Ararat to Castlemaine, Wednesday, 8.31.22, 140 kilometers
There is so much packed into each day on this adventure, recalling what happened even a few days ago seems impossible. There are days like this one where I have very little memory of where we were and what was outstanding. What I do remember is another wonderful countryside filled with rolling hills and an area called the Pyrenees Ranges, along the Pyrenees Highway through another wine region. We rode through small quaint towns like Elmhurst, Amphitheater, Avoca, Elmhurst, Maryborough under sunny skies and warming temps, quite a lovely day for a bike ride of about 140 kilometers. The terrain however was rolling enough to make this another exciting day, code words for hard physical effort. Luckily, winds were of no factor, plus or minus. We arrived in Castlemaine, a slightly larger town so finding the booked accommodations took some touring of the town, always hard when it’s at days end and all I want is to get off the bike. Our motel was a converted set of buildings that may at one time have been church buildings, all brick construction. The brick construction seems similar in a lot of towns, not a country with an excess of timber growth that can be logged is my guess.
Scotty’s parents have been in our same location since last night. They have been vacationing. We had dinner with them last night and again in Castlemaine at a local pub. The owners of the pub heard our story and immediately donated a larger sum of money to the Black Dog Institute. If you are ever in Castlemaine, visit the pub, the Bridge Hotel Castlemaine. Ask for Pat, one of the owners I believe and thank him for the donation.
Off to the hotel, sleep time, the town of Tallarook up next.
Castlemaine to Tallarook/Broadford, Thursday, 9.1.22, 131 kilometers
So starts some physically demanding days on the bike. Before starting this day we realized the town of Tallarook is small so finding accommodations was proving to be impossible. The best we could do was find another hotel in the town of Broadford, about 15 to 20 kilometers off our desired direction, heading closer to Melbourne then we ever planned, about 77 k from Melbourne. Scotty and I joked about taking the commuter rail train to Melbourne for a luxury hotel stay and then the train back to Broadford/Tallarook. Instead, another brick motel. The challenge, we needed to ride on the busiest highway in Australia, the M31, Sydney to Melbourne to get from Tallarook to Broadford. We have gotten accustomed to traffic and large trucks, just not in the same volume. The was a decent width breakdown lane and as the large trucks started to see us, they tend to communicate with other trucks and then move over as possible to gives us additional room. Because of the lack of roads I suspect, Australia allows cyclists on main “interstate” highways as there sometimes is no other connecting roads. We arrived safely in Broadford, found a decent pub to get food and a beer, with our tradition of a toast at the table, successful end of day. Not however without significant fatigue from a 130 plus kilometer day.
Back to the hotel, relax, prep for tomorrow and me, asleep by 9 for a 6 A.M. alarm.
Broadford/Tallarook to Mansfield, Friday, 9.2.22, 143 kilometers
As I said, Broadford was 15-20 k out of our way so today we are back on M31 to retrace our path back to Tallarook to find the start of the Tallarook/Great Eastern Rail Trail, our path to Mansfield. This will be a long day start to finish. My expectations are a rail trail like ones in America. Those expectations were immediately crushed as we enter the crushed gravel rail trail entrance and then start riding through wet, sometimes muddy, sometimes sketchy stretches of trail. There seems to be no paving and when we do find a bit, the pavement, commonly called “bitchment” here, (I can only assume why it’s called that, I know I would call it something similar) it is rougher than the gravel sections.
Scotty and I are own our own today, no van support along the rail trail. Bushy is driving to Mansfield, getting the room set, relaxing, and then going for a short ride on his own up the rail trail towards us, maybe to meet us, maybe not.
About 20 k in, we find a fancy resort like place, and I am hoping for food, but it is early in the season and it’s not open, dam! Our next hope for a good stop is the town of Yea. I say yea to that! It is a bigger town and there is a great bakery. (I should do a separate post about Australian bakeries, they are the greatest, lots of treats to enjoy) I am glad Scotty is along, I have gotten used to relying on the van support and today, I brought no payment methods with me, Scotty did. Into the bakery, two Long Black coffees, sandwiches, other treats plus a sandwich to pack in my jersey for later today.
Off down the trail, a challenging up and down and rough trail. Lots of debris along as well. As I am riding, to the right of Scotty, I see a long, big stick, 10 feet or so. I try and to shift to miss it and not take Scotty down. Scotty is good, the stick gets jammed in between my front wheel and fork and as I try a slow, yup off to the side and down. First accident in over 3500 k’s! Lucky, no damage, no injury other then my self-esteem and we laugh and take off again.
Further along, I start to feel frisky and go off the front and get ahead of Scotty for one of the few times in the trip. The gravel bike is performing well, even with only 30 mm tires compared to Scotty’s Road bike with 23mm tires. (I am not sure how he is handling this trail on those tires, kudos to his bike handling skills) I come down a short decline that crossed a road, there is a bus bench and I take a seat and wait up for Scotty who arrives breathlessly explain how much fun he was having chasing me down.
The trail continues as do we, me getting a bit more tired and fatigued as the kilometers pile up. From Yea, now on the Great Victorian Rail Trail, going through a small village, Molesworth, just a service station not even a town. A welcome stop for a Gatorade (Which I never drink but I’m desperate and a snack) Back riding though some wonderfully countryside but the trail is gradually making a long climb, lucky to be maybe only 5% grade max but still a long distance. We cross a big river, passing another cyclist out for a big ride. He stays with us for a while. I keep stopping about every half an hour to down anything I have as an energy source to keep me going, desperate is getting worse.
I’m not sure how but as we start to see the end of daylight, we enter Mansfield and find Bushy waiting for us at the end of the trail. The hotel, not far away. Shower, relax, off to one pub, full, another pub, we are good. Eat, back to the hotel, concerned about what tomorrow will bring. Then, I am out cold.
Mansfield to Beechworth/Yackandanduh, Saturday, 9.3.22, 165 kilometers
Another intimidating day. After evaluating yesterday’s ride, I realize that I need to be conservative in my efforts for today. Little that I know, there is no way to be conservative. The route is across the Great Dividing Range of mountains and the climb out of Mansfield to the top is to be about 45 kilometers, another 20 kilometers down some, back up some and then some serious high-speed drops to the flat land area. We have another accommodation issue. There are some large mountain bike races happening in Beechworth now and all accommodations are filled. That means we are riding an additional 20 k’s further today than planned to get to our rest days accommodations. I won’t deny that the ride through the mountains was not spectacular. What I do know is that my focus was not on sight-seeing but on head down, focus on the repeated climbs that continued up and up, keeping my efforts within a range that I hoped I could maintain for the entire climb and still have energy for the down, the flat, the ups to Beechworth and then the downs into Yackandanduh.
The climb was especially deceiving. About the time it looked like we were at the peak, which we probably were, the road descended but then rose again to summit another peak. What lay ahead, I had no idea but was soon to find out. We hit the final summit and then a descent like maybe none other I have done was in front of me. I suspect there was about 20 kilometers of descent, some of it I could easily manage and some I was challenged to manage. I will be the first to admit, I am not as skillful a descender as a lot of cyclists. I would like to think I am more cautious then foolhardy. I think my max speed was maybe a bit over 50 kph, Scotty’s closing in on almost 70 kph or more. Quite spectacular, we stopped at a questionable overlook to take some pictures, quite spectacular!
Down to the bottom, which seemed to take forever, into a small town called Whitefield. A café, great lunch, which I needed in the worst way. A coffee and then off, refreshed for a long flat sector. The speeds were up, I got in the draft and tried to save energy, some traffic, not bad. Eventually a 90 degree right turn towards the town of Miliwa then Markwood, Everton along a road over never-ending ramps up and up towards Beechworth. Again, gorgeous views, especially back to the diving range we crossed. I was struggling with every ramp upwards just hoping for Beechworth which arrived right after one last steep, short climb. The three of us stopped, I ate some more to try and gain a spec of energy, 20k to go. Bushy and Scotty assuring me it was all downhill. As they said, yes, downhill at some very exciting speeds with the sun starting to set, me wearing sunglasses, our bike lights on hoping for the best. Eventually, Yackandanduh, a bit of a tour of the outer edges to find our lodging in the dark. In and ready for a feed.
Scotty got a shower, Bushy and I skipped ours for now in favor of food. We found a local busy pub, grabbed food, ordering just about everything on the menu, ate and then back to the lodging to collapse.
Historic Yackandanduh, Sunday, 9.4.22, rest day #1
Not even close to a good day for me. The last few days took their toll and have used up every once of my energy. We got up late, went to town for breakfast at the Beechworth Bakery in Yackandanduh. I ate, tried to stay awake. Basically, just felt terrible, exhausted. Bushy and Scotty got some chores done and we headed back to the Airbnb. I explained how bad I felt and went back to bed, fitfully trying to recover and sleep more even after sleeping for 11 hours already.
My partners are great friends, and the plan has always been about successfully riding all the distance and arriving at Bondi Beach in Sydney. Thanks to their understanding, we booked an additional rest day here, which I needed in the worst way. By sometime after noon, I started to come back, gradually gaining some energy. By later in the day, I was better yet and thankful for the additional planned rest day.
By dinner, I felt good enough to go out and enjoy the meal. Back to the Airbnb and early to bed after doing some of the normal posting and recording that would normally have happened 24 hours prior.
Historic Yackandanduh, Monday, 9.5.22, rest day #2, really recovered
Up late, a drive back to Beechworth to visit the real Beechworth Bakery for breakfast. A trip to the bike shop to try and get Scotty’s bike creak solved, done! Duh! Too easy for a pro!
A few stops at the pharmacy, a visit with a lady bike racer as we were admiring her bike. A stop at the tourist store and then back to the lodge for bike maintenance and media time.
I expect a pub dinner for tonight and then we back track up some of the downhill to get to a right turn to Wodonga and eventually Wagga Wagga for tomorrow night. The rides are not getting any easier as we get closer to Sydney, more hills, some longer days. As we talk though the upcoming challenges, I am happy to say, some adjustments are being made to shorten some of the days, take an additional day off and spread the time frame out some for completion. I am happy about that as there was a 190-k day planned at the end that I have been concerned about.
Here’s to success for the next few days to completion of this amazing adventure and time spent with the best of friends.