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

Monday, 31 October 2016

2016 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues

Rock solid ensemble
Festival organisers can be forgiven for opening the festival with a Blues Brothers tribute band as this bunch of musos are locals. After an hour we left the Hume Bank Blues Stage in search of something a little more sophisticated to please our ears. Steve and I are not jazz aficionados, we like our music light and easy. The Ronan Guilfoyle Trio were too fundamental for our ears so we sneaked out between numbers and took up residence in the Pinsent Hotel where Monique diMattina was on stage playing some accomplished piano and entertaining the crowd with her witty lyrics. We stood at the back until our legs were ready to sit down again and then we headed to the beautiful theatre at the performing arts centre (WPAC) to catch Melissa Aldana.  By now it was 10pm and I closed my eyes  and rested while Melissa played four tunes. When the one hour set was over Steve proclaimed  “tomorrow we need to find some acts with vocalists.”
Lovely room at Tony & Sue's B&B

We retired to our B&B and were sound asleep by midnight. Unfortunately we’d had to leave our tent strapped to the bike for the festival as our pre-booked camp site at Painters Island Caravan Park was cancelled due to flooding of the Ovens River.

Hetty Kate
We started our Saturday at the festival with the enchanting Clancye Milne in the WPAC hall followed by the wonderful Hetty Kate in the St Pats Hall. As we walked away from the venue we both agreed “this is more like it.” Early in the evening, Kimba Griffith’s powerful performance of The Songs That Saved Your Life made an impact on us, original, organic, and outside the box. We were back in the blues venue for the energetic JJ Thames and we were assured that the future of blues is in good hands.

Kimba Griffith
No doubt this year’s floods have presented some unexpected challenges for festival organisers. It seemed like there were two festivals going on; Blues at the outdoor Blues Stage, jazz in the concert venues and never the two shall meet. It would have been nice to see some acoustic blues in the concert venues and some easy listening jazz at the outdoor venue to create a more together atmosphere.

Fiona Boyes
Hetty Kate lured us back to The Pinsent Hotel on Sunday for a bottle of local wine and a light lunch as she was playing a three hour session. We were pleased we had caught Hetty in a concert venue the day before as the sound system in the hotel didn’t do her sweet voice any justice at all. It was great to catch Fiona Boyes late on Sunday afternoon at the Blues stage. Wow that babe has surely grown into an international artist that Australians can be proud of. We saved the best until last and ended our festival with a set from James Morrison in the WPAC theatre; and no one makes it look easier than James.

The man himself, James Morrison
2016 was our first visit to the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, and thanks to the festival organisers and the army of volunteers for making it happen.  Fifteen minute tunes, with each band member taking their turn at a solo, seemed the norm amongst the jazz bands and it would be nice to see some festival artists presenting in a more popular format.

Monday, 24 October 2016

2016 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix

Those folks who turn up every year know better than to spend all day at the track on Friday, when the weather forecast is for gale force winds and 40mm rain.  But we ain’t local, we’ve come all the way from Perth, Western Australia,  and nothing could keep us away from the track on practice day of MotoGP weekend.
Steve rode us down to the track to find that the unseasonably wet spring had left some of the parking paddocks untenable and on Friday night we received an sms and email from the Grand Prix Corporation encouraging fans to catch the bus instead.

The email read:


Due to the weather conditions, public car parking at the circuit will be closed on Saturday 22 October.

We encourage patrons to Catch-a-Coach or park-and-ride from Cowes with the Grand Prix shuttle service. Additional buses have been scheduled.

We always enjoy the nightly party in Cowes
We spent most of Friday hiding from the rain in the Expo tent. When the rain eased to a light drizzle, we braved a moment of action on the fence line at turn 12 only to retreat to the Spokes Marquee when the rain picked up speed again.  By mid afternoon we gave ourselves permission to go back to camp. Steve and Dwarfie (R1200GS) slipped their way out of the parking lot and when Steve picked me up all he said was “tomorrow we are catching the bus.”

On Saturday morning we still hadn’t learnt our lesson and we were on the bus by 8:45am with squalls raging all around. We’d done the Expo to death so it was time to venture out into general admission land. An acceptable bacon and egg roll and a cup of coffee warmed our bellies then we were on our way, trudging along in the mud, stopping at the fence line to watch some action and hiding in the lee of a catering van in the squalls.  We made it to Siberia and with a lull in the weather we set up our chairs next to some bikers we had met at our caravan park and rested a while.  When the sun shone we were warmed by our  black waterproofs, and when the sun disappeared we shivered some more.

Squall approaching Lukey Heights
It seemed like a good idea to head for MG corner for MotoGP qualifying but the squalls weren’t finished with us yet.  We copped a big one at the top of Lukey Heights; rain, hail and the bitterest wind. You learn more about yourself in a moment when the going gets rough than you do in a lifetime of easy rolling.  I learned that I wasn’t a big enough race fan to endure qualifying, even if it was MotoGP, in these conditions. I desperately wanted to leave the track for the comfort of the camp kitchen and the log fire. But we knew we had to see it through. When qualifying was finally over there was a mass exit from the circuit.

Siberia, character building
By Sunday morning the gale had blown itself out and race day was pure motor racing magic. We spent the day at Siberia, the Phillip Island circuit is pure entertainment on a good day. It was a character building weekend . Some old timers said they’d seen worse weather and others said it was the worst they’d  ever seen.  No doubt the 2016 Australian Motorcycle  Grand Prix will be sent into Phillip Island folklore.

MotoGP Results:
#35 Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda)
#46 Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha)
#25 Maverick Vinales (Team Suzuki)

Cal Cructhlow on his way to his win

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Barry Sheene Tribute Ride 2016

The hotels were full and the camp sites were empty this year due to a re scheduling of the 2016 ride to an early time slot. Scrutineering  started at 6:30am and only the hardy souls could cope with a night in the tent after over indulging at the Barry Sheene Charity Dinner the night before.

At 8:30am on the dot the bikes started filing out of the parking lot for the start of the Barry Sheene Tribute Ride. No briefing on best practices for a ride of this type, just get-go. This ride is fully escorted by the Victorian Police with police cars, motorbikes and a paramedic bike; just in case. Riders were fully aware that the first scheduled stop was two hours away but still some folks insisted on filling up on coffee half an hour before takeoff.

Hope this is not needed!
I was a picture of concentration as we rode away from Bairnsdale.  After only twenty kilometers the train of bikes had come to a near stand still several times and vigilance was paramount to prevent a massive pile up.  Still most riders chose to leave less than a two second gap which added to the concertina effect which plagued the ride all the way to Phillip Island.

We were riding mid fleet with hundreds of bikes all around us and it was magic to look ahead and find bikes as far as the eye could see. Villagers and school kids lined the streets as we passed through one town after another and it felt good to be part of this YAMS charity ride, and motorcycle awareness day.

The Red Devil on Gardner Straight, Phillip Island MotoGP Track
With the precision of a military operation, the police organised rolling road closures and kept the bikes together through every intersection. At the end of the ride participants get the chance to do a lap of the Phillip Island Grandprix Race Track. I think the pace car took one look at the bikes filing onto the track, four lanes wide, and he slowed down to the point where Devil couldn’t get out of first gear; looks like I’ll have to pay for a track day if I want to have some fun at the circuit.

It was a good day, tiring but loads of fun, another great event ticked off my bucket list.  We had great weather too; I can’t imagine the challenges if it had been raining.

YAMS - You Are My Sunshine – raising money to help find a cure for children with neuroblastoma.

More than just a dog, Bundy has raised many thousands for charity.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Bathurst to Bairnsdale

We rode away from Bathurst early enough to catch the workers scurrying towards Lithgow for a 9am start. Add to that, a bunch of race fans hurrying home to Sydney,  camper trailers flaring,  by the time we traversed The Bells Line of Road and reached the Pie in the Sky at Bilpin I had completely lost my appetite and Steve was left to dine alone.  It was warm riding on the eastern side of the ranges with the temperature up to 30 degrees. For the first time in 5000km of riding our jumpers were no longer required and we squeezed them into our already overfull panniers.

Kendalls Beach campsite
At Richmond, Steve found some quiet backroads and we headed southwards through one village after another all the way to Mowbray Park.  Plenty of folks live here in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, isolated from the big smoke by the elevation and the twisty roads. At Picton we jumped onto the B88 for an enjoyable ride until we reached the motorway on the outskirts of Wollongong.

Historic timber terraced shops, Kiama
The seaside town of Kiama became home for a week while we enjoyed the lanes and mountain passes around Robertson, Kangaroo Valley and Jamberoo.

If you love the world game, call into the pub at Jamberoo and stop for a while in the Johnny Warren room. The photographs and memorabilia will take your breath away as you follow Johnny’s journey from age five until his passing at age sixty-one in 2004; The pub is owned by Johnny’s brother and family.

Sea Cliff Bridge
Another highlight was the ride along the coast to the Sea Cliff Bridge which was built out over the ocean when rock falls destroyed part of the coastal road.

We nearly became permanent residents, we so enjoyed breakfast overlooking Kendalls Beach and the whales frolicking in the bay, but Devil and Dwarf had other ideas. After seven nights we were back on the road again enjoying some twisties on our way to Bairnsdale for the Barry Sheene Tribute ride; looking forward to that.

Another lookout, too lazy to remove helmet

Monday, 10 October 2016

Bathurst 1000 2016

Iconic Mount Panorama sign
Even after watching the Bathurst 1000 on TV every year, for the past thirty years, nothing could prepare us for the magnitude of this event, in the flesh, in real life.  We had to pinch ourselves as we rode into the track, The Mount Panorama sign, high on the mountain,  gleaming in the early morning sun; here we were, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Craig Lowndes pitstop
We made ourselves comfortable at corner one, Hells Corner, for the V8’s first practice session on Thursday, an awesome position to watch some hard braking and then see the cars disappear up mountain straight. We stayed a while, taking in the deep rumble of these magnificent V8 engines at one of the most awesome race tracks in the world. In the paddock we caught a glimpse of Craig  Lowndes as he tried to escape the pits for the comfort of his motor home.  Craig was true to his image, always smiling and signing autographs as he walked along.

Mountain camp site
For Friday’s session we caught the shuttle bus to the top of the mountain to see the action at Skyline, The Dipper and The Esses.  It’s difficult to comprehend the number of folks camping on the mountain, fires burning,  beer drinking and mostly having fun. Race day land rights were already staked out with painted lines and you wouldn’t want to argue. Fortunately there are no facilities at The Dipper so everyone gets a chance to stand on the fence line and see the action. There’s a strong police presence at the track, trying to strike a balance between the  Bathurst 1000 being a family event and folks having fun; they seemed to be doing a pretty good job too.

Even the police were having fun
On Saturday we continued to roam around the track on our general admission ticket and our $45 paddock pass. The elevated contours of the viewing areas made me wonder why anyone would buy a grand stand ticket; unless it’s raining.
Murrays Corner action

Early on race day we were in the paddock enjoying a cup of coffee and I was very impressed to find colourful flyers, produced and printed overnight, detailing the starting grid for the race.    For the pre-start circus we made ourselves comfortable on the fence line, directly opposite grid position ten with Frosty’s Bottle-O V8 parked right in front of us. They keep the race format interesting with seven compulsory pit stops, even so, with two thirds of the race done, Whincup looked like he was running away with it.  Then the first safety car appeared and the carnage began.  With the deployment of each safety car the odds on who might take the chequered prize changed too. For a moment we thought our home town boy, West Aussie Garth Tander, was in with a chance, then Whincup got desperate and wiped McLaughlin and Tander out of the race.

It was an exciting finish to an awesome weekend of motorsport. Whincup took the chequered flag but with a fifteen second time penalty was demoted to 11th place.
1st place – Will Davison/Jonathon Webb
2nd place – Shane Van Gisbergen/Alexandre Premat
3rd place – Nick Percat/ Cameron McConville
(subject to a protest from Whincup’s Red Bull team).

Winners are grinners
If you love motorsport, stick the Bathurst 1000 on your bucket list because this truly is a peoples event and is well deserving of its tag as Australia’s biggest motor racing event of the year.