Ending Autumn in Canberra
It started well. I’d booked a hotel that offered bicycles for cruising around Canberra. I thought, Great! I’d received an email confirming a bicycle was reserved for me and that maps for riding from the hotel to the venue for the HARDCOPY workshops would be waiting for me. This is impressive!
Then I met my bike.
Friday morning, having checked the weather (sunny and seven degrees), fuelled with a hearty breakfast and wrapped in layers of wool from tip to toe, I present myself to the reception desk to collect my bicycle. I sign a disclaimer, am given a bike helmet (compulsory in Canberra) and a coiled bicycle lock with key; and ask which bikes are available.
The reception worker looks over my shoulder. My eyes follow. She says “there are only two adult bikes to choose from.”
On arriving the night before, I’d passed four bikes standing garishly in the foyer, two suitable for adults and and two for children. It looked rather cool to see bicycles so prominently displayed with encouragements to ask at reception to ride them. At the time I’d thought they must have others that would be suitable for my needs. After all they knew I needed to ride 7.1 kilometres to my venue, and back. However, it seems they didn’t. These bikes were it.
So I went to meet my ride – one dark blue Cruiser with red rimmed wheels, a wide beige faux leather seat and elongated chrome handle bars topped with beige handles. I grabbed the handles, flicked the side stand up and wheeled this monster to the footpath outside.
Some people love Cruiser Bikes. These distinctive bikes hint at a laid back, Californian cool, coastal lifestyle, surfing… you get the picture. I can see the attraction but admit the thought of riding one of these bikes has never appealed to me. They always look so unwieldly with their long squat frame and oversized handlebars. Watching others ride them, I’ve always thought the bike looks awkward to handle.
Nonetheless, I was determined to make friends with it.
Nonetheless, I was determined to make friends with it. I thought, I’m fit, seven kilometres is a distance I often ride, it’s mostly flat and there are cycle paths to follow. It shouldn’t be a problem. But it was. The Cruiser bike had only three gears so any slight incline was very hard work. I worked so hard moving this bike along, sweat started to seep through every layer that I was wearing.
Canberra is cold. It’s Australia’s coldest city and during the week before I arrived, Canberrans were rugging up for mornings and evenings of minus 2 degrees Celsius with maximums staying in single figures. Even though it was seven degrees on Friday, I wasn’t taking any risks. The cycle way to the venue took me around Lake Burley Griffin (a central feature of the Canberra landscape) and as any bicycle rider knows, wind over water makes a very cool breeze and seven degrees might feel much cooler. I was wrapped to stay warm but with the Cruiser demanding so much effort I began to overheat.
Then I got lost. Oh yes, how can you get lost in Canberra, it’s such an organised city. Maybe it was just that I was starting to worry about being late or maybe it was the discomfort of overheating, or maybe the signs just weren’t there but I sort of got lost in the gardens of Commonwealth Park amongst all the happy little seedlings waiting to flower in three months time for the city’s wonderful spring festival Floriade. I knew I had to take a right turn out of the park at some stage but where and when wasn’t clear.
The bike commuters who’d been whizzing past me earlier on the wonderful wide concrete cycleways along the lakeside had disappeared. Being late for the first day of workshops was not going to be a good start. So I asked an elderly couple strolling along the lakeside who with thick accents mentioned a pedestrian bridge further ahead. When I came across a groundsman tending some gardens, I hurriedly asked him for directions. He pointed ahead, shaped his arm into a curve and told me to then make sure I take a right hand turn and I’ll be on the bridge over Parkes Way and in the city centre.
Not long after, I found it! and then pedalled into a lovely “bicycles-only” lane along Allara Street, arriving with time to spare and walking into the workshop with thighs that felt like jelly from having to pedal so hard.
And the HARDCOPY workshops that took me to Canberra? They were brilliant! Being immersed for three days in my manuscript with 25 other writers immersed in developing theirs, with expert advice and collegial support sowed many seeds of inspiration and community.
So from my brief visit to the nation’s capital, I can confirm that Cruisers are best avoided for commuting, Canberra is cold for cycling at this time of year and there are some lovely seedlings waiting to bloom.