Beach Road wiggles its way up the coastline southeast of Melbourne and efficiently connects Beaumaris to the CBD. With a commitment of face-painting for a kids’ event from 1-4PM to start architecting my day around, I’d tentatively committed to brunch in the northwest suburb of Moonee Ponds, and decided this was the day to put the single-speed through her paces and pedal my way up the coastline to Melbourne.
Oatmeal and chia. Fill up the Camelbak. Air in the tires. Layer up against the chill morning fog. A few minutes behind schedule, but I swung a leg over, kicked my feet into their cages, and was in the saddle and off! My muscles were cold and sluggish; the first gentle rise out of Beaumaris another rider sped past me, and I began to have serious misgivings about the whole single-speed-purity ethos. A few “k’s” slid by, and I began to feel of the glow of core warmth stir as blood charged its way through ever-smoothing cadences of pedal stroke. Approaching the intersection with Beach Road, I saw a pack of cyclists zoom across in front of me – the chorus of their tires buzzing against the asphalt like hummingbird wings. On their heels streamed another group of several...then more...then more – Beach Road was a continuous flow of hundreds of riders. I merged into the full lane dedicated to the two-wheeled armada and wondered at my fortune of having stumbled into what must be surely be a race or some sort of event. After a few minutes I caught up with a woman at the back of a pack of five or six riders and did my best to articulate, “What’s the deal with all these cyclists?” in a less ignorant and more conversational -sounding way, but thanks to my lingering grogginess I’m pretty I sure came up short in my attempt. Due I’m sure in part to incoherence, she looked back at me with a bit of a puzzled look and said no, there wasn’t any event on that she knew of. “So this is just a normal Sunday morning on Beach Road?” I said incredulously. “Yes,” she replied, with a bit of a laugh. “Wow” I said somewhat lamely, and focused again on the task at hand: namely, to stay in this group’s draft and utilize their momentum.
Because I was using Google Map’s “bike” route option, and Google’s idea of a biking is inspired more after one of their own nauseatingly quaint beach-cruiser-meets-Mary-Poppins-meets-Pokemon wheels than a setting assuming someone capable of holding their own in moderate traffic, I was ushered away – in 25 and 50 meter increments – from the invigorating tide of Beach Road cyclists and to the insouciant boardwalks and bike paths closer to the water. The sun had by now burned through the morning fog, and I was breathless from my sprint, so a more relaxed pace and dodging the occasional terrier or stroller suited me for the scenery it afforded. Soon the path left the bay and pointed north toward Docklands and the city center. Pedestrian traffic lessened, and I found myself cruising through arching eucalyptus and low scrub as Melbourne’s skyscrapers loomed closer – blue in the early haze. By some combination of Google’s voiced directions reaching my ears muffled through my shorts pocket and my sensing where the bike path seemed to be leading me, I made steady progress toward Southbank and my destination beyond. Finally, one of Siri’s dispatches seemed surely incorrect: I was in a narrowing funnel between two buildings that appeared to end in an impenetrable wall of steel and glass. But press on, the computer robot told me, so like the millennial I am I pressed on, dammit. In a Platform-nine-and-three-quarters -esque moment, I warily eyed the glass wall but stayed my course, and sure enough: at the last moment noticed a slim division in the section just to my right. When I’d adjusted course I was rewarded by the two glass panels in front of me sliding open to allow me...into the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center? Glancing to my left I saw two facility staff about 50 yards away, but deciding that I had come this far and might as well get through this place and back to the proper bike path, put my head down and torqued my one gear with everything I had to haul my way across the empty lobby and to a set of twin glass doors on the opposite side. My faith in Google shaken, but somehow at the same time deepened out of respect for the bizarre Maps equivalent “I’m Feeling Lucky” I’d just experienced, I pedaled down a ramp, past a sailing ship, and over the Yarra to rejoin more familiar territory.
After a few confusing turns through the heart of Melbourne – still primarily on bike paths, which is pretty impressive for a city of 4.25 million – I slid alongside the Maribyrnong River and breathed a sigh of relief at having a few kilometers of following the same path. Whereas the Yarra (Melbourne’s main river) is a polluted ditch of pea-soup-brown sludge flecked with McDonald's packaging accents, the Maribyrnong’s waters reflect the blue of the sky as one would expect water to, and winds it’s way through parks and fields like a drizzle of shimmering pottery glaze. I rode past a cricket game and a Hindu ceremony involving what looked like a cake made of flowers and rowers and dog-walkers and that giant ferris wheel Melbourne put in when it thought it was London and finally arrived at the last brutally steep hill before my destination. One painfully slow crank rotation at a time I wobbled my way up the last of my 34 kilometers (21 miles) and noted that I should suggest to Google an “Avoid Alpe d'Huez” option for their bike routes…
My friend Bec was waiting for me on the porch, and after graciously overlooking my sweatiness for a hug, offered me water and a foam roller – both of which I enthusiastically put to use. My hip flexors had been tight since their trans-Pacific sitting ordeal, and a foam roll sesh on thoroughly warmed muscle hurt so divinely good. Bec and I had three years of life to catch up on, so we got right to it whilst I gave my hamstrings and quads the attention they deserved. Stretching taken care of, we biked just up the road to coffee and brunch at a small cafe, where we sat outside and savored the blissful combination of spring sunshine, a good friend, and Melbourne java.
I’d planned to pedal my way from Moonee Ponds back into the city for facepainting, but Bec offered her Ducati Monster as transportation. Unhesitatingly I accepted, and so on set of motorized wheels I zoomed off toward Abbotsford, with the appreciation for self-propelled vehicles that comes with biking twenty miles.
I still don’t have a good grasp on what the the event at Abbotsford was, but it was sunny and there were happy children and I got to paint, so I was all about it. I love kids and I love painting, so facepainting just kind of seems to follow me around wherever I go – it’s the best. At this particular event my canvases were the most beautiful range of colors I’ve ever had to work with: tawny ochres and deep cocoa browns; seashell pinks and soft beiges. All losing their minds over having the chance to get their face painted.
Wrapping up about five o’clock, I took note of the lowering sun and realized if I wanted to get home before dark – and the cool that comes with it – I had to leave soon. Bec said I was welcome to keep the bike Monday as well, so could’ve made tracks straight for Beaumaris, but I’d forgotten my house keys, so headphones in so Google Maps could direct me back to Bec’s, I wove my way North once again, grabbed the keys, and did an about face back through Melbourne. Soon the hectic traffic and intimidating skyscrapers were behind me and I was again cruising along the familiar curves of beach road. Over my right shoulder the sun hovered just above the horizon, casting a peach-colored glow over the palm trees and ruffled sand. The scene was so perfect I had to appreciate it properly; I parked the bike, ducked into a fish & chips shop, and watched the sun set over the western edge of Melbourne while I tucked into some overpriced dinner.
The sun now just a glowing bed of embers burning the edge of the horizon, I pulled on my gloves once again, strapped on my helmet, and opened the throttle for home. Purple darkness settled on the coast, and I swooped through the dusky turns with twinkling lights of ocean craft to my right and in front of me the nearly full moon, butter-yellow and fat.
I got home properly and deliciously exhausted: sun, wind, & sand all smelling sweet in the fabric of my clothes as I stripped down and collapsed into bed.