A week at the Prom

In what has become a little bit of a family tradition we have just returned from a week at Wilsons Promontory.  The concept of escaping the ever building commercialism that is the pre-Christmas run-up and also an opportunity to spend a week with a group of families in one of the most beautiful places I know is just too good to pass up. Before I go on I must fess up, we drove to Wilsons Prom. I know it’s kind of against the rules but apart from not going (and more about that in a bit) there was really no other way. Well that’s not entirely true, in fact we could have caught a train to Warragul, a coach to Koonwarra and then another bus to Tidal river, but we would then have had to carry all our own gear, which for a week with four people is really not gonna happen.

Now I said that one of the options was to not go, and I really think in the fullness of time this is the option that people are going to have to take. I think that as energy gets more expensive we are, as a society, going to need to re-evaluate what holidays are. It’s occurred to me that we would historically drive down to Torquay to swim in the beach and play for a week and yet the concept of going and staying with my mother in-law near the bay beaches had never really occurred to me as a holiday. More and more I think we need to really pull out the essence of what a holiday is and choose that over a location. I think that in time we’ll find that an opportunity to be with friends, be somewhere different and away from our house and in our case where the children can play in different surrounds will become more important than where we actually go to. That said I also really want my kids to experience the bush and camping to be a big part of their lives.

It’s also true that we could have decreased the amount of time we spent at the location and used the bikes to get there. The gear thing is still an issue, and the time that we would have to take off from work, but this is also a possibility. Unfortunately my memory of what we now call the great ‘rail-trail debacle’ is still fresh in my mind. You see we’ve been through this thought process before. In the months leading up to the start of ‘our year’ we decided that we were going to try a cargo bike holiday. It started off brilliantly. It was a sunny day and the kids and I loaded our stuff in to the cargo bike, jumped onto the train and headed off for Geelong. This would be our jumping off point to Queenscliff, via the rail-trail. Now to give a bit of background; both Nikki and I have done a lot of riding, we’ve done multiple round the bays in which you would ride from Melbourne to Queenscliff before lunchtime, so when I looked at the map the distance seemed too small to even worry about.

So off we went, the bike went with the guard and we went in the train which was fairly empty so the kids could stretch out and Pip even got a chance to catch a few zzz’s. We arrived at Geelong loaded up and were on our way. I had brought some packed lunch but it soon became apparent that we would need to get some more food so our first opportunistic stop at a milk bar yielded some food, but far from the absence of plastic that our ‘eco-trip’ was supposed to include. I also quickly realised that the rail-trail gates and road crossing that would not normally concern me where quite an issue in a heavily laden bike that I had to bring to pretty much a complete stop every time. But hey, it was a pleasant day, the kids were singing and I can do with the exercise!  What I didn’t realise  was just how slowly we were actually moving until 3 hours in we rolled in to Drysdale almost exactly ½ way there. By the time we actually got to Queenscliff and our fantastic little cabin at the caravan park I was very pleased that there was a cold beer on offer and a jumping pillow to amuse the kids while I flaked out.

The next two days was really pleasant but it became quickly apparent that in our desire to use the bike and avoid using the car, we had not been able to pack a lot of things. So as a result we had to buy all our provisions at the local store, with the limited range, abundance of packaging and increased cost of a ‘general store’. We also ended up eating out more than we probably would have had we brought our own food.

The real kicker though came on the last day when we headed off for home with a slight niggling doubt about the need to get on a train and a blistering headwind. Cargo bikes may be a lot of things but aerodynamic aint one of them. We pushed and heaved until the weather decided it was being all too nice to us and threw driving rain into the mix. Up goes the hood on the bike, further up goes our frontal area. Despite this we arrived, wet and exhausted only to find that through the wisdom of Victoria’s rail system only ‘sprinter’ type trains run on Sunday. Upshot, there is no guards carriage and no way to get the bike through the door. After much swearing about beaurocracy and the logic of having regional trains with less capacity than metro ones we finally reviewed our options. We tossed up riding to Werribee to catch the metro train, ditching the bike to come and get it another day and even sending one of use home to hire a trailer and drive back. Every option seemed to have one common theme, they were pretty bad options!

In the end we decided, after more packaged food, that we would just stay the night in Geelong and go home in the morning. I’ll spare you the details and exhaustion arguments that go along with trying to find a cheap hotel on a Sunday, in the rain, with two toddlers but needless to say it wasn’t a great time. It was only later when the kids had flaked out and we had warmed up did we realise that apart from not driving we had spent more money, consumed more and had a greater impact than we would have had if we had just driven in the first place.

This has become a bit of a recurring theme. It seems that often there aren’t clear good and bad options and that frequently you’re left to just go with what you think is best at the time. It was with this in mind that we balanced the fact that we would drive to the Prom, but in doing so could carry our own food and cooking gear. The food was our own, sourced from the garden or local shops and relatively waste, packaging and needless junk free. Our access to camping gear meant we could camp rather than rely on other accommodation and hence were power free all week. Above all I think that whilst this breaks our own rules, our children are never really going to get why we’re doing this unless they are exposed to nature and taken away from the constant consumption and intensity of normal life. I spent a lot of time growing up camping and really want my kids to do the same. So until the kids can ride their own bikes the necessary 100km or there we discover some national parks within access of public transport we may just have to bend our rules every so often.