Winter, not much to offer the cyclist, cold, wet, dark by late afternoon, so what better way to celebrate the passing of the shortest day than the bikefun winter solstice bike ride. After gathered at a pub in Richmond for one for the road we set off through the city. We got rather strange looks as our motley crew rode through the Saturday night revellers on Southbank in the heart of Melbourne. It wasn’t just the sight of 50 riders at 11pm, or the eclectic beats from the mobile sound system, the tents, panniers and a trailer full of wood added to their surprise. Yet hardly much more than 5km further we reached our destination, the exposed flesh, painted faces, hair product and pointy shoes of Southbank seemed like a world away. A fire was soon blazing brightly in a secluded spot in a park and surrounded by trees and bushes you’d hardly believe you were in the heart of the city. I cracked some mead, snacks were soon being circulated and the conversation flowed. I thought back to the people we’d seen in the city who were no doubt in some soulless club at Crown Casino by now listening to formulaic dance music and desperately trying to pick up. My evening had cost about the same as just one of the overpriced drinks they were swigging and I wouldn’t have swapped places for the world. Then right on cue a huge container ship steamed past a matter of metres away on it’s way up the Yarra river to the Port of Melbourne. It hit home that in just over a month we would be boarding a ship exactly like that on the first leg of our trip. I’ll miss our crazy bicycle adventures, but I know they won’t compare to the amazing experiences we are about to embark on. Some hardy souls pitched their tents and spent the night, mindful that I only had 20 sleeps left in my own bed I lunched out and went home.
Five days off work, beautiful countryside, bright sunshine and loads of bike riding. What more could you ask for on a holiday weekend. Even the park where I am sitting writing this sipping a glass of port is pretty special, very peaceful with loads of autumnal colours. I’m in Orbost half way through a trip on the East Gippsland Rail Trail and it’s been fantastic. The trail passes through some fantastic countryside, rolling lush green pasture and thick forest and some cute little towns. I had a delicious Devonshire tea with lashings of jam and cream in Bruthen, and camped at a delightful spot next to the river at Nowa Nowa. Three other cyclists I met on the train where staying at the pub and I caught up with them later at the bar. They had dawdled a little on route, grabbing a coffee at Bairnsdale after getting off the train, and one of them had a really heavy retro women’s bike with a soft tyre, so they rode the last few hours in darkness through dense forest with only one light between them and didn’t get into the pub until 8 o’clock. Getting that bike there was a pretty impressive effort, it’s nearly 60 km and there’s some pretty long inclines. I know I would have struggled.
For the most part the trail has been practically deserted and I’ve only seen a handful of people on the route. The solitude has been amazing just me and the birds, alternated with a bit of banging techno when I feel like a bit of a boost to help me get up a hill. Every so often the peace will be disrupted by the roar of traffic as the trail passes closer to the Princess Highway which is bumper to bumper with trucks towing boats, caravans and trailers. It seems like the whole of Melbourne is (like me) taking advantage of the great weather and 5 day weekend . But five minutes later they are forgotten as I pass deeper into the forest and back to just me and the birds. I rejoin the throng at each town where I stop to camp for the night. My little tent and only the few items I can fit in a couple of panniers seem very insignificant next to some of the camp set ups . People seem to have brought everything including the kitchen sink and take all morning to break camp. In contrast I’m ready to go in a matter of minutes, which is very liberating. Perhaps a glimpse of life in a zero carbon future, where we will be doing different things with a whole lot less. Which if it is anything like my weekend will be great fun.
Night was falling and an icy wind was blowing straight off the southern ocean as we unloaded our bikes from the train at Malmsbury station. I was beginning to question the wisdom of going on a bicycle camping adventure on the first weekend of Autumn. Thankfully we were couch surfing for the first night in Elphinstone which was north of us, so the brisk wind proved a blessing after all and in around half an hour we had been blown the 12 km through gently rolling countryside and were tucking into a well earned beer in the local whilst waiting for our hosts to meet us.
Couch Surfing is an international community which connects people looking for a room for a night with those who have one on offer. But it is about much more than a free place to sleep, it’s also about meeting interesting people, having new experiences and making more local connections with the places you are visiting. It is also very environmentally friendly. Compared to the wastage of the hotel industry, aircon you can’t turn down, windows you can’t open etc you essentially have no greater impact than the people you are staying with except for an extra light or two. In preparation for our big trip we’ve been hosting a fair few people, building up the Karma, but this was our first time surfing. Our hosts were “tree changers” who had moved from Melbourne a year ago and were in the process of renovating an old weatherboard house which had been a state of near collapse when they purchased it. That icy wind was still whistling through the cracks in the walls but a log fire was blazing and we were soon tucking into a delicious braised rabbit that their cat Morocco had thoughtfully slaughtered earlier!!!!
After a cosy night in their caravan smothered in a couple of warm duvets we awoke to strong coffee and bright sunshine which was soon banishing the chill from last night. After feeding ourselves and their goats we hopped on the bikes for a cruisy downhill ride to the market at Wesley Hill, hitting 59 km p/h at one stage!!! The weekly market was recommended by our hosts – an example of the local knowledge that Couchsurfing can bring you, we would never have known about it otherwise – and consisted of produce from local farmers and second-hand clothes and bric-a-brac. About as sustainable as you can get in terms of buying stuff, although growing your own and deciding you don’t need that orange polar neck jumper after all would be even better. However that wouldn’t satisfy that insatiable desire to accumulate more stuff that the additional X chromosome seems to engender.
After feasting on a delicious home cooked vegetable pasty we hit the road to Vaughan Springs. I spotted a shortcut shortly after we departed and we were soon struggling along a steep, bolder strewn dirt road much to Imogen’s delight. Luckily the forest we were passing through was beautiful and it wasn’t too warm. An hour or so after regaining the tarmac we reached our destination and pitched our tent in a lovely spot down by the river surrounded by trees. Not sure if you’re really supposed to camp there but that’s one of the advantages of bicycle camping, you can’t carry much so you’re pretty unobtrusive. Another advantage is it is very low emission. Taking the return journey by car would have emitted 57 Kg CO2 equivalent on the other hand the train journey produced 6.5 Kg between the two of us (figures Public Transport Users Association) Taking into account the energy used in manufacturing the bike which the PTUA estimates at 0.08 MJ per km (although they suggest 20,000 km as a well used bike, mine’s only 4 years old and I would estimate it had already done that) if we assume 0.5 kg per Kwh then that’s an extra 1 kg of CO2 for the bikes. That’s only 50 kg saved you say but then imagine that spread over a million journeys, that’s 50,000 tonnes of Co2 saved right there. A further advantage is that it is very cheap
Return train tickets $40
Coachsurfing – bottle of wine
Camping – free
Food – we mostly cooked our own – $30
Couple of beers $15
Beautiful countryside and saving the planet – priceless
What better way to spend Australia day than a tour of wineries in the Yarra Valley with some mates. Even better was the fact that the tour involved very few emissions. After reaching Lilydale by train we jumped on our bikes and headed towards Healesville. A short gently rolling ride saw us reach our first stop for the day Punt Road winery where we enjoyed a very informative tasting of the wines all grown and made on site. We then settled down to enjoy the expansive vistas of the valley with a glass of cider produced from the orchards surrounding us and a delicious cheese platter. How low carbon can you get – until we discovered the cheese was from England!!! With some of the finest cheeses in Australia being produced less than 5 km away at the Yarra Valley Dairy it’s sad that ours had been transported 16,000 km. Then on to Healesville for lunch – lamb pie for me. The picturesque ride to Woori Yallock through gently undulating green fields and forest was punctuated by moments of white knuckled fear as huge logging trucks thundered past without moving aside. The consensus on the drivers was that they were probably just arseholes rather than simply bad drivers. Rather appropriate that the rape of the forests should continue unabated on Australia’s national day.
After gaining the tranquillity of the Warburton Rail trail we pushed on trough the mountain ash forest to Lilydale. Still beautiful but sadly lacking the magnificent mature trees which would have once been so plentiful. Perhaps an opportunity to reflect on the past 200 years of Australian history and hope that the next 200 years will treat the natural environment with a bit more consideration.