Fourteen years ago a church group – the 4Cs – decided to hold a fund-raising bike ride from where they were, in Pakenham on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne, to Sale, on the Gippsland coast. Thus the Slog to Sale was created. For fourteen years the ride has been held, I’m not sure when the name changed to The Slog and the route changed to a loop around the West Gippsland area, but that was what it was when I did my first one in 2012. It had come up in the discussion forums on a cycling website as being an affordable, well-run, enjoyable ride for a good cause, so I’d signed up. This year was my fifth, having entered all six from 2012 but not showing up for 2013 due to having flu that week and horrendous weather on the day.
Up at, get dressed, have a quick bite to eat and grab everything I’d got ready last night then up to the station and catch the train. Its an hour train ride out to Pakenham, sometimes shared with other riders, often just with people heading home from a big night out in the city. Today it was mostly empty, only when I got off did I see two other riders and their tandem. Then its a 6km ride to Chairo Christian School to arrive with about half an hour to spare for the 8 am departure.
A briefing on the route, on the 4Cs, on the ride and on its history, a reminder that today was the 11th of the 11th, and a suggestion that people could find somewhere to stop aroundand reflect. Then down to the car park and out in batches, only slightly cool, unlike last year where it was cold and raining – but most of that seems to have been wiped from my memory.
Each year the ride seems to break itself into a few natural stages; there’s the first fast 40km or so from the start at Chairo Christian school to the turnoff where the 100km people go left and the 160km people go right, I seem to always be with bunches of people and often travelling faster than I think I should be given the day ahead. Inevitably at the corner the majority of the people around me turn left, I turn right, the rest who are going right are faster than me and almost immediately I’m down to cruising mostly by myself.
Then 8km of quiet country roads to Lang Lang – hmm, there’s a microbrewery in town but its way too early in the day, maybe remember it for next time – and then a sharp left to head south-east and start the gentle climbing. Somewhere along here there’s a large quarry and I never enjoy the ride until past it, there are always large gravel trucks barrelling past and almost every year at least one of the drivers will refuse to give an inch and run me off the road. I think this was the first time where the truck drivers all passed safely. From there its more gentle climbing to Nyora and on until at 60km we start to climb up the ridge. Magnificent views out to either side of Gippsland farms and today, almost no traffic, no wind and beautiful weather.
Somewhere aroundI realised that I’d probably be in Poowong at 11 am, and from memory there is a war memorial right in the middle of town, so it’d be a nice gesture to stop for a rememberance day rememberance at the war memorial… if only I could get there in time. More by luck than anything else I made it, with about a minute to spare, and spent a minute standing quietly by the memorial, the last post playing from the RSL somewhere in the streets behind me.
Less than 50m up the road is the Poowong café, with six or eight other riders busily eating and drinking so I pulled up and joined them; a cafe latte and dim sims might not normally go well together but today they tasted just fine – and far better than the rather miserable takeaway coffee I’d had early in the morning. There’s my fifth ride in this year’s coffeeneuring challenge, and highly likely to have been my longest ride of the series.
From Poowong to the lunch stop is a rolling 25km along the ridge, again with magnificent views to east or west, depending on where the road is at any one time. Some magnificent swooping descents and then the church at Ellinbank always appears quicker than I expect, a right turn across the road and pull into their gardens to sit down for lunch. In the past salad rolls could be bought but this year the riders had to provide their own lunch, I had some flat-bread sandwiches to accompany the inevitable muesli bars and bananas, others had carried rolls from earlier shops, some just gels and snack bars.
Ellinbank to Warragul is 15km of rolling farmland, gradually increasing traffic and, typically from here back to Langwarry, a few too many angry idiots in cars who think it funny to pass too close, or scream abuse, or swerve onto your side of the road while heading towards you. As far as I know nobody was hit or run into a ditch, but its one of the parts of this ride that I won’t miss. A brief stop in Warragul to check whether the family was driving out to meet me at the finish – they were, no train home today – then back through the outskirts of country towns and small farms. Warragul, Drouin, Longwarry and Bunyip, then turn away from the traffic and onto Bunyip River Road – a single 15km straight flat road heading west-south-west and often into a headwind, it can be very demoralising! At least today what little breeze there was came from the east, the downside of that was there was almost no cooling effect so nearly an hour of hot, flat, straight road. Towards the end I found myself having to stand up and wriggle around as my bum had had enough of sitting in spot for that length of time – I can’t comprehend how people can ride the long straight stretches like the Nullarbor plain, I think it’d send me mad.
Finally we turn right off Bunyip River road, there’s five kilometres north towards Nar Nar Goon then right into Bald Hill road and – surprisingly quickly – I’m back at the school. Overall a faster ride than last year, definitely better weather, not quite lantern rouge of the 160km riders and in time for a burger and a drink, and a few minutes later, a hug with the family.
So thank you organisers and riders, it’s been fun. It’s always a hard slog, but what should I expect from the name.
Woiworung/Boonworung country; through the towns of Nar Nar Goon, Lang Lang, Nyora, Poowong, Warrugal, Drouin, Longwarry, Bunyip and Cora Lynn.