Monday, January 02, 2017

On yer bike!

Two big things I did in 2016 were get a job in New South Wales, and buy my first motorbike. The two are related - unlike in Queensland, learner riders in NSW don't need to be supervised. 

After Christmas, I decided to head out to the coast (a full day's drive in itself) and catch up with family and a friend who's assembling the parts for my next car restoration. 

I camped on the first night in Tenterfield, on the New England Highway. First night in a swag, and I slept like a baby.

After a surprisingly decent sleep in the swag in Tenterfield, I headed east over the Great Dividing Range down the Bruxner Highway to Casino, Lismore, Nimbin (argh, hippies!) and Murwillumbah. The ride down the Bruxner was lovely - it's a good road, with nice sweeping bends and coffee at the bottom. Nimbin, where I stopped for lunch, is in a valley and was stinking hot. It's also Australia's marijuana capital, and I almost had to hold my breath passing a couple of the cafes. The winding road out of Nimbin was fun. I tried keeping up with a couple of big bikes, but was reminded of a puppy trying to run with the big dogs and getting into trouble, so slowed down again.

One of the reasons for the trip to M'bah was to see a man about a Dodge, specifically a 1926 Dodge next in line to be restored. It's being assembled from a mate's huge pile of parts, so we spent a day picking through chassis, engines, gearboxes, axles... Bob will put everything together to make sure it fits, and then I'll bring up a trailer and take it home to clean, paint and assemble. (We went for a test drive in a customer's 1930 straight 8 Dodge, which Bob had been fettling. The disappointed owner had never been able to get it to run properly, despite sending it to the most expensive restorers in Queensland. Once Bob had adjusted the valves clearances, it ran beautifully).

On the fourth day, the CB and I were a tad naughty, and ventured over the state border at Numinbah Gap into Queensland. In theory a NSW learner rider can ride in Queensland without an escort, even though a Queensland learner needs to be supervised. In practice, I wasn't sure a QLD cop would appreciate the interstate licencing subtleties. We only went a few kilometres into enemy territory though, to Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park.

In the afternoon, I shot back over the border into NSW and started the long ride home. I stopped at the Moo Moo cafe, where the local cafe have an enormous replica of Mick Doohan's motorcycle. The Australian tradition of Big Things never ceases to amaze me. Then I found the Pacific Highway, and headed south.

Plan A had been to stay on Highway 1 all the way to Grafton. After a while, though, I was bored and turned off onto the road through Lismore and Casino. On the plus side, I wasn't on a giant concrete highway any more. On the negative side, as soon as I headed inland away from the coast, the temperature soared. I flipped up the visor at Lismore and it was like opening the firebox of a wood stove! I checked the day's weather observations later, and it had been 42C in Lismore and Casino.

The run down to Grafton from Casino was enjoyable though, about an hour of straight-ish road through forests and farmland. I camped in a caravan park in Grafton - although in hindsight it was really too hot and humid for a swag, and a nice cool motel would have been cleverer, even though the park had a pool to cool off in. Live and learn.

The fifth and last day featured the best and hardest riding of the trip, and possibly since I bought the bike.

We headed inland from Grafton, climbing the Great Dividing Range again up the Gwydir Highway. Various roads in Australia have been branded as 'ways'. Thunderbolt's Way, Waterfall Way and so on, maybe to draw in tourists. Well, the section of the Gwydir between Grafton and Glen Innes should have been called the Smokey Way, as the views faded into haze from bushfires.

The road up the range was fan-bleeding-tastic. The road was one curve after another, mostly third and fourth gear with a few hairpins. The temperature dropped deliciously as we climbed, and I had my visor open to suck in the smells of eucalypt, flowers, damp soil and a hint of smoke. I felt like a dog with his head out the car window!

At the top I turned off the highway to the Raspberry Point lookout, and spent about a half hour enjoying the cool air, views and smells.

Raspberry Point's been added to my list of compulsory stops for next time. Afterwards, I made one more stop to check out a waterfall which, sadly, had no water. Timing is everything. The road to the carpark was gravel, which I'm still nervous on, but am getting better.

Then onwards and downhill again, towards Glen Innes. At one point I spied a black cloud and sure enough, the road went right under it. The first minute of rain was refreshing, but after that the refreshment started going down my neck. It was pretty heavy - the rain was bouncing off the road - but then I came out from under it and the road dried immediately. As in, there was a line across the road. Wet one way, dry the other!

I stopped at Glen Innes' standing stones, and had a pub lunch. Afterwards, I stopped just out of town at a lookout and looked back at the Great Dividing Range I'd just ridden over. There was a huge thunderstorm brewing, no doubt fuelled by the humid coastal air rising up the range. Guess I escaped just in time.

The track up to Sutton's Lookout, where I got the thunderstorm photo, was the hardest ride of the trip, and I'm surprised I didn't drop the bloody bike on the way down. It started as broken bitumen (easy), then gravel (nervous but OK...), and then a surface like railway ballast. And once it was like that, there was nowhere to safely turn around. Of course, going uphill wasn't too hard because you control the bike with the throttle. The front end danced around, but the back did as it was told and I got the shot.

Coming down though, I knew to use engine braking and only use the rear brake. Easy said... there was one point where I had to put my right foot out to catch a sudden lurch to the right, and then of course it wasn't on the brake pedal! thankfully we got down intact, but on road tyres, rolling rocks, cross-ruts and a steep gradient, there were a couple of very unpleasant moments. The photo isn't of the toughest section, mostly because my knees were too wobbly to walk back uphill!

Back out on the blessed bitumen (thank you Mr Mac Adam) I rode home via Copeton Dam. The total for the five days was 1422km including a rest day in Murwillumbah, but between the heat and 'technical' sections, I was pooped. But happy.


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