[This is the final post in the series Smiling Kodiak Rides Again]
I may call myself a progressive, but at the end of most days there is nowhere I’d rather be than where I started: home. This morning the sultry voice of the Radio National breakfast host informed me it would be no easy feat: “Today’s forecast is for severe and sometimes dangerous thunderstorms, with high winds and damaging hail.” I don’t usually start my day with a prayer, but on this occasion I asked the gods to let me discover the radio station was broadcasting from a distant region of country Victoria.
The weather radar confirmed the accuracy of the forecast. A long swath of red nightmarish storms crept slowly towards us, running parallel to the entirety of our sixty kilometer cycling route from Myrtleford back to Wangaratta. I muttered many solemn oaths. Damn gods. Continue reading 10. Damn
Myrtleford revealed itself to be a good place to set up base for a couple nights. The Great Alpine Road serves as its main drag, with a number of secondary streets providing enough in the way of restaurants and other commercial enterprises to fill our needs. The flat we had rented was only a hundred meters off the rail trail, which was a good thing, considering our state on arrival. It was also near a supermarket, where we picked up what was needed for a home-cooked breakfast and a cycling survival kit.
Our objective was Bright at the very top of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. Bright sits only a hundred meters higher in the mountains than Myrtleford. Ignoring minor undulations, the ride climbs the equivalent of one story every kilometer for thirty kilometers, a 0.3% grade. That’s about as flat as things get in an area called “The Australian Alps”. Continue reading 09. Cycling Nemeses
The V/Line train to Wangaratta runs alongside the right of way that serves the Melbourne to Sydney route, a busy and historically significant line. I was pleased to see our old comfy rattler included an extra baggage car, ensuring plenty of room for our bicycles when boarding at Southern Cross Station. The train departed on time at 7:05 am. We settled in for the three-hour voyage, Frank fast asleep by 7:08 am.
I tried to get some sleep, but after the police excitement on the bike ride to the station, I was wired. Instead, I drank more bad coffee (which was excellent bad coffee, by the way) and nervously checked the weather radar every thirty seconds. A low pressure trough had decided to camp out over Victoria, meandering back and forth. The forecast called for “unsettled conditions”, which is meteorologist-speak for “your guess is as good as mine”. Continue reading 08. A Wet Dream
Identifying a dangerous idiot quickly can be a life-saving talent, so over the years I have developed many techniques to do so. For example, a person who uses any of the following platitudes in seriousness can be immediately recognised as a dangerous idiot:
- “Whatever it takes”
- “Work smarter, not harder”
- “Zero tolerance”
- “Anything is possible”
- “Evidence-based decision-making”
- “Values-based management”
- “No fear”
- “Frank and fearless” (archaic)
This kind of idiot is relatively easy to spot. They have a propensity to rise to the top of the larger organisations that incentivise and congratulate moronic behavior, which is pretty much all of them. Proud of their success, the dangerous idiot rarely strings together a sentence without reference to one of these notions. Continue reading 07. The Idiot Police
It didn’t take long to pack up in the morning. We hadn’t really unpacked, the dreary abode not exactly making us feel at home. We were on the street, once again looking for coffee, by six-thirty.
During the previous evening’s exploits, I had determined the nearby Fishtails Café opened at six every morning. We had enjoyed meals there on previous trips, so knew it to be something of a local institution, serving good food cheap, breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days. As we approached I felt rather silly to realize it was the same place we had avoided the previous morning because from a distance it appeared “a dubious looking mob lingered outside”. I considered that our horrible accommodation may have adversely coloured our attitude. This morning, the Fishtails Café was our saviour.
Our V/Line train back to Melbourne didn’t leave until just after noon. After a hearty breakfast we cycled off to take in as much of the Warrnambool to Port Fairy Rail Trail as we could in the time we had. Continue reading 06. Happy Trails
Last month I heard author David Sedaris speak. I found out he and I have a few things in common, such as a propensity to wear bow ties, and to clean up street litter in our neighbourhoods. There some notable differences between us, including his fondness for culottes, and that he makes two million dollars a year more than I do. In his chat, David bemoaned being criticised for focusing on “the bad stuff”. He rightly pointed out that it isn’t a matter of focus, but simply that the bad stuff is much funnier. There’s nothing funny about, say, a wedding that comes off without a hitch, except that unfortunate pun.
Like many of you, in the past year I’ve been enjoying more of “the share economy”. I’ve dabbled with Uber, although not enough to have much to say about it, except that anything that keeps me out of a taxi can’t be all bad. (Stayed tuned.) I’ve had a dozen AirBNB experiences now, enough to give me the confidence to reach all sorts of poorly founded conclusions, and make dubious recommendations with overly broad generalisations based on scant anecdotal evidence. This is the very heart and soul of travel writing.
So here goes. Continue reading 05. A Bad Review
After nearly a century of railroading Victorians with the stuff, V/Line banned alcohol from its trains in 2008. This presented something of an ethical dilemma, as I consider a glass of wine (or twelve) on a train ride to be an unalienable right. Thus, I filled my bicycling “water bottle” with a pleasant Sauvignon Blanc. In the spirit of Thoreau, Gandhi and King, I nonviolently perpetrated civil disobedience all the way to Warrnambool, the elixir helping me ignore the leper whacking my seat back.
We arrived in Warrnambool at ten-thirty in the evening. It was cold, windy and damp, a thick mist verging on drizzle filling the air. Collecting our bicycles from the baggage car, we strapped on our bags. It did not seem a good idea to ride in the dark and wet the single kilometer to our AirBnB accommodation, especially given the amount of “water” I had drunk. We set off on foot, pushing our bikes alongside. Continue reading 04. Dumb Luck
The Warrnambool real estate office had some encouraging listings. It was 1999, and we were in the process of moving back to the US to deal with dead and dying parents. We had sold our Port Melbourne house, and now we were looking for a place to invest the proceeds so it would keep pace with the real estate market until our eventual return. A beach house would have been perfect, but that was out of our price range. Instead, a rental hovel, or even just a plot of land, was more in line with our means. The window display showed three or four such places around $100,000, which is what we had.
An agent, at once handsome and slimy in short-sleeves with slicked-back hair, black rim glasses and – could it be? – a clip-on tie, greeted us as we entered. “Good Morning” I responded, “We’re looking for an investment property to park some money for a few years. You’ve got some promising prospects listed there.”
He gave a grin and looked us over — two middle-aged men in shorts and polo shirts wearing running shoes and sunglasses. “Right, then — we should have a chat…” he suggested, motioning us into a small glass cubicle: a chair for him, stools for us, the Formica counter demarcating his space from ours, fluorescent lighting completing the picture. Continue reading 03. The End of the Line
Melburnians complain bitterly and constantly about their public transport system. This can strike a newcomer as strange, because Melbourne has a pretty fabulous public transportation network. If you spend enough time here, you come to understand that Melbourne has such a wonderful system because nobody here thinks it is anywhere near good enough.
Melbourne came of age during the latter half of the nineteenth century in the throes of Victoria’s gold rush. For a period it was the richest city on Earth by many measures. Unlike its kin in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, Victoria had little in the way of convict roots, and was consciously eager to demonstrate that by behaving “more English than the English”. Amongst much else, that meant they needed to have trains, and lots of them. Continue reading 02. Railroaded
I love a free ride.
At the moment I am riding a V/Line train, first class from Melbourne to Warrnambool, Victoria— free! You could be doing the same.
Two days ago, I had little in my calendar for the coming week. Then, a series of screw-ups caused a tremendous number of persistent, repeated delays, delays which will plague V/Line passengers for weeks, if not months, to come.
First, much of the V/Line train fleet, particularly the relatively newish Vlocity model, was determined to lack round wheels. This was attributed to normal wear and tear, nevertheless has caused all sorts of technical and philosophical difficulties. Those trains had to be taken out of service, leaving many trips replaced by buses which proceeded tediously through traffic, finding their way to train stations just far enough off the major thoroughfares to make the journey painfully slow. Continue reading 01. A Free Ride