“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
John F. Kennedy
Last year, I was invited by Liz Mitchell of Snowy River Cycling to take part on the three-day East Gippsland Rail Trail Ride. This is a fully-supported annual event – due to take place again in October 2017 – and it’s the perfect introduction to cycle touring or for anyone just wanting to spend a few leisurely days cycling and socialising.
The East Gippsland Rail Trail travels 100 km from Bairnsdale to Orbost in Victoria, traversing farmlands and forests, meandering alongside rivers, and passing through the delightful towns of Nicholson, Bruthen and Nowa Nowa.
It’s possible to cycle the rail trail at any time of the year, with or without support – and I have done it both ways. It is, however, nice to have bike mechanics on hand, morning tea in idyllic locations, and three hearty meals a day. Accommodation is in campgrounds (using your own tent or by paying a bit extra for the “easy tent” option, where your tent is pitched and waiting for you on arrival).
I travelled with my friend Madeleine, my sister, Lynn, and her charge, Susi, a young exchange student from Italy. Susi was fitter than us, so often sped ahead. Luckily, she was “adopted” by a group of retirees, who kept a watchful eye on her. At the morning tea breaks, we found her conversing with other participants, practising her English skills. The ride definitely had a family-friendly vibe, with our group of 86 riders ranging in age from two to 77.
On the first day we had it fairly easy. We rode 10 kilometres along the East Gippsland Rail Trail and then diverted onto a quiet country road for two more kilometres to our lunch spot at Nicholson River Winery. The last part of this ride was hilly, our first mini-challenge, and we worked up an appetite for the home-made lunch that awaited us.
Once there, we relaxed and enjoyed sweeping views across the valley. It was glorious and there was already an easy sense of camaraderie with fellow riders.
“The East Gippsland Rail Trail Ride definitely favours families and older riders,” Liz told me. “The ride is not designed for super athletes but for those who are moderately fit. A sensible standard is to know that you can ride 30 km, with a few small hills, as a morning or afternoon’s ride.”
Over the three days we spotted wildlife and birdlife, and also saw some historic timber trestle bridges. The first day we cycled across the fully-restored Nicholson Bridge that spans the sprawling Nicholson River.
The next day, the trail bypassed the impressive Stony Creek Trestle Bridge. Built in 1916, it is 347 metres long and 20 metres high, and is the longest and highest remaining timber trestle bridge in Victoria.
In typical Victorian fashion, the weather was somewhat unpredictable. We had sunshine, wind and light rain on day one, while on day two the heavens opened just after we arrived in Nowa Nowa.
Luckily Liz was fully prepared with optional indoor activities and it was awesome to see how the people of these small communities banded together to support this event. There were bike maintenance classes and yoga sessions. The local publican re-opened the Nowa Nowa Tavern just for the day (as it had been temporarily closed) so the AFL fans of the group could watch the grand final.
Madeleine, Lynn, Susi and I took part in the yoga, which was a great way to stretch out after two consecutive days of cycling.
The final morning’s ride was beautiful and warming in bright sunshine. I chatted with Madeleine during our picnic lunch in Orbost and we both agreed that the ride had helped us dust off the cobwebs. It was so nice to get out into the fresh (oft-time freezing) air and get some much needed exercise after winter.
Madeleine said. “My favourite moment was gliding into Orbost. The light was filtering through the trees, dappling the trail ahead, and I had this great sense of achievement for having just completed 100 kilometres.”
This is an event I’d highly recommend, as are the small group tours run by Snowy River Cycling. For those who prefer to be more independent, Liz can also help out with bike hire, bike transfers and self-guided tours. For more information, visit Snowy River Cycling.
A version of this article was first published in The Senior newspaper.