Thursday, 31 January 2013

Spirit of Tasmania

The ferry about to dock as we arrived.
We timed out run for the ferry with military precision and at 7pm on Monday 28th February we rode our motorcycles up the ramp and onto deck 5 ready for tie down. Red Dwarf (R1200GS), with the trailer in tow, was sent away with the tin tops while Red Devil (F650GS Twin) and I were herded to the motorcycle tie down point amid ships. Spirit of Tassie crew were quickly in attendance with the tie down straps and one over enthusiastic dude grabbed Red Devil’s hand guard, instead of the handle bars, gave it a tug, then realised the error in his ways. The strap was quickly released and secured to the correct position. I was left alone to inspect the new angle of the hand guard; luckily no damage had been done.

Looks like we will be leaving on time.
Steve’s bike was given a little rough treatment, too. The tie down straps were pulled on so hard that the force rotated the handle bars on their risers. No harm done, although Steve had to adjust to a new, sporty, riding position for the 100km ride from the ferry to Launceston.

Once onboard, we dumped our gear in our little cabin and headed straight to the ships galley. Dinner was paid for by the plate full; $25 for a large plate, $18 for a small plate. You get to stack your own plate and no one complains if you stack your plate higher that what would be considered reasonable; we had a plate each but we noticed a lot of couples were sharing one plate.
At Melbourne.

When we retired to our cabin, we were sailing along in calm waters as we hadn’t cleared the heads to Port Phillip Bay. Once we were into Bass Strait, the wind was up and the ships shuddering motion kept me awake. I lay in my bunk for hours wondering if the welds were going to hold. Steve slept like a baby and refused to believe that we’d had a lively crossing until he saw the salt spray on deck 9.

There's always a queue, but only an hour this time.
After an early breakfast of a “bring your own” apple and a bottle of water, we were back on our bikes. A quick answer to the question, “Are you carrying any fresh fruit or vegetables?” and we were through quarantine and onto Tasmanian soil ready for a three week adventure.

Monday, 28 January 2013

20th International Island Classic 2013 – Phillip Island

The Red Devil, main straight, Phillip Island.
The Island Classic is a race meeting for motorcycles born before 31st December 1990. This year’s event sported teams from Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand and USA, with top guns Ryan Farquhar (335 career wins, including three wins at the Isle of Man TT), Jeremy McWilliams (12 years competing in the world GP championships) and our very own Cameron Donald all putting in an appearance. Giacomo Agostini was the guest of honour and when you saw the crowd of press photographers, at the start of each of Ago’s demonstration laps, it was obvious that the event committee had made the right decision.

Cameron Donald.
On Friday 25th January, after the early showers, we cruised down to the Phillip Island Circuit to collect our tickets and T Shirts. As soon as we arrived at gate 1 we were totally absorbed by the magic of this amazing racing venue. Racers love this track and spectators are well rewarded with many vantage points where you can see the action in every direction. The pits were open to everyone, all weekend, and it was pure entertainment to saunter from one pit garage to another, admiring the hundreds of classic bikes and sidecars that were participating in the weekend of racing. It difficult to tell who was who as the Island Classic is an unpretentious affair and there wasn’t a pit garage sign in sight.

Our bikes were parked at Doohan Corner and we were sitting in our big camp chairs when the racing commenced on Saturday afternoon. The event had attracted a large number of competitors and the racing was excellent with some divisions sending 40+ bikes scrambling for a position in the first corner. We stayed a while at the 50 meter braking zone, observing the different techniques and trying to learn something.

Ago's waving at me.
We were at Siberia for one of Agostini’s demonstration laps and I found myself arguing, with another spectator, about whether Ago was waving at him or me. Once we had settled that score, our new found friend tried to talk us into joining in on Monday’s track day. Reading between the lines, the slowest rider in the slowest group is still circulating at a fair lick of speed. It would be great to ride the circuit and try out the bends but the Red Devil and I are not interested in doing 200km an hour down the straight.

While we were watching the action at MG corner, we met a true motor racing enthusiast. Not only had this guy attended over 1400 race meetings, but he had catalogued all the programs, including the race results for every race. It was amazing to see him meticulously documenting the results for even the support races.

Ago signing my poster and pass.
On Sunday we were wined and dined in the club classic lounge overlooking pit straight. In between eating dainty quiches and Danish pastries and drinking copious amounts of coffee, we stood by the window to catch a glimpse of the day’s events. The best part about the lounge is you get to look down on the pit area and watch all the bikes assembling in preparation for the next race. The grid line-up and race starts are great, too. Watching a motorcycle whizz past at 280km hour isn’t as much fun as a vantage point at Siberia or MG, the slowest corner of the track. As promised, Agostini made an appearance before lunch and with the patience of a saint he signed each and every piece of memorabilia that was presented to him. Some punters abused the system and turned up with a dozen things for him to sign. Ago never faltered, and his film star smile was ready for every clicking camera. I thought his visit was tinged with sadness as he said “It has been a long time since my last visit and will probably be the last time for me to come to Australia.” At 70 years of age he still has an eye for the pretty young babes with long hair.

A little older than my beemer.
The catering staff must be forgiven for serving lunch when race three of the International Challenge was underway, but when you are in the corporate lounge if seems the focus is on different things.

It seemed like the weekend was only just getting started when the last race was being run; Steve and I would quite happily have kept turning up at the track day after day. To help dissolve the post race meeting blues, we retired to Cowes for pizza on the pavement.

Would we do the Island Classic again? You betcha!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Ceduna to Phillip Island

If you want to upset the locals, who live in the arid parts of this country, all you have to do is complain about riding in the rain. We were delivered the speech specially prepared for inconsiderate people like us. At Poochera we refused to believe that the rain would continue and we only donned the bottom half of our wet weather riding gear. Our leather jackets will keep us dry in a light drizzle but when it turns into steady rain, slowly but surely the leather gives up the struggle. By the time we arrived at Kimba we were feeling a little wet and weary. The lunch time temperature of only 15 degrees is basically unheard of in this neck of the woods in January. The roadhouse was full of travellers escaping the rain and we joined the queue for homemade pumpkin soup and a bowl of hot potato wedges. We stayed a while, enjoying the warm dining room and talking with other travellers. All of us were concerned about travelling in extreme heat – the fear of breaking down first and foremost on our minds. One guy had given the problem some thought and said “the first thing I would do is put the tent up.” Good thinking.

The big tent, known as the Cabin, in Melrose.
That day we rode in the rain for over 400km, and we were relieved to arrive in Melrose late in the afternoon. We managed to erect the “big tent,” for the first time, with hardly a cross word spoken. The bikes were filthy, covered in a white wash that lay foaming and frothing in the road. In 2008, water restrictions in South Australia were so severe that we were not even allowed a single bucket of water to wipe away salt spray that had collected on our bikes on a rough ferry crossing. Although the seasons have moved on, and there is water in the lower reaches of the Murray River, we didn’t dare ask if we could clean our bikes, we just grabbed the hose and washed away.

With clean bikes we were back on the road again, enjoying the lanes and towns as we rode south towards the Adelaide hills. If someone had told me that one day we would ride through the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s premier wine regions, carrying a bottle of New Zealand wine and a six pack of Mexican beer,” I never would have believed them. One of the big conglomerates made us an offer we couldn’t refuse and we voted with our hip pocket. Drinking our BYO New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, on the pavement in Tanunda, felt like a criminal offence and we kept the bottle well hidden away.

With plenty of time up our sleeve we made the maritime town of Goolwa, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, home for nearly a week. Our camping character was well and truly tested when one of the days reached a maximum temperature of 45 degrees. I lost the battle with the caravan park kids and the door remained open to the air conditioned camp kitchen; in the end there was nowhere to hide. That night, when the cool change arrived, the tent was tested, too, with wind gusts exceeding 30 knots. The big tent moaned and groaned a little but she stood her ground and in the morning everything was intact.

Causeway to Granite Island, Victor Harbour.
On Tuesday 22nd January, we left the comfort of Goolwa and started a three day ride to Phillip Island in preparation for the Island Classic Motorcycle weekend. The little tent came in handy for a good night’s sleep in Naracoorte. Unfortunately, the following morning, I didn’t fasten the lid properly on our thermos flask and one litre of scalding water trickled out all over our maps and the laptop’s transformer. Steve went ape, although I did notice than an hour later he was reading one of the sodden maps with a half smile on his face.

We stayed on the back roads, some only one lane wide. The navigation was difficult but with hardly a car in sight it was wonderful riding. We touched down on the Great Ocean Road at Lorne; big mistake. Lorne was preparing for the Australia Day long weekend and there was barely standing room in the trendy seaside town. We tried to book in at the town’s caravan park but when the receptionist said “$60,” (twice the amount we were paying), Steve protested and mumbled about a bed and breakfast up the road for only $99. The receptionist retorted “off you go then” and turned her attention to the next paying customer. Although we were hot and thirsty we rode out of town. Unfortunately a copper, riding a motorcycle, hopped onto my back wheel and you could almost hear him laughing “gotcha, you West Aussie dude.” He rode with me for almost 10km, tracking my every move as I navigated one slow corner after another. Once I realised he was just along for the ride, I relaxed and did my own thing; you don’t want to run out of talent on a road like that. When I’d had enough, I moved over to the left to give him chance to go and find Steve; a couple of bends later he had disappeared from view. It was late when we set up the little tent in Torquay for $65 per night; after a long day on the road we had stopped counting the money.

Steve and I on the Queenscliff to Sorrento Ferry.
By 10am the following day we were on the car ferry which runs from Queenscliff to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula. We could have relaxed for hours on that ferry, enjoying the scenery of Port Phillip Bay, but 40 minutes later we back on the bikes and riding into the clutches of congested Melbourne traffic. “Stay as close as you dare,” said Steve, “or we’ll get separated at the traffic lights;” We only had to stop twice to regroup. Our pre booked camp site was waiting for us in Cowes on Phillip Island. The big tent was up in no time and by 5pm we were drinking beer and being eaten alive by sand flies. Welcome to Phillip Island.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Ride the Nullarbor

Coffee at Gibson Soak

The longer the list of “things to do,” the more the open road beckoned. When we finally pulled out of our driveway on Wednesday 9th January 2013, I never looked back, not even to make sure the gate was closed. The house had the last laugh of course. Steve thought he had a win by remembering to move the bikes out of the garage and onto the driveway before the reticulation fired up. Unfortunately he overlooked the strength of the south westerly wind and when we were ready to leave my bike was soaked to the frame with bore water.

It seemed like it might take 1000 miles before the magic of motorcycling found us but luckily only half an hour from home I was chasing the vanishing point and looking for the road markings and the tree line around every bend.
Steve’s Red Dwarf (R1200GS) and my Red Devil (F650GS Twin) are not equipped with radio communication. The second rider has only two messages to convey to the rider in front. 1) Stop as soon as it is safe to do so (hazard lights flashing). 2) Stop at the next available opportunity (left indicator flashing); there is nothing else to say. The rider in front can do whatever they like.

The sweltering weather at Southern Cross and Coolgardie forced us to ride south from Perth in search of a more temperate latitude to begin our journey eastward. We stopped for tea at Williams. While Steve was admiring his new Kevlar jeans he noticed they were covered in oil. Turned out the oil filler cap was loose. From Williams, Red Dwarf led all the way to the Kojonup Bakery. On the outskirts of town, a lone emu made a nuisance of himself by standing in the middle of the road. We slowed to a stop waiting for the big bird to move out of the way. When we finally got going again, the emu decided to race us to the bakery and I clocked him loping along the road verge at 40km hour.

Day three breakfast near Fraser Range.
I led the way from Koji to Mt Barker. While we were queuing for fuel, a car full of local dudes pushed in. When it was our turn at the pump, Steve decided to mention the error in their ways. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed the large dog sitting on the back seat. Luckily the dudes just mumbled and carried on their way.

We were safely tucked away at the Porongurup’s by mid afternoon. Before we were allowed a cold beer, our bikes were checked over and our helmets cleaned ready for the next day’s ride.

We crept out of the Porongurup National Park long before the kangaroos had gone to bed. We enjoyed the view of the Stirling Range until the mountains disappeared in our rear view mirrors and by 9am we were fuelling up at Jerramungup. The weather was cool and the riding most enjoyable. I peered down many a gravel road and wondered about the remote communities that live within their boundaries. The old town halls tell the tale of a time long ago. We stopped for tea many times. At Salmon Gums Steve popped the question “how about pushing on to Fraser Range?” But me and the Red Devil were looking forward to happy hour and were psyched up to end the days ride at Norseman. While we were registering at the caravan park at Norseman, our hostess said “it was 45 deg here yesterday.” I said to Steve “looks like we dodged that bullet nicely.”

No shortage of trucks across The Nullarbor.
Our little three man tent is a breeze to put up and take down and it was easy to self cater at the camp kitchen in the caravan park. We were back on the road at dawn and there is something magical about turning eastward at the start of The Eyre Highway. A pink ribbon, tied to a roadside post, confirmed that the wind was slightly behind us. People in cars started to wave, so I did my bit for motorcycle awareness and I waved in return. We always enjoy hanging out at the remote roadhouses. At Caiguna we met Andy, a fellow biker on a new Triumph Tiger. Andy was riding bare knuckled as his riding gloves were rolled up inside his sophisticated biker tent. He said it was easier to wear sunscreen that to unpack the tent again. East of Caiguna the road was covered in road kill; a large wedge tailed eagle standing proudly on each fresh kill. When we arrived at Eucla, Andy was there too and we talked and laughed about the wild horses we had seen, and the camels we hadn’t. Life on the road was turning out to be as good as we remembered.

Eucla campsite.
We were riding out of Eucla town just after sun up for the last day of our Nullarbor crossing. While we were negotiating some slippery blue metal at Nullarbor Roadhouse, I noticed a tourist filming us from inside a tour bus. I said to Steve “whatever you do, don’t fall off now because it will be all over Youtube in an instant.” Apparently during the Christmas – New Year break, six cars filled up with fuel at Nullarbor Roadhouse and left without paying. The guy, taking the money for fuel, though it was caused by a lack of preparation and some people simply didn’t realise how far and how expensive it would be. The weather remained kind to us until we were 100km west of Penong. Then a fierce SE wind set in; if I had remembered the lean angle of some of the trees I wouldn’t have been surprised. We stepped up our concentration and we allowed the bikes to drift with each and every gust. Luckily I narrowly missed clipping the wing of a large wedge tailed eagle; that would have been ugly for both me and the bird.

We arrived in Ceduna and checked into the tent friendly caravan park right in town. That night we drank beer and celebrated with fresh scallops and prawns from the local fish and chip shop. We had just completed our easiest Nullarbor ride.