You can’t have adventure without adversity, the clue is in the first four letters. We are all made of sterner stuff than that, and possibly sillier stuff as well.
When the weather man said that two thirds of Australia was being rained on, and would be like that for days I thought that our ride to Hill End would be cancelled for the second time. Not likely!
Leaving the NSW south coast town of Batemans Bay late on a Friday afternoon we had continual rain that sometimes backed off to a drizzle but never completely stopped. As we followed the Kings Highway towards Braidwood we encountered thick fog on the climb up Clyde Mountain which saw us separate a little due to both traffic and lack of visibility. Did I mention it was cold? Well it was that too.
We turned off the tar at Northangera Road to hit what is usually good dirt, but it was made slippery by the downpour. There are a few causeways to cross along here and I was anticipating wet feet but surprisingly the water levels were all low and in some cases still below the causeways. Further on we expected the bottom of Swallow Tail Pass to be impassable where it crosses the Tarlo River so the call was made at Bungonia to slab it to Goulburn and then Taralga, our first night’s stop.
We made it to the pub in small bunches, from our total of nine, and the early arrivals had thoughtfully bought the beers. Not too thoughtfully as they had only bought enough for themselves. Those of us that arrived last had our revenge though as in their haste for an amber transfusion the front runners had neglected to snag a room. We made good from their tardiness and got first choice. You don’t want to share with a snorer.
Just a quick tip for those who may not know, the best way to deal with a snorer is to let him go to bed first. Give him a few minutes to get settled, and then get yourself ready for bed. Just before turning out the light give him a big kiss goodnight. He’ll sit up all night watching you while you slumber undisturbed.
With rooms sorted and beers ordered the next step was to investigate the menu while dissecting the afternoons travel. Taralga pub is a fine place for such activities if you’re ever in the area. Plans were made for the next days travel and by Saturday morning Thor the Thunder God had relented slightly but just maybe Loki, the God of Mischief, was lurking. The rain had stopped but the skies were still a threatening leaden looking colour.
I was riding the tiddler of the bunch Suzy the Budget Bike, a DR650 but she kept herself respectable amongst the big KTM twins, a Triumph and a BMW. A couple of Suzy’s family were present, V Stroms, and that was our group. Some other adventurers had joined us on road bikes but were taking an all sealed route.
Twenty kilometres north of Taralga is the right turn onto Wombeyan Caves Road and then it’s a short run to a left onto Jerrong Rd which is good dirt through State Forests. We hit puddles and a few deeper water crossings but nothing too sketchy and the weather held off. After a great run on the gravel we regained the tar and headed into Oberon for fuel, coffee and to try out the offerings of the local bakery.
With the appetites of both bike and man satisfied we were northward bound out of Oberon. Enduro and Australian Safari gun from the 70s and 80s Allan Cunynghame comes from the area and I noticed a Cunynghame Street, presumably named after one of his family.
There is a lot of farmland in this area so we were stuck on the tar again until we crossed the Great Western Highway east of Bathurst and hit the dirt once more through Sunny Corner and Dark Corner. We passed alternatively through native and pine forests, the rain freshened air smelling clean and pure tinged with the fragrance of eucalyptus or pine. This would be interrupted every so often by the smell of rotting roadkill from a rancid wombat. That did tend to mar the ambience somewhat.
We stopped for a regroup where Dark Corner road becomes Palmers Oakey Road at the “T” intersection with Mount Horrible Road and a problem was found with Suzy. She had been soldiering on well, showing a clean pair of heels on the dirt to the bigger bikes that had run from her on the tar. The rider behind me mentioned he had been able to smell petrol when he was close behind so I investigated further. The 30 litre Safari tank has two fuel taps and the right hand fuel line had a small split which was leaking fuel in the vicinity of the header pipe. Not an altogether ideal situation.
It was close to the tap so I just cut the damaged piece off and thought “problem solved”. Luckily I thought to check the entire fuel line and my bad luck for the day wasn’t over. There was another small leak where the lines from the two taps meet at a “T” joint before going to the carb and the short piece from the joiner to the carb was the culprit. I don’t know if that was there already or the moving of the fuel line during the repair had caused it. Luckily the line from the right side tap was long enough to cut another piece from it and still reach after some re-routing. Job done, let’s go. Stuff you Loki!
Eventually we came to the Turon River which was flowing strongly alongside the road and we had about half a dozen gates to open and close again as we passed through private property. The wise man will always ride behind another on sections like this, letting him open and close the gates. Palmers Oakey Road also crosses the Turon via causeways which were fast flowing, a little over axle deep and slippery. Very slippery.
We all made the crossings with nothing more than wet feet and cleaner bashplates although a few got hung up on one exit which was a short steep climb over cricket ball sized river stones. All hands on deck soon had the bikes up and out though. Some of these causeways are always under water which is usually very shallow and still, allowing moss to grow making them slipperier than dog guts on a doorknob. I was almost caught out on the causeway where we turned onto Upper Turon Road with the back end kicking sideways right at the last bit of the crossing but was spared any embarrassment and a dunking. Beat you again Loki.
That road took us right into Sofala, a town that you have to visit if you haven’t been there yet. Its claim to fame is that it’s Australia’s oldest surviving gold rush town and once had a population in the thousands, with 40 pubs. Now there are 200 locals and visiting tourists to keep the one remaining pub going. The main street past the pub is one of the narrowest I’ve ever seen in a town. You can’t go past a historic pub without stopping, it’s against the rules, so a lunch stop was declared.
From Sofala it was tar again all the way to Hill End, another gold rush town. The bigger bikes opened their throttles once more and soon had a coldy in front of them, but had learnt nothing from the night before and there were still single rooms to be grabbed. There are still a few old buildings to be seen in Hill End and plenty of old abandoned mines and of course the pub dating back to 1872, our stop for the night.
Built of brick with a wrought iron verandah on the top floor and mostly still original you can’t top a historic old pub for atmosphere on an adventure ride. Bikes were parked and we settled in for beers, burgers and bullshit, as is our wont.
Loki was to have his wicked way with us after all and the rain arrived sometime during the night and showed no signs of letting up. This meant we couldn’t leave via the Bridle Track, the original gold rush era route between Hill End and Bathurst. The Track crosses the Turon River in a steep valley, and the locals all judged the water would be much too high and fast. There has also been a blockage caused by a landslide at Monaghans Bluff for the last ten years but bikes have been able to get through.
Our Sunday morning departure was delayed by a flat battery on one of the Austrians and Cookie decided that a rear wheel to rear wheel start was the answer and rolled his KTM 1290 into place. With wet tyres and drizzling rain it was doubtful that it would work and it didn’t. Dry tyres would have been a different story. Plan B was then enacted, pushing it down the hill the pub is perched on. No I don’t know why that wasn’t Plan A. Loki mucking about with hungover affected minds perhaps?
Worsening wet weather and the thought of a warm bed at home tended to make us all agree on the quickest route, via sealed roads. So from Hill End it was Bathurst, Oberon, Taralga, Goulburn, Braidwood and the ‘Bay by common consent. We had a quick refuel at Bathurst with some other lunatics also out riding in the increasingly worsening weather then stopped for a quick coffee and toasted sanger at Taralga.
I was riding as “tail end Charlie” and followed Dick into the side street of the corner where the coffee van was parked. The rest of the group had all the parking spots out the front. Halfway through a “U” turn Dick over balanced and dropped his ‘Strom in the middle of the road. I whipped into the gutter and parked and jumped off to help but somehow slipped myself and landed in the gutter with Suzy on top of me. No harm done but my left hand was a bit sore. All hands on deck soon had Dick and I once again vertically aligned and each with a hot cuppa and toasted sandwich in hand.
Huddled under the coffee vans umbrellas we decided that despite the inclement conditions, it had indeed been a pleasant weekend and as coffees were finished the group got smaller. Dick and I were the last to leave and I then discovered Loki’s last laugh. Despite running Barkbusters I had broken the clutch lever right where it enters the perch. I managed to twist the lever enough to get the remaining piece away from the starter cut out switch to fire Suzy up and then had to paddle downhill before kicking her into gear.
All went well for the next 45 kilometres until the traffic lights at Goulburn and I got caught behind some cars and had to stop rather than idle up until they went green. I pushed through the intersection and was preparing to go through the start and paddle procedure once more when Dick suddenly remembered he had a spare clutch lever on his V Strom. It was the wrong type of lever but with inborn ingenuity I made it fit well enough. It was another 150 kilometres to Batemans Bay and home, with three more sets of traffic lights when I got there. Also the weather was cold, wet foggy, and really shitty again going down Clyde Mountain, great fun on knobby tyres. After getting home and showered I decided that the hand I injured at Taralga may need some medical attention so went to the hospital just to be safe. That’s why I’m typing this with a broken left hand in plaster. Nice one Loki, you won that round.