Thursday, August 13, 2015

MicroAdventure: Cycling the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail

View from the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail

The week before last, I had the opportunity to slip away for a two-day MicroAdventure with my bike-riding buddy, Trish. We loaded up our bikes onto the back of Trish’s car after breakfast on Tuesday and headed across to Beechworth in north-eastern Victoria.

Shortly before arriving in the historic and well-preserved 1853 gold-mining town of Beechworth, I made good use of my role as Designated Passenger by Googling a suitable spot for lunch.

After reading one reviewer’s description of the pizzas at The Bridge Road Brewers (the double smoked ham, cheese and mushroom pizza allegedly better than sex…), I suggested to Trish that a MicroAdventure should undoubtedly begin at a MicroBrewery.

The Bridge Road Brewers operates out of 150-year-old stables, once owned by Hiram Allen Crawford of Crawford & Co, a major horse and coach enterprise in northern Victoria during the 1800s.
A selection of the Bridge Road Brewers' beer and cider

Beer and pizza, a match made in heaven and the perfect carbohydrate combination to fuel an afternoon’s cycling expedition.

Naturally, I chose a double-smoked ham, cheese and mushroom pizza to accompany my large glass of Beechworth Pale Ale and for dessert, a rich chocolate mousse and strong caffeine-fuelled latte.

Tempting though it was to curl up and have a nap after lunch, we resisted, unloaded our bikes and set off on a 46km ride along the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.

The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail has over 100km of high-quality sealed off-road trail, stretching from Milawa through to Wangaratta, from Wangaratta you can peddle to Myrtleford or turn off at Everton and head uphill to Beechworth. From Myrtleford you can peddle on up to Bright in the Victorian high country.

Our post pizza ride took us downhill from Beechworth to Everton and along to the site of what was once the Tarrawingee Railway Station, towards Wangaratta. At this point we had cycled an idyllic 23km of gloriously smooth downhill, past bright, golden wattles and lush farm paddocks in the winter sunshine… at which point, Trish suggested we might like to bike back. Uphill. All the way to Beechworth…

By the time we reached the outskirts of town, the sun was setting and I felt quite sure my beer, pizza, chocolate mousse and latte had all been thoroughly metabolised by my body.
The welcome sight of Beechworth after our 46km ride
Cycling the rail trail mid-week, towards the end of July, (when it might snow), almost guarantees you will enjoy the trail to yourself. One solitary cyclist whizzed past us on the return journey. It is truly a magical route for bike riding and so relaxing, knowing you aren’t about to be inadvertently run over by a motorist.

After enjoying long, hot showers, Trish and I were ready to locate a suitable dining location for dinner… but not just any dinner. It was Tuesday night and Tuesday Night Dinner is a weekly occasion in my house; one that I often spend hours concocting in my head and then preparing. My first two choices for dinner weren’t open on a Tuesday, dagnabbit! So I decided to turn to Facebook friend and senior food writer for The Age newspaper, Richard Cornish, for advice.

Richard’s Tuesday night dinner in Beechworth recommendations were either Tanswell’s Hotel or the Indian restaurant.

It was a cold night (-2°C) so Indian was tempting but the thought of a good red and some nourishing pub grub won out.

Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel was established in 1853 and is located right next door to The Bridge Road Brewers.

I chose the oven baked gnocchi with leek and blue cheese as my main meal (after my last MicroAdventure, Trish insisted I stay away from steak, saying, "You are not going to be medevaced out on my watch!") and Trish, on the waiter’s recommendation, chose the lasagne with salad and we washed our meals down with a bottle of Cofield Sparkling Shiraz from Rutherglen.

Fried and flaming quince ice cream
For dessert, I enjoyed the fried quince ice cream, theatrically set alight by our attentive and helpful waiter, with generous lashings of calvados (apple brandy). Trish was very pleased with her choice of pear, chocolate and walnut tart with crème anglaise.

Although I enjoyed my gnocchi, I will confess to a certain degree of food envy after sampling Trish’s lasagne. Its exquisite flavour was so exceptional that I went and thanked the chef personally after dinner and asked him how he made it.

Tanswells' chef extraordinaire, David
Chef David explained his lasagne recipe was inspired by the teachings of world famous Italian chef and restaurateur, Massimo Bottura, owner of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in the northern Italian city of Modena.

David told me that Massimo is not a fan of the southern Italian lasagne recipes with their minced meat, mozzarella or tomatoes (the style commonly cooked in Australia); instead, prefers the northern Italian version made with a slow-cooked, hand-chopped meat ragu (with no tomato) and besciamella (béchamel sauce) in layers between egg pasta sheets with some grated parmigianoreggiano cheese on top.

After dinner, Trish and I walked back to our room at the Carriage Motor Inn, turned the split system up to 30°C to combat the subzero outside temperature and promptly went to sleep.
Many Beechworth businesses are going out of their way to welcome cyclists - smart marketing!

Our second and final day of our MicroAdventure began with a substantial breakfast at the So Simple Café and some excellent coffee. Having already loaded up the bikes, we drove back down to Everton, parked the car and rode our bikes towards Myrtleford. It was a relatively easy ride, with a bit of a climb up to Taylor’s Gap before descending to Gapsted and on to Myrtleford.

Pygmy possum? Marsupial mouse?
Refuelling in Myrtleford on yet more excellent coffee and a warm, fresh-from-the-oven, raspberry muffin at Coffee Chakra, we got back on our bikes and peddled all the way back to Everton, a 55km round trip. Along the way we saw a couple of echidnas, something that may have been either a marsupial mouse or pygmy possum, numerous kangaroos and wallabies, fresh wombat tracks leading to a large, cavernous wombat hole and a great variety of birdlife.
Yellow-Tufted Honeyeater

Female King Parrot?

Arriving back at Everton, we loaded the bikes onto Trish’s car, having completed a total of just over 100km of bike riding for the two days. Heading home via Beechworth, we decided that no trip to Beechworth would be complete without visiting the famous Beechworth Bakery and a hot chicken pie each was the perfect conclusion to our day’s ride.
The bakery that put Beechworth on the map

Driving back into Barham that night, a mere 36 hours since we began our MicroAdventure, I felt completely recharged and as though I had been away and holidaying for more than a week. Perfect.

Annie Barr