Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back on 2013

December is the month for receiving Christmas letters and I am always fascinated to read these little literary snapshots of the year in the life of my friends.

In lieu of actually writing one to mail out, here is my post-Christmas column, looking back on 2013.

At the start of January my expectations weren’t all that high for the coming year, for some reason 2013 didn’t seem like an auspicious number to me and the thought of turning 43 just seemed blah.

Life is constantly full of surprises and with less than a day to go until the commencement of 2014, I look back in utter amazement on my last twelve months.

Like most of us, I’ve had my share of sad, frustrating, self-doubting and lonely times throughout the year but it has been balanced out nicely with unexpected adventures, some really great times with my family and friends, visiting places that had long been on my wish list and achieving goals I had set for myself.

Two of my close friends turned fifty this year and both insisted on celebrating their birthdays in amazing locations. Thanks to Sal and Anna, I flew to Broome in March and Byron Bay in August.
Wategos Beach, Byron Bay

Publicly stating in January that I intended to complete the Great Victorian Bike Ride in November saw me buying a touring bike in February and adding between 100 – 200km of cycling to my weekly exercise regime. By April I was joining the Kerang District Health Team in the 27th Annual Murray to Moyne bike ride from Swan Hill to Port Fairy.

April also saw the start of footy season for Sam and Henry and my favourite winter weekend pastime – cheering them on at Saturday morning junior AFL – GO RAIDERS!!

In May after twelve years and 358,000km of adventuring in the Trusty Nissan I retired it and bought the Barrmobile – a 2011 model Mitsubishi Pajero – complete with power windows and a stereo.

At the end of June I embarked on my first solo overseas adventure; it was such an amazing trip where everything seemed to fall magically into place that it felt as though I was being watched over by the Angels of Travel. I flew to New York City then a few days later, boarded a train to Hartford, Connecticut to attend the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) annual conference. Afterwards I spent a wonderful few days with my friend Suzette and her family at their Cape Cod summer home.

From Cape Cod I went via New York to The Hamptons on Long Island to meet and stay with my Mother’s childhood friend, Annabel (the lady I’m named after).  Annabel was a great hostess and gave an excellent tour of the district surrounding her home. For my final four days in the United States I flew to Chicago and stayed with fellow NSNC attendee, Joani. I had a fun time exploring the windy city by Segway (a battery-powered stand-up scooter) and sharing many laughs with Joani.

For a brief moment in time in September I landed my dream job: One of two official judges for the Koondrook Barham Farmers Market annual mud cake competition. What can I say? It was a tough job but someone had to do it.
Official Chocolate Mud Cake Judges 2013

In October I took on the role of barista for the Red Gum Food Group; running their coffee machine at the monthly Koondrook Barham Farmers Market with the boys agreeing to help by taking the coffee orders and money. At the end of the month, Max, Sam, Henry and I headed off on a week’s excellent adventuring with our friends Em, Amy and Ty, to the land of theme parks: the Gold Coast in Queensland. We visited Wet ‘n’ Wild, Sea World, Outback Spectacular and Movie World.

November arrived before we knew it and suddenly the four of us were pedalling our bikes along the Great Ocean Road from Mount Gambier in South Australia to Geelong in Victoria.

I reacquainted myself with early morning swimming at the Koondrook Pool in December, dragged the kayak down the bank for some paddling on the Murray River and made good use of the riverbank for after work drinks with friends as well as being the venue for our alfresco Christmas Day lunch. The river also provided us with a number of delicious fish dinners – we dined on pan-fried Murray Cod and Yellow Belly courtesy of Max and his fishing rod.

In amongst all this excellent adventuring my full-time massage therapy business, Rosedale Health and Wellbeing continued to expand with over five hundred clients on the books and now includes two days every month at Barham’s retirement/nursing home, Murray Haven; providing massage therapy to both the residents and the staff.

So there you have it, my 2013 – reminding me once again that life is a mystery and you just never know what is around the next corner.

To my readers in Australia and around the world, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Behind the Barr in 2013 and thank you for your comments throughout the year. I wish all of you a new year filled with magical moments and excellent adventures in 2014.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 Great Victorian Bike Ride - A week in another world...

“The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men 
gang aft agley” – Robert Burns 1759-1796

It is now approaching two weeks since the boys and I rode into Geelong and through the welcoming crowds that lined the finish line of this year’s Great Victorian Bike Ride. An epic cycling journey of more than 610km that began on a cold and wet Saturday in Mount Gambier, South Australia and finished on a gloriously sunny Sunday morning in Geelong, Victoria, nine days later.

As the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns said back in the 1700s, the best-laid plans often go awry… Less than a week before we were due to depart for Mount Gambier, Granny (the other half of our support team and means of getting to the start and home again on the GVBR) broke her ankle… A quick scramble to Plan B saw Henry and I joining Scott, Lauren and their friend Jason in the Murphymobile.

Leaving warm and sunny Barham we arrived in the unexpectedly wintry and wet Mount Gambier 480km later for the start of the 2013 Great Victorian Bike Ride.
Tent city in Mount Gambier

Although as the cliché goes the road was long, it was beautiful. Barham was well represented with twelve members of “The Barham Bearly Bikers” and the Barham High School Team of twelve students and two teachers. We rode out of Mount Gambier with 5,000 other riders, past the famous Blue Lake that sits in the centre of an extinct volcano and on to Nelson, 42km down the road. Day Two saw us riding 74km from Nelson to Portland. Henry spent the first couple of days riding along with his friend and fellow Barham Primary School cyclist, James.

The third day was a long 95km to Port Fairy. At one stage in the morning along a eucalypt-lined road, I stopped to photograph a mother koala with a baby koala on her back.
Mother koala and baby
I chatted with fellow riders who had also stopped before continuing on to look for Henry, who hadn’t stopped. The next minute two police cars plus an ambulance, all with lights and sirens blaring roared past me and disappeared up ahead. Immediately my parental catastrophising brain kicked into gear as I imagined a sickening image of Henry falling into the path of some oncoming vehicle.

Nothing like those sort of thoughts to make you bike faster. By the time I’d reached the scene of the accident, I was out of breath, still hadn’t found Henry and my anxiety levels were escalating. The accident did not involve Henry; he had bicycled on cheerfully to the next rest stop.

Our longest distance day was Day Four. A reported 107km that turned out to be 113km, Port Fairy to Port Campbell where we stopped for two nights and enjoyed the Rest Day. Not far out of Port Fairy, Henry and I met Julia from Melbourne and her two children, Tim and Lucy. Julia was riding a tandem with Tim and Lucy taking turns riding behind the tandem and on an individual bike.

We met up with them again as we reached the Warrnambool morning tea stop along with their other tandem-riding friends Morwenna, Tim, Josh and Inga from Melbourne and Nick, Arwen, Miranda and Felix from Sydney. After a brief chat, Morwenna asked if Henry would like to ride on the back of her tandem and Inga could have a ride on Henry’s bike.
Henry about to ride with Morwenna on the tandem bike
Henry and Inga both thought this was a brilliant idea and happily we spent the next 50-odd kilometres of a very long day riding and swapping bikes with the tandem team children – Inga, Josh and Miranda. I enjoyed “drafting” behind the tandem bikes; making my ride considerably easier.

People that grow up on the Hay Plains (or around Barham for that matter…) have an entirely different concept of flat. Apparently the first four days of the ride were “mainly flat”. I discovered significant hills before we’d even left the outer suburbs of Mount Gambier and quickly had to find some lower gears on my bike.

The final twenty or thirty kilometres into Port Campbell were along the Great Ocean Road and we stopped for some photo opportunities at the Bay of Islands and London Bridge before wearily cycling into camp.
Henry at the Bay of Islands

Me at London Bridge
My Barham riding buddy, Trish had the misfortune of crashing into a rider who had crashed in front of her. Trish had been catapulted over her bike and landed heavily on her right shoulder and was transported into camp on the “Sag Wagon” (one of the many buses that collected injured or mechanically stranded cyclists along the route).

I had all sorts of adventures planned for the rest day but in reality I felt so thoroughly exhausted that Henry, Trish and I were all content to just eat ice creams, fish and chips, soak our legs in the Southern Ocean and play on the Port Campbell beach.

We caught up with Max and Sam who were both riding with the Barham High School Team. They were getting on the road much earlier than us each day and also arriving into each campsite several hours before us. Although we didn’t see much of each other during the ride, both Max and Sam had an uncanny knack for finding me when their snack-spending-money fund was running low.

Day Six, an 80km ride to Gellibrand, saw us pedalling past the world famous Twelve Apostles (limestone stacks up to 45 metres high caused by erosion from the Southern Ocean) and up into the Otway Ranges and the dreaded Lavers Hill…
Stopping for a "Kodak Moment" with Henry at The Twelve Apostels

Six kilometres from our lunch stop and the top of Lavers Hill, Henry was ready to quit. Not ready to concede defeat this close to victory, we rested by the side of the road while I did my best to convince Henry to keep going. I wasn’t having much success until a magnificent teacher from Sandringham College stopped and helped. He literally pushed Henry along on his bike until Henry started pedalling again for himself – thank you oh mysterious trail angel!!
Henry and I at the top of Lavers Hill

With our nemesis, Lavers Hill conquered we headed off after lunch for the final 33km down into Gellibrand. Unfortunately my knee began to hurt shortly after lunch, causing me to be significantly slower than Henry on any uphill sections. Henry (enjoying a second wind) joined forces with Senior Constable Mel from Halls Gap, who was riding in uniform as part of the Victorian Police’s bicycle team.
Henry with Senior Constable Mel

That night Trish and I met up again with Gerry and Max from Sydney, who we’d met outside the Frying Nemo fish and chip shop in Port Campbell. While Henry watched Harry Potter on the big screen at the campsite, Trish, Gerry, Max and I wandered into downtown Gellibrand (pop. 383) – a little town with a big heart.

Like Barham a couple of years ago, Gellibrand had pulled out all stops to welcome the thousands of Great Vic Bike Riders and we enjoyed retail therapy at the local art gallery, pancakes with homemade plum jam and fresh Jersey cream at the local hall and a delicious bowl of Port Arlington mussels and icy cold beer at the Gellibrand Hotel.

The following day proved to be my toughest on the whole ride. Day Seven was 81km from Gellibrand to Birregurra with the day commencing with a relentless 16km climb out of the Gellibrand River Valley. The enormous daily rides and a late night watching Harry Potter proved the undoing of Henry, who refused to leave his sleeping bag.

While another shower of cold Otway rain washed over us, our camping gear and bikes and I was despairing at getting either of us on the road in time, I felt very close to tears and wondered why the hell I’d ever thought embarking on this excellent adventure with an eleven year old was a good idea. “God! Give me strength!” I muttered loudly to myself… Shazam! Yet another angel magically appeared… Chris (a school teacher from Warrnambool) offered to take Henry on the Sag Wagon.

With Henry sagged to Birregurra for a day of rest and relaxation, I pedalled on slowly. Although the ride’s physiotherapist had taped my knee that morning, it still hurt every time I put it under pressure.

The ride from Beech Forest along Turton’s Track through the heart of the Otway Ranges was beautiful. Cycling past dense rainforests of Myrtle Beech, Blackwood and Tree-ferns was quite an experience for someone more used to the open plains of the southern Riverina.

Arriving into Birregurra I found a cheerful, well-rested Henry. He had managed to locate Truck Two, collect our bags and erect our tents; a very welcome sight indeed as all I wanted to do was eat dinner at the GVBR’s Café de Canvas and crawl into my sleeping bag.

Day Eight had us riding 82km from Birregurra, up through Deans Marsh,
Henry approaching the top at Deans Marsh
an exhilaratingly steep descent down to Lorne for lunch and then a picture-perfect sunny afternoon cycling along the Great Ocean Road to Torquay for the evening.
5,000 riders getting ready to leave Lorne
Trish, Henry and I caught up with friends and former Barhamites, Nat, Pete and Will before Trish and I joined Gerry and Max for dinner at Scorched a great little restaurant facing Zeally Bay. I felt a tad underdressed in my black tracksuit pants I’d spent most of the previous eight nights sleeping in but the service, food and wine was impeccable and a fitting epicurean celebration for our final night on the Great Vic.

Henry at the world famous Bells Beach
Sunday dawned; our final day was a “measly” 49km into Geelong via Barwon Heads. Henry and I decided to forego our usual Café de Canvas breakfast, opting instead to pack up and get breakfast en route. We found Café Moby shortly down the road and enjoyed a magnificent breakfast: bacon and egg roll plus an enormous chocolate muffin with a glass of fresh apple juice for Henry; sourdough toast with avocado, smoked salmon and goat’s cheese with a strong latte for me… my first coffee in nearly a fortnight – why on earth hadn’t I been drinking caffeine?! Suddenly I felt as though I’d been recharged and Henry obviously had too. “It’s only 49km Mum, lets not stop again until we reach Geelong.” So we didn’t.

I feel immensely proud of the boys and that we all completed the ride. It was certainly tougher and more challenging than I had envisaged through my rose-tinted cycling sunnies but as the GVBR saying goes, it really is a week in another world.
Sam, me, Henry and Max arriving back home in Barham