Melbourne to Perth – The Wrap

This last post concludes the Melbourne to Perth bike trip. It is a hotch potch of discoveries, events and stray reflections.

I have lived in Australia for approaching thirty years and my new experience on this trip and the practice trip to Northern Victoria was to discover silos. imageLots of silos, some very large silos and some silos occupying prime beachfront with marvellous views of the ocean. To many this may be very obvious , to me it was a discovery. Recognising the silos is to reflect upon the extensive upstream activity by people and machinery that gets the silos filled and subsequently emptied.

Silos at Port Lincoln

Silos at Port Lincoln

 

And so many silos equates to the devotion of vast acreages of land to grow the fillings for silos and the importance of that activity to the GDP of the country and the Country.

When in Norseman  we visited the Tourist Information Office. At that place they provided each of us a certificate that they signed to attest to the fact that we had crossed the continent of Australia following in the footsteps of Eyre.

Thank you tourism WA

Thank you tourism WA

When we were there the lady behind the counter pointed to another lady in the shop and said that she crosses from Norseman to Eucla every week. We turned curious, “yes” she “confirmed” I do. The lady worked for Australia Post and every Wednesday she carries mail from Norseman to Eucla which is over 700k’s. “and you come back Thursday ?” I asked, or rather stated. “No Wednesday” she reassured me. She leaves Norseman at 4-00/ 4-30 am and gets back 8-00/8-30pm. Over 1400 k’s , 32 stops. I was mightily impressed. She was not sure that she delivered on Australia Post’s longest route, but its hard to imagine one longer completed using a surface traversing vehicle. A different lady does the same route on a Friday, two deliveries along the Eyre Highway each week.

Port Lincoln to Ceduna was a marvellous piece of coast that I had never previously travelled. Coffin Bay (named after Mr Coffin and not the concluding carriage), Elliston, Venus Bay, Murphys Haystacks, Streaky Bay, Smokey Bay, Ceduna. These were an absolutely delightful series of bays. Oh, OK Murphys Haystacks aren’t a bay they are granite features.

Oyster Beds Coffin Bay

Oyster Beds Coffin Bay

There weren’t many people around. I felt that there should have been more admirers than was the case, particularly as the weather was perfect for the beach. Compare and contrast to my ride up the NSW South Coast in rehearsal for this trip. It is of a similar length and has a similar volume of lovely bays and attracts many more tourists. The South Australian bays were a secret that had never been whispered to me. The SA stretch of coastline is, in my estimation, prettier than that of NSW but is less well equipped with supporting tourist infrastructure. Go to both States and make up your own mind is my recommendation to any who wish to pay heed to my recommendations. Important clarifying note: I define the South Coast of NSW as the coastline from the Victorian border to  a place south of Batemans Bay, that excludes Batemans Bay. My ride from Port Lincoln to Ceduna has not caused me to issue clarifying locational exclusions.

Esperance had a lot of Norfolk Pines. I realised in Esperance and on this trip that I don’t like Norfolk Pines. I resent their symmetry and they grow so annoyingly large.

The most unwelcome travellers we met along the way were the flies. The population density of flies varied but did mostly sit in the comfortably tolerable to tolerable range. At the Heads of the Bight the flies existed in very high and very active volumes with a liking for the eyes, nose and mouth. I think the test of too many flies is when you know you’ve swallowed one and then you spit out a second. Two in your mouth is the marker of too many. In fact, one is too many,  I am trying to show myself as a tolerant fellow, but I’m not that fellow. Just imagine camping and cooking and eating with the flies, madness would surely follow. Anyone planning to experience the great outdoors near this location would benefit from the purchase of a precautionary protective head net. The positive emotional return from such investment cannot be overemphasised.

Finally the ferry from Wallaroo to Lucky Bay was a delight. The two hours on the water were quicker than four on the road. It had virtue in breaking up the trip with a different form of transport and the guys on the transport deck were very helpful securing the bikes. It was a great memory.

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Melbourne to Perth – Roadhouses

 

Its a Roadhouse. Not sure which one.

Nullabor Roadhouse

Roadhouses existed between Ceduna and Norseman, not many of them, nine, if I have counted correctly. They are fascinating spots structured for those travelling the road and refuelling of all varieties is the reason to stop. Fuel of the combustible type that keeps pistons apumping, fuel in the form of calories for the driver or rider and fuel in the form of rest . The accomodation available is usually motel style but once or twice I did also spot patches allocated for caravans and tents. The food was generally fair, but if you wanted deep fried dreadful then a large proportion of the menu would cater to that whim. There was usually a gift shop and a block selling showers for those desiring that service.They were not architecturally appealing, in fact many aspects attracted the ugly adjective. Applying the term basic to the accomodation was paying it a compliment not entirely deserved, and not entirely consistent with the $120 price tag for the night. We stopped at each roadhouse, for fuel or a meal or just a break and they each had their own character. And it was character and the characters that were the very great attraction.

There was a man who was driving his horse and cart around the coast of Australia but who seemed to have mislaid his horse, unless it was still in the motel room. After I left that roadhouse, I drove down the highway and after a little while I stopped to take a photo. I saw much evidence that the horse did exist and was a hearty eater.

A group of young Germans had set out on their adventure in an old car with no spare wheel. Having suffered a puncture they were now railing against the fact that they were hostage to the man who had a tyre to sell them that would fit their vehicle. They were young, and felt aggrieved, and wanted the price to be lowered. But they just needed to look up and down and as far as they could see. Even if they stood on each others shoulders to create an unsteady german tower, they would be able to see nothing. Because for over a hundred kilometres in any direction there was no other vendor of car tyres. And hence they had no negotiating position, none at all. Sitting in the sun complaining was not going to improve their prospect of receiving a lower price, quite the opposite in fact. Having discovered the asking price I was astonished……that it was so low ……….” Get out your credit card, it’s a sellers market” I didn’t say to them.

We did come across quite a number of Europeans who had gravitated to this part of Australia to run Roadhouse receptions and restaurants and shops. We met a lady running a cafe/ gift shop who was Irish. Well we thought she was Irish until a car full of Swedes arrived and she had a loud animated conversation with them in their mother tongue. She could not tell me why she had a strong Irish accent but she could tell me that I was not the first to mention it to her. Her teacher was not irish, she had never lived in Ireland, no parents were Irish and ditto the living location for them. Just one of those mysteries of the Nullabor, where things don’t necessarily have explanations that can be attached as neatly as occurs in the balance of Australia.

At Eucla we were served by a trio or Germans drawn here for an explanation we had heard before. The pay is good, the accommodation and food are free and there is nothing on which to spend the money. I had never thought of the Nullabor as a capital accumulation location , but indeed it was for a number. These Germans seemed to do everything at the roadhouse. They worked on reception, acted as barmen and served front of house in the restaurant. We learnt from them that in German “a fishermans rope” is a tale not necessarily true. Perhaps “Furphy” may be an equivalent. I was unsure what I could do with this new knowledge and unsure why it came up in conversation, but I was proud to have  this new knowledge.

Almost everyone we met was friendly. There was an exception and this was the lady at Eucla who had been the first to greet us at reception. The term greet is traditional but a little inaccurate in this instance. The first to growl at us when we arrived at reception. We saw that later in the evening she too had a second role that was in the restaurant. Back of house, in the kitchen, and I think that worked well for everyone, except perhaps her co workers.

I received my most valuable piece of advice at the Mundrabilla roadhouse. I arrived on my own as I was ahead of Richard and Nick. It had beeen raining quite hard that day. I entered and took off my helmet and waterproofs before ordering something to eat. A trucker saw me and looked up from his very large plate of fried everything to ask me if I had seen any wildlife. This gentlemen was Australian. He was a truckie. He was exactly as you would imagine that combination to be. Upper torso covered by? A pale blue singlet that looked both old and seldom laundered. The torso that it was covering? Fulsome, particularly around the midriff where the singlet robbed cloth from its length to enable it to stretch around the entire centre of the trucker. The shoes? OK trick question as the answer you want to snatch at is, RM Williams boots. But actually no, a cheaper similar make of working mans boot, generic RM Williams, knock off RM Williams. Shorts? The answer here is just Yes. And then a beard. But such a beard. Not a neatly clipped number in proximity to a tattoo sported by a man with a latte in his hand. No this beard had witnessed showers and soap but only from a safe distance. Combs, brushes or other means of creating regularity of form had not been utilised and any cutting ever performed had been by hammering the grey growth between two rocks. In this beard things lived, and died, and most were smaller than a mouse.

So back to his question, and it’s now helpful that you not only read it but hear it. “Avyaseenanywildlife?“ To which I responded truthfully trying not to disappoint, ”No I have seen no kangaroos”. His next comment to me requires audience participation that will place you on the Nullabor and provide an experience that is true to the Roadhouse. Please work with me on this and broaden your mouth by extending the very edges outwards like Wallace the plasticine Yorkshireman. Yes its unnatural but its not for long. Then create a very small opening which is barely any space between your lips. In this way a very narrow letterbox has opened in your face. Perhaps two postcards could be delivered through it. Then, as conclusion of this interactive exercise I would like you to exhale, as much through nose as mouth, and say “ Rainbrinzoutderoos”
It was a warning. I ignored it. I was fine.

Another place another time

Another place another time

Places that time recalled

As we crossed the WA border we discovered a secret. Australia has another time zone. From Border Village to Caiguna there is a Harry Potter type of time zone. The parallels with Harry Potter are three fold. Firstly the time step here between SA and WA proper was just 3/4 of an hour. Secondly, none of the good Muggles of Australia seem to know anything of it, and pay no heed to it. Thirdly it impacts only a handful of the self appointed Central Western Wizards of time.

I took a photo, I discussed it with the lady behind the counter who explained to me a)the earth rotates around the sun; and b)she wasn’t sure if this was an official time zone. Having just altered my watch, I decided I would leave it on WA time and ignore this 400km stretch of anomaly. My iPhone received a signal here and made the same decision as my iWatch. I do quite like the idea of declaring my own time zone and am considering it for my home. When it gets too dark to walk the dog in the morning I can create a time zone where the sun has risen. And then perhaps I could alter it again, later in the day, to prevent it getting too dark to walk the dog in the evening. Perhaps I am just being silly.

At Balladonia I saw wreckage from the Spacelab that had crashed to earth and fortunately missed everyone in this sparsely populated area of the country. Pieces, some quite large, had been collected to create the mainstay of a museum and a totally unique roadhouse roof ornament. It was at this very museum that I discovered the early Afghan settlers who drove camels across the desert were from India or Pakistan (which at that time was probably also India). Neither of these places is Afghanistan, another myth busted and more knowledge for me to carry home. I don’t know where I shall pack it all.

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Melbourne to Perth – An indecent proposal

Memorable encounters were not exclusive to roadhouses. In Esperance we had arrived at our motel and just about completed our unpacking when an individual sought us out, as a cheetah seeks out a gazelle. A person more enthusiastic about motorbikes and their drivers than we ourselves. I cannot recall her name. She was mid fifties and sounded as if she had enjoyed a wild youth of dissolute ways in overseas countries. An important element of these youthful memories was piloting herself around on motor bikes. The sight of us arriving seemed to have decided her that today was the day she would rekindle these memories in a concrete experiential manner. With a rather unnerving level of positivity and energy she cornered us. Richard and Nick sensed that something was not quite right. In a supportive and team like manner, finding themselves closest to the door of our apartment, they slid inside and they hid. I had been moving my bike as she arrived. This manoeuvre had effectively cut me off from the pack and other than leaping over her, there was no way that I was going to be able to escape back to the sanctuary of our paid room.

“I would like a ride” she stated directly and intimidatingly, while the double entendre was on the table I was sure her reference was to the motorbike. I responded that she did not have a helmet, “I’ll borrow one of your friends ” . “Yes , but you are wearing light clothing” I explained. “If you fell off I would feel awful and you would feel even more awful for a longish recovery time”. This was true, it was sunny and low thirties and she was dressed for this…..nice one Mike, I thought to myself….

” Oh just ten minutes down to the town, it’s not far and it won’t take long “. At this stage I got decisive “No” I said ” You don’t have a helmet or safety gear and we were just about to go off down the coast” I shouldn’t have added the last bit. I added it because it was true. But with my companions cowering and nowhere to be seen it was not believable. I am not sure if it was the No or what looked like a complete falsehood around “going down the coast ” but it seemed to work. Crest fallen she wandered off to walk into town.

I went back inside and couldn’t find Richard or Nick. I then heard a voice from the other side of the (locked) bathroom door, it was Richard. ” Has she gone ?” he asked . No I said, she’s just asked me to go inside and tell that Richard that she’s not leaving until he has ravaged her. Then I heard a fainter more distant voice, it was Nick “what did he say Dad?” I heard Richard answer him “He said we should make ourselves comfortable son. We could be in here for quite some time”

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Melbourne to Perth – Accomodation

When we started planning this journey Richard displayed deeply ingrained organisational competence and constructed, in no time at all, an itinerary. This made life much easier for me. While I did nothing and contributed nothing , I was unselfishly prepared to recognise the benefit to me from Richard”s work and thereby add to his self esteem.
Richard’s itinerary was captured in a spreadsheet. Not a complicated spreadsheet, in fact one could say, and I will say, a simple spreadsheet. This spreadsheet not only identified towns and dates and connecting distances but also a budget. Which is a long way around for me to say that Richards expectations of the fabulousness of our nightly circumstances were set clearly and unequivocally by price tolerances. Specifically, $150 a night. And for this I think it should be entirely possible to book a very comfortable room. So I set my own budget for my own room at the same amount.
In the meantime Richard’s son Nick joined the adventure and Richards budget, which was now for the two of them, stayed at the same $150 with a specification added regarding twin beds. The finding of accomodation and the booking of accomodation was down to me. I set about the task and undertook rigorous research.
We had issues in three places . Port Lincoln, it was their racing carnival the next day and I could find accomodation in one place only at our price point. That one place was the Hilton Motel, it was by the sea with a fantastic view of the grain silos and an unsmiling lady on reception. Richard accepted the challenge and agreed to use his boyish charm to melt her heart. Boyish charm needed the support of a blow torch to melt this lady’s heart, Richard failed. While the motel was unexciting it was more than adequate. We are amused by the odd rude receptionist, although there is a point to make here that could be of help to many of us, including myself. If you don’t like people, then perhaps Hilton motel receptionist Port lincoln isn’t a good career to pursue. If the position ever became vacant (if I were the owner it would) , then I will take my own advice and not apply.

Eucla, has no choice of  accomodation, its the roadhouse or BYO tent. The reviews on the internet for Eucla were pretty poor. One person complaining because the Comancheros rode in to stay while they were there. Oh well, at least we knew it was biker friendly !!! And Norseman, where again I was limited to one place, but when we arrived I spied another that I hadn’t seen on the internet.

So accommodation varied from the fabulous to the quirky to the basic. And each was priced at about the same amount.

A little light house keeping

A little light house keeping

Best I think was a tie between the lighthouse keepers cottage in Warrnambool which was a lovely restoration where we had the house and its three bedrooms.

And Margarets Beach Resort at Margaret River. Actually not at Margaret River as we were 15 minutes out of town on the coast. The apartments were modern and had marvellous views across to the sea. The whole experience was made more memorable as we cooked at home that night. It was the only time on the trip and a very pleasant change. The “we”, I refer to under the tall white chef’s hat wasn’t we at all, it was Richard, who we discovered is pretty good in front of four burners.

Breakfast near Margarets Beach Resort

Breakfast near Margarets Beach Resort

Breakfast the next day was also fantastic as the cafe was tippy toe distance from the beach, right on a very picturesque bay about 500m meters from our place.

 

 

 

 

 

Quirky prize to the Albany Foreshore Guest House which was a lovely old building. We arrived when roadworks directly outside had made access very difficult particularly as the street had been closed to traffic. The manager was waiting for us in front of the hotel to ensure we knew how to get in, which with workmen and bollards and diggers was far from clear. Goodness knows how long he had been stood there. There was a side drive to a back garden and the bikes were safely locked up and all was well. The hotel had only five bedrooms and its ancient walls walls were covered by copies of old obscure paintings by European masters.

masters reproduced and cabinets of old cameras

masters reproduced and cabinets of old cameras

Not prints but repainted copies faithful to the original, each with a small typed notice of explanation dangling beneath. Not one or two of these but such a volume that they covered every wall in the bedrooms, hallways and dining room. Then at floor level a large collection of old cameras filled multiple glass display cabinets upstairs and downstairs. The final flourish, a complimentary glass of port that was dispensed from a decanter in the upstairs hall available to all guests, to a maximum of one glass. This limit applied by the exercise of individually integrity, known as an honour system. Fortunately we were all men of integrity, and coincidentally not great lovers of port, the limit was honoured that evening.
Eucla was not as bad as could have been the case. But it was poor value absent any competitor within 200 kilometres.
Norseman does deserve special mention. We arrived and it was closed. Not only the hotel but the entire town. I am not sure that I’ve seen a town that so completely turn off after 5-00pm as did Norseman. If tumbleweed had been tumbling down the Main Street I would not have been surprised. If the cannon of legend had been shot through town there would have been no casualties. We called the number on the door of the Railway Motel Norseman. A lady answered and promised to suspend her supermarket shopping and come let us in.True to her word she did that and five minutes later we were inside.

We liked the fading grandeur

We liked the fading grandeur

This was a hotel of dimension, hundreds of people could have occupied its front bar and then invited a hundred more of their friends along to help fill it up. But today there was me, Richard and Nick. There were movie posters on the wall of Audrey Hepburn and the Magnificent Seven and I imagined those films were recent releases when the posters were first affixed. We all really liked the place. The owner was lovely and the German Shepherd “Audrey” was a delight, although terrified of her own shadow. The place was so big that our patronage would contribute a very small drop towards a very big ocean of funds needed to restore the monster to its former glory. And at night it creaked and groaned as it moved around. The lady in the tourist shop said that all the structures within 200 metres of the rail line were regularly shaken to their core when the iron ore trains came through. And the Railway Motel Norseman was within 200 metres. We would, and do recommend the place, its grandeur may have been faded but was still there and the people we met were very welcoming. We are pleased we chose to stay .

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Melbourne to Perth – The myth of the Nullabor

Ten days on the bike and 4600 kilometres covered. We travelled the main roads from the fair town of Melbourne to the nouveau riches of Perth and its brash elegance.

We followed the Eyre Highway across the continent. Named after Edward John Eyre who pioneered the track from 1840. The road is in considerably better condition now than it was then. We saw a bit of the old Eyre Highway which was a narrow one lane track in poor condition, and presumably that also was better than Edward John had available to him.

Leaving Ceduna we headed towards the Nullabor. From the Heads of the Bight the landscape begins to alter. The trees slant away from the coast as if they have looked upon something truly terrifying. The trees arched themselves away, from the coast took a step backwards and raised branches in front of their faces in protection. But it was too late and whatever they witnessed froze them at that moment and forever afterwards, unable to speak of that awful event.
As we know, Nullabor means no trees, and while the trees became puny weak battered excuses of trees, and they became fewer and fewer, they never quite reached the total of null. Not very many , but more than null. Looking forwards down the road and not turning my head left or right, I counted all the trees my direct and peripheral vision would allow. I did this several times and at its lowest, my count was sixteen trees. I felt cheated. My travelling companions pointed out that there were actually very few trees. I knew that, because I had counted them several times, and told them how many I had tallied. Null is a definitive statement of quantity, I told them, its use is invalidated by the first encounter of a tree . Minimalabor or Rarelyanabor I think is more descriptively accurate than Nullabor. But I know that a change in the naming convention will require reforestation. The name will remain Nullabor until my demise, for many years thereafter and possibly all the years thereafter.

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Ceduna to Norseman- About the bike ride

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It wasn’t just a ride but it mostly was

People do ask “why did you want to do this? ” And I respond that it is to see parts of Australia that I have not seen, to wonder at what life must be like in difficult terrain or where most of your companions are flies. This is 60% true and I don’t tire them with the remaining 40% . I don’t think they would understand and this is mostly because I’m not certain that I can make it understood.

“Why do you want to do this?” The “this” of the question is to travel 4600 kilometres on a motorbike from Melbourne to Perth over ten days starting March 5, 2014. I was not alone. Richard had a large BMW 1200RT with another capitalised letter that came before 1200, but I have forgotten what that letter was and don’t think I ever knew it. Nick had a GS 700 ( Also from the German stable) which in celebration of teutonic understatement has an 800 cc engine. I had, and have, a Yamaha XJ900. I refer to my bike as honest and Richard translates this as old. It is true. If I take the age of Richards bike and add the age of Nicks bike and multiply the result by two, then I add very little to that total to reach an honest age for a bike.

I worked with Richard and Nick is his son. Nick flew into Melbourne from the UK the day plus one before we launched and he will fly out of Perth the day plus one after we touch down.

Its lovely to be riding with two other people. I like to have people to socialise with at the end of the day, otherwise I would feel a need to make new friends at each evening meal and this would entail Groundhog Day Q and A . I like to reflect that if I fall off in the middle of nowhere, within two hours somebody(specifically Richard or Nick) will notice my absence and organise for me to be found. This improves my chances of full recovery and represents a reciprocal benefit to the others. I like it that Richard and Nick have ideas about what is a good thing to do the next day.Without hearing those good ideas my good ideas would have prevailed and been less good. All of these things are part of the 60% reason for doing this.

The 40% reason for doing this is about being alone. Being quite alone on the bike without any conversation. I wear earplugs and at the speed limit I can hear only the wind noise, muffled, but still  loud enough to be further damaging my hearing. I can reflect on whatever I choose knowing that for the next hour or two nothing at all will disturb me. I don’t have piped music, I don’t have a headset to talk to others and I don’t want these things. I want to reflect on whatever I choose to reflect upon.

40% is feeling closer to the world you are passing through.I can smell things that I don’t smell when I am in a car, train or automobile. And when I list them you may say that many are bad smells, and so they are. But, part of the experience on the bike is to have all of the experience. Recently fertilised fields that remind you clearly of the source of the fertiliser, sewerage farms that remind you of recently fertilised fields, wet eucalypts that are so strong you are certain they are clearing the nasal passages, a rotting wombat, fresh mown grass, smoke, fermentation, baking bread, rotting seaweed, petrol that has not been fully combusted by the car in front, dust that doesn’t really have an odour, but you can taste its grittiness as you drive through its cloud. I enjoyed all of these on the trip.
When it rains , you pull on protective gear that stops you getting wet , but bits of you get wet. When its hot you are hot. When its cold, its a bit miserable really and extra layers never really compensate sufficiently. All these variables make it a more intense and certainly a more varied experience. Climate control and windscreen wipers are fabulous inventions as they insulate the driver but most certainly isolate the driver. All these features that I am projecting as virtues would apply equally to being on horseback or bicycle or walking. And would I wish to do this trip in that manner? Don’t be ridiculous, cue two more paragraphs.

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40% is about the exhilaration of the bike. Sometimes this is accelerating and benefitting from the relatively high power to weight ratio, sometimes its manoeuvring the bike through corners, but generally its about creating an understanding of what the bike will do for you and what it won’t do for you. Mine dives when I brake hard on the front, the front forks are too soft, I don’t like it but I have had to get used to it. Loaded with panniers and with a full top box part of the discovery on this trip was what this did to braking distance and the flexibility of the bike . Of course they weren’t very positive things.

40% is about self determination. If I fall off or hit something then the results are likely to not be so good for me. I do wear the finest of leathers and helmet and spine protectors and gloves as advised by the sages of Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. But there are not crumple zones or seat belts or fast inflating pillows that will reduce potential trauma. So I have to concentrate harder than I would in a car. I watch the other road users closely, I anticipate the worst from them in order to preserve myself. I watch the road surface and look for holes or rocks or debris that might upset me in a car, but would really upset me on a bike. I am conscious of the position of the sun, can I see them with it setting or rising in my eyes? Or can they see me at the same time of day with it at my back?  Strong winds can suddenly push me across the road when I reach the gap in the hedge/ trees. It is this vulnerability that forces much closer attention to weather, animals, roads, other road users. This makes the trip more intense and more exhausting, because I did find it exhausting. We travelled at a relatively leisurely pace, covering a modest 460 kilometres a day and 750 k’s on the largest day. But some nights I was in bed by 8:30 pm and immediately asleep.

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One feature of the Eyre Highway that I had not previously encountered was road trains. They are up to 36.5 metres in length and come with a tractor unit and three trailers. We didn’t see very many of them. On the entire trip I only overtook two. I did travel more quickly than they, its just that there were not many to chase down. As they approach you they are quite large. On occasions the wind movement created a “bang” on the chest as they went past. On other occasions I braced and…….nothing happened. After a while I got to recognise that there are different shaped road trains. The big rectangular things coming towards me were generally fine. The edges of the rectangle seemed to be engineered to curve backwards towards the trailers and maybe for this reason the air slipped around the sides. The road trains that had cylindrical trailers like fuel carriers or those that had lozenge shaped trailers were the problematic ones. They displaced the air that connected with rider with a shock wave. It felt like a gladiator providing a single pound of the chest in a salute to the multitude of  axles heading  in the opposite direction.

Passing the road train was a nervous matter on the first occasion. My concern was the air movement between the trailers and the narrowness of the road should I be knocked sideways by the draft. But it was fine and the second time it was fine again. In the rain, I was considering passing my third but the spray in the air was too thick for me to see a safe distance ahead. And while I was thinking about it, suddenly out of the mist, towards me, came a two storey block of apartments. It was a road train heading in the opposite direction. I eased off and sat back 100 metres for half an hour until I reached the next road house and went for a coffee.

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The roads from Melbourne to Perth are of fabulous quality. We stayed on the main highways which were all sealed, two lanes, and the surface was generally perfect. The highways were also very clean.In many countries the highway is seen as an open tip and the sides fill with unsightly bags and cans and bottles. Not here, Very few signs exhorted people to be considerate. But people were considerate which helped others also be considerate. I was impressed.

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Camels, wombats and kangaroos are the hazards of the Eyre Highway . The road signs that warn motorists of their presence are photo opportunities and the bright yellow images adorns stubby holders and fridge magnets and embroidered patches and many more things from the road house gift shop. Total quantity of camels seen by three riders 0, total quantity of wombats seen by three riders , nil, total quantity of kangaroos seen by….I think you’re getting this now, none. But we did see some emus, two or three bunches of them if bunch is an appropriate term to use. They ran away when they heard us and ran away from the noise. We decided before we left Melbourne that we would not be riding at dawn or dusk and we did see some dead kangaroos along the way. But far fewer than we had expected.

We also did not see police. We were told that they greet you from hidden locations close to the WA border on the WA side, with cameras at the ready, to capture your likeness and number plate and speed. They were either very well hidden or occupied on more important matters.

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Petrol. Its expensive. $2.12 was the most I paid for a litre of 98 octane. In Melbourne today its about $1.52. It was easy enough to get diesel or 91,95 or 98 along the way. At one fuel stop the generator was broken and while there was fuel there was no method of pumping it into the vehicles. We had enough in the tanks to reach the next fuel stop and so that is what we did. I watched some people decant from a jerry can and I saw some people park in the shade to wait for the generator to be fixed. The capacity of my tank is about 400k’s, the light comes on at about 335 and I have never wanted to test that the bike would get to 400. So I could afford to skip any fuel stop on the trip and would have sufficient left in the tank to get to the next fuel stop. Of course I didn’t. There was one exception to that comment and that was the fuel stop at Nullabor. Penong to Nullabor is 222k’s, Nullabor to Eucla 196k’s, so we had to stop at Nullabor.

Around Victoria my bike does about 17k’s to the litre , from Ceduna to Norseman this fell to between 15 and 17. I attribute this to the prevailing winds that blow from the west, I think technically its from the south west. But practically its not helpful. So why didn’t we do the trip from Perth to Melbourne? Because we live in Melbourne and if the bikes had arrived in Perth late or damaged that would have made us very sad. We passed a number of brave individuals on bicycles making the crossing. They were all travelling west to east…..wimps !!!

We chose March because we thought the weather would be ideal. Our research showed March average daily highs to be between about 23 and 31 for the route we were taking. The reality was that we had one day that reached 40 degrees and the coldest morning start was 11 degrees. It rained twice, on the day we left Melbourne quite lightly for a couple of hours and after Eucla moderately heavily for a couple of hours. That was it. On a couple of the cool mornings I wore my ski leggings and ski vest with shirt and leathers. In the rain I put my Aldi plastic bike suit over my leathers. On the hot days I wore all my protective gear and relied upon the air speed in conjunction with the bodies natural evaporative conditioning to moderate my temperature. All of this worked well, I was uncomfortably cold for a total of maybe 2 hours and uncomfortably hot for maybe the same.

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The roads were in great condition and the traffic tended to be light. Few road trains but few of all types of vehicles and the majority of people were travelling at leisure . The ninety mile straight is unusual for the use of the imperial measurement in its name which has historically locked around it. No amount of metrication has  caused its popular reference to have become 144.84k straight (translated as 145.6 on the road sign, revealing undisclosed approximations in the 90 miles ). The empire referred to in imperial was the British Empire whose Weights and Measures Act of 1824 brought consistency to the colonies. But the mile referred was itself based upon an older Empire. The Romans who every 1000 paces marked a mille passus and a pace was two steps. Clearly, I have access to Wikipedia and a little too much time on my hands. So  lets move on from the Romans who were obliged to pace because they did not have motorbikes.

The 90 mille passus straight was not the dull ride I was expecting, because it undulates. It may be straight but it isn’t straight and flat, its straight and undulating, not just because I quite like the word undulating but because it does . And the vegetation that I had anticipated to be non existent due to absence of  water was in fact quite lush. Small shrubs all around with attractive grey blue foliage. All this combined to make the rides more visually interesting than expected and having prepared myself for dull, the quantity of dull was teeny tiny.

The Road Traffic Authority of South Australia contributed this sign that I have not seen in any other State. And it was not a one off, created by a bored signwriter with mischief on his mind one saturday night. No. We saw this sign about every two hours over hundreds of kilometres. This was a fully fledged campaign.

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It was a debating point between us and became a more than adequate replacement for a pack of cards. Firstly, I whole heartedly agree with the sentiment. It begins at school with the red apple for the teacher and then unchecked it moves into the workplace and I have no time for it. So good on you SA for your observation on this much ignored insidious trend of creeping in our society. it must be recognised , removed and replaced by directness and honesty.

But could it have a relevance to road safety asked Nick? A sort of allegorical signage?  Good thought Nick, this could be so and so we muse ……what road safety message could possibly be hidden in here?

Perhaps it is about the pests that creep slowly from one place to another, expanding their geographical footprint and wreaking havoc to local economies and fauna. As it were, following in the unlucky rabbits footprint and webbed hops of the cane toads. So, it is possibly there to remind people not to allow fungal spores and striped flies across borders, particularly hidden in fruit, which accounts for the the appley/grapey background. It was asking us to align for the sake of bio security and support the croppers of SA.

Or was it suggesting that without paying due attention you could be getting uncomfortably close to the vehicle in front ? A message with a tomato background suggesting you keep your distance or risk being squashed like a tomato ?

Or was it suggesting we pay careful attention to our speed and not allow it to creep up too high and certainly not beyond the 110k that is the specified limit?

We spent much of the trip debating this sign. Thank you SA RTA for your contribution to the insufficiently supported art of debate, you got us talking. The lack of directness in the billboard heralds a new age for advertising. In this instance, we viewers, passive no more, engaged fully with the billboard. We took home four messages and shared these with at least four friends……..who in turn……, which I think is now called “going viral”. SA  I think your strategy is confusingly brilliant.

I dropped the bike once at Mannum. First thing in the morning , distance travelled 2 metres. That was a bit embarrassing. But only scratched the panniers which took the weight, scratched the engine casing and cracked an indicator. Richard did something similar at a petrol station, with similar damage. Because Richards bike is a vision splendid of colour coordination he has a $250 repair. My honest bike requires only a rub over with a damp cloth to be declared completely healed.

All the bikes ran well. Mine ran perfectly, it always started and always stopped and behaved well in between. We had taken a rudimentary tool kit, although I am not sure that any of us was skilled in spannermanship or the other oily arts. I had a view that if something broke , it was going to be impossible for me to fix it quickly, hard to get a person and parts to fix it quickly and consequently a breakdown would translate into an early conclusion to the trip. My bike was serviced very shortly before leaving and the practice trips in Victoria and to Wollongong gave me the confidence that the distances were totally untroubling to the XJ900.

We met a lady riding a Harley Davidson and had spoken briefly to her. We were expecting that our paths would be crossing a few times at fuel stops over the next few days as we headed to the same destination. But they crossed only once more and she was too busy to talk. She was totally occupied arranging to transport her Harley Davidson. Its oil leak had become become excessive and she had called it a day. No such issues for we riders of bikes fabricated by the Japanese and Germans.

The practice trips also left me with the type of responses taught to soldiers who can dismember their rifles and reconstitute them while blindfolded,hanging upside down in a shower cubicle. I acquired a fixed routine around packing and unpacking the bike. This routine meant that everything was in the same place in the panniers and I had forgotten no tasks to be performed before setting off. This gave me comfort and was flawless in execution except that I kept forgetting to put in my ear plugs and would stop a few kilometres down the road and take off my helmet.

Its now four weeks after we completed our trip and my right shoulder still give me twinges of pain. This is a result of holding the throttle open for such long periods of time. My legs complained about being held in the same position for too long by aching after about 90 minutes; an ache which got progressively more painful. The remedy was simply to stop and stretch or walk around, all cleared and as good as new. I did get very tired at the end of the day and cumulatively so. It wasn’t so noticeable until a glass of red wine had been consumed and all I wanted to do was go to bed.

We dropped the bikes off at a logistics warehouse in Perth and they came home to Melbourne in a crate by train. That worked quite well. I say that because they were undamaged , but I use the word “quite” because they took two weeks to return which seemed like a long time. Well it seemed like a long time because two of the bikes took two weeks and one took one week. All were waiting in a neat line in the same warehouse when we waved them farewell.

Richard destroyed a set of tyres and replaced them when he got home. My tyres have enough tread left to pass a roadworthy, but its not a kind trip for tyres. In tribute to the great performance of my bike I have removed all the dead desiccated flies from the fairing and mirrors. It took three washes and application of Windex, but after the great service the bike had done me I felt that some reciprocation was deserved. The bike which was clean at the start of the trip is now the cleanest it has ever been.

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Preparing for the big bike trip

imageThe bike is not particularly clean. Yet it is cleaner than it has been for many years. In preparation for the trip to Perth it has travelled towards Broken Hill for 3 days and travelled towards Sydney for 3 days. The trip towards Broken Hill halted at Mildura because of the back brake that had halted halting at Mildura. With very little engineering sense I have enough self preservation sense to recognise the difficulties of continuing under such circumstances. The fabulous fellows at the Yamaha shop at Mildura fixed it quickly, but had to wait for arrival of the parts. By then it was time to come home and declare the preparation a roaring success. A roaring success because the brake will now work perfectly over the ten days to Perth.
The preparatory trip to Wollongong was entirely more picturesque and the journey was completed in full as intended. I had a concern that the trip to Perth demands travelling of long distances, such distances causing aching of limbs and fatigue and boredom. Travelling from Lakes Entrance to Nowra in one day relieved me of my concerns. Hugging the coastal road following Victoria until it ended and then New South Wales. I then traversed holiday towns, bays and viewed cliff tops and pounding waves and sandy beaches and forests of smelly eucalypts. It was all very picturesque. I stopped frequently and took photos and looked around. At the end of the day I had travelled some 700 k’s and it was all very pleasant, nothing ached, the mind was entertained…… but I was tired.
That was indeed a fabulous day. My first stop after Lakes Entrance was most confusing. It was a coastal town called Mallacoota. I had been there previously, a couple of years previously. But it had changed enormously. I stopped at a cafe and ordered coffee and breakfast from the lady at the counter who took my money and wrote down the order. Nothing odd about that at all. However, the chef then refused the order handed to him by the lady behind the counter. He refused to cook scrambled eggs and tomato. The girl behind the counter apologised and explained that the chef was temporary and spoke no english. I could see he was preparing a plate of pancakes and a plate of dim sims, so I altered my order to dim sims in the hope that this would meet with his approval. Indeed it did, and they were very nice. If it hadn’t been for the chefs determination to narrow the menu in a manner to his personal liking I should never have dim sims for breakfast. I think I shall insist upon the chef selecting my meal for me at each stopping place. Sitting in the sun on the verandah eating my dim sims I suddenly realised why Mallacoota had altered so dramatically from the town of my memories. It was because I had never previously been to Mallacoota. I had been to Mirimbula and that was to be my next stop. Mallacoota is in Victoria and Merimbula is in NSW. Both are very pleasant beach locations, both start with an M and both are overburdened with vowels. And let me whisper this, Mallacoota struck me as a little more blue collar than Merimbula. But confuse neither with Mildura which has similar commencing consonant and lots of vowels and is a tourist destination. That one is in North Victoria, no sea there, just a big river called Murray.
So onwards to Eden, past Eden and at Merimbula I changed plans and decided that I would not stop. I could not bring myself to forgive the town for deceiving me by disguising itself as Mallacoota. Tathra, Bermagui, Narooma were each stop off points to admire the scenery and take a few photos before pressing on. Each of these places has very pleasant beaches and watery views and each is an understandable magnet for grey nomads and overseas youths in crowded camper vans. I recommend each location to each of these tourist demographics and similarly to the families who I saw in lesser volumes because school term had recommenced. So is there anywhere on the NSW south coastal trek that I would not wholeheartedly support for a return visit? Ah, you must be referring to Batemans Bay.
As I came into Batemans Bay I noted the cemetery. Many towns have cemeteries on the outskirts so nothing to be read into this. But on this occasion I should have interpreted its presence as an indication that there was to be little joy for me at Batemans Bay. I motored around town and at the waterfront the estuary looks fabulous. Truly picturesque, with boats bobbing up and down on the tide. Getting to the waterfront wasn’t straightforward, I somehow managed to get myself lost on an industrial estate. The industrial estate was not picturesque and there were no bobbing boats. When I discovered at last the exit, I patiently navigated a one way system searching for the tourist traps that would sell me a lovely cup of coffee and ham and salad on wholemeal bread. Not that sort of town really. In fact I think this was my confusion. I don’t know what sort of a town it is. My sense of the great natural location said it should have visitors flocking to it. Travelling around the town I was unable to find much for any visitors that do flock. Perhaps they were there, but kept so well hidden that a man on a bike using his keen intuition was able to find nothing. The town planning seemed careless, chaotic without coherence or vision. Poorly conceived constructions that had been located to hide the natural beauty behind their ugliness and these monstrosities were linked together by a road system most irritating. I turned to the internet, seeking clues for the existence of the town. The most frequently recommended features were oyster farming, game fishing, fishing (nongame presumably), “surrounding” beaches and farming. I then recognised that the common thread in these recommendations is that they are not in the town. It is only by leaving Batemans Bay that you appreciate its qualities; and this was entirely consistent with my experiences. Needless to say I found no coffee shop that had any appearance of decent……instead I contented myself with a pad thai. Given the dim sims for breakfast and this late lunch of pad thai, perhaps I was simply destined to eat Asian this day. It was a mighty fine pad thai and I was very pleased with it. I remain unsure that I will be setting the Sat Nav for Batemans Bay any time soon. And not just because I don’t own a Sat Nav.
My final place of rest this day was Nowra. Nowra is on a large highway and is a convenient place to stay overnight for those starting a journey south along the NSW South Coast or completing such a journey in reverse. It exists because of a naval base and I had a feeling there may have been two in proximity. It isn’t attractive and because of the commerce and people drawn to town to support the Defence establishment, a bed for the night was more expensive than might be imagined. The people I met in Nowra were all very friendly. I had been misled by, (more likely I had misread) google maps and spent an hour looking for accommodation where none existed. By the time I arrived the sun had very much set and my body temperature was descending as quickly as my good humour. The kindly nature of owners of the towns taverns and resting houses was most welcome.
The next day was designed to be one of endurance. It began with breakfast at Wollongong overlooking the ocean, followed by a ride to the Hulme via Moss Vale. This was an unexpectedly fabulous ride. There were lots of twisty roads and forests and steep climbs and few other vehicles. It was the best ride of the trip and as delightful as it was unexpected, which probably reflects the paucity of research I conducted before leaving home. But I was really there for the Hulme. In preparation for the Perth ride I needed a road that was long and tedious and offered no reason to pause for photo opportunities. A road that would allow me to retire into my own thoughts and complete kilometre after kilometre with limited external stimulation. A ride which could consequently classify itself as, endurance. The Hulme met the brief perfectly. No large prawns or any other swollen mammals, no exaggerated fruit of any description, nothing that was named “the largest XYZ ….in the Southern Hemisphere”. Instead hundreds of kilometres of divided road with very good surface condition and very few road works. And then an unexpected experience to add to the mix. Rain. My $40 Aldi waterproof oversuit came out of the panniers and was pulled over the top of the leathers. I proclaim the Aldi suit to beforty dollars very well spent. My torso and legs were as dry as dry could be. My ten year old boots on the other hand , had begun to sag, their velcro no longer strangled my calf, as was the design and both my feet were sodden.
My shoulder did ache from holding open the throttle. My legs had to be allowed to hold my body weight at least every two hours to stop them aching. In fact, 30 seconds of stretching were usually sufficient to provide the legs an hour of relief before they began to signal that they resented being held in one position. I covered some 650 k’s and my mind was quite happy to conjugate spanish verbs or sing songs or hold imaginary conversations that whittled away the hours.
One more trip to the bike shop secured me boots of fine quality that promise water resistance. I am now preparedimage

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