Firstly, my apologies for not updating the blog in the closing days of my tour. Fact is that editing on a little 7″ tablet is a right royal pain in the butt so I copped out and decided to do a summary of the last few days when I got home.
So, as the title suggests, I AM home, safe, dry and well, (well, tired anyway). It was a fabulous tour, the best (and longest) I have ever done and I enjoyed every minute, even the wet first day.
When I left you last I was in Grafton at a very comfy motel. I usually avoid motels because of expense but I decided to lash out on Tuesday night and I’m glad I did. There was a great little pizza shop just down the road and they had Tuesday specials so I got a medium sized pizza for $10 and it was delicious. Before hitting the sack I had a conversation with some RMS workers who were staying at the motel. They were doing some road works up in the mountains and they told me that the Nymboida Road is in pretty poor shape at the moment. That’s a pity but I was planning to ride it regardless. The room was well off the highway and I didn’t even need to use my ear plugs to block out the noise. Truth was I was so tired I probably would have slept anyway.
In the morning I struggled down the stairs with my Ventura bag and tank bag and loaded up for the day. Despite the fact that it was over 7 years since I’d done the northern loop last, I remembered the way out of town and followed the signs to the Nymboida Highway. As usual, it was cold, around 4 degrees, but my recently fitted “toasties” proved their worth and my Wicked Gear jacket , while not completely waterproof, did an admirable job of keeping me warm for the whole trip. Indeed, I was so gung ho on Wednesday morning that I left the matching overpants in the bag and just wore my textile jeans which proved to be more than adequate.
Incidentally, re textile pants. This is the first pair that I have had that have had armour in the hips and on the knees (I have always quietly beaten myself up that, if I had had knee protection in 2010 I might not have done as much damage to my knee and still be paying for it now.) Anyway, I noted that the internal knee armour also does a fine job of helping to keep one’s knee WARM, an unintended consequence of the original design I’m sure.
The RMS workers were substantially correct. Years of being pounded by the constant stream of logging trucks has certainly taken their toll on the Nymboida. Nevertheless, it is still a wonderful road and I’d gotten pretty good at dodging the potholes by then (a good thing, too, as subsequent days were to prove.) I couldn’t believe it when I was suddenly in Tyringham and looking for the left turn to Dorrigo. The road here is very narrow and winding and has quite a share of local farm traffic but it’s still fun and brought me out at the town where I stopped for breakfast in a 50’s-themed cafe.
Did I say country-sized helpings? When will I learn? Refreshed I headed down the famous Dorrigo bends and through Bellingen and out (sigh) onto the Pacific Highway. Thankfully this was the only time I touched this thoroughly unlikeable stretch of road but it made its point by making the run from Raleigh to the Wauchope turnoff as unpleasant as possible. When ARE they going to finish upgrading this road to dual carriageway? After days of bombing almost deserted country roads, setting my own pace and not having to worry about anything else, the 100 kms or so was absolute torture. I was so glad when I saw a turn-off to the right that said Wauchope. I stopped at the little servo and asked the lady if the road was sealed. It was, so I said goodbye to Highway #1 and took off. Another wonderful little rural road with 100km/h speed limit and no traffic, whoohoo.
I was in Wauchope in what seemed like no time but, once there, I was faced with a dilemma. It was 170kms to Walcha, my intended destination for the night, it was 1500 in the afternoon and, already the sun was low in the western sky. Should I avoid riding the Oxley into the setting sun and risk getting into Walcha in the semi-dark, or should I stay in Wauchope and tackle the magnificent mountain in the morning? The problem was that, were I to do that, the mountain pass would undoubtedly be wet from the overnight dew and probably littered with sections of frost and black ice in the places where the sun doesn’t reach. In the end, I plumped for Plan A and I headed west.
Now my readers know the affection that I have for the Oxley and, despite all that has been published about it in the last year or so, the speed limit is unchanged and there was no sign of any police presence at all. I have to say that, a combination of my brand new rear tyre, ride fitness, confidence in the handling of my new-ish bike and a desire to race the sunset into Walcha saw me monster the Oxley like I have never done before. Corners flowed into corners and I constantly found myself on-line, in the right gear and already lining up the NEXT corner. Those of you who ride will know what a thrill it is when everything is JUST right, and just right it was. I flashed past Gingers in almost no time and I couldn’t believe it when I crested the hill and saw the turn-off on the left that Paul and I traditionally regard as the end of the twisties. “Here already?? This can’t be right.” I just couldn’t believe that the 65 or so K’s had gone by so fast, AND so easily. How I wish I could bottle the way that I rode that afternoon.
Of course now I was up in the mountains again and the temperature had plummetted. As well, 20 or so k’s out of town the rain returned but only in light patches and I was able to roll into town unscathed.
A hot shower and warm company at Mark and Taina’s place was just the ticket and, after dinner when Taina headed off to a meeting, Mark and I settled in to chat and watch a silly movie. What happened next was not only the quote of the day but probably the quote of the tour. The movie was about some American General in Afghanistan. I still can’t figure out of it was meant to be taken seriously or it was a giant wind-up, but, anyway, part way through, this guy is addressing a crowd of Afghani men. They have just told him that the best thing that he and the Americans can do for them is to leave the country immediately but he protests, “But we have come to bring you democracy, free elections, peace, security, to rebuild your devastated towns and cities. To enable you to live safely in your homes, so your children can go to school and get an education. We plan to help you build schools, shopping centres, tennis courts…” and so he went on. It all seemed so bizarre but, when he got to the “tennis courts” I couldn’t take it any more. I turned to Mark and asked, “Do the Taliban play tennis?” Without so much of a pause, he replied, “Yes, they do – religiously.” I nearly fell off the lounge!
It was 0 degrees when I cranked Rhonnda into life on Thursday morning. And I needed every bit of concentration that I could muster for what was to come. I’d already been warned that the condition of Thunderbolt’s Way was pretty poor these days, but no amount of warning could have prepared me for how diabolical a road it has become. Trying to find ANY sort of smooth path through the minefield of potholes is impossible; the road is a nightmare. Depressions and wash-aways constantly throw you off-line, often carrying you close to the broken-up edge of the road or onto the other side of the road. There is absolutely nothing to recommend it at the moment. It will require a massive injection of money to fix and I can’t really see that happening any time soon.
I was glad to roll into Gloucester and brekkie at the motorcycle-themed “Roadies Cafe”. Bucketts Way, about which I constantly carp because of its perpetual “Road Upgrades Taking Place In This Section” signs (none ever seem to) seemed almost smooth by comparison. Stroud Road through to Dungog is bumpy, tight and twisty but still worth the effort as is the back road that links Dungog to Gresford. Care needs to be taken but it’s still fun.
Gresford to Singleton and fuel then on to Broke Road and my stop for the night. Lenny, my old school mate, and his lovely wife, Pauline, are always welcoming and it was good to stop and refresh.
In the morning (Friday) it was -2.2 dagrees and foggy on the flats between Lenny’s and the mountain range. The hot air balloons were taking off and the sound of their heaters was carrying clearly on the still morning air. Lenny had been telling me about the strange atmospheric affects that are seen at Broke but I couldn’t figure out whether he was serious or not when he started talking about white rainbows. He said that they were pretty rare, that they looked just like a rainbow but they had no colours and he had seen them out on the paddocks in front of his house (about 100m between his house and the road.)
It was too cold to stand out in the carport and watch the balloons so I came back inside but I hurried back out when Lenny called, “Hey, mate, come out quickly, there’s a white rainbow happening.”
I rushed outside and I found to my amazement, that it was just as he had said. There, right before my eyes, was a completed rainbow, end to end, but it was pure white…seriously, you could have knocked me over with a feather. As we watched, it gradually started moving towards us, hovering over the fog that was still blanketing the ground until one end of it was clearly sitting in the paddock, not more than 50 metres from where we were standing. This lasted for several minutes until the sun came up more and it faded away. I had been skeptical but I had become a believer. I doubted if it would show if I were to try and photograph it but I tried anyway and, amazingly, it shows quite clearly as you can see. There are two more photos in the photo gallery at the bottom of the page.
After what I had done in the last days, a blast down the Putty seemed almost too easy but I’ve been around long enough to know that you don’t take ANY road lightly. A clear run through the Ten Mile (again) this time in the dry and on to Grey Gum Cafe and home via Windsor, Penrith, The Oaks, Picton and into my driveway as the darkness had just fallen. I was still sitting on my bike and taking my helmet off when I heard, “Hi, grandad, when did you get home?” I nearly jumped over the piano. #2 grandson had just arrived to feed the cats and had followed me down the driveway!
3000 kms in 9 days (six riding days), could it get any better? I doubt it. There are several other sidelights that I’ll relate in the next few days but that’s the essentials. Like I said at the start, if you start out without a fixed plan and leave yourself open to what may happen, wonderful things probably will, and, in this case, that was certainly so. The bike is putrid. Now that it’s warming up this morning, I’ll get out and give it a good clean (hey, even a BAD clean would be better than nothing) and, who knows, I may even go up to the Pie Shop later. Thanks for following my adventure. There really is nothing that can beat a bike and the open road.