Cycling Adelaide to Melbourne: Day 11 – Port Campbell to Lavers Hill

Waking up this morning was not nice. Grey skies seem to have a habit of following us around, and even though they had let us be the previous day, we saw nothing but grey as we climbed out of our tent. I really hoped it wouldn’t rain today. Today would be one of our shortest days, coming in at 49.6 kilometers, but the hills were going to be horrendous. We were looking at an elevation gain of 1030 meters over less than fifty kilometers, with one seriously massive hill and lots of steep little ones.

Rich and I had originally planned on using today as a rest day, but taking into consideration that if we were to use today for sleep, tomorrow would end up being a nightmarish 78 kilometers with two massive hills to climb, we decided to split the hills up. The town of Lavers’ Hill on the top of the first major hill has a campsite, so we’d use our rest day trekking up there. From Lavers’ Hill we’d be able to use the next day to get up the second big hill and cruise past Apollo Bay. Instead of stopping at Apollo Bay, as was originally planned, we’d spend that night in the town of Wye River and have a nice short ride into Torquay the following day to finish off the trip.

Of course, though, it rained. There was a slight drizzle when we made the initial climb out of Port Campbell, so I donned my Patagonia Nano Puff Pullover (likely the best purchase I’ve ever made. It is so light weight, really warm, and offers great protection in the wind and rain), and made an agreement with Rich that if the rain got bad, we’d pull over not far down the road at the Twelve Apostles information center, and wait for the storm to pass. As we climbed towards the Twelve Apostles the rain got stronger, and Rich was starting to freeze. But of course, as soon as we pulled over to check out the Twelve Apostles and hide out in the information center, the rain ceased, blue skies creeping in.

Some of the Twelve Apostles
Some of the Twelve Apostles

Wanting to make sure the rain had really passed we took turns walking down the path to the Twelve Apostles (there aren’t twelve, and some have collapsed in recent years), while the other one guarded the bikes at the information center. The site was beautiful to be sure, but I couldn’t really enjoy it. I was too worried about the ride ahead of us.

The rain had not returned by the time we had had our fill of the sights, so we took off – Rich now donning his Patagonia to protect himself against the wind.

As we pressed on, the rain did decide to reappear. By the time the Great Ocean Road turned inland and we reached the tiny town of Princetown it was absolutely pouring down and the hills were getting much steeper. Though he hadn’t had to walk the bike up since Adelaide, Rich was now off the bike and dragging it and the trailer uphill. In the process, the strap on one of his cleats snapped in half, and he was forced to walk uphill with the cleat dangling off his foot.

Stopping on the side of the road, we struggled to rummage through the trailer and find the duct tape that we had thankfully purchased a few days before. As Rich wrapped the duct tape around his destroyed cleat to try and keep it in place, we noticed a barn not far up the road. It looked empty, so we rushed up the hill and waited there, happily under cover, hoping that the owners would not mind the intrusion, and that soon a break in the rain would come. As we waited, we watched a group of Cockatoos flutter around the farm. They seemed to also be waiting out the rain, and would never stray far from the trees, only moving to join another of their flock on a different branch. Eventually, the rain began to let up and the birds became more daring. We waited them out, and after about half an hour the rain turned into a drizzle and we decided to get moving once more. We had to make as much progress up the hill as we could, before another shower hit.

The road was steep and curving every which way. If we weren’t going up, we were winding our way through the rainforest. I was grateful to find that there was abundant road work being down on this part of the road. The Great Ocean Road, as beautiful as it is, is very narrow and windy and there is nowhere for a cyclist to hide from a car or truck. The construction, though, was a blessing. As work was being done, workers were only allowing one set of cars down the road at a time. Thanks to this, we knew that most of the time we’d have clear roads, and if a car did come, it would come as part of a pack. When a pack came along we could get as close to the side of the road as necessary for short stints of time before allowing ourselves to drift back towards the center of the road. It felt so much safer to me this way.

After a dip in the road that brought us back down, nearly to sea level, we faced the real climb – Lavers’ Hill. The gradient was quite moderate for most of the ride, and I could get up parts of the hill quite quickly, though Rich had to push his bike up several times. About six or seven kilometers into the hill we hit a real beast, a section with about a 12-14% incline. It was so sharp that we gained about forty meters of elevation in no time at all. Amazingly I got up it with no problems. It was only at that moment, grinding up that hill that I realized how strong my quads had become over the last week. There would have been no way I was getting up that hill without a real struggle a week or two ago. It was a really fantastic feeling, knowing how far I had come.

At the top of this steep little hill, we began tackling what was mentally probably the worst part of the day – the false summits. At this point we knew that we were close to the hill’s peak elevation – a couple hundred more meters to climb at most. Yet, for several kilometers we just went up and down, up and down. Each time we reached a false summit we felt like we were getting close, only to be sent downwards and realize that we had even further to climb than we thought.

Once we entered the town of Lavers’ Hill, we quickly found the roadhouse and the attached caravan park. While I stayed outside to watch the bikes, Rich went to check in at reception. When he came out, I knew immediately that something was wrong. They had room, he told me, but they were trying to not take guests in at the moment. Apparently, the camping grounds were being used to house the road workers that we had passed earlier in the day. Rich had been warned that these workers made a lot of noise and woke up extremely early. The receptionist had said that the group’s being there would make anyone’s stay really unpleasant and uncomfortable. She suggested that we go to another campsite, down the other side of the hill. It, though, had no facilities, and was off the Great Ocean Road, thus taking us off course.

Over lunch at the roadhouse’s restaurant (the burgers were amazing), Rich and I discussed our options. Yes we could stay at the other campsite at the bottom of the hill, but neither of us fancied the idea of starting the next morning by going straight up another monster of a hill. Staying at the top would allow us to start by going mostly downhill and give us a chance to warm up our legs before the climb. Asking around, we were told by the woman working the restaurant counter that there was a motel down the road, but that was just about the only other accommodation in town. She noted that we could still potentially stay at the camping grounds, but really advised against it. I wondered how bad it could really be, but considering no one normally turns business away, we figured that nothing good would come from spending the night here. After stuffing ourselves, we took this woman’s recommendation and sought out the motel.

At $120 a night, it was not cheap. We did get the price down to $100 but neither of us were happy, Rich especially. He had dragged the tent all the way up the hill and he wanted to use it. If he had known that we were going to get stuck in a motel room he would have left it in Port Campbell, giving himself less to drag up and down these hills. What was done was done though, and this seemed to be the best option we had.

The motel room was fine, but disgusting. The important things like the sheets and the bathroom were all clean, but there were dead bugs scattered all over the floor of the room. I did my best to shove them under the bed, and therefore out of sight, but it left a really bad taste in my mouth. I guess they just don’t use brooms or vacuums up here… At least it was warm and quiet… Stupid construction.

Watching a group of alpacas that lived outside the motel, we tried to cheer each other up by making silly faces at the animals who were only intrigued by us when we had a plate full of food in our hands.

The alpacas of Lavers Hill
The alpacas of Lavers Hill

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