4:30am. A couple of logging trucks blast by and I know its time to go. The slightest amount of light is creeping into the sky but it will be enough to ride by. I quickly stuff my things back into my saddle bag, not bothering to eat, I’ll do that once I’m on the bike. In less than 15 minutes from waking I’m on the bike. A few muesli bars down the hatch and we are in business. I feel great. Its a big relief. I’ve got 170km into Melbourne to finish this thing off and I don’t want to be caught now.
40km of rolling hills along the gravel and I hit the bitumen of Reefton Spur. From there I know every inch of ground between here and Melbourne. I know what I’ve got left in the tank and I’m going to give it everything. Another 40km into Warburton, its mostly downhill and I blast the descent, basking in the morning sun thats filtering through the trees. Its green and lush here, like it hasn’t been for days. The Yarra Valley has become my backyard over the last 2 years since moving to Melbourne, my playground. Its good to be back. Before I arrive at the Warburton IGA I already have a list in my head of what I need. Bananas, batteries (for my Garmin), muesli bars, coke, gatorade. With an armful of goodies I pour the drinks into my bottles, cram the muesli bars into my feedbags, down a banana and shove the other two into my jersey pockets. Not a minute wasted. I’m flying again.
The Warburton Rail Trail. I’ve ridden this thing so many times that it bores me to tears. Today I couldn’t care, I’ve never ridden it faster. I wave hello to Donna on my way past, one of those mountains you learn to treat with respect. Up the mild grind into Mt Evelyn, off the Trail, Monbulk Rd, Silvan Rd. I’ve made this climb before and I was cooked, I hated it, suffering the whole way up. What better day to come back and destroy it. Its a decent 500m climb, but it feels like an anthill compared to the previous days riding in the Alps, a blip on the radar.
I’m at the top by noon. Iain has chased me down to perform a little trail magic. Fresh baked, organic, sourdough bread and peanut butter, what a treat, fuel for the final leg of this epic adventure. A quick check of the tracking map shows John and Dave are a few hours behind me at least. But I can’t slow down. Dropping out of the Dandenongs is the best feeling in the world, screaming my way round all the corners to the bottom. All thats in my way now is a 40km drag into town. In a blink of an eye its over. I felt like I drained the tank, but I’m still buzzing as I fall onto the grass in Edinburgh Gardens. Tom appears out of nowhere to hand me a ginger beer. Slowly more and more familiar faces appear and we are just hanging out in the park, in my neighbourhood, recounting stories of adventures. I’m home.
I have traversed some of the most rugged country Australia has to offer, self-propelled and self-supported. Through the mountains and the valleys. Amongst the ghostly white snow gums and the giant mountain ash reaching ever upward. The kangaroos and the wombats. The proud brumbies, both a beauty and a blight upon the land. This harsh landscape is steeped in Australian history. Passing through the likes of Dargo and Tom Groggin, one can’t help but evoke the story of The Man From Snowy River and other such legends of Australian bushmen, cattle drovers and adventurers.
Before setting off from Canberra I had never ridden 200km in a day. Yet nervously, before our departure, that number was my daily goal. Once riding began, however, numbers were out the window. My goals shifted to more tangible objectives. Crest a major climb, find a creek or spring from which to refill water, ford a river, reach a town before the services closed in order to replenish my rapidly diminishing food supplies. Once one of these objectives was ticked off, it was always looking forward to the next one. Always forwards, driven by the sense of adventure. I kept shovelling the food into my mouth at an astounding rate and to my surprise, so long as I kept the fuel coming, my body kept going and going. Suddenly there wasn’t enough hours of sunlight in the day. Though each kilometre came slower and more gruelling than almost any I’d ridden before, I was churning through them, through the day and into the night.
My bike had carried me to places I’d never been before. Both physically and mentally. I hadn’t known I was capable of this. Rising with the sun and riding till I no longer could, each day pushing longer and further than I could have imagined I was able to. Yet, despite this physical exertion, between the brief moments of frustration, there was something that shifted back and forth from a wry smile and an ear to ear grin spread across my face. I was in my element.