Yesterday was not the sort of day that I especially enjoy. I had to go to Cessnock to attend Stephen Ward’s funeral. Steve, the perpetually-smiling racer, passed away last week after a battle with Leukemia. He was only 61 years old.
The funeral was a massive affair. The chapel itself was tiny but it would have had to have been huge to accommodate the hundreds of people who turned up. As well as many motorcycling friends and acquaintances, the mourners were made up of many employees of Steve’s pool business, friends from the boating community, the go-karting community and relatives. Funerals are a time when people who would never think of speaking in public are required by the occasion to do so and the many one-time speakers did a fabulous job. Steve’s 6 children paid tribute to him and the MC read a glowing tribute from Steve’s wife, Kerrie-Anne.
As is often the case, I had to opportunity to catch up with many motorcycling friends of mine who shared Steve’s journey. It seems sad that, these days, I am attending far more funerals than I am weddings. The weather was gloomy and threatening but, thankfully, the rain stayed away until after the funeral was over. There were some fabulous bikes in the procession including this one, a COVID project by a keen Kawasaki man.
Paul and I travelled up together and it was a good thing that we decided to take the car as you will soon discover. With the requirement being to be at the venue by 1100, it was up the highway, the M7, the M2 (including the amazing 9km long tunnel) and onto the Newcastle Freeway till it was time to turn off. Now, I know I’ve said it before but the only valid reason to travel this road is if you absolutely have to. Sure it’s wide, the speed limit is 110 and there are plenty of lanes but, man, the standard of driving of those that use it is appalling. I sat on, or close to, the limit all the time and I got blown into the weeds by everyone. Just ridiculous.
I pulled into the rest stop at Brooklyn for a coffee and for a chance to ease my addled brain. The ice cream van that is there all the time also makes snacks and a large coffee and some raisin toast went down well. While chatting to the owner he said that he comes to Brooklyn every day from Maroubra on the Sydney beaches. “It’s not that far,” he said, “It’s only 52kms.” That’s as maybe but that’s about 50kms too far for my liking.
Back into the rat-race, we were glad to get off the freeway and make our way to the Cessnock road and the Memorial Gardens.
Afterwards and after paying our respects to Steve’s wife, it was time to head home. We were almost at Cessnock and I had no desire to rejoin the crazies so we voted to head out onto the Putty Road and travel a familiar and, hopefully, less-crowded road. Well, we got that right.
After a nice B&E roll and some chippies plus a cuppa, we headed out from the excellent servo at Broke and went searching for the way home. The first surprise was that, while we’d been eating, the rain had arrived, Not too much of a problem, though, good car, good tyres and a familiarity with the road meant that just a little more caution was required.
And that caution was needed immediately. No sooner had we crossed the bridge over the creek at Broke when we were confronted with a “Rough Surface” sign. And, right after the sign and I MEAN right after the sign, we were confronted with a gravel road, filled with huge potholes and bumps. Fortunately I was observing the still 60km/h speed limit and, with a little bit of juggling, we got out the other side and onto the bitumen. 2 out of 10, Cessnock Shire Council.
It soon became clear that the it had been raining for some time as the roadside was filled with puddles and wash-always and the usually patchy surface of this road had degenerated almost completely since I had driven it last. Put simply, it was atrocious. It would be difficult in the dry but, in the wet, trying to dodge the worst of the broken-up surface required max concentration. And don’t even THINK of riding it on a bike at the moment.
Once out onto the Putty at Milbrodale, things looked up. The rain had well and truly set in but we were familiar with the patch and the surface was vastly better than what we had just endured. And it was to continue to be so because, even though it didn’t stop raining till Penrith, we only saw ONE car heading in our direction for over 100kms. That was a Qld-registered Rav4 who breezed past and disappeared just as quickly not long before we got to Grey Gums.
Amazingly, GGC was open on a Monday so we availed ourselves of a coffee and hit the road again. As I noted last time I did a Putty report, the road surface heading south is vastly worse than that when you are heading north but, we weren’t in a hurry and had ample opportunity to pick the smoothest lines (if any were available.)
Taking the Northern Road home rather than going out through The Oaks was a no-brainer and we got a fabulous run all the way to Campbelltown, Appin and down Mount Ousley where the motorists returning home from work to Wollongong seemed to have completely forgotten how to drive when it is dark, Sheesh!
Home safe and just in time for tea, Unfortunately, much of the good work done by the local councils to repair the damage from the 2022 rains now seems to have been washed and pounded away. My recommendation is that, if you do have to go north, give the Putty a miss for a while, it’s pretty dreadful. Yes, the alternative if the Freeway and that’s a whole other can of worms but it IS better at the moment.