There is a perception that adventures start with the turn of a key, untying the rope from a wharf or the first step out the door. There are a myriad of quotes regarding adventure, what it means, how to find it, how to know if you are on one. But it really starts with curiosity; a desire to learn or see somewhere new that will put you out of your comfort zone. It basically starts with an idea.
A couple of years ago I took a group of friends on a road trip to Braidwood on hired Royal Enfields. None of us had ridden an Enfield before, some had never rode country roads, some had never been to that part of the country before, we all had something new to see, new to learn and all were out of our comfort zones in one way or another. It turned into such an amusing road trip that it sparked the idea to make it a yearly or two yearly boy's weekend.
Where haven't we been and how would we like to get there? Was the question asked over a few beers with a mate, Rod. The saddle of a Harley would be a nice way to see the world. Looking at an old map, checking out the mid-north coast and returning inland looks like a worthy trip, we've never been through parts of there before. The idea was hatched, the means and destination had been set. To save procrastination the date was set. The adventure had begun.
For the bikes, we returned to Eagle Rider Rentals at Burwood. Santina and Will gave us a great deal on the Royal Enfields previously and did the same for the Harley Davidsons on this expedition. The initial destination was the National Motorcycle Museum at Nabiac. A route was roughly plotted on Google maps to head north with the return via Dungog. Overnight stopping points were suggested and prices checked.
Three days is what we would need for a comfortable trip. Costings were tallied and came to around $1000 each for the weekend plus spending money. Each of us chose our bikes and we chose wisely. A Sports Glide, two street glides and a Breakout were booked. Jim came as road crew in his HJ panel van that he had lovingly restored; Greg came on his trusty KLR. Not as good as a DR but still not too bad a bike.
We gave a date of two years in the future; this ensured we would ride in the milder months while daylight savings was still in effect. The error we made on the Royal Enfield ride to Braidwood was that it was scheduled in May. Shorter days meant at 3pm you felt the day was ending, at 5pm it was dark and we were rushed to get to destinations before wildlife starts to come onto roads.
Over the months, in between work, reading autobiographies of Neil Young and how he accumulated so many cars in his time or watching Longmire looking at the scenery, maps were opened and towns were researched to discover any oddities they had, what attractions were nearby and any interesting buildings lining the streets. Each region has its own architectural vibe, from the south coast to north coast to differing parts of the west; each region is a little different. There is much to see and do in country towns that you will not experience in tropical resorts. Kudos to Rod who spent hours going over maps, checking distances, looking at accommodation, writing track notes so no one gets lost, organising a GoPro and experimenting with mounts to give the best footage.
Leading into the latter part of 2019, the country was gripped by drought. Fires raged for 6 months, the air was filled with acrid smoke, the sound of sirens and news reports of a national catastrophe over the airwaves. This was followed by dust storms that crossed the nation. Water shortages were increasing and towns were drying to critical levels, then we were hit by floods. I'm waiting for the locusts. We are not out of the drought yet, but the rain helped immensely not just to the dried dams and rivers but to the moral of the people in towns who were on the brink abandoning their homes, farms and towns.
There is always an upside to everything, we may not see it at the time, but there is always something we can use to our advantage. We saw the people come together to support those in need, we supported the RFS and emergency responders, we gave, we volunteered, we put our names down to volunteer where we could. We stood defiant to what was threatening us. There was a brief respite, we celebrated our victory and then we were hit with a global pandemic. A global emergency, neither the Tracy family, Chuck Norris nor James Bond could save us from. Yes it is very serious, it is very contagious and it is something all of us have been thrown into without our consent and the daily changes to routine are very confusing, however, it should be remembered the changes to our lifestyle are the to protect us. Just as making us wear a helmet, jacket and a roadworthy bike are there for our protection not as a revenue raiser.
After the fires, there was a drive to get people to venture into country towns to stimulate their economies, protect them from hardship and show they are not forgotten. The irony is; now we need to keep people out of country towns to protect them and show they are not forgotten about. There is always an upside though. We will change the way we work, study, conduct business. We will increasingly watch out for each other, gain a greater respect for people's professions even realise that working from home in isolation can be detrimental in the long term but beneficial short term. We may travel more locally instead of jetting off to a crowded city overseas where you meet the same people from your local pub? Shows how small the world actually is. By the time this piece is printed, things would have changed multiple times.
This forced isolation is a prime time to do the preventative maintenance on our bikes we have been putting off. It's also an opportune time to research places you always wanted to go, spend the time going over old issues of magazines, pull out old travel books that have been sitting on the shelf waiting to inspire you to somewhere or books on how to do running repairs on the side of the road. Pick up new skills that will come in handy on your next ride. Things look bleak for the moment but they will not last for an excessive amount of time. Even if this virus and lockdown lasts 18 months, plan for something to do at the end of it to celebrate getting to the other side unscathed….. Except for grazed knuckles from slipping spanners.
Friday the 13th. What a date to choose to head out of Sydney. Avoiding all black cats, ladders and anything else that could bring bad luck, it turned out to be the last weekend for some time to venture out and explore the state. After that, state lockdowns have been imposed. The entering of museums, eating in cafes, restaurants and drinking in bars have been banned. We were very fortunate.
A clear blue sky and typical early autumn morning greeted us as we arrived at Eagle Rider to collect our machines. A briefing by Will on what we can and can't do on the bikes, what the buttons do, the screen on the Street glide is not for your wife to watch MAFS while stuck in traffic and he knows where we live if something happens to the bikes, we are then on our way. Coming from the seating position of a DR650 to a Sport Glide, I have to admit it took me by surprise to not find the footpegs directly below me as well as the sudden boost of power when releasing the clutch. By the time I hit Pymble, the muscle memory set in and all was ok.
The first regrouping point was the Brooklyn boat ramp where we met Greg on his KLR. This was the first of many rest stops where we had to wait for Jim to stop talking to flocks of people coming to talk to him about his panel van. It's a 1975 HJ 308ci 4 speed m21 gearbox 3.08 ratio diff and amazing what memories are evoked in people when they see an old panel van.
Along the expressway, the Sport Glide cruised exactly as it should have, effortlessly floating along the dotted lines, giving a burst of power when needed to pass a car or truck. Reaching Williamstown, we duck into Fighter World. Talk about big boys toys, An Aermacchi jet, Mirage, Vampire and an F111 are a few of the fighters held inside. The child in you is hard to restrain when you are free to sit in the cockpit of a Macchi, can't help but say "I feel the need for speed" while your mate sits in the navigator's seat feeling like a Goose. It was a revelation to find the RAF was working on a fighter jet as early as March 1943 with the Gloster Meteor. I had always been under the impression the Luftwaffe were the only ones toying with jets in the mid-'40s. There is always something new to learn. The museum also illustrated the rapid advancements in technology in a relatively short space of time. When you see a biplane hanging above a 50's fighter, you realise we are a pretty smart, resilient species that won't go down without a fight and that's aircraft designed with slide rule technology.
The day ends at Bulahdelah. Once a major stopping point when travelling to QLD, it is still an attractive town, a gateway to Myall lakes where houseboats and yachts can be hired to explore the waterways or to throw a line in for perch, blackfish or anything else that is biting. At the bottom of town, an abandoned service station still stands, sun-bleached signs advertise Chrysler and Plymouth cars and Morris commercials, ghosts from the past. Just as bypasses can be detrimental to some towns, they too have advantages, towns can reinvent themselves preserving their charm and old roads are preserved for those who remember and appreciate them. The old Bulahdelah bends are still there. Now known as the Wootton Way, once notorious for accidents, frustration at being caught in lines of holiday traffic behind a caravan or truck, this is a 22km stretch of bliss that winds through giant mountain eucalypt. Sweeping bends, flat surfaces, dual lane in some parts and we didn't see another car along this stretch while the Harleys glided over the bitumen. Greg "Rossi" on his KLR showed us how to ride it properly. Once we got to the end at the Pacific Highway, the idea was thrown around to turn back and do it again.
A few minutes further north is the National Motorcycle Museum at Nabiac. Deceiving from the front, it's like stepping into the Tardis. The inside opens to 3 warehouse-sized sheds full of motorcycles, automobiles and memorabilia. It's a privately owned museum that was set up by and run by The Kelleher family to help prevent our motorcycling heritage being shipped overseas. That was 18 years ago, now there are over a thousand bikes on display and growing. Some models were ahead of their time like an old Malvern Star with a 25cc engine that looks not too dissimilar to the E-bikes screaming around city streets today or the adventure bikes with CD players to keep the rider amused while listening to the Doors as they ride into dark flashing skies. For a $15 entry fee, we are entertained for a good couple of hours as we recognise bikes of our youth and memories of cuts, grazes and forest tracks.
After hunting down cheese and bacon pies for Jarad in a Nabiac bakery we head west to Dungog via Gloucester. It's not long before Jim Morrison starts singing in my helmet and I realise how resilient the bush is. Driving through Merriwa last October, the land was parched and the ground crackled underfoot, today it is emerald green with low clouds rolling into the valleys shrouding the hills. Visibility decreases as my glasses are covered in water and my face feels exfoliated after being blasted by a million beads of rain. The Harley doesn't miss a beat and we wind our way to Morgrani Lookout to pull over and put on the wet weather gear. Looking at the roadside map with Greg, we are already looking for secondary roads to explore on a return trip. A welcome respite is found in Gloucester at the Roadies café. Hot coffee and a burger will do wonders to your moral even when driving on a wet day. Watching the world go by, a group of riders on vintage bikes cruise along the main street heading toward Krambach, doesn't matter how old or how good the bike looks, you still get wet.
Entering Dungog, a potholed road leads to a truss bridge that seems miles long and leads us into the town centre. A wide empty street with 1900's architecture, horse and dray replaced with 4x4s and utes. It's a picturesque town. Petrol pumps mounted on the curb in front of garages, closed for the afternoon, a reminder that you can still get stranded in a town if not careful. In front of the Holden dealer, an "Out of Order" sign on the petrol bowser reads like an epitaph on a headstone. Like all towns that are fighting to stay alive, some of these places have hidden gems that stand out from everything and make the journey there worthwhile.
The Hunter is renowned for its wineries, however, TheTin Shed Brewery steps out of the box and specialises in beer and really good food. Owned by Haley and David Collis it has laid-back feel of a mates shed that holds a brewing kit on steroids – very relaxed. You can sit in or out and the guys behind the bar are more than happy to talk to you and explain their brewing process. It is also in a great location due to the adventure sports the region offers, Enduro championships, trail bike adventures, mountain bike trails as well as walking trails and fishing. Did I tell you the burgers are huge and the ribs look like they came from a brontosaurus?
The following morning refuelling at Paterson approximately 200 bikes of all descriptions head north as part of the "Black Dog Ride." It is amazing to see so many participating in an event such as this. We wait for Jim to come down the road. Thinking he is parked in by the bikes, twenty minutes later, he finally arrives- every man and his dingo wanted to talk to him about the HJ.
Rolling into Wollombi, we get to the pub just before the lunch crush. This is home to Dr Jurds Jungle Juice, a story in its own right and very popular stopping point for riders and anyone that wants to explore this area. The sound of the band playing in the pub carries through the village while we amble through arts and crafts shops looking for trinkets for our wives. Any band that can play Credence Clear Water Revival, Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd cannot be too bad. A winery is a short walk from the pub. We explore while people pulled Jim over to talk about his HJ.
Heading along the Northern Road to Peats Ridge, the rain comes again, blinding my sight, I pull over to put on my wets, change glasses and let the lads ride past. A farmer pulls up to check his snail mail and tells me we are lucky because a few weeks earlier the road was covered in water from the amount of rain they had and we may not have been able to ride through. We have had a very lucky weekend so far. The Northern Road is littered with "Slow Down" and "Slippery When Wet" signs and I can see what they mean when you can't see out your glasses. It is a road to be revisited.
Just out of Peats Ridge, we pull over as Greg has picked up a nail in the rear of the KLR – (This would not happen to a DR). Unfortunately without a spare tube or repair kit, all he can do is try to make it home by pumping the tyre every so often. He makes it as far as Brooklyn and calls his brother to collect him and the bike. The bright side of this is that while Greg was waiting in the rain, shortly afterwards, another person stopped with car problems. He had a six-pack, so they sat in the rain, under a tin roof and shared a beer and a few stories until help came for both of them. There are good people in this world.
Craig left the group early on the Sunday morning to get home, pick up his wife and take her for a ride through the south coast and Southern Highlands. His wife now wants him to buy a Harley.
Jim got home and is looking for a decent sound system in the HJ before he goes for another long drive. Jarad has a new respect for Harleys after growing up on sports bikes and is still looking for the perfect cheese and bacon pie. Rod begrudgingly handed back the Street Glide and is going over all the GoPro footage and updating his editing skills to be ready for the next adventure in a year or two. I'm looking at maps…. A Mad Max run to Broken Hill and Silverton looks interesting.