No piccy's this time. I left the camera at home, but I'll be doing the trip again solo some time, just to get photos. It was a ride I've been looking forward to, and it's seriously pretty country through quite a bit of it.
I'm not sure that I've got the route exactly right on this map, but it's pretty close and the mileage/elevations seem to match with what I measured and recall, so it'll do:
Sunday morning saw me so stiff and sore from helping my son move house the previous day that I could hardly move. For a while I thought I'd be calling it off, but after a hearty breakfast and some stretching I decided to give it a go anyway, and into the truck went the bike with enough time up my sleeve to find the venue where riders were supposed to be assembling. On arriving at Maffra I soon determined that the 'Sports Club' where the ride was to start must be the sporting complex on the edge of town, because it was handy to the outward route. Not so!
There was one other vehicle there when I arrived - a couple who were there for the ride as well - and they were pleased to be in the company of somebody else who looked like they were ready to cycle. A bit of a check with some locals uncovered the fact that there was a pub/pokie venue in town called the "Sports Club', so we decided to leave the vehicles and ride down there to have a look. We arrived only to see the SAG vehicle disappear up around the corner - the ride had already left!
Oh well. Riding down had warmed the legs up a bit, so catching up wasn't too daunting even though it was back up the hill
I was riding with the lead group well before the first stop. The group had gone out quite easy, because there were some new riders along, and the first stop was atop a short but sharp downhill where newbie riders were cautioned about the gravel on the road down the bottom. I was grinning, because there was nothing down there to worry the wider tyres on my hybrid. Down the hill, and then a pleasant meander across the flats, over the Avon at Weir's Crossing, and then across to the Briagolong Road on the outskirts of Stratford.
A short ride along the Briagolong Road and then head up Stockdale Road for a stretch of the most serious 'climbing' I've yet tackled. My, my, the riding I've been doing has had an impact! The stretch along here involves nearly 20km of often gradual but sometimes rather sharp climbing, and I was quite surprised to find myself riding with the lead group of riders the whole way! This might well be a leisurely ride for them, but it's a damned sight more taxing one for me
It's very, very pretty country too, along a quiet tree-lined road that winds around through patches of bushland and hillier dairy farming country. We had a short stop about half-way, to allow slower riders to catch up, and then a longer stop up top after the steeper climbing. Up top, on this my third ride with the group, I started to feel much more a 'part' of the group than I have been previously. They've been a warm and welcoming group of people from the outset, but there's that intangible feeling of being accepted more as a 'rider' rather than just as a participant, and I found myself finally feeling that. The 'comfort zone' in conversation led to me being asked how much the bike cost, and the revelation turned into the main topic of conversation. The road bike riders who formed the bulk of the group have been rather impressed by the looks and quality of the thing, and were amazed to hear it'd cost me so little.
Off again meandering along the hilltops for a while before a fast descent down into the valley (followed by a VERY sharp lefthand turn!) and a zig-zag route into Briagolong for the lunch break. After having 'missed' the start of the ride this was a chance to finally pay my dues and formally become a 'member' of the group
After lunch we headed off back toward Maffra for a bit before heading north again for a loop around through Valencia Creek and around into Boisdale. Dark clouds were rolling in, and for a while it was out with the raincoats and riding in the wet, before it blew past. The sky continued to look menacing after that, but we were lucky enough to avoid further rain.
A few km further on we headed right and up 'Tip Hill' which is reasonably short and sharp, and then up around the corner for another climb which is even shorter and sharper! The second of those saw me up out of the saddle and pumping really hard to keep up for most of the way, before settling back down and into a really low gear to complete the climb only a couple of minutes after them. All that was in front of is now was an undulating ride into and through town, back to the assembly point.
After saying my goodbyes I had a lazy ride back up the hill and out to the sports complex where I'd left the truck, to complete what was a VERY enjoyable and scenic 86km of riding!