Sun on your back, birds singing in the skies around you; a landscape of rolling hills, dams, sheep, cows and wire fences stretching for miles, or native bush stretching as far as the eye can see.
There's one thing all in common: the winding dirt roads.
Not new to the cycling scene but certainly now taking its place as the new fave among many road cyclists, gravel cycling has it all.
The biggest highlight? No cars - or at least very few.
Here in Bendigo, we are so lucky with our sealed cycle paths and the tracks around the city but look a little further and you'll find so much more on offer when it comes to fun on two wheels.
With all that was happening during 2020, gravel riding became the regular thing for me.
I kitted myself out with a gravel bike (oh yes, there is a specific bike for gravel) and scoured the maps of fellow gravellier's to seek out the best spots to ride - and boy do we have some beauties!
Not one to shy away from any kind of challenge I found myself straying off the paths on my maps to find where that road went, what that track was doing; could I take my bike there?
Yes, I did - ending up on mountain bike singletracks along the Goldfields Track and pretty extreme four-wheel drive tracks around One Tree Hill and the Greater Bendigo National Parks.
As gravel riding grows in popularity, I have been very lucky that a few of the ladies I ride with regularly have also crossed over to the dirt side - we've been getting together and exploring Bendigo's many great gravel spots.
First up was a mix of four-wheel drive tracks, mountain bike singletrack and dirt roads around the water race in Mandurang.
For the girls newer to gravel, this was a real eye opener as to what the gravel bike can actually do: no, you don't need to stick to just flat dirt roads.
The next time we hightailed it out to the Wellsford Forest - easily the most accessible area of dirt roads between Bendigo East, Heathcote and Goornong, and the closest to home.
You can go for miles in here with every road offering something different: from the extreme corrugations that nearly shake your teeth out, to smooth stretches that keep going and going, and sandy pockets that have you fishtailing and wondering where the beach is.
Predominantly flat, the Wellsford makes for great cruising, but look out on weekends as the area is frequented a lot by four-wheel drives, utes and motorbikes.
Our most recent ride took us to beautiful Pilchers Bridge reserve, 20 kilometres east of Bendigo between Eppalock and Myrtle Creek.
This area has a great pocket of dirt roads and bush tracks all surrounded by tar roads and definitely not a car in sight, though it is a bit of a hike to get to.
Don't be misled by what appears on the map to be a short cut as you might just find yourself on a bit of a hike rather than a ride - but hey, that's the beauty of gravel cycling: if you're willing to explore, sometimes you never know what you're going to get.
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