The 2019 Great Vic Bike Ride, held in November, is more than 700 kilometres of pleasure and pain, with a peloton of 4000.
A cycling event newby, I love the feel of my cleats clicking into pedals, I revel in hearing the clunk of changing gear cogs , I enjoy the uphill crunch of tarmac under my tyres, and I'm exhilarated during the eye-watering screech downhills with 4000 other maniacs, "clutching my pearls" like an uptight grey haired lady, while the big kid in me hurtles downhill at speeds I dare not admit to.
The event has been going for 36 years, but as a novice rider, everything was brand new to me. And as a former spin class instructor, I can push a pedal, but pack-riding on actual roads is next-level to me. Add thousands of other riders (ranging from Tour-de-France competitors to spirited, energetic teenagers), on open highways, amongst traffic, in inclement weather, and I guess I should add more than another level. I dubbed myself 'All-the-gear-no-idea Minney'. The lessons came fast and hard, like loosening my brand spanking new cleats so that I'm not eternally clamped in and don't fall off a newly stationary bike and onto my knees in front of the whole camp on day one.
The route this year was the biggest hook - Robe, South Australia, to Torquay in Victoria, via the Limestone coast, the Great Ocean Road and the Otways. Irresistible. I'd rather sit on my bum all day on a bike seat than on a couch, and my hubby hadn't ever ventured to that part of our coastline, so as a brand new challenge it was a no-brainer.
The thing that blew us away most was the ease with which this travelling small town functioned. The Australian Bureau of Statistic tells us that there are 526 towns with populations under 4999, so we literally were a small town, relocating, with all our belongings, plumbing and facilities, every day.
Trucks laden with our clothes and camping gear raced to each stage before us. Portable loos and showers mounted on other platforms made their way along the route, and, most importantly, set up at the finish. A giant town hall-sized marquee just 'popped' up each day to house our dining needs.
Kitchens, clothes-washing facilities, dish-washing stations and tea and coffee spots, all free and on tap. There was a moving street market, featuring a virtual shop full of knickknacks you may have forgotten (two towels for the Minneys please...), also food vans, clothing, merchandise, bike repair mechanics, physio massage, medical staff and clever recharge stations for your essential devices. We even had garbage collection, putting out truckloads of bins and taking away tonnes of waste. The fields we slept in were left pristine.
But the basics weren't all that was catered for; after grabbing an end-of-ride drink at one of the bars, there were yoga classes, live music, big screen movies, trivia nights, talent nights, a magician and even a hypnotist.
The whole event started and finished in the coastal town of Torquay. You get to leave your car at the finish line, hop onto a coach and drive to the Robe football club, the starting line. My teeth were on edge and lungs heaving with excitement the first time I rode through the giant inflatable start chute in Robe. Little did I know that of all the beautiful tourist attractions, this bright blue beacon would become my favourite sight each day, signalling that I had accomplished the day's challenge.
The tiny towns we inflicted ourselves upon embraced us like long-lost rellies. There were night markets, special stalls, street music and lots of back-patting to greet us along the way. More than once, we were tempted to do extra little rides to discover some fun spots at these gems. The obelisk at Robe was pretty; a long walk on South Australia's second longest jetty, Beachport pier, was welcome lunchtime activity; and the extra rides through random dune areas along the way quenched our adventuring needs.
Logistically it sounds scary, but if you're looking for a supported riding event, you will feel safe and secure here. Dotted along the course there are 10-15 WARBY's (We Are Right Behind You) riding each leg with you, a team of fluoro-vested volunteers who fix your broken chains, change your popped tyre or just give you emotional support if your spirit is broken on the roadside. These angels were effective, just in their presence, but they were certainly made to work for their supper.
Every road we crossed, although not closed, was controlled by route marshals and traffic controllers. I don't even want to contemplate the planning that goes into making sure we all had accurate directions, all intersections were safe, hazards were identified and safety instructions were clearly passed on.
Support vehicles in the form of actual ambulances (used more than once), police vehicles, medical motorbikes and 4WDs full of rescue equipment carefully drove up and down the route looking for people needing help. You felt it was never far away.
Ever heard of a SAG (Support and Gear) wagon? It's a lifesaver and a pride-popper at the same time. I didn't ride the SAG wagon, but it was great to know it was there. I first thought it was the wagon of shame in case you plain gave up (as in sagging behind), but in was really a mini-bus, with a giant bike trailer on the back to drive you and your bike to the finish line in the case of injury, illness or mechanical issues. It actually had a lot of grateful passengers.
Apart from a few lineball edible, mediocre vegan food options I give the food, snacks and bonus ciders, that came as part of your entry fee, a big tick. In fact the only real bummer for the whole 10 days was Mother Nature. She tried her hardest to put us in the SAG wagon, with rain, wind and even hail. It's almost summer, lady, how about a few warm breezes? Aside from storm clouds, we also rode under wind-farm turbines, rain forest giants, and the odd sunburst. Never boring, always entertaining.
They say cycling is more expensive, yet maybe more effective, than therapy, and if the weather would play fair, I might even sign up for another Great Vic group ride one day.