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Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail on a Thorn Mercury

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Enjoyed a fun weekend tour recently with a very fun companion to Warburton, east of Melbourne in the Yarra River valley. From my home in Melbourne it was well under an hour by car to the start of the ride at Lilydale, where we parked in view of security cameras next to Lilydale railway station. We could also have reached this point by train, taking a little longer. Taking the car added some autonomy.

Here is Lizzy at the carpark about to embark on her first ever bicycle tour, and indeed her first camping experience since high school. She was definitely up for it, even though the 40km distance to Warburton was about twice as far as she had ever ridden in a day. It was late autumn and the morning was cool.

The trail wound around a sports oval, crossed a couple of streets, and then headed up quite steeply, for a rail trail, about 7km to Mount Evelyn. The climb wasn't so much challenging as constant, and we both felt pretty good when we took a break at the top.

This would be the only significant climb of the outward leg, and it was followed by a 6km descent to a cafe located on the trail at Seville, where we stopped for brunch. For Victorian readers considering a ride on the trail, the Carriage Cafe can be highly recommended.

This is looking back up the descent to the cafe:

And here a shot of the cafe itself, snapped from a more recent visit:

In another thread, inmate Andre Jute was reminiscing about his time in Melbourne many moons ago and observing that it had not felt bike friendly. The trail to Warburton offers an example of where this has gone. The all-gravel surface is beautifully maintained, the scenery magnificent, and the amenity ample.

The forecast had been for heavy rain this day, but the rain had blown through overnight. Hence for a Saturday on a trail so close to Melbourne there wasn't much traffic. All that remained from the rain was a tailwind. From Seville we proceeded at a gentle pace with frequent stops to admire the landscape and animal life. A herd of cows in a paddock that we might have whistled past in a car without comment was on the bicycles an occasion for exclamation.

Warburton is a pretty town on the Yarra, sited at the foot of Mt Donna Buang - a mountain just tall enough to get snow in the winter. We stocked up at the supermarket:

Set up camp at the commercial campground:

And proceeded to prepare dinner.

Actually that shot was from the next morning at breakfast. Dinner had been excellent, washed down with a bottle of white. Lizzy was enjoying the adventure of it all. The tent gave us access to this short-notice accommodation in a town where places to stay are few, heavily booked and expensive. And the excursion was strenuous enough to feel like a proper adventure, and yet easy enough to be pleasant for someone without much experience.

The wind had dropped for the homeward leg the next day, although there was still a gentle breeze in our faces. We made a few roadside stops and then lunched late at the Carriage Cafe, fuelling up for the climb.

Lizzy's legs had been tested a little more on this leg by the headwind, and the climb tested them more but we just took our time. And then rolled nearly all the way to the car from the top. Loaded the bikes. And were home and hosed in time for dinner.

I had been slightly concerned that the excursion would make our weekend feel too short, but the opposite was the case: we felt like we had experienced a long and satisfying break from the usual weekday concerns. A tour of the campground uncovered some grassed sites that we might secure for our next trip. It is great to have the opportunity for an escape of this kind on the edge of the city. And there are similar trails only a little more distant.

For this ride the Mercury felt dramatically over-competent - a feeling doubtless enlarged by our easy pace. Interestingly, I carried about the same weight as I had lugged on my Gippsland tour late last year - 12kg. This time, however I carried it in two Ortlieb Back Rollers on a Tubus Logo rack, having fitted my Tubus Vega to Lizzy's bike.

On the Gippsland tour I had carried the weight mainly in a pair of Sport Rollers on the Mercury's fork. Mercury designer Andy Blance recommends biasing Mercury loads to the rear, and I was astonished how much better it rode when I did that. I barely noticed the load, and I welcomed the much lighter steering. Lesson learned, and I'll go this way in future.

Looks like a fabulous trip. Thanks for sharing inc great photos. The antidote to the ScoMo-Albo show. BTW which Hilleberg tent is that?

The tent is a (Hilleberg) Rogen, and new. Three season, and an extravagance. Can't justify it except to say I have had tents before and this one seems to have everything I want.

Can't review it after a single dry night in a commercial campground except to say it was fabulous. As you'd hope. I got it because it seems that the occupants can look out on each side when it's raining, and without getting wet.

An addition to the report: we did not just see cows. There were also bulls, steers, horses, deer, alpacas, various sheep and goats, rabbits, bellbirds that you could only hear, and lots of birds that you could see. I've realised that an appreciation for bicycle touring might require an ability to experience the marvellous in the mundane. It was such fun to share with Lizzy that experience. And what made that possible was the provisioning of that trail, all the way from Lilydale to Warburton with no motor traffic.

Excellent report and photos.  I hope you companion now has a taste for it, though you might worry that your Mercury looks to be her size...
I agree that you don't have to go far, or for long, for it to feel like an adventure.  I need to dust my tent off, I haven't been camping yet this year, I used to do a few even shorter overnight trips, out Fri evening and back for lunch on Sat, odd thing is now I have more time I'm doing less...
Your tent looks great, not dissimilar to my TN Solar, that seemed an extravagance when I bought it 17 years ago. I was looking for a replacement about five years ago as the fly was past it's best, couldn't find anything I liked as much, then out of the blue a new flysheet appeared on the manufacturers website, I snapped it up.
Bike loading - I don't tend to use my Mercury for camping, if I do it's an overnight with minimum kit, no cooked breakfast on me.  For the Surly I take camping, I've just bought some fork cages and drybags as an experiment, a sort of halfway step between 2 and 4 panniers. 

PH, luckily my Merc is way too big for Lizzy. She can't even try it out.

I love it that you can appreciate an easy tour, with camping. This was a short trip, and yet extraordinarily memorable.


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