Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Roads....

This week's ride - undertaken yesterday (Sat 22/08) - involved a few highlights where new roads were opened up for further exploration. I took the usual route north to King Lake and Yea. That was a very pleasant ride in itself. After lunch at Yea I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, so I headed east out of town thinking to ride the dirt road that connects with Caveat. I didn’t find it (till later, accidently, from the other end) but after passing Killingworth road I came across it again further on and thought to follow where it lead. This road quickly turned to dirt, which I was expecting and furthermore happily anticipating. The road was the usual nice hardpacked clay, with only light sand or gravel here and there, but it had worn away in places to reveal stones embedded in the earth such that the surface was very corrugated. I made my greatest dirt riding break-through yet. Having looked at many photographs of late, of adventure riders, on this site (it is worth just watching the slideshow which loads automatically on the introduction page), it was clear to me that something seemed to be gained from riding by standing on the pegs. I tried this out…and my riding will never be the same again! This is the answer! The magic formula! Dirt-road riding suddenly became so easy, so controlled. I sat back down and immediately experienced my usual twitchiness, both real and merely perceived, but when standing I can very easily control the bike over a loose surface. I opened up the throttle, changed into third gear, and cruised along happily, including in the corners and over the washes of sand or gravel.

To my right, the roadside fell away as though a gentle cliff, and the valley below was a lush paradise. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century many people believed there was a great inland sea at the centre of Australia, surrounded by lush fertile plains. In their stubborn imposition of human values onto the world, adventurers died seeking this interior which ‘must’ be there, and as I looked onto this plain I thought of how it might resemble what they imagined.

The day was another perfect winter’s day – which, to draw some good out of this depressing drought, has become my new favourite riding season!

For a distance the green valley was replaced by a glorious river:

This roadlooped back to Yea, where I topped up my fuel and then headed in the other direction, north to Highlands. I cruised, leaning easily through the corners at 80 to 90kph, enjoying the force of a motorcycle tipped over in motion.  At Caveat I passed a dirt road whose pale sand and pines trees have always drawn me. So I doubled back and began down this road. I think it was called Molesworth-Dropmore Rd.  

Again I wound open the throttle and enjoyed a good pace. The road went on and on, changing landscape, through the stringy bark forest to spaces over-looking farmland, then snaking its way lower into valleys and paddocks.

At one point after almost making physical contact with a small kangaroo, I stopped and climbed a great boulder hanging in the air over a valley which sat below, as the land fell steeply away from the roadside.

Eventually I reached the Goulburn Valley Highway and rode north to Yarck, in a very good mood, having discovered two excellent new roads. At Yarck I sat with another motorcyclist at a cafĂ© and we shared opinions on bikes. I then road inland, east, past Gobur cemetry and through a landscape which, though the sun was now shaded by grey clouds, aroused a certain warmth in me. I turned down toward Caveat from the north and while I was tempted by another dirt road I continued on, and from Highlands headed toward Seymour. But I was tempted off track once again by a marvellous-looking sealed road which ribboned into a valley amidst pines. Cavet-Dropmore Road seemed to be frequented by patrons of a winery and, as such, is well-maintained – and again I opened up the throttle and enjoyed a smooth, lively pace through the twists and turns, all the while keeping an eye open for cattle, kangaroos or the cessation of the sealed road around a blind corner! Eventually the road became unsealed and I decided to turn back as the day was getting on and the cold was setting in. On the way once again to Highlands I was riding along at about 70kph when a number of rosellas flew up in front of me. A pair flew desperately at speed to escape me and I slowed somewhat to avoid hitting them, such that for a few wonderful moments they were in rapid flight at a consistent distance of only a metre or two in front of me.  I was able to look upon them as though we were all flying in tandem.  Another of those rare experiences which motorcycling affords. Past Highlands I found a friend by the roadside and, a mere few metres from him, we spent some minutes together:

By this time the sun was low in the sky (though very slowly receeding, as it does in winter), and it had become bitterly cold. My hands were immovable on the bars and the muscles were aching with the chill. I stopped to catch a photo of the winter sunset sky, an almost metaphysical image.

I rode back through Yea, down the Whittlesea-Yea Rd, then across to Glenburn (which was a new road for me, again) and south down the Melba and into Melbourne. I am longing to ride the roads again between Longwood and Murchison, but now I am excited about getting back next week and exploring some more of these dirt roads. So many wonderful options! Perhaps only one day a week set aside for riding is too little?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Murray Sunset - reflections on a future ride...

At first it was the name that drew me.

Just an hour west of Nyah (the town I considered another home), it seems in my imagination to be the place where the Mallee has its rising: the centre, from which swells the essence of that region, of the salt bush and sand - sand which emanates in furrows and waves that go deep or which sometimes barely hide the hard-packed earth beneath, spilling over to make the land which surrounds this place, all the way back to Nyah and beyond. It is the original cause of that cooked dirt – red dust which in summer burnt my childhood feet.

I have heard stories and had imaginings, some for as long as I can remember, others recent tales: three or four riders, sometimes more, out on the Murray–Sunset National Park, riding the tracks, sinking in the sand, breaking their bones. Always I imagine the light – the Mallee light – and the red - the dust of the earth. This is a place of myth – an old sea bed, hence the sand.  Fossils can be found. It is an empty space even on the map, populated only by the thin broken line of Pheenys Track and another path north from Koonda. My knowledge beyond that exists in the form of local warnings: you needed the right bike, the right skills, the right support…and even then....

I know enough for these warnings to be ominous. Elsewhere, south of Deniliquin, ignoring a sign which warned that the road ahead was treacherous even for four-wheeled vehicles, I had on a hot summer day continued on ahead arrogantly. The warning only referred to a 25km stretch. But a short distance can turn treacherous, and then it can turn into a Hell that doesn’t end, when you are unskilled on the dirt and your bike is a pure road bike, and you are completely alone, and your vintage motorcycle is ready to quit, and you have run out of water. I remember the bleached white bones of sheep at the road’s edge; and the dry harshness of the natural debris on the road side as I rode it at speed having lost control. Most of all I just remember the thick gravel passing endlessly under me, shaking my handlebars violently from side to side.

This time I will load myself with petrol, water, food, camping equipment, and a dependable friend with his own bike.

And so: it is there, this place, Murray-Sunset National Park, but it exists in my mind, in the stories I have heard, in the warnings, in the odd photo, in the - as I have said - reports of riders full of fun and foolery, of bogged motorcycles, roadside repairs, of coming off the bike in sand and breaking ankles or wrists. But there is something more behind what they say, I think.

I feel that there must be a change rendered in a person by being there and working hard to just to sustain that presence. A kind of baptism into that space, as though the activity of being there and journeying through, making my spirit and body vulnerable to the place, will leave something of me in it and something of it in me.  Perhaps it is that for a moment of time, a day, that place and I will share part our story, which will remain mostly unspoken even after I attempt to articulate it, but which will go deeper in both of us than words can articulate. Something which binds a part of me, something left behind in the sweat that has dried and breathe that has dissipated. I stand at the edge of what I see in my mind when I hear others speak of being there, and turn my face to the bright sun, to the bush flowers, to the Mallee sunset, to the space and light. There is something sacred in this, but it is the sort of thing you glance at only sideways, like the rainbow colours of Mallee sunlight breaking at the edge of your vision as it floods your sight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Night in Nyah West

One night in Nyah West.  I park my bike in the main street and walk. The town is silent and dark except for the crickets and incandecent lights on verandas. The street is deserted until I reach one house, verandah-lit and street-edged, where a man leans casually against the roughened lattice, cigarette and white singlet, listening to the town and the night. It is summer. I spend a while with this man. I am wearing my leathers and holding my helmet. We talk about nothing; that there’s no petrol at night; that the drought keeps going; that the dying towns will have their return. That last is my thought; it seems deluded perhaps, but it is an expression of love for such places as this, expressed as hope.

We don’t share names. Our talk, the man’s quiet rest, his gaze forward without a glance my way, there’s an easy intimacy in a seemingly empty town in summer, sitting engulfed in the blackness and dust of Mallee desert. There’s a lazy, wearied, confident simplicity in our talk, in our momentary friendship, just sharing something with one another because he and I happen to be here.

As I walk away into the dark I feel normal burdens and concerns lift from me.  A sense that there are no roles or responsibilities to fulfill here and now, as though that might be my natural state. Instead just a hot night, a scent of possibility in a strange familiar town, and flashes of a child’s memories. I see swings that I played on as a child.

The pub has closed.  A voice or two echoes through the streets and a drunk stumbles and acknowledges me. I push the starter and my bike bursts into that low throb of a 650 twin.   I flick the high beam and the road glows ahead as I exit the town and accelerate into the sensation of speed and warm air.  Into the current of the night.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Another great day of riding yesterday.  Midway through it turned to a brilliant sunny day which became warm and at times almost hot!

Leaving home at 9.30AM I headed out north east via Kangaroo Ground and Yarra Glen, and north up the Melba, turning right and taking Chum Creek Rd to Healesville. I toyed with the idea of taking the Old Toolangi Rd to Toolangi and decided today would be the day. I knew nothing of it except that it was dirt; if it got too rough I would simply turn back.

In fact this road was quite good: a mixture of hard-packed clay and sand in places, and light gravel in others. I am becoming used to letting the bike drift about on such surfaces, which is not so bad at an easy pace. Except of course that the right tyre track was generally the better one, and from that vantage I could look down to where I and my bike would fall and tumble should I loose my grip.

Along the way I saw that some people had had their fun rolling cars down the hill…

The road was mostly burnt out although it did return to green along the way, which felt strange – I am now so used to looking at burnt bush!

In true bikey fashion, I stopped to pick some flowers! (For my partner, not me!)

And eventually returned to civilization.

This road took me back toward Yarra Glen. 

I had lunch in Healesville and rode the Black Spur, along with a lot of traffic which thwarted my strong impulse to put some speed on through the corners. From there I made for Eildon with vague thoughts of exploring the roads about there.

At Cathedral Rock I was tempted to sacrifice Eildon-explorations for a ride up the rock. The sun had come out at this point and it was like Spring. It was a great pleasure simply to wind along an empty tarred road. 

However the National Park road which might lead up the Rock was closed due to the January fires.  And so I turned back and made again for Eildon.

On the way I took some photos to capture the sun-filled splendour of the day…

The first thing I did at Eildon was to explore some roads around the damn. Lake Eildon is a weir fed by the Goulbourn River, developed in stages beginning in 1915 but having it’s greatest transformation during the 1950s.  It has that sublime vastness of space and light, both of water and hills, and of sheer monolithic concrete, which we see from that era. Something about it pushes the mind back upon itself, as a sensation of simple, element existence.

Furth along there is a bridge across a gorge, and the first photo is looking to my left - looking back toward the lake of the above photos - while the second photo is looking right, back into the valley and toward the township.

I went for a bush-walk in the heat of the day amidst the sweaty Tea Tree.

Here at the entrance is a high wall cut from the mountain. Those trees at the top give you an idea of the size: they are tall gums.

I had a coffee in Eildon and just sat there, in the shade in the small shopping square, looking out at the sun and at the few couples enjoying the day also in silence. At about 3.30pm I decided to make my way home as there were dinner guests to prepare for. I stopped to take another shot of the scene and the day…

…and with a large bull to my left becoming very unhappy about my presence, I motored on through  the green valley and back through Narbethong and the Black Spur. I stopped again at the lookout to the Maroondah Reservoir – there has been a water-catchment theme to my rides of late – and took the back-road to Yarra Glen and on to Kangaroo Ground and home, weary and sore but revived in spirit!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fee and I: Sugarloaf, Healesville, and Excitement!

My partner Fee and I decided to go for a short ride on Saturday out to Yarra Glen for lunch. We rode two-up on the GR650. It was a beautiful day which hardly seemed like winter, with a warm sun against a clear sky. We exited the city via the Eastern Freeway then went north to Kangaroo Ground. From there we headed toward Yarra Glen but on the way stopped off at Sugarloaf Reservoir, a major man-made water supply for Melbourne.

The drought has taken its toll and the water levels are very low, which leaves a gaping chasm of space before you as you stand on one side and look toward the other. There is a sense of something ancient in this experience, like looking upon some ambitious achievement of an almost mythological civilisation, or on to some elemental landmass. 

From there we went on to Yarra Glen, at which point we were enjoying the ride too much to stop such that we continued out to Healesville. After lunch we had a walk around town and came across this beautiful Moto Guzzi. I admit to being a big Guzzi fan.   This one was a very fine example of the breed. You can see the sideways twin cylinder engine, which has a sound which is smooth to a degree, and yet deep, throaty and charismatic.  The bike was fat and chunky and heavy and roomy and couch-like and beautiful! Fee has requested that I make her a Yamaha SR250 based on this bike.

We rode homewards. Up hills the bike struggled and snatched a bit because it has a larger front sprocket fitted and we were two-up. I reflected on the fact that this bike otherwise did so well with the weight of two people on the freeway, and decided that I would fit the sidecar to the GR650. It will make a very good outfit. The GR is a great bike in many respects however it is not the pretty boy that the SR is, and neither does it have the great handling of the SR. Fitting the utilitarian sidecar which I plan to make to the GR makes a lot more sense when I consider it.

As we neared the Eastern Freeway I noted some wobble from the rear of the bike. I was not sure whether it was gravel on the road or an exaggeration of the wobbly handling that this bike gives, but as we accelerated to 100kph onto the freeway suddenly the bike weaved badly from side to side!  The rear tyre had suddenly deflated! I pulled over with cars accelerating to 100kph about us. I got Fee off the bike, and rode it down to the emergency lane. I had no mobile credit to call RACV, but fortunately I carry a toolkit which I have assembled myself (so it is actually useful!), which includes tyre foam for temporarily re-inflating punctured tyres. Here I am mid-repair, keeping a careful eye on the cars as they merge together at 100kph.

I arrived home for an engine-fitting evening, which I will post about when the task is complete. Unfortunately this blown tyre meant I could not do a big ride on Sunday as I had planned, but it was nice to have a short jaunt with Fee.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Somewhere near Murchison....

More meandering today! I had ride and visit my mother in the Mallee, but there looked to be heavy winds when I woke so I figured I would stick to the mountains. I wanted to do something different, but I am so in love with my little empire of empty land above Yea that I could not help but return. Exiting the city via the Eastern Freeway some time after 9am, on wet roads telling of earlier rain, the sun was shining - as it would do for most of the day. I headed north on the usual route through King Lake National Park to King Lake and King Lake West, and along that fabulous stretch of road to Yea. A Parma pie for lunch and I caught the tail of a Harley leaving town, and we both exited the highway and headed for Highlands, holding pace together for a short time. It is like that on a bike - you instinctively connect with other riders, even if you never see their face or hear their voice.  You play together for a while and then head your separate ways, often with a shared wave acknowledging what you have shared.

It was another crisp, beautiful winter's day of subtle water colours, green and blue, and I sung to it in my helmet in joy as I danced across the hills at speed. Somewhere beyond Caveat I stopped:

and again when I reached Ruffy, I took a dirt road which pointed to a Recreational Reserve. There was a tennis court carpeted with moss, there were buildings, and there was silence and the absence of others and their activities...

North of Ruffy I entered a region of baby mountains and twisting road, where I stopped for this waterfall.

Just south of Longwood, below the Hume Highway, I decided to look for old graves at the Longwood cemetery. I made some friends...

...and found graves as old as the 1860s...

From Longwood I continued heading north, figuring I would have a coffee in Murchison. However I kept giving over time to exploring side roads and tracks. The main roads were wonderful in themselves; long and straight and with - as everywhere else - almost no other traffic.

At one point I turned down a side road at the suggestion of a sign which said 'Old Historic School'. On this road I think I made a breakthrough in dirt riding on a road bike. It was sandy and I came to see clearly how going too slowly and carefully made the bike waddled around more on the loose surface, whereas if I powered through with speed the bike was much more stable, although I had to let it weave as the dirt would have it. Travelling along, three sheep ran out from the quater mile track in a state of fear, and ran along the road in front of me. They really are stupid, affection-worthy animals.  When three more joined them I expected Benny Hill music.  Finally I came to a cross-roads and no school... I turned back. At a hole in the fence I tried my hand at rounding up sheep on a motorcycle and they bolted for the hole, throwing themselves through it. Except for the last sheep, who threw himself at the fence, failed, and bounced back as though by a rubberband into a backwards summer-sault toward me! Stupid animals, sheep.

At a cross-roads somewhere I stopped to hear the silence. The only other traffic was a light plane high above. I didn't want to leave this place.

Looking at the map I see now that I managed to reach as far as only a few kilometers south of Murchsion, but I was unsure of where I was and decided it was getting time to head back. 

I took a turn-off which pointed to Euroa, day-dreaming about a book I want to write about motorcycling, a work of popular philosophy, but expressing my love for the country with which riding connects me.

From Euroa I went south via Strathbogie and to Merton. On the way I stopped again at that small damn

I arrived in Yea after dark, as per the photo, and rode down the Melba Highway, hugging the tail-light of a slower car like a night beacon, basking in his safety.  It can be quite difficult to ride twisty 100kph roads on a motorcycle at night when you have lots of bright oncoming headlights. I simply fixate on the red lights in front and follow their lead.  I arrived in Melbourne much later than I had intended, and very cold.

As usual, it was a wonderful, soul-refreshing day!