The Gravel Gran Fondo

Rider Journal from Stephen Menzie’s: The roads aren’t meant for riding, its too far, its too hard. It can’t be done. Andrew and I set out to #stravaproveit could be.

Routes were studied, contemplated and discarded again and again. This ride couldn’t be done. The roads were not conducive to riding. These riders were city boys, they didn’t know anything other than their weekend beach road cruise. One route was toyed with, but it involved some twenty kilometres of gravel road through bushfire ravaged lands. It had to be it. It was the only way.

Heathcote, the destination. The heart of Central Victoria. A land rich full of some of the finest shiraz grapes in the land. A perfect reward for the journey bestowed upon two innocent young men: a glass of the nectar of the gods.

The day began at dawn. It was out to the first bike path that was untraveled by either of us. In fact, the entire ride was to be taken on completely unchartered territory. For somewhat seasoned cyclists this particular time of day is when you will see us at our most spriteliest. But I was not quiet myself on this particular morning, after spending  the hours reserved for rest brutally studying the chosen path. It was not a straightforward route. Andrew, therefore, was at the mercy of my directives, but was nonethewiser and had been somewhat fooled into believing in my confidence.

photo (5)

As we navigated the paths the conditions dropped from unpleasant to downright dirty. On my brand new steed, I cursed the gods and prayed for some respite from the rain, dirt and mud. It must have been the distraction from the weather, but it didn’t take long for us to get lost. The bike path finished at a road and a busy intersection that certainly wasn’t planned. It takes a brave man to admit when he is lost, and an even braver one to attempt a recovery without looking at the map. Alas, we were not that brave. Fortunately the map told us we were not too far off course and before long we were happy to be back on track and back on the bike paths once again.

As much as Andrew was looking forward to getting out on the road, once the bike paths ended and we were left on our own to continue the battle without their guidance, it didn’t take long to feel lonely. I, on the other hand, knew that the end of the bike paths meant the end of the confusing tracks and it was only two more turns left, that couldn’t possibly be missed. There was slightly more spring in my pedal from this moment on.

The contrast between the bike paths and the open road, could not be illustrated better than the first half of this journey. The bike paths were short, they were quick, and they were sharp. The long country roads were straight, they were hard and they were long. Miles of road stared back at us, making us wish we could close our eyes and just keep pedalling until it was over. The road was also busy. Although it was early on a Saturday morning, people had places to be, apparently. Traffic made sure we kept our wits about us.

The next leg saw traffic fade off as the Northern Highway ran parallel to our route, with cars opting for large freeways rather than gravel roads, go figure. Gravel roads? I stopped, unclipped and asked for Andrews guidance. “What do we do?”. Andrew laughed. “We ride”.  Andrew does most of his talking with his legs. I had zero experience riding on anything other than the highest maintained roads in the country. But, what about my new bike, it’s a road bike, not a mountain bike. Are we sure we can actually ride on this terrain? No two ways about it. I was in a panic. If not for the courage of Andrew the ride could have well and truly finished there and then. Following Andrews wheel, I ventured boldly into new territory. Nothing worth achieving comes easy. Too caught up in my own first world problems, the devastation around us was completely lost. The region was hit by destructive bushfires quite recently and the world around us was black. The scene must have been noticed simultaneously because pedals stopped instantaneously. It was two riders, two bikes and ash as far as we could see. It was as if the entire planet burnt down around us and all that was left was us and the gravel road. Our life was epically put into perspective. The quality of road under foot, and the poor weather, was no longer dampeners but mere obstacles.

After a brief pit stop and a photo opportunity feeding an alpaca, “dude, it’s a llama”, we looked at our computers and calculated it was just twenty five kilometres to Kilmore where the baristas were warming the machines, and eagerly anticipating our arrival. Before Kilmore we made the final turn onto the Northern Highway which was to take us all the way into Heathcote. With a narrow shoulder, single file was required. Everything we could see, smell, even taste had turned into coffee. It was no doubt the hunger flats were upon us.

Llama Ambassador

We were able to roll into Kilmore and stopped at the very first place that served caffeine. We must have looked like battle weary soldiers dug from the trenches, and desperate for a warm beverage. We were quickly escorted to a table and our orders were scribbled before we had time to empty our jersey pockets. Unfortunately the service broke down from there and it was a long time before the drinks arrived. The wait was certainly worth it.

Energised with a new lease on life we set out for the final stretch of our journey. A long relentless journey on the wide open country road that is the Northern Highway. In what seemed like a reward from the heavens, the clouds completely gave way to the magnificent sunshine and the temperature began to climb. Warmers, gillets, gloves came flying off and sweat replaced the still rain soaked uniform.

With less than twenty kilometres to go, the caffeine and cookie hit kicked in for Andrew and he lifted a gear, or two…. then possibly three and I was battling to hold his wheel. It was game face for Andrew who’s white line fever had taken over with the finish line in sight. My competitive nature took a hold and after struggling to suck Andrews wheel for some time, I took to the front and it was time to show Andrew what I was made of.

The finish line was close. We were nearly ready to celebrate but continued to ride hard. All of a sudden the feeling of excitement changed to gloom as we realised that our epic journey was coming to a close. At this point in time, with five kilometres to go we sat up, span easy, and took a moment to enjoy the finish. It was a great moment in the ride. We learnt a valuable life lesson here. With everything that life throws at us, from the smallest daily challenges to the hardest issues we face, sometimes you just have to sit back, observe and enjoy the ride.


More on Strava