Sunday, 14 June 2009

A Wintersun Adventure Part 4

Days 5 & 6 - Conargo-Ardlethan-Canberra

It's cold and bleak when I leave my 1800's style room at the Conargo Pub, watched by a beady-eyed wedgetail eagle. It waits till I am only about 10 metres away before it rises from the roadside with an unhurried stretch of its massive wings. Magnificent.

The polite young bloke behind the counter in the roadhouse at Jerilderie is from Canberra, spending his gap year out there in the middle of nowhere! When I comment that a roadhouse on the outskirts of Jerilderie is an unusual choice of venue – most folk choose Europe - he says it's character building, and that it makes you appreciate a lot of things you used to take for granted. I love how everyone you meet on the road has a story – there are no 'ordinary' folk.

Is it just me, or is the cold getting more intense? I spot birds of prey perched sleepily on fence posts and road signs. They seem sluggish in the early chill (or perhaps their prey is too cold to be out foraging at the moment.) On go the heated grips, and even though I'm rugged up in several layers, I'm none too warm. By the time I reach the roadhouse outside Narrandera my stomach is rumbling, my shoulders are stiff with the cold and I need something hot to try and heat myself from the inside out.

The map tells me my destination for the day is a lot closer than I'd realised, and I reach Ardlethan mid-late morning and realise I've forgotten how to get to Mick's place. I have to send out a distress call, and a couple of minutes later, there's Mick.

Mick, AKA Popeye, is another bike adventurer. We met about 3 years ago, when he joined Gaye, Deb & I on a 3 day midsummer trip through the Snowies to Corryong and Beechworth. An ex-Navy man, he's got a quick wit, a loud laugh and a big heart. He stirs me mercilessly (but I put up with him anyway, ha ha – we bicker like brother and sister.)

In borrowed trackie dacks and jacket (all my gear is filthy, remember?) I hop into Mick's 4WD and we go out to the now-defunct tin mine in the afternoon. Mick takes some great photos – big sky and colour a specialty – and he's hoping for some good sunset shots. It's still hours till sunset though, so I get the guided tour of the mine. Gorgeous granite out that way, and all sorts of poo. Don't laugh, it's fascinating! The wombat poo is always on the highest spots, rabbits seem to have a designated dunny, and the roo poo is just everywhere! (The roos, however, are nowhere to be seen.)

We amuse ourselves for hours, chucking rocks down a hill.
“Betcha can't hit that dead tree.”
“Betcha I can.”
“OK, now try and hit that flat rock.”
Grown-ups R Us...

The sunset, when it comes, is pretty, but not all that special. The moonrise though.... wow! Mick takes a million and one photos, then it's back into town for bourbon & coke, chips and gravy, and some delicious vegetable soup made by Mick's lady. And a quiet evening in front of the telly.

My Wintersun odyssey is almost over when I thank Mick for his hospitality and begin the last leg of the trip home. It's even colder today than it was yesterday, and I put the wet weather gear over the top of everything else, just to keep the wind out.

Cold turns into freezing fog, but I'm sustained by my heated hand-grips and the thought of the scalding shower I will have when I get home. I finally pull into my driveway around the middle of the day, looking forward to putting on a load of washing, giving Oscar Bin Laden a cuddle and leaping into a steaming shower. I'm knackered, but what a wonderful sort of knackered it is.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

A Wintersun Adventure Part 3

Day 4 - Mildura-Conargo

Disaster update: I can't get rid of the smell of horrible burst milk cartons in my Ventura bag. Anybody got any tips?

After so much rotten weather in Mildura it was lovely to wake up to a bright sunny morning on Sunday. Having said that, it was also kind of bittersweet, coz it was time to break camp and head towards our various homes.

For Nev & Jo, who left home in Melbourne before the Unaugural in early May, and whose tour took them all the way to Cairns and back, it was probably a bit exciting! After a month of living out of your panniers, the thought of a hot shower in your own home is probably very enticing. I guess that's why they headed off early.

The rest of us took our time, though, and spun out the farewells as long as we could. It had been an hilarious weekend and a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and to make new ones. I had lovely cuddles while waiting for Smack to say his farewells to Marty. It was halfway through the day before I headed off towards Jerilderie, which was supposed to be my stopping point on Sunday night.

The weather went bung again, and riding across the Hay plains was actually a bit scary. The sky had that apocalyptic look to it again, and I rode into a massive downpour that had visibility down to about 20 metres. To either side of the road, all I could see was the dome-like shapes of saltbush apparently floating in a sea of rain, and the road ahead was nothing but a haze of rain spatter – no bitumen visible at all. The rain hurt as it hit my gloves, and had me wondering whether it was rain or hail.

I turned onto the Cobb Highway and headed towards Deniliquin. I'd decided that I would stay wherever I happened to be at 4pm, and hoped it would be Jerilderie. It wasn't. The landscape was ugly and hostile-looking – very much along the lines of Henry Lawson's “Up the Country” - and I rode through a couple more torrential downpours.

In a place of big sky it's really awe-inspiring (if scary!) to see storms moving around, like giant predators prowling across the sky – freaky stuff.

At 4pm I was still about 80kms from Jerilderie, so I stopped at the famous Conargo Pub and grabbed a room for the night. Oh, what a lovely lovely hot shower I had...

You know, the fabulousness of a hot shower makes 2 days of cold rain and wet clothes absolutely worth it! I had a distinct shortage of clean/dry things to wear, though, and almost everything I owned reeked of dampness, campfire smoke or sour milk. NOOOOOOO!

The Conargo pub is in the middle of sheep country, and the bar is hung with an inordinate number of portraits of award-winning merinos, pictures of flocks of sheep, cartoons about sheep judging... sheep, sheep, sheep.... They're very serious about their sheep out that way. No wonder there are so many Kiwis in Conargo *evil evil grin*.

I thought I would have a fantastic night's sleep in the very rustic but dry accommodation – with an electric blanket, a lockable door and everything- but it was a shocking night! After a delicious dinner of roast lamb and steamed vegies I was in bed by about 8pm – and spent most of the night waking up at every sound. I kept dashing out to check on my bike or go to the loo. Blood-curdling shrieks woke me a couple of times in the middle of the night... Bunyips?

It wasn't till the next day, as I rode past a sign near Narrandera ' “Koalas cross here” that I realised the nocturnal noise was probably cranky koalas having a bit of a stoush – or perhaps some pissed-off possums.

After Conargo – destination Ardlethan, and a visit with my mad mate Mick.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A Wintersun Adventure Part 2

Days 2 & 3 - Balranald–Mildura

Just a short run from Bally to Mildura. Ted from the Shamrock Motel told me at breakfast that two riders had come in the previous night in the dark and the rain, and he thought they were heading to Wintersun as well. They were. We all got chatting while I was loading up the Bomber, and my new “friends”, Steve & Ollie from Sydney, invited me to ride the rest of the way with them. Thanks guys!

And a pleasant ride it was too, in lovely weather (apart from a horse that was spooked by the bikes in Euston – I thought it was about to gallop right into us!)

Nev & Jo met me in Mildura and I followed them to the rally venue, where we waited for Johno to arrive. I've been waiting to meet Johno for EVER, and he was just as much fun as I'd expected. AND he's not as ancient as everybody had led me to believe (either that, or he IS ancient, and he has a Dorian Gray picture in the attic somewhere!)

pic used with permission Craig Galbraith. L-R, Jo, Johno, Betty

People arrived, by and by, and pretty soon there were about 15 of us from

Tents were put up, shopping was done, the campfire was lit (Jo is an absolute demon fire-maker!) and the fun began. There was much checking of the Bureau of Meteorology radar on iPhones, some general tweeting and a bit of Facebooking. I bet rallies weren't like that in the old days!

There was great hilarity and much laughter. Many Mallee-burgers were scoffed, and then the rain came down. Lots of rain.

My stupid tent was full of water and all my gear was soggy by the time I went to bed, and late-night thoughts of flash-flooding and drowning in my tent caused a mini-panic that was masterfully averted by Johno and Pisshead (you guys rock!) One day I'll turn it into a comedy skit, but at the time it was pretty horrible.

So that was Friday.

Saturday dawned, but I missed it. I also missed Johno leaving, although I heard he had a mishap in the mud. It was seriously slippery out there. Anyway, people spent the rest of the weekend talking about Johno's skidmarks (aren't friends fabulous?)

It took a while for me to regain my equilibrium (and possibly my sobriety) on Saturday, but regain it I did. The nice thing about something like Wintersun is that you can do as much or as little as you want.

Like the gymkhana. Our very own G-S won the bungee-pull again (YAY TEAM!), with brute strength and a bit of ballast. G-S & Jodz both ended up covered in mud, and Molly didn't – how does that work, that grown-ups can be muddier than a 7 year-old?

So Jodz took a spill in the mud, and poor Kat nearly knocked her own head off – ouch! It made my eyes water just watching it! Smee got some great video clips: They're on youtube...
One thing led to another, and somehow more wine was drunk that evening, and there was even more laughter on Saturday than there'd been on Friday.

AND – won the Best Club Representation award (how ironic, for a 'virtual club'!) YAY TEAM!

There were kisses by the campfire and a dry tent, too. Does life get any better?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A Wintersun Adventure Part 1

Day 1 - Canberra - Balranald

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The weather wasn't looking great. In fact, there was fog at my front door... But hey, when your destination is hundreds of kilometres away, the local weather isn't all that relevant, right?

50kms later, as the fog thickens and becomes even colder, I wonder about that...

The fog thins and I am delighted, but then a pathetic half-rain situation emerges. My dilemma - to don or not to don the wetties??? The rain looks a bit pathetic and I figure Gundagai's not that far - so I do not don... and I live to regret it as the rain intensifies. 100kms in the grand scheme of things is not really very far... but rain can go from a spit to a shit in about 50 metres... (lesson learnt!!!)

So - quite a day really. Canberra to Balranald is around 600kms in a westerly direction. I didn't get a glimpse of blue sky till Hay...

Interesting footnotes re Day 1:

3 cop sightings -
(1) McDonalds, South Gundagai
(2) Service station, Narrandera
(3) Sturt Highway between Hay and Balranald - a Highway patrol car caught an unsuspecting sucker on the Hay Plains....that's really cruel! The Hay plains must be one of the longest, straightest, best visibility hoon-spots on the planet!

You have to remember to watch out for stock on the road, though...

There's a weird thing about stock on the road - it never seems to have any road sense, and critters never behave the same way! The humungous mob of sheep I encountered was a cack. I reckon there must've been at least 500 sheep, with a combined IQ of about 20. The ones with a modicum of intelligence stayed off the road as I passed. The really dumb attention-seekers saw me coming and leapt onto the road in front of my bike, grinning stupidly. All it took was a beep, and they went "Duh, oh, yup, ok...." and bolted.

Sheep aside, though - the weather on the Hay plains was the Big Ticket item on Day One of my Wintersun Adventure. The clouds were just MEGA!

Try and picture a tiny little motorcycle on a tiny road going across a vast empty space. The terrain is truly nearly empty - saltbush here and there... grey earth, red earth, yellow earth... saltbush... that's about it. It's absolutely dead flat, and nothing is more than about a metre tall.

The sky, however, appears to be less than 20 metres above you, and it looks very very pissed off. There are banks of flat-bottomed iron grey clouds hanging over your head like giant anvils. They look so heavy that you wonder how the hell they stay up there, and expect them to come crashing down around you at any second. It's spooky.

I have this weird feeling that the Finger of God is about to poke out of the clouds. Charlton Heston's voice will boom something meaningful at me, and I will be taken up... but I have a rally to go to, so I increase my speed (no doubt, to just under the speed limit *giggle*) and eventually I arrive at the Shamrock Motel in Balranald.

My cartons of longlife milk have exploded somehow (perhaps they were touched by the Finger of God?) and my entire bike smells of milk. Shit. That means in about 3 days my entire bike will smell of yoghurt. Aaaaaaarggh!

I do what I can to rinse the offending dairy product off, and contact the Captain (we met last time I was out this way in about November of last year). It's lovely to catch up and have Chinese down at Balranald RSL.

It's been a big day - no, a huge one!