the mess it was in nor was I terribly concerned with unpacking so naturally, I spent the remaining energy I had planning my next bicycle touring adventure. It was brutal and challenging yet beautiful and peaceful. Never before have I set such a tough physical challenge and it was awesome to see just how determined I was to make it happen and reach my goals. It’s here I say to you, I hope to inspire you even, to pack some gear on your bike, grab a few friends and ride off into the wilderness.
I have absolutely no real idea of the statistics of my ride. I spend my work life looking at graphs, counting stock and analysing sales figures so the last thing I wanted to do on my weekend off was worry about the numbers. I know after planning my ride on Google Maps that it was about 200 kilometres return but other than that, I don’t really know. I don’t know how much my gear weighed and I don’t know how high I climbed. It was even a trip without technology. (I even managed to make do with 1 camera, I know, right!) I used my phone only to message my wife to let her know I arrived and was fine. This part, the part without technology, this I cannot recommend enough. Look around, with your eyes and not through a phone.
Now go! Go on an adventure. Live. Breathe. Ride