My GreatVic

For three months, it had been just a concept, an idea, an aspiration: “I’m going to ride the GreatVic”. I knew very little about what this ride would be like. Yes, I’d read the Bicycle Network website which has heaps of useful information. It prepared me well. But it was information and still a concept; something ‘out there’ beyond where I was.

Now the ride is over and my GreatVic is real. I’ve ridden the miles, seen the sights, felt the strain and the jubilation; and now I know it. At least I know my experience of rolling with this bicycle ride through the landscape of south eastern Australia.

Everybody has a different experience. While I sit patiently on the bus while we stop at a service station on our way to the Grampians, someone else grizzles about the delay and posts their angst to Facebook. While I ride slowly through the landscape, others speed across the asphalt. Some leave camp early, others leave late. Some stop for photos, while others keep rolling. For some riders, the distances are a breeze. For some they’re hard work. I love climbing hills, but there are cyclists who approach the hills with great apprehension. Some revel in talking as they pedal. Others settle in for a quiet ride.

And every day is different.

Day One of the GreatVic Bike Ride saw about 3500 bike riders gather in Halls Gap in the magnificent Grampians National Park. Jane and I arrived by bus from Geelong. This was one of five GreatVic buses leaving from Geelong. Others travelled from Melbourne and Ballarat. Our bikes came on separate transport – all organised by the Bicycle Network. Our afternoon was filled with settling in to the festival site: registering, selecting a tent, unpacking our bikes, preparing our camp, collecting our GreatVic jerseys and learning how things happen for meals, showers and phone charging.

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Day 1 at the Grampians: Are you sure this is our tent?

On Day Two, we rode 72km from Halls Gap to Dunkeld. A few long hills, plenty of gorgeous gum trees and views of dramatic escarpments. Morning temperatures were cold at 4 degrees Celsius (I wore a skull cap to start the ride). By the close of the day, we were walking around the Dunkeld camp in shorts and singlets under a blue sky evening. I felt happy that my GreatVic had begun.

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Climbing through the Grampians on roads lined with beautiful gum trees and laced with dramatic escarpments.

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Downhill run into a cool breeze in the Grampians on Day 2.

Day 3: The heat of the previous afternoon didn’t last. During the pre-dawn hours, chills kept running through me as I lay in my sleeping bag. I just couldn’t get warm and started to think I might be getting a cold. When it came time to rise, our tent had frost all over it. Minus 1 degree Celsius. No wonder I was cold!

Temperatures warmed up and staying hydrated was really important. Our 88kms from Dunkeld to Mortlake was mostly downhill riding and long straight roads lined with paddocks of sheep, wheat and dams full from recent rains. A light headwind, blue skies and plenty of rest stops. For reasons that I still don’t understand, I found this my most challenging day for the entire event. Was it the dry heat? Was it the scarcity of trees in the landscape? Was I simply adjusting to something completely new?

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Leaving camp on Day 3 in Dunkeld after a frosty start.

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Bicycles resting in rural Australia on GreatVic Day 3.

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Day 3 Lunch spot

Day 4 on My GreatVic was a personal highlight. Fabulous weather. Spectacular scenery. Rural paddocks sprinkled with dairy cows or thoroughbred horses. Roads lined with clusters of wattle or families of gum trees. And we ended the day with salt air in our lungs. We’d met the Great Ocean Road by bicycle. Leaving the rural landscape behind us and being by the sea again was like coming home.

By the end of the day I’d ridden 98kms from Mortlake to our oceanside camp at The Twelve Apostles. Many talked about the difficult headwind we faced for the last 30kms that day along the Great Ocean Road but I felt so enlivened by the sea, that somehow it just didn’t matter. ‘My best day of riding ever,’ I announced and received some perplexed looks in reply. Everyone has a different experience.

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Signs we are getting closer to the sea (Day 4)

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By the sea again.

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Spectacular coastline when we met the ocean on Day 4. (Plus my Strava statistics).

Day 5 of our GreatVic Bike Ride meant hills, hills, hills. For 95kms from The Twelve Apostles to Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Road rolled up and down like great ocean swells. Lavers Hill – a 20km climb from 8m above sea level to 461m above sea level – is a demanding climb but my touring bike carried me up with confidence. I was more concerned about choosing my clothing for the ocean-driven windchill on the descents. Cold weather riding is unfamiliar territory for me and although I have the right type of clothing, deciding ‘what to where when’ was a dilemma I met a few times during the ride.

Hills may have featured on Day 5 but the scenery was spectacular. Limestone stacks surrounded by ocean. Amazing stands of gum trees, tree ferns and tiny roadside daisies, as we rode through the Otway National Park on our way to Apollo Bay.

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Setting out on Day 5 along the dramatic coastline of The Twelve Apostles.

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Limestone stacks known as The Twelve Apostles.

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Arriving at Lavers Hill after a 20km climb.

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Otway National Park and my riding statistics for Day 5.

Day 6 was our rest day in Apollo Bay. Deserved and enjoyed.

On Day 7, we left Apollo Bay, riding 81kms to Bellbrae along the Great Ocean Road. Between Skenes Creek and Lorne, the road was fully closed to vehicle traffic for our ride through. Numbers swelled with another 700 riders joining us for the final three days. It was a slow roll out of Apollo Bay. And again in Lorne after lunch, riders were sent out in waves for safety.

That morning was wet and grey with light squalls rushing in over the sea. By the afternoon, blue skies opened, sunlight coloured the ocean turquoise and a southerly tailwind carried us along. We pedalled around cliffs, down into watery inlets, past gum trees where koalas slept and beside the ocean in all its colours. The view from my handlebars was magnificent!

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Light rain for the start of Day 7.

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Gum tree lined roads on Day 7

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The sky cleared and the ocean views were magnificent!

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Turquoise waters of Bass Strait along the Great Ocean Road on Day 7.

Day 8 brought a shorter ride of 58kms from Bellbrae to Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula. We watched big ground swell rolling into Bells Beach carrying surfers with it. The terrain was mostly flat land as we rode through the surf coast communities of Jan Juc, Torquay, Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove. Ocean views along the way.

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The famous Bells Beach Surfing Reserve

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Riding between coastal heath near Barwon Heads.

Day 9 was the final day. A 64km ride around the Bellarine Peninsula ending in Geelong. Warm temperatures, views of Port Phillip Bay, a few long steep hills, and a bubbling excitement carried us along.

Crossing the finish line after completing 559kms was an emotional moment that morphed into a lingering euphoria. It seeps out as I remember the places we pedalled, the people we met, the challenges we shared and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction with My GreatVic.

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At the finish line!

(Finish line photo credit: Mediawise – thanks John!)

24 Comments on “My GreatVic

  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome!!!
    It’s definitely on my list now! I’d always imagined it to be something just “roadies” did, and the length was daunting – what if I couldn’t hack it after the first day? It would be such a waste of money… But hearing about the range of riders (and the resulting range of riding styles and abilities) has changed my mind. It’s no longer “it’d be nice” – it’s now “I wonder when we can do it…?!”
    Thanks Gail! Loved this post!
    😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s room for a couple of Bromptons on the GreatVic Dayna for sure! 🙂
      I saw a few Bike Friday folding bikes and a Dahon riding the 9 day event. The variety of bicycles and cyclists surprised me too. Before the event, we were worried about getting left behind on our heavy touring bikes … but there were plenty of other cyclists riding at our pace and slower. Most days we averaged around 16km/hr. On the hilly day our average dropped to 14km/hr and on our last day we sped around the Bellarine Peninsula at 19.5km/hr!
      Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic effort and wonderful experience. Have really enjoyed your Facebook progress reports and reading this now. Love to you both

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Penny. We had a lot of fun amongst all that pedalling. And some challenges too. It was great being able to post updates on Facebook. Glad you enjoyed them. Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Christmas with plenty of swims and watermelon 🙂

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  3. thank you so much for writing this up. I have enjoyed your ride especially now I am unable to ride for a while. the doctor was funny. he said well you wouldn’t normally ride in the winter. I shot him a withering look and said really. he was amazed when I told him my total for the year , now cut short unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Deciding what to include in this post was really hard because so much happened over those nine days. We only just returned home last Sunday after four weeks travelling so I was keen to get the story up before the close of the year. I was sorry to read about your accident Brenda. You met your goal of riding 4000miles in the year just in time. I think that mileage is remarkable. Your doctor must too! Enjoy the rest and wishing you a speedy recovery.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations! Glad it was such a positive experience and loved reading all about your riding. I’d also love to hear about your social experience – how did all those people get along?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pretty well really. It was quite a friendly atmosphere and cooperative too. There were queues for meals, toilets, coffee… but people were remarkably patient and considerate. I think the way Bicycle Network organises the event is incredible and that really fosters the atmosphere.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Predictive text catches me sometimes too!
        Yep you were right – very achievable. Jane and I are both glad we did some training for the event. It gave us confidence going into the ride. A wonderful experience and I’d do it all again 🙂

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  5. Wow! Absolutely incredible accomplishment, Gail. I am so impressed with your courage and stamina, fortitude and determination. Thanks for taking us through each day and showing us these gorgeous vistas and the tent sites too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My pleasure, Jet 🙂 One of the wonderful aspects of this ride is that it’s not a race. Although some people rode for speed and jousted with friendly competitiveness, the mood was very much around the shared enjoyment of riding a bike. And despite the large numbers participating in the event, the ride remains quite a personal experience. And a memorable one too – for all the right reasons 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful photos Gail! Your descriptions were really detailed. I felt as though I was riding with you. You’ve every reason to feel satisfied and pleased with the experience. What next?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that’s a very good question. Riding the GreatVic has certainly opened my mind (and body) up to touring on my bike. I now know I can do the distances needed to ride between townships. I’m not exactly sure what, where or when but I have a feeling some multi-day tours will feature in 2017 🙂
      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Gail, Your excitement of undertaking the ride came through in your words and photographs. It is also clear the ride is very well organised which is testimony to its popularity.
    One of the nice things about living in Australia is the ability to travel to places quite different to your home region and still be in the same country – no passports, visas, currency changes, language difficulties, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Margaret, that’s so true. The landscape and weather that I experienced are really different from my home on the east coast. Travelling by bicycle brought them alive because they’re so much closer to me – the terrain, the winds, the temperatures. I mentioned how the dry heat was a completely different experience compared to the humid heat that I’m used to on the Gold Coast. It was like my body couldn’t use its usual gauges for measuring the heat. So it was quite a different experience. As for the views from my handlebars along the way… well they were very different too. I had a really enjoyable three weeks in Victoria before, during and after the ride. 🙂

      Like

  8. Great accomplishment and wonderful photos! So glad that the experience was epic. Thank you for taking the time to savor and share it with us. 🙂

    Like

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