Friday, May 28, 2021

Riding The Great Dividing Range - Part II

While the sound of the waterfall was a soothing background sound for the night, it was overpowered at times by the heavy rain falling on my tent. At least this new tent was completely waterproof so I was warm and dry, again, while tucked up inside.

In the morning light I could now see that I was camped right next to the falls, hence their volume during the night. I started to take the walking track down to the bottom of the falls for a look but as soon as I did it began to rain again. This saw me beat a hasty retreat back to the tent.

I used a break in the showers to quickly pack up. There would be no drying the tent before packing it up today but I would sort that out later. For now I just wanted to hit the road and find some food and coffee in Glenn Innes. 

Hitting the road to Glenn Innes I found visibility quite limited in thickish fog (more likely cloud down to the ground) and light rain. Level 5 on the heated grips and hiding behind the enormous screen kept me warmish and dry. The shiny, wet tar wasn't much fun on cold knobby tyres so I spent a lot of concentration on staying off the shiny line, just in case. Once out of the fog I stopped to look back at the brooding sky. At least I could see blue sky faaar off to the west.

Looking back to whence I came. Brrrr.

Riding into Glenn Innes there were cars and people everywhere. I was going to check out the Australian Standing Stones but as I passed the entrance it looked like they were taking money and the road was lined with cars for kilometres. Some event or other was clearly happening in town this weekend. Trying to find a park in the main street confirmed this, with every park full and the main street a conga line of cars going both ways. WTF!?

I eventually found a spot next to a line of ADV bikes, in front of a new-to-me cafe'. Chatting to the guys it seems they were the large group of ADV riders I passed on the Old Grafton road yesterday. They said "ah, you were the guy flying along the other way" . Lol, I was standing on the pegs and "making progress" at the time but I wouldn't say I was "flying".

I wandered into the cafe', called "The Local" and was greeted by the most cheerful waiter I reckon I have ever met. Taking a seat I grabbed some coffee and breakfast. It seems The Local is dedicated to sourcing local produce from the New England region and providing top notch service. I was mightily impressed with not only the food but the outstanding service they gave on what was clearly an extremely busy day for them. If you are travelling through Glenn Innes another bonus is that The Local is right next to The Great Central Hotel, another excellent food/accommodation option in Glenn. You can't go wrong with either.

While sipping my coffee I perused the BOM website to check out the weather further west. It looked like rain all along the ranges while the forecast (and more importantly, the actual) was for blue skies and mid twenties temperatures out west. I decided to head that way and check out Inverell, a town I hadn't visited since ~1988. The benefit of doing this is that I would be able to dry my tent out at some stage too.

I fuelled up and gave the bike a quick pressure clean at the car wash to knock the worst of the mud off from yesterday. After a quick look around Glenn Innes I got sick of the heavy traffic and decided to hit the road again.

Just crazy traffic for a small country town!

The road to Inverell was quite busy this morning. It was a good stretch of tar that reminded me a lot of the roads around Parkes, NSW. I passed a cute little church in a paddock and decided to turn around for a closer look. It was interesting that the church was inside a farmer's paddock and oriented toward the north-north east i.e. away from the road. Time for some droning...

Rolling again and I was soon in Inverell. I was actually quite surprised at the size of the town and how prosperous the main streets looked. Every building was occupied and the street was packed with parked cars. I found my way around the back of the shopping centre to park on the Macintyre River where I proceeded to unpack my tent and spread it out over a park bench. I also spied a power box on a power pole...on closer inspection it was unlocked AND had several power points inside. This was a great opportunity to multi task as I plugged my drone batteries in for a charge.

Battery charging post

Macintyre River

After an hour or so of chilling out in the sun my tent was dry and my drone batteries charged. Some quick photos around town, then I head out the Tingha road to the south, another road I have never been on.

I was originally going to cut across to Guyra but I must have missed the turn and keep tracking south toward Bundarra. It was a pleasant enough ride but I kept getting showered on. This was weird as every time it rained on me I was in full-on, bright sunshine! I could see individual clouds around the place with rain falling from them but every time I got wet I was in the sun! There must have been a stiff breeze pushing the rain away from the clouds it fell from.

I was now tracking for Uralla - somehow - but I didn't want to go that far south as I needed to get through Armidale so I could head out the Ebor road for tonight's camp ground at Point Lookout.

I ended up coming into Armidale from the west on the Budarra rd, another new to me road. I was initially a bit disoriented as I came into Armidale as I hadn't seen it from that direction before! I eventually found the shopping centre and proceeded to buy some supplies for tonight. Two more sausages from the butcher and two four beers (hey, they were $2 more for 2 more cans) and a top up of fuel for the bike.

I had forgotten how far out the road the Point Lookout turnoff was. The better part of an hour later I was turning east, onto the gravel, to find a spot in Thungutti campground. I had stayed here in 2019 on my last ADV bike ride and found it to be a top notch (for Australia) facility with the added benefit of breathtaking views from Point Lookout.

It was a rather bleak and dreary late afternoon when I arrived. I was pleased to see that there weren't many other campers and even more pleased to see that the spot I camped at two years ago was free, with nobody close by! Score!

Again, I set up quickly (probably Olympic record pace) as it looked like it could rain at any moment. Some guy come over for a chat while I at it. Turns out he was between jobs and was camping because it was cheap and he was basically homeless. We chatted for a bit then I took my leave to ride up to the lookout to see what I could see.

The lookout is about 4 kilometres up the hill and as I climbed the cloud came down to meet me. Bugger! It was clear that I wouldn't be seeing much today. As I arrived in the car park a fellow who was just leaving informed me that there was a nice little fire going in the hiker's shelter. I decided to sit by the fire and read the information boards that line the inside of the shelter for a while. Who knows, the weather may clear....

I decided it was now or never so took the short walk to the lookout. It was spectacular after the very wet last few months with moss and lichen growing abundantly.

Unfortunately, the view was switched off today. Not totally unexpected.

Oh well, back to camp then.

I set to work on getting a fire going in my little fireplace. Like last night, no easy task as all the timber was wet from days of rain. I had the company of my new best mate, Mick and a few beers to while the time away so it was actually a pleasant enough afternoon. Two young girls pulled up in a Prado and proceeded to set up camp near me. We all chatted for a while and eventually cooked dinner on the campground bbqs before retiring to my fire to stave off the cold. The girls worked for Sydney Uni as researchers and while clearly intelligent, had opinions that they couldn't back up with life experience. It was like talking to my daughter I thought to myself. Very intelligent, lots of opinions but no experience. I guess we were all there once and it is probably more a reflection of how many times I have been around the sun. Mick seemed like a pretty decent, well educated bloke, just down on his luck at the moment. 

This whole Covid bullshit year has brought home to me how easily one can lose their way and find themselves in a tough spot. It began to bucket down again, ruining a nice evening by the fire, so I wished him luck in his job hunt before we all turned in for the night

Day 4

It rained a lot again during the night but again, my little tent was warm and dry. I also slept in this morning, finally getting up at about 0830. I just had a quick apple/museli bar breakfast before packing my gear up. I headed up to the lookout in the hope of a view but it was just like looking at the inside of a ping pong ball again.

I had fun on the road out as it was damp but really good gravel, unleashing a lot of the 94 ponies onto the rear Bridgestone. Controlled standing drifts - just like Toby Price....well, in my head anyway.

I got myself into Armidale pronto and went in search of a coffee shop for a breakfast and planning session. It was actually pretty difficult to fine one on a Sunday morning. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place. Anyway, I eventually found Era Espresso which conveniently had a tree directly opposite out came the wet tent and got the clothesline the middle of the main street of Armidale. 

At least I could keep a good eye on it while I ate.

What was I doing in Armidale I hear you ask? That isn't on the planner! Well, with the rain seemingly confined to the coast I decided not to drop down the Kempsey road, then come back around through Gloucester, Nundle and Scone to Barrington Tops (the road to the Tops was closed on the Gloucester side due to a land slip) as not only would it be wet but also an almost 800 kilometre day, a lot of it on gravel. So, I would head down to Nundle and stay on the western side of the range.

My tent dry again, I popped into the petrol station to top up. The car next to me was all wet so I took a chance and asked the woman driving it where the car wash was. "Just around the corner" was the answer so I popped around to pressure wash the worst of the mud off the bike and bags again. I like to look after my stuff and there is no need to be covered in crud for a week.

It is always a boring ride across to Walcha but must be done if a rider wants to access the mighty Oxley Highway or Thunderebolt's Way. A quick look around a very quiet Walcha and I spied this metal art shop. It was closed but I got a couple of photos through the window. This is one very talented individual!

Please excuse the thumb....d'oh!

With not much happening in Walcha today I hit the road toward Gloucester. This is the Thunderbolt's Way, a renowned bike road. A bike road that I had never sampled on a bike before. In fact, the only time I had been on it was during 2017 on the drive down to ride the Thunderbolt's Adventure on the mountain bike.

The road wasn't great being narrow and poorly surveyed - typical old school country NSW road - so not unexpected. I came to the Nundle turn off and stopped for a quick break. 
More new to me road beckoned!

This was the countryside right behind the bike in the above photo. Lush and green for Australia!

The next few kilometres were awesome! Newly sealed, nicely surveyed 75 and 85km/h signposted curves over hills and down dales. I had a ball on Topdale road! It didn't last too long though before the road went all narrow and rough, overhung by stunted gum trees. There was moss/lichen growing on the cracks on the road and in the crevices of the chip seal, a bit like on the road to Milford Sound in New Zealand.
I continued on until I came to this sign. Steve had mentioned Port Stephens Cutting recently but I had no idea what or where it was. To me, Port Stephens is a town just north of Newcastle on the NSW coast. I liked the look of all of the "slow down" and "trucks use low gear" warning signs though. It sounds steep and twisty to me!

And it was! Only one or two cars, quickly dispatched and I was having a blast again. This taking the road lesser travelled thing was paying dividends in the enjoyment stakes!

The rest of the ride to Nundle was on quiet, narrow back roads. After turning at Dungowan there was an immense amount of traffic coming the other way - almost all 4wd cars. I was trying to figure out whether it was a 4wd convention or what, all the way to Nundle. All was revealed as I rolled into Nundle to see hundreds of cars lining the road and signs proclaiming that the Nundle Dog Races were on today! Not greyhound races, just every other sort of dog by the look of it. I'm not sure how they raced them. I reckon it would have been like trying to herd cats....

One of the main reasons I wanted to check out Nundle is to see the memorial in the main street to the victims of a DC3 crash that occurred in the nearby hills back in 1948. 

The "Lutana" crash was another bloody footnote in the slow, plodding progress that Australian civil aviation authorities made on the path to a safe, reliable air transit system. There is talk that the flight attendant was running late and another girl agreed to do the flight. As the Lutana taxied to the end of the field the rostered flight attendant arrived and was rushed out to the aircraft as it sat, running, on the end of the runway(or field). Sadly, little did Miss B.M. Wise realise she was rushing to her death!

Leaving Nundle the sun was starting to dip toward the horizon again. Blast these short Autumn days! I had about 200km to go to my camp site for the night and quite a bit of that was up a winding dirt road. I set of at a fair clip for the New England Highway. Once on the highway I settled down to a respectable pace as it is infested with some of the state's finest mobile revenue raisers and I didn't need to contribute.
I stopped briefly in Scone for fuel, some chocolate and two beers for the night's camp. No sausages tonight! I was in for a treat!
Heading out the Gundy road it sure was nice to be heading east - away from the setting sun. The Gundy pub was pumping as I cruised past. I was so tempted to stop but I was racing the light as it was, so pushed on. The road onward to Moonan Flat was actually a hoot, with some single lane bridges, lots of bends and a cracking set of 35km/h corners as I descended into Moonan Flat.
I cruised straight past the pub (pretty much all that was there) and headed for Barrington Tops road. I had ridden down this in the Thunderbolts ride and knew to expect a wide, winding gravel climb. I got the arms out, weighted the outside peg again and gassed the big girl up the hill. This was fun!
As I got near the top of the climb the sunset behind me was too good to not stop and take in.

Just after this photo I got to the dingo gate at the top of the climb and started across the "Tops".

This bit of road brought memories of the Thunderbolts ride flooding back. We were not quite half way around the ride that day as we got to this spot after about 6 hours of hard pedalling and about to drop down that hill which I had just climbed. I recalled the feeling of euphoria as we effortlessly dropped off the Tops to Moonan Flat pub for lunch.

For now though I just had to put my head down. I blasted across here at about 100km/h as I was really pushing the light. When I got to the Little Murray campground turnoff I was relieved....until I saw it was another 5 kilometres into the campground and the "road" was rough and rocky. No problem, it just meant slow going,
So I arrived at the campground literally on last light and bettered my Olympic record tent setup time from last night. My gear was in the tent as darkness fell and I was soon changed and chilling out, looking at 1 000 000 000 000 or so stars above me.
This was a "bring your own firewood" campground and of course I hadn't so I sat on the picnic bench, nicely rugged up as the other four groups camped around me burned a mountain of wood.
No stress though. I set the Jetboil to work on some water while I tucked into one of the beers I had picked up in Scone. It was a New England Brewing (from Uralla) IPA that was bloody tasty.

I used the quiet time to peruse the map and sip beer. Win/win.

While I waited for my gourmet Morrocan lamb dinner to rehydrate I started to feel a bit tipsy. On closer inspection of the beer I could see why. 

6.6% !!?? Normally I don't like the taste of beer with more than 5.5 or 6% alcohol in it but I didn't notice it tainting the flavour in this Hop Cannon. Bloody nice stuff actually!

I chowed down on the Morrocan Lamb which was quite tasty, then retired to the tent for a bite of chocolate, then turned in for the night.

It was the first clear night of the trip and as I was at 5000ft above sea level I expected it to be pretty cool. I wasn't to be disappointed!

Another great day in the saddle with 440km under the wheels.

Stay tuned for more.....


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Riding The Great Dividing Range

Ok, so I eventually got away.....

(The prelude to this post - you can catch up here.) 

...with the intent to roughly follow this route. I would make variations to the route if the weather wasn't playing nicely but at this stage the forecast looked promising.

You can zoom and pan the Ride With GPS map . You can also download the route!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Jack Cracks it


Well, it has been a long time coming but Jack Miller has finally won his first dry Moto GP race for Ducati!!

I'm a "Johnny-come-lately" to watching Moto GP again, basically missing all of the action from about 2005 until 2018 when my young bloke, Will, started showing some interest in it. So I can't claim to know Jack's back story or his trajectory through to this win very well at all. He does come across as your typical Aussie lad though so I, like many of our countrymen (and women) feel a certain connection to him - he feels like one of your mates or your brother's mates if you get what I mean.

The reality is probably very different as he is most likely far more sophisticated then your average Aussie yobbo. His accent changes during interviews with reporters of different nationalities would seem to hint at the fact there is more than meets the eye. 10 years in Europe will probably do that.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Well done Jack!! Bloody awesome!!

Chillertek photo from the 2019 Australian Moto GP

It has been a long time since we have had an Aussie to cheer for (remember, I missed the Stoner years)  and I must say it feels nice! Fingers crossed for some more crazy celebrations.....