Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Sixtieth Birthday Ride

Birthday boy - Morawa campsite
What do you do the day you partner turns 60? You load the bikes with camping gear and go for a ride. Devil (F650GS) and Dwarf (R1200GS) were soon carving up the Brookton Highway and heading for the bakery at Toodyay. We stopped to check on the health of Perth's water supply at Mundaring Weir and then we were on the road again enjoying the cool morning air and the wildflowers. Full of smiles after devouring an award winning pastie, from Toodyay we rode northwards through the remote wheatbelt towns of Bolgart, Calingiri, Yerecoin, finding towns and names we had never even heard of. Although the wildflower season in this neck of the woods is officially over, pockets of wildflowers still lined the way and at times it seemed that all the colours of the rainbow were in bloom. Perenjori welcomed us later in the day, the pub offering T-Bone, chips and salad for $15 but with the sun still well up in the sky we road onwards and set up camp in the council caravan park in Morawa. We cooked our own steak for Steve's 60th birthday tea and shared it with a couple a dozen bush flies but that's the outback for you if you want to cook and clean up before dark. No outback town is complete without the outback barking dog, who will keep you awake long into the night, but Steve said his 60th was "memorable, and a bloody good ride."

Somewhere between Mullewa and Binnu
By 7:30am we were back on the road again. We were greeted with a "proceed with caution" warning when we turned onto the Mullewa-Wubin Rd. This mostly single lane, road train route, could present its challenges but we rode on alone and this road felt way more outback that riding east from Broken Hill. A very helpful attendant at the Mullewa Roadhouse explained the road to Kalbarri via the outback way and she said "follow the sign to Yuna, about 18km out of town, then Kalbarri should be signposted." Right on 18km we easily found the signpost to Yuna and then we were riding free again with not a care in the world. By midday we rode into Kalbarri township, and it felt good to be back in one of my favourite coastal towns.

A Western Dragon
We checked into the caravan park in the centre of town, and spent a couple of days tuned into Kalbarri time. One afternoon we had the pleasure of the company of a pair of Western Dragons while we sat peacefully on the banks of the Murchison River. They seemed oblivious to our presence, and were enjoying their late afternoon feed provided by a local ant colony. A couple of times we returned to the same place but they were nowhere to be seen.

Natures Window - Kalbarri National Park

This trip was all about the ride and after a couple of days in Kalbarri we were back on the road again, heading towards home. We took it easy in the early morning light and stopped for morning tea at Port Gregory. At the rest area we met lone adventure cyclist, Verena Trickst. Verena had been on the road for nineteen months, travelling overland through Asia. Cycling The Gibb River Road lured Verena to Australia and it was fascinating to listen to her stories. Verena said she "preferred to wild camp" at the end of each day. When we rode away from Port Gregory, I spent quite some time checking out the roadside verges and I didn't see anywhere suitable to pitch a tent; all I saw was long grass and fences.

HMAS Sydney II Memorial
We stopped for lunch in Geraldton and took some timeout to appreciate the peace and serenity of The HMAS Sydney II memorial. This memorial site is magical, you could imagine sitting there for hours in peaceful meditation.

Dongara provided us with the last campsite before home. We dined in the camp kitchen and drank good red wine. 

Steve's 60th birthday ride had been a great success ~ until next time......

Red Devil (BMW F650GS) & Red Dwarf (BMW R1200GS) at Port Gregory

Monday, 30 October 2017

Roman Tracker 3VD Tent – Review

First night in the Tracker 3VD - at Morawa
This is what Steve had to say:

You may ask what expertise we have to review a tent. No technical knowledge, but a huge amount of camping over the last ten years or so. We have completed a long trip of at least nine weeks (the longest being seven months) every second year, as well as many weekends and short trips (up to three weeks).

We have actually used seven different lightweight dome tents during this period. Four of these were three man tents and three were four man tents. We used the three man tents for single nights and when travelling on the bikes without the trailer. When I tow the trailer we take the four man tent for the additional comfort.

Outdoor Equipped 3EV - at Kiama
All the tents have been good in the wet, but with excessive use, have gradually deteriorated under the intense UV of the bright Australian sunlight. The biggest issue has been the tents collapsing in the wind.

During our ten week 2016 trip the Outdoor Equipped 3EV tent sprung a leak in the floor; the floor perforated along one of the fold lines. As it was during the New South Wales floods we had to purchase a new tent very quickly. The guy ropes on this tent were attached quite high up, and in wind the tent caved in below the guy attachments.

Outdoor Connection Escape 3 Plus - at Nagambie 
We were in Wangaratta, where there are a couple of camping stores, so we had a little bit of choice. We decided on the Outdoor Connection Escape 3 Plus since we have a four man Bedarra model from the same manufacturer. The Bedarra has been an excellent tent and has seen a lot of use, is great in all conditions and we have never had any issues with it.

The Escape 3 Plus was an issue immediately, when we arrived at the campsite on the afternoon of purchasing the tent we found no poles in the package (we thought it seemed light). Luckily we hadn’t gone far and the retailer had another tent in stock with poles. Our main issue with the tent was that the fly just never seemed to fit correctly. The guy ropes were attached lower than with the previous tent, but it then collapsed above the guys when windy.

In September 2017, while on a trip to Albany in South Western Australia we visited Trailblazers camping store (just to get out of the rain). They had the Roman Tracker 3VD Tent on display. It is a geodesic design and on careful inspection looked perfect for us. So back home, I did some internet research, and we decided that we should swap tents. We sold the Escape 3 Plus via the internet and then phoned our preferred local store, Compleat Angler and Camping World Rockingham, for a price. They didn’t stock this model tent but got back to us with a great price (matching internet retailers) so once again they got our custom.

Tracker 3VD - showing the guy ropes - at Kalbarri
After the first trip of five nights we are extremely happy with the Tracker 3VD. We put it up three times over the five nights, getting a little quicker each time. Since there are five poles (reinforced durawrap) it takes longer to put up and take down. We also thought the poles were stiffer than on the other three man tents. There are also eight guy ropes, one on each corner, two for the vestibule and one at the centre of each side. We didn’t deploy the side guys every night.

Although we had no severe weather to fully test the tent, we had showers one night and moderate wind (approximately 15 knots on the tent). The tent was very rigid and of course water tight (with 3000mm waterproofing, which is better than most dome tents).

There is only a vestibule at one end, but this is large for a three man tent. In fact it is quite a stretch to close the vestibule zips from within the inner tent. The shoulders of the inner tent are generous which creates good internal volume and thus feels larger than the other three man domes we have owned. The advertising for the tracker 3VD talks about “Roman's unique CROSSFLOW ventilation” but this probably just means it has fly windows on both sides, just like most dome tents. The side and rear windows on the inner tent don’t have material covers, so there is a lot of ventilation. Maybe too much if it gets very cold.

We also liked the colour and thought it was a good looking tent. Travelling on motorcycles we thought that, at 6.5kg, it may be a little heavy, but we found the weight was not an issue.

Roman Tracker 3VD Tent - Features
•             Flysheet: 210T Waterproofed 3000mm, PU coated
•             Flysheet with tape sealed seams
•             Inner: Breathable Polyester
•             Floor: Heavy Duty 12x12 PE with welded seams
•             Reinforced Durawrap tent frame poles
•             No-See-Um mesh to provide a Bug Proof Zone
•             Geodesic frame system for maximum stability
•             Extra large “D” door with door-in-door zips
•             Side covered / mesh windows
•             Roman's unique CROSSFLOW ventilation
•             Reinforced guy rope points with fitted ropes
•             Roof vents to expel hot air
•             UV protection on fly
•             Features durable carry bag
•             Pegs and rope included
•             Weight: 6.5kg
•             Dimensions: 215 x 195 x 125cm

Roman Diamantina 4VD - at Jindabyne, Another Geodesic tent
Geodesic Tents
The term geodesic is a mathematical one. A ‘geodesic’ line is the shortest route between two points on earth. It’s used to describe a tent where the poles criss-cross over the surface, intersecting to form triangles. This distributes the stress across the structure, making it the most stable type of tent for extreme weather conditions. If you climb Everest, chances are that you will want to take a geodesic tent with you.

Outdoor Connection Bedarra - at Katoomba
Our Tents
2006 - Oz Trail 3P
2007 - Kathmandu Basecamp Retreat 100
2008 - Roman Diamantina 4VD
2012 - Outdoor Connection Bedarra (family tent)
2012 - Outdoor Equipped 3EV
2016 - Outdoor Connection Escape 3 Plus Dome Tent
2017 - Roman Tracker 3VD Tent by Companion Brands

Kathmandu Basecamp Retreat 100 - at Lake St Clair
Oz Trail 3P - at Wagin

Friday, 8 September 2017

Margaret River Ride

The first sign of a three day break in the weather and Devil (F650GS) and Dwarf (R1200GS) were loaded with our camping gear and we were off on a ride to Margaret River in the south-west of Western Australia; the long way round. By 8am we were making our way up the hill to Dwellingup, our heated grips protecting us from a chilly 9 C. We stopped in the rest area in town to drink tea and chew on an apple, and then we were on the road again, enjoying the Lower Hotham Road on our way to Collie. A cup-a-soup and a ham sandwich, was all we needed for lunch as an apple pie from the Big Apple Bakery in Donnybrook was part of our itinerary.

First time in the tent for 2017.
From Donnybrook we cruised a few kilometers along the South Western Highway and then we took Dwarfies favourite road, the one that twists and turns with the Blackwood River all the way from Balingup to Nannup. Nannup looked simply beautiful when we rode into town, everywhere so green, the trees in flower and the air so still. By now it was 3pm and it was time to ride the final 70km to Margaret River before the kangaroos start waking up at 4pm.

$54 later we had taken an unpowered site, for two nights, at the Margaret River Tourist Park, the tent was up and we were as happy as can be, sitting in our camp chairs and drinking a cold beer. The guys at Kappadokia Kebab fed us late in the evening and then we settled into our little tent, our head lights guiding the way, and for a moment life seemed so simple and easy; we were enjoying life on the road again.

Water Wheel @ Cape Leeuwin
Caves Road is a delight on a day ride from Margaret River. The following morning we road south to Augusta, free as a bird gliding amongst the tall timbers that line the road side and forever wary of the tin-tops, pulling out of side roads and hard braking when nearly missing their destination. Locally caught "bronzy" (bronze whaler shark) and chips is a must in Augusta and we ate ours amongst the seagulls on the banks of the Hardy Inlet. For the love of riding Caves Road we retraced our steps to the legendary chocolate factory for a generous sample of chocolate buttons and a cappuccino and a truffle. On our second night in Margaret River we dined in the popular Chang Thai Kitchen on Station Road; the food was good, the wine was good; life was good.

Back in my studio writing this blog.
On the third day we packed up our little tent and rode the long way home via Nannup, Bridgetown and Collie. The Brockman Highway, which runs between Nannup and Bridgetown, is simply magic. We rode along all day, enjoying the spiritual freedom of our own thoughts and dreams, until we were spat out on the South Western Highway for the last hour towards home.

After a thousand kilometres, we arrived home just as we had left, living by our wits amongst the tin-tops busily going about their day; until next time....

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Ride Bright to Perth

Last of the twisties, Germein Gorge
We weren't trying to break any records on our ride home to Perth and we rode away from Bright in search of the English custard tart. On previous rides in South Australia we had found many bakeries making custard tarts the English way (4 eggs, 1pt milk, 1tbsp sugar, nutmeg). This year, as we peered in the bakery window of every town we passed through, and sampled a custard tart or two, it seemed that the English custard tart was now extinct.

When you are travelling you need to pay attention, and adjust your provisioning, when crossing the strict state boarder quarantine stations. We nearly got caught out at Pinnaroo but were cheerful to find out that washed potatoes, carrots and corn (without the husk) are no worries (different quarantine ports have different restrictions).

Rest stop at Streaky Bay, on the way to Ceduna.
We overnighted at Swan Hill, then Strathalbyn, lunched in Harndorf and made camp at Kapunda. We wandered into the local hotel at Kapunda and leaned on an old wine barrel in The Kidman Room, enjoying $6 pints and listening to the local banter. We always have one eye on the weather and a forecast of 39deg at Port Augusta had us dialling the caravan park and booking a cabin for our single night at the head of Spencer Gulf

The cops were there to meet us as we rode into Ceduna and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't manage the breathalyser without taking my helmet off. Steve was asked to present his licence too but I was excused from that ritual. Fisheries and load checkers were also in attendance at the road block, which is manned 24/7, for two weeks, so no one can sneak through.

Nullabor Roadhouse
We rode west from Ceduna with the wind on our shoulders and the sun lighting the way, making the 300km ride to Nullarbor Roadhouse easily by mid morning. We remembered the whales as we passed the turn off to The Head of the Bight and I noticed that the sign read "open all year round." In November it can get very hot on The Nullarbor Plain, but we enjoyed a cool day in the desert and kept warm inside our winter gloves with a little assistance from the heated grips.

Great view and great lunch
We prepared ourselves a delicious lunch of cheese, dried fruit, nuts and biltong, overlooking The Great Australian Bight and rode into Eucla early afternoon. The attendant at the quarantine check point at Eucla just asked "tell us what's in each pannier" and did not request to see inside. However we were talking to a fellow traveller later in the afternoon and they recalled a time when they had to completely empty every cupboard in their caravan to prove they were not carrying any banned agricultural products.

Heading West from Eucla
We were away at first light for the 700km ride from Eucla to Norseman. At the first rest stop the winter gloves and fleeces were stowed away as the desert sun made her presence felt. We holed up at Cocklebiddy for awhile, drinking iced coffee on the veranda, and learning about the two wedge-tailed eagles that were being rehabilitated at the roadhouse after being injured in road accidents. Cocklebiddy is the home of the Wedgetail Inn, and behind the desk at reception is the acronym YCWCYATDDFTRFDTY. My curiosity got the better of me and it cost me $2 (for charity) to find out what it meant; if you want to know what it means you'll have to take a ride out to Cocklebiddy Roadhouse.

The caravan park at Norseman is comfortable and clean and it didn't take long to make camp and walk into town to The Norseman Hotel for a couple of pints and a good square meal of lamb chops, mashed potato and veg. Three German backpackers were dining at the pub too, they were on their way to six weeks work at Madura Station in exchange for full board and a little bit of money; I just hoped that the station manager was kind to them.

The persistent south easterly wind made the 780km ride from Norseman to home in Safety Bay an easy one and we were on the outskirts of the big smoke by 3pm. All of a sudden our journey of seventy days and 13,000 kilometers was coming to an end. Someone asked me was I "happy or sad?" to be going home. I pondered this question for many a mile while I was riding across The Nullarbor and I concluded that I was both happy and sad. Happy to enjoy some of the comforts of home, but sad to leave behind the freedom of life on the open road.
Payback for the Crests, Dips and Curves

Monday, 14 November 2016

BMW Clubs Australia Motorrad Rally 2016

Snow on Mt Hotham
We arrived one day early and were the first bikers to check into the Bright Holiday Park for the start of the BMW Clubs Australia Motorrad Rally.  On Friday we took advantage of the fine weather to lay a ghost to rest and rode up to Mt Hotham and beyond to Dinner Plain. Way back in 2007 we’d been caught out on the mountain in fog and thunder squalls and 40 knot winds. We tried again in 2008 but we turned back when we encountered cloud at 1000m. But on that Friday, in November 2016, we hit the jackpot, with clear skies, moderate winds and still a smattering of snow on the peaks.

Danny's  lookout, Mt Hotham
We were back in Bright by 1pm and hanging out at rally headquarters, enjoying a sausage sizzle and registering for the rally which was hosted by BMW Motorcycle Club Victoria (BMWMCCVIC).  I wasted no time attaching the rally pin to “The Next 100 Years” BMW cap and I wore that cap all weekend long. Back at our camp, on the banks of Morses Creek, you could hear the purr of the beamers as they rode into town and we knew we were in the right place.

Waiting for the ride start
On Saturday we were all at the meeting place ready for the selection of group rides on offer. The weather was starting to wobble, with mist on the hills, and I said to Steve, “Any whiff of rain and we should do our own thing.” We joined the Red Plod Ride (for red platers (historics), and those who feel like taking it easy). Our tail end Charlie gave a great ride briefing before we set off, with pointers like “don’t ride up the next bike’s exhaust pipe, as if they have a problem it will quickly become your problem.” Wise words, and this would have been well worth a mention at the start of The Barry Sheene Tribute Ride. By the time we made it to the top of Tawonga Gap a light drizzle misted our visors and then it rained, leaving no one in any doubt about the value of their wet weather gear.

Rally dinner
At the rally dinner, we narrowly missed out on the “longest distance travelled to the rally” prize with a biker from Darwin beating us by a couple of hundred kilometers and taking home a voucher for a set of continental tyres valued at $600.

Only the hardiest of souls turned out for Sunday’s group rides in the persistent rain. Most of us preferred to keep warm in the local coffee shops and bars, telling motorcycle war stories from the past and dreaming of great rides in the future.  Compass Expeditions entertained us on Sunday night with a movie length promo on one of their top shelf motorcycle journeys, Cairo to Cape Town. Sometimes you just have to accept things about yourself, and I would not be willing to spend the time to learn the skills, or suffer the hardship to be able to participate in this incredible motorcycle ride.

Great camp site on the Morses Creek
By Monday at 10am the motorbikes were gone and the caravan parks were empty. Weekends like this are a labour of love for the organising committee; Thanks to BMW Motorcycle Club Victoria for making it happen.


Friday, 11 November 2016

Melbourne to Bright

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat 
We knew Devil and Dwarf would be due new front tyres before we could make the run home to Perth and Steve diligently found a dealer and made a booking for the day we left Melbourne. We hustled with the morning city traffic and the bikes were parked at the service centre by  8:45am. Unfortunately they’d ordered the wrong size tyres and there was no quick fix. We’d missed the last call for Friday’s courier and Devil and Dwarf rode away from Melbourne, with their worn out tyres, in search of a more competent dealer.

Red Coats, Sovereign Hill 
This was an unsettling experience which we took with us all the way to Ballarat. The locals say “you don’t come to Ballarat for the weather,” and even though it was now late spring, we still found ourselves huddled in the camp kitchen, with maximum temperatures reaching only 15deg.

Stage coach, Sovereign Hill 
While in Ballarat, we took the opportunity to visit Sovereign Hill, a themed village set in the gold rush days of the 1850’s. Steve and I are not big on paid tourist attractions but this one was well worth the $45 entry fee.  The village is a working village, with shop keepers, blacksmiths, gold merchants, theatres, and tea houses, all plying their trade and dressed in period costume.  At times through out the day, you might notice a couple of children, with their mother, busily making their way to the bakery, basket in hand, dressed for the era,  and at that moment,  it seemed like you were transported back to a time long ago and it was a magical experience. Apparently there are 250 people employed at Sovereign Hill, and 250 volunteers.  Back in the day it cost £2 for a coach trip to Geelong; the price of one ounce of gold.

Four nights were way too long for us in Ballarat, and when we pulled out of the caravan park I noticed I was smiling, just happy to be on the road again.  Steve found us some quiet backroads and we trundled along, through the historic town of Clunes, Victoria’s first  gold  mining town, and then Castlemaine, Heathcote and onto our camp site nestled on the Nagambie Lake.  We were up with the birds the following morning and on the road again by 8am. The cops were swarming the place when we arrived in Rutherglen at noon but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a late breakfast at the local pub. Then it was onwards, across The Murray into NSW, to the  boarder town of  Albury.

Lake Nagambie 
This time Steve found us a no fuss dealer to give Devil and Dwarf their new  front tyres. As promised, the   tyres were fitted within 45 minutes and then we were on our way again, to Bright, for the BMW Clubs Australia Rally. The rally will be our last port of call before heading home to Perth for summer.

Mt Bogong lookout, Kiewa Valley

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

2016 Melbourne Cup

No doubt, we are in the right place
The race that stops the nation, The Melbourne Cup, drew us to Melbourne on the 1st of November 2016 to see what all the fuss was about. Although horse racing isn’t our thing, this iconic event does not go unnoticed in our household.

A support race
Our preprinted general admission tickets successfully operated the electronic turnstiles and we were in and heading to The Park for a coffee and a packet of BYO shortbread. It was only 9:30am but the place was already alive with fashionistas, flaunting high heels and hats and the loveliest cocktail dresses. Our attire, of jeans and outdoor sandals, was not popular amongst race goers and we felt like we’d sneaked in against the dress code and would be kicked out at a moments notice.

Parade Ring and Stables
We watched a couple of support races and then proceeded to the stables. By midday, all the Race 7 horses, The Melbourne Cup, were in residence and I was surprised to find how close we could get to the horses that were about to race for a $6 000 000 prize pool, with 1st place taking $3 600 000. I decided to pick my three possible winners based on their behavior three hours before the race. I accurately wrote down the barrier number of Beautiful Romance, Secret Number and Qewy.  As horse racing first timers, I hadn’t realised that the horse number and the barrier number are different and I ended up betting on three completely different horses (Big Orange, Gallante and Excess Knowledge), even though I asked the  betting agent if I had placed my bet correctly.

The odds
We found ourselves in a plumb spot when the horses were led into the mounting yard for the start of Race 7.  By now I was fully committed to my new set of three horses and when the race started, and number 15, Excess Knowledge, was leading, I jumped on the band wagon and shouted out “come on number 15, come on.”  By race finish none of the six horses that I’d had an interest in won the race with Almandin taking 1st, Heartbreak City 2nd, and Hartnell 3rd.

The Mounting Yard, the race is getting closer
We had never been to a horse race before and we started at the top with Melbourne Cup Day, the race that’s been running since 1861. It obviously made an impression on me as I’m still wearing my Melbourne Cup badge on my jacket.

2016 Melbourne Cup Jockeys