Gippslandia #3 - Event - Great Victorian Bike Ride

Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.

Picture standing by the road at the front of your house watching four to five thousand cyclists steadily stream past for three to four hours.

You see children as young as ten or eleven pedalling on small mountain bikes with intense determination, hordes of teenage students on various bikes streaming through noisily calling out “passing on your right” while music pours from speakers strapped to handlebars; families in small groups stopping regularly, parent and child tandem riders, groups of friends professionally kitted-out in lycra on carbon road bikes passing everyone with a whoosh from behind, elderly people calmly pedalling, and every other type of bike or rider you can possibly imagine. There’s noise, but mostly peace. Some riders are in groups, others pedal on solo. They ride over rolling hills, spectacular coastal roads, along wetlands, through farm land and forests, and through towns full of cafes and pubs. Continually clicking through their gears whether it be golden sunshine, persistent rain, warmth or cold.

These are the everyday scenes of the Great Victorian Bike Ride, which has taken place every year since 1984. The ‘Great Vic’, as it’s known, is ridden along a planned and supported route in a different part of Victoria each year, and always begins in the last week of November, progressing into the first week of December, with ride options including the full nine days, five days (both of these include a ‘rest day’ on Day Five) or a three-day ride.

For the first time ever the Great Vic will ride out from Tidal River this year amongst some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery in Australia. The route then winds through beautiful and lush South Gippsland, then into East Gippsland where riders will enjoy a rest day in Bairnsdale, before heading across to Central Gippsland where the ride finishes at Trafalgar on Sunday, December 3rd. In each town the pubs and cafes will be full to the brim with happy, hungry, and thirsty riders each night. Not to mention the caffeine addicts each morning!

With the average riding distance around 75km a day, and generally, your accommodation each night a spot in a tent city larger than anything you’ll have seen in Australia before, you might ask with amazement, why?
Here’s the thing, for me, as a not-so-young woman in her late 40s, this annual adventure is completely addictive. I continue to return to the Great Vic because of the friendships you make, the scenery, setting a goal, the sense of achievement, for fitness and for fun.

Here’s the thing, for me, as a not-so-young woman in her late 40s, this annual adventure is completely addictive. I continue to return to the Great Vic because of the friendships you make, the scenery, setting a goal, the sense of achievement, for fitness and for fun.

I rode my first Great Vic ever with my childhood friend in 2012. It was a challenge filled with adventures, hilarity and soreness. It couldn’t have been better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that every minute was fun. Riding from Mt Gambier to Geelong is not to be taken lightly – even over nine days. The first day of riding saw heavy rain and cold. But any time we wanted to stop we did. Hot coffee was available along the way. We had layers of gear and were never completely wet. We learnt hints and tips. We filled up on hot food and wine that night, danced to the live band in the massive marquee, compared stories with the riders that we shared our dinner table with and slept soundly.

The next year, riding Albury to Healesville saw a very different type of ride, with infamous climbs of Tawonga Gap and the Black Spur included in the journey and most days being hot. The ride was spectacularly beautiful and frequently steep, so we just took our time and enjoyed the beautiful old towns and cold beers each night. Two years forward, the ride from Halls Gap to Apollo Bay over five days provided even more variety in stunning towns, much-varied scenery and great conversations when reconnecting with friends from past rides.

My best Great Vic friendships have been made with people who live and work around us at home, but whom we would have never otherwise met until we travelled to the other regions of the state together to ride. There’s a group of riders from one of Gippsland’s local power stations that commit to the Great Vic every year and spend a great amount of time researching experiences and sights along each route – gratefully, they kindly invite us along. I’ve now got friends that live just up the road, but had previously never met them. I also lucky enough to reconnect with a friend from primary school that I hadn’t seen since. It’s amazing the conversations you can strike up with people each day, due to sharing the common bond of enduring long hours in the saddle.

Last year, I introduced my partner to the Great Vic and took joy in watching his amazed expression over the huge scale of the campsite as it spread out over acres before him, the open air movie screen, the on-site pub and marquees and the luggage trucks that are used to set-up and take-down all the impressive infrastructure we call ‘home’ at each town along the route. We thoroughly enjoyed sharing the connection with our other riders at the end of each day and the sense of accomplishment at the end of the epic ride. We’re planning our 2017 adventure as I write this piece for you and are committing to starting training again (well, soon. I promise!).

I’m not, by any standard, an overly fit person. I work long hours and have a busy life with two teenage sons. I’m in the car a lot more than on a bike. If I can do the Great Vic, then anyone can. I have seen people struggle through a long, tough day and then get up the next morning ready to slay a dragon as their confidence has been so dramatically improved. I have watched teachers praising struggling, overwhelmed students for not giving up and persisting. I have watched little children beaming with pride at reaching the end of the day’s stage, and I have watched others accept the longer outlook and taken some parts of the route onboard the support bus. That’s the brilliant thing about the Great Victorian Bike Ride – it’s accessible to so many ages and riding experience levels.

More than anything else, riding these routes require bum-fitness. It’s only the ‘time in the saddle’ that you really need in the months leading up to the ride. You don’t need a fancy bike. You don’t need lycra. You need to get on your bike and enjoy a week away that you’ll never forget in the most beautiful region in Australia.

For more information on the Great Victorian Bike Ride, visit bicyclenetwork.com.au/racv-great-victorian-bike-ride. Sign-up soon, as you’ll want to improve your ‘bum-fitness’, as the ride will be happening from November 25th to December 3rd.

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