Well I have just arrived back from a ride that must be about 5 years in the making. This past weekend as many of you will know was the Australian round of the MotoGP. It’s held at Phillip Island, near Melbourne. I live in Sydney, and in a straight(ish) line that’s about 900km. I’ve been planning to take this trip for a while, but family or work commitments have prevented me.
So this year after having approved leave from work I eventually got leave approved by the other half as well. Having company for the ride got me over the line and I was set. As usual, the route was not planned to be a straight line. But with Australia as big as the US, some long stretches of open flat top were inevitable, mostly due to time pressures.
We left Sydney headed south along the Hume Highway. A big dual carriageway that stretches (almost) unbroken from Sydney to Melbourne. If we were in a hurry you can make this in about 8-11 hours of riding, depending upon how much you want to risk your licence. After a couple of fuel stops we turned left onto the Snowy Mountain Highway. And immediately we started enjoying ourselves. This stretch leads you up into the Snowies, and a lot of the interesting roads up here are in good condition and enough little towns with fuel along the way. Tumut to Adaminby is the longest at 128km.
We stopped once to check the map, and make sure we were still in Australia as the terrain had changed a lot. I had a little moment shortly after when I stupidly concentrated on the outside of the turn, not where I was supposed to be going. Brain was screaming but held the bike firm and it carried me (easily) around the bend. Was a little timid after that for some time, until I figured my mistake. As they say, look where you want the bike to go.
We cut the corner before Cooma, heading for Jindabyne. As we approached a big storm came our way but we skirted through just ahead of it and made Jindabyne without needing our wet weather gear. The other big dark clouds in the area carried on south and we didn’t see any rain for the whole day. We stopped for lunch as we had only stopped for petrol since 10am and it was about 2pm. Had a sit and a rest.
On to Thredbo and the highest peak in Australia. At a 2200m it’s barely a mountain in my books, but its the most we have. One of those dark clouds had been through and the roads from Thredbo onwards were wet.
That was a shame as on leaving Thredbo I passed this sign. “Next Services Khancoban. 72km. Approx 2 hours” That last bit had me confused, why would 72kms take 2hours? A few corners later I read this sign “Winding Road. Next 65km” With corner advisories in the 20-40km/h range and soaking roads it took the full 2 hours to get out of the mountains.
I wish it was dry and I wish I was going up that road.
Once past Khancoban and in the valley the road opened up. The last stretch was pretty easy, along the road towards Wodonga, my stop for the night. The warm day, slight wet weather and approaching dusk had the bugs out in force. I gave up trying to peer through the dead bugs at one point about 12km from our destination. Cleaned the visor and by the time we got there, it was getting hard to see.
Stayed at a family friends place, and paid close attention to the forecast. They had been predicting snow for Friday (our Day Two) and we were headed over the mountains again.
It rained heavily overnight, but dawn was fresh and clear. Headed up the Kiera Valley Highway to Bright. This was a great stretch of road too. From easy 100km/h corners in the lower valley to the tighter stuff as you climbed up to Bright.
Bright was busy with bikes. The Shell servo guy said it was currently snowing on Mt Hotham and recommended we found another way. Of course everyone ignored him. It wasn’t far to the ranger station and they would turn us away if there was snow and ice.
However it had snowed overnight and was in the middle of melting as we crossed over the top. The road itself, though wet, was clear of ice and snow, and was steaming into the fog. Stopped a couple of time for photos, and the bike tells me it was 1C. We didn’t spend too long as a southerly change was predicted and we aimed to be well down the other side when it came through. In this part of the world a southerly blows straight off Antartica and is cold and wet. At Hotham, it would snow.
We continued down the Great Alpine Road. This comes from Wangaratta, right over the Victorian Alps into Gippsland, and we had picked it up at Bright. We wound our way down the hill towards Omeo.
I was getting pretty tired and slowed a lot as we got closer to Omeo. My mate got a bit ahead and eventually pulled over to wait for me. I pulled up and we chatted as we eyed a very dark cloud coming over the ridge ahead of us. We decided to break out the wet weather gear, but kept chatting. Part way through I changed my mind and got the gear out. I had barely done up the over jacket when a really wet hell broke loose. We had heavy rain, hail, thunder, lightning and very strong winds. We were a little sheltered by the forest, but it still lashed down on us. All of a sudden our quiet little verge became the hive of activity as bike after bike pulled up to break the gear out.
We carried on into the storm. I am now a total convert to GoreTex as the overjacket kept me dry while my cheaper overpants worked less well. I have since got new pants. It was a tough ride, with visors covered in water (on both sides) and strong crosswinds every time we broke cover. Rain on the visor would change direction due to the wind strength when we came out into the open.
Probably fifteen minutes later the Caltex servo at Omeo was a popular spot as bikes huddled from the weather. Being hardy souls, my mate and I dried our visors and carried on. It wasn’t long before the storm had spent most of its fury and we even had patches of dry road as we approached Bairnsdale.
It made for another long leg and we stopped for lunch at Bairnsdale around 2pm again. From here, the wind was still strong and weather was threatening so we headed up the Princes Highway to Melbourne, instead of along the coast. I got to my mates place around 5.30pm.
We rode about 850km on day one, taking about 12 hours including stops. On day two we rode about 660km and that took about 11 hours.
Day 3 and Race Day
After a day of personal business and catching up with various old friends around Melbourne, Race day dawned windy, cool and cloudy. Pretty typical for MotoGP in Melbourne. I’ve been to four now and they always start like that. It really only matters what happens between 3pm and 4pm and you can’t predict that at all from the morning sky.
Its a flat, dull ride the 90 minutes or so to Phillip Island. The number of bikes increases exponentially as you approach until at the track there must be hundreds of bikes. Traffic…. well bike traffic flows really well here, they have wide shoulders on the roads and the cops don’t care about us riding them for kilometers to get to the bike parking.
This is well organised too, right next to the gate and handouts of bits of wood to rest your stand on in the grass paddock.
Those that are interested would have seen the race on TV. Casey won. About bloody time we had an Aussie win it for a change. Chris came close last year.
The ride home is an experience. It takes a little to actually get out of the gate, but once on the road it’s not too bad. By a few kilometres its back up to highway speed. Not only are you surrounded by all kinds of bikes (including several exotics) but the locals come out and wave at everybody riding past. This goes on for about half the way back to Melbourne. Made it home without incident.
With my leave from the other half on tenterhooks, and both of us pretty keen to get home and rest we decided to flat top all the way up the Hume Highway about 900km. At Yass, I turned off for Canberra as I wanted to catch up with some friends, and was worn out. Riding the Highway is a lot harder than riding through the mountains. I wasn’t sure if I would stay the night or carry on after dinner. I would see how I felt.
Made Canberra about 5.30pm, had dinner and hit the road about 8.30pm. Made Sydney by 12 midnight. The break had done wonders and the ride through the dark (and long haul trucks) went well.
Home! Yay… say hi to wife and baby. Sleep. 🙂