Monday, November 5, 2012

SR500 Club Rally 2012

This weekend was the annual Rally for the SR500 Club of Australia.  That club is dedicated to the model of motorcycle that I used to passionatley own.  It is a good rally: friendly people, free accommodation (camp ground with showers), cheap catering, interesting bikes, and best of all it is situated in riverina country just at the edge of the Victorian and NSW high country. 

I rode up on Friday.  The route there makes for a fabulous ride: heading north from Mansfield via Whitfield, Milawa, Beechworth, and into Wodonga.  Four hundred kilometres of increasingly blue skies and mountainous roads.  

It was the beginning of a long weekend and there was a lot of bad driving on the roads, but my W650 took all challenges with ease.  It offered a relaxing yet nimble ride through the twisties.

I reached Bethanga just before dusk, the sun drenching the landscape just as it had for most of the day.

Friday at the rally is always quiet, and I spent the evening standing around fires chatting to old and new friends.

Saturday morning I awoke at a hunter-gatherer hour, and thought I would ride to Corryong or even Thredboe.  My friend Rosy was to arrive that evening and I wanted to be back prior to her arrival because she did not know anybody.  

I started off at the Hume Bridge and followed the coastline east.  It is an uncanny thing, a beautifully refreshing thing, to ride along a 'coast road' while smelling fresh water.  Such a scent, combined with the warm morning air, makes the world shine.   

85km on I pulled left into NSW at Jingellic.  I had been on route to Corryong, however I have been there several times and really wanted to experience something new.  The trouble, as I discovered while exploring my map by the roadside at Jingellic, was that my map ended at the border of Victoria. What lay beyond was a perfect mystery.  

So I decided to head north and simply discover what was there.  Because several motorcycles preceded me I assumed the country north would be worth the effort.  And I was right.  What fantastic land. I wound on a ribbon of tar through hills and valleys, making for the mountains that gradually introduced themselves into the landscape.

After a time I came to Tumbarumba.  At the petrol station I was given another map and some advice about which roads to take.  I also chatted to some riders who pulled up on Indians and British bikes.  

From Tumbarumba I wound up and down mountains at speed, arriving at Tumut for lunch.  It was pleasant to see how civilised these places are and how large the towns.  At Tumut I found a botanical gardens and, as the sun glittered through the elms, slept for an hour among the inquisitive ducks.

From Tumut I decided to ride the Snowy Mountain Highway.  This again was a fantastic road, which got better the further I went.

Winding through fast corners, the landscape took on increasingly gargantuan proportions.  You know that feeling, that landscape in an alpine region, where the proportions overwhelm you.  It is like Kant's concept of the sublime, where you cannot take in everything at once, where the natural world overwhelms your senses.

Eventually I found myself on a road above the snowline, above the world, winding and wending through absolute glory, a valley above the heavens.

There had been no petrol stations since Tumut, but according to my new map I could get petrol at Cabrumurra.  I had travelled 165km already and knew my tank would hit reserve by the time I reached that town.  So it was with dismay that I turned off the Snowy River Highway at The Link Road, to see a sign stating that there was no fuel at Cabrummura.  Behind me lay 110km to Tumut, the highway could take me to Cooma but it too was 110km away would put me a very long way from Bethanga.  So I decided to merely hope that the 'no fuel' sign was wrong.  

The roads here were fantastic but I was distracted by my concerns.  On the way I came across a group of Ducati riders surrounding one of their members who had just put his bike in a ditch, but who appeared to be unscathed.

I rode into Cabrumurra and sure enough there was no petrol.

My calculation of distances was a little rough - I was using a very basic map, and do not have any of the electronic devices (smart phones, GPS) that people use these days as maps.  So I could not accurately calculate distances.  I was seriously concerned about my ability to make it to a town with petrol. And even if I did, would the store be open by the time I arrived.  What if I got stuck here in the alpines?  While the valleys had been sunny and warm, up here a storm brewed and the air was cold even in the middle of the day.  I dreaded to contemplate a night exposed to the air with nothing more than a light motorcycle jacket to warm me. It could be dangerous if my luck went awry.  And so what to do?  My phone had no reception.  If I left my bike and hitched a left into a town would my motorcycle still be there when I returned?  I was not willing to risk that.  So I rode through an incredibly beautiful country, half aware of its splendour, while fighting the distraction of my concerns.      

I sought to preserve petrol by riding gently up the mountains, and rolling (sometimes slowly) down the other side with the engine off.  Another crashed bike - this one alone against a tree, cold, with the rider nowhere to be seen, reminded me to keep my wits about me.

It was a varied and fascinating place.

I rode on and on.  I hit reserve and kept going.  A sign said the next town was 50km away.  My mood lit up - I can get 100km on reserve...usually - there was still some doubt, still some fear.

Eventually I made it to Khancoban with 2 litres of my 15 litre tank remaining.  Filling up my tank rarely felt so good.  

I was still, however, over 130km from Bethanga, and Rosy would surely have arrived.  I had no reception on my phone so I could only guess that she had.  I was uncomfortable in knowing that she would be standing around, feeling uncomfortable, when I had promised to meet her.  So I pushed on, riding hard into the blinding sun of the dying day.     

An hour in and I found a short cut to Bethanga that looked sealed.  This road rang alongside the water.  I had to take a slower pace but it was pleasant and would save time, rolling along a narrow, winding ribbon, passing through green fields, my big twin lapping it up.

And then it turned to dirt.

Because I was running so ridiculously late, after 550km, I pushed along at 60kph on my road bike. As I came to a sharp corner I was suddenly, completely blinded by the low summer sun.  I could feel myself running off the road, could feel the sand becoming thick under my wheels.  Somehow, I managed to stay upright and on the road.  So thereafter I slowed my pace to 30kph in the twisting sections, figuring it was better to arrive without incident that attempt a speedy but flawed entrance.

It was a shame I had to push through this road.  It was a stunning evening and the surface though corrugated was good in places, and running level with the beautiful water.  After a time it returned to a sealed surface and I bounded over the hills into the back end of Bethanga.

Rosy and I arrived at the same time.

The Rally site:

That night was spent with Rosy and I lying in the grass by one bonfire or another, getting progressively more drunk.  

And in the early hours we went to sleep.

Oh what a mistake!  I should not have had those beers, and I should not have held a full bottle of wine in my hand and drunk, and dunk, and drunk from it till it was drained.  And so it was that I sat in the early morning sun with my head in my hands feeling ill.  The plan had been that Rosy, who is Catholic, would go to an 8AM Mass nearby while I packed up the camping gear. When she returned we would hit the road and take on a very long day through more alpine roads, through Omeo to Bairnsdale and back into Melbourne.

I sat with my head in my hands, I drank much water and coke, I meditated to take in more oxygen, but nothing could undo what had been done - I had poisoned myself.  I was hopeful of improved health as we said our goodbyes to my friend Mike and his wife Penny, and I felt confident again.  But on the road - at a late 10AM - I quickly discovered that I was deeply poisoned by my excess, as with each bump my stomach hurt and I felt sick.  

The road south that we needed to take was closed, so we rode into Albury-Wodonga.  It is a place which I have seen more than once in a hung-over state, astride a motorcycle.  

From Wodonga we pushed south for quite some time through the wonderful valley that takes one to Mount Beauty.  That would be the start of our climb into the alps, including the stunning Falls Creek which I had so been looking forward to.

At Mount Beauty we sat eating lunch.  As the hour ticked 1 to 2PM, I surveyed in my mind the map of our impending joruney and remembered my previous day's lesson: that one has to respect these alpine places, that one cannot be cockey in the way that the city makes one cockey.  I shared my concerns with Rosy. She had suffered inadequate sleep (as had I for two nights) and felt the same way: we decided abandon the great ride ahead of us, and to cut back over to Bright and the populated side of the mountains, where we could wander home among civilisation and in much less time.

This was a disappointment and a relief.  I was not in a state to properly enjoy the Alpine Highway, but I have wanted to do it for a long time now.  It remains unconquered.

But the ride to Bright was great:

We rode from Bright for Wangarratta (which, ridiculously, would place us 45 minute's from where we had been five hours earlier).  We both began to fall asleep as we droned on, so we napped in the grass on the roadside at 5PM, but otherwise pushed and pushed, aiming for the Hume Highway which would take us to the Midland Highway then Mansfield and south into Melbourne.  Once on the Hume - which I normally hate, considering its straightness a waste of a motorcycle ride - we were bathed in evening light as warm air rushed over us.  It felt great.  This, combined with the fact that we just wanted to get home, meant we decided to ride the Hume all the way into Melbourne.  It was an uneventful and meditative ride that was actually quite nice.  

Once more the Alpine Highway is untrodden by me.  

Once more I was hung over at Bethanga.  

Once again it was a fun little adventure.  That was my SR500 Club Rally experience for 2012.    

1 comment:

  1. What a great trip report. I wonder how it much more fun it might have been without the hangover the next day ;-)

    The Kawi packed for the road and the tree reflected in the water are my favourite pics.

    I hope meanwhile your head and back have recovered, and you are ready to go on another rally.