Australia's 3rd Great Southern Randonnée
(GSR)1213 Km/752 Mi/October 25, 2004 /Anglesea,Victoria
On Monday at 6 PM, 20 cyclists started Australia's premiere long-distance cycling event, the GSR, under sunny skies and pleasant temperatures of about 20C/67F. From the cyclist's point of view, like the Boston-Montreal-Boston Randonnée, it is approximately a three and one-half day "out-and-back" challenge divided into three riding-day segments of 500 Km/313 Mi; 413 Km 256 Mi; and 300 Km/189 Mi. In between these three segments, there is a sleep-rest both inbound and outbound at the Point Fairy Youth Hostel.
(1) The first 500Km/313 Mi segment includes an early evening loop of 189 Km/117 Mi on the Bellarine Peninsula overlooking the city lights of Melbourne over Port Phillip Bay-PLUS the Great Ocean Road for an additional 300 Km/186 Mi which includes the different micro-environments known as the Surf Coast, the Otways National Park and Coastal Range of the Great Ocean Road area, and the Shipwreck Coast's Port Campbell National Park. (2) After a sleep-rest at Port Fairy, the next 413Km/256 Mi segment is and out-and-back to the Grampians National Park-a trek to a summit of Australia's Great Dividing Range. (3) And after another sleep-rest at Port Fairy, the third and final 300 Km/186 Mi return segment on the same route of the Great Ocean Road to the ride-start at Anglesea.
It should be noted that the Great Ocean Road, one of the world's best coastal tourist routes, was actually built as a War Memorial to honor the State of Victoria's soldiers killed during World War I. The term "Great Southern" by which the GSR derives its name, refers to Victoria's automobile touring loop which includes the Great Ocean Road, the Grampians, and the Ballarat Goldfields and Spa Country. However, the GSR does not include the Ballarat region. Day 1: 500Km/313Mi Segment
The Bellarine Peninsula 189 Km/117 Mi night ride starts above sea level at 20M/65Ft and climbs immediately to 115M/377Ft, and has a highest-point above sea level at 120M/394Ft at Scotchman's Road near Portarlington. The Portarlington area is the hilliest, and it has numerous wineries scattered on the hillsides, notably Scotchman's Hill and Leura Estates. The lowest point is near Barwon Heads Bridge, close to the 13th Beach-one of the best surf beaches around the headland. The route is generally rolling hills and flat stretches -a very good warm-up prologue cycled at a quick pace.
Since a full moon was forecast for Thursday, October 28, and the Monday into Tuesday night sky was clear, good night visibility existed for cycling in the darkness, and the night riding temperature lowered to about 10C/50F. After returning to Anglesea after the 189Km/117 Mi loop ride and eating a warm meal, it was about 2:30 AM on Tuesday, October 26, that most riders resumed cycling the first 500Km/313Mi segment along the Great Ocean Road.
About 12 Km/7Mi from Anglesea, the first steep climb of a length of 800M/2624 Ft is at Aireys Inlet. Aireys Inlet is within 5 Km/3Mi of the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch which signifies the beginning of the Great Southern route. Upon approaching the resort community of Lorne, a distance of 29 Km/18 Mi from Anglesea, the next difficult climb with a length of 900M/2952Ft is along Loutit Bay's tall eucalyptus trees. The vertical hill climb near Cinema Point is 100M/328 Ft, and on the other side of Lorne, the vertical hill climb near Mt. Defiance is 85M/278Ft.
The most spectacular section of the Great Ocean Road is between Lorne and Apollo Bay, a distance of 45Km/28Mi. Here the road is built within the cliffs that plunge down into the sea. Sunrise on Tuesday, October 26, occurred on this section, and arrival at Apollo Bay was slightly before 7AM at the Surf Club Secret Control.
The next 100K/62Mi section from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell includes the very difficult climb from about sea level to Laver's Hill within the Otway National Park and Coastal Range. Laver's Hill should probably be called more appropriately Laver's Mountain. But Laver's Hill is almost a pristine, cool-temperate rainforest, with fern gullies, and tall forests of mountain ash trees. The day-time climb outbound to the hamlet of Laver's Hill at the summit of 496M/1510Ft is very similar to level of difficulty of the Middlebury Gap, Vermont, USA, ascent of the Boston-Montreal-Boston Randonee. Middlebury Gap is steeper near the top, but the Laver's Hill climb is longer in both directions, out-bound and in-bound, and actually seemed to be a more difficult challenge overall.
In terms of climbing, Laver's Hill outbound is about 795M/2608Ft vertical climbing. The rider climbs from Apollo Bay to Maits Nest at 300M/984Ft, then plunges into the Aire River Valley, at sea level, and then back-up to the summit of Laver's Hill hamlet at 495M/1510Ft. Total climb uphill is 35Km/21.7Mi.
The inbound section of Laver's Hill is just as nasty with 645M/2116Ft vertical climbing over a distance of 30K/18.6Mi. From Port Campbell in-bound, the cyclist climbs, then plunges into the Gellibrand River Valley and Melba Gully State Park, before returning at night through the Laver's Hill hamlet summit.
Another fair comparison for USA cyclists about Laver's Hill, is that it is quite similar an oceanside coast range as climbing Mount Tamapais of the Marin Headlands of the San Francisco Bay Area. Laver's Hill was once a thriving timber producing community, but now is a quiet mountain-top hamlet with teahouses and roadhouses for tourists trying to capture vistas. Without a doubt, the Laver's Hill climbing is the most difficult challenge for the Great Southern Randonnée cyclist!
Returning to our discussion of the outbound route along the Great Ocean Road, the Shipwreck Coast appears as limestone rock formations known as the Twelve Apostle monuments of the Port Campbell National Park. At this point, the Great Ocean Road is a road through sand dunes and low, windswept vegetation. The Twelve Apostles are visible off the coast-like the Arches of America's Utah Arches National Park-but in the Southern Ocean! It is an unbelievable sight.
Arrival in Port Campbell, a fishing village settled in the 1870s, was for lunch on Tuesday, October 26, at the overall distance of 362Km/225Mi. The afternoon ride was under sunny skies and a riding temperature of about 17C/65F, with a hilly short 40K/25Mi segment inland to Cobden, a peaceful rural town and dairying center named after the 19th century British Statesman, Richard Cobden.
As sunset was approaching, our direction was towards Warrnambool en route to the first sleep stop at Port Fairy. However, the entire mood of the GSR was about to change. A huge low-pressure weather system was making its way in our direction from Tasmania. It began to rain as we neared Warrnambool, the largest city in Victoria's Southwest, which has a unique skyline surrounded by Norfolk Pine trees. We arrived in the steady rain at the Port Fairy Youth Hostel having completed 500Km/313Mi shortly after 8 PM Tuesday, October 26. By this time, the riding temperature dropped to about 7C/48F. The rain of October 26 and the lingering shower activity stayed in the atmosphere for about the next 19 hours, until about the time we began our inbound return from Halls Gap the next day, October 27.
Day 2: 413 Km/256 Mi Segment
At 2AM on Wednesday, October 27, we departed in a cold and horizontally wind-driven rain from Port Fairy outbound to our next Control at Hamilton. Hamilton, the wool capital of Victoria, was our early morning breakfast stop with the riding temperature at daylight about 10C/50F. It was necessary to leave so early Wednesday morning from Port Fairy because the Hamilton Control closed at 8:13 AM, and it was a distance of 84Km/52Mi.
The landscape on this section was rolling agricultural land with dormant volcano craters visible at sunrise near Mt. Napier State Park and Mt. Eccles National Park.
After another 31Km/20Mi, we approached Dunkeld, a small country township established by Scottish settlers. It was necessary to stop again to have hot drinks and a snack to warm up. We visited a very nice establishment known as the Royal Mail Hotel-an oasis from the wind, rain and cool morning temperature. We stopped here again on our inbound trek to recover from the cool and crisp night ride through the Grampians.
The Royal Mail Hotel was near the southern entrance to the Grampian National Park, and in the shadows to the West were Mt. Sturgeon and Mt. Abrupt, 827M/2712Ft.
As we cycled from the Dunkeld elevation of 200M/656Ft into the Grampian National Park, we were gradually climbing some big rolling hills onto the Major Mitchell Plateau on which the Dunkeld-Grampian Road was paved. The park received its name in the 19th century by Major Thomas Mitchell who thought the mountains reminded him of Scotland.
During this section, the weather remained windy and the rain became just showers. We experienced intermittent bursts of blue sky, but then the shower activity would return. However, the weather did not obscure the flora. Wildflower species unique to Australia could be seen alongside the road.
The escarpment of the Serra Mt. Range was to our west with its numerous peaks. As we approached Halls Gap after 65Km/40Mi on the park road, the Australian Great Dividing Range crossed the park road at an elevation of 425M/1394Ft. And just to the east, we could see the Mt. William Range with its towering peak of Mt. William 1167M/3828Ft. An afternoon arrival at the Halls Gap Youth Hostel, 573 Km/415Mi, resulted in a great hot meal in front of a warm fireplace.
Next was a quick 30Km/19Mi sprint outside of the Grampian National Park to Moyston, 701Km/434Mi, the turn-around Control. On this short section, we passed some of the Grampian cool-climate wineries such as the Gap Vineyard and Donovan Wines. In this area, the wine industry existed since about the 1860s, and was known as the birthplace of Australian sparkling wines, as well as producer of various riesling wines. The weather was still wind gusts with showers, but periodic sunshine was becoming visible at about 4:30 PM. Our return to the Halls Gap Youth Hostel Control provided another meal, a brief rest and a 5:30 PM departure for a night ride back to Port Fairy. It was to be a long night ride of 183 Km/113Mi.
Without a doubt, the best cycling experience of this Great Southern Randonnée (GSR) was the night-ride the evening of Wednesday, October 27, in-bound through the Grampian National Park-dry, crisp, cool temperatures with the light of a full moon and even an occasional kangaroo on the road! It seemed like more work climbing in-bound on the park road due to some good-size rolling hills on the Major Mitchell Plateau. It is worth mentioning that the peak silhouettes of the Serra Mt. Range in the Grampian Park, both in the daylight and night, reminded this rider of the peaks of California's Ventana Wilderness Area in Monterey County-a very strange and unexpected déjà vu.
By the time we descended from the Major Mitchell Plateau into Dunkeld, we needed to warm up again at the Royal Telephone Hotel, but this time due to the cool and dry night temperatures in the Grampians. We enjoyed fresh, warm tomato soup and hot tea in front of a big, warm fireplace. We stayed there about one and one-half hours as other Great Southern randonneurs joined us for similar needs and conversation.
Since we were now at lower altitude, the riding temperature was more comfortable for the midnight arrival at Hamilton, and the early morning ride on Thursday, October 28, back to Point Fairy, 916Km/568Mi. As we approached the coast, light shower activity returned, but nothing at all like what we experienced the previous day. Port Fairy Youth Hostel was the shelter for sleep and nourishment preparing for a 9 AM departure of the final 300Km/186 Mi back along the Great Ocean Road.
In retrospect, if there had been no wind, rain and cool temperatures for the outbound ride to the Grampians on early Wednesday, October 27, the cycling pace on that 413Km/256 Mi segment might have been quicker. But remember, the ride organizers have no control over the weather. Prudence and safety required careful riding on the wet roads that early morning. And several unexpected stops for warm fluids seemed wise to prevent any foreseeable problem like hypothermia from occurring.
In all fairness, the cool and wet weather issues of the second riding segment into the Grampians were no different than the 2004 Boston-Montreal-Boston Randonnée cool and wet weather experienced by this rider in-bound from Burlington to Brattleboro, Vermont. So much for excuses! Day 3: 300Km/186Mi Segment
The weather for the third and final 300Km/186Mi segment from Port Fairy to the Anglesea Finish was almost perfect daytime at 17C/63F, and night at 13C/52C with clear, cloudless moonlit night sky until Lorne where cloudiness appeared until daylight. The inbound descent of Laver's Hill in the night did require caution due to the debris in the form of branches and twigs from the rainforest trees that the rain storm from Tasmania a few days earlier caused.
This event was very well organized by Peter Moore, and his brother, Andy Moore. Cue sheets and maps were accurate, all hostel meals were outstanding, and the safety, and pre and post event needs of all riders were thoughtfully considered. The 3rd Great Southern Randonnée (GSR) was a real "Sea to Sky" challenge taking the cyclist from the rugged beaches of the Bellarine Peninsula, to the spectacular Great Ocean Road coastal route, and then onto a mystical trip into the Grampians.
This rider will never forget the 6M-9M/20Ft-30Ft surf at Fairhaven Beach on sunrise of Friday, October 29, just after returning through the Great Ocean Road Arch with the Anglesea Finish just 12Km/7Mi away. It was a very good feeling to successfully finish what some randonneurs consider the most difficult 1200Km/750Mi event in the world. The Great Southern Randonnée (GSR) is not just about endurance cycling, but about appreciation of the natural environmental wonders of planet earth on the continent of Australia-definitely a ride worth repeating as did several veteran riders of the GSR!
*Note: For ride results, see Audax Australia Official Website (Forums), or, the ride report of the first female finisher, Canadian Randonneur, Charlene Barach, at www.machka.net/australia. As yet, no official route profile exists showing total vertical elevation climbed during the GSR.