I am part of the new mid-life crisis trend: instead of buying bright-red sports cars for our milestone birthdays, we’re into physical challenges. With the big 40 in sight, I was looking for a travel experience with an active bent when I came across the annual Great Victorian Bike Ride, which in 2012 toured the towns of Gippsland. Along with the fitness goal came other formidable challenges: camping and wearing Lycra in public.
But the most pressing hurdle is to take the pedals off my bike, turn the handle bars, then balance my luggage on the frame while shuffling in a queue with hundreds of others, to be transported to the start at Lakes Entrance by bus. In the queue are people – and bikes – of all shapes, sizes and ages, the oldest being 85.
The first day is a leisurely 45km ride from Lakes Entrance to Bruthen. Around 4000 riders line up with bananas, muesli bars and phones hanging out of jerseys, and we set off. The route is easy, along winding roads while we adjust to riding in groups. Lunch is at Metung, where the locals cheer us on. Then we ride on to Bruthen, where we head for a field of tents. We’ve chosen the Sleep Easy option, with tents fully set up when you reach the camp site, usually a pasture, oval, or reserve.
Up early for the 93km journey to Briagolong, my friend and I ride past fields of vegetables, which give way to forests and plantations. The scenery is a gorgeous distraction as we tackle our first hill climbs. Then we stop for lunch. In each town are markets and entertainment set up just for us. It’s about simple country pleasures and I head for the homemade cakes.
The most challenging day, from Rosedale to Traralgon, involves an 800m hill climb. But, as we climb the mountain, the weather changes as we negotiate a 10km dirt track. The rain pelts down, bikes fishtail and we are soon covered in mud. When the bitumen finally re-appears, we rejoice like winners on Survivor. The next day’s ride follows the Grand Ridge Road, which has views over the Latrobe Valley, including rolling hills with recently burnt trees standing among green vegetation. Our scheduled rest day arrives in the nick of time. We cheat and stay in a motel, enjoying long showers, doing our laundry and cleaning our bikes ready for the second half of the ride.
My favourite town is Yarragon. We ride through the valley with views of the Great Dividing Range into Baw Baw hinterland. The cycling is cruisy, with welcome shade from the gum trees. This is followed by a day of hill climbs, followed by the longest day, a 108km ride from Mirboo North to San Remo.
Before coming on this ride, 70km was the furthest I’d ridden. I wasn’t sure how my posterior would fare, but, with regular pit stops, it was A-OK. It’s beautiful riding and we are rewarded not just with spectacular scenery, but also, after591km, a true sense of achievement.
Melissa Mychreest travelled courtesy of RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride & Tourism Victoria.
On yer bike
Anyone with reasonable fitness can enjoy these rides:
QLD Cycle Queensland Mission Beach to Port Douglas, eight days, 500km, 1000 friends.
September 8-15; cycleqld.bq.org.au.
NSW The Sunsuper Ride to Conquer Cancer, two days, 200km.
October 12-13; sy13.conquercancer.org.au.
VIC The RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride 2013. A classic route along the Great Ocean Road and through the Otways to celebrate the 30th RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride. The 610km bike touring holiday will feature the dramatic rock formations of the Twelve Apostles, picture postcard Otway Ranges rainforest on Turtons Track, and the chance to slow down for a swim at world-famous beaches like Lorne, Torquay and Bells.
November 23-December 1; www.greatvic.com.au.