Monday, 26 October 2009

Random Observations

Some days are good days to stay under the doona.

Today is one of those days. A 2.30am wake-up. I still can't breathe properly – hard to fill my lungs. It's been like this, on and off, for 3 weeks, and chronic for the last 4 days. Then there was the nice little puddle of cat vomit on the floor this morning. Nearly went arse over in it. Thanks Oscar...

The loneliness of the long-distance lover is awful.

Miscommunication is too easy and resolution is too hard. Silences turn into voids. No such thing as make-up sex, just a festering sadness that won't go away.

The house appears to have shrunk.

How else to explain the fact that the giant dead fridge won't fit through any doorways? I may have to turn it into a fourth bedroom and rent it out.

My new trousers appear to have grown.

They're falling down my hips. If they get any bigger they are going to fall off and embarrass me terribly.

This Xanax isn't working.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pilgrimage 09 - Phillip Island MotoGP Part 5

Day 5 – Homeward Bound, and the Luck of the Irish

My ancestry is fairly mongrellated – a Heinz 57 Variety of English, Scottish, Irish, French and German, but on the Phillip Island weekend I think I had the luck of the Irish. Or perhaps Irish luck.

Let me explain. It was Irish when my gear shifter fell off at Wangaratta. It was the luck of the Irish that it fell off as I was leaving the servo, not on the open road – and that Leon was behind me, instead of me being on my own.

When I got to the Phillip Island House, it was Irish to drop the bike in the driveway, but the luck of the Irish that I didn't snap too much off my clutch lever this time, and that I only bent the recalcitrant gear shifter, for a change, instead of breaking it. The bike was rideable.

So anyway – Monday dawned cloudy and a bit drizzly at the Island, and the lovely Smack got up early to get the bike out of the driveway for me, so as to avoid the possibility of more mishaps. Bless you Smack!

Getting off the Island at 7am was easy – hardly any traffic! I'd studied the map carefully and written directions for myself. All was well. Once I found my way to Healesville I would simply go the way I went a couple of weeks ago – too easy!

And then there was the Irish thing again. Or maybe it was the luck of the Irish...

Remember when the lovely people from Alexandra Motorcycles patched my bike a couple of weeks ago? Well, a few kms from Alexandra I thought it'd be nice to drop by and say hello as I passed through town.

About 500 metres from the shop – clunk – that bloody gear shifter fell off again as I changed down a gear. That it happened at all was Irish. That it happened where it did was the luck of the Irish.

And don't ask me how it happened – I think the lack of a gear shifter got me all confused and bamboozled by the time I nursed the bike the rest of the way to the shop, trying not to let it stall. As I pulled up out the front – Irish – the bike spat me off.

The luck of the Irish – the car behind me didn't run me over – and I didn't tear any ligaments as I leapt (not quite with the grace of a gazelle) off the falling bike, AND – Chris, the mechanic, was out the front. He dashed over and picked up my bike – (violin music please) – what a joyful reunion!

So I had an extended catch-up with my new friends in Alex (thanks heaps guys – love your fab custom work, Chris!) and left the shop sporting a new set of cats-eye blinkers and a reattached gear shifter. Time was getting away from me, and I only stopped for fuel. I really wanted to take the nice roads home, but by the time I reached the Tallangatta turn-off I realised it was going to have to be a Hume Highway ride... and it was such gorgeous riding weather, too. Boo hiss.

I pulled into my driveway at 6.13pm, stiff and sore and tired. Pilgrimage 09 is now officially done and dusted. Phew!

Pilgrimage 09 - Phillip Island MotoGP Part 4

Day 4 – the Big Race

I actually beat Clem et al to the track on Sunday – amazing! My transformation to racing fan is now complete, ha ha!

I fall off my bike a lot – this is a well known fact – so it does my heart good to know I'm not the only one – but seeing racers flying through the air or sliding in the gravel still unsettles me.

There were some fairly scary offs at the track on Sunday morning. Chris Knox cartwheeled along the Gardiner Strait and lay motionless on the track for a moment as other riders whizzed past him, which scared the hell out of me. I nearly cried with relief when he actually moved. When the riders come off at off at such high speeds it always amazes me when they actually move again. Even more so when they get back on their bikes and finish the race! Chris was in no condition to get back on, on this occasion, and was ferried away in the medical car. I bet he's pretty sore right now.

Race Day brings a lot of day-trippers to the Circuit, so the crowds were enormous and the atmosphere was festive. I wandered around, met up with my friend Tempo, checked out Gaye's Earmold stand and the Judd Greedy memorial display, then headed back to the stand to settle down to a serious day's entertainment and race-watching.
(Casey's bikes, with new white livery, during Sunday morning's motoGP practice session)

(Casey Stoner in the drive past)

(Alex de Angelis - I love how his beanie matches his helmet - nice touch, Alex!)

Casey Stoner, you little beauty! The battle between Casey and Valentino was monumental, with the gap as low as .3 of a second at times. Our eyes were glued to the pit-boards each lap – what a nail-biter!

Lorenzo's Luck was all bad, unfortunately, and Nicky Hayden had a gutsy ride, giving it everything he had, despite running off the track when Lorenzo binned his ride at Turn 1 in the first lap.
(The crowd starts to spill over the track to the podium, awaiting the conquering heroes...)

(...and still they spill...)

( see this - (1) Stoner, (2) Rossi, (3) Pedrosa...)

My Queensland ride buddies departed straight after the podium presentation – see you for Superbikes, folks - and I found my Housemates for the trip back to the House.

The exodus after the race is pretty spectacular – imagine about twenty thousand motorcycles all trying to get off the Island at once (the other half will leave in the morning). The roar of the engines is a low thundery growl that continues for hours after the race. The police and SES do a terrific job of moving so many people with as little chaos as possible.

(The exodus begins)

The final night at the House was very low key and relaxing – a BBQ, a few quiet drinks, some TV and an earlyish night. Johno was leaving for Adelaide at around 2am and my aim was to head off at 7am, to try and find my way back to Canberra by myself.

Pilgrimage 09 doesn't end till I reach my front door, and there are sure to be more adventures between leaving PI and reaching Canberra (hold that thought – there's one more instalment to come!)

Pilgrimage 09 - Phillip Island MotoGP Part 3

Day 3 – A Day at the Races, a Night at the House

Phillip Island at motoGP time means different things to different people. For me, going to Phillip Island means many things – I love the long ride to get there, and the physical and mental challenges it involves; it's a social event where I catch up with many bike friends – and most of all, it's about the racing.

People create traditions at PI. The crazy people at the House do a Beer Lap of the circuit on the Saturday. That means a beer at each beer tent around the track (they take all day to do it).

I (occasionally) know my limits – so I left them to it and went to find the Queenslanders and watch some racing. Hmmm. I was still a tad seedy after the excesses of Friday night.

This year we had seats in the Gardiner Strait stand, with a view of the Start/Finish line and the pits. The noise! The colour! The atmosphere!

gNat took me for a walk to the Support Paddock to view the 'man-candy' (her words, not mine!) That girl is wicked! She was quite correct when she said there was lots to see, heh heh.
(gNat: 'You want to come and see some serious man-candy, Sue?'
Sue: Oh, if I must...)

I rejoined the (somewhat tipsy) House people for the trip back to the House and BBQ night. We were joined by Ausmoto folk Slej & Leah, Nev & Jo, and my mate Katt (of Terrible Trio fame).
(Katt & Sue meet up again)

('Hey Smack, your fly is undone!' Slej & Johno helping out a mate)

Johno was in his element, wearing his special hugging shirt (oh my eyes!) and hugging as many people as he could get his hands on, including Smack. What a night!
(Johno hugs Jo)

(Johno hugs Leah)

(Johno hugs Smack)

Pilgrimage 09 - Phillip Island MotoGP Part 2

Day Two – In Which the Disasters (and the rain) Continue

There was a certain reluctance to leave the warmth of Leo & Di's place on Friday morning, but leave we did, all rugged up against more rotten weather.

It's only a hundred and something kilometres from Warburton to the Island, on some lovely roads – which weren't quite so lovely in the piddling rain, but never mind. We wrung every drop of value out of it, with the XJ misbehaving worse than ever. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and eventually, in desperation, we pulled into a car park at Pakenham and Clem changed the spark plugs. Ooh, that worked. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

Onwards and upwards, we made the Island by around mid-Friday and went our separate ways - Clem & gNat to Rockit's place, and me to Smack's. After the horrors of Thursday's ride I thought the worst was over, and promptly dropped the bike in the driveway of the house. Oops goes my new clutch lever, and oh dear, the gear shifter that had fallen off at Wang acquired a bit of a bend. As for me? Unscathed, apart from a whopping great lump on my shin and a shitload of damage to my pride.

The party people at the house were ready to rock and roll, and a night in Cowes just about did me in. I was fine till we tried leaving the pub. It was serious wall-to-wall people stuff. Actually, I can't write about it, because just thinking about it makes me breathe funny.

Fast forward to the house a little later, where more party people arrived. So many strangers in one day, and I couldn't switch off the anxiety, so I tried to drown it with red wine. I sort of succeeded, but I wasn't in good shape for Saturday's 'Beer Lap' of the Phillip Island circuit.

Pilgrimage 09 - Phillip Island MotoGP Part 1

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The odyssey begins...

The Queensland contingent – Leon, Clem and gNat, arrive shivering in Canberra on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday morning the intrepid adventurers leave Chez Betty under gruesome grey skies. The forecast for the next few days is a bit grim. Meh.

At Yass I put on my wet weather gear 'just in case'. At the very least, it'll keep out the chill of the wind.

'Did you bring wet weather gear?' says I.

'No,' says Clem. 'We don't need that sort of thing in Queensland.' Uh-oh, think I, eyeing the evil dark clouds with a sense of impending disaster.
(on the Gocup Road just outside Gundagai - 'What wet weather gear?')

So – by Tumut it's raining properly, and the jeans of Clem & gNat are starting to look a bit soggy.

In Batlow it's raining. Clem keeps lagging behind, and thoughts of hypothermia loom large in my brain.

There's freezing rain in Tumbarumba, but there's a shop in the main street that sells waterproof pants. Poor gNat huddles by the heater, looking totally miserable. 'I want to go hoooooome!' she wails.

More suitably attired (and looking extremely stylish, heh heh) - and with bellies warmed by hot soup, we press on to Jingellic. It's raining there. We cross the Murray River into Victoria, and it's raining there too. There's rain as we head through Granya Gap, and on all the lovely sweeping roads along the Murray Valley Highway to Tallangatta. But it's not raining in Tallangatta!

Unfortunately, the brief spot of sunshine there is very fleeting. Some serious rain starts, and we head to Wodonga. We last saw Leon as he rode past us in Tumbarumba, where, by the way, did I mention it was raining?

Clem's XJ750 has started misbehaving. Uh-oh. Surprise surprise, it's raining in Wodonga. We pull over so Clem can drain the carbies, then head down the Hume Highway – we need to get to Warburton before dark, and with all this rain we seem to be taking a very long time.

Leon appears at the servo outside Wangaratta. This is fortuitous. The sun, incredibly, comes out. This is also fortuitous, because when Clem manages to get the XJ started, he daren't stop, and he roars off into the distance just as my gear shifter falls off at the servo exit. Yes, falls off. Completely.

Leon performs some quick roadside surgery as the next bank of black clouds approaches, and the rain holds off until we are back on the road. Clem & gNat are waiting for me at the Euroa servo, and we bid Leon farewell as he heads to his Thursday destination.

If you think things have been intense thus far, think again – the worst is yet to come!

The rain somehow gets worse, and colder. Clem has the bright idea of taking a shortcut through Marysville, which was almost wiped out in the bushfires last summer, and beyond that, the Reefton Spur.

Holy dooley – the devastation is terrifying. Dead trees and bare rock are all that's left, and the high narrow road that snakes along the Spur is littered with bark and twigs – and at one point, a fallen tree that has to be cleared from the road before we can continue. I'm so cold that I can't feel my hands, and my anti-fog visor insert has failed me completely. I ride with the visor up, frozen rain needling my face, and try to fight the rising tide of panic.

It's just another road, say I, over and over, which, coincidentally, is exactly the thought that Clem is apparently willing me to think. Spooky!

Leo & Di's place in Warburton, with its roaring fire, is a haven for we three Icicles. Clemsicle's clothes are still wet from earlier in the day, and gNatsicle looks like a tiny bedraggled pixie. Betsicle's circulation is finally restored by the warmth of our hosts and the glass of red that Di hands her (you know me so well, Di! (chortle)) and we call it a night, relatively early, and all crawl exhaustedly to our various beds.

Day One has taken us through about 750kms of cold and wet terrain. The Phillip Island Adventure has begun...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Strike Three for the Helmet from Hell.

I tried, I really did. But the Helmet from Hell has to go. My beautiful (and expensive) Arai Vector 'Scream' makes me scream. Bugger.

I love love LOVE the way it looks. I love the special features it has – the eyebrow vents, the wider field of vision, the nifty visor replacement mechanism.

BUT – It has to go.

Strike One
It felt really comfortable in the shop, but on the road it gives me an earache. Don't know why, but my right ear starts to hurt after about 100kms. It's better than it was, so I was thinking it might keep improving. I've had it for 3 or 4 weeks now, though, and have taken it on some long trips, and it still hurts. So – that's Strike One.

Strike Two
It's the noisiest thing I've ever had on my head. And because of the weird earache it gives me, I can't actually wear my earplugs while I'm riding, or I get an even worse earache after about 50kms!

I could've tolerated these shortcomings. Honest. But today, riding back from the Central Coast in disgusting weather, the Helmet from Hell hit Strike Three.

Strike Three
The visor doesn't seal tightly against the helmet. There's a gap. In heavy rain, water gets INSIDE the visor! I couldn't see where the f*ck I was going at times because of the raindrops before my eyes! That's actually a safety issue, not a fitment issue. Bye bye Arai. You are doomed to be a very expensive spare helmet for occasional use in good weather only.

Thank goodness I haven't actually turned my old Nolan into a pot-plant holder yet. Must get a tinted visor for it.

An Adventure I Could've Done Without - an Evening in Accident & Emergency

I'm 50 years old. I'm a robust and reasonably active 50, and I misbehave as often as I can, so I haven't turned into an old chook yet, despite the nose hair, old-chook eyebrows, a few grey hairs and hot flushes.

I am, however, aware that 50 means I'm no longer a spring chicken. I'm sort of on the downhill run, I suppose, which is a horrible thought. So when, on Friday, I started having chest pains at work, I took them seriously. Seriously enough to clock off early and call into Calvary Hospital on my way home.

They were great. Within about 10 minutes I was in a bed in Emergency, covered in those sticky ECG dots and hooked up to a machine that goes beep.

They kept me there till almost midnight, gave me three ECGs, two lots of blood tests, several different drugs and a hot dinner!

The verdict? The pressure in my chest, and pain through to my back, shortness of breath and light-headedness may be all about menopause. Bloody hell! Martin, the doctor who looked after me, said that as they had discounted the 'worst case scenario' – a heart attack – it was more than likely an anxiety attack (anxiety is sometimes a feature of menopause, and as I already suffer from anxiety disorder (froot loop that I am) I suppose it was to be expected.

I felt like a right twit – clogging up a bed for hours – but the staff were terrific. 'You did the right thing to come in', they said. 'You can't muck about with chest pain. Better to be sure than sorry – or dead'. True.

I discovered, when I had a second 'episode' in Emergency, that I am allergic to morphine. That was interesting! Useful to know for future reference!

I also discovered that Accident and Emergency on a Friday night is a rather interesting place. The patient in the bed next to me was an OD. There was also someone who sounded like an elephant trumpeting, except he was actually screeching obscenities. Then there was the drunk who kept abusing the staff in the foulest language imaginable, until the police took him away. I can see why staff might get a bit cynical now and then...

Boomerang Boy was terrific. I'd phoned him to let him know where I was and why, and that I was ok, and to ask him to bring me a clear visor for when I was allowed to go home (can't ride in the dark with a tinted one). He appeared at my bedside at around 6, and didn't leave till I did, at almost midnight. I taught him how to do cryptic crosswords – and, strangely enough, we had a 'nice' time, considering where I was and why!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Fabulousness of Friends and the Kindness of Strangers – Part 2.

The last time I rode the Black Spur was with Clem and Leon from Brisbane, on the way to Phillip Island last year. The light was failing after my spill near Khancoban had delayed us by a couple of hours, and it was a bit like peak hour. We shared the magnificent twisty road with a bunch of commuters in cars who were all in a hurry, overtaking on corners etc and scaring me half to death. I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I could have, although I could appreciate the beauty of the road and the tall trees through which it winds.

Yesterday, though, was different. The Black Spur at first light, after a rainy night, came close to my idea of heaven. Everything smelled fresh and earthy and just-washed. Patches of mist wafted through the trees, and the best bit was that I pretty much had the place all to myself!
The sky became bluer, the sun warmer, and when I got close to Alexandra I just had to pull over to get a pic of the unbelieveable view. The Acheron Valley was filled with a creamy soup of fog, and treetops appeared to be bobbing about in it like a sort of ghostly broccoli. From my vantage point in brilliant sunshine above the fog, it would make a stunning photo.

And then my bike rolled off its side stand (or had a near miss with a kangaroo – pick whichever scenario is least embarrassing and believe it to be true.)

I said one or two bad words - hard to believe, I know – and started to unload the bike so I could try to pick it up. No luck, until a Guardian Angel in the form of a country girl called Megan appeared. Between us we picked up the fallen bike to survey the damage.

More bad words. Another clutch lever snapped.

Enter Guardian Angel #2 – a tradie called Dean, from the nearby town of Alexandra. An absolute mine of information, he called the local motorbike shop, and a short time later, Guardian Angel #3 – Chris, the mechanic from Alexandra motorcycle shop, appeared with a new clutch lever. When it turned out not to be compatible with my fussy Suzuki, he headed back into Alex. We said goodbye to Dean, who headed off to work, and Megan waited with me for the return of Chris – who brought the boss, Trevor (Guardian Angel #4) with him - and a van to ferry the bike into town.

Chris, Megan and Dean - Guardian Angels. You guys rock!

The lovely Megan (by this stage rather late for work) followed the van and dropped me in Alex.
Alexandra Motorcycles

What a fantastic group of total strangers, willing to put themselves out for a stranded ninny!

Chris worked some electrickery, some unbendage of bent bits and did some judicious taping of a broken indicator, and pretty soon I was ready to bid farewell to my new friends and head, rather late, for home.

The helmet from hell has a tinted visor, and I wasn’t carrying a spare clear one, so it was important to get back to Canberra before nightfall (country driving at night with a tinted visor – not a great idea!) I contemplated riding all the way home on the Hume Highway. That foolish notion lasted about 30 seconds. The road between Merton and Euroa is a beauty, and the brief stretch on the M31 from Euroa to Wangaratta made me realise that taking the freeway all the way home would bore me to death, so I came back home the way I went, through all those places with amazing names.

No time to stop for anything but fuel, and by Tumut I was starting to feel a bit queasy with hunger. At the fuel pump I shovelled in a handful of fruit and nuts, and had a swig of water before continuing into rainy weather.

The Canberra sky was a bit Armageddon-ish by the time I got home at 6.30. A hot bath and a glass of wine finished my day in style, before the rain started in for real. Bewdiful!

So – yet another road has broken bits of my bloody bike on it, and yet another country town has played host to the disaster area that is Betty. Once again I have been extremely fortunate to meet some of the kindest people ever. The bug population of south-eastern Australia has been reduced by 4 million (they were all on my visor!) and unfortunately, the crimson rosella population was reduced by one when a suicidal specimen flew into the side of my boot just outside Yackandandah. Erk (not to mention ouch!) Along the way I noticed that the recent dust storms have turned local sheep an interesting shade of red, and what a lovely contrast that is against the brilliant fuzzy-felt green that this part of the world has turned just recently. As a motorcyclist, I'm not a huge fan of rain - but what a difference it's made to the landscape!

It’s a bit of an anticlimax to have to go back to work today… And I’m absolutely knackered!

The Fabulousness of Friends and the Kindness of Strangers – Part 1.

My run from Canberra to Healesville was uneventful, although the weather was pretty iffy. Forecasts were spouting doom and gloom and snow in the high country, so I avoided doing that lovely ride through Kiandra & Khancoban, choosing instead to go via Batlow, Tumbarumba and Jingellic.

After a wee stop in Walwa, I backtracked a little bit and headed to Granya Gap – the road is magnificent (unless you happen to get caught behind a couple of caravans – grrrrr). And Granya Gap itself – what a lovely road!

I love Victoria rural roads and the way they’re all numbered. It makes finding your way around so much easier. I stopped for fuel and a leg-stretch at Tallangatta, before heading through places with such fabulous names as Tangambalanga, Yackandandah and Wangaratta!
My buddy Katt was waiting in Healesville, where I finally arrived after about 10-11 hours on the road. Oh my bum! Oh my shoulders! Despite having looked closely at the map, I didn't realise just how close to Melbourne Healesville is! Not a bad day's riding on some interesting roads...

On Saturday we took the bikes out for some nice twisty rides to Kinglake and St Andrews.
I love eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers, and had a ball on Saturday. In Kinglake, which was devastated in last summer’s awful bushfires, the conversations went something like:

“So, you rebuilding?”

“Yep, trying to.”
A terrifyingly twisty bit of road later (but geographically not far away), at the St Andrews Market, the conversations were more like this:

‘So yeah, like, it’s something I acknowledged in a past life as an issue, you know. So now I’m thinking about a tantra workshop’.

‘Yeah, tantra workshop’d be great.’ Serious hippie territory – it was fantastic! I’ve never seen so many dreadlocks in one place.

After riding around a lot and being pulled over by a friendly motorbike cop for a licence/rego check, we went down Myers Creek Road (the roads around Healesville are brilliant and the scenery, while a little blackened, it still gorgeous!) and headed to the Beechworth Bakery, which is a popular stopping place for a multitude of leather-clad bikers on their return from a fang on the Black Spur.

Yes, those are hot jam donuts in the bag. No wonder Katt’s grinning!
All the gluten and the massive sugar hit had Katt and I out of control by the time we got back to her place, so we played silly buggers on MSN and knocked off a couple of bottles of plonk.

The plonk explains the seediness of Sunday, and the rain didn’t help, so we went in the car to catch up with Maggles – the third member of the ‘Terrible Trio’. What a lovely girly afternoon – lunch at the Craigieburn Club, and then we played a kick-arse game of Scrabble.

Spent a quiet evening back at Katt’s, packing my bag (boo hiss) for the ride home and watching Casey Stoner kick some Rossi butt in his first ride back after a spell. The trip to Phillip Island’s getting close, and it was great to see Casey back on form!