A Travellerspoint blog

August 2015

Springtime Training

The Flora and Fauna of the Great Victorian Rail Trail


In the South East corner of Australia around this time of year there are some obvious signs of Spring.

Not only are the days getting longer but the chill is trying to break out of the air, albeit when the wind blows from the South we still experience the cool of Winter. There are other signs however that point to the uniqueness of our Australian Springtime.

The itch at the back of the throat and accompanying watery eyes is a portent to the unleashing of Nature's true gift of life. As flora everywhere celebrates the change in season and recognises that now is the time to throw pollen into the air like confetti at a wedding, it has no choice but to collect in the nasal cavities of we mere humans and bring the annual dose of Hayfever. The volume of pollen is only rivaled by the number of advertisements for Hayfever solutions, many of which would make even a snake oil salesman blush.

But this is not Nauture's cruelest attack on human kind at this special time of year. The Fauna have their chance as well. As Snakes awake from their Winter slumber, they drag themselves, bleary eyed and cranky from their hibernation spots. Sometimes, they are disturbed a little early than they planned as the last of the Winter rains on the saturated soil finally caused run off that made their previously dry spot a little damp. They lethargically find a spot, out of the wind, but in the warmth of the Sun which is building in intensity every day. A dark, heat absorbent surface is best. Let me just lie here and warm up, they think to themselves.

And then, if that were not enough, coming in low, from a gum tree not far away, the Black and White Air wing will take on any invader to protect their territory. With more aggression than a German Messerschmidt, and more accuracy than a Japanese Zero, the Australian Magpie feels an obligation to do something even the Australian Border Force can't do, protect their territory.

As is always the case, there is a diversity of skill amongst these Magpies as to their ability and approach to this offensive/defensive strategy.

As I journeyed along the Great Victorian Rail Trail, which follows the long silent rail line from Tallarook to Mansfield over the weekend as part of my training for the upcoming Bamboo Road, I was able to examine at first hand the ravages of Spring in the Great Australian Bush. The first thing that struck me was, where would we be without the word Great in Australia. I wonder if our Aboriginal Forebears had a similar word in all their languages or was this just a purely white anglosaxon descriptive word. Great Dividing Range, Great Australian Bight, Great Southern Stand, and now the Great Australian Spelling Bee.

The GVRT as it is signposted, another unique ability we have in Australia, why use the whole name when we can make it shorter, is a marvel of engineering from last century, and then the foresight of our much maligned politicians this century. Let's utilise this corridor through the Victorian countryside for recreation. As you can see from the photo, it is a never ending driveway of beauty, a celebration of Australian Nature, and a space to allow your chest to swell with pride.

Until, you hear them. Incoming. As they swoop in low, and circle behind you they wait for the last minute before climbing steeply in the air. They hover above you and then swoop down, sometimes only once, but usually more often. There are some that swoop to about a meter, and then fly off satisfied that you have been warned, others come a little closer and use a combination of flapping wings and beak knashing to let you know that they really mean business, and then there are the angry ones.

Scientists have different theories for why Magpies swoop. I've often said that I can see how you behave, but can never truly know why you behave that way. When it comes to Magpies, it is the male who is responsible for this behavior, and just like in our society, there are "the idiots". And these Magpie Idiots, head for you and insist on making contact, generally its to the side of the head, but the top is also a good target. Thank god for helmets.

Head down, keep pedaling, watch the action in the shadow on the ground, and maybe let off a swear word or two.

The true beauty of the GVRT cannot be underestimated. It's well worth exploring, but be careful in Spring. With the reincarnated fighter pilot Magpies, and the newly awoken grumpy snakes feasting on the warmth from the dark Trail, there is something for every adventurer amongst us.

Posted by Stephenhanlon 01:59 Comments (0)

To Lycra or Not to Lycra

That is the question

One of our first world problems always revolve around "What should I wear?" It's always a dilemma which can only be resolved when we arrive at our destination and get a chance to compare our outfits with others.

The reality is, this is always too late, invariably what we decide to wear is fine and all our anticipation and nervousness is completely wasted. But it doesn't stop the doubt or concern. So I sit here racked with that very same doubt and concern. What do I wear on my epic ride along the Bamboo Road?

Last year as I stopped for a break in Mornington with a couple of other riders, I needed to duck in to use the facilities, as I walked past a table a young boy sat with his mother, bringing a delicious muffin to his mouth. His gaping mouth froze as his eyes bulged, staring at me. He breathlessly said to his mum, not taking his eyes from me, "Mum, look, it's a Power Ranger".

That's right, me the Power Ranger, not a MAMIL, but a mythical super hero capable of defeating evil. Obviously he didn't see me on the ride down. He would clearly know, if he had, that Middle Aged Man in Lycra was a much more apt description. However, the desire of we cyclists to dress in form fitting Lycra, is a source of frustration and ridicule for those who haven't discovered the beauty of the pedal. Part of the reason is that the Lycra leaves nothing to the imagination.

Every lump, bump and ridge is not only visible but enhanced and bolstered when one is compressed in Lycra. All the science shows that Lycra reduces drag and therefore enhances speed and performance. Unfortunately, the science doesn't quantify the visual insult created by peletons ( I hope this is the collective noun for cyclists) of cyclists.

So I ponder my upcoming dilemma. Function and form. 28 days in the saddle. Heat and humidity seems to be the forecast. Tight shirt or loose shirt. One thing will be certain, whatever is tight at the start will be looser at the end. 2500kms should help drop a few kilograms. And then the shorts, Lycra or "modesty" shorts as they are known. I'm leaning toward loose and modest.

As I search for photos from previous trips I'm looking at the road conditions, the type of bicycle and the amount of baggage each participant has. I'm also trying to get an idea of what I should wear. I will keep procrastinating before I finally decide and will probably have a combination of loose and modest and Power Ranger Lycra.

After all, it wouldn't be fair to deprive a small Cambodian boy from the excitement of seeing a real life super hero, would it?

Posted by Stephenhanlon 04:24 Archived in Australia Tagged road bamboo Comments (0)

I can't believe I'm doing this

It's been the coldest winter in Melbourne in over 25 years. That, combined with the fact I've been to China twice in the past 4 weeks and managed to pick up "the Lurgi", I'm moving like a piece of road kill. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the date on my birth certificate.

As I crawled out of bed this morning, Friday August 14th after pushing the snooze button twice, I waited for my eyes to focus in the mirror so I could commence my morning shave.

"What am I doing?", I asked my sleepy self incredulously.

Last night I paid for my Tour d'Afrique ride from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh via Hanoi. 28 days of riding my bike over 2500kms. Back to back days of over 100kms per day. Why am I doing this? Can I do this?

In 2008 I walked Kokoda and to this day it Was the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding thing I have done. I know this will be different. I can foresee the physical demands but I know the mental challenge will be greater.

One thing I failed to do on Kokoda was to enjoy the moment. I focused too much on enduring it. I worried about surviving. I will ensure this time I relish the journey. Getting to Phnom Penh is not the goal. Taking something out of each day. Gaining an insight, seeing something which makes me smile or just appreciating a moment. Each day, every day.

So this is the story of what I find, each day. If you enjoy it, great, but I'm not writing it for you. I'm writing it for me. I want to make sure I achieve my daily objective. My ambition will be to update it daily, a discipline I know I am poor at. Another "challenge" for my trip. If I don't have access then no problem, I at least have a pen and paper and can add when I do.

So it's time to get on the bike and ensure I'm ready when I land in honkers.

Posted by Stephenhanlon 05:07 Archived in Australia Tagged bike Comments (0)

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