Monday, May 05, 2008

Cycling the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road runs from Warrnambool to Torquay, just West of Melbourne. When I signed up for the tour, I didn't realize how much time I would spend not cycling the Great Ocean Road. On the above map, only about a third of it is GOR. The rest is a whole lot of desert.
The week on the road settled into a nice routine. Wake up, breakfast, pack up, ride, stop for morning tea, ride, stop for lunch, ride, check into next motel, shower, lay out smelly, rainy clothes to dry, dinner, sleep. It also has created some bad habits I need to now rid myself of, like eating anything in sight, wiping my nose on my sleeve and spitting. Not appropriate for polite company.
I kept a daily journal on the road, with the hopes that somewhere in that routine I'd bump into the internet. Alas, no such luck. So here are a few back days of travel in the desert and the GOR.
Great Ocean Road, Day 1: Adelaide Gorge Rd

I wouldn’t say I’m having doubts, maybe just second thoughts. I’ve signed up for an 8 day cycle tour from Adelaide to Melbourne, supposed to be one of the most beautiful roads in the country. The tour is organized by a New Zealand company. And on this tour in particular, I’m the only non-kiwi. In fact, I’m the only non-Christchurcher. Actually, I’m the only person who doesn’t race 100Ks with this group every Saturday. And aside from the guide’s sons, I’m the youngest person by at least 10 years.

I know that South Australia is in severe drought. However, I feel that I deserved a long (read: more than 4 minute) hot shower. After all, I did ride through the rain for two hours. To kiwi’s this sort of weather is delightful (or “dilotful” in kiwi). Our guide said it was 18 degrees when we left (low 60s), but I feel pretty sure it was more close to the low 50s most of the day.

We took off on our intro ride from North Adelaide along Gorge Road. Gorge Road lived up to the images that are conjured when you hear “Gorge.” It was hilly, windy, windy and beautiful. We stopped after 30 minutes, and I took off my sweater and opted just for my wind/waterproof shell. This seemed like the right move, I felt cool, but comfortable while I was riding, and got a bit cold when stopped. Then, it started raining. Even though I wasn’t wet, the rain evaporating from the jacket made my arms particularly cold. Then, when I was stopped I felt warm, and when I was riding I was freezing. So a lesson learned for the rest of the trip. Get your gloves out of the van when you have a chance. At the last 15K where, going down a very long hill, my hands got so numb I had trouble keeping them on the brakes, I decided to ride in the van.

In the van I stripped off my socks and shoes to discover my toes were white: there was no blood in them at all, and I had trouble warming them up. Even after my hot shower I seemed to have trouble regulating my body temperature. Lesson number two: keep a warm change of clothes in the van.

Tomorrow we actually leave Adelaide. It’s supposed to be 115K ride (that’s 25K longer than my current longest ever). It’s also supposed to be hilly, and rainy, and cold. I’m still glad I’m doing it, but I’m also a little weary of what the trip has in store, particularly tomorrow and the next day as my body gets used to this new bike.

Great Ocean Road, Day 2: Adelaide to Victor Harbour
The plan this morning was a 9am departure. At 7am I woke up to the rain pounding the roof. At 8:45 I received a call saying, we were putting off riding for a few hours. We packed the bikes on top of the trailer and drove out the Glenelg, a beach town just south of Adelaide. It was gorgeous. Clear skies, sunny, grabbed a coffee and hit the road. Climbing, climbing, climbing.

And then, the clouds roll in, the skies open up and it… hails. It fucking hails. Not big hail, only about the size of Styrofoam pellets. But still. We catch up with the van, I grab my waterproof shell. (Using my lesson from yesterday I’ve been cycling with my gloves all morning) After another 8K or so, it’s pouring, the van pulls over, and we load our bikes back in. We’ve covered 27K or so. And give up on making the other 100 or so. We drive out to Victor Harbour, get quick showers and head for lunch.

Great Ocean Road, Day 3: Victor Harbour to Meningie
I think I’m officially an Aussie. I had vegemite on toast for brekky this morning.

I rode 102K today, a new record. The morning was littered with mechanical troubles. But once we got away from the coast and worked our way inland through stunning South Australian wine country and then shut down farms, things started to flow.

Every time I do a new longer distance it feels like crap the first time, and the next time it feels ok. Today was no exception. We have a support van that carries extra gear, food, water, etc. It drives up ahead then waits for us to catch up. Today, the real trouble was that the fast group was so far ahead, that for the van to set up our picnic lunch in the town of Wellington (one gas station, a caravan park, and a ferry), I didn’t see it for the last 40K or so of the ride. Which was ok, but I ran out of food and water. 40K takes around 1.5 hours. That’s a really long time to go without water even when it’s 60 out. We passed a sign saying 11K to the town, and I was psyched, I knew I could make it. By 9K I was really starting to struggle, started getting dizzy and worrying that I wouldn’t make it. But at 5K I knew I could. I might have counted down every 100m, but I made it.

Not a very happy lunch, but a good one. And after lunch, a van trip to Meningie, a nice long hot shower, I was very proud. And the tour group is very supportive, even toasted my first 100K at dinner tonight.

Meningie is a tiny, no stoplight town, slightly bigger than Wellington (it has a pub and a grocery store). It’s situated on Lake Albert, which is a vastly dwindling lake that’s been hit hard by drought. Our motel is straight out of the 70s, complete with ugly carpet and framed tiger photo. Brilliant.

Three 60K rides tomorrow, I’m hoping to make 120!

Great Ocean Road, Day 4: Meningie to Robe
I missed my chance at free wireless internet today. I didn’t think to check til it was too late, and the password must be obtained from reception. We leave tomorrow at 8am, when reception re-opens. Oh, the joy of staying in some of Australia’s best motels!

Today we rode 60K to Salt Creek where we had morning tea at a roadhouse. A roadhouse is the Australian equivalent of a gas station/diner/motel. This one claimed to have real coffee, but apparently just had drip that they added foam to. It was terrible. The first 20K felt shit, but from there on felt good. A few things contributed to that: we all road together in a pack, I ate at least every 30K, we had breaks every 60K or so.

Picture a long straight road fading off into a vanishing point on the horizon, you know, like the picture you drew in elementary art class when you learned about perspective. Now on either side of that road plant dried grass and scrubby gum trees. That was all we saw today. You can almost see why early Europeans might have thought running cattle on this land to be a good idea. It was later proved that running sheep and cattle would only ruin the vegetation and stomp down the ground til nothing would grow on it. We saw many abandoned farms. We stopped at the 85K mark and I felt good. Decided to ride on to 120. Luckily, the van had stopped around 112 for lunch. So my total distance today was 112, still 10K further than yesterday, but not quite the 120 I had hoped for. Tomorrow is 140 total. Do I dare?

Great Ocean Road, Day 5: Robe to Mt. Gambier
I woke up this morning to the rain with legs that felt like lead. I decided I needed a day of rest. I packed a bag of my cycling gear in case I had a change of heart. In the car on the way to tea I was starving. I had a big egg sandwich at tea, took a nap in the car, and by lunch I was ready to get back on the bike. It was only 37K, but it helped. It got my legs moving and made the day not feel like a waste.

It’s funny, I saw more wildlife today than other days. From the van, it’s easy to watch the landscape pass by. On the bike, riding in a pack, most of your focus has to be on the wheel in front of you, to make sure that you maintain a close distance, but not too close. Today, I saw emus from the car, and a dead kangaroo from the bike. Otherwise, I saw a cassowary on day 1 in a pen, and some white wallabies. And I’ve seen many many cows and sheep.

Great Ocean Road, Day 6: Mt. Gambier to Port Fairy
172K. That’s over 100 miles. I rode the entire distance from Mt. Gambier to Port Fairy. I did not get in the van, not once.

Also, we lost 3 of our riders today. The guy driving the van is a little bit of a space cadet. We’d sorta split into 3 groups: Anna, Craig and John in front, me, Marg and Ross in the middle and Ralph, Simona and Jacob at the back. We got to the lunch stop and the front group wasn’t there. We asked Stu (the van guy) and he said he couldn’t find them. This is worrying. Had they made a wrong turn? Were they just up ahead of where we were having lunch. Stu left us with the lunch and went looking for them. He returned, and still couldn’t find them. We decided to continue on, and he’d go ahead looking for them. When he did find them they were 10K out of Port Fairy, and had stopped for lunch on their own.

Today was the best day of riding yet. It was sunny and warm, we crossed the Victorian border and the landscape changed, we got rolling hills, green fields, and wind farms. At lunch, we’d ridden 108K. I still felt good, and since I hadn’t broken 112, I wanted to keep riding. It was just me and the boys. It was 65 more K to Port Fairy. I wanted to hit 130. When I did and the van wasn’t around, I wanted to make it to 150. When I hit 150, Ralph told me it was only 10 more K to hit the 100 mile mark, he also mentioned it was only 25 more K to get home. 25K is just under an hour. In my head, I thought, “Ok, one more hour, that’s not so bad.” Then I thought, “one more hour of exercise, after 5 hours of riding, who thinks that?”
Great Ocean Road Day 7: Port Fairy to Apollo Bay
Today we finally made it onto the Great Ocean Road.. It was cold, wet and miserable, but I was determined to get my 100K in and to actually cycle on the GOR. We didn't hit the GOR til about the 55K mark, where the sun briefly made an appearance, I removed my rain gear, only to be pounded once again about 20 minutes later. Things were starting to fall apart on my bike as well. I got a flattie that slowed me down a bunch. It was a nail. I've only ever gotten two flatties, and they were both nails. Once I had a new tube, my rear derailer seemed to be unhappy. I couldn't get into the big cogs (i.e., the easier gears). This is not so great for the hilly ride along the coast. And I was having trouble clipping into my pedals. And Ralph assured us it was only 96K to lunch, and it was really 106. I know it's only a 10% difference, but another 10K can piss you off when you thought you were done.
We had lunch at the 12 Apostles, which are immense pillars of rock just off the coast. There were 12 of them, now only 7 remain. They were incredible.
After lunch it was another 100K to Apollo Bay and two very very big hills. I decided I didn't need to do that. And enjoyed the scenery from the van.
Great Ocean Road, Day 8: Apollo Bay to Anglesea (and Melbourne)
Last day of riding. And by and far the best scenery so far. I fixed my rear derailer (turns out the wheel was just not quite in straight). It was fantastic. Winding road along the ocean, small surf towns. We even saw koalas in a eucalyptus grove. Really, quite perfect. Only 70K. I would do it again in a heartbeat


Jon May 6, 2008 at 12:51 PM  

There is nothing on this earth that can stop you from taking over now.

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