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
February 23, 2011 GMT
Snowy Mountain Paradise
Wednesday 23rd February 2011 – What a joyful day’s riding it was today. I left Tathra, rejoined the Princes Highway north for a few kms, then took the Snowy Mountains Highway west to Cooma then Jindabyne. It was the most gorgeous day – clear blue skies, radiant sunshine and stunning clarity. It was quite cool climbing up over Brown Mountain so I had to dig out my windproof jacket again. At Jindabyne, I turned onto the Alpine Way to Thredbo. This is where the Kosciuszko National Park starts and where the Australian ski resorts are located. Until this point the roads had been lovely wide open ones with sweeping bends and gentle gradients, but after Thredbo the road narrowed and became another tight alpine pass. At one point a pack of other riders, heading for the SuperBike Races at Phillip Island it turned out, passed me. However, round the next bend we had to stop for road works. One guy looked at my overloaded bike – before he could say anything I said “Don’t say a word.” So he turned away then obviously couldn’t resist and said “Moving house?”. It was quite funny though.
It took me most of the afternoon to get from one side to the other but it was beautiful country so I didn’t mind at all. So thanks to Mark (from Canberra) for suggesting it.
I then took the Murray Valley Highway to Tallangatta (which is back in Victoria) and booked into the local hotel which was doing a super cheap deal for motorcyclists. Its not the plushest place I’ve stayed but the 2 guys that run it are very friendly so I may even stay a day.
Posted by Jill Maden at 09:55 AM
Love and War
Tuesday 22nd February 2011 – Yesterday, Nick lent me a push bike and took me off to see the National War Memorial. It’s an impressive building that also houses a museum of wartime artefacts. He left me there to look around, then I cycled part way round Lake Burley Griffin before heading off to look at the Houses of Parliament. Alas, the bike proved to be perhaps the most uncomfortable I have ever ridden so I ended up pushing it most of the way round Canberra.
That evening I met up with a gentleman called Mark, one of my blog readers, who lives in Canberra. He was very interesting and recently spent a month riding a Royal Enfield round India. He also gave me lots of advice on where to go next – he suggested going through the Snowy Mountains instead of along the coast. After that I went back round to Nick’s to return the bike and have dinner. It was really nice to be able to relax in a real house again and to meet his kids.
Today I left Canberra and took the King’s Highway back to Bateman’s Bay before heading south along the Princes Highway to Moruya to meet up with Steve, a friend of my friends in Melbourne. It was only when I left him and got to a petrol station that I realised I’d lost my wallet. Panic stricken, I fled back to the pub where luckily they’d just found it. God, that’s twice I’ve lost it now and twice the good honest folk of Australia have handed it in.
I’m now in Tathra where I just managed to get the last room in the Inn – a family room with 7 beds in it! Another (very attractive) biker called Mick had just checked in when I arrived, so we tentatively arranged to have dinner together, however, by the time I’d had a shower, changed and sorted my stuff out, some other woman had nabbed him first. Honestly, it just never seems like I’m going to meet someone. Every guy I meet is either married, separated, fancies someone else, doesn’t fancy me or is completely unavailable. I think I’m just going to give up on looking for love with someone else and concentrate on finding it within myself – then maybe it will just come along without me having to try.
Posted by Jill Maden at 09:52 AM
February 20, 2011 GMT
Sunday 20th February 2011 – I met up with Nick for dinner last night and again this morning. We took the bikes out to the NASA Deep Space Communications Complex. This is where they "listen" to space.
I had a fabulous time looking at all the exhibits and taking photos of the satellite dishes. Nick, however, seemed a little restless (having been there many times before) so I suggested he could leave if he wanted and I’d go back via the Mount Stromlo Observatory.
Until 2003 Mount Stromlo housed about 5 different telescopes but they were all destroyed in a massive bushfire and now only the shells of the buildings remain – the actual telescopes were damaged beyond repair. By this time, I was on a bit of a space mission and decided I would go and find the Planetarium. As I didn’t have a clue where this was, I went to the Tourist Information Centre first only to discover it too had been destroyed in a fire in 2008!
So my space mission had to be aborted for the day and I had to content myself with going to see “127 Hours” at the pictures instead – if you haven’t seen this film, its about a guy who falls down a ravine and gets his arm trapped between a boulder and the rock face. He eventually has to cut his arm off to get free. And, yes, its a true story!
Posted by Jill Maden at 09:17 AM
February 19, 2011 GMT
There's Gold in Them Thar Hills
Saturday 19th February 2011 – What a great time I had in Bateman’s Bay. It was lovely to see Rod and his family again and also to meet up with another old friend, Shane.
On Friday, Rod took me for a drive to Shallow Crossing. This involves taking a dirt track up into the forest for several miles before the road descends down to the River Clyde where a concrete weir has been built across the river. As there has been so much rain it was completely submerged and we had to drive quite slowly across it to avoid being swept away by the current.
We then went up to look at some old gold mines. You wouldn’t have known they were there unless you knew they were there. To the untrained eye they just looked like piles of earth but upon closer inspection one could see huge, seemingly bottomless, pits had been dug. I found it amazing to think that people had walked in all the equipment they needed and probably spent months at a time burrowing for the precious metal.
Again my heart strings were pulled leaving my old friends but as I’ve now booked my tickets home I need to keep moving. So I took the road to Canberra this morning. It wound up through the forest before coming out onto an open plain where I nearly got blown off the road on several occasions the wind was so strong. Just as I made my final turn into London Circuit in Canberra a car in the right hand turn lane decided to go straight on and nearly knocked me off my bike! Admittedly, I was in the left lane, but I was indicating to go right (as were a number of other cars) so I don’t quite know what that other driver was up to. Anyway, I’m safely ensconced back at the YHA now and hopefully will meet up with Nick tonight.
Posted by Jill Maden at 06:33 AM
February 17, 2011 GMT
Route No. 3
Wednesday 16th February 2011 – I left Sydney today. The thought of riding through the biggest city in Australia on a fully laden motorbike wasn’t one that I’d been particularly looking forward to, but I noticed that Route No 3 from Mona Vale Road would take me all the way through Sydney and out the other side at Woolongong where I could pick up the Pacific Highway to Bateman’s Bay. A girl in my room tried to convince me it would be shorter to take the road outside the hostel all the way into central Sydney where I could pick up a “distributor” road which would then take me over the Harbour Bridge then I’d be able to pick up “some other road” that would take me south, but upon looking at my map this seemed like a very complicated route and as Route No 3 didn’t involve a single turn I decided to take it instead even though it probably was a little bit longer.
So I set off into the vast metropolis of Australia’s premier city. I put myself in the middle lane on Mona Vale Road and pretty much stayed there all the way to the Pacific Highway. This route bypassed the centre of Sydney and took me through suburbs called Pymble, Ryde and Huntsville as well as passing the Olympic Stadium. It was very built up so it took me 2 hours to travel the 100km to Woolongong, but I made it without incident and didn’t have to stop once to consult the map so I was happy with that. I then phoned Rod to advise him of my progress only to be advised “well, its still another 3 hours from there”. God, I should be used to the distances in Australia by now, but they still always surprise me!
Anyway, I made it to Bateman’s Bay just before the rain came in so all in all, it was a pretty good trip.
Posted by Jill Maden at 12:59 AM
February 14, 2011 GMT
Monday 14th February 2011 – I took the bus into central Sydney today. Its been about 6.5 years since I was last there but as I looked out across Circular Quay (which is rectangular, incidentally) it seemed as if it was only yesterday. Its funny how memories can distort time, or is it, how time distorts memories? As I travelled down the east coast I went through many places I’ve been through before yet didn’t recognise at all, then others that I had really clear memories of in my head but didn’t even see. Weird isn’t it?
Anyway, the bus went over the Harbour Bridge (the other night on the ride we went through the Harbour Tunnel) so now all I need to do is get a boat across and I’ll have crossed it by most means.
I then took a tour of the Sydney Opera House. Wow – its impressive from the outside, but inside it really takes your breath away. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take any pictures of the inside so I’ll just have to add those images to the reliable stack of memories in my head!
Posted by Jill Maden at 10:58 PM
February 12, 2011 GMT
Northern Beaches Social Riders (NBSR)
Saturday 12th February 2011 – God, I’m exhausted. I’ve just spent the last 3 days with Glenn & Emilia and the Northern Beaches Social Riders. This is the motorcycle club that Glenn runs, but it’s not just any old motorcycle club, they also raise money for charity, tonnes of it – so far they have raised AU$300,000. They do this through a combination of raffles, events and people paying to be pillion passengers on their rides. Thursday night was raffle night at the pub, then yesterday, they had a big ride through the streets of Sydney. The main instruction I was given was “Ride in staggered formation and keep as close as possible to the person in front.” Easier said than done I have to say! Now keeping in mind that most of the riding I’ve done over the last 6 months has been in pretty remote areas where you can go for miles before you see another vehicle, having to ride at a distance of approximately 10 feet from the bike in front, came as something of a challenge to me. Add to that the fact that I had absolutely no idea where we were going and was surrounded by enormous Harley Davidsons, and you have all the makings of some truly appalling riding from yours truly. Arriving at Harry’s Pie Shop (a local Sydney institution) at Woollamolloo, I was, once again, a jibbering wreck. After pouring out my terror to anyone who would listen it seemed to clear my nerves a bit and on the way back I got it together and did a much better job of keeping tight with the other riders and actually found I really enjoyed myself.
Glenn & Emilia, John and the rest of the NBSR are a fabulous group of people and my heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who chatted to me and made me feel so welcome. And special thanks go out to Glenn and Emilia who welcomed me into their home, barely knowing me, and showed me some of the local sights of the area. I am truly grateful.
I also got a chance to take a ride out to Palm Beach (aka “Summer Bay”), where “Home & Away” is filmed and saw a few of the key landmarks used in the series.
Now I’m back at the Northern Beaches YHA and feeling a mixture of deep gratitude and nervous exhaustion. Although it was lovely meeting everyone at the NSBR I do find meeting lots of new people quite nerve-racking so its nice to be able to spend a bit of time alone again.
I’ll stay here till Tuesday or Wednesday then make my way down to Bateman’s Bay where I’ll see my dear old friends Rod & Kim.
Posted by Jill Maden at 05:20 AM
Wednesday 9th February 2011 – When I left Byron Bay it was a cold, drizzly morning. In fact, it got so cold at one point, I had to pull over and dig out my windproof jacket. However, by the time I arrived in Port Macquarie it had brightened up a bit and I was able to have a very pleasant stroll around the town.
The next day was also quite cool but again it brightened up later and by the time I got to Newcastle it was lovely. I decided to follow the Pacific Highway into the town instead of joining the Newcastle/Sydney Freeway, which took me all round the coastal beaches of Newcastle and beyond. It was really pretty.
Eventually I had to join the freeway which was very scarey but managed to make it to the YHA at the Northern Beaches by 3pm. I then made contact with Glenn and John from the Wilcannia servo and Glenn invited me round for dinner. So I had a lovely evening with Glenn, his wife Emilia, John and their other friends Mark & Stephan.
Posted by Jill Maden at 05:17 AM
February 07, 2011 GMT
Fun in the Sun
Monday 7th February 2011 – Byron Bay has been just what I needed, rest and relaxation in beautiful surroundings. The campsite is right on the beach and therefore benefits from cool sea breezes as well as warm sunshine. Its a bit of a hippy town – lots of massage clinics, art galleries and shops selling brightly coloured clothing. And more campervans than I’ve seen in my entire tour of Australia! Its a big surfing destination.
On Friday night a group of 20-something lads, then a group of 20-something girls, checked into the lodges next to mine. As you can imagine the 2 groups instantly bonded, the music was cranked up and the booze began to flow. God bless them, they very kindly asked if I would like to join them, so I had a cocktail, then politely left them to it. Just as well I’m pretty deaf as I managed to sleep through the ensuing din.
Saturday was spent cleaning the bike, wandering around and acquainting myself with the town and walking up and down the beach in my bikini in an attempt to get a tan. I mention this only because in a town full of 20 year old stick insects, one does become particularly conscious of one’s “fuller figure”. Anyway, I managed to get a bit of a tan and second degree burns on the areas that I missed with the sunscreen.
Sunday I went sea kayaking. This was brilliant fun and as they didn’t have enough canoes for everyone I got paired up with one of the guides, Shane, a very attractive man from New Zealand. Shane encouraged us all to stand up and see if we could see some dolphins from an “aerial perspective” which resulted in me nose-diving into the sea. Later, a shoal of fish were having a feeding frenzy on the surface but no dolphins were to be seen. Shane then leant over and said “Just between you and me, it probably means there’s sharks about.” Jesus Christ, thank god he didn’t tell me that before I had my little dip! On the way back in, a lady got a bit panicky so Shane offered to take her back in. This, of course, meant I had to get onto her kayak – this time I managed not to plunge into the water but I ended up on my back with my legs split between the 2 drifting canoes before I finally managed to pull myself aboard – not the most elegant manoeuvre!
Today it was wet and windy so I did a pile of laundry in the morning then took a walk up to the lighthouse. Oh, it was so nice to feel the cool wind and rain on my skin after so many days of sweltering heat.
Tomorrow I shall leave this wonderful place and continue heading south to Sydney. Probably stop at Port MacQuarrie.
Posted by Jill Maden at 08:19 AM
February 04, 2011 GMT
Friday 4th February 2011 – The ride from Gin Gin to Noosa Heads found me in a rotten mood. I was hot and tired and fed up with riding alone and not having anyone to talk to. And more road works – at one point I got so hot waiting in a long queue of traffic that I pulled the bike over to the side, got my bottle of water and started pouring it all over myself. It was only when I’d finished that I realised the truck driver behind me was watching the whole affair!
Anyway, I found the YHA and booked in. Another small, stuffy room with no air conditioning, I was not a happy bunny. However, I managed to make contact with my brother’s friend, Andrew, and the next day he came and took me off to the comfort of their gorgeous country home, complete with swimming pool, fans and air conditioning. I had a really lovely visit with Andrew and his family, so, when I left this morning I found myself in floods of tears again. It was just so nice to be with people I knew again and to be looked after.
I left about 9.30 this morning which ensured I missed the rush hour traffic into Brisbane but meant I ended up doing most of the 300km to Byron’s Bay in the sweltering heat of the day. It seems to take me longer to cover distances when its really hot and it was 4pm before I got to the Bay. Unfortunately, the YHA was booked out, so I found a campsite which had small “lodges” available and booked into one of these for 3 nights. After all the travelling of the last few days, I feel exhausted and need to recharge.
The good news is, I’ve managed to make contact with Glenn & John, the two guys who rescued me in the middle of the desert on my way to Mount Molloy, so I’ll be stopping off in Sydney to see them later in the week.
Posted by Jill Maden at 10:04 AM
February 01, 2011 GMT
Tuesday 1st February 2011 - Having fled south for the last 3 days like a Wild West outlaw, it would appear I’ve managed to outrun the most imminent danger. I’ve just seen a TV report saying the cyclone is currently heading towards Cairns.
Thank goodness, I’m not sure I could keep this pace up much longer (I’ve been doing 400-500km a day). I saw a newspaper report this morning saying Yasi was heading for Rockhampton which almost made me weep as I couldn’t have taken riding all this way and still getting hit with it.
Anyway, I’ve made it to Gin Gin today. I left Carmila at 6.15am and whacked off the first 128km to Marlborough by 7.30. One serving of bacon & eggs and 2 cups of tea later, I was back on the road and was in Rocky by 9.30. Then it all started going pear shaped. You’ll probably be aware that Rockhampton was one of the towns badly hit by the floods? Well, although there wasn’t a lot of evidence of it in the town itself (either they've done a spectacular clean up job or my route just didn't go past the worst areas), there were countless road works where they were piecing the road back together again between there and Gin Gin so progress became quite slow.
Most of the time I’m quite happy riding along by myself, but today, I could really have done with some company. Mile after mile of endless bush and only my thoughts to keep me company. So you may wonder what I think about while I’m beetling along. Well, for a long time I had the constant criticism of some anonymous person in my head justifying every move I made, but now, I seem a lot more at peace. The main thing I seem to do is read road signs, you know, “Road Work Ahead, Reduce Speed”, “DIP”, “What is the highest mountain in Queensland?” – yes, that was one of the signs today. Because its such a boring stretch of road the authorities suggest you should play “trivia games” to stop yourself from nodding off and this is one they give you to get you started. All very well if you’ve got someone to play it with! (The answer, by the way, is Mount Bartley Frere, or something like that.)
So off to Noosa tomorrow where I’ll hopefully get to stop for a few days.
Posted by Jill Maden at 06:38 AM