Easy rider

It’s all down­hill on a bike trail in Vic­to­ria

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - EAN HIG­GINS

“No prob­lem, we can keep them for you right here, just bring them around the back,” says the help­ful bloke at the bustling bi­cy­cle shop Cy­clepath in Bright, a pretty town nestled in Vic­to­ria’s high coun­try. My buddy vis­it­ing from San Fran­cisco and I have found a safe place to keep our bi­cy­cles overnight.

It marks the suc­cess­ful first stage of a com­plex lo­gis­tic plan I have de­vised to cy­cle the 80km Mur­ray to Moun­tains rail trail from Wan­garatta to Bright, and also a 15km spur up to Beech­worth, but with a twist. I want to cy­cle only down­hill. Bright is at one end of the M2M trail, a ded­i­cated paved cy­cle track the Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment, in an in­spired move, de­cided to con­struct out of a dis­used rail­way line. It has proved very pop­u­lar and a big boost to the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try, with some busi­nesses in Bright decked out with cycling themes.

Now, I love cycling. I just don’t like hills. So when I dis­cov­ered the M2M rail trail by chance on a wine-tast­ing road trip some years ago, I tried to work out if it could be rid­den with­out hav­ing to do any up­hill sec­tion. A key ad­van­tage of rail trails is that trains can only safely get up or down shal­low in­clines, so those that have been con­verted to cy­cle tracks have gen­tle grades.

But I want to avoid any hills what­so­ever, and the start­ing point is to check out the el­e­va­tions.

Bright, at the foot of the moun­tains, sits at 320m, while Wan­garatta on the Mur­ray is at 150m. Beech­worth, at the top of the spur line, perches high at 560m. Logic sug­gests the hill-averse will want to cy­cle the main track only one way — es­sen­tially the wrong way in re­la­tion to the trail’s name, Mur­ray to Moun­tains.

I de­cide to cy­cle from the moun­tains to Mur­ray, down­hill from Bright to Wan­garatta. The fur­ther goal will be to ride the spur up to Beech­worth in re­verse, that is, down­hill from Beech­worth back down to the main trail.

It’s a bit like the old puz­zle of the farmer in a row­boat who has to get a goose, a bag of grain and a fox across the river with­out any of them get­ting eaten. Here’s how I do it. First of all, we stay in Beech­worth, the high­est town. On the af­ter­noon fol­low­ing our first night there, we put our bikes in the back of the car to drive to Bright, leav­ing them, as de­scribed, with the bike shop.

Then we spend another splen­did night in Beech­worth, a well-pre­served gold min­ing town that has heritage build­ings, a lo­cal his­tory mu­seum, a few good restau­rants and pubs, and a very pretty lake.

We stay at a charm­ing B&B called the Old Pri­ory, a ram­bling for­mer Catholic col­lege in pleas­ant grounds.

Next day it’s an early-ish start and a drive of about 40 min­utes to Wan­garatta, where we leave the car at the train sta­tion. Again, it seems too easy and there is plenty of un­re­stricted park­ing.

Then the next lo­gis­tic feat: there’s a pub­lic bus that runs from Wan­garatta sta­tion to Bright. Af­ter park­ing the car, we buy a ticket for about $10 each, and catch a morn­ing run. Just over an hour later, we are in Bright, re­triev­ing our bikes from Cy­clepath and ready to ride.

Then we are liv­ing the dream, cycling gen­tly down­hill through the out­skirts of Bright, re­splen­dent with north­ern hemi­sphere trees that at­tract scores of tourists in the au­tumn for their bril­liant colours. The bike trail it­self is top qual­ity with a hard smooth sur­face and truly ded­i­cated apart from a few short but poorly sign­posted spots where it runs briefly on lo­cal roads. Orig­i­nal rail sta­tions have been re­tained along the route as rest stops.

You wouldn’t think that 170m des­cent in el­e­va­tion over 80km would make a dif­fer­ence, but it does. The slight down­hill qual­ity, par­tic­u­larly in the first part of the trip where it is most pro­nounced, makes for an easy pedal where you can en­joy the scenery with­out rais­ing a sweat. And the scenery, par­tic­u­larly on the first leg from Bright to around Myrtle­ford, is stun­ning.

For some rea­son, the high coun­try of north­east Vic­to­ria (more so than in NSW) re­ally looks alpine with the rugged moun­tains, some­times topped with huge ex­panses of bare rock, com­ing right down to the towns, en­hanced in Bright with pine plan­ta­tions on the hills.

Our tim­ing works out well on the first day be­cause we ar­rive at Ringer Reef vine­yard, 7km from Bright, just af­ter open­ing at noon, a per­fect time for the first wine-tast­ing break. It’s a small op­er­a­tion on a hill­side and I in­stantly take to the rose and the Mon­tepul­ciano. Then, just a bit far­ther on, is a big­ger vine­yard, Feather­top, with an al­fresco din­ing ter­race, again with a view.

Another place worth stop­ping is an in­no­va­tive busi­ness called Pump­kin Seeds Aus­tralia, where vis­i­tors can taste all sorts of in­ter­est­ing for­mu­la­tions made out of, yes, pump­kin seeds; the seed meal is a treat on fruit and yo­ghurt.

We have in­tended to cy­cle to where the spur up to

Beech­worth starts at Ever­ton, but about 20km be­fore it we en­counter, to our hor­ror, a hill. I study the map again, and am shocked to re­alise I have not al­lowed for two rises be­tween Myrtle­ford and Ever­ton.

It is get­ting hot and my buddy from the city where Mark Twain fa­mously said “the cold­est win­ter I ever spent was a sum­mer in San Fran­cisco” says he can’t go on, even though he’s much fit­ter than me. I per­suade him to tol­er­ate 10 min­utes on a gen­tle up­hill slope to get to Gap­sted Wines, the third vine­yard on our route.

Then I do what I orig­i­nally in­tended when we reached Ever­ton — I ring an old friend who has moved to Beech­worth, and ac­cept his stand­ing of­fer to come down in his ute, pick us up with our bikes and pro­ceed up the moun­tain to Beech­worth. I should say I didn’t orig­i­nally count on this favour as I had checked out a guy who runs a taxi ser­vice in Beech­worth who has a bike rack and, with perhaps a day’s no­tice, will come down to the main M2M trail and pick you up. Hill-averse cy­clists call on his ser­vices reg­u­larly.

The next day starts bliss­fully. Af­ter vis­it­ing Penny- weight Win­ery at the top of the Beech­worth-Ever­ton rail trail spur, we en­joy the best part of the down­hill-all-the­way plan. The 15km des­cent is through for­est and meadow, one long, glo­ri­ous easy down­hill coast, some­times over high em­bank­ments or cut­tings through tun­nels of trees. In­cred­i­bly, we en­counter cy­clists com­ing up­hill the other way; I ad­mire their stamina but they don’t look as happy as we do.

The last part of the route, 27km from Ever­ton to Wan­garatta, has no more hills since we’ve avoided them by get­ting picked up at Gap­sted, re­join­ing the main M2M trail at Ever­ton, thus not cycling the 20km in be­tween with its two rises.

But the sec­tion is not as in­ter­est­ing as the area we cov­ered on day one; the trail goes through pleas­ant but not par­tic­u­larly in­spir­ing flat farm­land with no vine­yards along the way. We are glad to get into the car at Wan­garatta, flick on the air­con­di­tion­ing as the mer­cury hits 38C, and head back up to Beech­worth to cool off in the lake be­fore our fi­nal night.

When I next do the M2M, I think that for the last sec- tion I’ll take a con­nect­ing road that runs from Ever­ton to Mi­lawa, a splen­did gourmet town of wine, cheese, mus­tards and restau­rants. From there, you can ride the other rail trail spur from Mi­lawa to Wan­garatta.

All up, it’s a great ex­pe­di­tion, and the Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment should be ap­plauded for cre­at­ing the trail and main­tain­ing it well.

It’s worth not­ing that on just the other side of the moun­tains, in NSW, another dis­used rail­way track runs 214km from Quean­beyan near Can­berra over the high Monaro plain to Bom­bala, and there’s a pro­posal to con­vert it to a cy­cle­way. It would be fan­tas­tic for cy­clists and sim­i­larly bring a lot of tourism to that re­gion.

But the plan seems to be bogged down in lo­cal pol­i­tics with own­ers of land through which the rail­way runs ap­par­ently fear­ful of feral cy­clists, and the politi­cians have de­cided it’s all too hard.

Ride the M2M and you’ll be­come a con­vert, par­tic­u­larly if you do it all down­hill.

Bril­liant au­tumn colours in Beech­worth, above; vine­yard scenery on the trail, be­low

Along the trail at Myrtle­ford, above left; cycling-themed cafe en route, above right

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.