Monday, February 27, 2012

Three day alpine ride

If you look to the east, and then imagine places beyond where your usual roads end, there is a land of ice and giants called The Alpines. It might be that when previously journeying you always went west, to the land of your birth. But sooner or later ambition becomes too great and you fire your pistons - two great hammers of Thor - and journey bravely into the heights.

On Thursday morning we left, my trusty friend Marlon and I, and rode the Hume Highway.

Exiting the Hume at Glenrowan, famous Kelly country, the hills of gums became mountains of pine. A half day spent, we arrived at Bright, our camp for the night.

We had been told that a four hour ride could be made from Bright down to Omeo via Falls Creek, and back via Mount Hotham. It was 4PM and we accepted that we would return after dusk. A storeman told us we could fuel our motorcycles in Omeo.

Immediately the road from Bright twisted and turned, defying gravity as we made into the mountains, occasionally greeting other brave souls descending the mountain at the edge of their grip. At one height we looked over a massive valley, criss-crossed with streams, paths and villages.

Further and further along these wonderful roads, the landscape become more bold. The colder and harsher it suggested itself, the more beautiful it became. On this day the sun warmed our backs.

Beauty followed upon beauty, as rewards for our effort, and at Falls Creek our breath was drawn.

These roads continued for some time. This was one of the most wonderful places that I have ever encounterrd.

On the road went, on the day stretched, but we thought nothing of it. We were too busy leaning our machines left, right, left again while looking through confident corners.

Near Omeo we stopped, and then the time dawned on us. Dusk was closing in. And it too was beautiful.

But as we rode into Omeo I saw something by the side of the road. A figure, draped in black, grinned at me with teeth bleached white by sun and snow, and in his hand a farmer's implement, a scythe. For an instant he stared at me, and I stared back and was immediately filled with fear and trembling, which I called loathing.

At Omeo the petrol station was closed.

Marlon and I talked about it, and decided we might reach the vicinty of Bright before running out of petrol, with one of us getting some from the town while the other waited. Assuming the petrol station would be open that late. It was now 8PM. I called my wife and lied that I was back in Bright and off to dinner, and that I might not have reception to call her until late that night. I then informed Marlon that his tail-light was not working, and we set off into the mountains, into the chill (we wore t-shirts and light jackets only) under a shroud of closing darkness.

The problem with reading internet forums is that you hear constant tales of the lonley deaths of fellow riders who collide with beasts. And so I felt real anxiety as we sped along. Then, at 80kph, I narrowly missed collision with a kangaroo, came eye to eye with a wandering bull, and Marlon ran over one of the endlessly suicidal rabbits that threatened to up-turn our front wheels as we cornered. When he emergency braked for another animal I almost rear-ended him because he had no rear light. The chill night made my injured shoulder ache. The signs warning that cattle wander freely on the roads filled me with fear. The lack of fellow human life made me feel like a feeble torch.

We decided that it did not matter how long it took to arrive at Bright, so long as we arrived, and so we slowed to 60kph.

Rising atop Mount Hotham I think I entered a dream. It was night now. Suddenly, there stood a building. We entered, sat down, and were served delicious pizza in a warm chalet-restaurant, sitting among the beautiful people and relaxing music.

After this experience the ride down the mountain - the second half of this adventure - lost all its angst. We cruised at 50kph and were awed at the beauty of the night. I should back-track and mention that we were given newspapers by the hostess to fill our jackets for warmth, and that I filled my sleeves with toilet paper.

Twenty kilometers out of Bright it was clear we would make it, so we stopped and stared at the stars.

It has been a long time since I lay on the road in the night and stared at the glorious stars. That old childhood experience came back, that experience of a kind of vertigo, feeling as though I could fall off the Earth at any moment, as though there is something uncanny about gravity.

Having left Bright at 4PM, we returned at 10:30PM.

Night. And then the next day.

On Friday we planned to ride from Bright to Corrying, our home for the night, where we would deposit our gear and ride out to Jindabyne and back before dark, with a promise to measure our time more carefully.

The day again was glorious. 30 degrees and sunny.

On route we saw the ruins of towns that had been lifted and moved entire.

We lunched at a bush pub, sipping beer and watching endless motorcyclists who, in groups or singly, rumbled, roared or screamed past.

Not all riders were animated.

At Corryong and low on petrol we deposited our backpacks and made to the petrol station, in preparation for the afternoon ride to Jindabyne which would see us leave by 3:30PM. And then all the power went off. The petrol pumps went dead. The shops closed. We were trapped. We could ride nowhere, and the town was a hot borthersome nothing. I drank a warm stubbie at the pub while Marlon slept, then we raided the bar fridge until the power came on at 8PM, too late to ride.

Night, and then the next day.

Saturday we became greedily ambitious. We wanted to do the ride scheduled for Friday afternoon, prior to the day-long trek back to Melbourne. Our optimism received a good sign when Marlon discovered that, as you do, he had a spare motorcycle tail-light in his back pack. The wires matched up and he was lit.

The roads were wonderful. My W650 took everything so ably, utterly purring at 100kph through such great sweepers.

Sitting behind Marlon I wondered at the rose petals that were apparently being thrown up from his tyre, as though announcing an Indian god. Then I realised: the new tail-light had come loose.

This was the result:

A shattered tail-light, a bent-up rego plate, and the very sub-frame bracket snapped in half.

We searched about for a way to hold the thing together in order to continue our ride. Nothing worked until Marlon ordered me to strip: my belt held the structure in place, and a road-side rag stopped it from slipping off.

Of course, while my belt was stopping other things from slipping down, it was unable to serve its proper purpose.

The roads rose again, and wound. The sun shone and the water glittered.

Mindful of Thursday night's adventure, we decided on making it to Thredbo for lunch and then return. Now, the road that precedes Thredbo for an hour, was one of the best roads I have every ridden. Constant curves, an excellent surface, and a constant incline (which is the most fun on a motorcycle due to the level of control it affords). Again these roads changed from gums to alpine flora, and then we were at Thredbo. I was reminded of Heidegger and Nietzsche - an incredible European landscape full of romanticism and the question of being, aroused by the pure streams and mountain air. I took no photos that do justice, and I will leave it at that.

There was still much left to the day. Ahead of us we were to ride and ride.

On Saturday we had began at 9:30AM, and would spend the day in the saddle until 11:30PM. It was a shame I did not enjoy flying through the night on the Hume at 110kph for those last few hours, but the road is notorious for Kangaroos and I was on alert. Still, a haunting moon sat over-head and trees shadowed my sides with a contemplative quietude, aroused by my aeroplane-drone through the night.

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