Hi, my name is Jill Maden and in 2010/11 I rode a Suzuki SV650 around the eastern half of Australia (Part 1). It was a monster of a machine and piled high with far too much luggage it was a nightmare to control.

In 2014 I am returning to ride around the western half of Australia (Part 2) but this time I'll be doing it on a much smaller bike, a Honda CT110 or Postie Bike as they're known in Australia. I'll be riding on both sealed and unsealed roads so it should make for an interesting trip.

I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures.

October 19, 2014 GMT
Adverse Weather Conditions

Sunday 19 October 2014

I left Kalgoorlie on Thursday and did the 600-odd km to Perth in two hops, stopping overnight in Merredin. The ride from Kalgoorlie to Merredin started well. It was perfect riding weather, not too hot or cold and just a light breeze.

Not long after leaving Kalgoorlie I ran into a series of road works that spread over a 20-30 km distance. At various points the road was diverted onto clay tracks which had been dampened down by a water truck. It wasn’t until I felt my feet becoming wet that I realised mud was being sprayed all over me and Ruby. I hadn’t even managed to last a day without my nice clean riding kit getting mucked up again.

I stopped at the road house in Yellowdime for breakfast where I got talking to a cyclist, Mario, who was on his way east. We swapped info about the road ahead and when I stepped back outside half an hour later, the temperature had sky rocketed. Not only that, the wind had got up too, and I was now being pummelled across the road. I did think about calling it quits at Southern Cross where a huge dust storm was underway, but given it was only 10.40 am it seemed a bit early so I pushed on. However, when I saw a sign saying it was 108 km to Merredin I wondered if this was such a good idea.

Thankfully the winds abated enough to keep me on the road and I got into Merredin at 12.30 pm. I could have carried on to Perth, but the heat was too draining. By now it was 38 degrees C and the prospect of putting my tent up did not appeal. The caravan park had a Single Ensuite Cabin with air conditioning available for $70 so I took that instead. It was a bit of an extravagance, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in my tent all afternoon.

The next morning it was freezing again and I needed to rug up all the way into Perth. The approach to the city was actually easier than I expected, being well signposted and I managed to make it all the way to the hostel with only one stop to check the map for directions. It was 11.30 am and check-in wasn’t until 1 pm. I decided to take Ruby for a wash. It took a few attempts to find the car wash the receptionist had told me about, but when I did, I was dismayed to find that wherever mud had stuck to her chrome, it was starting to rust. I’d only left it a day, and already Ruby was corroding!

After checking in I went to explore the city. From a distance it looks very modern and clean, but from street level, there is a lot of poverty in Perth. All the main shopping streets were filled with down and outs. It made me feel uneasy.

I hadn’t been sure if I would continue up the west coast to Darwin after reaching Perth or try and sell the bike and fly home early, but this short experience convinced me to get out of Perth as soon as possible. So I’ll be back on the road on Monday.

In the meantime a huge thunder storm broke yesterday afternoon and it’s been pouring with rain ever since. As I don’t have rain jacket, I’m not quite sure what I’ll end up doing today.

Posted by Jill Maden at 03:58 AM GMT
October 15, 2014 GMT
The Super Pit

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (16) The Super Pit

Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit has to be one of the modern wonders of the world. Of course it is a huge scar on the face of the earth and uses a massive amount of energy to power the mining operations, but if you try and ignore that for a moment and just look at the engineering involved, it’s quite spectacular.

Back at the start of the nineteenth century when gold was first discovered in Kalgoorlie, men with pick axes and shovels would dig shafts by hand to extract the precious metal. By the 1980s Kalgoorlie was riddled with thousands of shafts going from the surface to 1.5 km underground and most of the easily accessible gold had been extracted.

Alan Bond, famous businessman and entrepreneur, saw an opportunity to get at the less accessible ore between these shafts by creating one big pit from which ore could be extracted at far less cost and started buying up all the individual land leases. Bond’s company failed to complete the takeover but in 1989 all the leases were combined and Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) was formed to operate a gigantic, ever-decreasing pit in which massive equipment could tear out the old underground workings and access the unmined gold in between.

Currently the Super Pit is 4 km long, 2 km wide and 600 m deep. They are in the process of increasing the depth to 1.5 km, the level of the original hand dug mines, by expanding the width of the mine. You can’t just dig a hole with straight walls as this will collapse into itself, so they have to go down in steps. It’s taken 3 years to get it to its current width and will take another 4 years to take it down to the target depth of 1.5 km.

In terms of gold recovery, geologists determine where the gold is located and explosives are set to blow this out. Huge dumper trucks are then filled with the rubble formed. The high grade rubble goes to the ore crusher, the low grade to the stick picking areas where the old mine shaft workings are removed and recycled before it is taken to the waste rock dump.

The ore is deposited into one of two stock piles where it is transferred into huge steel barrels filled with steel balls that crush it into a powder. This is mixed with water to form a slurry. This is then pumped into flotation cells where air is added and the gold floats to the top where it is removed to storage tanks and dried. When it is dry it is then sent for roasting. This converts the concentrate into calcine which is then leached and absorbed into carbon. The gold is then removed from the carbon by an elution process which leaves a concentrated solution of gold. Electrolysis is then used to plate the liquid gold onto steel cathodes. Once all the gold is plated, high pressure water jets are used to remove the gold. The gold is collected and dried in large ovens. The dried “cake” is then put in crucibles and put in a furnace of over 1000 degrees C to melt the gold before it is finally poured into gold bullion.

About four gold bars are produced each day, each fetching about AU$690,000, that’s AU$2.5 - $3 million a day. Considering it takes 200,000 tonnes of rock to be milled every day to produce this, you have to wonder, is it really worth it?

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:46 AM GMT
October 14, 2014 GMT
Lust and Gold Dust

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (15) Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie is home to the Super Pit, a massive gold mine on the edge of the town. I had hoped to take a tour around it on Monday, but the first available tour is Wednesday leaving me three days in which to amuse myself.

After a day of domestic chores and shopping, I explored the town including the Western Australian Museum which gave a history of mining in the area and had a large “headframe” which you could go up and view the town from.

Next, I took a tour of a brothel. Yes, that’s right, a brothel – you can actually have a tour of the oldest one in town (there are two now but there used to be 18 in its heyday). It was quite interesting from a historical perspective but left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

Today I took a ride up to the Super Pit Lookout and got my first view into the mine. My goodness, it is absolutely massive. I can’t wait for the tour tomorrow to see it all up close and see how the gold is extracted.

Finally, I went on to the Mount Charlotte Reservoir and Lookout. Kalgoorlie has very little water of its own therefore it is all pumped in through a pipeline from Perth, a journey of about 560 km. It is deposited into the reservoir and several other storage tanks from where it is distributed to both the mine and the people of the town.

Posted by Jill Maden at 01:18 PM GMT
October 12, 2014 GMT
End of the Road

After a very cold night, I started the "Ninety Mile Straight", the longest piece of straight road in Australia. And boy was it straight - it had two RFDS emergency runways it was so straight.

When you do these huge distances you start to go into a kind of daze and it was only when I saw a bunch of people crowded around a sign on the other side of the road followed by a bend, that I realised I'd come to the end of it.

Another 200 km on I'd come to the end of the Eyre Highway at Norseman. It was another 195 km to Kalgoorlie and I swithered about whether I'd continue, but the promise of a nice warm bed for the night in the youth hostle kept me going.

Turning onto the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway it was stunning riding. Tall groves of gum trees exuding gorgeous smells of eucalyptus. The railway followed the road and both overlooked huge salt lakes on either side. I eventually got to Kalgoorlie at 5pm, utterly exhausted. But I'd done it, I'd made it across the Nullarbor safely.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:42 AM GMT
Riders on the Road

Friday 10 October 2014

Up until now I hadn't met, or even seen, many other bikers, but today was to be different. First, a guy I'd seen in Ceduna and also at the Nullarbor Road House kept catching up with me. He was with his family who were towing a caravan and setting an even slower pace than mine hence the reason I kept meeting him.

Loads of bikes seemed to be going in the opposite direction too. I presumed they were going to the Moto GP races at Phillip Island which Mark and Kim in Port Augusta had been heading to.

It was a beautiful ride today but after the storm at the Nullarbour Road House, it was freezing and I ended up wearing my liner and windproof jacket beneath by riding jacket all day. After crossing over the Western Australia border the road started to rise and at Eucla it swept round a big bend onto a straight which followed the base of the Hampton Tablelands for miles. I'm pretty sure I also passed the end of the Dingo Fence which crossed the highway round about Eucla but I'm not entirely sure as it wasn't signposted.

Eventually the road headed over the tablelands at the Madura Pass and led onto a much more wooded area. At Cocklebiddy I was keen to get off the highway and go and have a look at the Eyre Bird Observatory and the Old Telegraph Station but this involved a trip down a 5 km dirt track so I gave it a miss. It's not that the dirt still scares me, I just don't want to do it on a fully laden bike.

My final destination for the day was Caiguna. As I filled up Ruby's tank a guy on a Triumph Sprint pulled up behind me. We chatted for a bit, then another biker I'd noticed having a cup of tea came over, followed by two other guys towing bikes on a trailer. Then the guy following the caravan turned up.

After they all moved on, I was left with the guy who'd been drinking tea, Ed. He was trying to decide whether he'd continue on or stay there the night. When I said I was staying, he decided to join me. He was travelling around Australia on a huge 1400cc Suzuki and wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and a Drizabone rain coat. He was a little eccentric.

After we pitched our tents another guy on a 650cc Honda turned up and rolled out a swag to sleep in. Usually these have a mattress and sleeping bag included, but he only had the mattress and no sleeping bag. That night the temperature dropped to almost zero and when I got up he'd been up for hours having almost frozen to death.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:32 AM GMT
Nullarbor Nasties

Thursday 9 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (14) Crossing the Nullarbor

I was up early and on the road for 8.30 am today. I continued up the Eyre Peninsula on the Flindler’s Highway to Ceduna. Two giant oversize loads were coming towards me and, as instructed by the pilots, I pulled off the road. Fishing about for my camera I suddenly realised the loads exceeded the width of the road and that if I didn’t move further onto the verge I would be taken out by them. I just managed to move over in time but the photos had to be sacrificed to act quickly enough.

At Ceduna I rejoined the Eyre Highway and this time, thankfully, there was only a bit of a headwind and not the gale I'd encountered a few days earlier. A series of road trains kept me bobbing up and down over my tank to avoid the tail winds but otherwise it was a good ride.

I was quite surprised to see that the farmlands of the Eyre Peninsula extended as far as Nundroo, a good 150 km into the desert. Thereafter, it went back to bush before becoming the Nullarbour Plan (from the Latin for “no trees”).

I had a stop at the Head of Bight to see if there were any whales in the seas below. Firstly I needed the loo – and if you’re of a nervous disposition, don’t read any further! It was a composting toilet and as I sat down to do my business a moth flew out of the toilet roll holder, through my legs and off to somewhere I did not see. As I walked over to the Visitor Centre I felt a strange fluttering from my nether regions but didn’t think too much about it. It was hot by now so I had an ice-cream to cool down. There was that flutter again. A lady started talking to me as I ate my ice-cream. Flutter, flutter. What was that?

I went back out to the bike and put my helmet on. Flutter. I adjusted my trousers and it stopped. Must have been imagining things. I swung my leg over and pulled off. There it was again – flutter. What the hell was that? I pulled over, wheaked down my riding trousers – nothing there. Flutter. Could it be in my knickers? I pulled them down too and ARRGGHH a moth flew out. “Jesus”, I screamed in horror and jumped about like a looney. I’d had a moth in my pants for about 15 minutes! I can’t tell you what a truly horrifying experience that was – mind you, it was probably worse for the moth.

It was cold going west so I had my windproof jacket on but by lunch time it was heating up and by the time I got to the Nullarbour Road House where I planned on camping for the night, it was baking hot. I could feel my heart racing as I attempted to put my tent up. I had to keep stopping to catch my breath it was such an effort.

As soon as my tent was up, I threw myself into the shower and in an attempt to cleanse myself of any traces of the moth, scrubbed myself and all my clothes raw.

Then it was dinner time. I went to the road house for a hamburger and just as I was finishing it an almightly dust storm blew up out of nowhere. When I got back to the tent, I realised I’d left one of the doors open and it was now completely full of dust. I’d had enough, I transferred to a “Backpackers Room” in a portacabin instead where I then had to de-dust all my gear.

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:40 AM GMT
Something in the Eyre

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (13) Eyre Peninsula

My night in the Franklin Harbour Hotel in Cowell was riotous – honestly, you’d think they’d never seen a woman before. There were about three groups of men scattered about the bar in various states of inebriation and no sooner had one lot come up and quizzed me about who I was and where I was going, the next lot would do the same thing. Eventually, I retired to my room for some peace and quiet.

Next morning I was on the road for 10 am and in Tumby Bay by midday. Walshy came and met me at the harbour and took me round to his place to dump my stuff before taking me for lunch at the Seabreeze Hotel. After a short nap he then took me on a tour of the local area in his 4WD. My goodness it’s beautiful – white sandy beaches lapped by azure and petrol blue seas on one side then huge swathes of wheat and barley fields stretching inland until the land begins to rise giving way to sheep farms. He took me from coast to fields to flocks.

On the way back we stopped in to see a couple of Walshy’s friends, one of which had a huge Honda Goldwing onto which he attaches a small caravan contained within a trailer which he tows along behind him. Whilst I marvelled at the scale and luxury of it all, I don’t think they could quite believe how I was travelling.

That evening Walshy cooked dinner for me and I showed him my Postie Bike Challenge photos. He is one of those guys that it’s really easy to be around and when it came to bedtime, I felt quite sad at having to retreat to my room. Walshy was such a gentleman he never even tried to persuade me otherwise.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Today I left Tumby Bay and continued down the Eyre Peninsula to Port Lincoln, then took the road up the west coast northwards with the intention of rejoining the Eyre Highway. I got as far as Streaky Bay where I’m camping tonight and watching the total eclipse of the moon – a “red moon”, they call it as, after the eclipse, the moon glows red from the sun's reflection.

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:26 AM GMT
October 06, 2014 GMT
Sobering Events

Monday 6 October 2014

After my two big days, I had a rest day on Friday – both Ruby and I were in need of some TLC. I hadn’t actually done any maintenance on Ruby since I’d bought her in Adelaide – mainly because I couldn’t get her onto the centre stand – so it was time to put things right. Once I put my mind to it, I got her up on the stand straight away and spent the next hour lubing her chain, checking her oil, pumping up her tyres and giving her a bit of a clean. I then went off to the Pharmacy to get some bandages to wrap around her handlebars to pad them out a bit so that my accelerator hand didn’t cramp up so much. I had tried my Cramp Buster from my last trip but because I had to have the accelerator on full lock to keep her at top speed, it meant I couldn’t position it properly. The bandages were my next best bet but didn’t really work.

On Saturday it was the long ride back to Port Augusta from Coober Pedy. I set off early again and thanks to a good tailwind managed to get my speed up to about 90-100 km/h. But by lunchtime the temperature was 36 degrees C and I needed more stops to recover from the heat. By 3.45 pm I’d covered the 532 km and was back in Port Augusta. There was a couple unloading a giant Triumph Tiger Evolution from a trailer so I went over to say hello. Mark and Kim were a lovely couple from Perth and I spent most of the rest of the evening talking to them.

On Sunday I headed over to the Tourist Office to get some information on riding across the Nullabour. I’d forgotten there is a golf course that runs the length of the Eyre Highway, with a hole or two at each road house. I decided this would perhaps be a good time to take up the sport and that I should attempt to strike my way across the desert.

I set off this morning with every intention of doing just that but the universe had different plans for me. As soon as I joined the Eyre Highway an almighty wind got up and almost blew me off the road. I had to bank the bike right over to keep it going forward. I got about half a kilometre along then realised I would probably die if I continued so did a U-turn and went back to the junction with Lincoln Highway and headed south to Whyalla instead, thus regaining the tailwind. As I rode along I remembered that Walshy, one of the guys from the Postie Bike Challenge, lived in nearby Tumby Bay and texted him to see if I could drop by. He was in even nearer Cowell and tracked me down at the Bakery. He had some very upsetting news – Greg, one of the guys on the Challenge that got injured, had died. It really shook me up to hear that and made me really question what I was doing.

As it was still another 2 hours ride to Tumby Bay I agreed to meet Walshy there as he had things to do. But by the time I got back on the road, the wind had changed direction and was now blowing a gale across the road. I got 20 km out of Cowell and had to give up. I pulled into a rest area and texted Walshy to let him know I probably wouldn’t make it. I waited for 4 hours before the wind subsided enough to let me return to Cowell.

The day’s events made me realised that crossing the Nullabour is not a feat to be taken lightly and that if I was to do it, I would have to be prepared to stop when the winds got up – I simply didn’t have the power to combat them – and if I did have to stop, that I’d better have plenty of food and water with me in case I had to wait out a storm overnight. I had the capacity to carry 4 litres of water which was enough, but only a tiny amount of food. I needed to re-think how I could increase that.

Returning to Cowell I couldn’t face the thought of a night in an expensive, windy foreshore campsite. There was a hotel nearby which was only a few bucks more. It was a no brainer, I checked in. Tomorrow I’ll continue down to see Walshy then, winds permitting, tackle the Eyre Highway again the day after that.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:38 AM GMT
October 03, 2014 GMT
The Mail Bus Run

Thursday 2 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (12) The Mail Bus Run

Twice a week, Australia Post run a Mail Bus service from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta in the north then William Creek in the south dropping off mail and parcels to various cattle stations and road houses along the way.

We set off at 9 am and until the first stop at Mount Barry Station I got to sit up front with the driver, Peter Rowe. He was a fascinating gentleman who come to the outback 47 years ago and fallen in love with it. As well as doing the mail run he had also been a potter, an opal miner and is an extremely good photographer. His knowledge of the history of the region was phenomenal and he regaled us with numerous stories of how people had overcome the adversities of the land to set up reliable homesteads there.

Next stop was the Pink Road House at Oodnadatta. I’d been wanting to go here for years. It wasn’t that different from most road houses. It had fuel, a restaurant, a post office and a reasonable sized store, it was just unmistakably pink. But it gave it a unique character and I liked that.

We had time for a quick look around the town before leaving, including the old railway station where the Ghan had been extended from Marree, the outdoor cinema, the Transcontinental Hotel and the Hospital (founded by John Flynn who had also founded the RFDS).

From there we headed south along the Oodnadatta Track to a series of other cattle stations, dropping off parcels and bags as we went. The track runs parallel with the Old Ghan Railway so there were some interesting sights to see, like the Algebuckina Bridge, the longest one in Australia.

The track itself was in a similar condition to the Birdsville Track, in that it was quite badly rutted in places. There were also quite a few sections with long, hilly undulations and sweeping bends so I was glad I hadn’t attempted to do it on the bike, it would have been easy to have a spill and given how far it was between homesteads, I could have been waiting a long time for help.

We also stopped at Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station in the world at 24,000 square kilometres – approximately the size of Belgium!

Last stop was William Creek where we had dinner then made our way back to Coober Pedy. By this time it was dark so again we were breaking the outback law and driving in the dark. Unfortunately, this time we weren’t so lucky and hit a kangaroo, which sadly, didn’t survive the impact.

We finally got back to town at 10 pm. Two big days in a row and I was wasted, but happy.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:02 AM GMT
Breaking the Rules

Wednesday 1 October 2014

The number one rule of the outback, apart from “Never drive past fuel” and “Never walk past a toilet” as I had learned, is “Don’t drive at dust or dawn” as this is when all the kangaroos come out. I was about to break this rule – big time.

Today I was heading back to Coober Pedy. I’d had a brief glance at my map and added up that it should be about 675 km, this would mean a seriously early start to cover the distance.

I was up at 5 am and on the road for 6.30 am – dawn. I was heading east so the rising sun was in my eyes and I could hardly see a thing. Plus, there was another headwind! I was down to 70 km/h and had 245 km of this before I joined the Stuart Highway south again. It wasn’t all bad though, I saw my first ever dingo, and what appeared to be a piglet running across the road in front of me. I also saw three huge eagles rise up from the roadside as I passed.

I made it to Erlduna and the junction with the Stuart Highway at 10.30 am – it had taken four hours. A quick fill up with fuel and I was on my way south. The wind wasn’t so bad here but it seemed the road was continually rising, which was confusing as I should now be descending to a lower altitude, and Ruby could only manage 78 km/h.

By 12.15 pm I’d made it to Kulgera. Another refuel and when I asked the man behind the counter how far it was to Coober Pedy, he said “Four hundred and twenty k.” What? Surely that wasn’t right? But the sign on the way out the town confirmed it – oh God, I’d mis-calculated. I’d only done 319 km plus this 420 and that made a total of 739, not 675 as I’d thought. There was no time to lose, if I was going to make it to CP by nightfall, I better get a move on.

By 4.40 I was at Cadney Park Homestead and still had 153 km to go. “What’s the chances of getting to Coober Pedy before sunset at 80 km/h?” I said to the man as I paid for another tank of fuel. “Yeah, you should be right, it’s only 4.40 just now and it will only take 2 hours at the most.” Yeah, two hours if you can go over 100 km/h.

115 km out of CP I saw the guy who I’d seen walking down the road on the way up. As I was on the same side as him this time, I pulled up to find out what on earth he was doing. “Are you walking across Australia?” I yelled at him. “Err, yes, I am,” he replied. It turned out he’d walked from Sydney to Ayres Rock in 3 months, spent 3 months there working with an Aboriginal community, and was now walking home again, via Adelaide, a feat that would take him about 4.5 months. He was raising money for an Aboriginal health programme. It made me feel all my efforts were meaningless in comparison.

30 km from Coober Pedy the sun started setting. 5 km from the town it was almost dark. By the time I rolled into Reception at the Opal Inn Motel and Caravan Park it was 7 pm and pitch black. But I’d made it and had managed to avoid hitting any wildlife in the process.

I pitched my tent, blew up my airbed and transferred everything into the tent, then a couple at a picnic table nearby said, “We’ve made too much food, would you like to finish it for us?” It was a gift from the heavens. I couldn’t thank them enough.

And what was the reason for this insane dash to Coober Pedy you may ask? Well, I had found a way to do the Oodnadatta Track that didn’t involve taking Ruby down it – the Mail Bus Run – but it only ran twice a week and I’d got the last place on the bus the following day.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:01 AM GMT
Uluru

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (11) Uluru

There are some things in life that truly take your breath away and Uluru is one of them. I left it until mid afternoon before I ventured out to see this unique monolith. You start to catch glimpses of it about 30 km before you get to Ayres Rock Resort, but it’s not until you enter the National Park that you get the full impact of it. It is huge. I don’t think there is anything else quite like it in the world. It makes you want to fall to your knees in ceremony. It is quite the most spiritual thing I have ever seen. It seems to have a power about it that radiates out into the landscape around it.

It is considered a deeply spiritual place by the Aboriginal people and I can completely understand why. There is a Cultural Centre in the National Park that says something along the lines of “White fellas come and take their pictures and want to climb Uluru, but if they just sat in its presence for a while they would experience so much more”. After I read that I stopped taking pictures and did just that. What a truly humbling place it is.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:00 AM GMT
September 30, 2014 GMT
The Heat is On

Monday 29 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (10) Alice Springs to Ayres Rock

After taking Ruby for her 1,000 km service (at 1,700 km) at Desert Edge Motorcycles in Alice and being served by the rather lovely smelling Dallas, I headed back down the Stuart Highway towards Ayres Rock. It was 10 am before I was on the road and the temperature was already extremely hot.

I had 443 km to cover to get to Ayres Rock and it just kept getting hotter. I had a 2 litre hydration pack on my back, a litre of Hydralyte in a bottle and another one litre bottle of water. By the time I got to Curtain Springs I’d sucked every one of these dry and even a chilled bottle of Powerade at the road house didn’t cool me down. In fact, I was starting to feel decidedly weak. Part of me thought I should just stay there the night and give up trying to get to Uluru for sunset, but the other part of me didn’t want to have to pitch my tent twice, so I pressed on.

When I eventually arrived in a heaving, sweaty mess, the girl at reception said, “Ah, it’s only 34.8 today, that’s nothing.” “We don’t even have temperatures that high in Scotland,” I replied, but she thought I was kidding.

I was completely exhausted by the time I’d put my tent up and even a cold shower didn’t really cool me down, so a trip to the base of the rock for sunset photos was out of the question. At least I’d managed to get some shots of Mt Conner on the way in.

Posted by Jill Maden at 04:45 AM GMT
A Town Like Alice

Friday 26 - Sunday 28 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (9) Alice Springs

Unlike the day before which had been freezing, it was a good ride up from Kulgera to Alice Springs – sunny but not too hot and best of all, no wind.

Alice Springs sits at about 600 m (2000 ft) so the road was slowly rising again. Bland bush gave way to rugged hilly outcrops and the earth became redder.

I arrived in Alice about 12.30 pm and went straight over to Dave and Cec’s place. Dave was one of the guys I’d met on the Postie Bike Challenge who had very kindly offered me a place to stay. It was great to see him again and meet his wife Cec. That evening they took me up to Anzac Hill to watch the sunset which gave great views of the town and the general lie of the land.

The next day Dave took me on a tour of the local surroundings. We stopped at the Transport Museum to see how much it would cost to get in should I want to go back myself, then the Uterne Solar Power Station – a mass of solar panels which Dave advised is due to be quadrupled in size over the next few years.

Alice Springs is surrounded by the McDonnell Ranges to the east and west, so next we headed out of town to Honeymoon gap, a place where the limestone ranges were carved through by ancient rivers when the continent was still forming. Today the river was dry but still flows in times of heavy rain. Next stop was Simpson Gap, another place where a gap has been formed by erosion. There was a group of rock wallabies at the foot of the cliffs – alas they were too quick and too far away for me to catch any photos.

After that we went back to Dave’s and collected Cec and went out to the Ellery Creek Big Hole, a gorgeous permanent swimming hole 88 km out of town. A swim and some lunch later we headed back into Alice to the old Telegraph Station. This is the only remaining original telegraph station of the Overland Telegraph Line (O/T Line) that ran from Darwin to Adelaide and connected Australia with the rest of the world via the subsea cable from Asia.

Not content with what had already been a pretty busy day by my standards, Dave and Cec then took me out to some claypans just out of town for a BBQ. I could barely keep my eyes open by the time we got home.

On Sunday, Dave and Cec had other commitments so I took myself off to explore the city. I had been there back in 1989 but it was too long ago for me to remember anything much. After a morning of wandering around the shops and the Sunday craft market, I took a tour of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) museum. The RFDS is another amazing service that has developed to to service the people living in remote Australia. From humble beginnings back in 1928 it now has 61 aircraft and 21 bases across the country meaning no-one is ever more than 2 hours from a major hospital.

Posted by Jill Maden at 03:17 AM GMT
September 26, 2014 GMT
Tricks of the Light

Thursday 25 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (8) Coober Pedy to Alice Springs

I’m not sure if I haven’t been drinking enough or what, but the light seems to have been playing tricks with me today. Packing up my tent, I kept seeing a shadow out of the corner of my eye, but then when I looked, there was no-one there. Then, on the road to Kulgera, I had a weird sense of someone watching me whenever I stopped.

The light was also creating mirages on the road, making it look as if there was water ahead. Of course, I never got to it, it just stayed the same distance from me. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, I kept feeling like I was going to fall asleep in the saddle (I’ve not been sleeping that well). I eventually pulled over to have a lie down but couldn’t find a suitable spot so downed some Hydralyte instead and that seemed to put an end to it.

Then, about 40 km from Kulgera, again, a man was walking along the roadside, pushing a sort of trolley. After miles of being the only vehicle on the road, a 4 x 4 appeared out of nowhere and overtook me just as I got level with the guy, so apart from tooting my horn at him, I wasn’t able to stop and find out what on earth he was doing there. What is it with men walking along deserted highways 40 km from a town?

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:42 AM GMT
Gem of the Never Never

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (7) Coober Pedy

In the afternoon I took a bus tour of Coober Pedy. The town was founded in the early nineteen hundreds when opals were found there, prompting something of an opal rush which is still going on today. The whole town in surrounded by mounds of sandstone drilled out in the mining process. Anyone can stake a claim – all you have to do is go along to the Council Offices, pay $150 and state which lot you’d like. Each lot is either 50 m x 50 m or 50 m x 100 m. You, and preferably a couple of friends, then go off to your site, use a large drill to dig down up to 30 m (as this is as deep as opal can be found) and see if you can find the precious gems.

Our guide told us various stories of huge gains and losses. It costs around $1000 a day just for the diesel required to power the drill, tunnelling machine and giant vacuum that sucks all the rubble back out, so at that price, a lot of miners now have day jobs and just do it on the weekend.

The other remarkable thing about Coober Pedy is that because it gets so hot there that people started moving into the old mine shafts and there are a huge number of underground homes. I have to confess, I thought the whole town would be underground, but there are also quite a lot of surface homes too. The whole place looks a bit scruffy but our guide assured us, some of the underground homes are worth over AU$350,000.

We went to a museum based in an old mine which had living quarters as well as mining tunnels. I think I would find the whole living underground thing quite claustrophobic but I can understand why people do it.

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:39 AM GMT
September 24, 2014 GMT
Windswept and Weary

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (6) Port Augusta to Coober Pedy

I left Port Augusta yesterday and started making my way north. Originally I had planned on returning to Marree from Adelaide and taking the Oodnadatta Track to Marla, but having survived the 1000-odd km of dirt tracks on the Postie Bike Challenge, I didn’t want to risk doing it alone. It’s one thing doing dirt when you’re in a supported group, but quite another when you’re on your own and your bike is weighed down with luggage.

Instead, I took the Stuart Highway north. I wasn’t sure how far I’d go, I’d wait and see how I felt. It was windy and Ruby was struggling to keep at 80 km/h. But what a ride – a beautiful flat plain with the Flinders Rangers behind me and small mounds and escarpments in the distance ahead of me.

About 30 km in four dark men in black leathers on Harley-Davidsons passed me. They didn’t wave and accepting their undoubted dominance of the road, neither did I. A few km further on they’d pulled over and were walking back toward a small salt lake at the side of the road. This time, as I chugged past, they all waved and smiled at me.

The road seemed to be rising and Ruby was down to 70 km/h. A series of road trains whipped me as they passed and I discovered the best thing to do was duck down on my tank and reduce the surface my torso provided for the wind to hit. Even worse though was being overtaken by one – then you’d get caught in the slipstream and get towed in a zig-zagging dance behind them.

At Pimba I stopped to fill up and the four Black Angels were there. Immediately one of them came up to me and advised me there was a 250 km stretch to Coober Pedy with no fuel so to make sure I had enough. I wasn’t sure I was going that far but I had a full 5 litre jerry can on board so would be all right if I did.

Inside the road house we got chatting. The boys were on their annual two week ride together and on their way to Alice Springs. “So is that a 500?” one of them asked. “Hah, no, it’s a 125,” I replied. They couldn’t believe I was touring round Australia on such a small bike.

At Glendambo I caught up with them again. It was 1 pm and I had a decision to make – would I continue on to Coober Pedy or stay there? I reckoned it would take me another 4 hours to get to CP but it would mean I could then complete the remaining mileage to Alice in two days not three so I decided to press on.

That was a long 4 hours. The wind and gradually rising incline had me down to 60 km/h in some places and fatigue meant I was stopping more often. My accelerator hand was aching again from holding the power on. But again, the stunning scenery had me captivated. Long stretches of wooded bush, followed by acres of empty plains. And BIG, BIG skies.

About 40 km from Coober Pedy I saw a guy walking along the roadside. I slowed down to see if he was all right. “Yes, I’m fine,” he replied so I carried on but I couldn’t figure out what on earth he was doing there, miles from anywhere, walking along. A few ks further I saw what appeared to be some mining works so I presumed he must have been making his way there, but where on earth from?

It was 5.15 when I rolled into CP. I found the caravan park and used the hammer I’d bought in Adelaide to whack my tent pegs into the concrete-like ground. Half way through the night, the wind got up and practically blew my fly-sheet off. I jumped out of bed and removed it before it was carried away and spent the rest of the night curled into my two sleeping bags protected only by the inner shell of the tent.

Needless to say, I’m feeling very weary today but a tour of the town to look forward to this afternoon.

Posted by Jill Maden at 02:26 AM GMT
September 22, 2014 GMT
Slow Rider

Monday 22 September 2014

I loaded up Ruby and left Adelaide yesterday. Although I have considerably less luggage than my last trip to Oz, it still takes my two panniers, a top box and another small bag to carry it all, so looking at a picture it doesn't look like I have much less than I had before.

Australia 2014 - (4) Adelaide to Port Augusta

Nevertheless, although needing a bit more power to get started, Ruby stepped up to the task admirably. Having said that, I struggled to get her over 90 km/h but after a top speed of 80 km/h on the Postie Bike, 90 feels like I'm racing along.

It wasn't just the bike that was slow though, I wasn't really ready to leave Adelaide. After all the rushing around, I could have done with a day to recover, but I didn't want to be trying to find my way out of the city first thing on a Monday morning so I reckoned a Sunday departure would be better. And it was, but I found I was reluctant to do any long distances and kept stopping for fuel or sight-seeing breaks.

I took the same route out of Adelaide as I did last time as I wanted to see the pink lake again (which wasn't as pink) but it was a busy road and it would have been better to have gone through the Flinders Ranges.

I've been missing my Postie Biker friends. It's strange waking up on my own again and not having a tired, smiling face staring back at me. Not to worry, should see one of them when I arrive in Alice Springs in a few days.

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:16 AM GMT
September 20, 2014 GMT
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ahhhh

Saturday 20 September 2014

Well, it's been a busy few days. After our night in the swanky 5* Rydges Hotel it was time to move on for most people. I bit back the tears and said my final farewells then Walshy, one of the Postie Bike riders who lives in Adelaide, gave me a lift to the youth hostel.

No sooner had I checked in than I went straight back out to find the Honda showroom. It was going to be too complicated to buy my Postie Bike or to go back to Brisbane and collect one from One Ten Motorcycles so I'd decicded just to buy a new bike instead. You have to have a local address to register a vehicle in Australia so Pete, one of my friends here in Adelaide, met me at the showroom and within an hour I had test ridden, bought and registered a new Honda CB125e. She's bright red, so this time, I'm calling her Ruby.

IMG_0234.jpg

On Friday I went to collect Ruby and took her straight up to the Adelaide Hills where I was staying with Pete and Suzie for the night. Ruby is a lovely little bike to ride but I wonder how she'll fair under the weight of all my luggage.

Had a great visit with Pete and Suzie then made my way back to the city and spent the afternoon buying various bits and pieces for my onward journey.

From here I'm going to head north, probably to Port Augusta tomorrow, then on the Coopers Pedy then Alice Springs and Ayres Rock.

Posted by Jill Maden at 09:57 AM GMT
September 18, 2014 GMT
The Postie Bike Challenge 2014

Photo album
Australia 2014 - (3) Postie Bike Challenge

Day 1 (Sunday 7 September 2014) – Brisbane to Chinchilla

It was an early start – I was up at 4.30 am with the intention of having breakfast before leaving the hostel, but the kitchen was closed and I had to abandon my food and make for the train station instead. I got the 5.34 am train to Mooroka then a taxi at 6.00 am to the Pro Honda garage where the Postie Bike Challenge was starting from. We’d set up our bikes the day before at the registration day so it was a quick route briefing and we were off.

First section was on motorway. We had running sheets attached to our handlebars and thankfully I was following another guy (John) who was doing a better job of following them than I was as I’d have missed the turn off for Esk if he hadn’t turned off ahead of me.

Off the motorway it became very pastoral as we headed over the Great Dividing Range. I was loving it – the bike was so easy to ride and very stable.

The Postie Bikes only hold enough fuel to cover about 120 km. To supplement this we have a 5 litre jerry can in our milk crates which gives us another 150 km, but as today’s total mileage was 361 km we had a refuel at Goombungee. From there we continued through various small towns then had a diversion off the main road to see the Dingo Fence near Jandowae. After this I missed the next turn to “Warra 26” and was 20 km off course when Andy, one of the support team, caught up with me and made me turn around and go back. That added an additional 40 km onto my journey causing me to run out of petrol 12 km from our destination of Chinchilla, just as the rain started pouring down. I had to pull onto the side of a very busy road and tip in the last of my fuel before finally making it to the showgrounds at Chinchilla where we were staying for the night.

As it was still pouring down, I set up my tent in a small cattle shed on top of a pile of hay and old manure – “a shit place to sleep”, according to Christian, one of the other riders. It made me laugh.

Day 2 (Monday 8 September 2014) – Chinchilla to Nindigully Pub

The day started well – I was up at 5am with my tent down and everything packed by breakfast (our meals are provided by local community groups). I made good time to the refuel at Condamine then mis-read my running sheets and missed the next turning to “Meandarra 52”. There was a column on the sheets that gives the mileage to the next point – what I didn’t realise was that the number given is a cumulative total, not the next distance to be covered. Consequently, I wasn’t even expecting there to be a turn off outside Condamine as the distance to the turn, as I read it, was 61.5 km. What it actually meant was at the 61.5km point there was a turn off (as we were already at 58.3 km this mean the turn would be in about 3 km, not 61.5). Sometime later when I got to a sign for “Meandarra 38” and no-one else was around, I figured something had gone wrong. As “38” seemed less distance than “52” I took this road and eventually got the Meandarra around the same time as everyone else. It was only when Andy pulled up in the support car and asked what had happened to me that I realised my mistake. Unbeknownst to me, some of the other riders had seen me miss the turn, alerted Dan (the organiser) and he’d gone 50 km after me before Andy was able to confirm that I’d shown up in Meandarra.

Given the chaos I’d caused, I decided I’d better ride with someone else from then on, so turned to the two guys next to me (Pete and Stew) and asked if I could ride with them. And thank goodness I did as the last stretch to the Nindigully Pub was on a gravel track. Stew took off at 80 km/h and as I was between him and Pete, I thought I’d better keep up and whizzed along the thing at 80 km/h too. It was a bit scary going into some of the turns and I quickly learnt using the brakes was not the way to approach them. Rolling off the power worked better as it avoided the back wheel locking up.

When we pulled into pub, it seemed news of my slight detour had reached the rest of the support crew asevery time I passed one them, I got some comment about “What way did you come, Jill?” Cheeky beggars!

Day 3 (Tuesday 9 September 2014) – Nindigully Pub to Charleville

The next morning, as if to make up for slagging me yesterday, Scott (the mechanic) greeted me by saying “So how’s the wonderful and lovely Jill today?” I had to give him a kiss for that and it left me grinning all morning.

Having learnt my lesson about riding alone, I asked a man I’d been chatting to at the Dingo Fence the day before, Dave (Cardiac Surgeon from Sydney) if I could ride with him. It was slow going as there was a strong headwind along the 250 km road to Mitchell. But what beautiful scenery – huge panoramas of empty bushlands.

I made the mistake of eating an apple at the fuel stop at Mitchell which left me very parched and thirsty and feeling quite odd. When we came into Morven I was completely overheating and had to strip out my jacket liner and dowse myself in water to cool down.

The road from Morven to Charleville I’d done on my last trip so felt I was coming into familiar territory here.

We camped at the showgrounds at Charleville and I almost cried with laughter when Pete’s chair collapsed beneath him during dinner.

Day 4 (Wednesday 10 September 2014) – Charleville to Windorah

As there were only six turns to make on our running sheets for the day, I started off alone, thinking even I couldn’t go wrong with that. I hadn’t gone far before I caught up with Ned so rode with him as far as the roadhouse at Cooladdi. Here, Diana, one of the six women on the trip, noticed there was oil all over my front mudguard. Fortunately, Andy was there and tightened my “tappit” which seemed to fix the problem.

Some distance further on, Andy passed me in the support car and indicated for me to pull in. Now my brake light was jammed on. Scott sorted this by wiggling a wire at the refuel at Quilpie.

In Quilpie I had a Powerade with Pete and Stew who then offered for me to ride with them. Unfortunately the Powerade went straight through me and within 50 km I had to leave them and head for the bush for an emergency toilet stop.

Today was a good day. Saw my first live kangaroo (as opposed to all the road kill), some emus, lots of cows and sheep, some wild horses and two emergency airstrips painted on the road.

At dinner, Scott came up to me and informed me my footpeg had fallen off my bike. I couldn’t believe it, surely I would have noticed something like that? But right enough, when I went to have a look, it was gone. Once again, I had become the butt of the support crew’s mirth.

Day 5 (Thursday 11 September 2014) – Windorah to Birdsville

Today’s ride started out wonderfully. After leaving Windorah, we entered the vast plains of the Channel Country. Only a few escarpments in the very distance stood in the way of uninterrupted views for miles and miles.

The first 110 km were on bitumen. We all rallied together at the end of this, just before we entered the dirt road of the Birdville Development Track. From there on in, my riding fell apart. I’d asked Dan the night before for some pointers on riding the dirt and he’d said the main thing is to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible by putting pressure into the footpegs and if the bike starts to wobble just to let it and it will usually right itself.

I started off down the track at 60 km/h, doing just what he’d said. But it was terrifying. Everytime I hit a trench of gravel, the bike would start to wobble and it felt like it would surely go over. By the refuel point 100 km later I was down to 50 km/h. After that the road became a carved up mess of gouges with deep corrugations, sand pits and gravel grooves to get caught in. The remaining 200 km into Birdsville was the most gruelling riding I’ve ever done. I was down to 30 km/h. The corrugations were bone shaking and by the time I got into Birdsville my arms were aching with having gripped so tightly (a phenomena called arm pump). I was one of the last to reach the town and as I rolled into the campground, Scott told me I’d have to go back out and fuel up at the petrol station as Dan had had to take two people to hospital and wouldn’t be doing the refuel in the usual way.

John, an elderly English man, and I had done the last 30 km together and when I pulled into the petrol station behind him and took off my helmet I burst into tears. I was completely shattered and the emotional and physical pounding of the day had left me a mess.

I had really been looking forward to seeing Birdsville, in fact, it was the main reason I’d done the trip in the first place, but I’d arrived so late in the day, I barely had time to set up camp before running across to the bakery where dinner was being served. I really struggled to keep my emotions in check during dinner and went to bed immediately after, having seen nothing of the town I’d come to see.

Day 6 (Friday 12 September 2014) – Birdsville to Mungerannie Hotel

During breakfast, John, my English compatriot, told me he was pulling out of the Challenge. This really upset me and left me feeling very shaky about the whole trip. By the time I got back to camp, I was a mess. Anthony, a gorgeous Hugh Jackman look-alike, who’d I’d met on the first day and had a few laughs with, was camped next to me. As I was packing up he started chatting to me. I have no idea what he said as the next thing I knew I was bubbling uncontrollably. The thought of spending the next 3 days on dirt tracks like this was overwhelming me.

Before leaving Birdsville, Dan wanted to get a photo of us all lined up outside the Birdsville Hotel, an outback icon. As we lined up our bikes and started taking pictures, Anthony came up to me and said “I’m just going to take it easy today if you want to ride with me.” I could have kissed him. He was an experienced dirt biker and was always the first one into camp each day. “I’ll pick out some lines and you can follow me,” he promised but as we left town and joined the Birdsville Track south, we got separated in the mass of other riders and I ended up on my own again. I was all over the place. I had no idea how to handle the ruts and was even stopping and manually paddling my way over ridges and troughs to try and find smoother ground. After about half an hour I became aware of someone ahead of me. It was Anthony – true to his word, he’d waited for me.

He watched me ride for a bit, then pulled me over and told me what to do. I was struggling with the trenches. “Whenever you come to a set of grooves, pick your line, keep your speed up and power through it,” he said. “If you develop a wobble, the momentum will carry you through.” Then he set off and I started to follow. We hit the grooves at 60 km/h and amazingly, he was right. It was actually much easier to ride the road at speed than it was to ride it slowly. But it took nerves of steel.

By the time we got to the refuel I was feeling much better. As I climbed off my bike, I went over to Anthony and gave him a big hug. “Thank you” I sighed. “No worries” he said, “you’ll be up at 70 or 80 by tomorrow”. “Hah, not likely,” I replied.

He stayed with me for the rest of the day – sometimes letting me ride ahead, sometimes letting me fall behind. It transformed my riding and we were amongst the first to arrive at the campsite at the Mungerannie Hotel. There were hot springs there so I jumped in, fully clothed. It was a great end to an amazing day and I went to bed that night thanking my lucky stars that Anthony had taken me under his wing and shown me how to ride the dirt properly.

Day 7 (Saturday 13 September 2014) – Mungerannie to Maree

After my lesson with Anthony yesterday, I blasted it down the rest of the Birdsville Track today, sometimes at 70 km/h. I felt much more in control and as we only had 208 km to cover there was plenty of time to stop and take some photos and take in the scenery.

At one point we came across an escarpment so detoured off the road to walk up – amazing views from the top of flat, endless plains below.

By 1.30 pm I’d made it to the end of the Birdsville Track at Maree. Gary, “Hand” Mike and some others were already at the sign, so I jumped off the bike and ran over to celebrate with them. I was in the pub half an hour later with Anthony congratulating me for having overtaken half of the field on my way out of Mungerannie. “See, I told you you’d be up at 70 today,” he said.

A great night in the pub with everyone in high spirits from having survived the Birdsville Track.

Day 8 (Sunday 14 September 2014) – Maree to Arkaroola

Despite the joys of completing the Birdsville Track yesterday, I was weepy again this morning. The hotel TV was full of reports about the forthcoming referendum of Scottish independence from the UK and, somehow, it made me sad. I was also worried about the next stretch of dirt we’d have to tackle.

So far we’d most been on flat, straight tracks, but today we were going to climb into the hills to a place called Arkaroola. Dan, during his morning briefing, advised us there would be lots of steep ascents and tight bends so to be careful. Linda, one of the Postie Princesses (Linda & Kylie) and I had been trying to work out how to avoid doing any more dirt the night before in the pub, but now accepted we’d have to do it. Before setting off I asked my riding instructor Anthony how to handle the bends. “Okay, as you approach a bend, pick your line, roll off your speed and then keep the speed steady through the bend,” he advised.

The first part from Maree to Copley was mostly on bitumen and was a joy to ride. At Copley the dirt started again. I’d stopped for a cup of tea there where I’d been talking to Canberra Mike and Alice Springs Dave, and when I left, Mike decided to ride with me. I was ahead and did exactly what Anthony had told me to – found my line, adjusted my speed and kept it steady through the bend. It worked a treat and we had a lovely trip up through the mountains to the outdoor centre at Arkaroola.

It had been another hot day and as there was a swimming pool, I dived in fully clothed. God, it was freezing.

Tonight Dan had arranged for us to stay in proper beds in the outdoor centre so I was sharing with Diana, a lovely lady from New South Wales whose husband had had to drop out of the Challenge the day it started due to a very bad cold.

Day 9 (Monday 15 September 2014) – Arkaroola to Orroroo

Today started with another warning from Dan about the treacherous condition of the roads ahead – “I’ve actually put ‘Beware dips, sand, gravel’ in your running sheets and I haven’t done that anywhere else, so be warned, this is not a good road surface so take it slowly.”

We back tracked the first 30 km then took the road to Blinman. This took us onto a high ridge and we were battered with strong cross-winds. At one point the motocross boys were standing by the side of the road waving at us. At first I thought they were just being friendly, then as I got closer, I realised they were signalling for us to slow down as there was a huge sand pit which I later found out had broken two of Christian’s spokes when he landed in it. I managed to roll off just enough power not to hit it too hard and bounced through to the other side still upright. This marked the start of the “dips, sand and gravel” Dan had been warning us about. The next 200 km were a nightmare of sand pits, steep ascents and carved up surfaces but surprisingly I found I wasn’t thinking about it anymore. Maybe I was just too tired to worry anymore, but I was no longer talking myself through all the tricky bits, I was just doing them. Even a couple of wobbles didn’t frighten me anymore as I knew the momentum would carry me through. Having said all this, it didn’t stop me from prostrating myself on the road and kissing the tarmac when we rejoined it at Blinman.

Now you’d think rejoining the tarmac would be a joyous occasion, but now the wind had got up and the last 100 km through the spectacular Flinders Ranges mountains into Orroroo was a painful ride into a strong headwind.

Thankfully the local people had prepared hot soup and a fantastic dinner for us so we all had nice warm bellies to fend off the cold winds whistling through the campground.

Day 10 (Tuesday 16 September 2014) – Orrorroo to Adelaide

At breakfast this morning Scott asked how old I was. “Fifty-one” I replied. I have never seen anyone look so stunned in all my life, his face literally froze in shock. “I thought you were more like 35 or 40,” one of the Mikes said. I turned to thank him for the compliment and when I turned back around, Scott had vanished. Any thoughts he may have been having about staying in touch were obviously quashed in that moment.

Dan told us all that we were on a deadline to reach Adelaide by 2 pm because the Rotary Club would be waiting to meet us then and take the bikes away. Hence it was another intense day’s riding. Our final ride was accompanied by another strong headwind, although thankfully not quite as bad as yesterday’s one. We refuelled at Clare which was more like a Formula 1 pit stop with Andy waving us in, us filling our tanks, and then jumping straight back on the bikes and continuing.

As I came into Gawler, “Hand” Mike passed me which I was quite pleased about as the running sheet directions were quite complicated and I feared I would easily lose my way. However, between Mike and some others catching up with us we were able to find our way onto the right road through the Adelaide Hills into Adelaide. We all rallied together in a shopping centre car park then rode into the city into formation.

We made it to the rendez-vous with the Rotary Club in time and then that was it. It was over. We’d covered 3,500 km in 10 days through some of the most beautiful and remote country on earth.

We were booked into a 5 star hotel that night and a celebration dinner was laid on. We all got certificates to mark our achievement then, slowly, we all disappeared off to our rooms. The Postie Bike Challange was over and I had survived.

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:13 AM GMT
September 06, 2014 GMT
A Desert Rose

Just a quick update before the Postie Bike Challenge gets underway properly tomorrow. Today was registration day and we all got allocated our bikes. There are 40 of us on the trip and my bike is Number 24, a somewhat impersonal name I thought, so I've christened her, Rosie, as she'll be my Desert Rose.

Australia 2014 - (2) PCB Registration

The first thing we had to do was create a cover for the milk crate on the back so that our stuff doesn't bounce out. I'd bought some tablecloth material with me and set about the task with a pair of nail scissors and some velcro - not a bad result me-thinks!

We've to be at the start point at 6.30 am tomorrow morning so it's going to be an early start and as I'm still loaded with the cold (thankfully the kidney infection has abated), I think the first few days may be quite hard - but, hey, thems the breaks.

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:28 AM GMT
September 03, 2014 GMT
Coughs, Kidneys and Collapse

Wednesday 3 September 2104

On Sunday night a woman in my room started coughing and I was a bit worried I’d catch whatever lurgie she had. By Monday morning I was coughing too. Nevertheless it was just a minor cough so I thought I’d got away with it.

That morning I caught the train out to Calbooture, where One Ten Motorcycles is located. Before I left Glasgow the organisers of the Postie Bike Challenge said, despite previous indications to the contrary, that it would not, in fact, be possible for me to buy the bike at the end of the Challenge. Fortunately, I’d come across a website by a guy called Nathan who’d ridden a Postie Bike from Sydney to London a few years ago and he mentioned he’d bought it from this company in Brisbane. I wanted to find out if it would be possible to buy one from One Ten and have them ship it to Adelaide. Joe, the owner, was very helpful but advised it would be cost prohibitive to do it. He might, he advised, be able to get me one if I was prepared to come back to Brisbane at the end of the Challenge and collect it. I’d just have to wait a couple of days while he made some enquiries.

It’s been really hot here the last few days, and because his garage was located in an industrial estate out of town, I had to wait at the bus stop in the very hot sun for half an hour. The jet lag had been hitting me pretty hard over the last few days, but now I was starting to feel I was finally getting over the worst of it. But, as I sat down on the train, I was overwhelmed with tiredness and almost passed out. By the time I got back to the hostel I was coughing quite badly and starting to feel feverish. “Uh oh”, I thought, “think I’m getting a cold”.

The next day I was feeling pretty bad so decided to have an easy day at the hostel to try and shake off whatever bug I’d picked up before the Challenge gets underway on Sunday – don’t want to be feeling dizzy on a motorcycle now do I?

I’d also been needing the loo a lot and when I woke up this morning I could feel my back, in the area of my kidneys, was really sore. Fearing my cold may have gone into my kidneys, I got the number of a local doctor from the girl on Reception at the hostel and was able to get an appointment at 9 am. As I sat in their waiting area, I suddenly started feeling very hot and light headed. “I think I’m going to faint” I thought to myself. Next thing I knew I was being shaken awake by the practice nurse and having my blood pressure taken. Apparently I’d passed out.

The doctor then diagnosed me with a kidney infection and a cold and prescribed some heavy duty antibiotics and some rehydration fluids to clear it all up. So it will be another day of bed rest for me.

Posted by Jill Maden at 03:26 AM GMT
Beautiful Brisbane

Sunday 31 August 2014

Imagine waking up to this every morning! This is the view from the hostel’s rooftop kitchen.

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Isn’t Brisbane a beautiful city?

Photo album
Australia 2014 - (1) Brisbane

I spent my first couple of days in the city walking the streets and exploring. The Brisbane River cuts through the middle of the town and it’s hard to go far without being near it. I took the free City Hopper ferry which goes to just beyond Kangaroo Point, what appears to be a very affluent area with some beautiful old Queenslander style houses.

I got off here and walked all the way back to the city. If that didn’t tire me out for a good night’s sleep then nothing will.

Posted by Jill Maden at 03:18 AM GMT
August 30, 2014 GMT
Touchdown

According to my laptop's clock it's 5.40 am in the UK (I haven't changed the timezone yet) and it's 2.40 pm here in Brisbane so by my body clock's estimation that's the middle of the night. Nevertheless, I am forcing myself to stay awake and try to act as if I've adjusted when in reality my eyelids feel like they want to shut and never open again.

After 20 hours in flight, I touched down in Brisbane last night about 7.30 pm and was at the hostel by 8.30 pm. The best thing about arriving was walking through the airport doors and smelling the delicious, fragrant smell of the tropics. Even though it was only about 16 degrees celsius the smell of flowers was still in the air.

Today it's warm and sunny and I've had a fun day reacquainting myself with the city, although I did get a little disorientated and thought I was facing south when, in fact, I was facing north. The guy at reception set me right though and I made it into town to set up my mobile phone and my broadband dongle so now I'm back online and ready to head off to the supermarket for some food.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:54 AM GMT
August 10, 2014 GMT
Australia - Part 2

Part 2 will begin on 28 August 2014!

Posted by Jill Maden at 12:34 PM GMT
May 31, 2013 GMT
This Blog is now a Book

If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you might like to read the story behind the story in "Excess Baggage" the book of this trip. For full details, click here:

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:44 AM GMT
March 18, 2011 GMT
Journey's End

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”.

Jill x

Posted by Jill Maden at 09:00 AM GMT
Post Script

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 GMT
March 10, 2011 GMT
Final Words

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 GMT
February 28, 2011 GMT
Game Over

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.

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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.

Jill xxx

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:45 AM GMT
February 25, 2011 GMT
Getting Dirty

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.

100_1484.jpg

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!!!

100_1485.jpg

100_1487.jpg

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 GMT
 
 

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