Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The best laid plans...

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So there was some bike racing at Broadford in Victoria. My mate Kat and I planned to camp at the track and watch some racing, and maybe drum up some business for her leather repair business (Kat Kando), hand out some business cards, that sort of thing. It would be An Adventure. I loaded up my camping gear (I’m getting quite good at that) and off I went.

The first leg of said adventure took me through the Snowies – Adaminaby, Kiandra, Cabramurra - to Khancoban. I love that ride! First time I did it, a couple of years back, I was so terrified I almost cried, but now I just love it, especially on a weekday in decent weather.

I met my friend Stewie at Khancoban and followed him home to Albury. He’s very fast, but good to ride with because he occasionally slows down enough for me not to get lost. Stopped at roadworks just outside Albury, we were in danger of melting inside our riding gear, but eventually got to our destination about 5 minutes after my concentration span finally dissolved, and I found my melted brain taking me onto the wrong side of the road.

Thank goodness for paintstripper cleanskin (which was actually very tasty) as a restorer of equilibrium!

So – Saturday morning – off to Broadford. A boring highway ride followed by several instances of getting lost that took me about 30kms out of my way. A mix-up with mobile phones and numbers, and guess who didn’t end up getting to see any bike racing? My path and Kat’s didn’t cross, I left my ticket at the front gate for her (yes, I finally found the state motorcycle centre at Broadford!), and in the end I begged another night of accommodation at Stewie’s.

While I was having a fuel and Red Bull stop I met a crazy young Pommie adventurer called Paul at the Avenel Roadhouse. His R1 was loaded to the gills, and this Pommie adventurer had been across the Nullarbor 3 times (on an R1 – take that, Charley Boorman!) been sandblasted in a dust-storm, and ridden thousands and thousands of kilometres around Australia, including trips to Perth, Uluru, Phillip Island and Canberra. His enthusiasm was highly infectious, and I really enjoyed the half hour we spent chatting. You meet the nicest people on the road.

I had all Sunday to get from Albury to Canberra, so took the long way (no, not via the Nullarbor, that would be the sort of thing mad Pom Paul would do!) I went over Granya Gap to Walwa and Corryong, then thought I’d have a go at the scary road – the one that snakes up from Khancoban through Thredbo to Jindabyne.

What a wild, wildlife-filled ride – a wallaby hopped in front of me on Granya Gap, and a young wombat was wandering on the road near Walwa. A flock of willy-wagtails with a death-wish fluttered up in front of me near Corryong, and a large Eastern Grey roo bounded across the road near Tom Groggin. (Roos are tricky – where there’s one, there are usually more, so I kept a wary eye on the bush for more of the little buggers.) Add to that the hordes of youngsters who use that fine, twisty road as a Sunday race track, flinging their performance cars around the twisties with glee, and you’ll understand why I was absolutely buggered by the time I got back home, bug-covered but alive, on Sunday afternoon.

No racing, no camping, no Kat – it wasn’t quite what I’d planned, but hey – it was quite an adventure, all 1550kms of it. My new rear tyre is now officially 'scrubbed in'!

This little piggy went ennui ennui ennui...

It seems rather a long time since I said anything about my job situation. It still sucks. Didn’t even get an interview for the first teaching position I went for – not even an interview!

The ‘other government department’ I’d applied to back in January was resolutely silent. (Turns out, when I phoned them after weeks and weeks of silence, that they’d apparently undergone a restructure, and somehow neglected to tell me that the position was no longer available… Unfortunately, that is very typical Public Service stuff…) So anyway, I applied to another school, and BINGO – got an interview! A very positive interview it was, too, and I felt good about it until I heard, about a week later, from an ‘inside source’, that the boss wanted to hire someone else – someone who didn’t wear bike gear to a ride-in ride-out 45 minute interview at an unfamiliar place in the middle of a work day.

And then my inside source said, a few days later, after much intense lobbying, that things were looking a little more optimistic. That was last Thursday. There’s been a deathly silence since then, and you know what? I’m kind of over it. Do I really want to work for someone who’s silly enough to think that I would turn up in a classroom looking like some kind of Hell’s Angel? (and, quite apart from anything else, is more concerned about the way I might dress than the way I teach?)

So, as my optimism fades and I start looking forward to my next ride to Phillip Island, I wonder how to beat the ennui that characterises my current job. And the distinct lack of prospects that accompany said ennui.

Yet another government dept has shown a flicker of interest in me – no more money than I’m currently earning, but a change of scenery would be nice – the possibility of promotion at some later stage - and a transfer of leave benefits/superannuation and all that jazz… I think I shall encourage that flicker and see if I can fan it into a flame.

Watch this space. Again.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Jodie's Fab Fortieth

The aus.moto contingent gets stuck into it!

Maldon is a tiny town in rural Victoria; a heritage-listed goldmining town straight out of the 19th century. It was also the location for ausmoto buddy Jodie's fabulous fortieth festivities last weekend.

I hopped on my trusty motorbike on Friday and was greatly rewarded - inspiration for a novel hit me just outside Tarcutta, NSW, and I spent fifteen minutes crouched in the gutter in the shade of my bike, scribbling ideas into a hastily-bought exercise book before they evaporated. I was also treated to a home-cooked meal by another bike friend, Stewie, later on in Albury. Life's good!

Getting lost in Bendigo was fun, apart from the fact that as well as being lost, I was busting for a wee and couldn't find a loo. These days I find that a full bladder prevents my brain from functioning. Will go back to explore Bendigo one day - the little bit I saw of it was just beautiful - but last weekend I was on a mission to Maldon, and didn't stick around.

Maldon's population pretty much doubled as people came from all over the place to celebrate the milestone birthday with Jodie – what a great day & night it was too, with a tent city springing up in the back yard, and much consumption of beer, chateaux cardboards and plentiful BBQ fare, not to mention a monstrous chocolate birthday cake. Molly the Energiser Bunny organised everybody, and led a posse of youngsters around for face-painting, trampoline bouncing and pinata bashing, while the grown-ups sat and celebrated. In the background, the sounds of two-piece ensemble Twofold Tofu wafted on the warm afternoon air - all very laid-back and lovely, it was. And rightly so - it's not every day that you turn 40, after all, Jodie – and it is special, if for no other reason than that it's probably the last decade of dignity that you will be allowed.

Molly the Energiser Bunny advises the old girl on cake-cutting, while Geoff looks on. (Photo: Nikolas Axaris)

Make the most of it Jodz! At 40 you're young enough to still have fun, and old enough not to care what people think. At 40 your health will probably never get any better than it is now – it's a bit of a peak time really. I'm not saying one is poised at the top of a slippery slope to decrepitude, although some unkind friends have told me that is indeed the way it is. I don't believe them. If 50 is the new 30, then 40 is even younger, right?

Jodz, over the next decade you have so much to look forward to! Now you are eligible to be a Junior member of the Ulysses Club. To be a 'Junior' anything at your age has to be a good thing, right?

But that's not all! More than likely, sometime in the next ten years, as you go hooning around on your scooter, or driving the school bus, your thermostat will start to go a bit wobbly. You will notice some interesting eyebrow growth. Gravity will exert its authority on bits of you that you would prefer it to keep away from. There may be twinges here and there – little gifts from above that remind you to get out and have fun while you still can.

Oh yes – the forties really are fabulous! These tiny reminders are gentle - nothing like the sledgehammers that will bludgeon you as soon as you hit 50.

Not-so-old Chooks R Us - Jodie & Betty (photo: Geoff Hansford)

A woman of 50, in Australia, is inundated with reminders of her age and her impending cronedom, no matter how youthful and energetic she feels. Australia Post is a co-conspirator in this campaign.

First, the postie will deliver the reminder that she is now eligible for free mammograms every two years. Oh joy! For years I have waited to have my boobs stretched out for free, and squashed flat between two cold glass plates, while I stand on tiptoe with teeth gritted and wonder WTF happened to the prospect of a dignified middle age. It's hard to be dignified when you're trapped by your tits in the jaws of a cold machine.

But wait, there's more! Australia Post will duly deliver a request to take part in the National Bowel Screening Program. That screening kit, which arrived at my house while I was away celebrating Jodie's arrival into fabulousness, is still sitting unopened on my table. I can't quite bring myself to send poo through the post. In fact, I haven't yet been able to read the 'how-to' booklet that came with the kit. I'm not the least bit curious about how to harvest the right amount of poo over a period of two or three days – or how to store Poo #1 while I wait for Poo #2 - or how to package it all up before posting it to a government laboratory for analysis. I pity the poor posties who ferry this icky cargo.

So Jodz – enjoy your 40s – possibly the last dignified decade you will be permitted! Thanks heaps for the great party - it was terrific!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Chillaxing in Magical Mallacoota

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What better way to unwind after the high-octane excitement of World Superbikes than to spend a couple of days at my all-time favourite holiday spot – Mallacoota, on the north-east coast of Victoria.

I try to go there for some chill-out or writing time once or twice a year, and stay at the Adobe (Mudbrick) Holiday Flats. This time my buddy Katt came with me.

The new mosaic wall at Adobe

The ride from Kilcunda was cold, wet, windy and gloomy – yay, no sun in our eyes! It was a loooong ride though – and eventful at times – like when Katt had to drop her dacks in the main street of Leongatha to remove some uncomfortable knee-armour:

and being tailed by cops from the moment we overtook a Winnebago on the highway just near the turnoff to Mallacoota. (We may have been just a teensy bit above the speed limit at that brief point).

It was a relief to arrive, finally, at our little flat overlooking the Mallacoota Inlet. Too tired to do anything much apart from grabbing some Chinese takeaway, eating dinner and making the beds, we had a relatively early night, after contemplating at length why the cops had merely tailed us instead of taking our licences away and making us walk home. We decided it was either (a) a miraculous reprieve, or (b) they were amusing themselves by messing with our heads. Mallacoota is a sleepy little town, after all – what else is a cop to do there?

Tuesday was superb – the King parrots, rainbow lorikeets, galahs, firebrow finches, fairy wrens, satin bower birds and a host of other feathered and furry critters got our day off to a raucous start under a gorgeous blue sky. Katt dragged out the waterpaints and we did pretty much nothing for a while. Bliss!

Our hosts, Peter & Margaret Kurz, greeted us like family as always, and told us we would be certain to see lyrebirds around. It's always a special treat to spot or hear a lyrebird in Mallacoota. So we went looking.

Disaster! On the back road behind the holiday flats – a dirt track – Katt dropped the glasses she'd hooked onto the front of her shirt, and we walked back and forth trying to find them, tracing and retracing our steps several times, without any luck.

On a sunny day though, there are better things to do in Mallacoota than looking for dropped specs, so we donned sunnies and went exploring.

And yes! We saw lyrebirds! One magnificent male, his tail feathers swishing behind him, crossed the track only a couple of metres in front of us before disappearing into the bush and flushing out a couple more. They're such funny looking birds – a bit like big-eyed brown chooks, with their big ungainly scratchy feet and a funny head-bobbling gait – but oh, those tail feathers!

When the shadows lengthened a bit we thought we ought to have a last desperate look for the dropped specs – in a different sort of light they might be a bit easier to find... They weren't.

But Mallacoota is a magical, miraculous spot, and the glasses found us! Combing through the undergrowth in exasperation, we eventually gave up and stopped, forlorn and with eyes downcast. There, about 3 inches in front of my feet, almost invisible amongst leaves and sticks, were the glasses!

Every time I go to Mallacoota I feel renewed, refreshed – more alive than ever, but in a mellow, serene way – and it's always a bit of a wrench to have to leave. At least we had glorious weather for our respective rides home on Wednesday, or it could've been unbearable.

After a law-abiding ride to Cann River, Katt and I went our separate ways and each had wonderful rides back to the Real World. Sigh... Can't wait to go back there – next time for a whole week!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

2010 WSBK Round 1 - Phillip Island: The Racing

Leon, Rockit & Ian at the house on PI

Weather forecasts for the Superbikes weekend had been wildly optimistic, so of course I had packed summer gear. At the last minute I'd chucked a fleecy jacket in my bag, as a concession to the changeability of the Phillip Island weather. Just as well I did!

I found my way to the Island by myself on Friday, grabbed some food and wine from the shops in Cowes, and promptly got lost on the way to Rockit's house. How the heck I ended up on a gravel road, I don't know – but I finally found Rockit's, arriving just as Leon did.

One of the great attractions of the Superbikes weekend at PI is that you can actually ride your bike into the circuit, rather than parking it outside. Well, that may be attractive to some people, but not to me. I like bitumen, and given my aversion to unsealed stuff and my tendency to fall off, my personal Risk Management Strategy involved leaving my bike at Rockit's and finding alternate means of getting to the track.

Leon to the rescue! I'm never too proud to be a pillion, especially if it means getting to the track in one piece.

Oh, what an adventure! From our vantage point at MG corner we had a great view of the big screen as well as the bit of the track just after the hairpin where so many of the racers crash – it's a bit heart-stopping really. (And it was a weekend of many crashes - Ruben Xaus alone had FOUR, and poor Chris Vermeulen crashed his Kwaka in both WSBK races. Ouch.)

We checked out the bikes in the Expo, and I discovered what I had always suspected – the little Ducati Monster is indeed a little too tall for me. Ah well....

I was on a mission – my mate gNat/Tali, Clem's daughter, had dragged me (not exactly kicking and screaming, mind you!) to the Support Paddock at motoGP last year to show me around, and one of the young racers she introduced me to was Troy Herfoss. gNat couldn't make it to the Supers this year because she's busy overseeing Clem's recovery (crap timing, Clem!)

As a Team Suzuki racer, Troy was doing an appearance at the Expo, so I was determined to get a pic for gNat. Here it is!

TroyHerfoss is so tall, this is where I was jumping up and down and saying to Leon "make sure you can get ME in the photo too!"...

So, being the perfect gentleman that he is, Troy came down to my level for another pic...

...and yet another pic when the flash didn't go off for the last one!

Troy is a talented racer, and a humble, clean-cut, focussed and very genuine young bloke with movie-star looks and a lovely manner, and he was happy to pose for a pic with me and to talk about the weekend's racing – as well as sending a hello to Tali and best wishes for Clem's recovery – I think I became his Number One fan on the spot after that – what a truly nice young man.

Coincidentally, Leon was chatting with a bloke outside a bit later on who turned out to be Troy's dad, who had ridden to Phillip Island on his V-Strom with Troy's mum on the back. I really liked that.

Friday was roasting hot, but on Saturday the good old Phillip Island weather kicked in and the day was grey, windy and bitterly cold. Thank goodness Katt's housemate had loaned me a big thick jacket – I would've been icicle-ised without it!

The weather may have been cold, but the racing was hot – very exciting, and Troy's result in Race 1 of the Australian Supersports class put him on the front row of the grid for Sunday's Race 2.

You know that you'll rarely get a Betty blog without a rant – so here's my rant for today.

A pox on all those people (generally tall, overweight middle-aged blokes with accountant looks and expensive name-brand jackets that they've just bought at the Expo) who take chairs to the track and sit on them against the fence (that's not the rant bit), and who stand up (quite unnecessarily!) to watch the races, thereby blocking the view of everybody behind them (especially short-arses like me!). One fat bloke who insisted on standing, even though he had an unobscured view of the track, and who kept raising his binoculars so that even my view of the big screen was obscured, came THIS close to being vaporised by some white-hot Betty ire. The only thing that saved him was his almost total lack of interest in Australian racing – he was only interested in blocking everybody's view for the World Superbikes class. Where's a cattle-prod when you need one? Sheesh, some people are so effing selfish!

Phew, glad I got that off my chest. So.... despite tall selfish bastards putting a bit of a damper on Sunday's WSBK racing, it was good to see my new favourite, Troy Herfoss, blitzing the field in Race 2 of the Aust Supersports.

Big screen view of the podium for the Aust Supersports class

Back at the house, Rockit's daughter Jo headed home to Melbourne (thanks heaps for all the rides to and from the track, Jo!) and the rest of us departed shortly afterwards. I had a lovely dinner at the pub in Kilcunda, and stayed in a spotless room with a lovely hot shower at the Killy Motel next door. Life's good!

World Superbikes, Round 1 - Phillip Island. The Odyssey Begins.

It seemed strange to be going to Phillip Island in February, and even stranger to be going there without Clem, who was languishing in hospital after some pretty major surgery. Stranger still to have a trip to Phillip Island that didn't involve any bike breakdowns, fall-overs, fall-offs or lever-snappage. We live in strange times.

It was just me and Leon this time. Our destination – the 2010 World Superbikes, Round 1 at Phillip Island. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Leon - brief roadside rest near Khancoban

The ride down was fabulous – on the twisty bit between Jindabyne and Khancoban (which I've hated on both occasions I've ridden it) I practised the cornering and braking tips that my friend Terry had given me after my previous pathetic attempt. Leon was miles ahead and there was no-one behind me, so I attacked the corners at my own pace, no pressure – and loved it! One minor UCM (that's an Undie-Changing Moment, in case you were wondering) near the Tom Groggin rest stop, on a newly resurfaced 15kmh hairpin with lots of loose stuff that made my rear wheel slide a little bit - I hate that feeling – but apart from that it was great.

Me after the Jindabyne-Khancoban twisties - only one UCM - wheeeeee!

Before I started riding I always assumed it would be pretty much like driving a car – once you can do it, you can just do it - but it's not like that at all. Every ride is different. Every corner is different, even if you've done it twenty times – I think that's one of the things I love: you constantly feel as though you're learning and developing your skills, and you're constantly vigilant because so many factors can make a vast difference to your ride.

Anyway... after the twisties came the lovely fast sweepers of the Cann Valley Highway, and at Wodonga we turned onto the long boring freeway towards Melbourne. It was starting to get horribly warm.

On the road between Euroa and Merton – a lovely little road with some nice twisty bits – I passed a scene that made me feel a little bit queasy. A big bike had come to grief on a corner, and lay on its side, just off the road. The rider was on his back under a makeshift canopy, being tended by his riding buddy and a couple of motorists, and they waved me on. Nothing you can do here, mate – we'll be ok. It's a sobering thing when you see a rider down. The ambulance came screaming past me a few minutes later, and was still at the scene when Leon went past shortly after that. A sudden and painful end to the Phillip Island pilgrimage for at least one rider... yuk.

Leon and I regrouped at Alexandra (I waved as we passed Alexandra Motorcycles, where mechanic Chris has patched my bike more than once!) and rode the rest of the way to Healesville together, down the wonderful Black Spur with its tall trees and long shadows, finally pulling into Katt's driveway in late afternoon. Leon pressed on towards Melbourne for the night, while I stayed at Katt's and fell asleep very early after a long day's ride of over 700kms. The 2010 WSBK adventure was ON!