Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Goldfields Track Day 4 (Castlemaine - Bendigo)

You know how sometimes what can seem like a disaster turns out to be a real boon?

Well this is what happened to us at the end of Day 3.

You see Kim's rack breaking suddenly created a problem that we had to solve: how could we ride to Bendigo with all our gear and a broken rack?

First option considered was that we wouldn't, we'd just catch the train back from Castlemaine and say "well we tried, but luck was against us".  Whilst secretly thinking "Thank God, one more day would have killed us".

However, this line of thought made us realise "Hang on, there's a train station here at Castlemaine ...", and sure enough it was the same train line that continued onto Bendigo.

I'm guessing you've either figured out where this line of thought is going, or you are sitting there thinking "God you're dumb, you really needed the five minutes it took to figure this out?".

Yep, we arranged with our hotel (the Campbell Street Lodge) to store all our gear for the day, and we rode to Bendigo with just us and our bikes (Super Yay!).

Our plan was to catch the train back from Bendigo to Castlemaine, race up and grab our gear, and then catch the next train down to Melbourne.  Easy.

In hindsight we realised we could have done this on the first day as well and is something I'd consider doing for the whole route (you could use bus services to do the other gear shuffles I think) just because it would make the riding more fun.

The other advantage about this is that when I convinced Kim to wander down to the train station just to double check the route, we then discovered (from a giant poster outside the station) that the trains weren't actually running into Melbourne on Sunday due to track work. 

Now whilst this wasn't a great problem for foot passengers as they just took a connecting bus,  it was a problem for us as the replacement buses didn't take bikes.  Not so good.

This was obviously something that would have been very useful to know several weeks ago, as we had a flight out of Melbourne on Sunday night.

To the great credit of Vline, when we went inside to plead our case, the young lady attendant didn't just say "well, it was on our website if you'd checked".  Ok, so she did say that, but then when we explained we were dumb Tasmanian's on holiday (I did this explaining as Kim doesn't really have a very convincing dumb Tasmanian accent) and hadn't thought to do this, she then took pity on us and undertook to try and get us on the buses with our bikes.

We agreed the specific train we wanted to go on, and when I went back there the next morning she had phoned and faxed through our request to the bus companies so they were expecting us, and all we could do from there was cross our fingers, ride to Bendigo and hope it would all end well.

Doesn't it always?

I don't know about your universe, but it does in mine.

Today's ride on the Leanganook Track was meant to have a few steep climbs in the first 15 kilometres, but (as the riding route bypasses the Mt Alexander climb) after that the profile looked to be mainly downhill and pretty flat, and to be fair to the guide this time they were pretty well spot on.

The first section to Speciman Gully Road has two decent climbs, and when we rode it, it also had quite a few unsigned junctions (thank God for the GPS track) but although I may have huffed and puffed a bit lot (and cursed the ease with which Kim now scooted up the hills in front of me having lost the pannier disadvantage)  I still really enjoyed this section because in my head it was the last "rough" section before we hit the water race and cruised the last 40km into Bendigo, and to be honest it was pretty fun riding.

Turning left onto Speciman road led to a wonderfully fast downhill run for several kilometres before a bit of bitumen riding over Calder Highway and into the town of  Harcourt which was the first place we came to in between the main towns which actually had services -  a small general store/cafe and a BP service station.

Two large milkshakes later we were loving this day.

The road continued around the base of Mt Anderson, with one last little climb over the foothill, and then down to the start of the water-race.

The next 20+ kilometres predominantly followed a water race down into Bendigo, and other than two little climbs (OK, biggish climbs) where the water race went through the hills and we had to go over, and one other little section which diverted off onto some single track to go past a campsite, the riding was pretty darn cruisy.  With blue skies, lots of wildflowers and Bendigo not far away life was just good.

It was just after we came back off the single track that we came across a checkpoint for a mountain bike race that was being held on the trails we were riding and we stopped and had a chat to the rather bored guy that was sitting there.

Not long after this we left the water race and started our final bit of riding into Bendigo itself.

The final kilometres have a few undulations, there's no denying it, but nothing major and so we decided to skip the subway lunch we'd packed in favour of an early arrival at Bendigo and a fresh lunch and ice cold drinks.

We arrived in Bendigo well ahead of when we expected to arrive and had plenty of time to catch the 2.30pm train back to Castlemaine (I was pleased to find we could jump off one train and onto another for the same fare as going straight through)

We decided to pack our bikes into our bike bags in Castlemaine station as this would guarantee us getting them onto the buses, and we managed to do all of this with plenty of time to spare in the 50 minutes between trains.

It was however here that I discovered my squashed can of tuna and beans, and let me tell you it was hard to get it out from where it had wedged itself (and one week later I still haven't got the smell out of my gear).

By 6.30pm we had made it back to Melbourne and out to the airport, checked in our bags and were sat down in the Irish Pub there having dinner with a couple of friends waiting for our flight home.

By midnight we were showered and in our own bed ready for to head to work in 6 hours time ...

The Goldfields Track:  Easy Peasy.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Goldfields Track Day 3 (Daylesford - Castlemaine)

Day three ... wherein we actually saw another cycle-tourist.

Yep, over the course of our four days cycling we only saw two other cyclists (that I can recall), and the second cyclist was participating in a MTB race just on the outskirts of Bendigo. 

However to put that into perspective, we saw only one group of walkers doing a long day walk (ignoring people out for short walks as we were coming into or leaving towns).  We did however come across six motorcyclists using parts of the trail which they shouldn't have been on.

But I digress.  If you were just out to ride one section of the Goldfields Track, then the Dry Diggings Track between Daylesford and Castlemaine would be the section to ride.  It has the best tracks for mountain biking and is the best signed of the whole route ... if only there was a VLine stop at Daylesford so you could do an out and back by train it would be darn near perfect. 

My impression was that we rode it in the right direction as well, because after the initial steep climbs up from Hepburn Springs most of the single track sections we rode were downhill, and the uphill sections were mainly on gravel roads or 4wd tracks and this is just the way I like it.

But don't let me mislead you - there were some steep hills in there at the start ...

.... and Kim wasn't the only one pushing, believe me, but the tracks also went through gorgeous open bushland with the steep climbs all short and spaced with some great riding (and scenery) in between.

Kim has pointed out that I only seem to ever take photos of her when she is pushing her bike, so I would just like to point out that this is simply because I'm more likely to pull out my camera somewhere where we're pushing our bikes than if we are ripping down some single track somewhere, but just for the record here is a picture of Kim riding her bike to prove that she does occasionally usually do so ...

Anyway,  after some lovely bush riding we knew we were coming up to a road because we came along one of the many bush rubbish tips along the route ...

and you could be pretty sure that anyone who was so lazy and tight that they couldn't take their own rubbish to the tip was similarly too lazy too drive far from any roads.  This turned out to be only a gravel road though and we had another great section of single track before coming out and crossing the highway next to a chocolate factory ... thought that was worth noting.

Unfortunately our early start had got us here too early, so we carried on. 

After a brief and annoying section along the highway we followed the track off onto a gravel road and enjoyed some great fast riding and even some views! (something that took Kim by surprise was that there are actually very few views from this track. I hadn't thought about this until she pointed out that we are supposed to be riding along the spine of the great dividing range).

Then we hit the main sections of single track and to quote Genesis 1:31, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  Except it was me, not God, and I didn't make any of these trails ... but I think that is just splitting hairs ...

but it also ended oh too soon, as we had to divert away from the trail and out onto ... wait for it ... bitumen roads.  It was in fact whilst flying down a steep bitumen road into Vaughan (no services) that we passed that other cycle tourist I mentioned so we didn't get a chance to stop and say hello.

After a bit more bush riding we eventually pulled into Fryerstown (no services) where we had planned to stop for lunch because the route profile showed that from here it was all pretty much downhill into Castlemaine.

To continue on with my Genesis storyline ... may whoever put that route profile together be cast down into the pits of hell and burn ... OK, maybe that's not a direct quote from Genesis, but after a large lazy lunch and having mentally engaged myself for a downhill run home, to then find ourselves fighting up some brutal little hills for what seemed like forever, well my mindset went very dark.

I admit that if I had started at Fryerstown these hills probably wouldn't have worried me, but I was in shut down mode and my legs were obeying this instruction to the letter so every turn of the pedals seemed unfair ... If you've ever been in this headspace you'll know what I mean:  You're enjoying yourself somewhere inside, but it's time to cross the finish line, and ever corner that you come around and just seem more hills and more track just seems painfully unfair.

Because of this mindset, this section was a bit of a blur, but I do remember there was some bits of fun riding in it.  I can't tell you how happy I was however to come up to a Goldfields Track trailhead sign which showed that it was only 9.7kms to Castlemaine.   I also knew we were almost onto a water race which I had to assume would be mainly downhill. 

I was happy.

After another five or six kilometres, and another decent little hill climb, I came across this sign:

10 f*#king kilometres????? that means I've ridden backwards!!! 

I have banned Kim from ever repeating what I said upon coming across this sign, though I think every human within a three kilometres radius of where I stood would have heard my opinion on this matter.

The simple summary is "I am now less than happy".  Let's leave it at that.

However, we were finally onto that water race and ignoring the fairly steep drops on either side of you it was fun easy riding for a ways and again I was dreaming of a cold, cold coke and a hot shower.

Then, just as I started to get my first glimpses of Castlemaine amongst the trees, Kim's rear rack broke.    


I mean, "That's cool, no problem".

Initially we thought we could fix it by replacing the bolt that had sheared off, but of course with disk brakes it was an extra long bolt and we had nothing that was long enough on us (even if we could have got the broken bolt fragment out of the frame), so Kim resigned herself to a long walk into Castlemaine ... at which point muggins here had a brainwave.  

I pulled out the large duffle bag that Kim had brought to carry our panniers on the airline and managed to load all of Kim's panniers into this and get it onto my back wherein I got to ride the last few kilometres carrying both of our gear along what turned out to be some pretty technical single track, and you know what ... because this changed the riding from wearisome to Epic I suddenly found myself really enjoying the riding again.  

I needed that extra challenge apparently.  

Who would have guess that?

That said, I wasn't sad to hit the bitumen and run the final section into town.

That cold coke wasn't bad as well.

Day 3 done.


Again just for the record, other than the chocolate mill there were no services between Hepburn Springs and Castlemaine.

There were two bike shops I came across in Castlemaine.  A Giant stockist on the main street (which seemed very well stocked with good quality bikes) and a second bike shop called"The Vault" which was just up from the train station (both shops are on the GPS route for the track).  This second shop was closed before I stumbled across it and I couldn't see what stock it had.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Goldfields Track Day 2 (Creswick - Daylesford)

Mentally, the second day of a four day bike ride can often be the hardest.

Firstly you're a bit tired and sore from the first days riding, and then on top of that you've got the knowledge that not only do you have to get through today's ride, but the next day and the day after that as well.

It can all seem a bit daunting and one can find oneself pondering the eternal question of "why am I here?".  You just have to do it in between stuffing down a hotel breakfast, repacking bike bags and trying to remember (for the third or fourth time) whether you had or hadn't remembered to unplug your iPod charger from the wall ... or am I the only one that always goes back to the hotel room one last time just to check?

With this uncertainty already playing on my mind it didn't help that after loading up our bikes in the backyard of the hotel we then found that the front gate was locked and we couldn't get out.  Fortunately, as I stood staring at the front gate fuming at the stupidity of the world's hotel owners, Kim had the good sense to actually turn around and point out that maybe we could escape this particular trap by pushing our bikes through the car park and out the back gate which was clearly visible (and open) behind us. 

Well, while I had to admit that that exit was an option, I still kicked the front gate one more time just to push home my point that I should be able to exit this way as well before sheepishly leaving by the rear exit which rather usefully dropped us right out onto the track itself.

Yep, sometimes you just feel like life is giving you a sign that you're going the wrong way.  I just wish that sometimes it would be a little less subtle ... for example a big white arrow pointing in the other direction as you're struggling up the first big hill of the day ... not subtle.

After grabbing lunc from the bakery, we had to retrace our route about two kilometres back to St George's Lake before setting off around the lake and onto the cycling detour (which is currently an all party detour due to flood damage) up and over what seemed like an unnecessarily steep hill for so early in the day ... especially as after a hard little bit of climbing, we then just proceeded to lose all the height we'd gained.

The trail then followed a nice old track around a pine plantation before dropping us out on a road near a big washout where we rather unusefully learned that the section we had just ridden on was closed - I think.  The temporary detour sign was rather confusing (it could have done with a "You are Here" arrow), so we just contined to follow the GPS as it lead us through and around some lovely tracks and eventually out onto Bowens Lane.

It was nice to get out onto the roads and put in some faster kilometres to warm up as it was a freezing cold day.  I stopped to take some photos of the yellow fields, whilst Kim went and visited her cow friends.

We got very excited as we came into Dean to see a sign indicating food 400 metres down the road, but as we pedalled on debating whether to get a large or a mega-large hot chocolate all we found was this closed hotel ... sigh.

After a rather less satisfying muesli bar we continued along a series of backroads before jumping back onto trails at Slaters Road.  We followed the trail along the spine of the hill for a while before dropping out into what seemed like someone's backyard (to frame my mindset at this point of time, my first thought was how well this place could do if it sold hot coffees to passing cyclists - I was prepared to start at $10 a cup).  Did I mention it was cold?

After a short section on the road, the trail heads off onto some real singletrack for several kilometres.  It hadn't been cleared for a while when we came through so there was plenty of fun to be had manouvering over logs and around leaf littered tracks searching for the next marker.  This was my kind of cycling.

Poor Kim however still had those stupid panniers on (you know - the ones that I didn't warn her about) which made her technical riding a whole lot more difficult.

All too soon we came out onto more 4WD tracks where I took my first and only spill for the trip losing my front wheel on a slippery, muddy rut with a resulting sidelong plunge into a large puddle.  Fortunatley I managed to get up before Kim could get any photos.  Unfortunately I was now cold, muddy and wet. 

Then it started to rain a bit.

After a few kilometres of this we came out at Wombat Station where there was a nice rotunda which made an ideal place for lunch (out of the intermittent drizzle) before we headed off to tackle the rail trail section of the track.

A few more intermittent sections of road and single track dropped us out at Sailors Falls, which is just a house and a name on a map as far as we could see, but it was also where the bike track detours from the walking track and where the (almost) downhill run into Daylesford begins.

It was fun, fast riding, but then just as we thought we were home, the track threw in a couple of very steep climbs, including one beautifully scenic but ridiculously frustrating section where we had to carry our bikes up and down some steep narrow steps before emerging out behind Lake Daylesford. 

Kim had fortunately finally figured out a strategy to get over these technical sections with her bike - that strategy being that after pushing and carrying my bike through these sections, I was to return to push hers up there as well.  Male gallantry is apparently back in style.

Emerging out on the edges of Lake Daylseford we thought we were home, but (and be warned here) it was all uphill for the last kilometre or so into the centre of town and I don't know about Kim but I was in granny gear the whole way because I was mentally and physically spent.

It was therefore a real relief to finally pull into our accomodation for the night, which was a beautiful little accomodation house, (I'd call it a B&B but they didn't do breakfast and a B just doesn't sound right). 

Kim had booked us into a room with a big spa bath which she figured she deserved, and I have to admit that after a hot shower, clean clothes and a good feed I was feeling much better ... especially as I sat in bed listening to the rain crashing on the roof as the skies opened again that afternoon.

So that was the day 2 mental hump out of the way - now it was just the physical ones.  On the good news front though, the cold front we'd been enjoying for the last two days was forecast to clear and we had sunny skies and warm days forecast ahead ...

Just in case anyone ever follows this blog, Daylesford does have a combination bike shop/cafe  (just in front of the Coles Supermarket) .  Creswick did not have a bike shop.  We stayed at the Carrington House in Daylesford and I have to give kudos to the owner who didn't blink at our wet disheveled appearance.