The sun was out. Clouds resembling fish scales (cirrocumulus) fanned out across the blue sky. A ‘mackerel sky’- according to The Backpacker’s Handbook by Hugh McManners. A good day as any to hit one of Melbourne’s many bicycle trails, on my ‘sweet little bike’ with its newly raised seat.
“Let’s do the Capital City Trail,” I suggested brightly to Brett, having only recently heard of it, and with only a vague idea of its route and absolutely no idea of its distance. I wasn’t the least bit fazed by bike trails – practically all the cycling I’d done was on the bike track that hugged the east coast of S’pore. Easy peasy I thought.
The good man obligingly fixed his flat back tyre and we were off, zipping down Sydney Road into Royal Parade. We hit the Trail at Princes Park, leaving behind the footy traffic jam and crowds and heading west towards North Melbourne and Moonee Ponds.
The track was smooth and gently undulating – a pleasant and easy ride. We soon reached the Docklands, with its waterfront ‘modernist’/abstract sculptures and high-rise developments. The place was quite dead, except for the occasional cyclist, strolling couple or straying tourist. We pedalled past rows of expensive-looking restaurants – all closed (perhaps business takes place only at night?) and soon found ourselves in Southbank.
It was a comparatively healthy crowd that thronged the area around the Melbourne Exhibition Hall (a.k.a. Jeff’s Shed) and the Crown complex. Most of the pedestrians were blissfully oblivious to cyclists – it took a bit of manoeuvring and lots of second-guessing to avoid hitting someone. I made a mental note to be more aware of cyclists when I was on foot.
We passed the Botanic Gardens and continued to South Yarra with its whiff of wealth -huge houses perched high overlooking the river and private piers. It was 3.00pm; we’d been pedalling for over 2 hours. After a brief stop to munch down a banana and muesli bar each, we were on our bikes again.
We stopped again at Victoria Gardens in Richmond to ‘refuel’ on chips, Swedish meatballs and sugary carbonated drinks at Ikea. The fatigue hit us then and it was close to 5.30pm by the time we managed to drag ourselves away from the ‘amenities’.
The weather had turned – dramatic flashes of lightning zapped across the darkening sky. Have cyclists ever been hit by lightning? It was a fleeting thought as I concentrated on pushing on despite the fatigue, tortured breathing and sore back and legs. The narrow track had become very steep and winding. It was a major battle to negotiate every uphill section and in the deepening gloom too. At the mouth of a particularly narrow bridge, a Husky dog charged excitedly at me, causing me to lose my balance and careen onto the side of the bridge. No damage there except a bruised ego, which seemed to be a hallmark of this trip, given the frequency with which I’d been losing my balance, tripping or falling off.
To cut to the end of the story, the skies opened up just as we fortuitously reached shelter under a bridge (at Rushall train station). And again fortuitously, the rain dropped to a drizzle after a few minutes so we were able to resume riding without having to wait it out. It was almost 7.00pm when we reached home – stuffed – as Brett so eloquently described it. We had covered the 32km of Melbourne's Capital City Trail.