Sunday, November 29, 2009

Many steps forward, but one step back

ODO 103k

Things are getting tougher here in the blogosphere. For a while I haven't really had anything compelling to write - I have been a bit too quiet, haven't I? But just recently I've hit a much more considerable pothole: dead laptop. My little computer has been replaced with a 2.5' portable hard drive (pulled out of said computer), and the opportunity to sit down to write blog articles is going to come around much less often.

I have just recovered a mobile (after about a month without), so I will try to get back into the habit of posting to Twitter - hopefully it will still work with the new hardware.

In processionary news, I've moved a few kms further down the road towards tomorrow. The trip from Geraldton to Perth involved a few little detours towards the beach - pleasant enough. I hit Perth, hit up the post office for my mobile battery, and virtually just as promptly left. After a short jaunt I was back in Perth the next day, but the weather was again (uncharacteristically) damp and soggy. Bugger it, I decided, I'll be much better off in Kalgoorlie!

As it turns out, the damp was not just coastal - though after a brief deluge in the Perth Hills I somehow managed to ride into storms for two days without actually getting wet. Travelling was good - popping along through a variety of agripastoral little towns, eventually finding myself in the goldfields heading north. Despite the chill, the clouds made for great viewing - surpassed however by the beautiful glades of eucalyptus. The salmon gums are famous - rightly so - but are by no means the only colourfully twisted, smooth, shagged or ragged growths on the goldfields.

I was a little unfortunate to hit a nice sharp little rock, and develop a little lack of curvature in my front rim. I got it back to the servo to pump up the tyre, and then back to Kalgoorlie which would make the nearest mechanic. The wheel held up without issue, though, so Perth I decided would be a better place to stop. Structually, the wheel is fine - and holds air with no complaints once properly pumped.

So Perth I have been for a few days now - catching up with old mates, and enjoying the generous hospitality of one I've not seen for a good couple of years. The bike is cleaner, I am too, and Perth is done with me for another few weeks. Mid-December I'm back in town to catch the cricket (which hopefully lasts longer than the three-day test which finished yesterday), and after that I'm freewaying it back to Sydney to organise life in the new year. The next few weeks will see me catching up with relatives, and exploring the SW corner of WA - the forests, craggy coast and beaches, the dryandra and the farmlands. It will be a good few weeks but you might have to live without much news of it.

Until sometime in the future, all the best with your December, enjoy the rest of 2009.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Long Journey Down a Short Road

ODO 100 000! Woo hoo!

Last writing was in Carnarvon, and in the scheme of things I'm just down the road. To get here, though, required an arduous journey, some serious problem solving and a return to 'civilisation' as I know it.

I'm in Geraldton at the moment, and it feels like I've popped back into civilisatiom from an extended soujourn in the wilderness. It's not the town itself as much as the area. My road atlas has stopped showing bowser symbols to indicate where fuel is available. Roads go up, over and around hills (yes, hills!), not just through them or past them. I haven't found any twisty roads yet, but I can tell they're here somewhere. I got to Northampton 50km to the north and realised I hadn't been in anything which felt like a 'country town' since leaving the East Coast. The place was hauntingly familiar. And the roads network all over the place - not just along straight lines built to get roadtrains between mines or cattle stations. So I can go touring again

Getting here involved leaving Carnarvon - easy enough, except my battery was dead. I knew why - I'd left the lap top on to charge too long. It was a hard thing to push start, and when I got there, I discovered a much bigger problem. The faint fuel aroma I'd been sensing wasn't my imagination, or fuel soacked into the paint of the tank. That aroma, moreover, had developed into a fountain of flammable liquid pouring out of gashes in my fuel hoses.

As it turns out then, Plan A (camp out back of town) fell through, in favour of Plan B (hostel). Carnarvon Backpackers - you can see what you mean when the visinfo centre says they "can't recommend it." But I have to say I liked the place. Not instantly, but it grew on me. It was small, and it really was like a family there - albeit a disgrunted and disfunctional one. More expensive than illegal camping, but it had its charms.

It also meant late Friday night a work opportunity popped up - for first thing Saturday. It meant I couldn't track down fuel hose, but bugger it - I might not get the chance to do any picking anywhere else, and it would pay for the extra time needed in town.

Just so you know, picking pumpkins with a bad back is a bad idea. Doing so without gloves is masochistic. The day wasn't actually that hard, thanks to an unexpectedly cool day (20-25! perfect!). My hands and body are still recovering, though.

The next day disappeared like a flash, due partly to residual tiredness and apathy and partly to a bit of noise polution (three snorers out of four roomates - what a ratio!). Which is probably all the better - Dani Pedrosa winning the Valencia GP didn't do my wallet any favours. A day, therefore, I'm glad to forget.

It somehow took most of Monday to pack up, prepare and fit some newly sourced fuel hoses (with a bit of re-routing ingenuity!), only to discover the 'real' problem wasn't the worst of it! The battery was dead, drop dead. Push starting failed dismally (the guy who offered to help had a burning desire to push it to the right... I was happy he offered to jump start it instead before we dropped it), and I thought the jump had done the trick. The battery might have been dead flat, but once running I was away. One little click, though... - the front brake lever turns on the brake lights, and the brake lights alone were too much for the battery.

By a long process (having discovered my multimeter was dead), I concluded the battery was cactus. The local bike shop couldn't replace it - not for two days, and at an absurd cost (dangerous goods express delivery... and of course, country pricing), but he suggested I rock up and he'd see what he could do. I think he was very optimistic in thinking the second hand battery could get me out of trouble (I didn't even know a 12V battery could be stable with such little juice!), but with my original on charge overnight there was hope yet. It charged fine, and in the end started the bike without much of an issue - that of course was the easy part. I still had at least 1 fuel stop until Geraldton. I did sit down to do what I really should have checked already (not that I had much chance), only to confirm that No, it was NOT charging properly!

So off I went, cactus battery, not charging properly - but dammit I was over Carnarvon. It was Gero or Bust.

Three kilometres down the road yet another problem raised its ugly head. The thing just wouldn't run right around cruising revs. Pulled over to check the obvious (a dodgy job meant brand new leaking fuel hoses), but no, we were dry. Just coughing and spluttering. 100m down the road though... problem solved! Perhaps.

At least, I thought to myself, the road between Carnarvon and Geraldton is straight - if there's a serious throttle problem I won't notice it (unless the bike stops running). And I sure as hell wasn't busted yet (please at least get out of Carnarvon!). So, off I went, again.

I didn't notice much, thankfully, for the 200 odd kms to the roadhouse. Neither trees, nor animals, nor flowers, nor bike issues. No news, was good news - and I was well on the way.

I did notice though, that the bike's engine breaking was reduced... and idle speed was 500rpm higher? But she was charging - like a one legged bull - and would have enough to keep going.

So what did I do? Took a detour to Denham!

Too much straight stuff here, and after all I was here to look around.

Through a stroke of genius, from Denham I managed to get a second hand regulator posted from Perth, to Geraldton. Now I really had no excuse not to take my time - it would be in tomorrow.

The next day I was still going (and still starting - just!), when I talked myself into the turnoff to Kalbarri - it was only one more stop, after all! And well worth the detour - some absolutely fantastic flowers, though past their peak, beautiful scenery, and a fabulous little seaside tourist town down by the ocean - and you know what, they actually have surf here! Big turqoise waves rolling in off the Indian Ocean and crashing onto the shore! I really can't remember when I last saw those - I think it might even be NSW.

A bit of a coastal meander (a pleasantly chilly sea breeze too!), and all of a sudden I was in Northampton, wondering how I'd gotten back to NSW without seeing the SA border. I didn't dare stop, and rolled into Geraldton not too long after that. Mail was in - and soon enough so was my new regulator, with a bit of creatively dodgy rewiring.

And you knwo what? The bike wouldn't start : )

Hell of a lot of pushing later and we had a purring engine once more - and, it seemed, one that was charging the battery as well!

May the rest be history.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Update from Carnarvon

I just wrote the last post because I sat down to write an update of the trip and didn't really feel inspired to write about anything.

Not to say I haven't had any good times. Ningaloo/North West Cape/Exmouth was great, some really good snorkelling, some good time up the range. The range of fish there is astounding, far, far in excess of the day I spend on the Great Barrier Reef, though the coral formations of the latter were pretty good. The coral close to the coast in Ningaloo was largely basic (all in a narrow shallow water lagoon). But fish! Wherever you went!

On from there I'm in Carnarvon for the weekend. Not much to say about it really. It's an average sort of place, little town, a little bit feral but nice enough. Was thinking of looking for work and staying a while (there's a range of semi-tropical agriculture along the Gascoyne), but there isn't much work for the minute, and... well Carnarvon? One weekend's enough.


The Flighty Life of a Traveller

ODO 99,350 - nearly at the ton!

There is an aspect to being a traveller that I had not really expected. I don't have direction. At any point in time, I am always headed in one of the directions of the compass. That seems, however, to have diminished as a source of inspiration and motivation.

I am in the unusual situation that nothing needs to be done. With an increasing freedom from time constraints even moving is optional. Even things that 'can't be put off', only need to happen before certain other things (which usually aren't pertinent), and nothing ever seems to back up. Things like blogging or my email inbox... being on the road, there is little significance to such things actually being up to date.

I think I have 'free time'. Previously, an abundance of this creature was semi-mythical. Something people have in movies, or maybe high school - in lands far, far away. The possibility of 'free time' always seemed to coincide with the acceptance of yet more things to do with it - an accretion which typically outpaced that actually occurance of this time. And which, of course, was consequently never 'free'.

Some people may know this as what happens after work, or on weekends. I have had some encounters with this before, and I can tell you an abundance of it is another matter altogether.

These days, I have to work out what I will do, based almost exclusevely on what I want to do. 'What(ever) you want' is only really a plus if you can actually work out how to remove the 'ever'. So I've invented all sorts of funny games, which have become the backbone of my daily life. They are not easy! Winning requires a degree of consciousness, experience and intent that I am only just building.

As a couple of examples:

Cleanliness: If you're dirty, plan to have a shower (clean the clothes etc.) after you've both accepted being dirty, then gotten sick of it. Don't plan on doing anything dirty until after you've milked the cleanliness for all its worth. (e.g., don't spend the weekend in a hostel in Carnarvon with 'snorkelling' on the todo list, when you could bask in cleanliness after a week on the beach.)

Food: Eat when you're most hungry. This is a good opportunity to be happy, don't waste it by jumping in too early or putting it off.

There are a range of base 'happinesses' which are identifiable in day to day life. Oddly enough, the best way I have found to manage them is usually by bingeing. There isn't much room for the median life on the road.

One of the definitely positive (not just new and novel) aspects of this 'free time' business is that things which should make one happy, can do so, when in normal life they usually would have a minor impact. Things like good food, fine company, beautiful surroundings - you don't need to binge to enjoy them, it just wakes you up to their presence. I've found that, having time to sit and think, I often say to myself "hey, this [potential source of happiness] should be making me happy!" And usually, then it does. It just helps to realise that.

I can only speak of myself here, but I think normally life is ruled by imperatives. 'Should do', 'need to do', 'want to do'... Out here, the positives have room to assert themselves. 'This is good', 'I enjoy it'...

Taking some getting used to, but I'm getting better at it. : )


Monday, November 2, 2009

Down the Hill to the Coral Coast

ODO 98,600

As of the last entry I was on my way out of the Pilbara - the only remaining stop was Paraburdoo, which at 7am on Sunday was a quiet town indeed.

So onto the road down from the hills it was - and no less stunning a trip than the days before it. The lowlands of the Western Pilbara saw the scenery change from the isolated tussocked hills of the East and gorges of the centre, into sets of ridges of exposed layered rock towards the coast. There's something spectacular about ranges like this - the same type of formation that makes up much of the Macdonell Ranges near Alice, an association which can hardly be a bad thing. The road out here first follows then crosses range after range of mesmerising formations, until finally crossing one last, long, definitive range. It's amazing the effect natural border phenomenon like this have upon a traveller. A new country wasn't just symbolised, it was felt, by a drop of a good 2-3 degrees in temperature. The drop was badly needed and highly appreciated - the day's riding might have started relatively early, but it was relentlessly hot, almost dangerously so. As sad as it was to leave the hills of the Pilbara behind I was by this stage looking forward to a whole new land.

I have been to Exmouth before, on a family trip some years ago, but my memories of the place are fairly scanty. The town is not in the least familiar - though it doesn't take familiarity to recognise how new the fancy marina area is - 'marine living at its finest!' A far cry from the mining towns of the hills where the deli attendant couldn't conceal her amazement that a couple of guys would buy a quarter chicken and a single stick of cabinossi.

A little late into town I was pleased to discover the tourist influence had meant the conveniences I would have earleir taken for granted actually were still open - supermarket, petrol station, fish and chip shop, even a dive shop. So no need to resort to the emergency Deb and baked beans for dinner!

The next morning - having found myself a piece of quiet flat land to roll out the matress - I was up early as usual, and with a range of things circled all over my map of Exmouth. I'm probably more excited about Exmouth than I had been about any aspect of my trip for a long while. I didn't necessarily think I had anything special to look forward to, but chilling out, swimming reefs at my own pace, national park camping and a little bit of tourist infrastructure - simple things which nevertheless should make for a great few days. Doing a day trip on the water of the Great Barrier Reef was nice and all, but I have to say being able to take the beach to an isolated stretch of coast and just swim out to the coral is much more appealing - that's without considering the cost difference. I was up too early for any of that, though, so instead I opted to try out one of the roads up into the ranges from the East.

The big and beautiful Goshawk I got to watch gliding along the road two minutes later was just the start of the morning. The ridge road up the range was soon winding up the hill in front of my, and as I ascended above the shrubbed plains of the gulf I was wondering why I hadn't made the trip down here to set up camp (I think tomorrow night that is probably what I'll do). The morning sunshine angling across the lowland hills was spectacular, but as the road climbed its winding way up the ridge the scenery only got better and better. Somehow managing to twist myself backwards in both directions to admire the view, and simultaneously dodge the morning wildlife, I found myself defenseless against the still air and morning beauty of the range. I couldn't possibly even see it all, let alone get photographs to prove it!

Perseverance pays off, however. I stopped on the way down in a little side bay to check the view atop a rock to my left. I couldn't believe what lay before me. I took enough photographs to capture the image, but how could I do this view justice? I sat, presently, upon that rock. And sat. And listened to the three-tone song of a bird drifting through the perfectly still temperate morning air, echoing from some nook within the gorge which lay before me. I watched in wonder as little navy bomber birds darted and dove. I watched the light change as the sun progressed through the same cycle it does every day - but has never done quite like this before. I pulled out the billy and nestled into a shady hollow within the rock to have breakfast, planned the day, and pulled out the laptop to write this. I'm sitting in the cool shade of the gorge wall, and with the clock having just passed 8:30 the first car of the day slowly makes its way up this road up the range. I first climbed the range just after six - I have had this land all to myself for nearly two and a half hours. They pass, of course, slowly on up - probably not realising the view that awaits them just metres outside their airconditioned box. But that's okay. I realise.

But the morning needs to end sometime. I may very well be back up here - if not tomorrow, probably another day. For the meantime, Exmouth, the North West Cape, Ningaloo reef... the Coral Coast awaits!

Photos: (though admittedly, as of writing I hadn't uploaded any)


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Pilbara - History of Rocks

ODO 98,000 - that's 19k for the trip so far!

I'm on to the Pilbara now, having moved on from the Kimberly. The mighty Pilbara, heart of Australian iron ore mining, home of some of the world's oldest rocks.

It's a strange place, almost misleading. Everything is rocky and red. The iron-oxide stained pebble is virtually a substitute for soil - the latter of which, if you can find it, is guaranteed to stain the blackest of clothing rusty red. Riding through the hills here, though, its almost like being back in pastoral NSW - the spinifex matting is so thickly permeating that the area looks at first glance like cleared grassy grazing land. The trees are stunted and sparce - in no other area of the country has it been so impossible to find shade. In no other area, moreover, is it so difficult to find water - outside of the towns all you'll find is empty rest stops (virtually all NT and QLD rest stops have water as a matter of course), and wide red roads leading not to a friendly cattle-station homestead, but to a landscape-plundering mine. I spoke to a Japanes cyclist (a.k.a. nutter), whose sole source of water on the three-day 250km ride from Port Headland to the nearest roadhouse - the sole source of his most valuable commodity was the kindness of passers by. There is no planning out here, to ration your water to the next stop. Your only option is to drink when you need to and get it whenever you can. Due to prudent planning (born out of my trip down the Gibb River Rd - which proved to be more hospitable than I expected, and more hospitable even than here), I've had no concerns outside of constantly trying to get as much fluid into my stomach as possible. And that certainly is necessary - it is hot indeed. Not humid like the North, so it is frankly a pleasant change. But the dry, windy 40+ days (it was 43 in Headland when I left at 11am) drain you of your fluid before you even realise you've started sweating.

If Alice is in the 'real' outback of Australia, the Pilbara is the outback with an exclamation mark. The spinifex is more avid, the landscape is larger, older and redder. It is hotter (Marble Bar, hottest place in Oz, is just over the hill), and if it weren't for the odd cyclone blowing in from the hot summer seas to the north it may very well be drier as well. The centre is renowned for its sunsets - but so is the North West, and I can tell you the label is well deserved. Sunset over the beach in Broome (yes I Know that's not the Pilbara!) was astounding, but I've just watched the best of the trip so far. Incredible, amazing - bright and colourful, equally menacing, dwarfing my little camp upon a hill. It was even worth braving the flies (admittedly not the worst of the trip - but the second worst, by a wee margin) to admire - at least until my arms got too sore and I returned to the tent to start this. So here I am writing, waiting for the clouds to decide what they're going to do, and waiting out the flies before braving the evening air.

Once you get past the immediate and unavoidable treacherousness of the place, the Pilbara is wonderful, really and exceptionally.

As far as Australia is concerned, the Pilbara is probably too far away for virtually everything - except mining. All you need is a few good rocks, and all of a sudden you have money - and with money you can build the social structure of a region. (Not that it didn't have one before, whether European or Aboriginal - but 50 years ago it certainly wasn't like this.) The one abundand infrastructure item is public amenities - the mining companies pay for those. Nothing else can be built fast enough. You end up with towns like Port Headland and Newman with a weird feeling - almost as if they were built by communists. They look 'constructed', and probably efficient, but their character doesn't show that well through the incessant layer of iron ore dust. They are definitely lacking in shade - miners, it appears, though fanatical about keeping the grass green, are slow to realise the value of trees.

The area does have a curious pre-mining history, though, from what I can gather. The 1946 strike is a famous little bit of local history. It saw Aboriginal 'employees' from stations all through the region 'strike', and converge on Headland to demand pay (not equal pay, just pay!). I never really worked out whether it acheived all that much - Aborigines over here weren't granted a right to a minimum wage until 1968. But many of the strikers never did return to their stations, so if nothing else it was a slap-in-the-face response to their ill treatment. 1968 is a sad curiousity - the result in a large number of cases was that the Aborigines who ran the stations were suddenly too expensive, and were turfed out, kicked off their land, never to return. I haven't really found anyone to ask for more detail on all of this, but I suppose you could always go and look it up.

Broome has an even more remarkable labour history. Aborigines were originally used to collect pearl oysters (primarily for the mother-of-pear shells, rather than for the rare pearl itself), which collected along the beaches. As this resource ran out and they were forced to collect in deeper water they became increasingly reluctant (there are a range of dangers of the sea which made them naturally reluctant), culminating in slavery and forced labour. Aborigines were carted around locked up in chains and forced (women and children too) to man the luggers and dive for oysters. Pregnant women made for the best divers, apparently...

Later this practice became illegal, so Asians of various nationalities were drafted over to dive - not only were they better than Europeans, but there was no requirement to pay them full wages. Eventually the Japanese became the dominant labour source, in the sophisticated and dangerous diving suits (you know, with the big metal fishbowl helmet and fully inflated suit?).

This situation continued more-or-less amicably until WWII. The ships were all commissioned, and the Japanese all locked up. The heart of Broome is Chinatown - the closest thing the place has to a town centre. What is less commonly known is the fact that until WW!! the area was Japtown - Broome's Chinese history is relatively minor compared to its Japanese influences. These days, the famous Japanese cemetary is locked up, due to (alleged) vandalism of Japanese graves by environmentalists taking issue of Broome's (former) sister city's dolphin catch.

So the area has a bit of a chequered past. And with the Pilbara's primary occupation being exhuming itself for export you could argue it has a chequered present as well. But enough about that - I find these things remarkable, but I'm not going to pretend you need to do the same.

All in all, the area does make a fabulous and memorable touring destination. The Coral Coast, just down the hill, is a famous tourist destination - the Pilbara though is much less travelled. Sort of sad, but then I'm happy to keep it to myself for the time being.

Hoping you're enjoying wherever you are, I'll be reporting from the Coral Coast sometime soon.

also (inc. Broome photos, and all the Kununurra and Gibb Rivers')


Friday, October 23, 2009

Formatting etc

Perils of slow internet.... I'll fix up some of that formatting soon.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cattle, Crossings, Lakes and the Perfect Pool - West into a sun setting on WA's Kimberly


ODO 96,000!

I'm back on the road again (no longer on The road, though I'll come to that). And the world is as it should be. I have a day to be in Broome (which I'm just outside), and I've done most of my chores. Not the ones that involve water (because I only have enough for me), but enough to derive some sense of satisfaction.

Going back, way back, to my last entry, I was in good old Katherine. I hung around Kath about two hours too long - which was perfect for setting the mood. The road out was warm, and with some good progress made a stop at Top Springs was definitely in order. On the map this place is a rather large dot. When you arrive you find a tiny roadhouse with $2/L unleaded. That says a lot about this stretch of land. It's not that there's nothing here (you don't have servos for nothing), but the roads all lead to cattle stations or indigenous communities, so it isn't exactly urban. Once you get off the main drag, that's what the NT is all about - that and the odd mine.

I won't go into too much detail, but I was heading out back to visit Dan and Alex (uni bike club) doing toadbusting research on a cattle station. The couple of days was a treat - despite some inexplicable antipathy for actually doing stuff (sorry Dan). On the Cox trip I was spoilt for volume of food, but here I was just plain spoilt. Thank whoever for their generosity. And it was great to get out and learn a bit about the bovine blood that feeds the NT. So the visit was more than just toads!

It would have been sad to leave had the road out not been so beautiful. So much so I was actually inspired, despite excrutiating heat, to take a few photos []. I headed North from Top Springs, past the Victoria River Downs station (the only life on the road for a couple hundred kms), where I duly stopped to top up the liquid of health (water!) and to ask about the roads. The track in passed three choppers outside a shed - with a fourth inside. Quite a few for one station - they're a maintenance depot, as it turned out. A couple of the guys came out as I arrived to say hello and check my insanity ("Well... there's probably been a couple of other roadbikes in my time here" - six years!), and work out what the bike was. Despite only dropping in for a two minute pit stop, I could not have been made more welcome. I was flattered at being offered coke and beer, while the slice I didn't say no to. Waiting in the shade for the sweat to cool off Hillke approached to ask if I wanted to accompany Tass - moving one of the choppers around the back! I didn't say no to that either! And didn't complain when 'moving it around the back' meant taking a five minute flyover of the main station! They're funky little things, mustering choppers. Just sitting in it and watching the startup procedure, the range of guages and instruments - thoroughly enthralling. So I was back on the road with a special little memory of Victoria River Downs - thanks to Hillke, Tass, Andrew and the Other Guy (75% is a pass), it was a stop I won't forget.

The approach to Jasper Gorge saw an increasingly beautiful backdrop to the quite solid dirt road, and I was on the lookout for a view to stop and record when I noticed an unscheduled campground by a billabong. Only when I pulled in and got off did I realise how rooted I'd gotten - less than 300km covered, and by lunchtime I needed a shower, bath, swim, steak, ice cream and 2.25L bottle of Gatorade. In reverse order. So out came the billy for a liquid lunch - and by that stage the place had obviously become a winner for that night's camp. I was in no state to continue on without some rest.

The next day proved no less arduous, but I paced myself to handle it better. I hadn't planned it, but since I'd made such an early start I figured I'd turn right towards Victoria River (roadhouse and river valley). The decision paid off with some of the most beautiful surroundings of the trip []. It almost seemed a cheat - the only thing that would have made it better would have been doing it on a lonely dusty track, rather than a trafficed tarred highway. I was in Timber Creek in time for a lazy lunch - plan being to sit out the heat. The pub turned out uninviting, but rising cloud cover signalled an early departure for a quick trip into the (Western section) Gregory NP. Now I love [savannah woodland [], and the top end has so much of it, but it had never really hit the right note until travelling through it on a twisty little park track. The quality was pretty good - I didn't really get the '4WD Recommended' until shortly after one particular 'Dip' sign, reinforced later by a 'River Crossing' which talked me into turning back early - that and the increasingly ominous sky. Two days prior at the station (Camfield, not VRD), all the talk was of rains - which never looked like coming, and didn't while I was there. These clouds though, they definitely looked like coming. They had been gathering from quite early on, and by this stage in the afternoon they were well and truly present. Thing was, though, after really struggling in the sun for two days - more than I had at any time previously on the trip - I was willing to look past the inconvenience, and forward to the prospect of cool, wet relief cascading from above. The don't call this season the build up for nothing.

In the end, rain fell - but not on me. The clouds had proven as reluctant as those from earlier in the week, though through sheer weight they did appear to inundate the highlands a few kms to the south of camp. I'd set up camp just in time to catch what did come, but the few drops were little more than symbolic - the night was as stuffy as ever, and as usual I woke with myself the only soggy object.

The next morning was the last little trot into Kununurra. After an hour or two riding through escarpment-bordered valleys the WA border approached with a change of scenery as much as any man-made formality. By the time the border was reached the land had taken on a dryness so much more stark than anything else in the NT - only the country around the Gulf of Carpentaria had the same feeling. The whole of the NT was dry - but the plants seem resigned to it, almost happy with a restful parching. Out here though it feels like the country is struggling with it - even as the road got nearer and nearer the sea.

That is not to imply there was any less beauty in it - the rocky hills on the road to Lake Argyle would have overshadowed any lesser lake. But Argyle! I suggest you look it up on a map - the quantitative comparison to bodies like Sydney Harbour does it no justice. Check out [some of the photos I took []. You see before you a huge lake - what's amazing is that the water does not stop with the valley, but extends through headlands to left and right as far as the eye can see. The section the dam and lookouts overlook is about a quarter of a tiny section near the top - perhaps itself ten percent of the total surface area. It is classed, apparently, as an inland sea, and the moniker is not unjustified - if you didn't know better you might assume it extends out into the Indian Ocean. Perhaps the most startling fact is that this whole area was brought about by a relatively small dam on one modest river about fifty years ago. A river, no less, which would have been more or less dry at this time of the year (hence the need for a dam). Wow.

Kununurra proved to be quite a nice little town. One of the county's newest (built to service the dam construction, and then the farmland that it irrigated), it has many different faces for such a little place. It has a bit of the sunshine/holiday of the Gold Coast, the getaway/resort of Noosa, the community of Tennant Creek, the agricultural variety of Atherton, the laid-back feel of the NT and the culinary feel of Darwin (well, a tiny bit). And it's built right up against a national park which rivals Kakadu for sheer, rocky gorgeousness. If you wanted to drift away from it all you shouldn't have much trouble getting work in tourism through the dry ('winter'), or agricultural stuff at many other times of the year. It's one of only two places off the East Coast which I'd describe as 'liveable' - Alice being the other. The only downside is that with 5/6 thousand people it is, despite its many faces, far to small. No aspect is developed enough to really engage. But that said, if you like small - or just want to get away from everything else - it'd be worth a try.

The only place I could think of better to spend a weekend catching the Phillip Island GP is the Island itself - a couple thousand kms less of a journey and that's where I would have been. Stoner having duly won it - a blow against his critics as much as against his competitors - it was time to head off - down the might Gibb.

Ask anybody that knows it and they'll respond with an understanding nod and a smile - the Gibb River road has an aura about its name. Part of that aura is the treachery and the challenge - the boss at Kununurra bike shop (cheers to Neville for letting me use the drill outside working hours!) declared in no uncertain terms "yes, you'll be breaking levers on that thing". A random ex-biker in Tennant Creek is still watching the news for the crazy biker from Sydney lost in the Kimberly. I was told even before I left that there is no way I should do a round trip on an SV, "because you will have to explain when people ask, why you didn't do roads like the Gibb."

For other people (mainly in 4WDs who've just done the journey), the first thing they tell you is about how amazing the trip is, how it's the most beautiful country in Australia. How it's hot, it's hard - but it's worth it. How you won't forget it - presumably, like they won't. And these are the people that tell you it's not as bad as others might say. "A roadbike!?" they might exclaim - but "brave" is their assessment, not "suicidal".

It doesn't take long to realise the assessments of 4WDers need to be taken with due respect to the their looking glass (a big metal cage with four drive wheels which won't fall over if you hit a big rock at 30kph). But they had one thing right - the road ain't that bad. 80% of it is rough, but easy going. 19.99% of it is rough as guts, but not dangerous. The other 0.001% is the Pentecost.

There are two crossings of this river. One into El Questro Gorge (resort, cattle station, and more importantly - source of fuel), and one on the road proper. I got into El Questro without drama. The crossing is long, wet (25cm) and rocky, but after two laps getting the boots nice and soggy I'd developed a plan which worked better than expected. On the way out... lets just say making it once doesn't mean it will be easy with 15kg more fuel (including a 6kg jerry perilously strapped), 5kg more bag - while vainly to keep your boots dry. First thing in the morning. No one factor would have been terminal, but as [they say;], accidents are all to often result of a set of seemingly innocent factors.

In the end the only real casualty was my bag of rice (although there's a fair chance it wasn't just the heat which cooked my mobile battery a couple of days later), and I actually picked myself up out of the water with more cheer than I'd gone in. It was annoying, but it's still funny when a bike ends up in the river, no matter whose it is. (Especially when the exhaust fills with water!) I guess I was pretty lucky, I had a lot of things which shouldn't have gotten off so lightly.

As it turns out, the main crossing of the Pentecost wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been. The rocks are worse, and it is probably a good 100m wide, but there was actually no necessary water crossing - everything had either evaporated by this point, or flowed underneath the rubble. The footing was boulderous by 4WD standards, but as solid as it was intimidating - I'd dropped it earlier because smaller loose rocks shifted while I was trying to steer around a big one. A bit of calm planning and cowboy throttle control (less is not more, more is more!)

If I wasn't so happy about having dominated the worst the Gibb had to throw at me I'd have stopped to take a photo - but as it was I thought that was just the beginning. In a sense, it is - the Pentecost marks the 'real' beginning to the Gibb, like a gateway that demands for you to prove you're serious before you pass. But in another way, the Pentecost is the only real hurdle to the Gibb. Any half-abled road bike with some sort of tyre (no canvass please!) would be able to do the rest, at some level of comfort and speed. It really isn't a 4WD track like some will have you believe (and like I was looking forward to, to be honest...) - it's two and a half lanes of flat, dusty, corrugated road. If they paved all the crossings you could do it in a hatchback or on a scooler. You might have half your bolts rattled out (I actually lost none!), but as long as you were expecting it you'd be fine.

But you want to hear about the Gibb River Road!? Well it is charming, and it is beautiful. As good as the road is, though, it is neither a back country track, nor a walk in the park. You need to watch it all the time - watch for rocks, sand, gravel, livestock... And it didn't have the momentous sense of adventure like a real track does - like the road should.

Once you get over the road not being the highlight of your time on the Earth you realise how much there is to appreciate. We all know I love savannah woodland, and it has it in spades. The far Eastern End (before the Pentecost) is absolutely stunning, as it cuts through the King Leopold Ranges at one tip of their crescent. Most of the middle is plains (/valley - but a big one!), and really pleasant country if not rivetting. When you get back into the King Leopold Ranges once again (and their foothills) the real charm of the Kimberly comes out. Mt Barnett River is nice, Bell Gorge is lovely, but Manning Gorge is heart rendering. This is exactly what the Gibb - nay, the whole Top End - is about, at least as far as the nature thing goes. It's so far from anything it's a miracle to be able to get there, and it has the perfect mix of swimming-spotted campground, with walk to even more astonishing higher pools - palm fringed, rocky or sandy as you choose, shady or sunny, with goannas, cormorants, fish, even a selection of warm or cool water! If I had known I'd have a day to spare I'd have spent it up there, walked it a couple of times, lounged by the various pools... As it so happens, it's the one I didn't get any photos of : ) I spent all my time there enjoying it so much, I'll just have to let you go and do the same. Go on! It'll be worth it.

In the end, that spare day I ended up with (today!), was because of an unexpected closure - I was pushing on to get through an elongated route down to Fiztroy Crossing when I hit a 'road closed' sign. Bushfires - just my luck. And that more-or-less meant the end to my Gibb River adventure. (All the more sad because it was just hitting the heat of the day and I was already ragged - very appreciative to come across a wonderful specimen of grotesquely beautiful Australian flora - giant, shady boab!)

I didn't complain when I'd filled up in Derby and discovered my economy calculations were spot on - I'd have made my original plan, I think, but if I'd gone another 15km down that road before hitting the closure I wouldn't have made the nearest servo. So my luck hadn't deserted me, just transmuted itself into a convenient ending.

I spent a pleasant enough five minutes in Derby - discovering a little something about WA which I sort of always knew... but that will wait for another time.

So today popped out of nowhere (I'm in Broome tomorrow and for the weekend, as MotoGP heads to Malaysia) - free of charge - and I suddenly have too much time to put off updating the blog. (I started writing entries four or five times, but I was always too tired to get beyond the first paragraph.) That ain't so bad. It's been a long week and a half. You've missed a lot. Me, I'm happy enough to sit down and relax.

Speaking of which.


Monday, October 12, 2009

News - Onto the Long Way Down

I look back and think off all the things that I've done and it seems I have a lot to talk about - but at the same time I don't feel that I have anything to say. So, generic news it is!

I'm in Katherine at the moment - my rear tyre is finally being changed, way-way overdue. I was in Kath around two weeks ago, from which I headed north to Darwin. Darwin didn't offer that much charm, not that I could pick up... the hostels were exxy, and there isn't much to do that doesn't involve spending money. Frankly, Darwin feels like Sydney, but slow and tiny. Too tiny to offer any of Sydney's advantages. Oh, and hot, of course, don't forget the build-up weather!

I wandered down through Kakadu, quite a nice area - and once again quiet. I think everyone is waiting for the rain to hit! Saw some birds, and some interesting rock formations at Ubirr. The free park-ranger talks at various sites were pretty good, and offered a good extra level of experience to the sites, and a window into the Aboriginal history of the area. Aboriginal/Nat Parks collaboration in the NT works really well.

I had picked up a commitment to return to Darwin for the next Monday to do that volunteer work - I ended up shelving plans to hang around Daly river and returned to Darwin for the weekend, primarily to catch the MotoGP. My justification for the expense of returning to town was the opportunity to earn a few dollars wagering on the GP, and that I duly did (after a disasterous qualifying result, and race nerve-wracking if not otherwise exciting).

The week of volunteer work was good, though it didn't necessarily tick the boxes I had hoped. It was mid-way between a good week's work and an eco-tour, but without offering the full benefits of either. It was a good week's relaxing, and the good company of the rest of the crew was a bonus, it was also really good to get the work done and have something to stand back and look at. But it was much too relaxed to offer the busy occupation of a working week, nor the constant activity of a tour. A good holiday week (in luxury I'm not used to), except - I'm on a five month holiday as it is, and normally doing nothing is free!

So arriving at the weekend I don't need to kick back and relax - quite the opposite. I'm weighing up the various 'cultural' tours as they pop up, and thinking about where down the road I might be able to line up some work (I'll give Broome a shot). Once in Broome I can scale back the pace of travel another step - while Broome isn't out of range of the wet, as long as I have tarred road ahead of me I'm not that scared of the prospect.

Next time I'm hit with something worth writing about I promise I will.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Photos - For goodness' sake!?

Is that how far I am behind on uploading my photos, really? Have I really not uploaded anything since Brisbane!?

I am making amends now - starting at the end, instead of the beginning (as all blogs should - when they're behind at least).

My 'photostream' on Flickr can be found here

I have been considering writing info and comments on the photos themselves rather than attempting to work them into blog entries (which obviously hasn't been happening) - I think I will give that a try.

Don't ask how convenient it will be for the viewer, I don't have that much experience with Flickr. But I encourage you to try it out! There's some photos of wonderful places in there.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Upcoming: Northern Nature Work

ODO same as before... (about 13k for the trip - that's 2.5k km/week!)

Hello again. No real stories to relate as yet. In Darwin overnight. It's an uninspiring enough town, though the local eateries and drinkeries offer a pretty good range and decent value - if you have money to spend. So I've walked right past all of them... none of them really have any charm, and they're all 'financial', in a way that the bush pubs I've been visiting aren't - if you don't have cash, there's nothing to do (though the usual friendly NT hospitality would ensure you never get pressured out, like you might in Sydney). The hostels are also the most expensive I've found, so last night was my first and last!

The next week will be a very relaxed nature tour, through Kakadu, Umbrawarra (near Pine Creek) and maybe with a bit of fishing at Daly's Creek. I have six days before I need to be back here to catch a bus back out again (might be a struggle if I'm staying 130km away the night before, but so far that looks to be the range of my options), to the Cox Peninsula to volunteer creating boardwarks and other facilities to avoid the impact of visitors on dune erosion. It'll be a good week I think, and will even involve a bit of luxury - cooked meals and air conditioned hotel rooms! I should probably say it'll be a good two weeks, really, or perhaps I should say a good 14!

Sadly I actually have to pay for it, though it will be within my weekly budget... I didn't realise at first, but on sitting back to think about it it's an opportunity to do something different - constructive - which I'm enthusiastic about. The endless variation to paradise can actually get repetative.

I hope you enjoy your day as much as I'm enjoying my couple of hours in the library. I just hope you don't feel too bad that the life you're taking time out from is five months in paradise.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Westward Bound and onto a new leaf in the NT: deliverance in a land of promise

Retrospective: a story to fill the gap between Cairns and Alice.

Leaving Cairns was a busy few days: reef cruise one day, mountain climb the next, heading west (and some caving) the day after that. Pretty hectic and I was buggered - SO much did I enjoy hitting the open road. I don't need rest - riding is my tonic.

The road to Chillagoe - with its semi-above-ground limestone caves - pushed no buttons, for a number of reasons (like traffic and dust). The road out of it pushed buttons alright, but not the right ones! The stretch was one of those country dirt roads that just flows over the undulations of the landscape, no matter what they may be. All very well, except in tropical country relatively flat ground is intersperced by subtle floodways and dry rivers - subtle, that is, until you run into one. It looks as though the road slopes into a gentle dip like the four or five you have just passed through - it is not until you are on the cusp of it that you realise the centre of the dip drops out, and it takes another moment (a panic-riddled moment) to work out what greets you at the bottom of it. Many of these contain craters left by the huge forces of road trains blasting through them - on two occasions I was caught out and rode straight through battlefields no sane road rider would wish to attempt. The second was the more dramatic - I hit a bump on the way down (within that panic-riddled moment), hard on the brakes, violent enough to blur my vision which meant I only had long enough to confirm that the dip was dry - but seated with a set of deep ridges. Throttle on at the last minute, and as both ends bottomed out with a huge clunk the bike skittled over and washed out almost off the edge of the (staight) roadway on the other side. That, however, was nowhere near as intimidating as the one before: a gentle hill descended at the last minute into a murky puddle. And not a concrete bottomed puddle, but a sand-bottomed bike swallowing one! Hard on both brakes - handlebars flapping, rear end dragging through the deep, moist sand that lined the last ten metres before an expected over-the-handlebars wet-and-wild flying trip. By some miracle the tyres pulled through, and the sand proved grippy enough for me to pull up with a good metre or two to spare.

That deep channel towards the right is my hitting the soft stuff.

It might sound like I was going too fast - but at 70km an hour, on 160km of dead straight - largely well-surfaced - dirt, it felt like I was crawling. The dips just drop away so suddenly that no margin of safety will cover you completely. After the third adventure I made a policy of virtually stopping at the crest of any dip that I couldn't absolutely confirm the extent of. It felt ridiculous, but I got through from there without drama.

So pleased to see tar...

From there! Well the road got better before it got worse - and that it got. Less surprises, true, but rough as guts. My destination ended up Bourketown - you know, famous for the Morning Glory clouds? Well, the clouds never came, and I got over Bourketown very, very quickly indeed for a range of reasons... More testing dirt under the belt and I was back onto the highway which would take me Westward through Cloncurry and Isa.

Cloncurry on a Sunday proved little more lively than Bourketown, but Isa on the Monday was a pleasant change - friendly for a mining town, and a good opportunity to get stuff done.

I got talked out of taking the back road to Alice (and for the better - I spoke to a guy who rode through there on his dirtbike who confessed to binning it a handful of times - god knows how well I'd have faired), so onward it was along the tar - hardly complaining for that, with the beauty of the country around Isa.

Soon enough I was in the NT and onto a new leaf in a new land.

Tennant Creek proved a nice little stop - it's only a small town, sure, with a sad former significance as a mining town (every town besides Isa seems to have had the same stories of grandeur and excitement long passed), but with a positive outlook and a great community spirit.

The road from there to Alice I've already written about in reverse (it's great!), and Alice - well you've gotten Alice - so I suppose I've filled that hole. (Though I confess to being overly brief.)


Friday, September 25, 2009

Think that's North? - This, is North

ODO 91,400

In Katherine, planning a day or two in the area, before moving on to Kakadu and Darwin - both quite brief - and back through Kath towards WA. Developing a bit of a todo list regards bike TLC, but she's doing okay.

A few hundred kilometres ago I finally hit the heat. The ride written about towards Tennant was quite cool - I did it with my thermals on. It was very chilly the next morning, and I once again refused to make an early start. At about 1pm though the thermals came off for good. 50km from Dunmarra - a few dozen km North of the unofficial start of the 'tropics' at Newcastle Waters - the heat suddenly appeared.

The days have been hot, but getting to sleep in the evening - in a nice warm tent - is even worse.

Thing is though, it's not that hot. Probably early 30s still, with slightly growing humidity. Warm in the bike gear, yes, and it can't be too cool - I've been thirsty and drinking heaps all afternoon (4L+), with no sign of overhydration - but it feels okay here, quite liveable. In Darwin I hear, where the buildup is in full force - a month ahead of schedule - they're sitting on 30 degrees, 80-95% humidity: in the middle of the night.

... So, maybe those few hundred kms to go mean I'm yet to really experience the North.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Bliss of the Open Road

ODO 90 830

Having done what needed to be done - and a little bit more than that - I'm back onto the road North. North from Australia's 'red heart' (Alice Springs and surrounds), which will forever have a home in my heart, I can assure you.

Leaving a place like Alice - my favourite of the trip so far - it might be hard to understand the desire to move on. The feet were feeling slightly itchy in town last week, and I was satiated in my search for giant rocks, but I didn't realise how I'd longed to get moving until I did. Riding had gotten arduous - my feet and fingers each were numbing, my arse the same, and I could never find a good way to sit. I was always tired!

I woke up this morning, with no prerogative other than 'north', and was highly surprised by the chill - the winds which had followed me up from the south, having hit in the middle of the night, brought with them cold that they hadn't had before. I didn't have all that much to do - not that I was going to get into, at any rate - but I decided all the same to sit out the coldest part of the morning. So it was a very late start, and I left still with the thermals on. Fuel 100km up the road, and they stayed on.

Having looked into the ks, the next necessary stop was fuel in Tennant Creek - there were of course many unnecessary ones along the way, that I had passed, or stopped at, on the way down. So I headed off at a stately 85kph - as slow as I can bear to ride, but meaning no fuel necessary for 300k +, rather than 200+ as would be at 140kph (speed limit + 10).

And so, for 317km, I sat, at 85kph, and that was that.

It's hard to describe the experience of a leg like that. It's magic country out here. I had the same experience riding southward, but decided to stop with the sun - though I felt like continuing through the night.

In the end, after nearly four hours, at around 3pm, I had hit the mid-afternoon fatigue patch and was glad to pull in. An hour earlier, though, I was calculating the distances to the rest stops, trying to work out where I could stop if I filled up at Tennant and jumped straight back onto the road south.

There's something magic about a day like today.

The country here is so beautiful, it's really incredible. The Macdonell ranges around Alice are too (just not the same sort of thing), the country around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (Olgas) though quite the opposite. To ride into the wide expanses of Mallee scrub, intermittent rocky ranges and outcrops, spinifex and grasses, wildflowers in the rocks beside the road. The same thing - through constant changes - for four hours of bliss, the best riding you could imagine.

But it's not the country. Or at least not just the country. It's the headspace that it brings on - it and all the other factors of the journey, myseriously colliding on two opposite journeys. On a trip like today's, it's not only the country that opens up - time itself opens up as wide as the broad red earth and the wide blue sky.

There are times when you sit up, breathe out, and completely relax. If you weren't so awake with the moment, you'd simply fall asleep. There's a complete lack of stress, of fatigue, of all bodily and mental worries. They evaporate into the summer sun, or disperse across the dry floodplains of a gumtree 'swamp'.

It's only an 'external' factor, like the stars, a body clock or a fuel guage, that can interfere with the magic of a ride like today's.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Alice: A Red Heart more than mere stones

ODO 88 500

Firstly, wow. Or as I've been finding myself gasping this afternoon - 'Wow. Fucken wow.'
Secondly, Alice rocks.

As you will read, or will have read, the Stuart Highway into Alice from the north is a great ride. Arriving in Alice itself though is no major spectacle. The rocky outcrops that dot the town, or jut out into 'the Gap', are peculiar, but far from spectacular. They're... rocky outcrops! It's when you head West (or perhaps East) that you realise the beauty of the Macdonell Ranges of which they are a part.

Now, I'm no rock man (normally a tree guy....), but the sheer geology of this place is astounding. There is more variation in 100km of the Macdonell's than in 1000km of Great Dividing Range. That impression might be as much due to the presentation - which if staged could only be described as impeccable, or better yet divine. This is the outback, and the only thing which is completely regular is the inclination of the road, so it might be misleading to think in terms of perfection and fallability.

Not far West out of Alice, as the valley opens up and the range bears itself to view you can see exactly why the Tjikurpa (Dreamtime) story ascribes the ranges to caterpillars. A bit further on you find yourself exclaiming 'now THAT is how to do a rocky outcrop!'. Then a eucalypt-lined 'river' bed, and before you know it you're turning off towards the national park.

The new valley the road meanders up is - despite one's disbelief - even more beautiful than the first. It's here that you are struck with awe at the geology behind this range, the immense violence the rocky ranges represent. Layers of sedementary rock thrust themselves vertically into the sky as ridges beside the road. At the Ghost Gum lookout you read about the different layers of rock that make up the gorge below, and how the top layer (about 100m tall) previously resided 2km to the north.

The geological forces have been weathered by rivers like the Finke, 'possibly' the oldest in the world at around 100 million years, not that it often looks much like a river. The 'semi-permanent' waterholes hidden among gaps in the ranges really allow you to feel the word 'oasis' in a way that no definition ever will.

And the trees... ah yes no landscape can really excell without some beautiful trees... the weathered, wry old souls out here have their backs turned to the winds of time just as everything else does. 'If they could talk...' the cliche goes - you would probably have to sit and wait a while, because the long stories they have to tell, they would be in no hurry to part with.

And that was just a short trip on a Friday afternoon!

I'd heard positive things about Alice - from people that have lived there. Nobody else that has passed through has had much to say about it. I am bemused as to why not. Far and away, it has been my favourite stop of the trip so far.

As I had heard, Alice doesn't have a high proportion of long-term residents. It isn't temporary like Cairns is - the tourists were really quite thinly spread while I was there - but everybody you speak to (or at least all the young people) can count the number of times they've seen the Todd run on the one hand (2.5/year, apparently). The abundance of the 'new' local makes the whole scene immensely approachable, though everybody has their own explanations of the town's charms. Many look outwards, to the town's desert surrounds - whether it is a communal love of the outback, or the sense of isolation.

Another perk is the town's surprising cosmopolitan feel. It only has 20k people! But it has more life than most towns of five times that size. So many people I spoke to arrived in Alice expecting a quiet life, but found themselves busier than ever. Whether it's the music, the art, the sporting or environmental events - there is a deep layer of community activity which is more reminiscent of uni than a regional hub. The Aboriginal aspect to the town is so much more savoury than in many other places. There is a synthetic vaneer to the tourist operations of Todd st, but the next street over there are galleries which don't have 'Aboriginal Art' plastered on the outside, because when it isn't marketted to the tourist dollar the label gives way to its conversation with contemporary art more generally.

Alice is closer to Newtown than Bourketown, and I can assure you that can not be a bad thing.

If you're looking to get away then you could do a lot worse than coming to Alice.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

The FNQ life: a traveller in a city of travellers

ODO 84650

Just recovering today after last night, lazing about in sunny, tropical FNQ. When in Cairns!

Of course, you don't do as the locals do in Cairns, you do as the residents do - none of whom are locals. Even the people that live here moved here from Sydney or Melbourne.

That's not to say it's a small destination like many other tourist towns - it even has city traffic, infuriating strings of roundabouts and out-of-sync traffic lights. I'm staying here on the condition that I only need to ride in once, and out once, and even that is too many. I think perhaps I'm getting used to country travelling.

Cairns is nice enough once you are parked (unless you're in a car and have to pay for it!), though it's weird there's no no beach, just an artificial 'lagoon' (like Brisbane has... nature's water courses aren't good enough for the Sunshine State it seems).

Hoping to find a few 'locals' to hang out with tonight, maybe have a quieter one, find some music... Putting off booking a reef cruise for while I'm up here. I have to, don't I? And i'm looking forward to it. I just don't want to pay for it.

I've since ridden most of the roads in the area - and bugger me there's some beauties.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Dangers of Misguided Enthusiasm

ODO >80000

Well, finally I am pushing out into the unknown world - the world North of Maroochydore. Which was, of course, my previous most Northerly experience.

I got out of Brisbane relatively unscathed, although it seemed like my time evaporated from in front of my eyes.

And when I say 'relatively', come to think of it I don't mean entirely.

On the Thursday, my final day in Brisbane, I decided - as many good bikers do - that the best way to enjoy a city is to ride outside it. So I got up bright and early (surprised that the sun had beat me to it by some margin), and headed West. Around Mt Coot-tha, and along the back roads towards Ipswich, I figured I may as well drop in on good old [Mick at Goodna]. We had a good yarn about - tyres, as one might expect - and I came away yet more impressed with Mick's expansive knowledge (and enthusiasm for waffling on with it), and happy that I've put faces and smiles to Mick and Rowena's names. Next time you're up for some rubber do yourself a favour - do what I do - and call Mick.

Anyway, not much further on from there, trying to find the track that gets to the edge of some reservoir I found myself looking at a service track and thinking "... perhaps, not a good idea - but the worst that could happen is that I can't get up it, and I just have to turn around and come back". Fair enough, isn't it? I should know well enough by now that that's a load of shit. Getting up is the easy part. Getting down is the hard part. As for turning around? You don't want to go there.

So the worst that could happen is that you get halfway up before discovering that it's too difficult - and you can't get up any further. And when your rear starts spinning and you put on the front brake, that only means you're sliding backwards with two useless wheels - until of course you stall it trying to use the rear without straight spinning it. And then you drop it.


And then you pick it back up again, and think "bugger, getting down is going to be hard." And then you realise that that is the least of your problems, because it's impossible to turn around.


So you stick it somewhere relatively stable and think it over, and conclude, perhaps absurdly: the only way down is to go backwards, using the throttle (without stalling it, or spinning it up too much). Absurd, but true!


I had the unexpected problem initially, that it wasn't possible to even get the bike to go backwards. To get the rear down the hill I'd hold the front brake and spin it up - the rear would slide down hill, but the front, in a slippery rut of its own, would follow suit as if in sympathy. Three or four metres were in fact traversed sideways, an experience definitely new to me. In the end I managed to find enough grip to get the bike rearranged to actually back down. While the throttle work was a bit strange at first, once used to it it didn't actually prove that dangerous heading backwards - not that the irregular, unplanned spinning and sliding didn't bring out any sweat that the sun and the excertion didn't.

I pulled into one of those 'side alley' runoff things you find bulldozed off steep dirt tracks, and used that to get the bike pointed in the right direction - after a good few minutes for each of us to cool down. From there, the gradient was much milder, and the final section was easier - though no less relieving for it.

Pulling up at the road to double check everything revealed the only damage to be a curved shifting rod (hand straightenable), and that in fact none of the fairings, nor the mirror, appear to have hit the deck at all So Good Times, eh?

A lot has happened since Brisbane though, and especially recently it's been really good - I'll put up a few words about that soon. (And there are heaps of photos too.)


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Temptation of the Lights

from 17/8/2009

ODO 80243

All the bright lights, those city sounds - all tempting me to blow my budget, on coffee, frivolity and beverages.

Another early rise - does 6:30 sound ridiculous to you too? - but a relatively relaxed departure, due largely to unforseen cloud cover shadowing my dewy tent. I took some Northern Rivers back roads through Alstonville - pleasant going, a bit of fun stuff, but largely tame and too much traffic. I ended up on the coastal road. I had figured that after yesterday's dustfest I was due for a shower. I was tossing up between finding somewhere along the road to have a quickie and staying somewhere civilised. Having stopped by the beach for a late lunch, I decided to do the unthinkable: a mid-August dip in the Pacific. Much to my surprise, the water was nearly as balmy as the weather, which was getting quite temparate by that stage.

Having traded red dust for sand and salt I ventured further North, passing briefly through Byron (a town I wouldn't mind spending more time in; Midday Monday in mid-August and the place was more alive than I would expect anywhere outside a proper city. And a good atmosphere - young and pedestrian. Reminded me of Glebe - but happier.) With some menacing hot-weather cloud developing I took a new route over the mountains at the border. If anything, this route towards Currumbin is even better than the more famed road to Nerang, though ultimately very similar in character.

Although most of the cloud seemed behind me, I decided that the threat was real enough to justify heading to Brisbane where I could ride out (by, literally, not riding out) any wet weather.

After finding the only traffic jam in town - I spent twenty minutes coasting with the engine off - then haplessly looping the city trying to find bike parking, I was more than pleased to be able to jump off and declothe. I had removed my thermal that afternoon, but the waterproof liner was stifling in unexpected heat and humidity. I know Queensland is renowned for it, but for this time of year it is ridiculous! Having sourced a few leads for hostels on the West Side (Brisbane seems not to follow the West>bogan trend), that rain hit just as I got back to the bike. Fortunately, while the showers kept returning they were mild and little concern.

The evening passed hastily, but with little filling - showered, ate and shopped (three days of food plus sunscreen for $16 - take that capitalism, and the temptations you send to woo me!), all generally mild-mannered and urbane.

It has now just passed midnight,
and is hence an appropriate time to say



First words from the Frontier

from 16/8/2009

ODO 79 893

I'm lying in my tent, at some outrageously young hour, absolutely buggered and contented. I can't yet claim to have heart-rending stories to relate, but it still feels like the end of a very big week.

My first impression has been that being on the road is hard. Gruelling even - simply being without a support net, needing to scrape by in a manner entirely novel. And I'm only three nights in! Already, though, rather than getting tired of the simplicity of this life, I am getting used to it. I think over the next week or two things will get much easier, as I get used to it all.

You're probably wanting some specifics.

Thursday afternoon - quite late - I left Sydney to stay at my Nan's place on the Central Coast. It was really good to catch up with her again - with my move it might be the last time for a fair while. The trip up was relatively uneventful, largely because it was getting too dark to try anything adventurous. The SV, though, seemed to handle quite well all geared up.

Friday I set out on the first real leg of the journey. I had meant to take the freeway up the coast, but when the road I was on headed towards Maitland instead I offered no objection. And as many a traveller would know, if you're heading North from Maitland, Dungog should be your next destination. From there onto Buckett's; I was eventually tempted by a detour with 'tops' written on it twice. I didn't end up doing much climbing, but I found enough dirt to rechristen the bike (and cake my chain).

Passing through Wingham (opting the more direct route towards Port Mac) I figured I may as well take the back road to Wauchope. And once on it, I felt inclined to take a side-track or two - and by 'side' I mean 'goat'. I can happily report that all my luggage holds firm through all terrain, and that the SV is once again as dirty as it has been for the last three years.

For others

Continuing the 'holiday' theme, I opted to head straight to Port instead of up the Golden Road itself. I needed to source both internet and a place to pitch - as well, preferably, as actually pitching the tent while light remained. I ended up in a caravan park, so all quite civilised (I showered and all!), and have newly elected Maccas my favourite haunt for free wifi when the MotoGP is on.

Yesterday - Saturday - I actually did the unthinkeable, and opted to leave the Oxley Highway to keep its own company. I had intended instead to push on and make it to Byron for Saturday night. Since I'm on holiday... the backroads loop from Kempsey got the nod, and I was rewarded with some good riding and stunning countryside. I then took a detour through Bellingen, and had lunch in the park with the local high school band performing for the jazz festival that weekend - unfortunately about the only gig that was free, and at any rate I needed to get going. Up Waterfall way (with a surprisingly clear run considering all the traffic in town), onto Tyringham and North to Grafton - this would have to be one of my favourite sections of Australia to ride through. Very engaging, beautiful, challenging (and tiring).

Mainly photos from out the back of Kempsey

As I got to Grafton it was getting on, and the first line of questioning turned up good results - is there a Maccas? With wireless? Open late? The second saw me heading back south, to find a clearing in the state forrest to set up camp - it is perfectly legal, at appears, to camp anywhere anytime in state forests. National Parks are typically paid, and in designated areas (often well equipped on the flipside). And as many of you will have discovered, caravan parks are the only remaining legal option, and the price one pays for a small square of grass makes it usually a last resort.

A backroad into the nearest SF saw me at the gates of the Grafton Motorcycle Club dirt track, and lo and behold there was a gathering. It seemed a tad strange at first, so I naturally enquired. It turned out that they were preparing the track for the next day's racing. One thing led to another, and next thing I knew my tent was up in the paddock and my name was on the officials' list.

It pays, it seems to ask questions.

Today was spent doing little beyond watching bikes (from the best vantage point on the track - crash corner), fostering my August tan, generally helping out and being fed for my troubles. This is an order of magnitude more than simple 'win-win'. Flagging, it turns out, is more tiring than you would expect, and by sundown I had little enthusiasm for venturing out to find a screening of the GP. Or, for that matter, doing anything to upset the leftovers I had the pleasure of scoffing.

A day with SGMCC

Which leads me back to the beginning- typing in my tent. In a second I will get up to brush my teeth - maybe boil the billy for good measure - and knap out for a good night's kip, ready to continue my adventure to wherever tomorrow takes me.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Work update: 'Expression of Interest'

I have news!

Firstly, I will be leaving Sydney next Thursday - it has gotten to the point where I may as well hang around in Sydney till my sister gets back from overseas.

I have also been offered a job with the Victorian Auditor General's Office (VAGO), as a Performance Audit officer/analyst. Their GRAD Scheme starts in February next year, in Melbourne of course. I haven't said yes, but I will, so as long as my second reference doesn't stab me in the back I will have a job to start in the new year. Huzzah for that!

So this trip, really is a departure - my return home won't be to the home I am departing. And it really is a holiday! Not just an extension of an uncertain future.

Curl Curl - there are upsides to the home I am departing, like the location I am writing this entry from...

The blog, I might add, I am thinking will change a little bit (but who knows exactly what the future will hold). I will present here many more stories of the motorcycling aspect of the journey - an aspect which previously had been largely removed from other activities, but on the road with just the bike will be integral, rather than additional. So, you'll be missing out on much less by not following the motoblog, and have a much more exciting and complete picture here.

I love being the bearer of good news!

Over and out.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another buoy on the waves of time

Hello there fellow travellers on the changing seas of the wide wild world,

I am here to report that nothing has changed - or in other words, that everything is changing (as usual). And as yet, no epiphany.

A few small insights, though. I had considered quite seriously looking at using my free time in the last half of the year to take up distance education. I thought long and hard about this proposterous possibility before realising that my desire to ruin my holiday with 'productivity' was just Sydney seeping back into my pores - or perhaps my relationship with her, rather than the town itself. Thinking about it, the misguided productivity urge is doing a lot of bad even now... but that's a long story in time and motivation management that I won't bore you with.

The employment situation is coming along a bit. Final round interviews with Willis weren't enough to get me past the hurdle of my relative inexperience. It was a touch sad that an initial-screening aspect to my candidature lost out over otherwise exemplary feedback on my application.

But that's okay. I've just had four final-round interviews with employers all more appealing. Quantium in Sydney want immediate start analysts (insurance and marketing). I was a little intimidated by the backgrounds and experience of the actuaries (statistical and financial mathematics postgrad students too) in my group interview on Friday - and surprised by the strength of the people and talking skills they all showed. But that's okay - I was there for a reason, and I am not one to judge my relative value. It would be a very positive endorsement for me to be offered a position.

A few Victorian Government departments also wanted to speak to me earlier in the week. There was room for improvement in all the interviews (I think I addressed a point or two on Friday), but nevertheless they went well, and every position sounds like a good opportunity so far.

Looking forward, I expect that securing one of the latter three would mean travelling this year, VPS GRAD Scheme next year, then (probably) postgrad study in a technical discipline (e.g. applied or financial stats) and on-the-job training in stats work (SPSS or SAS) for a couple more years. That would mean a strong background to provide a broad range of options and a good timeframe after which be able to make a change and pursue one of those.

There are still many questions to answer, but proceedings are positive.

It was good to need to pop down to Melbourne for a few days for the interviews. Be reaquainted with the old town and a friend or two. It is perhaps a little odd that I never get homesick - but that I do feel a touch of away-from-homesick for Melbourne. There may be extenuating factors... but it still seems strange.

In other timespans of future orientation, I'm on the cusp of departing Sydney for the final leg of my Australian travels. I should have told you at least the basics - which is all there is yet to know. Depart here soon, with the bike, and whatever seems necessary. Head North for QLD and the NT - pickup some work if it presents, like fruitpicking. Travel the top end (detour to Alice), continue to Perth. Visit relatives in WA, and return via the long stretch to Adelaide. If permitted, Tasmania over summer. has a few details about the paintwork I've been doing - both bikes are now an affective shade of green ( As earlier, the motoblog will host some of the more motorcycle-oriented aspects of the trip (though I am considering condensing).

Right now I'm planning a going-away for Tuesday. You should come along.

Til then.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coming Home: A temporary excercise in remembrance

Back in Sydney now: the good, the bad, the ugly - and all of it lovely.  I do like Melbourne's charms, but not as much as I love Sydney's lack of them.  I am home! (For now.)

It has been a while - so pull up a chair, make yourself a cup of tea (order another Yemen)...

It has been quite a while, I know, so I should tell you a bit about the rest of my time at Sydney's pretty sibling.

Work continued more-or-les s without incident, with my barista skills gradually increasing - along with my passion for a good coffee.  I can now pour a very impressive cappucino, with reasonable consistency, and can point you in the direction of some seriously good coffee wherever you are in Melbourne.  The first book in a while I have considered buying is about coffee, which I think is indicative.

Getting back to Sydney has highlighted the differences in weather between the cities - Melbourne always seems those few degrees cooler in the forecasts, and being back here I can feel the relative warmth.  My arrival back in Sydney was marked with a downpour - the gusty crackle of heavy drops on the van roof was a welcome homecoming present.

My last few weeks in Melbourne saw me taking advantage of many of the local attractions.  I have heard average things about Geelong - only from Melbourne's Easterners - but my time there was pleasant, and I can confirm a variety of places worthy of visit on a Saturday night.  (It's too bad the Cats thumped the Swans that afternoon - though it was good to be there for it.)  The Sunday after I followed that road out of town, out towards the 'Twelve' Apostles.  Deviating up through the forest was well worth it, as was a brief look around Colac, though the emptiness of the lake it was built upon does leave something of a sad impression.  Riding back along the Great Ocean Road was a treat - a few of the twisty bits were excellent, and the afternoon light really brought out the seaside beauty.

A couple of weeks later I toured the areas East of Melbourne and was no less impressed.  South Gippsland (a largely dairy area) must be the greenest area of Australia, and the cattle-spotted rolling mountains make for a unique backdrop - at least as far as Australia is concerned.  The Mornington Peninsula was probably the highlight of the trip, with spectacular rocky mountains - and a good mountain road or two - rising out of the Bass Straight.  Day two included both very typical and very atypical Melbourne riders' roads: the mountains North East of Melbourne are as famous for riding as they are for the bushfires that swept through here three months ago.  I started off following what my map said was a semi-major dirt road - after some deleriously fun (but slippery) twisties, it ended up a single-lane forrest mud track, with a grader halfway along. Very dodgy riding, but the only real downside is that it would keep less adventerous riders away from finding the beautiful mountain spots that I did.  Only later did I get into the bushfire territory, which was a very positive experience.  Yes the trees are black, but the grass was green, and sprouts and foliage are sprouting up out of the ashes.  Yes people died - and I'm glad I did not need to confront that - but environmentally bushfires are essential, and everything is thriving through them.  Bare trees also made lines of sight much better, which makes it safer to go faster, and I'm not going to complain about that, am I?

Healesville, by the way, is a misspelling of Hicksville; don't be confused by the up-market tourist-oriented shopfronts.

One can't, of course, wrap up a trip to Melbourne without talking about the footy.  AFL in Melbourne is big - big in the way NRL is here, but much broader as well.  AFL is the game in Melbourne - virtually the only game in Melbourne, not just the biggest.  If you don't follow AFL, you don't follow sport.  This has the great side-effect that you don't need to be a meat-headed bogan to follow it, so for the first time in my life I will happily call myself a footy fan.  I even - in true Melbourne spirit (as much about the weather as the footy) - got myself a Swannies scarf, which is imbued with an interesting mix of emotions... I'm following your game, but my team.  A good compromise to being a temporary Melbournian, I think!

There were a string of decent festivals on over my time in Melbourne.  The Comedy was first up, and involved a few good shows, fortunately without much outlay.  Randy was a definite highlight - it is oddly acceptable for a puppet to go overboard with 'c***', and the dry, dark, often intellegent wit was both unsettling and hilarious.  The International Jazz Festival was up next - from memory I didn't attend anything.  International Festival meant International gig costs.  Googling the MIJF I was lucky enough, however, to come across the Melbourne Fringe Jazz Festival: a week and a half showcasing Melbourne's local talent, at all the hottest venues, at a fraction (typically 1/2 or 1/3) of their international alternative.  There were a few average experiences, but a some very good ones as well, which made for a very positive week.  It's bloody awesome being on holiday - I'd been to one jazz gig in Sydney in four years of uni (despite four years' cheap/free tickets with Jazz Soc), and all of a sudden I can go out every night.

One last thing before I leave Melbourne, is a comment about how cultured the city is.  It's something people ask me: do I find Melbourne more cultured?

Frankly, if you think it is you're a douche, and I make no apologies for the problems surrounding your birth.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh.  There are differences between the cities - the other being Sydney of course - and I can see what people mean, but if Melbourne is characterised as 'cultured' I pity your sense of culture.  The Melbournians (and others) who praise the beauty of Sydney and its beaches and harbours obviously haven't gotten around town much.  So much of Sydney is somewhere between unpleasant and ghastly, in a way Melbourne is not.  So much of the way Sydney is built shows a complete disregard for aesthetics - or for that matter any ongoing use of public space.  Does nobody in Sydney ever think ahead?  Are we suffering problems with our eyesight?  It seems we are making efforts to address certain problems, but the wonder is how we ended up so horribly out of whack in the first place.  The tunnels we are haphazardly crossing our city with are like bandaids on short-sighted infrastructure planning, and potential projects to free up the city's waterfront areas (Darling Harbour and the Quay) are indicative of how little value we have given to the use of public space.

This is evident on a much more micro level in Melbourne as well - in various ways.  Bars/cafes (they are not so distinct down there) offer much more interesting spectacles - much more creative uses of space - than up here.  We tend to be cold up here, as if our time off needs to reflect our professionalism, if it reflects anything at all.  Streets there are so more ambulant - there are trees, there is space.  Laneways have things other than bins down them.  'Graffiti' is common - not vandalism, but spray-can paintings of public surfaces.  If there is a space in Melbourne, it is recognised as something people might spend time in - its social value is recognised.

I have already written about the pretty people of Melbourne - the trendy areas are very much so, and the CBD is far more residential (less corporate, more of a place to actually spend time) - who make for sights interesting in the same way the city's places are.

It's misleading, though, to characterise this as more 'culture' on their part.  Melbournians put up different facades, but it remains that they are facades.  The facades in Sydney's are every bit as stylised - and every bit as trivial - but more often corporate.  We have a beach culture to rival Fitzroy's classy bohemians (Sydney's 'bohemians' are more varied, and often genuinely grungy).  In Melbourne, the main result of their longer history of migrant populations is that Italian and Greek food is expensive ('kebabs' are called 'souvlaki' and you pay through the nose for the privelege of an inferior product).  They aren't as racist against muslims, wogs or boongs, but seem less tolerant of any variety of Asian. The vast majory of the population? - if you can pick a Melbournian from a Sydneysider you're doing a lot better than me.

Beyond the architecture, there doesn't seem much difference by way of art: Melbournians have been known to look up towards Sydney's Ballet/Jazz/music/art scene in the same way we have of theirs.  The city's widespread 'graffiti' is fundamentally devoid of social comment, and that's what gets to me - the cultural facades really are just pretty layerings over fundamentally similar social detachment.  I don't lament the commissioned nature of the city's street art like my German friend does, but at least tags are a social comment.  I hate tags as much as the next person, but with so much 'artwork' going on I had hoped to find evidence of the kinds of voices which are realised in illegal graffiti - all I found was space-monsters.


The last of my time in Melbourne was spent mainly focussing on that time remaining - now that I'm back I need to work out what I'm doing here.

There will be a bit of 'grunt' work: motorbike maintenance, sorting out possesions, selling the van and the racebike.

I'll see what I can do as far as work is concerned - I might not be paying rent, but I can't live without a bit of cash.  I like working, don't forget, and it would be a sad to hang around for months without making a coffee.  It's really good, though, not to have any pressure to earn the cash to get by.  I'm even thinking about the kinds of places I can weisel my way into by offering myself for free (or for little). With a bit of luck I'll get myself into a medical trial which will pay quite handsomely - decreasing the financial importance of work, increasing my freedom to take advantage of the time I have, both in Sydney and for the remainder of the year.

It looks, at the moment, that I will be here about two months, possibly longer.  Longer if I get into a trial which keeps me back, or have work or something pressing to keep me around.  If not, two months will be long enough to complete my 'business' here at home.

If I can get work at the snow, that is next on the todo list.  But I will be a late arrival - I don't know how well that will go.  Either way, after that I think I will head north: to WA not via Adelaide, but via Queensland and the top end.  QLD was previously absent from my travel plans, but without feeling the need to pass through Victoria, it makes a lot of sense to head that way.  I'm still hoping to make it to Tassie next summer, but that's a long way down the track.

Have I mentioned I plan on doing all this by bike now?  Yes, I know I faffed around a lot buying the van, getting it ready (reregistering it...), but I am drawn to the inconveniences of taking just the bike, and frankly I'm happy to do away with much of the value of having a van.  The money, moreover, could be better directed: even if that merely means voluntary super contribution (150% upfront government contribution is a deal hard to beat!).

As always, I'm thinking about the future.  I have been becoming a little sceptical that the (grad) jobs I have been applying for will really work me towards what I want in the long-term.  Admittedly I don't have a firm grasp on what that is, but even my inclinations are plagued more than anything by the sense that I am not engaged in working out what I can do - now - to work towards that future.  'Year off > grad job > future' is no longer an acceptable excuse, and I am working on ways to move forward.  They often seem quite abstract - but then some of my most rewarding steps forward have been abstract work merely in concrete clothing.  (I just don't have anything concrete while I'm on holiday.)

If I have an epiphany you will be the first to know.

@JohnSBaxter (coming soon!)