It’s deep winter in Central Victoria, and rather than being at Deep Winter (in lovely warm northern New South Wales) I’m… still in Central Victoria. While I would have loved to go spend a few balmy days with regenerative farmers and food sovereignty activists, I couldn’t get all the pieces to fit together quite right. And so, when an invitation came to attend a Making Permaculture Stronger gathering in Castlemaine that same week, I turned my whole plan on its head. I figured that the most important thing was a week off from my regular work, to decompress and spend some time away from the screen. I could do that just as well closer to home.
So, last week I took my first ever bike holiday. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, and it’s taken years to get here, so let me tell you a bit about it.
First up, just to be clear, I am not a sporty sort of person and I did not bring a single skerrick of lycra on this trip. This is my bike, Clyde, so named because of her similarity in form to a Clydesdale horse. I also refer to Clyde as “the station wagon”. A lot of people ask me about Clyde, because she looks – and is! – so comfortable, so for the record she’s an Electra Townie. (The Electra bike company was recently bought by Trek, so they’re starting to get wider distribution and you should be able to easily find one for a test ride.)
One day I’d like to go bike camping, carrying all my stuff, and riding from anywhere to anywhere. There must be a lot of freedom in that, to be able to take any road and make your bed wherever you are tired enough to sleep! But I don’t have the gear or the fitness, so I decided to take things a step at a time.
So, my first and simplest goal for a bike holiday: take my bike, on the train, to somewhere nice. Then have my bike there so I could ride it around. A small goal, but a considerable step up from my usual holiday plan of “take the train or bus somewhere nice then have trouble getting places on foot”.
My only purchase specifically for the trip was a pair of panniers. I shelled out for a pair of Ortliebs which I hope will last a lifetime. For what it’s worth, I walked into a local bike shop and told them the best price I’d found online, and they were happy to match it – saving me the expense and packaging waste of having it shipped to my place, and supporting the local economy while I was at it. (If you’re in Ballarat, I highly recommend Bicycle Centre Ballarat on Armstrong Street – they’ve been fantastic every time I’ve been in there, and never made me feel as if I was not sporty enough or too female or too fat to deserve their best service and attention.)
Anyway, I packed my panniers and a small daypack with the same sort of stuff I’d take if I had a suitcase: books to read, a laptop, fluffy slippers, multiple knitting projects, and probably a few more items of clothing than I’ll actually wear. Packing wasn’t too tight – so it’s good to know how those 64L of packing space pan out in real terms. Of course it would be a completely different scenario with camping gear!
VLine runs train services to various points throughout Victoria, and wherever there are actual trains (not coaches), you can take your bike on them. The bike carriages have a bike symbol on the door, and are usually any carriage other than the “quiet carriage”. You can strap your bike into the space provided – note however that if you have an extra long bike you might have a little trouble. My Electra Townie only fits by turning the front wheel sideways, so long-chassis cargo bikes or tandems would be right out. There is no extra charge for taking your bike on the train. However, during busy times the staff have the right to tell you there’s no room and make you wait for the next one.
(On VLine coaches, you can take a folding bike, if it’s secured inside a bag and placed in the luggage compartment.)
The only other thing I did ahead of my trip was to check with the host of the guest cottage where I was staying, to ensure that there was somewhere safe and undercover to park Clyde. She offered the carport, which turned out not to work (there was nowhere to securely lock it), but it turned out that I could tuck it into a corner under the eaves of the cottage, out of the rain. I would love it if “secure bike parking” was something routinely listed on Stayz and other accommodation websites!
Castlemaine is far hillier than my part of Ballarat, so getting from the station to my accommodation with my heavy panniers was a slog. I don’t mind admitting that I got off and walked the steepest block. I’m still getting over a flu/bronchitis/chest infection that’s knocked me round for the last few weeks – I think I could have done it if not for that. As for getting around town, I sometimes walked and sometimes rode, but it was great to have the option. In a small country town, even a very casual riding range of 5-10km can get you to a lot of things that would be awkward to walk. Yesterday I took the steam train to Maldon, and I noted on their website that they carry bikes, so I could have taken Clyde with me if I’d wanted – though in fact, I opted not to. There’s also a bike trail following the same route, if I’d been feeling far more energetic. (I wasn’t. I sat in an ornate compartment, stared out the window, listened to the delightful huffing of the steam engine, and knitted.)
I’ve been car-free all my life, but I’ve learnt that it’s different in the country than the city, where I can’t rely on frequent public transport. It feels good to be building my bike confidence, skills, and resources: the stronger and more confident I am on two wheels, the easier my life gets. I just have to remind myself of that as I’m slogging up the next hill!