Friday, January 30, 2009

The sun, the rocks, the flies, and the fabulous experience: Climbing Feathertop, Victoria's Second Highest Peak

Because when the forecast exceeds 40 degrees, the only sensible way to escape the heat is by scaling a mountain - Right?

I finished the day's treck sitting by the roadside near the top of Mount Hotham, fruitlessly attempting to escape the swarm - every fly passed over the last 9km, all of which decided I looked like a meal. I was buggered, thoroughly, after 12km up from the base of the mountains (Harrietville), and another 10 along the Razorback Ridge. I had managed to pick the most difficult route: after the 12 k climb, the Razorback ended up as flat only 'on average'; the path along the ridge climbed and dipped over every peak and into every hollow, in an endless succession of mountainous obstacles. I was sitting - head pounding, legs aching, but content and relieved that the neverending ridge was finally over - hoping for a hitch down the mountain to the van. Sitting, looking at my bicycle, which I had chained to a post so that I could ride it all the way down the hill of Mt Hotham (along the Great Alpine Road), and which would remain chained to that post until I could get the key out of the van, conveniently sitting at the bottom of the hill that I needed to descend.

It was, and still is, a good plan: walk to the top of Feathertop, stroll along the ridge, and coast down the hill on the treadly. It was the execution that was lacking (and much more arduously than expected).

After a relatively early getup (for someone who works late and hasn't slept much for days), I drove the van all the way up Hotham to drop off that bicycle, and all the way back down to start the walk. It's a great road in all vehicles, the Alpine up Hotham: while I obviously didn't have as much fun as on the bike (and took literally three times as long), I still enjoyed driving it in the van. It did mean a chunk out of my walking time, though, and the opportunity for the day to start heating up: by 9am driving down the mountain, the road had already started to melt, and I was losing fluids just driving. By 9:40 I had gotten out of the van at the base of the climb, and was wondering whether all the cyclists I passed on the way down thought the smell of my brakes was as funny as I did.

By 9:45 I was on my way.

The full narrative of my expedition - and all the photos - will be posted when I next get the chance to put something up. Stay tuned!

@JohnSBaxter (coming soon!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Learning Bright, but what should I be sharing?

Well I'm getting around a bit, but none of it - beyond all the fabulous riding experiences I'm trying to catch up writing about on the motoblog - jumps out as something I need to tell you about.

Perhaps I should think harder...

Before I give you a general update I will ask you: is there anything you would like to know?
Feedback is the best basis of blogging and all-too-often the necessary motivation!

An update on my health

I will be moving into a spare room a friend has in Richmond, Melbourne, from the start of February, until early/mid-March.

I screened today (a couple of days for results) for a medical trial which will pay for my stay without the need to work... it also makes it difficult to work as it cuts into my availability, but I figure financial security and free time win out over the opportunity to work.

I expect to be able to attend the World Superbikes at Phillip Island at the start of March (like MotoGP all over again, I hope, except it's an hour away now), which you will hear about in due course.

I have a ticket for the Aus V. NZ ODI at the MCG, a stones throw from this place.

Whilst still at Bright:
This Thursday (tomorrow, technically), I will be scaling Victoria's second highest peak! That IS exciting!

In Future

I promise to try harder to turn some of these exciting happenings into blog posts.

@JohnSBaxter (coming soon!)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Life of Planning to Move On

Written 21/1/09
(It is hard to keep a blog when the nearest internet access is on top of a mountain 60km away! It would be easier, but I have a hole in my rear tyre...)

An update long overdue. (Thank you to Hamish for the prod.)

I have settled into Bright reasonably comfortably. And so has everything else. Things are getting quite quiet in the pub - most nights are early, and none are ever busy for more than a short period. The weekend before last was great! Incredibly busy, the band went off on Saturday, fun all around! This weekend just passed was very, very slow, especially in contrast. The only drinkers were the staff who had Friday off who celebrated my birthday by downing shots with sweet sounding names and sweeter ingredients (getting hilariously loose in the process). A fun - if casual - night my birthday ended up, though I'm the only one that remembers the later shenanigans.

So, as lovely as the place, the people and the job all are, we're all settling into a country-town atmosphere. I am glad, therefore, to be planning my next destination: Sunny Melbourne-town.

Remaining time in Bright
First up, I need to work through this week: I am not off until next Tuesday, but with a bit of luck the upcoming AUSTRALIA DAY! long weekend will bring back the busy. If that fails it will at least bring Sunday/Public Holiday pay, which I think I can bear.

Tuesday I might be back in Melbourne, on 'business'. There's a trial upcoming which will pay my wages for my time in Melbourne in only two weeks and would mean I'll have the cash and time to see my sister while she's back in Australia for a couple of weeks, and the time to pursue less imminently monetary avenues while in the Southern Smoke. So hopefully Tuesday will be a succesful screening visit.

Work I will secure on arrival - I am confident I'll find something (if I need to).

Accomodation I need to finalise. A friend has a room in a fairly good spot in a nice little house in city-side Richmond (right near the MCG: think William St on Hyde Park in Sydney and you'd have an equivalent), but there are a few other locations that I have my eye on: Carlton being the top of the list (also probably near the most expensive suburn in Melbourne but with hard work that isn't much of a problem). I spent last weekend in town but unfortunately I couldn't really get any places to inspect in time.

I did enjoy my first taste, though, and while I didn't spend the time to learn the cultural differences that people talk about, I was struck by the layout. The creme of the CBD fringe, like Sydney, is packed with dense housing, cafes, bars and retail - but nowhere in Sydney can I think of a place which combines that density with wide, often leafy streets that make it a casual place to walk in. (Manly might be similar, but we know Manly is a seedy hole filled with drunken poms, kids and kiwis.)

Regards my todo list: it's still intact! I do have a bit of time off next week though, so I think I'm climbing a mountain on Thursday, and will hopefully be back (and in a fit state) to enjoy the famous Simone's that evening. The brewery I'm not sure about, but it isn't a priority anymore.

Other happenings

As always, my most interesting stories are about the riding I do in my time off - the most recent trip took me over the Dargo High Plains which was yet another unforgettable experience.

And yes Hamish, I do realise how lucky I am to be living the life that I am, a sense at its most poignant when on the road. I fully understand the love of Australia that living away from this place can bring - I don't know that I would appreciate my time in it if I hadn't spent that half-year in Russia. It struck me riding back from Melbourne with some force, so I'll direct the kindly reader to my [moto-blog] if they want to read what I was thinking about that.

Also a random note the Sasha's Czech cuisine in Bright is well worth a visit! (It was actually the first time I have eaten anywhere in town other than the pub.) The pork was uninspiring, but combined with the sides was a great experience (and a good feed after a lunchless day). I thought I had done cabbage - obviously not Sasha's cabbage.

Approaching Melbourne I'll hopefully be on the net more, whether here or there, so you'll have to forgive me for being so sparse and believe my intentions to change that.

I also promise to format these posts properly and include a few photos of Bright itself.

Til next time.

@JohnSBaxter (coming soon!)

Living in Bright

Believe it or not, stuff actually did happen in between. The job's great so far - mainly because I haven't had a permanent post in a public bar, so I've had enough to learn to keep me keen. The staff are great, although everyone complains about how much of a hole Bright and The Alpine are. It's been pretty busy, but nothing I'm not used to. I've even had a few days off. It's amazing how much time you seem to have when being 'on holiday' means no real todo list, and living seven metres from work means a zero minute commute; a 55 hour week last week didn't seem like much trouble at all.

I have to apologise now for having bugger all photos of the lovely town of Bright. I don't really take the camera out when I'm popping out for the milk. But I will address the shortage, I promise!

It seems everyone here (except of course the locals) rides a treadly, so my 50-50 decision to bring mine has paid dividends. Once settled in I headed out of-a-morning to nearby Wandiligong, famous as a historical gold-digging site, and now for Australia's largest hedge maze. Not that I care. But it was a good treadle up the hill, and I have to prove that I went a photo of a historic Chinese bridge, and a shot down the valley towards Bright.

(03: Oriental Bridge: I am only assuming it's original, but the snapshots of a burgeoning Australian trait - racism - written about on its touristy walls were fairly interesting. I can only assume that this stream was once more significant than it is... at present it would be easier to just walk through it than to build something elaborate like this bridge.)

(06: From Wandiligong down the valley towards Bright: notice evidence of what I consider to be the area's primary blight: extensive pine plantations. Nothing is less environmentally or aesthetically interesting than planted pine.)

New Years Day - the only public holiday, unfortunately - I had a day off, which I spent thriftily on an alpine loop that has convinced me this is motorcycling heaven. You can read [all about it] [on my motorcycling blog]. (If you're keen on the photos the moto-blog is the one you probably want to keep your eye on.)

I had another day off yesterday, once again spent on the road - and yes, it was as hot in this area as it was everywhere else in Eastern Australia. The scenery was no less fantastic than on my first day's riding, so you should check out [my motoblog post on that] too.

Somewhere along the way (in between Mitta-Mitta and Dartmouth) I realised I'm living a dream. I realised just how lucky I am being able to do what I am doing: to ride when I want, work when I want, relax (mainly in between those first two occupations, not so much during), still earn well enough, and learn along the way as well. I never want to ever hear from anyone that they have wasted a summer and are poorer for it. Get out of town: there are towns like Bright all over the map with welcoming locals, a pub in dire need of staff, and a whole new world to encounter. I have spent four years wasting free holiday time, rest assured that it has been done enough already that you don't need to do so as well.

What else?

Well, I can tell you about my plans.

Before I leave Bright, I have a must-do-todo list of two:
1: Climb Mt Bogong (Victoria's Highest Peak) and/or Mt Feathertop (Victoria's Second Highest Peak);
2: Become aquainted with the local brewery.

So far all my days off have moto-rides planned for them, but there will be more of those in future (and I can of course just stay in town long enough to do what I need to), so you will hear all about these exploits.

I'm also planning a Far-South-Coast + Snowy Mountains + Canberra trip for this weekend.

I expect to be in town until not long after the Australia day weekend, and head into Melbourne after that until I need to be back in Sydney mid-March.

And more photos!

Yes, I have shitloads more photos, mainly from my days out on the motorbike; check out [my Picasa gallery].

(Links and formatting to come.)

@JohnSBaxter (coming soon!)

First Entry into the Unknown

Started writing Wed 7/1/08

(Those parenthetical comments
do indeed refer to photos, which are yet to be uploaded. Will edit soon.)

It has been quite a while, I know - or at least it feels that way. So much has happened. This could be long!

I left the morning of Sunday 28th Dec in good spirits, if underslept. After an extended 'breakfast' session with a friend I found myself travelling south from Penrith late that morning. I was finally 'on the road' and the freedom finally hit me. The freedom not to look at the map also meant it took me a little while to finally join the freeway, which did mean the opportunity to enjoy some local sights - nice if not spectacular.

(01: Railway bridge somewhere between Penrith and the freeway. Possibly Bargo. As you may pick up, I have a thing for railway lines and bridges, so railway bridges are tops.)

Being what it is, nothing much happened on the freeway until I stopped for a late lunch at Yass. Entry to the museum didn't bring much more historical joy than expected, but it did mean an appreciation of the age of the (disused) railway bridge. I pulled in to eat in a park on the other bank of the river that was too good to refuse. It had views of the town and railway bridge, a park through the valley and some sporting fields.

(05d: Yass cricket field: reminded me that my radio was buggered and I didn't know what the score was.)

An hour or two later the freeway had gotten me remarkably tired and I stopped for a breather in Gundagai.

(08b: Gundagai from above: The freeway was raised through this valley for whatever reason.)

Having had quite a slow day, I didn't pull off the highway until just before Albury, where I poked east looking for the Hume Weir. I was by this stage 'driving into the sunset', which bathed the area in a profound palette of fading colour. I love the bush ([whichever that may be]) and its colours, which don't slap you in the face if you aren't looking, but impress whenever eyes are drawn from the road.

(09f: Driving into the Sunset My first action shot: unlike with the bike, it's easy to take photos while moving in the van. The surprise is that a few of them turned out!)

I did find the Hume Weir without much trouble, and while the dam itself failed to rouse much passion, I was fortunate to catch Lake Hume at the best time of day. (It looked here quite full, but [a later trip] up the Murray revealed no more waterflow than on any previous visits.)

(10b: Lake Hume.)

As evening became night, I decided not to bother pushing on to Bright, stopping at a campsite about 50km out, in the Kiewa River/Tawonga valley. With no functioning curtains I was sleeping under the stars in the comfort of my van - a nice way to doze off - though It wasn't until morning that I realised what a picturesque spot I'd picked.

(11b: My van comes with million-dollar views... view across the Kiewa River/Tawonga valley, just south of Dederang.)

So I rose fresh and headed towards finding work: I staked out Myrtleford first, to confirm its suitability as a backup, and for breakfast on the go. Confirmed and eaten I pressed on to Bright and arrived at a reasonable late-morning time to start asking people to employ me. Within the hour I was being shown to my (complimentary) accomodation and around the bar of a hotel that will have as much work as I can handle.

And I have been working non-stop ever since.

The End.

@JohnSBaxter (coming soon!)