St Albans, Australia
I’m sure cycling to work through Death Valley, Eastern California on your work must be quite uncomfortable. Or Mumbai in the midday heat if, like me, you’re bald and you’ve forgotten your helmet. Or perhaps down the Baghdad Airport Road on a unicycle.
But in Australia, I think I could have one of the worst rides to work in the country – Altona Meadows to City West Water in St Albans Road, Sunshine.
Once you get past the fish n chip that changes owners every nine months (it was once called “Tropicanna” with the delicious mix of flake and black bean noodles) you get to the underpass, invariably flooded up to your pedals. The option it to risk cycling through the water, sprinting across three train tracks or peddaling safely three kilometres around and waiting for the train to pass. Suffice to say, I go the underpass. Unless it it really poured the previous night. Then I need to carry my bike over basalt rocks and the train tracks. Hairy in the dark.
The main bridge over the tracks is a nice spot to see kids chroming – although it’s been too cold for that recently. But there’s been a huge increase in mattress dumping instead. Nice place to come off the bike, as there’s always somewhere to rest.
Laverton is on the other side of Altona Meadows. It is all clapped out ex-Air Force houses. Ten years time, and it’ll be nice enough, but some of the homes at the moment could do with a bulldozer or two. Which they actually are. One house looks like a redneck junkyard. Lukily there’s a huge wall seperating the Princes Highway from Laverton, so there’s rarely any wind.
Fitzgerald Road is the main route for trucks in the industrial west. You’ve got to be careful riding here in the wet and the dark, as you’re about 75 cms from sets of very big wheels. You need to get over the road too, so best not to take anything for granted and wait for the traffic lights to turn green.
The bike path heads past the glass recycling factory and a very big factory with a lot of steam that smells like an abbatoir in summer and a smelter in winter. In spring it’s not too bad, but the magpies swoop to hurry you on your way. There’s actually seats along the bike path here where you can stop and enjoy the belching chimmneys sending stinking particles into the air.
Once you get past the truck stop along the Western Ring Road (there’s a burnt out VW van that’s been there years) the bike and walking path through Sunshine West is sedate enough except for the huge electricty pylons that audibly buzz overhead. I once saw a couple getting intimate beneath one. The sex was electric, I guess.
Ardeer is similar to Laverton, only more graffiti and closed stores. It also has a terrible train crossing where trains literally crawl past and if you want to wait you can sit there for ten minutes at a time. I give up now and take the bike through the gates.
City West Water is only ten minutes away, and it’s all smooth sailing except for the drag strip along St Albans Road, the cement works and the odd smashed bottle or two along the footpaths.
A lovely hour of cycling, that’s for sure. Unsure when is the worst time to cycle the route is. Winter (rain, cold, blinding tuck lights); spring (shocking headwind); autumn (shocking headwine – and cold) or summer (stinking factories).