At face value, places visited or travelled through can be taken for granted. Sometimes, it's not until after I return from a ride and research places visited that I appreciate the history of the area and then I stare at the computer screen and think "Bugger, I should have spent more time looking around." The good thing is, it gives the reason to return.
After battling gale-force winds, I meet up with a mate, Rod Pedemont at Mount Victoria for a mid-summer ride through Katoomba to Oberon, followed by Goulburn and return to the suburbs of Sydney, an estimated ride of approx. 460km. Not a bad distance for a day ride.
Once upon a time, Mt Victoria was a major tourist stop. People would catch a train, stay overnight before travelling to Jenolan caves by horse and cart or risk their lives in one of those fandangoed motor cars. They are more of a novelty and will never take off.
Now it's a stopping point for a cup of coffee, breakfast, if you have your wife as pillion, a browse through old cottages converted into antique shops might be your thing or just as a meeting place before continuing further west.
Heading down Victoria Pass, keep in mind the speed cameras and speed limit, especially during double demerit point periods. I wonder if you can apply to receive the photo from RMS with your arms in the air or look of sheer terror on your face from the decent or from encountering the "Ghost of the Second Bridge" as you pass the bottom camera?
Stopping at Hartley, the wind abates and the temperature has risen to the low 30's. Colonial buildings make a good backdrop for photos of the bikes and if you are old enough, you may have memories of driving through here with your parents on the way to Jenolan Caves or the pine forests of Oberon. Speaking with the Blacksmith in the Talisman Gallery, he admits Covid -19 has been a blessing to him and other people in country communities as more people are now enjoying day trips. People are now stopping to explore the surrounding tracks along River Lett and rock formations behind the town before watching him create one-off metal sculptures and more importantly, buying them.
Turning onto Jenolan Caves Road, a road sign warns of the road conditions for the next 46 km. Riding on the ridgeline on a windy day, I can understand why the sign is there. Not only are the views spectacular, but the buffeting wind also keeps you on your toes as well as the odd car that veers to the wrong side of the road looking at the fields instead of the bitumen.
The long grass flows in waves across fields like whitecaps lapping the shore of a lake and ribbons of gravel roads follow the contours of hills leading to the valley floor. Passing through Hampton, blades of a wind generator pop up from a canopy of trees, slowly rotating on a hilltop providing power for the village and surrounds.
Regardless of traveling on a bike or in a car, having good travelling companions is a real advantage. You don't need to travel in a cluster. Different people catch different things out of the corner of their eyes that grab their attention. Not everyone wants to stop and investigate an old building, read a plaque or take in the scenery. It is good to have travel companions that are easy going and are more than happy to meet at the next intersection or town. It gives riding partners the freedom to ride as fast or as leisurely as they wish.
The idea is to enjoy the ride and look after each other. The guy at the end, not only looks at the views but also watches for any telltale signs of skid marks, debris, breakdowns or anything else that could cause problems for those that have gone ahead.
With the vegetation changing from eucalypt to pine trees, the air gets cooler and smells like…. a pine forest. A little ahead, Rod waits patiently on his Honda Deauville at the Millionth Acre Recreation Area. Commemorating the millionth acre of radiata pine planted in Australia the plantations were created for our commercial wood production, it also helps with soil erosion as well as regional employment. Unlike the native bush where trees and shrubs grow in what looks like chaos, the pine trees stand in straight lines. Ordered in blocks and rows, each one socially distanced from the other. Each one on a conveyor waiting to be felled when the time is right. I can't confirm if they fall on their own, I've never heard one; one of life's mysteries.
Coming through Duckmaloi, billboards appear advertising services in Oberon. Some faded and weathered over the years, some obscured by growing vegetation, they seem to be a dying art form that used to let you know you're closer to a fuel stop than you thought.
Utes and 4x4's line Oberon's main street, parked in the customary 45-degree angle. Locals are in the shops and cafes, recovering from Christmas and its build up. Paying for fuel at the service station, the girl at the counter tells us there is a storm predicted for the afternoon and to ride safely, the rain is welcome as this time last year, the dam had fallen to 20% capacity and fires raged around the state.
Outside, a few clouds begin to roll over the horizon and the air is still warm. Oberon Dam was built in two stages 1943 to 1949 and 1954 to 1959 overseen by J.J Cahill, a man that looked to the future. Originally built due to water shortages in the region brought on by the 1940 drought it also supplied water for the now derelict National Oil Proprietary LTD's refinery at Glen Davis and factories at Lithgow. Listed as a National Engineering Landmark, it was a first in many regards. The total length of the pipeline to Glen Davis was 105 km. It now supplies water to Mt Piper and Wallerawang Power Stations as well as water supply for parts of the Blue Mountains. Stocked with Brown and Rainbow trout, it is a popular fishing lake. Riding out of town, locals look at the sky as they cross the road. Maybe they know something.
Stopping at Black Springs for a lunch break. With a backdrop of giant pines, a couple of cars are setting up their camper trailers in the rest area. Nearby, a monument is erected in honour of Charles Throsby, who with his party discovered the area in 1819 while paving a way from Camden to Bathurst. In 1821, James Meehan surveyed and marked a track from present day Taralga through Porters Retreat to the source of Campbells River. For a flea speck on the map, it is steeped in history. I only knew it from childhood, family weekends foraging for pine mushrooms, camping in the pine forest and looking for sapphires along the tracks.
With the skies getting darker and the temperature dropping, we head toward Goulburn. I let Rod go ahead, as I want to stop with the camera every now and then. It's a straight road and no towns between here and Taralga. Not far past the snow sign, the roadside and ground under the pines begin to turn white as small hailstones plummet from the sky. It isn't snow, but it's still a great sight. The hail doesn't last long and I meet up with Rod at an intersection a little further on putting on his wet weather gear.
Ahead, dark clouds build up and rain fronts sweep to the east. Jethro Tull's song "Broadsword" comes to mind as I ride into dark clouds. "I see a dark sail on the horizon, Set under a black cloud that hides the sun. Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding. Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman. Get up to the roundhouse on the cliff-top standing. Take women and children and bed them down."
Pulling over near Porters Retreat to take some holiday snaps, the odd flash of sheet lightning is followed by a deep throng of thunder rolling in the hills around me. I don't know why I get excited riding into storms. Some get an adrenaline hit riding in and some get an adrenaline hit escaping. Storms are spectacular watching and hearing them move over a valley.
I wonder how much of the landscape has changed since James Meehan, Charles Throsby and Co walked along this ridge? Riding into the clouds, visibility drops to less than 50 metres, road markings disappear in the low light and I keep a watchful eye on my revision mirrors to allow any cars to pass me. I also scan for any skid marks on the road in front of me. As I roll into Taralga, the sleepy town is shrouded in fog.
For a mid-Summer day, the town looks to be in mid-Winter. Rod's Honda Deauville is parked opposite the Taralga Hotel and he is waiting with a beer on the veranda. Music from the pubs sound system fills the top end of town creating a welcoming atmosphere to the deserted street. The temperature in a short space of time dropped from the mid-'30s to 8 degrees, something I have never experienced. Shivering from the cold, I look for a lit open fireplace for warmth, even a hot kettle would have sufficed. We both have stories to tell of what we saw, and in some cases, didn't see.
The road was cloaked in thick fog heading to Goulburn and riding through it reminded me of playing a 1980's arcade game where all you see is the side of the road and nothing else. Sitting in a truck stop at Marulan enjoying a hot roast meal, we compare notes of what we had seen and experienced. It's amazing how quickly the mind and body adapt to riding conditions. Riding is about a frame of mind, being calm even when curveballs are thrown at you, having the foresight to prepare for weather change - experiencing four seasons within a few hours (remember what your mother said about taking a jumper? Mine rode a BMW in Poland).
Ride with good companions – those that will look after you as much as you keep an eye out for them. You don't need to sit on each other's tail the whole way. On some stretches, keep an eye on their headlights through your revision mirror or keep an eye on their taillight. If you see them pull over, it's usually for a good reason, pull over to ensure they are OK. Watch to see if they are meandering due to fatigue, tire issues or anything else. On other stretches, let them loose. You'll know where to find them.
As a recommended day ride, 460 km, 12 hours, 4 seasons, taking in some history, you can't get better than exploring west of the Great Divide. Once you get back, check out where you have been. Just to give you the excuse to return.