Thursday 21 November
Tomorrow we head off to the start point of the Great VIC Bike Ride – GVBR for short. The GVBR is one of the world’s oldest organized multi-day bicycle tours. It all started back in 1984 and is held in late November every year. As you’ve probably guessed by the name, it generally covers a route within the southern Australian state of Victoria. It used to be hosted by Bicycle Victoria, but now is hosted by its successor, The Bicycle Network. This is my third GVBR, Nancy is on her first one.
The first year of GVBR, they attracted 2,100 riders. The biggest turnout was just shy of 6,000. This year, they are expecting about 4,000 riders. As many a 1/3 of the riders typically come from schools – mostly middle schools but some high schools and grade schools jump in as well. Students have to meet scholastic and riding goals in order to join the ride. They are also supposed to know how to perform basic bike maintenance on their own. They also get a week off school to do the ride. We love this program – just think of 1,500+ kids getting hip to being bike riders – even if they eventually give it up, worst case, they should be safer car drivers and more aware of cyclists. And who knows, maybe they’ll stick with it and be life-long physically active adults.
You may remember our “giving back theme” that we started on Cycle Oregon earlier this year. Well we are continuing that theme with GVBR. We are riding GVBR as ride marshals, or ride guides as some folks call us. In a nutshell, we get up early (but not as early as the coffee truck on Cycle Oregon). We leave camp on bikes first in the morning before the course is officially open. We ride to a predetermined corner or area on the route where there could be a challenge for the riders and we help make sure all 4,000 folks get past that point safely. Once the last rider goes by, we hop on our bikes and ride to the finish. While not technically on duty while finishing the ride, we still stop and help anyone in need.
It’s fun to help folks, and doubly fun when it’s a bunch of school kids. I used to help with tire changes, now I just direct kids on making their own change. It is slower this way but the kids are so proud to do this themselves and too often I’ve found that their pre-ride training amounted to watching their teacher change a tire. It’s much more fun to give them advice, and keep one’s hands clean.
In spite of this being a VIC ride, this year’s ride actually starts in the old fishing town of Robe, South Australia. We spend three days working our way back to Victoria before finishing in Torquay near Melbourne. The ride is billed as a 10 day ride but we only actually pedal eight of the ten days. The first day is “arrival” day and day five is a rest day in Port Fairy. The full route is noted below.
All 4,000 of us spend the night in tents. As volunteers, we are lucky that GVBR sets up and takes down our tent for us. The school kids set-up their own. We camp in town ovals and pretty much take over whatever little town we stop in. The ride provides brekkie, lunch and dinner every day, plus there are rest stops every 30k or so on the ride. There are portable toilets and showers at camp and along the route. In a nod to being good environmental stewards, GVBR provides no dishes or cutlery – rather they provide dish washing stations and all 4,000 of us bring our own eating kit.
Camp is so big that sometimes you only see the side of it where your tent is located. Heck, finding your tent on some days is a bit of a challenge. There’s a big stage and a massive food hall. Bands play nightly but they cut off pretty early as the k’s start to wear on folks as soon as the first night. One of our favourite Aussie beer brands (Bridge Road Brewers) happens to sponsor the ride and has a beer tent near the main stage – we may have to sample a few Beechworth Pale Ales, if we can find the tent. GVBR organizers don’t mind marshals having a tipple, but we just have to be sure not to be sporting our marshal vest while in the beer tent – fair enough. With our early starts, I’m sure that one beer or less will be our daily limit – until the rest day that is!
We’ve made it to Melbourne today, via the train and Qantas. We head by bus to Robe tomorrow morning. I think that riding will again be the easy part of this trip. Traveling with bikes on planes, trains and buses is never very fun. Our phone died this arvo so we’re not sure when or how we’ll be blogging on this trip – it could be daily, it could be one summary post at the end. Meanwhile, I’ll sign off now as I have to teach Nancy all of the official hand signals for marshaling. I think she’ll do fine as keeping me in line means that she already has mastered the No and Stop signals. Here’s a quick summary…
- Point to the rider’s right if you want them to go right.
- Point to the rider’s left if you want them to go left.
- Hold up an open palm if you want them to stop.
- Smile if you want people to have fun – that’s the easy one!
Our route for the week is below.
DAY 1–Robe, South Australia
DAY 2–Robe to Millicent
DAY 3–Millivent to Mount Gambier
DAY 4– Mount Gambier to Portland, VIC
DAY 5–Portland to Port Fairy
DAY 6–Port Fairy (REST DAY)
DAY 7–Port Fairy to Peterborough
DAY 8– Peterborough to Beech Forest
DAY 9– Beech Forest to Deans Marsh
DAY 10– Deans Marsh to Torquay
UPDATE: On our walk to dinner, we got a new phone – posting could work this week if we get signal – stay tuned…