Cycling in Victoria's Otway Ranges and along the Great Ocean Road - Part 2

The circuit ride from Apollo Bay, via Lorne, Deans Marsh and Forrest, was more of a challenge than the ride I did out and back from Aireys Inlet just a few days earlier. Twenty kilometres further and involving steeper undulations, it reminded me of some of the terrain along the roads between Canberra and Tharwa, in Australia’s Capital Territory. 

The first part of the ride, along the Great Ocean Road, was by far the easiest, an unbroken descent towards Skenes Creek late in the day. Carrying much less traffic than I imagined, the 47 kilometres along the B100 from Apollo Bay to Lorne, was as scenic as a rugged ocean with the occasional town and succession of wide beaches can get. The road itself was a blend of short ups and downs, around a seemingly endless number of bends and points. It felt like an enjoyable short ride where time travelled quickly. 

Cumberland River Beach-Great Ocean Road 
Perhaps buoyed by the journey so far, the near-9 kilometres to the highest point, Benwerren, on the Lorne to Deans Marsh Road, wasn’t much harder. Unlike the road up to France’s Mont Ventoux or the Spanish Asturia’s Alto del Angliru, it was much shorter and with only a 4% average gradient; one of those climbs where the gradient becomes easier the closer you get towards the top. 

The downhill road towards Deans Marsh marked the halfway point of the ride, but as I soon learned, the hardest part of my 130 kilometre journey was still away in the distance. Whether it was mounting fatigue or the higher afternoon temperature, or a combination of both, the persistent 3.4% gradient along the Birregurra-Forrest tarmac was the toughest part of the ride so far. Despite the numerous downhill sections of road, it was only seconds before the climbing began again.
Typical views near Deans Marsh   
Having ridden 90 kilometres without a break, I was keen to have a short rest in the small rural township of Forrest. Known as the gateway to the Otway Ranges and with a growing population of more than 300, it was the biggest town between Deans Marsh and Apollo Bay.  After replenishing my water supply and enjoying a cold dark beer from the local microbrewery, I began the remaining 6 kilometres of slow climbing that would take me to the final rise of the day. Somewhat bemused by the thought of being worn down by a 3.4% average gradient, I struggled on. It felt tough! 

Needless to say, once reached, the long descent towards Skenes Creek was as good as it gets. A wider and more sweeping road than the one that descends into Lorne from Benwerrin, there was less reason to brake and far more opportunity to take in the hilltop views once out of the forest. 

The descent towards Skenes Creek
The one and only switchback-near the bottom of the descent.
Left with only 5 kilometres to travel, from Skenes Creek to Apollo Bay, along the Great Ocean Road, the tiredness I felt not an hour earlier had disappeared. My 130k/6 hour journey was hardly the most difficult ride I’d done, not by a long shot, but it was difficult enough; and especially a ride worth doing. Again!

Near Apollo Bay
Books by Mark Krieger:

‘High Spain Drifter’ is available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Booktopia  and other online bookstores. 

‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books

Both books are also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”                        H. G. Wells


Cycling in Victoria's Otway Ranges and along the Great Ocean Road - Part 1

Aireys Inlet
The last time I cycled through the Otway Ranges was in 1984. That year I was heading along Lavers Hill Road, the C155, towards Port Campbell and ultimately to Adelaide. It was the first day of riding, having left around six in the morning from my then-home, Murrumbeena, approximately 12 kilometres south of Melbourne.

I remember taking most of the morning to wend my way through busy suburbs, as far as Werribee, and beyond it, Geelong, but as soon as I turned off the A1 (the Princess Highway), and headed for Deans Marsh, I knew I was on the type of road – remote and tranquil – I wanted to be on for the remainder of the journey. And for most of the way, just about all the way to Adelaide, it felt like I was.

So here I am, more than 30 years later, riding along some of the most scenic roads in Victoria, including of course, the Great Ocean Road. Stretching 243 kilometres between Torquay and Allansford, it’s one of the most popular scenic coastal journeys in the world. And it’s easy to tell why. You only have to pass – or if cycling, be passed – by the number of buses carrying tourists to places like Lorne and Apollo Bay

Two of the most popular long rides in the Otway Ranges are the ‘Great Ocean and Otway Classic’, which can be as many as 204 kilometres long, and the Amy Gillette ‘Gran Fondo’, with its tough 121 kilometres. Having the luxury of a few days to spare – in Aireys Inlet and later, Apollo Bay, I was keen to get a taste of what these yearly-held rides are like. I imagined that in all likelihood, its roads would be typically scenic, often remote, and undoubtedly challenging when it came time to climb through its hills. It was exactly that.

Aireys Inlet was a great place to stay, even more peaceful and serene than its distant neighbours, Apollo Bay, Lorne and Anglesea. With its mildly undulating road and wide verge, it was also a good place to leave from en-route towards Torquay, Modewarre and eventually Deans Marsh, before beginning the near-11 kilometre climb up to the highest point of the Deans Marsh-Lorne Road, 427 metres at Benwerren.

Also the longest climb along the route, its occasional steep downhills, belied its 4% average gradient. But once over the summit, the road briskly headed straight for Lorne just 10 kilometres away. My only concern was the combination of narrow twisting road and the occasional driver sweating on me from behind. 

Arriving on the outskirts of Lorne, all that remained was a careful left-hand-turn onto the Great Ocean Road and a scenic 17 kilometre ride back to Aireys Inlet. In what was a wonderful finish to a memorable ride, I was accompanied by stunning ocean views, virtually all the way back to where I started; not much more than four hours and 115 kilometres earlier. 

Evening at Aireys Inlet

Books by Mark Krieger:

‘High Spain Drifter’ is available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Booktopia  and other online bookstores. 

‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books

Both books are also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”                                 H. G. Wells


Cycling in France - Along the Ocean Atlantique: Auray and Belle-Ile Lighthouse

‘When climbing and descending, you’re not just literally on the edge of a precipice; you’re there metaphorically as well. The moment your tyres take you over the crest of the mountain your pain instantly disappears and is replaced by a sense of triumph and exhilaration. A free spirit, you begin the descent. But one flat tyre, strong gust of wind, mechanical or human error and you’re kaput. But that’s life and what a wonderful metaphor for life cycling is…’

For me, Auray had everything that Brest didn’t. It was relatively small, quaint and extremely underrated. It was the ancient Port de Saint-Goustan, with its charming 15th and 16th century houses that won me over immediately. Late that evening, we stumbled onto a bridge which spanned the town’s River Loch. From where we stood in our dimly lit surroundings, you could hear the sound of water gushing through the sluice gates below. Apart from the quiet banter emanating from a small eatery close by, the evening’s festivities looked like they’d ground to a halt. After all, it was 11.00 pm on a Monday night.

Just then, Le Franklin caught our eyes and ears. It was a small bar and crêperie at the end of the short promenade. Although we were just out for a quiet, late evening stroll, we became seduced by the singing and raucous laughter from inside. The owner of the establishment was a rather quiet but easygoing fellow named Frank, or at least that’s what his customers were calling him. On reflection, it could’ve just been their sense of humour that saw “Frank” saddled with his moniker. The bar, however, got its name from Benjamin Franklin, who in 1776 arrived in the town en route to Paris, on his way to seek help from King Louis the XVI in the War of Independence.
Port de Saint-Goustan, Auray

Once seated inside, we were treated to the best two hours of spontaneous entertainment you could imagine, which came in the form of some rather inebriated Irish gentlemen who were on a golfing holiday. Some of them had been coming to the town, at the end of May, for the last few years.

Seated, or partially slumped, around two or three large tables, each member of the rowdy group, in turn, sang with such spirit and emotion that it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We couldn’t believe they were golfers, not—at the very least—amateur choir singers, they were so good. As for their golf, some of the stories they later told us made us wonder why they were on a golfing holiday in the first place. Obviously, purely recreational.

After a few glasses of Pelforth Brune, a bit of dancing, to the tune of one of the singers who insisted we follow his Elvis Presley impersonation, and a side-splitting conversation with an Irishman named James, we finally dragged ourselves into bed around two o’clock the next morning. We were exhausted, but we’d undoubtedly been treated to our best night’s entertainment so far.

The next day was one of pure indulgence. Leaving the bike in the back of the Peugeot we headed for the picturesque French island of Belle-Île, home to Les Poulains lighthouse. Since seeing it for the first time, I’d fallen in love with Phillip Plisson’s breathtaking photograph, and it was a fait accompli that we’d pay the remote outpost a visit. Taken during a storm on November 26, 1996, it captures the sheer ruggedness and imminent danger threatening the wild Brittany coastline.

From Auray it was about 30 kilometres to the busy seaside town of Quiberon, where we caught the ferry to Belle-Île. The ferry ride itself only took about 45 minutes, but being a Tuesday there were fewer trips to the island than usual and the last one departed at a quarter to six, significantly earlier than we’d hoped. Nevertheless, we reckoned we still had about three hours to get the bus from the island’s port, Le Palais, visit the lighthouse and get back in time. Only a 30 minute bus trip each way, it sounded feasible. Well, that was the plan.

But as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. What we didn’t account for was the ferry’s late departure from Quiberon and as a consequence, the bus not synchronising with the ferry. We now had just 15 minutes to visit the lighthouse before catching the last bus that would get us back to the port on time. Lighthouses being situated where they are, often on the tip of a promontory, the walk alone would take us at least 20 minutes, each way.

I was gutted. This was more than just a lighthouse on a hill to me. It was a spiritual pilgrimage. It was like Collingwood being in front by 44 points in the 1970 Grand Final, only to painfully watch Alex Jesaulenko’s tumbling mis-kick dribble through the goals to seal the game for Carlton. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

Le Palais
Life is also a risk, so we decided on an alternative plan: we would simply try our luck at hitching a ride back to Le Palais once we’d spent time at the lighthouse. And it was well worth it, the sight being every bit as dramatic and spectacular as we’d hoped it would be. A little surprisingly, we passed two beautifully sheltered, almost hidden beaches on one of the approaches to the plateau. Here, you could spend an afternoon lying on the beach or swimming safely in the shallows. It was the last thing I expected to see given the mood conveyed in Plisson’s photograph. Of course, a further hundred metres around to the southwest, 4-5 metre high waves were hammering themselves onto the dangerous cliffs below.

From a distance, the stark white lighthouse looked almost surreal, standing on its lush green plateau. But it wasn’t until we were right up close, experiencing the effects of the strong wind and surrounded by the rugged Atlantic on three sides, that we fully appreciated its remoteness.

Mesmerised by the jagged cliff edges and white-capped waves that broke furiously across the reefs, we were reluctant to leave. But time was getting away from us. And at the forefront of our minds was our 5.45 pm deadline, not to mention the uncertainty of even getting a ride back to the port.

Searching anxiously for a lift, around the near-empty carpark, we’d almost become resigned to spending a night on the island, without any spare clothes or accommodation. Just then, our saving grace appeared, out of nowhere. Whether she worked in one of the tourist offices on the island or was just visiting like us, we never quite found out. In any case, without hesitation, she offered to take us back to the port. And with hardly a moment to spare, we made it onto the boat.

Later that evening, we undoubtedly enjoyed the best meal we’d eaten since we’d been in France. Back at the Port de Saint-Goustan, we dined at a restaurant called La Marie Galante, only metres from the boat moorings on the lock. What made it even more memorable was the warm service provided by the owners, who seemed to enjoy a conversation as much as their guests.

Following dinner, we couldn’t help but gravitate back to our new Irish acquaintances, who seemed even more high-spirited than the night before. The two eateries were situated at each end of the promenade, but the noise coming from their end, more than 80 metres away, was deafening. Once we arrived, it was like meeting old friends, though a couple of them were looking a little worse for wear. And I don’t think the long day of golf was the cause.

After sharing a few ales and hearing some stirring Irish ballads, we were invited to join in singing some Australian songs. We of course, sang with gusto. We felt very patriotic belting out a verse from what in another time could have been Australia’s national anthem, Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of the men, Chris, started to sing the chilling words of an Australian anti-war song. It was Eric Bogle’s And the Band PlayedWaltzing Matilda, a song I have studied with my school students on many occasions. I can still hear him now as the words poured out with such empathy. It was sung exactly the way a song like that should be.

After the odd tear and a few more ales we were done. We’d had a ball, but finished very late. Though we were well and truly burning the candle at both ends, it was worth it. Auray was definitely on our “bucket list”.

‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books and other online bookstores.
 Also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante


Cycling in France - Along the Ocean Atlantique: La Rochelle

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller’. Ibn Battutah

A full day’s ride is a mixture of pleasure and pain. At times you encounter aches and pains, extreme weather conditions and sometimes just boredom, where you find yourself continually watching the white lines on the road, then your odometer. Then you suddenly turn onto a smaller stretch of bitumen which reinvigorates your heart, mind and body. It might be a forest, a small running stream, a long descent or just a beautiful or unusual hamlet. It doesn’t have to be much, and it’s one of the reasons I love to ride.
So with the wind at my back I reached the outer edges of La Rochelle very quickly. Yet again, there was the problem of finding our accommodation amidst the entanglement of roads and the huge volume of traffic still on them. Nevertheless, I was starting to come to terms with this constant frustration. Approaching my destination at the end of a day’s ride, I’d allow a full 60 minutes to find where we were staying. Anything short of an hour was a bonus, anything more and I didn’t lose the plot for as long. It was a plan, anyway.
Our accommodation at the youth hostel overlooked the reclaimed land of Les Minimes. Being on the Atlantic coast, La Rochelle had a rich seafaring history, long before tourism kicked in. One of France’s major seaports between the 14th and 17th centuries, it was even used by the Romans, who manufactured and exported wine and salt throughout their empire.
A German stronghold in World War II—they had established a submarine naval base at its main port of La Pallice—La Rochelle was also the final French city to be freed at the end of the war. In more peaceful times, it became the setting of Wolfgang Petersen’s fatalistic war movie Das Boot. In the film, having survived depth charges, near-implosion, British fighter planes and a desperate lack of oxygen, the German U-boat limps back to port at La Rochelle, only to be sunk by Allied fighter planes. The heroic captain, riddled with bullet holes, despairingly watches his beloved ship sink to the bottom.

La Rochelle’s most stunning feature is its harbour, the Vieux Port, which lies in the heart of the city. It was picturesque, and never more so than just before dusk. We took our time soaking up the atmosphere before eating at one of the crowded restaurants lining the harbour. It had the hubbub of a vibrant coastal town where everyone is out to have a good time. Taking a final stroll along the promenade after dark, there was an energy that could be felt, not just seen. La Rochelle was another one of those places we really regretted leaving.

‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books and other online bookstores.
Also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante