Queensland: Spin in the saddle

By Mary Lambie

Hundreds of riders set off from the table mountain city of Toowoomba. Photo / Supplied
Hundreds of riders set off from the table mountain city of Toowoomba. Photo / Supplied

When I asked my friend why she was going back to Queensland for the fourth year in a row to bike 600km with hundreds of others, she insisted it had been the best holiday she had ever experienced.

This despite the fact the trip involves a lot of physical exercise and one-star accommodation.

Though I was convinced it sounded more like purgatory than a holiday, morbid curiosity found me tagging along to see what all the excitement was about .

Cycle Queensland is a four- or nine-day bike ride staged each September somewhere around Queensland.

The route changes year to year, and in 2009 it wound around the Darling Downs loop, leaving the table mountain city of Toowoomba - a two-hour bus ride inland from Brisbane - and riding through Kaimkillenbun, Dalby, Oakey, Pittsworth, Warwick and Clifton before finishing back in Toowoomba nine days later. I broke myself in gently with the four-day ride. If you do just half the trip organisers will transport you to nearest town to catch a bus back to the airport or where ever you need to go.

The daily schedule on the ride doesn't vary much - except for the scenery.

It goes much like this: wake up at first light, pack your tent and bags, load them on the transport truck, have breakfast and be on the road peddling by 7am. Lunch is enroute, and generally eaten at about 11am during a half-hour rest stop.

Then it's back in the saddle for an afternoon of steady cycling until you hit your next campsite, anywhere between midday and 3pm. At that point it's a case of finding your bags, pitching your tent, having a shower, eating dinner and hitting the sack by sundown.

A few found the energy to drink and party into the night, or watch the evening movie at the makeshift cinema. Not the knackered Kiwis.

We were tucked up by 8pm, oblivious to any noise coming from the neighbouring tents or the hearty souls burning the midnight candle.

A solid camaraderie between the 1000 riders was built early in the ride.

Not everyone taking part was a Tour de France contender - far from it - skill levels ranged from the couch potatoes, to parents towing children, to the seriously fit.

Everyone rides at their own pace and what may take some three hours, could end up a full day's ride for others. No one is timing, but it pays to get to the campsite before dark so you pitch your tent the right way.

On the first night I managed to royally muck up the placement of my tent - the back door ended up in the front balcony of my neighbours, who happened to be a couple of 16-year-olds from Sydney.

They were too embarrassed to suggest I move, and I didn't offer because it took me the best part of an hour to get the thing up in the first place.

And much bigger tents and marquees were also part of this travelling circus - a general store, an information tent, first aid, masseurs, a full bike shop, tourist information - you want for nothing you wouldn't have easy access to at home.

One of the most impressive elements of the ride is the Chain Mail - a daily news handout which covers everything you need to know for the next 24 hours: mechanical matters, points of interest in the next town, what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the weather forecast. The evening briefings were also a highlight with the droll local copper who was following us and proving to be quite the comedian as he put his spin on the day's happenings.

I can see why people are drawn to Bike Queensland. You're active, you see some glorious scenery (plus the odd dead snake and sneaky kangaroo), you get to improve your fitness and meet some like-minded folk.

There was much to share with my family when I got home and not once did I mention the words "lazed around", "swam", "didn't do much". Would I do it again? Definitely.

IF YOU GO

How much? About $1000 (not including airfares from NZ) for nine days which includes all food, amenities and the transporting of your bags from town to town. The four-day option is about $500.

Do I take my own bike? Yes. Dismantle it before you leave and put it into a bike box, available from cycle shops.

How fit do I have to be? A moderate level of fitness is fine.

Daily distance to bike? On average 70 km a day. There is the option to extend your ride up to 50 km on the "take the extended detour" days if you feel the need to push yourself.

What's the food like? Excellent - varied, tasty and nutritious despite catering for 1000 people.

What are the facilities like? Normally you camp in local showgrounds. They are big, grassy and close to the centre of town. And shower and toilet trucks travel with the group so there are always amenities. If you really hate camping there is a motel option.

What if my bike breaks? A full bike shop and mechanics travel with the group and carry out all manner of repairs.

Are you allowed to drink? Is the Pope Catholic? You're biking with mainly Australians. The bar is set up and open by 5pm each evening and closes about 10pm.

What's the route in 2010? Yeppoon to Bundaberg. Entries are open now.

* For more information visit bq.org.au.

- Herald on Sunday

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