All about Ballam 2020 – 20 June 2020
Of late I have sought to reflect upon the good experiences I have had outside this year. I hope by sharing it might flag the good times which lay ahead for all of us Audaxer’s. This is my account of the 200KM ‘All about Ballam’ held on June 20, 2020 in Victoria.
June 2020 had finally rolled around and I was getting worried. One of the great joys in my life is riding my bicycle twice a day, every day, to and from work. This ride clears my head, keeps the heart /weight in check and allows me to partake in that noblest of pursuits, audax cycling. I had not ridden much for sixteen weeks. My cycling odometer was several thousand kilometres behind where I would have preferred it to be. If I was to go for a nice audax ride could I still enjoy it and see it through? Did I still have it in my legs?
In the Audax Online Calendar the word ‘easy’ and ‘flat’ caught my attention. I had found a ride and was about to go, ‘all about Ballam’.
Ballam is reported to mean ‘muddy waters’ in the local Indigenous language. At about 3am in the morning I was awoken by the roar of rain crashing down upon the concrete tiles of my roof. Usually I never hear the rain but this was the kind of special rain that comes up red, dark red and maroon on the BOM radar. Snuggling up in the warmth of my bed I resolved that whatever the weather gave me I was going for a ride tomorrow. It had been too long. I needed a decent ride. My body needed a decent ride but more importantly so did my head.
The morning rolled around and I arrived at Ballam Park in Frankston, Victoria, in time for leisurely 730am start. The forecast for the day was for rain and a top of 13 degrees. I had packed my wet weather gear and was ready for anything. As it turned out all of the nasty weather has passed through overnight and a beautiful clear day lay ahead. I met Frank Preyer at the beginning and would count myself particularly fortunate to ride along with him from start to finish. Frank noted he was close to hitting 75,000 audax kilometres and this ride would take him a little closer to that not insignificant number. I was, am and remain inspired by those riding into their seventies and beyond; hopefully one day I can join that special club.
Into the swamp
7:30 came around and the morning light was bright. The air was crisp and clean after the overnight rain. I distinctly remember beginning the ride feeling grateful. How lucky I was to be out in the bright morning with clear skys empty of rain. I had nothing at all to do all day except pedal, eat, drink, enjoy the view and pedal a little more. This is my idea of a really good time!
The ride began by heading east from Frankston out to Langwarrin then through to Devon Meadows and Five Ways. Once over the South Gippsland Highway that wonderful feeling of having escaped the maddening crowd kicked in. We cycled surrounded by lush green pastures and the rich dark peaty soils towards Koo Wee Rup.
The region around Koo Wee Rup was, prior to white settlement, one large swamp covered in slow moving water and dense thick vegetation. In the 1870’s Scottish farmers moved in. Drainage construction commenced. We could see the deep drains and ditches cross the landscape as we cycled deeper into what was once a swamp.
Today the area produces asparagus and contains large scale market gardens. Most of Australia’s asparagus is grown in the area with China and Japan key markets. Premium product can on the plate in Tokyo 30 hours after harvest. Cycling past row upon row of tilled fields ready for the spring growing season was a pleasant way to start a Saturday morning.
We soon reached Koo Wee Rup and turned north to continue out towards Nar Nar Goon. The sun was rising to our east and Bunyip State Forest and Baw Baw Ranges were lit up ahead. The morning sun glistened off the wet road in a sight that positively reinforced the decision to get on the bike that morning. There was little to no traffic. Legs were feeling good. Conversation was flowing. The wind was light to non-existent. Some might say it was perfect, others just pleasant.
In the depths of stage four this memory gives me great happiness because surely, again, in the future, I will be out there with others enjoying this. I will have a renewed sense of appreciation the next time round.
Out of the swamp and into the jungle
Nar Nar Goon was the halfway point for the first half of the ride and represented the turning point back towards the densely populated areas of Clyde and Cranbourne. It was time to leave the swamp and head into the metaphoric jungle. After a quick socially distanced café stop we headed back towards the jungle.
The metaphoric jungle we headed towards was a dense forest of housing estates where the inhabitants were forced to drive everywhere. Predictably the jungle inhabitants did not like anything that stopped them driving their cars fast. Some might get the impression they did not like much at all given the spirited messages directed towards me from occupants of those cars. These inhabitants of the dense housing estates were not shy in expressing their displeasure as we cycled along a shoulder less 80 km/hr zone towards the recently built housing estates.
It was an incredible section of the ride if only for the starkly contrasting environments. One moment we were passing gangs of harvest workers picking spring onions in a pretty field, I waved and they waved back. The next moment we were passing lines of cars stuck in Saturday morning rush hour. The drivers were not expressing much joy. It was surreal as I rode in the middle of the road overtaking stationary vehicles for hundreds of metres.
As we worked our way deeper into this jungle it was hard not to notice the streets empty of pedestrians, the lack of cycle paths, the complete absence of anyone on bicycles. No doubt the inhabitants in their cars viewed us as two crazies risking life and limb among all of the cars. We cycled on through this jungle until we reached the aptly name Hunt Club Village where a very large car park surrounded two cafes and a supermarket. After filling up on the drink of audax champions – chocolate milk – and baked goods we made good our escape to the seaside to experience the second one hundred kilometres.
Escape to the seaside
Leaving Cranbourne we headed across to the Peninsula link trail which would take us in comfort, peace and tranquillity towards Mount Eliza. The trail is pleasant and in what I can recall nearly eight weeks later seemed to involve gentle gradients and lots of greenery. In the space of twenty six kilometres we had left a dense urban jungle and found a pleasant cycle way towards the seaside.
I often wonder if there are Audax route planning angels who have magical powers. These powers allow them to find beautiful quiet roads, lined with aromatic trees and oriented so the sun warms the body in just the right way. The gradient on these roads is always gentle, allowing you to almost float along as if there was a permanent breeze feathering your progress. We cycled the twelve kilometres from Peninsula Link to the Neapean highway two abreast and soaked up the beauty all around us.
Sooner or later the lack of 2020 kilometres in my legs had to make itself known. We turned on to the Nepean highway and I found myself confronted with a short sharp hill. I think hills are like the lie detectors of cycling, they know if you have the kilometres in your legs or not. I did not have the kilometres in my legs. While I eventually passed this relatively small hill it hurt more – and took longer – than it should.
Thankfully the law of gravity kicked in and a lovely descent into Dromana followed. At the bottom the hill we received the first and only gift from the sky that day; a five minute light hail storm which dropped the temperature markedly. Donning jackets we continued on and soon hit the coast road and the seaside town of Rosebud.
A fine ‘servo’ awaited in Rosebud where the audax endurance superfoods of chocolate milk, hot chips and carbonated sugar drinks were consumed in a quantity sufficient to power us the last forty odd kilometres back to the beginning.
Magical Mount Martha
There is something very special about cycling beside a beach at sunset. I think this is even more so as you draw to a close a pleasant, peaceful and drama free 200km Audax ride. As we left Rosebud the sun was dropping across the ocean to our left.
Once we passed under the Martha Cover inlet we began a 10 kilometre section which sits in my mind as one of the most beautiful rides I have done. Just before we commenced this section a rain shower had passed through. In keeping with our good fortune we were not touched by this but rather it cleared the air before we arrived.
The winding road along the Mount Martha foreshore reserve was quiet. The sun soon dropped below the westerly horizon to our left and with our lights, reflective vest and flankles on we powered into the darkness keen to continue the adventure that is a good bike ride. The cliffs of Mount Martha sit fifty kilometres as the crow flies from the bright city lights of Melbourne’s CBD.
With air cleared by recent showers the magical views opened up before us as we cycled into each new corner. Fairy lights extended from near to far as the view stretched around the bay and into the centre of Melbourne. The sight was truly magical.
While those fortunate to have the resources may be happy to pay six million dollars to open their back door and enjoy these views there is much to be said about savouring them as we rolled through quiet dark roads, alone, with only the sound of wind in our ears and the views ahead to consider.
The last twenty kilometres were somewhat less magical than the first 180. We rejoined the Nepean Highway and dropped back down into Frankston. It was a day well spent in June 2020.
It is now the end of August 2020. We are all familiar with the circumstances which govern our daily existence. I have found taking the time out to reflect on this particular nice ride has really lifted me. In delving deeper into the positive memory my mind has moved towards the future. I know that my legs will be softer, my stamina lower and it may be a little more ‘difficult’ getting over those hills but by goodness I will savour the next audax adventure!
Thank you Dieter Andrich for organising and all that make Audax happen.