Saturday, June 29, 2013

One day Esk-apade

Let's get this out of the way straight up - I went riding for the day at a place called Esk.  Obviously there are lot of puns to be made here, so let's do it now: it was Eskellent, I Eskcaped for the day, I should have taken my Esky, the scenery was picture-Esk, I was Eskcited, and so on and so on and so on (insert your own Esk puns on the comments section if you need to!).  Now we've cleared that up, let's get into it.

I've been writing about cycling a lot lately, just not on this blog.  I've been doing a fair bit for a couple of magazines, and as a result of that I've become a bit mercenary about my riding and writing - I've only really been getting on the bike when I've been getting paid for it.

My latest deadline was met yesterday, and today I found myself with not much to do, so I put the bike in my recently acquired van, and headed off for a ride around the Brisbane Valley near the town of Esk.  It was raining in the city where I live, but by the time I drove the hour out to the start of the ride, the weather was overcast but not threatening rain.

Gratuitous van photo.  I must admit I'm pretty pleased with it.

 The best part is being able to put a complete bike in without taking a wheel off - I hated all the farting around every time I wanted to put my bike in the old car.  Oh and the fact it's just big enough for me to sleep in is cool to.

I hopped on the bike, and rode immediately to the bakery where I sat around for the next 15 minutes eating a hot pie.  Once that important task was done, I pedalled over to the Esk trailhead, before having a change of heart and deciding to go a different way to the town of Toogoolawah.  I hadn't been on a "real" road ride for ages, so I figured I'd hit the open road then ride back on the rail trail.
 The Brisbane Valley Highway heading north of Esk has a reasonably wide shoulder and smooth surface.  It's however still chockers with moron P-platers with Monster Energy Drink stickers on their Commodores yelling and swerving at you.  Every single time I have ridden this highway in the past 5 years, the drivers have been unpleasant to say the least.

If the highway is shitting you, then get off the highway!  Time to go the back way to Toogoolawah, if I can remember it...

Quiet country roads and farmland scenery.

After a few wet years there is a LOT of grass around - the next fire season has the potential to be pretty full on.

It's been a long time since I've been on an Australian country road.  Away from the highway, drivers are awesome, slowing down and giving a wide berth and a wave.  People are courteous and good and you've no chance of getting skittled, however if a car is approaching, get right off the blacktop and right over into the gravel - that way the approaching car will stay on the tar and not spray you with gravel while politely trying to give you a wide berth.

 Well named and signposted local landmark.  It felt great to be in the countryside again - I wasn't that far from town, this spot just seemed to be an anomaly having the vibe of somewhere much more remote.

About 10km down the road I came across an unsigned junction with a road heading to the East.  I had no idea where the road headed, but I did know I needed to be going in that general direction, so off I pedalled.

A good navigational choice - the road turned to dirt after 50 metres or so.

There was no traffic on the road, although it looked well maintained and well used.  I figured it must lead somewhere so I pressed on.

 New helmet!

Caught a bit of selfie fever and got carried away with it.  I very nearly binned it trying to get this photo - I was doing close to 50km/h and was more interested in doing contortions to get a shot of myself than watching the road.

So that's where I was!  I eventually ended up on a main road leading to Toogoolawah.

Bridge over very slightly flowing waters.

Looking back from whence I came before rejoining to bitumen.

On the undulating road into the town of Toogoolawah.

I lived in little country towns for a long time.  Being in Toogoolawah on a Saturday morning really made me miss that lifestyle.  Maybe one day I'll get back out into the bush...

Lunch stop at the Coach House Cafe for a burger and coffee.

By the time I set off from town at about midday, the Saturday morning rush had well and truly subsided.

After lunch I pedalled across the road, and joined the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail for the 20km dirt ride back to Esk.  The surface was a little rougher than I expected, still it was great to be in the outdoors, by myself, riding a stretch of the trail I'd never been on before. 

The restored Toogoolawah station building alongside the trail.

Lots of grass along this section of the trail.  I don't really enjoy riding through grass a huge amount, it's kind of like trying to battle across a really large doonah.  It's comfortable but you get nowhere fast.

First of many flood damaged rail bridges along this section of the trail.

Pretty standard for an Australian creek -they're either flooding like crazy, of choked with debris with very little water.

New way / old way.

Lots of signage on this section of the trail.  In case you're wondering, "moderate" means "easy" - I ride all this stuff on a skinny tyred cyclocross touring bike and it does fine.

To be honest I saw this about 4hrs into the ride, and I wasn't having too much trouble keeping it under 40...

The cow tracks offered the best respite from the energy sapping grass.

I'm flat out doing 25 by this stage, not much danger of me getting over 60...

A group of 17 horse riders came along the other way.  I was please to discover the usual cycling banter applies when you encounter an equestrian - "nice day for it" and so on.  One guy even made a few saddle related quips - I was impressed.

It's self-timer time!

The highest point of the Esk-Toogoolawah section of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, where the line crosses under the Brisbane Valley Highway with all its idiotic P-plate drivers.

Pretty much all downhill back to Esk from here.

Old rail bridge that seems to be made from rough-hewn timber.  Pretty cool to see how well it's stood the test of time.

Some legend had put some sort of marsupial skulls across the bridge on the cross-members.

I didn't even need to get the feet wet with the little rock bridge!

Last bridge before getting back to Esk.

Back at Esk I loaded up the van, and with an hour or so I was back at Brisbane.  It's not often I go out riding by myself, but reflecting on it during the drive home, riding solo is something I really want to do more of - particularly to little out of the way country towns.  I guess now with the van it's easier than ever to bolt from work on a Friday afternoon and spend the weekend in some faraway outback place.  

Sounds like an Eskellent idea - I'm Eskcited...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Wine times = good times

For the last few years, cycling magazines have been telling me that riding a bicycle from winery to winery is apparently a cool and fun thing to do.  Well I don't drink (since the Christchurch incident), and I don't like having fun, so back in February, I decided to put these claims about wine touring to the test.

I met Rudi at my work on the Friday afternoon, we loaded up the car and made the 3 hour drive out to Lake Barambah, near Murgon in Queensland.  It was well and truly dark by the time we arrived at Yallakool Park, checked in, and made our way to our spacious cabin.  The plan for the following day was to do a 100km-ish road and dirt loop around the dam and nearby national parks, before spending the afternoon checking out the South Burnett wine district, centred around the tiny village of Moffatdale.  Shortly after arriving the heavens opened, so we prepared for the adventure ahead by eating boxes of pizza shapes and watching about 6 hours of shopping channel.

Whine time
After a restful sleep dreaming of steam mops and integrated home exercise gyms, I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof.  The weather was miserable.  We sat around drinking cups of tea for several hours, hoping the weather we could lift and we could get on the way.  Anyone who knows me knows that it doesn't take much for me to abandon any kind of ambitious plan in favour of doing nothing, and so on this day I decided the big ride wasn't going to happen, and we should just drive around the area until after lunch and see what the weather was doing before deciding on a course of action.
Our cabin at Yallakool Park.  A top spot

We spent at least 4 hours sitting on the veranda drinking cups of hotel tea with UHT milk.  Not exactly grand cycle adventure but I will admit it was very relaxing after a long week at work.

 Our first stop was the town of Murgon, where we walked the quiet main street eating pies and drinking chocolate milk in the rain.  From there we drove over to Goomeri, and even smaller town, where I had possibly the worst, and therefore best, coffees I've ever had.  By this stage the weather looked like it may be lifting enough to actually ride, so we made our way back to the cabin, prepared for what was looking like a pretty dreary afternoon of cycling.

Main street of Goomeri.  "Cheese World" is hyping it a bit - it's more like "Room With Half A Dozen Shelves With Cheese On Them"

Spelling guys...

Wine time
Back at the cabin, the roads had dried out enough, and were were all fired up for an afternoon of cycling and wine tasting.  I know zero about wine, I don't even like it, however I had an open mind and was pretty pumped to try something I'd not done before.  Bikes were prepared, and off we rode - into adventure!

This bike was total overkill for the task at hand - we didn't exactly push the frontiers of cycling endurance.

Rudi heading out of the campground up to the main road.  The pannier were for carrying back any wine related products we might score along the way.

 It ended up being a nice afternoon for cycling.  The weather was nice and cool, the road was dry, and there was absolutely nobody else around.

Pedalling into the first vines of the winery district. 

 Turning off the main drag and onto a dirt side road, we were headed to our first winery, and my first ever winery experience.

Bridgeman Downs wines - our first stop on our South Burnett wine region cycling tour.  Total distance travelled from cabin to winery - about 1200 metres.

I was really nervous about the whole winery experience.  Up to that point my impression of the whole winery sampling thing was a bunch of pretentious wankers crapping on about "bouquets" and "aftertaste" and "stuff".  I had two options - spend my day in fear, or surrender myself to the whole experience, and do my best to play the part of a wine wanker myself.  I chose the latter, took a deep breath and stepped inside.  Obviously playing it super cool, when the lady there said hello, I nervously blurted out "I'VE NEVER BEEN IN A WINERY BEFORE AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO AND I'M REALLY SCARED!!!".  I think she was a bit taken aback by having such an anxious luddite in her midst, however I think it was the best approach - she explained to us what all the wines were, and we set about the business of trying each.  Some of my insightful comments at this stage were "this wine tastes strong", "I like this one" and "this one is different to that one".  I was well on my way!

It begins.

 Rudi CoolGuy propping up the bar.  Being European, Rudi was much more able to bung on the wine aficionado act a lot more effectively than me.

Don't drink and ride kids.

Given the whole wine tasting thing is free, we felt compelled to buy a few bottles to take home for the wives.  Even by this early stage I was starting to feel a bit giggle headed, being such a lightweight and all.

Making our way to Clovely Estate wines - a massive distance of about 1500m from the winery we just left.  Lucky we are such hardcore endurance athletes...

It's a bit of a haze, but I seem to recall someone telling me that this is the biggest wine producer in Queensland.

By the time we hit the Clovely Estate cellar door were well and truly emboldened by a few wines, followed by some pedalling.  We marched in through the front door, and informed the owner that yes, we would indeed love to sample their wares on this fine afternoon.  We surrendered ourselves to the wine tasting scene, having a great time pretty much playing characters from some kind of 80s yuppie drama.  We were all bouquet this, fruity that, swirling glasses and stuffing our noses in them for no other reason than we'd seen some grown ups do it one time.  In short, we were getting pretty silly on all the free wine, an having a very, very enjoyable day.

 Clovely Estate cellar door - there's a little restaurant in there too.

"Do I look like a tourist?".  I actually stopped after about 4 wines here, although Rudi kept charging through the entire range, including the liqueurs.

Rudi wobbling through the vines, as I try and get a staged photo for some of my magazine stuff.  For some reason I'd lost the ability to use a camera very well by this point.

 These are grapes.  Other than that, I have no idea.

 On the day, pedalling between the rows of vines seemed like the most profound experience ever.  It's a shame neither of us had the perspicacity to actually transform the experience into any kind of compelling image.

 The percieved gradient of a slope is directly proportional to the number of drinks samples by the rider (me = 8, Rudi = 13).  This nearly flat climb felt like it went on forever, by which I mean about 600m.

Our next winery destination was Moffatdale Ridge, the third and final winery for the afternoon.  After an exhausting 3km ride to the cellar door, we were very much indeed of refreshment.  It was getting pretty late in the day by now, and the grey weather was getting just a little darker.  We parked the bikes, walked in, and the owner asked us if we'd like to do a tasting, we simply nodded knowingly, now that were obviously qualified wine super-experts.

Wine vine climb time.

 The road to Moffatdale Ridge.

Yet another round of tasting underway within.

  Dam time
By the time we left Moffatdale Ridge I think our wine sample count was me = 16 and Rudi = 22.  Although each sample was pretty small, the rapid fire nature of the drinking and the bursts of light cycling meant that by the time the day ended, we were feeling pretty jolly.  Cycling back down to the cabin, I was feeling particularly silly - trying my best to jump my touring bike off roadside drainage ditches at full speed, and somehow succeeding.  Before retiring to the cabin for dinner and more shopping channel, we rode down to the dam wall to explore our surroundings a little more.

Rudi rides over the dam wall.

Heading towards the spillway.  The recent wet weather meant that the recreation areas around the dam were very quiet.

 Pretty sure this doesn't apply to sophisticated wine experts like us.
This seems intelligent.

Good time
So, was the winery cycling tour thing everything that it was hyped up to be?  Basically, we'd just driven 3hrs each way to spend a day drinking free wine and riding a grand total of 9km - and it was unquestionably one of the most entertaining days I've ever had on a bicycle.

The spoils of the day.

Winery touring on a bicycle is simultaneously grown up yet juvenile - it feels civilised yet quite naughty.  You don't need to like wine, or even cycling, just grab a bike of some description, set yourself up among a few wineries, surrender yourself to the experience and do whatever comes naturally... won't regret it.