Friday, October 29, 2010

Molesworth - Dropmore Road

I began today's ride by seeking comfort and relaxation. That is, I chose the route I often do, to Yea and back via Kinglake. It felt a little greedy and indulgent to go out, after last week's ride. But then, is there a rule against creating as many good moments as you can in life? I love to ride. And the forecast was 28 and sunny!

Beyond Yea I travelled along Killingworth Road. And yes, it is to die for. Unsealed, a mixture of clay and loose gravel, it follows the Goulbourn River which sits below it - the earth falls away from the road. Where its route departs from that of the river's, the drop continues and one looks onto a valley of green dotted with cattle. Cockies en masse break into flight as you pass. My bike held the road easily, at times aided by my standing on the footpegs to negotiate thicker gravel.

I had intended to ride to Yea and back without deviating, but the call of these roads, on this kind of day, was too much. Killingworth road re-connects with the Goulburn Valley Highway ten kilometers further on, and I would have returned to Yea, but in that moment when I saw a gaggle of slow-moving traffic from Yea and had to make a decision, I turned the bike left and accelerated to speed away from the town, toward further adventure.

Before long I came to Molesworth-Dropmore Road and there was no question I would turn down it. I sped across its loose pebals at 60kph, slowing little even for corners.

The road twisted and rose into mountains. In places it was cut out of the hillside, producing a wall of stone to one side. When a kangaroo jumped in front of me further ahead I felt the joy of motorcycling: in motion, in a world that is in motion. I could have photographed every turn. Instead I stopped for a drink overlooking this:

Everywhere was alive with colour.

The road continued. Its surface shifted from gravel to hard clay to a sandy soil, which I loved the most because it offered sure grip and yet was soft and smooth.

Finally the road came to an end and met the sealed Caveat-Dropmore Road

and I looked back to where I had come from.

Caveat-Dropmore Road twists and turns and offers the pleasure of opening up the throttle on tar, smoothly moving through the rev range, banking this way and that, up and down, on a perfect ribbon of road framed by sunlight and rich green bushland. What started out as nothing, a simple relaxation-ride, turned in to one of those memorable days.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Three-day Ride: Friday, the first day

For no reason other than the fact that I had no reason not to, I rode this weekend. Three days of riding.


That day I had nowhere to go but Nyah by nightfall. I fell in from the Calder to towns with their regions like a patch-work. Gisbourne. Woodend. Tracing paths behind the freeway. Tylden. Trentham. Daylesford.

A Spring day, sunshine, warmth. Accelerating skyward up a hill at Shepherd's Flat the air smelt of honey: pollen thickened the world.

Many details insisted on themselves. One was the colour of fields: everywhere so thick with green, but spread with top sheets of yellow canola or purple lavender. This drought-ill land grew these colours as an experiment in seeing itself differently, hoping to catch in my response a glimpse of what it might be.

My machine sang a single note. Four thousand, five hundred R.P.M. Smooth. Powerful. The sweet spot newly discovered and other purposes now imagined, this SR500 proved it can tour.

And I thought at different moments over those days: this moment, now, will be a fond memory when I am somewhere up ahead. With body and machine in motion, my mind paused  to enjoy the present-moment's ride, but that experience was flavoured with a sense of the future remembered-ride into which it will pass, retold and enshrined. Let me now tell you its story.


At Shepherd’s Flat I stopped at a long-abandoned home. For a moment something spilled out of the folds of time just beyond the periphery of my vision. It was at first comforting.  I pushed myself forward into the space.

Moving on, the distance divided by a bee sting to my wrist, I came to Newstead and lunch. I walked the town and was tempted in my vintagent nature by the wares of an antique store. I have been hungry for ‘old things’ ever since childhood. My father’s source of income was his one-man business - pulling down old houses to sell the timber - and I was the amateur archaeologist and imaginative re-constructer of hidden lives, made out of the things they left behind. Jam tins. A hat. A baby’s pin. The racing magazines found beneath pantry floorboards. All the small ordinary stuff that accumulates from living and in time takes on new significance. From them we can almost smell and perhaps touch the other person of so many decades ago.

A truck out the front of the antique store.

Beyond Maldon the road-sides were flooded.

Above Rheola and I rode through a National Park to the Melville Caves. It was hot, silent, and I was alone. I enjoyed this solitude.

Through Wedderburn I continued to Boort on low petrol. In Boort I was the lone patron at a café, and had a good conversation with the owner and her assistant. She mentioned the predicted thunder-storm and that I was on a bike, and I described of the joy of riding through the emotions of the weather, that feeling of being absorbed into the sky.

Above Boort.

Friends along the way.

It was a long day. I only did 455km but I took my time. The roads were increasingly straight, which added to my weariness toward the day's end. At Swan Hill I stopped to visit Grandma for a quick chat on the porch, then made for Nyah where my family welcomed me.


Never a willing riser, I set my alarm for eight-thirty Saturday morning. When I woke it was raining so I lay my head back down. Half an hour later my eyes opened, and the day looked good.

I started by visiting my uncle and aunt in Koroleigh. I have always been fond of them and of their farm, but have not made many visits. That has changed with my uncle’s cancer. It saddens me to see that I could have had my own relationship with him outside of family gatherings, but that there is nothing left to do now but come and sit. I will not make the mistake twice: my aunt is equally as interesting a person – thoughtfully present in the world – and my visits will continue no matter what.

I stopped at Toolebuc to change into warmer clothes. Perhaps it was due to the above thoughts that, as I stood there, I felt sadness at the fact that all those I love are in a state of passing through my hands. The the seemingly endless plenitude of our lives is constantly emptying out, to reveal each moment as one of a finite few.

And so I decided to not ride all day. I would enjoy the red earth around Robinvale, but after two hundred kilometres I would return to spend time with my family.

Over these days I found that the bike is quite capable of travelling continuously at 100 or 90 kph, depending on the conditions. In the cool, especially in the earlier part of the day or the late afternoon, it can cruise easily for hour stretches at 100. During the middle of a hot day, on straight roads, the engine feels mildly thrashed at that speed but things are fine if I drop to 90. Straight roads bring this thrashed feeling out more quickly than twisty roads where I roll on and off the throttle. The stock gearing seems quite adequate on the SR and it is, I realise, quite suitable to light-weight highway touring.

I stopped by the banks of the Murray.

There was food at this place, but I imagined that Robinvale would be a quaint town with a bakery, so pushed on for lunch there.

I was wrong.

There were two food shops – offering deep-fried only – and out the front of each was a crowd of 'deroes'. Later it was explained to me that Robinvale is a violent town, a place of beer, misery and murders. There was certainly nothing beautiful in it. There was nothing to do in this town but get out of it. Which I did.

If the town was a blight, the country below was a beauty. I stopped. A truck loaded with scrap pulled up. The driver was excited by my SR500, a model he recognised: “Nice to see it on the road!”

South - the place east of Hattah - is land that I love. The road variously sweeps or rises and falls. The earth glows ochre, orange, red, pink, with a special sun – the Mallee light. The bush life changes as you ride, dividing itself abruptly: first low scrub. Then suddenly it is replaced by pines. Then gums. As though marking invisible borders (but of what?). And in every case the trees are spindly, sun-burnt, a mixture of off-green and kaki.

I pushed onwards, up and down, to Manangatang.

Manangatang is a small town, with aspects of interest

and of oddity, right there in the centre of the main street.

And still I pushed south. Then east.

Until I came to a place that has featured more than once in this blog: my beloved salt flats, west of Nyah West. This time they were different. Rain had changed them into choral pools. The colour of beautiful poison.

This place is magic. It is the landscape of evocation. Like the abandoned tennis courts at Chinkapook. Or the run-down community hall Hattah. There is an unspoken mysticism in these places: that enfolding of people and their time in space that I often allude to. There is an implication, a suggestion, something just outside the periphery of vision. The light of this place stirs my basic longing and imagination, but it refers to no particular object.