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