March 18, 2011 GMT
Friday 18th March 2011 – I arrived back in the UK yesterday morning after, I’m pleased to report, an uneventful flight back from Hong Kong. Despite my cold, I had a great week in Hong Kong with my brother and ended up staying in a very posh hotel room for a very cheap price so it seemed like a fitting end to my journey. After 7 months of life on the road and endless adventures its going to be strange establishing a “normal” life again, but I guess that’s what life’s all about – ch-ch-changes ...
So that’s it, as Jim Carey said on the Truman Show, “Good morning and, in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night”.
Posted by Jill Maden at 09:00 AM
Friday 11th March 2011 – Here’s a funny story for you all. On the plane to Hong Kong during a bit of mild turbulence I started to feel a bit queezy. However, never having suffered from any form of travel sickness I discounted the possibility that I may be sick and decided to go to sleep instead. Sometime later, the girl in the seat next to me starts shaking me awake as, it turns out, I was vomiting in my sleep! On awakening I grabbed the sick bag and proceeded to empty my guts into it. I then managed to wake the man on the other side of me and make my way to the crew station where I announced, somewhat obviously, “I’ve just been sick”. The attractive young male steward then gave me another bag and suggested I might like to go to the toilet to clean up. “Clean up?” I thought. It was only then I realised I’d been sick all over my clothes. Anyway, I made it to the toilet and, as I wasn’t sure which end the next attack was going to flow through, I wheeked down my trousers and sat on the toilet. A few minutes later, said attractive young male steward knocks on the door. I could barely manage to say “Just a minute” so he then proceeded to unlock the door from the outside and pop his head round. Talk about an undignified sight – there I was with my head in a sick bag, my trousers round my knees and covered in puke! Nevertheless he handed me a cup of some sort of gastric relief compound and left me a pair of Quantas pyjamas to change into. When I eventually managed to peel off my clothes, I realised there was sick all over my underwear too. I made a pathetic attempt to wash it in the sink but given the taps are tiny and so is the plug hole, I soon realised this would be a fruitless exercise so I stuffed my clothes in the bag he’d given me and made my way out. They then took me up to Business Class and put me on oxygen for half an hour before sending me back to my seat for an uneventful remainder of the flight!
Posted by Jill Maden at 08:46 AM
March 10, 2011 GMT
Thursday 10th March 2011 – So my time in Australia is finally over and I’m waiting at the airport for my flight to Hong Kong to be called. I woke up with a sore throat, runny nose and a light head today that has been gradually getting worse. I read somewhere that runny noses usually indicate tears that haven’t been expressed. I managed to fight back the tears for most of the day today, but saying goodbye to my friends, their little girl, their dogs and, of course, the bike, was more than I could take and I’ve been bubbling ever since.
My last few days in Melbourne were a mixture of freezing cold, cold and hot weather and were passed happily tying up loose ends and exploring the city. I put an advert on the web for the bike but as I’d had no takers by the time I left, I gave it to my friends.
People keep asking me what have been the best bits of the trip and I would definitely have to say looking after all the animals, especially the two whippets, riding to Mount Molloy in 8 days in the scalding heat and riding over the 30km of dirt track on the Omeo Highway. These are the bits that gave me the greatest sense of achievement. But really, the whole trip was fantastic and I was blessed with meeting some fabulous people, getting a reliable bike and seeing some of the most wonderful sights. I feel deeply grateful to everyone who had a hand in making this trip possible and incredibly lucky to have the good fortune to have been able to undertake it.
So will I go back and do the western side of Australia? Well, it occurred to me the other day as I was riding along on my friend’s push bike, that perhaps cycling an electric bicycle would be a good way to cross the Nullabor and go up the centre. So watch this space, I may be back ...
Posted by Jill Maden at 11:40 AM
February 28, 2011 GMT
Sunday 27th February 2011 – The last 395km from Lakes Entrance back to Melbourne should have been a beautiful ride along the South Gipsland Highway but unfortunately the weather broke for my final ride and I got completely soaked! The final approach to Melbourne meant joining the freeway system and navigating my way through roadworks, heavy traffic and a number of tricky junctions. As with the approach to any major city, this was a nerve wracking experience, but I managed to find all the right roads at the right time and made it back to my friends’ house without incident.
So that’s it – the ride is over. In the last 7 months I’ve ridden from one side of Australia to the other and back again, covered 15,630km, avoided floods, cyclones and heat exposure, met some of the kindest, most helpful and genuinely nice people I could have hoped for, and had the time of my life.
I fly out of Melbourne to Hong Kong on 10 March, spend a week with my brother, then from Hong Kong to London on 17 March. Between now and then I’ll have to try and sell the bike and squeeze my expanded load of luggage back into the 2 bags I came here with.
I’ll write again before I leave, but for now, thank you to everyone who’s been reading this blog – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Posted by Jill Maden at 08:45 AM
February 25, 2011 GMT
Friday 25th February 2011 – I had the day off yesterday so wandered around Tallangatta and caught up on my laundry.
Today I wanted to get to Lakes Entrance on the south coast. According to my HEMA Motorcycle Atlas, there are 3 ways one can get there from Tallangatta: (1) take the Omeo Highway (described as “The road is generally tarred, but there are some quite rough gravel and rock sections which can be a test for the unprepared.”) – clearly not a good choice for me; (2) the Redbank Road which follows the right bank of the Kiewa River (described as “a simple back road ... so its a lot of fun”) – sounds right up my street; or (3) the Kiewa Valley Highway (described as “... a little on the dull side”) – err, perhaps not. So which one did I end up taking? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Omeo Highway with 30km of gravel road to tackle!
Somehow I took the turning before the Redbank Road and ended up on a road that junctioned with the Omeo Highway. As I’d already gone about 45km at this point, I didn’t particularly want to go back so I decided it was time to face my fear of gravel and keep going forward. There are 2 gravel sections on this road, the first about 10km, the second, about 20km. The first was by far the worst – there were some really steep turns and badly rutted sections. I discovered the best way to tackle them seemed to be to keep your feet up and just keep moving. On the 3 occasions that I put my feet down I found it was very difficult to then get going again.
The second section was much longer. It took me 1.5 hours to cover the 20km involved. As long as the road is going straight its okay, but as soon as it starts climbing (or descending) and turning, the 2 wheels of the bike start going in different directions and you start skidding across the surface. The downhill bends are the scariest as you can’t use your power to control things like you can on the uphill bits. At one point a couple of guys on dirt bikes went whizzing past me in the opposite direction and it occurred to me that perhaps taking things faster than first gear might be easier, but given how hard it was to control the skids at slow speeds I wasn’t prepared to take the risk. Another guy with the full BMW adventure touring gear stopped as he passed me to check I was okay. As I said “yes” I could feel tears welling up but I knew blurred vision wasn’t going to help so I stuffed them back down and just carried on. As I got closer to the end of the track, the road flattened and smoothed out a bit so I was able to get it into second gear and 30 km/h!!!
I’ve never really considered myself a religious person, but one thing I have found throughout this trip is that, if there is a God, then I sure ask for His help a lot!!!
So I made it to the bottom of the dirt track in one piece only to discover I still had another 50km to ride to Omeo. And this wasn’t easy riding either. The road twists its way down through the mountains with huge sheer drops right off the side of the road. When I pulled into the petrol station in Omeo a guy came rushing up to me asking me if I’d seen “an old bloke on a BMW” as he’d lost him and thought he may have gone over the edge. In the cafe where I had lunch, the owner told me how 3 bikers had come to grief a few years ago. It was foggy and the first 2 went straight off the road over a cliff, the third saw the second’s tail light rise up and realised what was happening so put his bike down on its side and just managed to escape going over the edge.
From Omeo I joined the Great Alpine Road (the second best bike ride in Australia and the fifth best in the world, according to the cafe owner). About half way down and within about 5 minutes of each other I had 2 near misses with oncoming cars, the second of which had me hit the brakes so hard I almost kissed the tarmac so, realising my riding was becoming eratic, I pulled over to discover I was shaking like a leaf. A little rest, a few gulps of Powerade and several enquiries from passing drivers as to my state of health later, and I was back in the saddle for a much more sedate descent to Lakes Entrance.
So here I am in a lovely, very cheap, motel room where I think I’ll stay for a couple of nights before doing the final run back to Melbourne. I can’t believe my trip is almost over. Its been the best, most terrifying and most uplifting thing I’ve ever done. As another biker said to me the other day “you’ll miss not riding every day, won’t you?” and the answer is, of course, “yes”.
Anyway, its not quite over yet ...
Posted by Jill Maden at 07:35 AM