Category Archives: Australia

#29in29: Gifts from the road

I love the road.

Not for its own sake: I am not the kind of biker who can ride the same bends over and over, looking for the sweet sweep of perfection.

I love the road for the gifts it brings me and the people I meet when I ride along it.

I would not have covered 2,000 miles in Australia in January if I hadn’t met Steve last year as the sun went down over Henry’s Camp Site in Cornwall and heard him talk about riding the red roads from Brisbane to Perth, on road tyres on his TDM. He made me think Australia was a country worth flying for 18 hours to get to. And he was right.

And I wouldn’t have met Steve if I hadn’t fallen in love with the RBR and the extraordinary, incomparable crew that support me, chastise me and take the piss out of me in equal measure. My life would be so very dull without them.

I learn something on every journey. Sometimes small things, like, don’t try and overtake teenage girls in hot hatchbacks. Sometimes big things, like, even though I am a person who loves to be with other people, and (as last Satuday proved) will always turn down a day doing sensible things in the house for the chance to drink tea and trade insults with Graham, Paul and Jim, a day is not wasted if there is no-one living it beside me.

The great and secret joy of being a writer is that I get to live my life twice. Once at the time and then again when I try and capture it in words for you to read. It has been a selfish privilege to write every day for a month about my amazing holiday. Thank you to FuzzyGalore for setting the challenge, MotoDiva, NWExplore, Nikos, BobScoot, Adrian from YouMotorcycle, Bobbi, and everyone else who has left comments on the blog and via Twitter, and, on the far side of the world, David and Lynne, Adrian, Mel, Woody and all the Blue Knights, and Steve, whose fault it was that I went at all.


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#29in29: Kangaroo!

This is a picture of the Stirling Range, taken from the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. When I was planning this trip, I wanted to camp in the Stirling Range national park, but that would have needed a bike I could take on gravel. And a tent. So I thought I would settle for making a loop through on the tourist route before having my overnight in Albany. The mountains did that mysterious mountain trick of never seeming to get any nearer, and the voice in my head that likes to undermine me kept telling me I had bitten off more than I could chew, and that I should give up this ambition and head straight for the Motel in preparation for the long haul back to Perth. It shut up when we rounded a corner to see a great big kangaroo, hopping away from the road. Just the one, but one was enough. I’d seen an emu crashing through the trees beside the Peter Brock memorial, though I’d failed to appeciate it fully because one of the Blue Knights was telling me all about the crash and the subsequent investigation while I was trying to figure out Telstra voicemail because I’d missed a call.

In possession of the full set of Australian heraldic beasts, but no longer in possession of my wash bag, I decided it would be no defeat to leave the mountains hanging in the distance and to come back for them another trip.

According to the website of Interesting Kangaroo Facts, kangaroos cannot move backwards. Nor can emus. They are animals dedicated to making progress, which is why they are on the coat of arms of a young nation. This fact also makes them perfect biker mascots.


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#29in29: Bang to rights

When you go on sailing holidays in Greece, enterpreneurs take pictures of you approaching the harbour and sell them to you for a vast mark-up.

This is the same, right?


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#29in29: Motel Hot Tub

The Metro Inn, Albany declares itself to be gay-friendly on its page. It’s also pet-friendly, with conditions. Maybe that means their allocation of friendliness is used up. There didn’t seem to be much left over for me when I checked in. I should have borrowed Fanny the Wonder Dog for the occasion.

The welcome from the receptionist was chilly. This did not matter, because opposite what seemed to be a fortified bunker door on my apartment was The Hot Tub.

Which was about to be occupied by two mums, three children and a baby.

“Excuse me,” I said, in my very best Queen’s English. “Would you mind awfully if I popped in with you? It’s been a frightfully chilly ride.”

“No worries,” they said.

Which proves once again that being a lady biker definitely has its advantages.

I stripped off all the layers of clothes that had failed to keep me warm since Augusta (and put a swimming costume on, because this is not that sort of story) and immersed myself up to the neck in hot, bubbly, chlorine-flavoured water. The children jumped in and out of the hot tub and dared each other to jump into the much colder pool. The grown-ups talked about the weather, and about how unseasonally cold it’s been for January. The bubbles came on every 30 minutes for 30 minutes, and after two sessions of effervescence I thought I’d better get out before I turned into a prune.

Too late to stop it wreaking havoc on my hair colour, I washed all the chlorine off in my motel shower. And after I peeled myself off the back wall of the cubicle I finally realised why people mock mine.


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#29in29: Looking for the Big Apple

While on my tour I hoped to bag four Big Things: the Big Ram, the Big Double Helix; the Big Orange and the Big Apple. Nato, Our Man in Harvey, said the Big Orange was no more so it wasn’t bagged on the 2nd. On the 3rd I had high hopes of bagging the Big Apple in Donnybrook. The town is a tribute to all things pomonan, from the shape of the street lamps to the names of the shops. There’s an Apple Fun Park, The Apple Basket Cafe, and The Big Apple Bakery. I found all of these places but I didn’t find a 60ft tower with a fibreglass apple on top. You’d have thought it was difficult to miss. I could have asked a local, but that would have interrupted my peaceful contemplation of an excellent iced coffee. With cream and ice cream.

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I need affection, not protection

Muffy overstepped the mark with three little words in the car park of the Bunbury Youth Hostel: “That’s an order,” he said, telling me I needed to take someone with me on the Nannup-Balingup road.

Peter Thoeming says this about the road: “while it can be narrow and bumpy its corners are also pleasantly challenging.” He doesn’t suggest it’s beyond the competence of an average rider, and I am, unfortunately, very average. For someone like me it can be more dangerous riding with someone else than riding alone, because in upping my pace to keep up I am far more likely to make a mistake.

It was well-meant. The Blue Knights had been down here on a rideout recently and one of their number had made an unplanned departure from the tarmac. Someone had chalked “SLOW DOWN!” on one of the most technical bends and, far from being helpful, the message created its own hazard. Distracted by it, the rider fluffed the turn and exited stage right, damaging his pride but nothing else.

So, while I appreciated the concern for my wellbeing, I disliked the implication that I needed taking care of in the simple act of riding. This is me having my cake and eating it, because I was very happy to be taken care of when the GS proved to be rather poorly, but I am female and therefore under no obligation to be consistent.

Disobeying my orders and riding alone up to Collie, the first stop on my loop which would include the Nannup-Balingup road and the road to Bridgetown, I felt splendidly naughty. And following a tip from Biker Gran, who says that the best reason to ride by yourself is that you can detour whenever you like, I ducked off the Coalfields Road to look at the Wellington Dam, a decision which rewarded me with a beautifully twisty ride through the forest, kicking up leaves and making the birds erupt from the verges in clouds of black, white and green.

In Balingup, since I was about to enter the valley of death, I thought I should stop and have a coffee (and a processed cheese roll-up). If i was going to spend time lying in the forest waiting to be found, at least I could avoid a caffeine withdrawal headache or hunger pangs. The Taste of Balingup managed to provide excellent coffee and absolution in the form of this card, by a local artist. Geoff Selvidge pointed out, via Twitter, that you could make one almost the same that said “A bike is safe in the garage, but that’s not what bikes are for.”

Fed, watered and guilt-free, I rode 40km of bends through the forest, and it was the best rollercoaster I’ve ever been on. It is a beautiful, complex and technical road and it deserves respect, but I’m very glad I rode it by and for myself.

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Dam, that’s big.

The lovely thing about travelling is that activities which would be mundane at home become fun and exotic. I can’t imagine Australians find anything particularly inspiring about a visit to Coles. But I have lots of fun in Collie choosing flatbread and fruit and peanut butter, so that I can make picnic lunches while I’m out and save big pub meals for every other day. Compared to the UK, there’s an immense choice of fruit, piled up in big bins in the aisles. The raspberries are frozen in punnets, maybe ready for smoothies? And the bananas look great. I buy some then realise too late that stuffing them in my panniers is not going to be very good for them. I cheat and buy processed cheese slices. My excuse is that it saves me buying a knife. But actually it’s because they’re my Guilty Pleasure. Sitting on a shady bench in Ballingup, a man walks past and makes a joke in German. (At least, I think it’s a joke). Are Germans famous in Australia for making processed cheese roll-ups?

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#29in29 When the student is ready…

I can’t remember if it was the Dalai Lama or Mr Miyagi who said “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” But in the afternoon of my day off in Augusta, he did.

I had a Little Creatures beer and a book as a prop, and I sat down in the yard of the Youth Hostel in the shade. A guy was dragging a chair over to one of the tables. “I’d join you,” I said, “but if I sit in the sun I’ll shrivel.” So he dragged the table over to my chair instead. He was from New Zealand and he looked like a cross between Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China and Shane Warne before Elizabeth Hurley airbrushed him.

Dwayne was 40, had recently stopped travelling and was learning to settle down. I’m 40, have recently stopped settling down am learning to travel. It was a good moment for our paths to cross.

He was a man with a plan. After 20 years travelling round the world, sometimes on cruise ships, sometimes not, he’d spent 2 years in South Africa, trying to make a romance work and getting paid under the table, before admitting defeat. His mother, who sounds like a sensible lady, sat him down and told him that charm and good looks weren’t going to last him forever. So he went back to school and qualified as a PE teacher, so that he’d have a career. He bought a dog, so that he couldn’t go back on the road, and now, equipped with permanent residency in WA, a career and a canine companion, he was on a mission to find a wife. It isn’t plain sailing. Most single women in their 40s, he said, either have lots of baggage, are being deafened by their biological clocks ticking, or are mad. I couldn’t really fault his logic. As a newly-qualified teacher he’s getting jobs in very small mining towns where the workforce is overwhelmingly single and male. It’s a good life and the people are friendly, but there aren’t many women to meet. So he’s joined a dating agency for girls who like the outdoor life. If the dates don’t go well, that’s fine, he said. Maybe she’ll have a friend who’s more his type. And not baby-crazed. Or bonkers.

I liked his optimism and his certainty that this final part of his plan would soon be realised. I liked that he had identified his weak spots (with help from his mother) and had designed a life that would make it easier to reach his goals.

We talked about single travelling and how to meet people. You have to make the first move, he said. If you sit reading a book, people will think you want to be left alone and will give you space. Put out what you want to get back.

Take time to value the little things, he said, as we opened some more beers. Like sitting under the moon and stars, with good company and eye candy.

Federico the Italian chef and I were the good company. The eye candy were the girls from the bakery who were trying to figure out how to light the barbecue. They were young, beautiful and blonde, and having immense amounts of fun. Federico told us about his friend who had been riding round the world on a bike. He couldn’t get a visa into China so he had to ride round it – into Siberia. Federico shivered at the thought, then had to go and talk to his girlfriend on Skype. He’s in Australia on a working holiday – she’s still in Italy. “Complicated,” he said, with a very Italian shrug.

PS: this is a slightly random photo from my cruise up the Blackwood River. The water comes halfway up the dog. The necessity for a boat as opposed to a pair of waders seems unproven.


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#29in29: If not you, then who?

Having missed out at Swings and Roundabouts, I made like a squashed grape on Facebook and let out a little whine. My friends delivered support, ego-rubs and arse-kickings in equal measure and it finally dawned on me that the only person who was going to make sure I had a good time was me: “If not you, then who?” as it’s written in that important book of moral reference, Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett.

So in the morning I implemented Plan Happy Traveller. That was the first important change, as recommended by Andy Myles. Being on holiday alone may feel sad and pointless. Travelling alone is exciting and challenging. I returned to the Augusta Bakery, purveyor of excellent pizza, and almost fell at the first hurdle. My accent was, apparently, impenetrable to the lady behind the counter. I tried a few times but got worse rather than better, because when I get stressed I start to stutter. After a bit of pointing I achieved my goal, which was a big black coffee with an extra shot and a vanilla slice, because what finer pastry could there be for a traveller’s breakfast?

Back at the Youth Hostel with my spoils, I found a the kitchen was full of interesting people, and best of all, for the cash-strapped lady biker, free bread. One of the girls staying in the hostel worked in the bakery and was allowed to bring home the unsold loaves in the evening. The tomato bread was particularly good. To maintain good karmic balance I put my bananas on the pile. I’d bought them in Collie and they had not travelled well. I am a banana fascist, there is a narrow window of opportunity when they are at their best but if they get brown and bruised I can’t bear them. But because we live in a universe of infinite diversity, my reject banana is another person’s bliss.

“Battered and free,” said Margaret, later. “The perfect banana!”

Margaret was travelling with her daughter Gill and was enjoying being the oldest backpacker in Western Australia. Her husband was at home with three weeks worth of meals in the freezer and a barn full of vintage bikes. I told her about riding with the Blue Knights and my RBR adventures. She laughed at my rubber scrambled eggs. We compared flight notes and I told her the story of my accidental oxygen tank. Sometimes I think I enjoy my disasters, because if my life went smoothly, what stories would I have to tell?


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To arrive is sometimes better than to travel.

My day started literally and figuratively under a cloud. I decided that maybe I felt weird and dislocated because my I’d eaten nothing the previous day except espresso, iced coffee and bar snacks. I have been trying not to turn to food as a mood-enhancer but I felt this merited an exception, so I had Eggs Benedict in Samovar in Busselton. Which came with avocados. I love avocados. And a white Magnum before climbing the lighthouse.

But my brain refused to be consoled. It was enjoying a good wallow.

These things were wrong:-

– I was the only person at the lighthouse on my own. Everyone else was a couple or a family group.

– I was going to have to share a room with someone I didn’t know. Because I was on my own. I didn’t want to share a room. But I had booked a double.

– I stopped to try a Cellar Door. @sharemyoyster had told me about these. I fancied a coffee and maybe a pizza. Or a cheese platter. That looked nice on the menu. I waited while the group of 15 placed their orders. Then the girl behind the counter took orders from four women who’d come in after me. As she headed past me again I said “Could I have a Long Black…” and before I could say “and a pizza” she said “Would you mind coming back when I’ve got everyone else’s orders taken?” Because single people’s money is apparently not as important as the money spent by people who have arrived with their families in tow. The Winery was called Swings and Roundabouts. I was going to sit with my coffee and my cheese plate and maybe even a small glass of something sparkly and write a witty post about how the day had been up and down but now it was improving. But it wasn’t. Part of me understands the economics. Part of me was just having salt rubbed into a wound that was particularly sore that day. So I got back on my bike and carried on south and had a little blub inside my lid.

Why? Because I’m stupid and I get myself worked up anticipating dramas that don’t deserve it.

When I got to Augusta the Youth Hostel was beautiful. It had a balcony with a white staircase leading to the upper floor, and a garden with a barbecue. Who am I sharing with, I asked the manager. Nobody, she said, looking at me like I was a bit dim. You’ve got a double bed, we don’t make you share with someone you don’t know.

So I took my bags upstairs to my room and it was a beautiful calm room, full of light with great big windows and vintage furniture.

I had a little walk around town. The Augusta Bakery was doing pizza night, so I ordered ham and pineapple. The Augusta Hotel Motel was doing excellent beer. The bottle shop had tins of VB and luxury crisps. I watched the sun go down. Tomorrow would be better. This was a good place.


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