One last cycle in Oz: farewell to my bike and the rail trail

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After seven weeks of cycling the rail trail it's time to say goodbye.

I've trundled along this 8km stretch so often I feel I've come to know every inch.

It's been good to me.

The time, the space, the solitude has been a welcome antidote to my normally hectic urban life.

I've loved seeing all the cows in their paddocks.

I've loved seeing all the birdlife — parrots, wrens, fantails, finches, magpies — flashing beside, above and occasionally in front of me.

I've loved not knowing what the weather might throw at me. Mud, wind, rain, burning sun, high winds. I've experienced them all.

And the smells. Every cyclist knows that it is the smell of the great outdoors that makes cycling such a great experience. I've loved having my daily cycle complimented by the fresh scent of eucalyptus, dew drying in the sun and the chalky residue of dust from the gravel roads.

The beautiful silence, with only the occasionally lowing of a cow, the bright shriek of an eastern rosella or the warbling of a magpie, has been welcome too. I had thought about cycling with my iPod, but why ruin the peace and quiet with rock music in my ears?

The silence has helped me cogitate on things. I've cycled along and composed all kinds of things in my head — blog posts, feature-length articles, plots of novels — but mostly I've just thought about the beauty of my surrounds and felt thankful for being able to experience it.

Of course, during this time I've also regained my fitness, shifted a little bit of weight and toned up my leg and tummy muscles.

I've also acquired a "cyclist's tan" complete with t-shirt marks and brown patches on my hands where my cycling mitts expose my skin to the sun.

Now, after my final 16km cycle, I also have to say goodbye to my bike. It's covered quite a bit of ground in seven weeks and looks a little worse for wear, but it's been reliable and comfortable to ride.

And it's nice to know that next time I return she'll be here waiting for me, along with the rail trail I've come to love so much.

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A penultimate Aussie cycle filled with hills and heat!

"Oh, that'll be a challenge," said my mother, when I told her I was planning to cycle to Meeniyan on the back roads today. What she should have said was: "Do you really want to cycle all those hills?"

I thought she was simply referring to the distance. "It's only 9km," I replied. "I'd rather go the back way than cycle along the highway."

And so, not really comprehending the terrain of my planned route, I jumped on my bike and took to the road. Within 10 minutes I was already struggling up the first steep incline. The sun was beating down and even the cows were sheltering in the shade.

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Later — after I'd walked up one hill, cycled hilariously fast down the other side and then laboured ever so slowly to the crest of another — I spied cows swimming in a dam. How sensible of them! What the hell was I doing trying to cycle on dusty gravel roads in this kind of weather?

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Fortunately, the next 4km into town were on bitumen and it was downhill all the way! Honestly, it was the most fun I'd had on a bike for weeks — so free and liberating to be cycling so bloody fast on such a great surface! 

I had a rather delicious lunch in town, where my mum joined me for a coffee, and then I was back on the bike. The next 2.5km was on the rail trail, heading back to Koonwarra. Really pleasant, if a little hot.

I then turned onto Armstrong's Road and was pleasantly surprised to find the road well shaded and very flat. It was easy cycling. But I should have known it wouldn't last. This sign (below) only proved it.

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Yep, the next 2km was up, down, up, down, up, down. Occasionally it was fun, particularly when I was able to gain enough momentum that I could barrel down one hill and then get to the top of the next without pedalling!

But for the most part it was bloody hard work. It was far too hot and still. There were flies crawling all over me, and I was now rationing my water as I clearly hadn't brought enough with me.

I was relieved when I finally hit the Meeniyan-Nerrena Road again, except this time instead of cycling 4km downhill I had to cycle about 2km uphill. I swear it nearly killed me. But the views were spectacular.

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I eventually got home about 3 hours after I'd set off. I was absolutely bloody knackered, but the sense of achievement was wonderful!

Total distance cycled: roughly 25km.

Tomorrow I think I''ll stick to my usual 16km flat route. (It will be my last Aussie cycle: I head back to wintry old London town tomorrow evening.)

A 10km cycle after the wind

It was a terrible day here today. By mid-morning it was already 40°C and there was a strong north wind turning everything inside out. I certainly don't miss hot northerlies — the winds that blow in from the desert interior — because I associate them with bush fires. The roar of swirling gum trees is enough to put my teeth on edge.

The wind and the heat scuppered my plan for a longish cycle (and my mum's plan for a picnic at the beach). I stayed inside and did some reading, surfed the internet and began packing my bags for my long haul flight back to London on Thursday night.

But at 4.45pm the wind died and the temperature dropped by an alarming 20°C in a matter of minutes. Time for a quick bike ride before tea, then!

"There'll be loads of fallen branches on the road," warned my mum.

"She'll be right," I said, donning my helmet and jumping in the saddle.

Within five minutes I was on the rail trail and confronted with this:

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It was worse a bit further along, with a giant limb from a gum tree on the ground. I had to get off the bike and haul it off the track.

Fortunately, only about 1km of the track was like this. The rest carves its way through open farmland. The only thing getting in my way there was the odd rabbit jumping across, a cat (!!) and quite a lot of magpies.

Two morning rides to beat the heat

Is 10.20am too early to have a beer?

That was my first thought when I finished yesterday's 16km ride.

I'd set out early to avoid the heat (the predicted high was 40°C) only to find it was actually very warm at 9.20am.

By the time I got back home and checked the temperature gauge in my parent's "weather station" the temperatue was already 29°C.

With similar temperatures being predicted for today, I headed out on another early ride. I left the house at 10.10am and was back an hour later. The temperature at that time was 29°C again.

Riding in that kind of heat isn't too bad if there's a slight breeze and you've got plenty of water with you.

What I liked about both rides was the stillness and the dryness in the air. This morning was particularly quiet, save for the chatter of birds.

The highlight, apart from seeing numerous rabbits and even a fox, was spying a pair of goldfinches which cut and dived in front of me, the gold of their wings flashing. They came to rest on a fence post a little further along to watch me cycle on by.

I couldn't help but think it was a sign to see English birds on my ride: this time next week I'll be back in London, braving the winter cold.

Two contrasting cycles

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Cycle 1: Yesterday

Weather conditions: Temperamental. Started off dry, then got very wet very quickly, then windy, then sunny, then another very heavy shower, followed by more sunshine.

Highlights: Seeing a whole field of cows trying to cram under some low-lying paperbark trees for shelter from the rain!

Lowlights: Seeing a calf lying in a ditch in an empty paddock. I thought he was dead, until I saw his eyes blink. I made a note to check him on the way back. By the time I'd returned his mum was with him. She didn't seem too worried about him, and he was looking a bit more alert, with his eyes open and ears pricked up, so I can only hope he wasn't sick, just a bit tired.

Distance: Roughly 16km.

Cycle 2: Today

Weather conditions: still summer's afternoon, perfect conditions for cycling.

Highlights: Seeing a black swamp wallaby on the track ahead of me near the local swamp. We both stopped and looked at each other. I got within about 10 metres of him, before he bounded off into the swamp land below. His fur was so black I could not spy him amongst the blackness of the muddy ground. But then I heard some movement and I watched him bound off into the distance, taking giant leaps through the reeds and swamp gums. Magic.

Lowlights: None that I can think of.

Distance: Roughly 16km.

Special note: Did today's cycle in record time, shaving at least 10 minutes off the standard time achieved during much of December. Feeling much stronger and fitter than I did 5 weeks ago!

A Sunday morning cycle

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I squeezed in a quick bike ride this morning before heading off to an 80th birthday lunch.

When I hit the road at 10am the smell of a new, fresh summer’s day in the offing was awesome.

I’m not sure how to describe it, but it was a kind of heady mixture of evaporating dew and freshly cut hay mingled with dry dust. It took me awhile to twig that it was actually the smell of my childhood, in particular those early morning walks to the bus stop for my daily ride into school. I took deep inhales — of nostalgia.

Further into my ride the quintessential Aussie tang of eucalyptus got added into the mix.

It was a refreshing change not to be riding in the heat of a summer’s afternoon. Consequently, I was able to cycle full pelt for much of my journey.

There were quite a few people out and about, mainly family groups, so I did a lot of “meeting and greeting”. I even managed to say a quick hello to this rather adorable cow in a field of adorable cows — Fresians and Jerseys all mixed in together.

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About 40 minutes later I was back in the door, the sweat pouring off me. Not sure of the total distance, as I cut my usual route short in order not to miss my lunch date. I’m guessing it was roughly 10km.

[For reference, I also did my usual 16km route on Thursday January 20 but neglected to record it here.]