Monday, March 21, 2011

Riding in the High Country

 What a fabulous weekend! At the moment, my life consists of 4 days hard-core non-stop, busy down to the minute whirlwinds of school-training-schoolwork-errands, and the other 3 days are my weekends in which I travel to places and have a fabulous time, training my butt off but seeing spectacular scenery I couldn't see had I stayed trapped in the city. This weekend, I went out to the High Country, otherwise known as the Victorian Alps. These are part of the Great Dividing Range, a mountain range skirting the eastern to southeastern coasts of Australia. Don't be fooled by the name, compared to other more famous mountain ranges, the Aussie mountains seriously lack height (the highest, Mt Kosciuszko is only 2228m, or 7310ft). That's okay, they try!!

I spent 3 1/2 days in Mansfield, just at the base of Mt Buller (1805m, or 5922ft). On my first day (the half day, after I rushed madly from school), I drove to Lake Eildon National Park to get my long run in. By the time I finally made it, it was past 6pm. I'd forgotten I wasn't in Wanaka (further south, on New Zealand's South Island) and it wasn't summertime anymore -- there, it would only really be dark past 10pm. The sun was setting, and quick. Nevertheless, I made it into the forested regions, and really got in my groove running up and down fabulous red earth paths.

Lake Eildon -- Victoria has had a 10-odd year drought and the lake was entirely dried up until this year. Even with all the rain we've received this year, no one expected it to fill up again so fast (it did, within approximately 3 months). To put this into perspective, this is the largest lake in Victoria and mere months ago cattle were walking across the bottom and people were on their 4WDs chasing each other around. Crazy!
Getting dark -- I had already missed the sunset over the mountains, but the sky was beautiful nevertheless. 
Getting seriously dark... in the middle of nowhere! Without a headlamp, too... what was I thinking!
You'd think those were gorgeous stars, but no... there were flies EVERYWHERE. I took a self-portrait and only after I looked at it on the computer did I realize about 20 bugs died on my face, LOL!
Disregarding my ridiculous facial expression, and the photo obviously doesn't do it justice but we had one of the largest moons in 80 years! Maybe that's how I made it out alive -- the moonlight was bright enough to let me see where I was going. 
On Friday, I had a day off from training. This gave me the opportunity to visit yet another National Park (Mt Samaria Nat'l Park), but this time letting me fully abuse my rental car by driving insanely across pock-marked, rugged roads. LOVED IT!!

Gorgeous red roads and eucalypts all around!
On the way out, across the horizon, I could see beautiful smoke formation. Someone was burning off some vegetation -- a common practice to reduce fuel load in an area. This reduces the risk of damage to property should a bushfire pass through. 
The next 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) contained the real meat of my trip. On Saturday, I joined a group of about 600 other cyclists on a 165km journey. It was the SCODY High Country Cycle Challenge. The real treat was climbing Mt Buller. HR zone 4 for 1h24, I tell you the quads were screaming -- especially the last 2 turns, one aptly named "Hell's Corner". After climbing for 1h15, you make some last few hairpin turns on the inside edge where it's painfully steep and you absolutely HAVE to get out of the saddle and punch it out. Disgusting but amazing!!! The first 47k is uphill (with the real heavy climbing the last 16k), then 47k back down. We continue onwards in rather hilly terrain to wrap up the 165km ride. In total, I climbed 2684m (8806ft), and had a fabulous time with a group of about 8 cyclists I met.

Before the ride... it was chilly in the AM but turned out to be a gorgeous 28C day!
Enjoying the brief downhills! 
Love this guy -- coke bottle at the ready!

Hell's corner (on the way down). I wasn't thinking about glamour shots on the way up!!!
I wrapped up Day 1 of my cycling adventure with a BBQ with newly-made friends (the group I cycled with) at a lakehouse overlooking the lake. They'd rented it for themselves, it is privately owned. We were surrounded by the true owners' horses and wild kangaroos. A spectacular evening, I'd say!!

Finally, on my last day in Mansfield, I rode with a couple hundred other cyclists up to Toolmie and back (a hilly 50k ride). By this point I was seriously aching, but there's no backing out now!! It's a painful slow uphill out there, then a gorgeous downhill. I took full advantage of the downhill to snap my last photos of the beautiful High Country.

After all the riding, I relaxed on the main street. A market, a food exhibition and a cycling/endurance sports expo were all going on at the same time. Am I in heaven, or what?!?! I did ask some main strip shops what they thought of the town being taken over by cyclists. There are always the outliers that respond in a totally negative way to lycra-clad cyclists (some cyclists got punctures because of tacks placed on the road), but overall the response has been highly positive. These types of events have people staying for several days. They enjoy the good food, the cafes, the excellent atmosphere. This is in comparison to winter, when Melburnians simply drive through Mansfield to get to the base of Mt Buller and other ski fields. The only people that benefit are the city-slickers getting access to a mountain and perhaps the petrol or ski shops. The positivity I experienced from everyone, both locals and visitors, really made this event a success. If I ever am in Australia again at this time of year, I know I'll want to come back and climb all day in the gorgeous Victorian countryside.

Next: back to the Great Ocean Rd for another smashy weekend: long hilly solo trail run, a 145k cycling event along the Great Ocean Rd and in the Otways, and a 10k trail run race! Yahoo!!

5 comments:

  1. Great photos and wonderful adventures! Carry on!
    Peace,
    ~Sam

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  2. Those views are absolutely gorgeous! Oh so jealous right now!

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  3. Thanks everyone! The suffering is worth it with those views, I think... :P

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