Day 76: 696km Bellingen to Wahroonga (North Sydney) via Port Macquarie to Walcha and Thunderbolts Way

yesterday’s ride and today’s: IMG_4324.PNG
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I was up nice and early. Port Macquarie to Walcha was glorious. I was throwing my body and my bike around, getting my knee out wide and my chest well to the left of my tank bag. getting it to the right was harder, but with persistence I did improve. Damn, I was riding well. I stopped at Gingers Creek for some sustenance, mostly because I was sitting behind a truck at this point and saw all the bikes parked there. I didn’t chat to anyone, but did enjoy being there…
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as I was leaving I noticed my pannier was wide open underneath – it had come undone somehow I guess when I dropped it in Lennox… strange I hadn’t noticed it before… not sure when else it may have happened, though. I dismantled it and put it back together again and was right to go in no time. From there I took on Thunderbolts Way, a very different, but no less enjoyable ride. Thunderbolt’s Way was wide open and sometimes very windy. It was full of wide open curves and spectacular views: IMG_4317.PNG

The last stretch into Sydney was done on the motorway, but I figure motorways make up part of the landscape too. I landed in lovely, lush green Sydney: IMG_4318.PNG
Wahroonga, to be precise: IMG_4321.PNG
where I was looked after by Bertie’s parents for two days while I did some chores and met up with some family and friends.

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Day 75: 538km Lennox Head to Bellingen, via Tenterfield, Glenn Innes, Armidale, and Waterfall Way

So many different landscapes, but I only stopped for pics towards the end, when I came over and down the mountain towards Bellingen:IMG_4243.JPG
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Lennox to Bellingen had it’s ups and downs in more ways than one. It started with a great breakfast and conversation with R2 and C. such great people. Both doctors, both surfers, both totally chilled. Their house is fantastic – I wish I took photos of the super wide terrace, the cactus collection, the big dog called Peter, the leather waiting to be leathered and the chicken house, which wasn’t a house at all but rather was an emergent flexible dwelling in and around a tree, complete with random covering, ladders and perches and a compost bin that could be lifted as appropriate. Let me tell you, they seemed like happy birds.

The ride through the hills, past Allstonville and Lismore to Tenterfield was delicious. Broad sweeping curves along lovely country lanes. I enjoyed it immensely. Once I got to Tenterfield I fuelled up, found a cafe in the Art School and had an enjoyable lunch, then got back on the road. Strains of The Tenterfield Saddler were in my ears. Is it a song? is it this Tenterfield..? I thought probably yes, but it could also be American. I mean I’d ridden through a town called Bolivia already today, past a farmhouse called Prague, and there was more of this to come. I left my curiosity about Tenterfield in the town as I rode towards Glenn Innes. The landscape here was completely different. Cliffs and mountains far back from the road, fields and rocks filling the space between. It was a curious landscape. It was hot, very hot, and super windy and I had enough fuel to get me through to Armidale so, once through Glenn Innes that had all my attention. Get me out of this wind … only 10k to go.

My second speeding fine for the trip was delivered to me over the crest of the next hill. almost $500… omg… The policeman was very nice, but he said our conversation was recorded to eliminate any possibility of fudging of speeds or weird things going on. He asked if I was riding with a big group, then told me one of them had died this morning just near Tenterfield and speed was involved. He hoped stopping me might save my life. It’s true I rode far more cautiously after that, but it wasn’t because of the fine, it was because I was stopped and the fact that I don’t like my impeccable driving record now having blemishes… He recommended I ask for clemency due to my good record… my propensity for speed seems to be getting the better of me. I told him I was struggling with the wind, which was totally true. It’s interesting how he was nice, even though what he had to do was unpleasant, whereas the cop in QLD, he seemed like a real piece of work.

When I stopped for fuel at. Armidale a Harley Rider came up to have a chat. He’s thinking of buying himself a Beemer (!). Said his back can’t take it on the Harley anymore. He rented a Beemer in NZ recently while on holidays and had the ride of his life. I love my Beemer, what can I say? Once I get my full licence I may move up to a twin cylinder, smoother ride. Let’s see what I can afford in Denmark, where bikes cost double what they cost here, and I will be on a modest wage.

The ride from Armidale to Bellingen is called Waterfall Way, and surprise, surprise, it’s full of waterfalls :) it’s also full of bike riders who ride it back and forth for the sheer pleasure of it’s curves. As you may glimpse from the pics above, the last stretch down the mountain is quite stunning. In fact it’s stunning the whole way along – crossing the Great Dividing Range again, this time from West to East.

I had planned on getting further than Bellingen, but the heat, the little chat with the police officer and the simple reality of all those curves took me a bit than I thought. By the time I got to Bellingen I was totally drained. I parked opposite the pub – they had no rooms. I called the youth hostel and the diggers club, same story. The internet wasn’t working well so each enquiry took me aeons and I was at the end of my resources. To add to my challenges, my phone was fast running out of fuel.

So I went into the pizza shop and asked if they had anything I could eat straight away. 20 minutes the girl said. My face must have said it all, cause the chef called me back and said I’ve got 3/4 of a pepperoni pizza, if you’d like that omg. absolutely! I devoured it, slowly, relishing every bite. It was like heaven. Full of things I don’t normally eat, but my body and brain were momentarily sated. Now I needed to find somewhere to stay.

Back at the bike, the internet was now completely useless, so I called Bertie. can you help? I asked, then just burst into tears while I was telling him my silly story no rooms here, no internet, phone dying, exhausted, can’t think, please… can you find me somewhere to stay :) my lovely man, of course, was up for the challenge, but the minute I hung up the phone to let him find a solution, a woman walked up to me and said I couldn’t help overhearing… we are heading up to the valley… our house here is empty for the night… you can stay there if you like – it’s just over the bridge

omg. Bertie is convinced it’s because I’m a woman. I think people are just generous. You can decide for yourselves. (I’m thinking the boys would go for the former and the girls the latter)

the light in the darkness, provided by Gaz and Ev – a Batchelor flat with a heart painted on the door, a providore up the road, a hot shower with fabulous water pressure and a roof over my head just before it started to rain:IMG_4275.PNG
so grateful.

Day 74: 189km Kingscliff, Gold Coast (Nerang) for my 30,000k service (woohoo!), Byron and Lennox Head

The sound I woke to reminded me of Fairfield – I used to live by the river, in the richest wildlife corridor in Victoria. Being woken every day at 5am by the birds! was amazing.

I’d actually done 32,531km by the time I took my bike in. I was told in by 8, out by 10. It seemed optimistic but was very attractive, so I foolishly thought to believe and made an appointment for lunch in Byron for 12 or 1… It was after 3 when I finally left, and because of the one hour time change to NSW from QLD, almost 6 when I got there.

It all seemed pretty good at first. I got there early (better early than late), and they gave me a voucher for breakfast. Awesome! I’d been up for hours, hadn’t eaten yet and had already taken in peak hour traffic, so I set myself up in the Pit Stop cafe:IMG_4270.PNG

After an hour or so I called Bertie and Sir Humphrey got on the line (Bertie’s vociferous, rubber companion pig):
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Everything was going well. After three hours I was starting to get bored though. I am quite resilient, can amuse myself by observing my surroundings or disappearing into thinking or reading or writing or imagining, and I have plenty I need to be doing at the moment, so it all should have been fine, but as I had optimistically chosen to believe their overly optimistic time projection I started getting antsy at time-and-a-half.

Moments later I missed a call that said my chain and sprockets needed replacing, and I could come back now if I wanted or just give them call. I wandered back and Ari, the guy in charge of servicing, looked all worried… Has something happened to your bike? he asked with the chain..? I told him I threw the chain in the Oodnadatta Track (sounds so cool, doesn’t it!?) and he said well, there are a whole lot of things wrong with the bike as a result. Liam, the lovely guy who did the service, explained with his lilting Irish brogue that he had documented everything and would write it all up on the service report and also send the photos through. then he showed me the chain – the master link had come undone. The only thing he could imagine was that it hadn’t been put on properly (omg. my life is in the hands of the people who service my bike, you know. please, please, please get me back in one piece to Melbourne where the BMW-owned shop is the one looking after me. I know they are human, and can make mistakes, but they should at least be the best BMW technicians in the country). Liam was extremely thorough and seemed to know his stuff inside out. As he said, the chain would probably last me to Melbourne, but you don’t want it in the back of your mind, worrying you…, and besides, it might not…

change it. I said. please, go ahead. little did I know that this simple task would take them two to three hours. I started to lose track of time pretty quickly, but enough hours had passed since breakfast for me to be getting hungry again.. and the smell of their lunch was filling the showroom:IMG_4272.PNG I don’t eat pizza as a rule – the wheat makes me sick if I have too much. I sometimes make exceptions, but this was not one of those times. I needed to be clear, I had some big riding coming up (or so I thought).

It was hours again until I could leave. They were thorough and they were slow. they washed my bike, which was nice, but by this time I just wanted to get the hell out of there. By the time I got to a fuel station it was almost 3, no time left for my lovely twisty ride through the back hills down to Byron :/ It would be highway and traffic jams the whole way, with me weaving in and out of the traffic, lane splitting like a goddess (which was pretty nice in it’s own way too).

Unsurprisingly, my riding has been transformed by this trip. I’ve done 20,000+km on all kinds of road in all kinds of weather. Mostly hot, hotter, unbearably hot, humid and sometimes crazy, gusty and gale-force windy. It only really seriously rained once, and it hasn’t really been too cold, but I’ve done rainy in Melbourne enough times and cold in the snow country, so I feel like I’ve covered most options in the almost-year I’ve been riding.

When I got to Byron I was confronted with even worse traffic, complete with young travellers in hire vans that they roam around the country, sleep and eat in. I’ve seen plenty of them on the road, but there were literally hundreds in the streets of Byron. Typically terrible drivers, unsure if they are coming or going. One van stopped in the middle of the street for what seemed like an eternity one time too many. Exasperated, I went to go around them on the left (the side of the parked cars). Bad move. Without indicating, they suddenly decided to park, swinging their van right into my path. I turned out if their way and dropped my bike and immediately started yelling at the poor sods, giving them a lecture about how they might be on holidays, but people’s lives were at stake, and they needed to look around them and also indicate. At the same time, people had run out of the cafés to check on me (nice, momentary hippies, whose rich parents or high paying jobs let them bum around in Byron for a bit paying probably $8 or more for a coffee, or drinking the newest green smoothie). One nice guy picked my bike up with no effort at all and stayed to listen to my rant. They were all horrified and shocked and worried I was ok.. and had no idea what to say, poor things. They were worried I was hurt and I was just furious, yelling I know I was in the wrong going around you, but you can’t drive like that! :) I wonder if they’ll drive a bit better for a bit now?

My aunt (who I was there to visit) said there was an article in the paper recently, people are swerving in to make it hard for bikers to lane split, and even opening doors on them (wtf!?). I saw a little ungrateful swerving on the highway, but in the official, glamorous capital if all that is happy and zen that’s pretty aggressive, dangerous behaviour… lane splitting isn’t always easy, and it does everyone a favour by relieving congestion. if they understood they may even be grateful… I so wish people understood.

From Byron I raced off to Lennox Head, 20minutes further South, to stay with the lovely Robbie and catch up with the three muskateers – the guys who gallantly came to my rescue in Exmouth. Robbie was R2. There was Rob, Robbie and Bill (or Ben). Fantastic people, lovely to see them. A whole lot of us went out for an amazing dinner, but not until after I dropped my bike (again!) going up Robbie’s super steep and unexpectedly angled driveway. It was the angle that got me. I couldn’t see it, coming up from below, and when I hesitated for a moment on the way up (bad move), I just went over. It was a great, clumsy, unexpected was to meet people. The drive was so steep it was impossible hold the bike stationary with the brakes alone and it took three guys and me to get it up the hill. Now I understand why it almost broke your foot when you dropped it at Ningaloo (I have dropped my bike a little too often – it comes with the territory of being a small person on a big bike, in sometimes tricky landscapes – though in Exmouth it was a bit of oil on the road that brought me undone)

Day 73: 816km Zilzie to Kingscliff via Biloela and the Banana Shire

It was a looooong ride, but I am so glad I did it. I took the mountain road, the one the locals take. It added on 100k, but let me briefly visit my favourite (& only) nephew, M. (his mum and dad and eldest sister’s names also start with M, to make things tricky)

It meant going via Mount Morgan again, but my expectations were tempered by yesterday’s experience and the 4km of twisties were glorious, and the rest just taken in my stride. It was also early morning, at the start of my ride, and this made a difference too – the weather was far cooler and I was far fresher, had more tolerance / resistance.

Seeing my nephew was fantastic. Really, really great. I can’t actually remember the last time I saw him, and he’s so understanding, I almost didn’t go. Don’t worry, Aunty D, we’ll see each other another time. There are too many kangaroos and it’s too long a ride… but he was as glad as I was that I went. How could I not? Curiously, because it made the day’s ride excruciatingly long, it was only when I decided not to go that it became possible – once it was no longer a (self-imposed) obligation.. When it became something I didn’t have to do, but couldn’t allow myself to miss.

The day was long. Oh so long, 11 hours on the road (my god). But it was good riding through wildly varying countryside, across and along the back of a mountain range (along the Burnett Highway), in the searing daytime sun. The road was through bush, basically, with a few small towns dotted here and there. Nice sweeping curves and changing landscape, but dry, oh so dry. Once I got closer to Brisbane, the Burnett met The Bruce, which meant a Bris-vegas traffic jam that lasted for 55km (mostly due to the fact that the G20 is on tomorrow and Abbott, our rather weird, problematic Prime-Minister-of-the-moment has created an exclusion zone and given everyone that works or lives in it the day off). It was also the tail-end of peak hour, but I lane filtered like a goddess, to temper my discomfort.

Speaking of discomfort, I’ve been having trouble with my hands since putting the handlebar weight back on (!). I had been expecting problems when it came off, but was fine. Bertie thinks I’m making too strong a connection, and he may be right, but the coincidence is pretty dramatic – no pain for ~19,000 km, then pain… it didn’t really come on gradually, the start of it was clear as day: hmm…. my hands hurt today…. The middle finger on my left hand in particular is quite bad. While I’m riding it’s fine, but all the time otherwise when I bend it it’s really painful. Both hands in general are sore and it’s hard to do things like open screw-top bottles, but only because they feel weak – like I just can’t coax the required strength from them.. the middle finger on my left hand though…. it really hurts. (I’m going to have to research solutions, because I still have several thousand kilometres to go and (a) this is not very pleasant, and (b) I don’t want to do permanent damage / make this harder or more serious than it needs to be)

Biloela, where my nephew is, is in The Banana Shire. Not a banana in sight though. It’s outback territory. Funny name, considering (funny name anyway). My origin, waypoint and destination were all family-oriented – the beginning of an emerging theme.

My uncle and his partner, J&P, live in an amazing apartment on the estuary in Kingscliff, on the NSW side of the Gold Coast (I’m getting my bike serviced on the QLD side in the morning, to explain the insanely long ride. It was also my only chance to see all three – J, P and M – so I did what I had to do).

Family are not chosen, and relationships can and do change. I’m very grateful for my family. I’ve spent most if my adult life living in other countries, completely out of touch with everyone except my mum, immediate siblings and my nephew and nieces. But they’ve always been there for me whenever I’ve been around, whether it’s been easy for them or not. It’s so great to see them. As we get older and our ages converge, I increasingly feel a deep sense of connection.

Here are some pics taken from the boys’ balcony in the morning, with a panorama to show how it all goes together.. they always live in the best places. they go swimming from the pontoon here when the tide is up and dolphins come in and swim with them. awesome:
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Day 72: Zilzie

I have a host of hysterical photos of my family that I could put here, but I won’t. I don’t like making photos of people public unless they are suitably disguised or in character, unless, of course, they tell me it’s ok. (that’s also why you won’t find many photos of me here) – it’s a privacy thing. There isn’t a lot of it left in the world and while wordpress may make making this blog easy and free, it doesn’t mean I want to hand over ownership of personal images. Once I get it on my own server or site it may be different (maybe), but maybe not. Privacy is golden these days, and best held precious.

So I leave you with a photo that kind of encapsulates my time in Zilzie. We did many, many banal things and it was totally great.
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Day 71: 466km Slade Point (Mackay) to Zilzie via Rockhampton and Mount Morgan

Yes, there is a place in Queensland called Zilzie and it’s where my brother and sister-in-law live with their two girls (their eldest son moved out a little while ago). My sister also lives in the area with her daughter, so I could do siblings nieces and nephews in one foul swoop (or is it fell swoop? a foul swoop doesn’t sound so nice, really)

after waving goodbye to my momentary writing haven, I started heading South. the last stop of significance was the roadhouse at Marlborough. it’s quite a nice place:
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the man with his back to us had offered me to share his table you can sit here if you like, he said. I was a bit confused and had stuff to sit down with and kind of said thanks, but there isn’t really enough roomI understand he said, and it was only as I was sitting elsewhere that I understood he was perhaps gently gesturing for some company… I guess he was a truckie. The last truckie I chatted with (at Cloncurry) offered me half his dinner, to get me to stay and continue to banter. It was sweet but I wasn’t hungry, and I had still had to find my room for the night. he was far clearer about it than Marlborough man, sadly for Marlborough man. Cause if I have gotten his gist I may have joined him for a moment. Oh well… we cannot chat with everyone, silence is golden too, and time alone precious…

Sadly, about half an hour out of Marlborough I was pulled over by a policeman in an unmarked car, who gave me a ticket for speeding. It’s about the kangaroos he said, as if I was a complete idiot. There was one just there, did you see it!? It was really hard not to get pissed, even though I was in the wrong. I’m sure they drop the speed limit only to give people tickets… why else would it be slower here than it is up the road where the roads are so much worse..?

anyway, I made it to Zilzie without too much more excitement. A strange detour via Mount Morgan – a ride the Hema book said was worth the effort… 4km of glorious twisties bookended by horrendous roadworks and congested straights. I raced off a fast as I could through the congestion, and immersed myself in the pool at my brother’s place the moment I worked out how to get in.
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Day 70: 26km Slade Point to Mackay and back – new tyre! (whether I needed it or not)

Now I probably didn’t need to change the tyre. Every mechanic I’ve spoken to has had a different opinion. The one today (Mark at Bullet Motorcycles) gave me a coherent explanation of why my tyre would not have blown, as well as why he recommended I change it anyway.
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See the ridge down the centre? The guy in Darwin said it was the road, and running hot. The guy in Cairns said it was not having high enough tyre pressure – despite the bike and manual saying clearly I should have it at 32psi, he recommends 36 for the front tyre of Beemers… (maybe it’s to do with the heat..?). The guy in Mackay had the same theory as the guy in Darwin, and said if I had higher tyre pressure it would only change the outcome by making the ridge thinner…

he drew on my tyre with a pen to demonstrate what he was talking about. I like people who think through materials and actions. I’m very much the same way.

So even though I was still 1-2mm over and above the wear indicator I changed the tyre. When I pressed him on it, he said that for himself he wouldn’t have changed it, only because as a mechanic he feels he can make an assessment of what is happening if something goes wrong or is strange. At the same time, as a mechanic he absolutely had to advise me to change it. I do not share his expertise. I’ve done 18,000km on these tyres, will have to change them before I get home anyway, so have no complaints.

It’s interesting to think through these things, what motivates people when they give advice. The other guy in the service department said he would not have changed it for himself but he absolutely would have changed it for his wife…

Bertie changes both tyres at the same time even though he typically should go through two back tyres for every front. As he says, they are the only thing that stands between him and the road…

I had made time to do this in Cairns already and now here. There was no point doing this in every decent-sized town I came through.

Mackay is nice. weird. I have been hiding. Hiding in the lovely silent luxury of J, D and King K’s, writing and thinking far from the heat, eating delicious fresh seafood I picked up yesterday on the way in – breakfast was baby octopus, seaweed salad and Japanese omelet. Dinner was the red throat emperor fillet, pan-fried with lemon juice, olive oil and salt, with a salad of baby spinach, rocket, avocado and garlic seared baby fennel. mmmmmmmmmmm yummy. and if I’m still hungry later I have fresh mango, greek yoghurt and passionfruit. I can always/also have this for breakfast tomorrow

Good food is good. I often find that my relationship to food prep is a clear barometer of how I am doing. Clearly, at the moment, I am doing really well :)