Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Ride Melbourne to Canberra

“Apartments can rot good bikes and good blokes.” I had grown so comfortable during our week in the little unit in South Yarra that, for a moment, I felt I could quite happily have spent the rest of my days there. Simple tasks, like making a cup of tea, were a dream in the tiny kitchen and I found the comfort difficult to leave behind.

Camping beside the King River, Whitfield.
We were checked out by 9am but the thick Melbourne traffic seemed reluctant to let us go as we crawled along Toorak Road, clocking only five kilometres in one hour. Devil and Dwarf hated idling in the heavy traffic and Dwarf’s temperature gauge and Devil’s engine fan kept telling us “this can’t go on much longer.”

We started to relax once we made it to Healesville. We took a pit stop at the town’s bakery and then we gave the bikes a burn up the Black Spur all the way to Marysville. We took all day wandering through the roads and lanes and by happy hour we had arrived in the little town of Whitfield. We pitched our tent at the beautiful Gentle Annie Camping Reserve. For only $20 you can camp down by the river. It’s a great spot as long as you don’t mind the smell of fresh dog poo, deposited by the resident pooch, before you have finished your breakfast.

The following morning we were on the road again as soon as the breakfast dishes were washed and put away. When we arrived at Beachworth we were pleased to find the town full of historic cars participating in a RACV rally. I am always delighted when I find a MKII Jaguar; these old cars bring back fond memories of the car my dad bought in 1968. I was in for a treat as there were several old Jags in the historic fleet.

It is easy to forget about the concept of remoteness when travelling in Victoria and no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t find fuel in Tangambalanga. When we finally fuelled up in Bonegilla, Steve poured 19 litres into Dwarf’s 20 litre tank. I gave Steve “the look,” nothing more was said.

Red Dwarf and Red Devil.
While we were drinking tea at the Hume Weir, a local dude, full of his own importance, wandered by for a chat. He had ridden thousands of miles on his 1980’s BMW motorcycle. When I said to Steve, “there you go, there are plenty of miles left in our bikes” he proceeded to put down the longevity of Devil and Dwarf (F650GS, R1200GS); you don’t make friends like that.

We trundled along the Murray Valley Highway and set up the big tent amongst the trees at a delightful caravan part in Colac Colac. We were exhausted from our week in Melbourne and when the weather settled in and rained all of the following day neither of us complained about taking it easy.

We were camped in The Man from Snowy River Country and the towns and villages in this neck of the woods embrace the wonderful story of Jack Riley. Jack Riley was the inspiration for Banjo Paterson’s famous poem. The spirit of Jack Riley seemed to be everywhere and on that rainy afternoon I wrote this little ditty.
I thought I saw The Man from Snowy River late one afternoon,
He appeared to me beneath the trees amidst the rain and gloom.
We were camped near Jack’s home of Tom Groggin, his grave site not too far away.
I guess he knew I was passing through and he came to say G’day.
As soon as the rain cleared we took Devil and Dwarf on a day ride through the hills in the upper Murray Valley region. We stopped for refreshments at the general store in Tintaldra. Our knowledgeable host made tea in a pot and kept us entertained with stories about stockmen and drovers from the distant past. We then rode on through the villages of Jingellic and Tumbarumba. These roads are so amazingly quiet, it’s a wonder they have been converted from gravel to bitumen.

Item number 16 on our “Things to do before I die” list reads “Climb Mt Kosciuszko.” When the weather became clear and calm we took our chance, moved our camp to Jindabyne, and climbed the mountain. Of course the navigator took us the long way around to Jindabyne and we passed by Cabramurra and Mt Selwyn; a signpost told us we were riding along at 1500 meters. In the cold mountain air, Adaminaby provided a great lunch stop and we were pleased to feast on hot chocolate and bacon and egg burgers in the warm and cosy cafe.

For our assault on Mt Kosciuszko we took the chair lift from Thredbo and then walked to the summit along the easy, well prepared 6.5km track. As we stood on top of Australia, and looked out across the Snowy Mountains, it seemed there was no way through, even though we had been riding in those mountains just the day before. If you get the chance, climb Mt Kosciuszko. I will carry the memory with me for the rest of my life.

The National Folk Festival, in Canberra, gave us somewhere to go and something to do for the Easter holiday. While I rode into the capital I felt so happy and inspired I wrote the chorus to a new song.
Before I make it home again I’ll ride the Snowy Mountain Highway,
And I’ll climb the highest mountain in this great and southern land.
And I’ll write about Jack Riley as I ride along the byway
Singing more about this country than I will ever understand.

Lake Jindabyne.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Melbourne 2013

Mark Webber.
For Formula 1 week we took up residence in a clean and tidy one bedroom apartment within walking distance of the Albert Park race circuit. One of our GP Advantage privileges promised us a pit walk at 9am on Thursday morning and we were waiting, with thousands of others, by 8:30am. For some reason the pit walk was delayed by half an hour, but Victorians are a patient bunch and everyone waited quietly and calmly in the queue. When the pit walkers finally arrived in pit lane the group stopped moving while hundreds of digital cameras snapped away. Even security, who kept barking “move along, move along,” seemed to have no impact on the large group of punters. At one stage it looked like they wouldn’t be able to clear pit lane in time for the first event at 10am. We stopped long enough to take some great photographs of the F1 pit garages. Many of the photographs were the same ones we had taken in 2009, however it was important to get the new and updated images.
There is plenty of on track activities but there is no racing on Thursday so it was a great day to enjoy some of the grand prix’s off track entertainment. We browsed through the merchandising stalls and noticed that Red Bull T shirts and caps were the most popular. Ferrari merchandising seems to be taking a back seat after the departure of Michael Schumacher.
Nitro Circus.
The FLAIR Moto Trials Show was very entertaining but it’s difficult to compete with the motorcycle and bicycle acrobatics of the Nitro Circus; those guys are truly insane. There seemed to be a lot more entertainment aimed at children and teenagers and I thought the age demographic was younger than it was in 2009.
On Friday the F1 cars took to the track for the first time and we were treated to three hours of F1 entertainment during the course of the day. Since 1985 I have always been a Mclaren fan. When Lewis Hamilton joined the Mclaren it seemed like a match made in heaven for both me and the team. Unfortunately Lewis is now driving for Mercedes and I missed him. First and foremost I always hope that Australians Mark Webber or Danny Ricciardo win, no matter who they drive for. If the Aussies can’t win Mclaren is my team.
Saturday Qualifying in the rain.
Rain stopped play after the first qualifying session on Saturday and we were thrilled with our undercover seating while we watched the high tech sport of Formula 1 use brooms to try and sweep the standing water off the track. Eventually race control rescheduled the second and third qualifying sessions until 11am on Sunday morning.
We couldn’t take our undercover seating home with us and we were drenched walking back to our unit in South Yarra. A hot shower, a plate of Peking Duck and a bottle of Red from a local Chinese restaurant and we were all smiles again.
Because of the rescheduling of qualifying, gates opened at 10:00 on race day Sunday. Luckily Steve remembered that GP Advantage ticket holders could enter the circuit from 8:30am on Sunday so we didn’t have to queue with the masses. With a quickly drying track the final two qualifying sessions were a nail biting experience. Eventually the two Red Bulls, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, took out the first row of the grid.
Front Row: Vettel and Webber.
Steve and I always choose our seats so they overlook pit straight as we find there is always something going on in pit lane or on the starting grid to keep us entertained. On Sunday we stayed in our seats for most of the day and enjoyed the support races which included V8 Supercars, Porsche Carrera Cup and International Sports Cars. Moto GP retiree, Casey Stoner certainly brought a touch of celebrity to the Ultimate Speed Comparison and I made sure I was in my seat each time this event was on track.
The Podium.
Sunday’s race is always full of drama and Mark Webber was the first victim, losing several places before the first corner. Kimi Raikkonen surprised everyone and took out the win using good tyre management; Kimi only made two pit stops instead of three. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso came second and Sebastian Vettel, the current world champion, third. Mark Webber finished sixth and Danny Ricciardo retired in the late stages of the race. The fans were quickly on the track after the completion of the race so they could join in the celebrations on the podium. When the Premier of Victoria was introduced an audible booing came from the crowd. This happened again when Sebastian Vettel was awarded his third place trophy. I hope, in Sebastian’s case, the booing was delivered with a touch of humour as Aussie Mark Webber is his team mate.
We stayed a while, watching the celebrations and soaking up the last glimmer of this amazing event. The Melbourne F1 Grand Prix just keeps getting better and better and it felt like a pleasure and a privilege to be there in 2013.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Port Fairy Folk Festival

Southcombe Camping.
Steve and I were Port Fairy Folk Festival virgins and spent five nights camping on-site. We enjoyed the experience but probably won’t return unless some changes are made. Here are some of our likes and dislikes:
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.


It was a great line up. We enjoyed the headline acts of Tim Finn, Arlo Guthrie, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and Xavier Rudd. We also thoroughly enjoyed Eric Bogle, Chris Smither and Sara Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion.

The camping facilities were very good considering the number of people. We turned up one day early and were just in time to find a level tent site.
Arlo Guthrie.
There was a great variety of good quality, reasonably priced food at the festival village.


Festival Chairs (low backed, fold up chairs)
It is a basic requirement of this festival to carry a festival chair as most of the venues don’t have chairs. Festival chairs are a nuisance to carry around and they take up a lot of room in the venues. The chairs also lead people to feel like they “own a space” in the audience. We bought two festival chairs after suffering abuse on Friday night for sitting in our high backed chairs (in the high backed chair zone); people who turned up after us had low backed chairs.
Hour long queue for main stage.
Pressure on the main venue
We were told that 15,000 tickets were sold. The main venue, where most of the headline acts were staged, holds about 4,000 people. Most of these headline acts only performed twice which meant that only half the people had a chance to see them. The program scheduling caused people to set up their festival chairs and remain in the same spot all day. We did the same on Saturday; we didn’t go back to our tent for dinner as we would lose our spot and we would have missed out on seeing Gurrumul. If you leave your chairs unattended for a toilet break, you may return to find they have been moved and you have no leg room at all!
Rushing to get a spot between acts, stage 2.
There was not enough simultaneous scheduling of the popular acts to spread the crowd. An example was the “Women in Voice” concert on Sunday morning. Hundreds sat outside the full house, just listening, because there was nowhere else they wanted to go.
Full House
We felt discouraged from attending the venues outside the festival village in case we arrived to find the “full house” sign on the door. We also spent the festival feeling tense, wondering whether we would find a place in the audience before the “full house” signs were displayed.
Outside Women in Voice concert, Sunday morning, stage 1.
Sound Spill
Even some of the performers mentioned playing in time with the thump, thump coming from the venue next door.
I finally found some leg room.
Port Fairy Shuffle
A process where the audience is continually asked to move the chairs closer together even when there is no room left at all.
The camp site portable toilets and showers were removed the day before checkout. Some consideration should be given to allocating powered camping sites by ballot.
FOLK festival?
 There were some folk acts but there were many bands presenting with a full drum kit and electric guitars. Surely this means Port Fairy is no longer a FOLK festival.

It looks like we were the last to leave,
but there were many other campers packing up at the same time.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Great Ocean Road

Red Dwarf (and Steve) at the start of the GOR.
Devil and Dwarf (F650GS and R1200GS) made a special request after the World Super Bike event came to an end, “Please take us for a run along the Great Ocean Road as we don’t know when you will bring us this way again.” How could we say “no” to our old faithful bikes, the ones that had carried us safely around the roads and lanes of this great land?

To avoid Melbourne’s highways and byways we took the easy way out and caught the ferry from Sorrento, on The Mornington Peninsular, to Queenscliff. We stopped for a pie at the award winning bakery in the little seaside town, and then we were off on one of Victoria’s busiest and scenically beautiful roads to ride along. The good thing about riding from east to west is most of the lay-bys are on your side of the road and it makes it easy to stop and marvel at the most spectacular coastal scenery.

I jumped on the back of Red Dwarf for this photo.
The distances are short but the travelling time is long on the Great Ocean Road and we enjoyed Apollo Bay for a few days before continuing on to Port Fairy.

The traffic thins out and the ride becomes more relaxing once you reach Lavers Hill. However it is a good idea to remain on permanent watch for locals, who seem to know every twist and turn in the road, pushing it along, sometimes on the wrong side of the road.

The Twelve Apostles.
We stopped at several vantage points to admire the Twelve Apostles. I thought some of the Apostles looked more weathered than I remembered from six years before. We know someone who remembers London Bridge before it “fell down.” It seems all the debris, after the collapse, had been washed away as there was no sign of it at all!

The Great Ocean Road heads inland after the Bay of Islands and seems to continue on for another 30 kilometres in name only. When we arrived at Port Fairy I thanked Devil and Dwarf for taking us on this ride. It would have been a shame not to ride the Great Ocean Road on our trip around Australia.