The road less ridden
Over the weekend I was asked to join Soigneur on one of their weekend getaways. I’ve barely had a chance to ride my bike in the last few months so I jumped at the opportunity to do nothing except hang out with the boys and ride my bike for two solid days.
I’m often stunned by the beauty of Australia and there are just so many beautiful places I’d never have a reason to visit were it not for cycling. It’s a blessing. But even as cyclists we get into our routine; we get complacent, and getting out of town for a couple days is sometimes just too difficult. When we get into that routine we neglect discovering new roads. Dan and Jason at Soigneur pride themselves on being able to take you on “the road less ridden” and show you places that you never knew existed. More often than not these places are just a couple hours away, in your own backyard.
The thing that I find about these types of trips is that it’s usually about a dozen people who come in 1s, 2s or 3s, with nobody really knowing each other. Upon arrival on the Friday night everyone is sizing one another up, looking for clues about who’s going to be the fastest, who’s most experienced, who the patron will be, and, just as importantly, whose wheel you don’t want to be on.
It was apparent that many people in the group were relatively new to cycling. The unshaven legs were a giveaway, as too was the excitement in their voices when asking about what the following days had in store.
One rider named Max had come along to write an article about the experience for a local publication called Broadsheet. This would be his first “real ride” of more than a few kilometres … and on the menu were back-to-back days of roughly 150km. Even I wasn’t confident of how I’d go.
Specialized sorted Max out with a bike, a bike fit and some kit — the rest would be up to him. Fortunately Max was unfamiliar with what 150km and 2,000m of climbing meant, but I was worried for him. Very worried.
We were staying just near Walkerville, roughly 60km south east of Wonthaggi, and after a late dinner and briefing on Friday evening we all went our separate ways into self-contained cottages overlooking the ocean. Waking up relatively late to sunrise over the water was a luxury that most of us don’t get to enjoy very often. We had the entire day to do nothing but ride our bikes, so there was no rush to get out rolling at 5:30am or anything like that. A shower, a few cups of coffee, and a hearty breakfast finished by 8am saw us rolling out shortly after.
The ride on day one contained a fair amount of climbing and many of the typical ridgeline roads overlooking rolling green hills that Gippsland has to offer. This has to be one of the most underrated riding areas in Victoria. The motorists were very courteous (the odd time we saw one), the roads were stunning, and it’s all just a few hours away from Melbourne.
Soigneur loves keeping the routes interesting by throwing some gravel sections into the mix. The point isn’t necessarily to make things more challenging or different — it’s so that you can get places and form loops that you otherwise couldn’t with only paved roads. The gravel roads and rail trails that we ventured on were completely smooth and to our amazement there wasn’t one puncture the entire weekend.
The riding was civil without anyone feeling the need to show who the alpha male was. Well, that’s not totally true. My own ego came out to play (along with a few others) during the final 5km gravel road back to the cabin. There’s something about gravel roads that just make a man want to race and it was the most fun I’ve had on the bike in a long time.
Waiting for us back at the cabin was beer (Beechworth Brewers Pale Ale — my favourite) lunch and two masseurs who got us ready for the following day’s ride. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were all completely shattered after six hours of riding and the smashfest at the end. I don’t usually feel like I “need” or have “earned” a massage after a ride like that, but let me tell you it was a welcome treat on Saturday.
After a late afternoon nap we had a sensational dinner waiting for us along with some fantastic Sam Miranda wines (Sam is a mad-keen cyclist himself). Only 24 hours after meeting one another, we were all best mates who had shared a few ups and downs together. It felt like we’d known each other for a lifetime. After embellishing our war stories from the day and getting psyched up for Sunday’s ride, we all packed it in relatively early after watching “A Sunday in Hell”.
Click here to see the Strava file from our Saturday ride.
Daylight savings came to an end on Sunday morning which gave us an extra hour of sleep. I woke up well rested for another big day on the bike. This time we were heading down to Wilson’s Promontory where we’d inevitably see heaps of wildlife and stunning views of the ocean.
My legs were quite juicy to start with and I don’t think I was alone in that regard. But when I thought of Max and what he achieved on day 1, having never really ridden a bike before, I could only imagine how he was feeling. Fortunately there wasn’t nearly as much climbing on this day and if all went according to the forecast, we’d be blessed with tailwinds for the way home.
At the halfway point, 75km in, I was looking closely at everyone else’s body language to see if I was the only person in a bit of trouble. We stopped for coffee and snacks at a rest stop at Darby River and I had a healthy serving of homemade energy bars by a great little brand called Fig & Salt. I must have eaten 5,000 calories-worth of these throughout the weekend, not to mention the desserts, pies, and other fixings they supplied for other meals. Simply awesome.
If you’ve never had an excuse to go to Wilson’s Prom, I highly recommend you make one. There’s only one road in and one road out, but with such different views in each direction I hardly noticed that we were retracing our steps back home.
With the blessing of a tailwind at our backs I started to come good again and evidently so did the others. The final 20km back to the cabin were quite undulating and poor Max was the victim of an eager and reenergised bunch who were keen for a bit of a race back home. To his credit he did a remarkable job at keeping his cool and keeping his curses at us under his breath.
As on day one, the final selection was made on the 5km “gravé” where grown men imagined they were heroes racing Paris-Roubaix. There’s nothing more thrilling than holding on by a thread on the gravé, while smashing and getting smashed by your mates for weekend bragging rights.
Click here to see the Strava file from our Sunday ride.
It never ceases to amaze me how these types of trips end up with everyone becoming good mates. I have to admit that I was slightly dubious about how we’d all get along with such a wide spread of abilities and experiences. But what I always find is that I learn more from newcomers to the sport than I do by riding with seasoned professionals.
The enthusiasm of newcomers is infectious, and the crew I rode with on this weekend were a great example of this. The satisfaction and excitement in their voices after they’d done a ride reminded me of what I used to be like and the reason I ride. It brought a renewed energy and perspective to my riding that was sorely needed.
All in all this was a sensational weekend escape into the natural world away from big bunches and traffic lights. The guys at Soigneur do a terrific job and have a great eye for detail. Every time I thought “wouldn’t it be a nice treat if they did xyz”, it actually came to fruition like they were mind-readers. The bike wash on the final day, the massages, the beer, the wine, the food, the support, and so on. My bike actually came back home in better shape than it left and it was all without me asking for anything. They just did it.
Thank you to Soigneur for having me along and just as importantly, thank you to the other guys who came along on the trip for making it as enjoyable as it was. I’ll definitely be back on one of their trips soon.