The forecast was for rain. I hadn't ridden on wet roads very often and didn't have a lot of confidence in my own ability to ride safely in the wet. But then, I suppose that you only get confidence by actually riding in the rain. And rain, it did.
I arose early to the sound of rain drops on the patio roof. It was only a light shower, but it was persistent. The plan was to ride to Mittagong where I would meet up with my mate DeanO for the ride to Canberra where we'd over-night at his place. Then I'd ride with Dean to Cooma where he'd turn back and I'd proceed to Khancoban to meet up with John, Ray and Anna who were riding up from Melbourne.
After an overnighter, we were to take the long fast route to Taggerty, near Lake Eildon, for an overnight stay at John's and then to Werribee, where the journey south finishes. After a rest day, it was back home again. I had thought of taking the Putty Road south to Sydney to save the prospect of early-onset boredom. However, I had a deadline to make and wasn't sure how long that road would take. With the rain, it was probably a safer bet to take the Pacific Highway.
I set out on my BMW K1200GT at just after 8.30, all loaded and togged up. I had a full set of leathers on, as well as a rain over-suit that I'd had for a while, but had never been tested in the rain. It all felt very cumbersome at first. I was also a little apprehensive about the road and the traffic and took things fairly easy.
The rain fell steadily and gave little sign of letting up until I reached the outskirts of Sydney. I'm glad it finally did let up, as I didn't much like the prospect of heavy traffic on a wet greasy road. I don't think I could ever get used to the madness of Sydney traffic. I made it to the M2/M7 tollways and eventually headed south past Campbelltown away from the big smoke.
I arrived at out rendezvous within five minutes of the planned window, which wasn't bad as I hadn't been there before. However, Dean, on his R1150RS, passed by in the opposite direction, having missed the location and headed out onto the freeway. It would be another half hour before he found somewhere to turn around and return to our planned meeting place. And for his troubles, a passing rainstorm dumped its load and saturated him. After we filled up with fuel, it was time to fill us up. DeanO took us on a mix of back roads and highway to his favourite food place, the old truck stop at Marulan.
A hamburger and chips sure filled the belly, and the coffee was pretty good too. Having satisfied the hunger pangs, the rain having stopped, it was back out onto the highway down to Goulburn. It was here that we left the Hume to take in some of the back roads to Canberra.
As we meandered our way through Goulburn, I noticed a strange contraption outside the local wreckers. I just had to go back for a look and a photo (which I did on my return journey). There was a pink Hillman Imp front end with a Honda CB 250T rear end. I was not sure if the contraption was a Honda Imp or a Hillman 250, but I was pretty certain that despite the machine being an engineering marvel, the resulting beast was much less than the sum of its parts. However, Dean's concentration was fixed on a 4WD towing a trailer that was impeding our progress.
We eventually overtook said vehicle and proceeded to raise our touring speed. The road took us through Lake Bathurst and Bono to Doughboy. The road was relatively smooth, except for several patches where the local council was doing some work, and which the wet weather had turned to mud.
We then took the Kings Highway through Bungendore and Queanbeyan to the nations Capital. As we approached our day's final destination, the heavens again opened and we were greeted by a massive thunderstorm. Ringing wet, we arrived at Dean's place. Thankfully, the welcome was warm; the beer was cold; and the food, hot. We hung everything up to dry and had a good night's rest.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. The forecast was for good weather for the next few days. After a breakfast of barbecued bacon and egg sandwiches (mmm yum) and coffee, I gave my bike a quick tub to wash off the mud from yesterday and it was bags packed and off to Cooma. We tempered our exuberance in the knowledge that the Monaro Highway is often heavily policed. However, if there were any highway patrols around that Saturday morning, we didn't see any.
The road was in very good condition to cope with the many vehicles that travel that way during the ski season. Nevertheless, we merely sat on or just over the speed limit, enjoying the lovely weather and surveying the countryside. I was amazed at the myriad colours of the landscape, from the darkest greens, through khakis to browns, greys and pale yellows and every shade in between. However, the overwhelming feature was of dryness. While many of the fields had pastures for the sheep, they were, for spring, very dry and the many dams were mostly empty.
With summer still a month away, it does not auger well for a good season on the land in the Southern Highlands. Pretty soon we were cruising into Cooma. We located a coffee shop and parked the bikes out front. After coffee it was farewell to DeanO who rode back to Canberra. For me, it was the beginning of the next chapter in my adventure. I had two choices to get to Khancoban: the Snowy Mountains Highway and turning off at Kiandra through the Kosciuszko National Park or the Alpine Way through Jindabyne and Thredbo.
I'd done the Alpine Way before, albeit some 20 years ago, so I took off up the Snowy Mountains Highway. The road was smooth and open and I made good time. The weather was perfect, warm, despite the altitude and there was little breeze. What was even better was the lack of traffic; I only passed about six vehicles between Cooma and Kiandra.
The road from Kiandra to Khancoban is a ripper. It's listed as Ride 23 in Peter 'Bear' Theoming's Australia Motorcycle Atlas, although he rode it in the reverse direction. All up it's 79 kilometres of winding road that passes through Cabramurra, Australia's highest town. The traffic was even lighter than on the Snowy Mountains Highway, in fact, I didn't pass one vehicle going in the same direction that I was travelling in. I did, however, pass hundreds of bikes and numerous other vehicles coming towards me.
The road was fairly narrow in places and there were no lane markings, so it was a bit hairy on some corners with on-coming traffic. It was alright with the bikes, but some of the 4WDs wanted all of their side and some of mine. You would imagine that riding through a National Park that you would need to keep an eye out for animals - wombats, kangaroos, wallabies and possums. In fact, the Bear's book warns about that very thing. However, parts of the park had been subjected to catastrophic fires in recent years which had devastated swathes of forest.
In some places, whole mountains have been laid bare, with just skeletons where ancient snow gums once grew. In one place, I felt that I was riding through an enchanted forest where skeletal fingers of dead snow gums reach across the road from either side. In these sad places, there was no road-kill because the fires had either consumed or scared off all the forest inhabitants.
Eventually, I made it to Khancoban. I'd made a booking at the Alpine Inn over the internet. The place was easy to find and was motorcycle friendly. What's more, the motel is right next to the Pickled Parrot Hotel and Restaurant, which served cold beer and good tucker. As I waited for John, Ray and Anna to arrive, I had lunch and a refreshing ale. It would be another three hours before they turned up, so I had a look around the village.
The place has a history going back to the 1950s with the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It was used as a staging point for the construction teams that built that engineering marvel. Pretty soon the guys trundled up, John on his Ducati 999S and Ray and Anna on a Buell Ulysses. After reacquaintances and unpacking, we all retired to the bar for some refreshments. John then took a power-nap, while the rest of us took a walking tour of the village; it was very small and, except for the terrific rose garden, there wasn't much to see. We had a late dinner and retired to bed for an early start. The motel didn't serve breakfast, so it was off to Corryong to satisfy the hunger pangs. We found a bakery in the main street that was already doing a roaring trade with a number of bikes parked out front.
It seemed that the Coffin Cheaters were in town, or at least passing through. After ordering our food we dutifully sat out front to watch the passing parade of bikes. One rider, on a customised Harley, did a terrific impersonation of a stunt rider, pulling the most impressive wheelie I'd ever seen on a street bike. Our tummies filled, now it was time for our bikes. However, the local service station didn't have any premium.
Still, better to fill up on standard, than run the risk of running out looking for another servo. It would also be a test of our respective knock-sensors. The day's riding would take us on numerous B and C roads through Victoria's north-east. The roads would take us through some of the most picturesque countryside in the state; from the fertile Murray Valley, to the foothills of the Great Dividing Range.
Our first leg of the day's ride took us along the Murray Valley Highway to Tallangatta, Ride 53 in Bear's Atlas. The road meandered through rich farming country. There was only light traffic, allowing fast riding. After Tallangatta, we crossed over onto the Kiewa Valley Highway riding to Dederang where we turned off toward Myrtleford for our first stop of the day - morning tea at John's sister's place.
Myrtleford is quiet at this time of the year, but during winter, it serves as the base for many skiers visiting Mount Buffalo and Mount Beauty. We left Myrtleford, heading toward Wangaratta, but turned south before reaching the city. Eventually, we ended up at Whitfield where it was time to play. The road between Whitfield and Mansfield, Ride 49 in Bear's Atlas, was just designed for motorbikes. Bear describes it as "a terrific road, but take some care - it's very popular with Sunday riders". Well it was Sunday and we were out for a good ride.
The road has a mixture of tight technical corners and fast open curves. Sadly, not all of the tight corners are well signposted and I nearly came to grief at one 45 km/h corner that I arrived at too fast. Nevertheless, we had a great time and arrived at Mansfield safely. There was no short cut to our day's destination, so it was a big loop around Lake Eildon to Alexandra and then a quick ride (with quick being the operative word) to Taggerty and lunch. Lunch? it was three o'clock in the afternoon!
The others tucked in to smoked trout and cheese, but I satisfied myself with coffee and cookies. From there it was just a short ride to John's place where we would spend the night. John lives on a 100 acre property that was once cattle grazing country. It now has a plantation of timber that stretches off into the distance from his back veranda. Beyond the boundary of John's property is Cathedral Mountain, which serves as a picturesque backdrop to the newly planted forest.
On Monday, instead of taking the easy route down the Maroondah Highway through Healesville, we took the road that would keep us out of suburbia for as long as possible through Yea, Flowerdale and Whittlesea. Nevertheless, the closer we got to Melbourne, the heavier the traffic became, and so eventually, we just went with the flow.
With a brief detour to an international courier to drop off a package for John, it was the freeway city to Werribee and home for Ray and Anna. Tuesday was a rest day (and a bike free day) where Ray showed me the sights of the city. I haven't lived there for over 16 years and many things have changed, not all for the better.
Still, it seemed to be much easier to drive around Melbourne than Sydney, not that that's saying much. Wednesday signalled the beginning of the end as I left Melbourne to head north and home. I had toyed with the idea of taking the long way back, but home beckoned and the quickest way was up the Hume Highway. I made it to the border on one tank of fuel sitting on the speed limit and another tank to Goulburn where I spent the night.
The mind was willing to go further, but the body was tired and aching from sitting in one position for so long. After another overnight stay in a hotel (my last for the trip) it was home. To welcome me back to Marulan, the heavens opened up again, but the rain only lasted for about half an hour. Then it was the tollway, freeway and home. One more tank of fuel took me to within a few clicks of the Terrace. All in all it was a week of great riding, on great roads with great friends.