dst. (km)
Today 48.6
Trip 48.6

For the last three years we’ve tried to get away for a multi-day bike tour on the rail trails in Victoria. Nothing too adventurous, our setup is that Jo & Cam ride his tandem carrying a minimum of essentials in daypacks, I carry the luggage in panniers and bags on the AWOL. Staying in caravan park cabins or motels cuts down on what we need to take, as does eating out, so the panniers hold pretty much only a change of clothes and toiletries. This year we’d plotted an out-and-back route along the Great Southern Rail Trail, covering the full length from Leongatha to Port Welshpool, and staying at Foster and Fish Creek on the way out and back respectively, a leap-frogging route that should add a bit of interest.

Perusing Instagram it seems that a common theme is for bikepackers or tourists to post an immaculately laid out “gear photo” detailing what they’re taking for an ultra-light sprint the length of a country, or a multi-month long adventure through a continent, so in throwing together at the last minute what we’d be carrrying, here’s the disorganised pile for our four days.

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Pre-bike tour gear photo

Once assembled it all goes in two panniers, a handlebar bag, a luggage bag and a half-height frame bag.

Left-hand pannier holds Jo’s and Cam’s clothes. Right-hand pannier holds my clothes, three fleeces for colder weather and rain jackets. Outside pockets of the panniers have pair of non-riding shoes each. My handlebar bag has spares, oddments, a couple of tools and some five-kilometre jelly dinosaurs1. Luggage bag on top of my rear rack has the D-lock, snacks and food. A variation this year was the addition of a small frame bag that helped spread out some of the bits and pieces and stopped me over-stuffing the handlebar bag. The assembled works can be seen below.

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AWOL loaded up for the three of us for three nights on the Great Southern Rail Trail

With no rush and only 38km to ride today2 we spent the morning packing, tidying the house and left around 11 am for the drive to Leongatha, stopping in Cranbourne for some spare tubes from Casey Cycles, and in Korrumburra for lunch.

Unsure of exactly where the Great Southern Rail Trail started, we drove in to Leongatha and turned towards the centre of town, saw a sign pointing to the station and followed it. For some reason the rail trail doesn’t start at the station, I suspect because it is still used by V/Line for bus services. Instead the trail starts in a park only a couple of hundred metres away, but a park with no long term car parking and nowhere to get changed into riding clothes. So we drove from the station to the park, had a look around, then drove back to the station to park and get changed – only their toilets were broken and the fully automated door lock just beeped at us and flashed “out of service” lights.

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Jo and Cam and bikes posing at Leongatha station, Great Southern Rail Trail

It was 2.15 pm by the time we were on our way, a near windless sunny autumn day, near perfect for riding. From Leongatha to Koonwarra is mostly downhill, the trail surface a well compacted gravel that continued for the full length of our trip at least as far as Welshpool. There are a few scary long cracks in the surface – 3-4m long and 10-20cm deep – they can swallow a wheel and cause quite a crash if you slip into them, time will tell whether the path is repaired and maintained, or allowed to gradually decay because there was money and commitment to build it, but none to operate and maintain it.

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Bike touring selfie

Lots of grasshoppers on the stretch from Leongatha to Koonwarra including plenty of large yellow-wingers and a number of long-horn grasshoppers that I kept seeing sitting on the trail. An echidna, some rabbits, late start, misread brochure “road distances” as rail trail distances so 38km turned into 45km and we had to race sundown2.

Good signage 2km before and after each town, bright blue signs telling you how far you from the last place, how far to the next and how far to the end. Every road intersection had a locked gate across the path with a narrow gap at one side for bikes and pedestrians, these were navigable with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the angles, but were all possible on the tandem and bike with full panniers without having to get off and walk.

We sat in the sun for a snack and a break at the community garden in Meeniyan, then on for the minor hill before Fish Creek and then the major hill between Fish Creek and Foster.

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A late afternoon rest and snack, Meeniyan on the Great Southern Rail Trail

Racing the dying light as best one can while touring we had a very cool ride down the hill to Foster, a five-kilometre jelly dinosaurs1 keeping us going, and in keeping with Cam’s current library of fantasy books, joked about making it to town before the gates shut for the night and fearsome drop-bears roamed the countryside.

Rode in to the caravan park in Foster just on sundown at around 6 pm and would have been slightly earlier if we’d seen the sign on the road telling us to turn off before the sports ground – as it was we seemed to spiral around it, working our way round three and a half sides of the square to find the front gate!

Deja vu in a caravan park cabin, there’s only a few basic types of Jayco cabins and I think we’ve been in all of them several times. Time for a warm shower then get changed and walk into town for a beer and dinner in the pub, Cam almost overwhelmed as the kitchen accidentally made him a large pizza instead of the small that he ordered. Chicken parma & lamb ragu with gnocci fed the other two legs of the trio, then back to the caravan park and to bed. Day one complete.

Elsewhere…

…Visualised

Relive ‘GSRT day 1: Leongatha to Foster’

…Mapped

References

Footnotes

1 from years of experience I’ve nearly always kept a bag of jelly snakes or dinosaurs in my bag for longer rides for a sugar hit, sometimes for months on end. They gradually toughen up and get to the point where it seems to take five kilometres of riding and chewing to get through one!

2 the paper brochure has a very handy grid of distances between the towns along the trail but it is the distance by road, for anyone driving to find a starting point. Between Leongatha and Fish Creek the trail curves away to the south and so 38km by road is 45km by trail!