Mountains and Cities – part three

(Continues from Part One and Part Two.)

Thursday was my final day in Sydney, after which I planned to head up to the Blue Mountains for a couple of days. I slept in, spent a while wandering around New Town, ate lunch, drank a coffee or two, read a book for a while, and before I knew it, it was half past three. If I was going to leave Sydney at all that day, it was time to make my getaway. After a hurried re-packing of the bike, I was on the road by 4:30. On the road, but not actually moving. Parramatta Road was a carpark, and the lanes were too narrow for me to filter through the traffic. Eventually I reached the M4, which I hoped might be moving a bit faster. Not so much. At least on the motorway there was enough space for me to duck between the mostly-stationary cars. The traffic continued to be heavy all the way to Richmond, and I was worried that I might end up riding Bell’s Line Road in a long queue of cars stuck behind a truck. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and as I headed up into the Blue Mountains I had the road pretty much to myself. I did the final, winding 80km leg from Richmond to Lithgow a lot quicker than the 70km from Sydney to Richmond.

I pitched my tent at the Lithgow caravan park while it was still light, then rode into town to grab some dinner. The first restaurant I came to was one of those old-fashioned Australian places, no fancy food or posh service but massive helpings. They didn’t have anything vegetarian on their menu, but I asked if they could do something and ended up getting a vegetarian pasta with a sauce which contained large chunks of several kinds of vegetables. It was actually pretty good; not fancy but healthy and filling.

On Friday I did the tourist thing around the Blue Mountains. Saw the Three Sisters at Kattomba, then Leura Falls, then stopped at Rubyfruit, a vegan café recommended by Lisa for lunch. And coffee. And dessert. Then off to Jenolan Caves, which was a enjoyable ride in, until I got to the final few kilometres where the road was very narrow, steep and full of tight hairpin bends, which could more accurately be described as scary. I went on a tour of Imperial Cave and took the long way to Lithgow via Oberon.

When I got back to Lithgow I took a quick ride up to the lookout at Hassans Walls, sat for a while watching nothing much happen. Then I looked on Urbanspoon to see if there might be better dinner options in town than where I ate the previous night. I ended up going to a posh restaurant a little way out of town where I splurged and had a three course meal while I wrote my diary and consulted my maps to decide on my route home (with a little inspiration from people on the Netrider forum and the “Top 200 Rides in Australia” booklet that came with my map book).

I packed up my tent and set off early on Saturday morning, beginning my planned 1100km route back to Melbourne. I took a route recommended on my motorcycle road atlas, out of Lithgow along Magpie Hollow Road (sounds a bit like it should be in Harry Potter), through the ‘town’ of Sodwalls, and then along Mutton Falls Road (another excellent name) until I joined the main road from Bathurst to Goulburn. Then south to Goulburn, along the Hume Freeway to Yass where it was time for a lunch stop. From Yass I took a road recommended on Netrider, taking a narrow, twisty road to Wee Jasper and then a dirt road to Tumut.

Just as I left Yass it started to drizzle. By the time I got to Wee Jasper it was definitely raining steadily, but in the spirit of “what could possibly go wrong?” I pressed on along the dirt road. There was a 4WD right behind me as I left Wee Jasper, so I let him pass me and then stuck behind him for a good 35km. Then he turned off somewhere and I was on my own. With about 20km to go til Tumut, disaster struck: my front wheel hit either some slippery mud or loose, wet gravel and slid out. I lost control and fell off. The bike slid along the dirt for a bit but fortunately stopped short of falling off the side of the ride. I was very glad to be wearing full leathers. After coming off the bike at 50 km/h and landing hard on my knee, all I had to show for it was a bruise.

Embarrassingly, I wasn’t able to lift my bike up by myself, even though it’s just a 250cc. I walked half a kilometre to the nearest farmer, who came out and helped me get the bike upright. Then he bent my gear shift lever back into shape. We checked the brakes and they still did their thing. Started the engine and that worked too. A good start! All of my luggage was still firmly attached, too. The front left hand turn signal had snapped off, the bracket holding the headlight in had popped out and there was a big dent in the fuel tank. Not too bad. The farmer then suggested that I talk to his neighbour who “knew all about bikes”. He looked at it, couldn’t see anything seriously wrong and declared that if I’d managed to ride it a few hundred metres there’s no reason why it wouldn’t take me the rest of the way home to Melbourne.

I was a bit shaken after the crash, though, so I rode the short distance into Tumut, got a room at the local pub and downed a few pints.

When I got to Tumut I reattached the indicator with some glue and then on Sunday there was nothing for it but to ride the remaining distance back to Melbourne. As I first set off I realised that my front wheel no longer lined up with the handlebars and the handling felt a bit off, so I abandoned my plan of twisties and took some of the straight line highways that characterise most of outback Australia. First stop was Wagga Wagga, which wasn’t on the direct route home but the name makes it one of the icons of the eastern states, so I figured I might as well go there since I was in the area. From there, the Olympic Highway heads south to Albury on the NSW/Victoria border. It’s one of those flat, straight country highways that I’m very familiar with from my time in Western Australia. For some reason, I found it to be a much more enjoyable ride than the freeway. Perhaps it’s a combination of being in a slightly more isolated area with less traffic and the feeling that you’re actually passing through real places rather than being fenced off and bypassing them like you are in a safe, fast freeway.

But from Albury onwards, I stuck to the Hume Freeway, the quickest and most direct way home. After a few forgettable hours, I hit Melbourne’s Western Ring Road and then Sydney Road through the suburbs. Home safe and sound after 4000km of riding in two weeks, if a bit shaken after the crash and with a bike that would need a good wash and a few repairs before I rode it again for any distance.

Mountains and Cities – part two

(If you missed it, here is Part One.)

The story resumes in Canberra, where I’m staying with friends Lisa and Simon (originally from Perth, like me, but who I got to know when I was living in London). Lisa was having her birthday celebration on Saturday afternoon and evening, which I had cunningly arranged my trip around. Good times were had all around with plenty of vegan food and wine and interesting new people … although I did notice that everyone there worked for the public service or the University. On Sunday I caught up with another friend, Sam. We went to visit Mt Stromlo and then the Canberra Deep Space Centre in Tidbinbilla. There was a certain irony to be to travelling on some of Canberra’s best biking roads as a passenger in a Hyundai Getz, but sometimes that’s just how things turn out.

On Monday, I set off for Sydney, taking the scenic route: taking Kings Highway down Clyde Mountain to Batemans Bay, the north along the coast to Nowra, where I turned off towards Kangaroo Valley. More wonderfully twisty (but slightly scary) roads to Kangaroo Valley and out the other side to Robertson, where I took another “scenic drive” turn-off down to Jamberoo. The descent had lots of hairpins and the road was narrow and damp, so I took it quite slowly. So slowly, in fact, that there was a Suzuki Swift stuck impatiently behind me. Sorry, Suzuki Swift driver! There wasn’t anywhere I could safely pull over.

After Jamberoo I returned to the main road and rode to Wollongong, where I stopped briefly to refuel and have a drink of water. Consulting my phone, I memorised the route to David’s place in Sydney … or so I thought! At some point along the way, I missed the turn-off and ended up on the Eastern Distributor, a toll freeway tunnel that spat me out right into the CBD at the tail end of peak hour. I had no idea of the road layout of central Sydney, nowhere I could legally park to consult my map and anyway I wasn’t moving very quickly in the dense traffic. I decided to park on the footpath for a bit to check my map, and after a few more missed turns, eventually made it to Petersham an hour later.

On Tuesday, I caught up with another friend during the day and spent more time chatting with David and his partner in the evening. On Wednesday, I went for a bit of a ride. Crawling through Sydney traffic to Windsor, then out through Sackville Ferry and Wisemans Ferry over the Hawkesbury River. After the second ferry, I turned left onto the dirt road out to St Albans, a historic settlement with some beautiful old architecture. After about 50km of gravel I returned to the main road at Wollombi, where I continued north towards Singleton. At some point I hit the start of Putty Road, a name familiar to bikers and sports cars in New South Wales. And what a glorious road it is: a smooth, wide road with 140km worth of corners, almost all of which can be taken easily at the speed limit (on a bike, anyway).

To be continued…

Mountains and Cities – part one

It was a cold, grey Tuesday morning in Melbourne as I was loading up my bike with the things I’d need for two weeks away: maps, camera, a few changes of clothes, my tent, some breakfast food and no laptop. Although supposedly an Australian summer, it wasn’t the kind I was used to in Perth. At 9am I set off, hoping that I’d miss peak hour traffic—but that also turned out to be a bit optimistic, and as I crawled along the CityLink freeway and out the other side of the tunnel to the M1, it started to drizzle. Not the most cheerful start to a roadtrip, but at least I was on my bike with nothing to be worrying about except where the road would take me. And I had a plan: leave the freeway at Cranbourne and follow the coast east, more or less, to Gippsland where my relatives lived. It took almost three hours to cover the 180km to Foster, where I stopped for lunch. By this time, the rain had stopped but the weather was still looking pretty grim.

Heading further east, I took another detour at Bairnsdale and went to visit the town of Paynesville, on the shores of one of Gippsland’s lakes. I’d arrived a bit late to take the ferry over to nearby Raymond Island, but it was good to stretch my legs a bit by wandering around the town. The wind was fierce, and on my ride into Paynesville I found I had the bike leaning over quite a bit to go straight, which was a new, exciting and not entirely pleasant experience for me.

But I still had a bit further to go before I reached Peter and Mary’s property just outside the town of Orbost. Visiting there is a bit of an experience, quite unlike my usual city slicker lifestyle: no mobile phone reception, electricity comes from their solar panels and batteries and water from the dam on their property. They even have a satellite internet connection. A fair proportion of the vegetables in my dinner came from their own garden. It’s a great place to be, but I suspect I’d go mad if I lived somewhere like that permanently.

I’d planned to leave on Wednesday to head up towards Mt Beauty, and then climb Mt Bogong—the highest mountain in Victoria—the following day. But on the radio in the morning we heard news of snow and subzero temperatures in the high country. Time to reconsider that plan, then. In fact, for most of the morning it was raining solidly and there was a severe weather warning for strong winds near where I was, apparently up to 110 km/h. I decided to stay inside where it was warm and dry. Early in the afternoon the rain stopped and I ventured out, visiting Cape Conran and Mesung.

Thursday was all about riding. I plotted out a less-than-direct route to Bright, on the other side of the Victorian Alps. Leaving Orbost I headed towards Buchan, along a wonderfully twisty road through amazingly beautiful countryside. It wasn’t really a road for going fast on, with lots of fallen leaves and rocks on the road, and most of the corners having poor visibility and no advisory speed signs. But that just made the scenery more enjoyable.

After Buchan, I headed north, where the road turned to gravel. After a while, I reached the fabulously named “Seldom Seen Service Station” (which appears to be closed for good), and then the road forks in three ways: the Snowy River Road north to the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, McKillop’s Road east through Gippsland to the Bonang Highway, or Limestone Road west to Omeo in the Victorian high country. I chose west. The sign said “78km winding road”. That’s the good kind of sign when you’re on a bike. I should probably point out that my off-bitumen riding experience at this point was pretty much limited to the 2.5km stretch on the way to Mary and Peter’s place, but I did okay taking my road bike on gravel for over 100km, building up a bit of confidence for further unsealed stretches that will appear in future instalments.

After a lunch stop at Omeo, I turned onto the Great Alpine Road and went a long way up and around a lot of corners to Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham. Then a long way down again to Bright, where I set up my tent for the night and downed a few tasty pints at the local brewery.

My aim on Friday was to be in Canberra by the end of the day, but I wasn’t in a hurry so I took the long way: down the hill to Tawonga, then a scenic detour along Redbank Road (as recommended in my “top 200 rides in Australia” booklet) until I hit the Murray Valley Highway to Corryong, near the Victoria / New South Wales border. I stopped for lunch and made sure my passport was in order and my money was ready to be changed. Hitting the road again, I crossed the Murray River and the Murray Valley Highway in Victoria became the Alpine Way in New South Wales. It was all a bit anti-climactic. Even the sign on the state border was fairly nondescript. Then came the corners. Lots of corners. I gained a new motorcycling skill shortly after I entered NSW: avoiding potholes mid-corner. Actually, most of it wasn’t too bad, but there were a few shockers near the state border. The road went up and up and around and around, past Thredbo and Jindabyne and then a more gentle decline in elevation down to Cooma.

After Cooma, it was a straight and dull 110km ride to Canberra. I finally arrived in Canberra at 5:30pm, just in time for the afternoon peak fifteen minutes of traffic. Fortunately, being on a bike, the congestion didn’t really apply to me, as I filtered through long queues of stationary cars. Oddly, this didn’t seem to be a common thing for bikers in Canberra to do; I passed a few that were sitting in line with all the cars, and as I got closer to the town centre, a car decided to shift position in his lane to cut me off. Wound down his window and yelled “get faaaaarked”. This was the first time I’d encountered hostility towards filtering! But I made it through Canberra’s maze of roundabouts without getting lost and met up with Lisa and Simon—which felt slightly odd as I realised the last time I saw them we’d all been living in England.

To be continued…