Day 83: 431km Anglers Rest to Port Melbourne. Home :)

I’ve ridden around Australia :) About 26,000km around the mainland, not counting my foray into the centre, two-up with Bertie after I threw my chain / while my bike was getting fixed (dotted on the map below); or the week we spent riding around Tasmania together (on two bikes) last February when I was still on my L’s. Here’s My Great Motorcycle Ride of Australia – the bits in pink. The highlighted towns are where I stayed the night, the orange is not mine, it came with the map IMG_4447.PNG

I took 83 days +7 for Tassie. I wish I had taken a whole lot longer, and would leave again in a moment if I could. No complaints. But I do hope I get to do this again soon – if not around Australia in the immediate, then adventure rides through Europe and Scandinavia, closer to my new home.

My last day started with a flat battery, which was dealt with quickly as soon as I found someone with jumper leads (the second person I asked). Campsites are generally good for that I should think, but it’s not how I want to have to start my bike every time. Once packed and on the road, Bertie and I swooned off around the delectable Victorian Alpine curves to Omeo and then Bruthen, where we stopped for breakfast, leaving my bike running across the road in the shade, sounding disturbingly like an Asian sweatshop, at the same time comfortingly like the small sewing machine factory that my dad had when I was a little girl (as he moved onwards and upwards from the coal mines, coke factories and steelworks he inhabited when I was really young). After breakfast, we refuelled (my bike still running) then headed off, back to Hotel Port, our lovely home in Port Melbourne, which I only just moved in to before making this trip, and will leave in a week’s time for a moment, then permanently not much longer after that. I’m moving to house #99… then, when Bertie comes over, house #100. Hopefully we’ll be in that one for a while…

The roads I travelled today were all familiar. I cut off some of coastal Victoria because I’ve done it before, I had timing issues, and how can I do this trip without at least a little of the Alpine roads? So I swapped edge-hugging pedantic-ness (& discovery) for sheer riding pleasure and joy :) seemed fair enough to me. I wasn’t expecting too much from the motorway once we got on it, but that was lovely too – just the fact that I was speeding towards home brought a certain exhilaration, and I loved seeing the Welcome to Melbourne sign, though my helmet cam had died by then so I didn’t get a photo. It didn’t matter.

I had thought I would like to turn off the highway and ride around Port Phillip Bay, but I was enjoying the ride so much, zooming in to the city and towards home, that I stuck with it. There’s a lovely sweeping overpass and a short ride along the river, which is very, very nice, then the ride past BMW Southbank, where my bike was born, then when almost home we did a little sweep along the bay, ending at our little beach from where we get a perfect view of the Tassie Ferry – our ride to Tasmania, five minutes from home.

It doesn’t feel monumental, as it was bird by bird, step by step, ride by ride, but it was a wonderful thing to do and has changed me indelibly. I worked while I rode sometimes, which was hard, but if I could just keep going I would :)

Some pics from the end of my ride. I think I love best my smile at the end, as it encapsulates it all. Bertie was with me for the three weeks at the beginning, as far as Adelaide and up to the centre and back. Two months later he met me in Bruthen to do the very last bit at the end. Without him, this trip would never have happened – I probably would never have explored my latent desire to ride a bike. I’m lucky and grateful and feel calm and fulfilled, and, as Bertie said to me when I asked him 18months ago, after he had done his ride: I’d do it again in a heartbeat. You’d better believe it.
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Day 82: 464km. Cobargo to Angler’s Rest via Bruthen (and Bertie!)

Today I was excited to get going. I had some home-made yoghurt (yum), and some farm eggs with avocado and asparagus, fresh from the garden. I have to say, those chooks do themselves proud. Amazing eggs. Amazing everything.

Pumped up, packed up, fuelled up and ready to go. I loaded up the bike and said my goodbyes and discovered to my dismay that my battery was flat again. Again. This is the second day in a row, and this time I am absolutely certain that the steering was locked and the bike fully off, and the GPS turned off too – mum watched me turn it on to put in Bruthen

Dismay.

Well, I know how to fix this, so it’ll only delay me five minutes, or so I thought, but mum and T don’t have jumper leads (!). It’s a bit surprising, but there it is. I had to call Roadside Assist again. This time they took less than an hour to arrive, but I’m meeting Bertie in Bruthen, I haven’t seen him for two months and now I’m going to have to wait a little more :/ :) :?

I fuelled up in Bega and the bike restarted reluctantly. Hmmm. This is not really ideal. The GPS has been a bit weird – turning itself off when I go over bumps, things like that. It all pointed to a short-circuit, so I turned it off completely and it kept turning itself back on! omg. well, at least I think I’ve identified the problem. I got to Bruthen, turned the bike off and on again, and it started very reluctantly, so I left it running, and kissed Bertie hello. So much for a relaxed lunch together. Bertie set to, opening up my bike, disconnecting the GPS from the battery (which is actually under the tank bag – where the petrol tank would typically be), I had a salad and a tea and we left my bike running while throughout, as well as while we refuelled. Someone at Anglers Rest would have jumper leads, we were going camping for my last night on the road, having dinner at The Blue Duck Inn, and getting there via some of the most glorious twisties in Australia (Bruthen to Omeo and Omeo to Anglers Rest)

so that is what we did. Here’s the Blue Duck Inn at twilight, seen from the road to the camping area, via the river where you can apparently catch fresh snowy mountain trout (there wasn’t much water in it, but there were lots of little jumping fish, which was very cool):IMG_4438.PNG

and here’s our campsite. two tents on our last night together all those kms ago in the Adelaide Hills, and two tents for our first night together 2 months and 25000kms later, in one of our favourite places in Victoria. Sleeping together would have been nice, but this was nice too (mine is the seemingly large and luxurious blue tent, strategically attached to Bertie’s bike. Bertie’s is the lime green pea pod) :IMG_4439-4.PNG

Day 81: Rest Day, Cobargo

Scrabble. Mum in the garden. Picking, prepping and dehydrating strawberries (omg – yum!). we also went for a paddle and had some lunch in Bermagui, the nearest coastal town. I’d like to post a million pics from my time with mum and T, but wordpress is full, and I have two days to go til I’m home, so one will have to do:IMG_4382.PNG

Mum and her partner T are part of the Transition Town movement – committed to resilience in the face of climate change, and independence from fossil fuels. They grow just about everything, buy half a home killed animal of some description from time to time, are shareholders in the local food co-op and actively try to keep everything local and sustainable. What they can’t get local and sustainable, they buy (whenever possible) in ways that contribute to other communities or countries’ attempts in the same direction. In a way they live very simply. Once they built their home and set themselves up they don’t need much. They both enjoy working out how to make this way of life work, and supporting their friends and other members of the community to do the same. They’re not hippies, by any stretch of the imagination, and that’s what I find interesting. If you look at how they live from the outside, you don’t see anything really very different from other folks who are cultivated and comfortable, but there’s an energy about it that feels fantastic, and an integrity that shines through.

I’ve found country towns in Australia, for the most part, quite interesting. They increasingly have a combination of people who have been farming for generations, and tree- or sea-changers like Mum and T, who retire to the land. Even outback towns are transforming – except maybe mining towns, which are all pretty horrible.

Mum and T live amongst farmland, surrounded by state forest, 18km inland from one of the most beautiful coastal areas in the country. They have a way of life I greatly admire. In many ways they are more rich than us. I’m hoping Bertie and I can move in this direction more strongly too, once we’re in Denmark, where produce is expensive but rent is not (ie grow your own is possible and sensible). Let’s see how we go.

Bertie did a round Australia motorbike trip 2 years ago, and warned me that in the more remote regions, the closest I’ll come to a fruit or vegetable outside of a supermarket will be potato fries (and Potatoes don’t agree with me, so aside from getting fat I’d also feel dreadful). Well, it hasn’t been true. It suggests that Australia is transforming pretty quickly. Some roadhouses are still horrible with what they have on offer, but I found as many as 80% are providing healthier options. 80% is a big number. Salads. Sometimes not very exciting salads, but more exciting than if I had a traditional hamburger with the lot, without the chips or the bun (the bread might as well just be sugar, and too much of it makes me sick, so I avoid that too). Also grass-fed beef of extraordinary quality, farmed locally. Home made dips with cheese, crackers and carrot sticks – not processed (well, aside from the cheese), but put together in the kitchen by people who care. In Standley Chasm, near Alice Springs, we had fresh frozen mango cheeks, eaten straight from the zip-lock freezer bag – creamy and delicious, just like ice-cream but without the sugar (or wheat or other crap they put in commercially produced ice-creams). These options aren’t extensive, but they are there. It’s a reflection of changing attitudes, a growing commitment to food that tastes good and is good, made using animals and fruits and vegetables that are grown locally, healthily and sustainably. Even if this is only occurring because the taste is different, it supports what people on the transition town movement are doing. it helps us be healthier and in tune with the planet, and maybe have a planet we can thrive with as we move forward (despite what many governments and corporations have been doing).

I know I ride a motorbike, and it’s maybe hard to reconcile riding for joy with responsible, diminishing use of fossil fuels, including petrol. But it’s a hell of a lot better than driving a car. It brings me in touch with people with different lifestyles, outlooks and values. It allows me to connect, and I think this is important. I was speaking with Bertie and our good friend Theo about what my trip has been like, now that I’m near the end, and Theo remarked how motorbike adventure riding places the rider in a direct and beautiful collision with the reality of how generous people can be. So many people have said that I’m brave doing this trip. And we often live in fear of the unknown, imagining rape and murder, theft, robbery, pillage. and while these things do happen they are the exceptions, not the rule. Under it all, people really want the same things – food in their stomach, a roof over their heads in some form, a safe and loving environment, and the opportunity to be happy / feel gratitude / enjoy laughter, music, maybe dancing / to connect…

I’ve written before that the emergent theme for this trip has been generosity. Theo remarked that in all the motorbike adventure stories he reads on Horizons Unlimited and elsewhere, generosity is what shines through – in Africa, Asia, Russia, China, Europe, North, Central and South America, even here in Australia… This trip has been an adventure and a half, but it has enabled me to connect and experience that generosity. There isn’t a single experience I regret – not even not finding a way across the crocodile infested river to go to the arts festival and party that day in Arnhem Land, because even that experience led me to reflect and find greater understanding of how I can be in the world.

The Harley rider I ran into in Armidale, who is thinking of changing from his Harley to a Beemer, asked me if my trip was a life-changing experience. He asked from a place that expected me to say yes, but didn’t really connect with what that might mean, and when I spoke about it – things like understanding my place with the world, rather than in the world, and the nuances of how profound it has really been, we connected, he had a better understanding than if I’d simply, enthusiastically replied yes, but not tried to unpack it for him. My clumsy attempts at articulation allowed him to understand what perhaps can never have words. I think my cousin connected to this too – ticking off the boxes? she asked, when I listed off the family I was seeing. no, not at all, I’m trying to connect with the people who have been important in my life. and while, I still have a long way to go, and probably always will, this trip has allowed me a greater vulnerability with people, so I can be in touch with, and say things like that. It’s not always easy and I don’t always get it right, but having been vulnerable almost continually, while I’ve ridden around this extraordinary land alone (from the moment Bertie left me until now) I think has made me a better person.

and will it last?
well, I’ll keep riding :)
so yes. I do believe it will.

Day 80: 282km Mount Warrigal to Cobargo

Last night I slept in a bed that was previously occupied by a Dame. My aunt’s best friend has been instrumental in bringing down the pedophile priests in the Australian Catholic Church. I feel proud to be somehow connected to such a force of nature, who stood up to everyone around her and brought the bastards down. Her actions meant that the good guys are untainted and the bad guys have had to pay. Good one, K. Proud to sleep in the same bed. Some of my family are very religious. Somehow K doing this makes it trouble me less. (not that I think anyone in my family was culpable or suspect, but the association is hardly without problems).

I was meant to head off early today, get to Cobargo by lunchtime, but last night I’d gone out and turned the GPS on to check how long it would take to get there and I forgot to turn it off = flat battery… damn…

I lifted the seat off and was perplexed by what I saw. I checked the manual and it warned me to disconnect the electronics, but had no diagrams or anything to let me identify which cables exactly to unplug, or what to connect the jumper leads to. The whole setup looked completely foreign (first job in Denmark: dismantle, and get to know my bike).. so I called BMW and they weren’t much help either. First they assumed I wouldn’t know what year my bike was. Second they assumed I wouldn’t have the necessary tools. The guy was new and surprised that I thought I could handle something as simple as charging a battery (which I clearly couldn’t without checking in – so stupid of me not to have gotten across something so simple).

Over two hours later and I was still sitting there waiting for roadside assist. when the guy finally did come, there was no need for tools, or anything fancy. He showed me where the positive was (it had a simple plastic cover over it) and used one of the seat hooks for earth. There was no need to disconnect the electronics or do anything at all really… a bit pissed with the misleading info, but glad the bike started first go.

Cobargo isn’t too far, but it took about 4hrs to get there because the roads were full of gorgeous sweeping curves, interspersed with road works (they are widening and improving the Princess Highway, which is great), breathtaking river crossings on old ironwork bridges, and small towns where the speed slowed to 50, and in school times 40km/hr.

At one point I saw a guy on a bike up ahead. I gradually overtook the traffic and approached him, riding behind him for a bit – his speed was good. Not too fast and not too slow. It was also good to kind of ride with someone. At a certain point I overtook him, on one of the glorious sweeping upward curves. Then he rode behind me. Not much later I got stopped at a road block and he came up behind me and passed – overtaking me, the truck in front of me and everyone else in between us and the stop sign. Woohoo – made total sense. I popped over the double yellow lines and followed him to the front. we got there just as the guy holding the sign turned it from STOP to SLOW, he indicated for us to go first, and off we went. For the next hundred km or so we rode in tandem, enjoying the astonishing views, and when we approached my turn-off, I sped in front and waved him goodbye. I have no idea who he is, where he’s from (he had NSW plates, but was looking around as much as I was, enjoying the scenery. He was also flexing his hands and wrists from time to time, so I figure had been riding for a while). He tooted me on his way past and that was that. Lovely.

I turned in to my mum’s and was home. Home again and almost at the end of my ride. Here’s my map so far – the pink will join up in a matter of days (only a tiny bit in the bottom right corner to go), and I’ll be back in Melbourne almost a year to the day since I got my Learner’s permit, having ridden all around Australia and done over 35,000km:
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Day 79: 45km Hanging around Wollongong: Mt St Thomas, Woonona, and Mount Warrigal

It was remiss of me. K said I should do it, but I didn’t. Scrabble is such a tradition in mum’s family and we got some great words – it would have been the photo of the day. The entire B family would have nodded their heads in appreciation, had a discussion about words like FROTHY and MANGE and our great concatenations, and felt able to chime in, part of it.

We have the family we are born with and the family we choose. Extended family and close family, and in my case distended and bifurcated family too. Even with all the colour and history, I’m finding that family can sometimes be good. and though I would have liked to do some more riding off into the sunset, and sunrise, exploring and gliding, shifting my body and bike through twisties, criss-crossing The Great Dividing Range, exploring the nether regions of the East Coast and hinterlands of our great coloured land, I have limited time now. I’ll still get to do some glorious riding, but right now, here in Wollongong, family has come to the fore.

Last night I was in Mount St Thomas – a town my GPS couldn’t find. I met my youngest niece, the two-year old (almost three) acrobatic C. My biggest little brother, who is tall, tall, tall and one of the sweetest men alive has had a daughter since I saw him last and she is wild and sweet and true. It was the first time I’d seen M (so many M’s in our bifurcated family) and his gorgeous wife J since their wedding. Really the first time I’d had a chance to chat with M since our Dad’s funeral, which didn’t leave much room for knowing as the focus was taken by our larger than life Dad, who in some ways, in many ways, was like a cross between the dad in Tim Burton’s Big Fish and Wes Anderson’s Royal Tennenbaum. True. He was larger than life and as challenging as he was (at times) magical… We don’t always remember the magic, but it was definitely there.

It was the first time I’d had to be in a quiet space with J. Their wedding was amazing, and now their life together unfolding in gentle confidence and love. It was amazing to see my big little brother climbing into his skin, encapsulating everything I loved in the boy, yet also growing to be the kind of man I could adore. Our bifurcated family didn’t leave much space for knowing, but J and I share so many values that our relationship can grow now, even if I’m on the other side of this world. Bifurcating families will fling people far and wide if not literally then metaphorically. In our case it’s been an almost violent, haphazard combination of the two.

This morning C reluctantly waved goodbye to J and M, and after some initial tears, we got down to business. A four-wheel adventure in the trike that was so wild and crazy (no footpaths here for the faint-hearted) that she eventually had to dismount and walk on the hilly, unsteady, grassy tween-land holding my hand and chattering away in her as-yet-largely-incomprehensible chatter while I wheeled the trike. She’ll be an acrobat for sure, but the wild lands of Mount St Thomas were a bit much for her first outing with her only-just-met-Aunt. After one circumnavigation of the block, we retired to the back yard where we giggled and bounced on the trampoline, sat reading and singing, tried taking photos as she rearranged the furniture and leapt in and out of shot flying from the carefully positioned chair on the balcony to belly-flop and giggle and roll onto a big bright pink beanbag, and waited for poppy who would skilfully ask her if she didn’t want to go to bed, and that’s where she went – out like a light, head down, bum up in seconds, of her own accord. Awesome.

I had a nice chat with J’s dad, then headed off to another branch – the Joneses.. (none of whom are Joneses, by the way. They too all seem to start with M or B, but we also had H, G and K). Lunch on the balcony, eating many things I shouldn’t. Enjoying the kinds of casual conversation we haven’t enjoyed in years. They all made the trek out to Woonona (pronounced Wonoona) as did I and one of the MBs who is now an MC put on a spread. Connecting is increasingly important to me, and it was good to see them all. I had the chance, especially to talk a bit with Aunty M, who castigated me for my absence when I disappeared and didn’t post for a week when I had poor internet and then was writing. She said she had started asking people where the nearest hospital was… Bertie, too, had said just post something! People are worried . it’s still hard for me to imagine that anyone reads this blog, let alone worries about me in any way, even when Bertie tells me people are calling him and writing, asking what’s going on. she’s having too much fun he said, which in some parts was true, but really I was writing or far from internet connectivity – still possible in our big, coloured, at times internet-free land.

From Woonona I went straight to Mount Warrigal, at the Southern end of the Illawarra Shire, to Baker Place where I’ve spent many days, many nights, my uncle singing country songs and playing his guitar. One of the nice things about getting older is that all our ages converge. S popped in too and it was lovely. We had a killer game of scrabble, which I incidentally won, but it was close the whole way through, touch and go until the last tile went down, which made it great. I like these simple traditions. A finished with a flourish on a triple word, with every tile, but because it was the last play of the game she didn’t get 50 points which would have catapulted her into the lead, leaving K and I floundering in her wake. K had three tiles left and I had GILL. I’ll play scrabble with my mum today or tomorrow, no doubt, too.

so today was three different sides and three different perspectives. With the coal mines of the north at one end and The Steelworks in between. Wollongong was an industrial town and kind of still is, though industry now is transformed from when I was a child. My dad worked in the coal mines when I was little… he also worked at the steelworks at one time or another. In those days almost everyone did. But those days are long gone, as is my dad.

It was nice to start and end the day with these different senses of home.

Day 78: 135km Wahroonga to Wollongong via Coogee Beach, the Royal National Park, Stanley Tops and the Sky Bridge

I took the Harbour Bridge, missed the Cahill Expressway, sadly (an overpass that flies through the air between the city and Circular Quay), then the Eastern Distributor to Randwick / Coogee to see M.

From there I took familiar roads through the Southern suburbs to the Royal National Park. Yes, the speed limits are too slow, but everyone was overtaking me and enjoying the curves so I threw my hands in the air and joined them. Fabulous. I have driven, and ridden pillion on these roads so many times, and now I was riding them on my own. It was an amazing feeling. when I got to Stanwell Tops I called Bertie: I am in Stanwell Tops, Bertie, and it’s awesome! A little perplexed, he replied: But that’s where you come from Gertie.. I said: I know, but I’m here on my own bike and it’s amazing Such a fantastic feeling

The Sea Cliff cantilever bridge features on the front cover of so many motorcycle and architecture magazines. I’d been on it once on a car, heading North, but was about to go on it on my bike, heading South. It looks mighty spectacular, but to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. when driving, it kind of disappeared into the experience – once you were on it, you couldn’t really tell the difference between the bridge and the road. on the bike, heading South, it might be different, I thought. Lucky for me it was :). This is the view looking down the northern beaches of Wollongong, my home town. The bridge is snuggled up against, emerging out from, echoing and extending the cliffs of the coastline:
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Bald Hill / Stanwell Tops – where I was standing to take the photo – is a famous spot for hang gliding:
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absolutely spectacular, even without the bridge:
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I have a memory that may be a dream, of gliding tandem down to the beach below. I must have been about 6. My mum, dad, brother and sister went down in the car, to the beach, to meet me. I’ve never really wanted to ask if the memory was real, for fear of losing it, but just before my father died I asked him. ask your mother he said… But how could I? what if the truth took away my memory? It was so visceral, so real… I wanted my dad to tell me. I knew I couldn’t necessarily believe him, no matter what he said, but I wanted him to tell me anyway.

The ride down the mountain was lovely, and the bridge was so much better than expected. As I rode across, I could see the structure cantilevered out and it was beautiful. The curves were also beautiful, though traffic prevented full enjoyment. It was very, very cool nonetheless.

From there I did a bit of a pilgrimage. I rode familiar roads near the coast and visited houses I lived in as a child. I currently live in house #98, in the New Year will move into house #99, then when Bertie arrives in Denmark, house #100. I’m hoping to stay in that one for a while.

Curiously, house #4, they have changed the number of the house and the name of the street. This is so weird. it’s the second time I’ve been confronted by it – I forgot about the first. The house has been let go. I didn’t like it. any of it. I decided not to take a photo, but just to go, to leave, to go…

when I got close to my brother’s house, I realised I was early, so went to a pub and got myself a cup of tea. I was writing in my blog when a nice guy came up to chat. He’s an adventure rider too. He offered me a place to stay (wonderful! though I didn’t need it) and told me about a good friend who also rides, who lives in Norway. He’s going to put us in touch (there must be some awesome twisties in Norway with all those mountains and fjords!). It’s so nice how so many connections are forming, and things are coming together for. Denmark. It’s wonderful when the universe keeps pointing out that you’re on the right path. my life is amazing. I hope he gets in touch.

Day 77: Sydney, rest day

the harbour bridge, on the train:IMG_4319.PNG
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Sydney’s new Frank Gehry building (what a coup): IMG_4320.PNG
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and my ride so far (I’m nearing the end!):IMG_4327-0.PNG

I am on familiar territory now. I’ve lived in Sydney many times over the years, have friends, family and colleagues here, but was planning on doing one administrative task, having lunch with one special friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, catching up with some immediate (though distant) step-family, and that’s it. Task one and two were done today. I am a very fortunate person. Many of the people I know are extremely talented, creative and smart. CH is no exception. She is extraordinary. and it’s a privilege to count her as a friend.