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.
Bike decided to take a nap on the slippery dirt road. As my friend Patrick put it, “YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO GIVE THEM NAPS.”
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.