This idyllic rail trail in the beautiful Yarra Valley is an ideal site for an annual clan gathering, as Andi Clarke relates.
Family traditions come in many shapes and sizes and one of the most enduring in our family is our annual ‘Warbie Bike Ride’. Now in its 13th year, the ride started with my husband and I and a couple of friends and has steadily grown over the years. We now have up to 40 riders and the younger generation of our family have grown up with the ‘Warbie Ride’ as part of their family culture.
The first time we rode the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail was pre-children. With only ourselves to think about and a much larger disposable income, we did the whole 38km on the Saturday, stayed in a hotel at Warburton and then cycled back on the Sunday. We were puritans and carried our entire luggage on our bikes and wouldn’t dream of relying on a support vehicle for just the two of us.
After our first success on the trail we saw no reason why the rest of the family couldn’t join us, so the following year we all took the train to Lilydale station and cycled the entire trail. There were fourteen riders, the youngest of whom was two years old and on a child’s seat on her dad’s bike, my pregnant sister was our single-handed support crew. We stayed in on-site vans at the Warburton caravan park.
The trip was a winner and we pledged to do it again the following year. I think it was around the 4th or 5th successive year that we realised that it was pretty much embedded in the family culture and calendar—in fact, it was probably around this time that my sister-in-law told her teenage son that as long as he lived under their roof, he would be going on the Warbie Bike Ride!
Rail trails are ideal for family cycling, they often link charming small towns and travel through varied scenery and given trains can’t cope with excessive gradients, they are generally not super steep, and the Lilydale to Warburton trail fits this description. There are, however, some prolonged uphill sections, particularly on the ’bookends’ of the ride. The uphill ride from Lilydale to Mt Evelyn proved to be a bit of a challenge for some of the younger riders and to my mind doesn’t hold the same aesthetic attraction that the rest of the ride offers, and so we’ve subsequently changed the start of our ride to Mt Evelyn. Mt Evelyn has a café with good coffee (well, it’s not all about the riding!) and a big carpark so we can leave a few cars here and do a car shuffle at the end of the day. This also means that we can start the ride with a lovely downhill run—the perfect warm up for kids and those who aren’t often on their bikes.
The trail crosses the road at several points, most of these crossings are either on back roads or have traffic lights but there are one or two where the traffic can be a little fast and it’s worth being pretty strict about children not crossing without an adult. The ride travels through really pretty countryside, from small vineyards to farm pastures to bushland—it’s a great place to be with your family. You pass through pretty little towns and old stations and there is a selection of shops and cafes dotted along the trail, including my personal favourite, a café made from an old train carriage in Seville. The mid-section of the ride is pretty flat and a fairly easy ride for kids although they can get a little bored in the section between Yarra Junction and Millgrove where it is particularly flat and open—this is the section where the sunscreen gets a workout!
These days we have a larger number of young children on the ride and we start from Mt Evelyn and finish up at Yarra Junction. All the kids over seven completed this distance on their own this year. We had a four year old who also managed it, with some others on tag-a-longs. I would say being flexible about what we call ‘the Warbie Ride’ and pragmatic about what a large, diverse group can achieve has allowed us to tailor the ride to suit our requirements and has kept people interested. From the very first family Warbie ride, we have had a support vehicle, generally driven by someone in the family who for one reason or another is not able to ride. The support vehicle transports the lunches to the mid-point and is available to do pick-ups if the going gets too tough for anyone. Knowing that support is not far away if you need it, particularly for younger children, or those who do little to no riding between the Warbie rides, makes all the difference! If you have a group with older children and/or a group of more regular riders, arguably, this support wouldn’t be needed.
We call Woori Yallock the midpoint and this is where we have our lunch. The lunches are prepared by a team of us on the Friday night and as Warbie Ride tradition would have it, are presented in a paper bag with your name on it. They contain a roll or sandwich and a little chocolate and mini bag of chips—one of the lunch time activities is the trade in chip flavours! Woori Yallock is a large flat area well suited for a large group to congregate, although I would say the steep uphill ride to the local public conveniences, does detract from its practicality. Yarra Junction, which is a couple of stops on from Woori Yallock, is a great spot if you have children on-board as there is a well-appointed playground, toilets close by, and with a supermarket across the road it has become our icy pole afternoon tea stop! Nowadays this is also where many of us finish up and get a lift with our ‘SAG wagon’ back to our accommodation.
As the event grew in riders, we started to rent two to three houses in Warburton and for the last two years have stayed at the guide camp in Wesburn, bringing everyone back together in one location.
In the first year of the ride, I didn’t imagine it would become an annual event, much less a family institution of more than a decade. I can’t say how much longer it will go on for, however, I can imagine myself saying to our daughters, now aged four and seven, that ‘As long as they live under our roof…’
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