Tag Archives: adventure travel

Empty Road, Evening Sun

I am going an A Big Adventure soon. I am excited about it but I am worried as well, because I will have to keep up with people who ride motorcycles for a living, and that has not always been my strength. I can keep up with couriers in the city, but dodging the sheep on tiny countryside twisties gives me The Fear.

Fears are for facing and overcoming, as far as possible. There seems little point in panicking about things it is in my power to improve.

So for the first time in a long time I went out on my bike to practice.

I live in the Flatlands where the roads tend to be straight and level, with the occasional 90 degree corner to keep you awake. But there are about three bends a few miles from my house, and I went out to ride them in a low gear and kick the habit of looking at the corner and braking into it.

It seemed very easy until my mind wandered off into practicing a conversation I needed to have today. Then the bends went to pot. So I conclude that it isn’t only men that can’t multitask. And I also conclude that the challenge might not be riding. It might be concentrating.

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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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#29in29 Bad Day, Part I


I have been escorted, supported and assisted, and now it is time to move on and face the world solo. The day starts abruptly, with a massive electrical storm. The lightning is impressive and slightly scary. A kind-hearted person had made sure I didn’t miss it by making their breakfast in the kitchen, which is on the other side of my bedroom wall, at 5.30am. Even with determination to be stealthy, which they had, it is difficult to microwave quietly. But pretty soon the sound of the rain beating on the tin roof of the Dolphin Retreat drowns out everything else. The storm sits overhead for around thirty minutes. There isn’t time to count any elephants between the lightning crack and the thunder roll. The rain is coming down so hard I worry that the sand under the bike will wash away. It doesn’t, but it does leave immense puddles all over the car park. This is Australia. It is not supposed to rain. I have not come prepared to be wet and cold. I read my book and drink instant coffee, because I forgot to pack my coffee filter and now I am doomed to start my mornings with Nescafe, scavenged from the Premier Inn and tucked into my wash bag next to the mascara.

There is no point starting the day under a cloud, so I lie reading and not really sleeping for another two hours.

I feel unusual. Tired and unfocused. The trees in the Tuart forest smell of mint. Can that be right or am I hallucinating?

In Busselton I want to see the Big Pier. It is grey and damp and I struggle to find a place to park. I think, maybe breakfast would help. In my fantasy I thought I would have breakfast in a beach-side cafe looking at the pier. In reality I have a small thimble of lukewarm gritty mud in a cafe on the main shopping run. I read the local paper. It seems that people getting married, crashing cars, suffering break-ins and writing long letters make news anywhere in the world. In a few days time there will be a big festival here, but today is just a weary working day.

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Omnia sol temperat

Rental bikes don’t come cheap. In order to get my money’s worth, I need to have around £100-worth of fun every day. What does that look like? About 25 pints of beer? I have downed that many in a day, but it was a long time ago and I’m not sure it was fun even then. Maybe it’s more like a ticket to a West End show, a meal before it with friends and a couple of drinks in the interval. Every day for the next ten days. I can live with that 😉

This Bandit is a sweet, sweet bike. I feel rather closer to the ground than normal, but I can finally do all those things I’ve practised on Norfolk airfields including the feet-up U turn, though I have not yet ventured one on full lock. No point tempting fate, and I’ve already heard the expensive crunchy sound of plastic on tarmac twice this trip, both times my camera slipping off the bike seat and hitting the deck. Why so many U-turns? Because this bike doesn’t have a GPS. I have a good map and the number of roads available to choose from is closer to Caithness than Camden, so I think I will be OK – and in a slightly Spartan way I think it’s good for me to practise the discipline of looking at maps and trying to remember them rather than just blind following.

For New Year’s Day I rode up the coast, past the dog-walkers, joggers and surfers who were out and about. I’d say “making the most of the sunshine’ but this is one of the big things you have to know about Australia. You probably know already, but it’s different when you’re feeling it for yourself. It’s always sunny. Every day. This creates a very different head-space. If this were a summer morning in Blighty I’d be thinking, “Oh, sunny again, great! Wonder how long it will last?” Like hungry people or binge drinkers, there would be a feeling of needing to grab it all before it’s gone. Here there’s none of that panic. The sun shines, you put on your protection and go out and have a ball, and you can do the same again the next day. It creates relaxation.

The other thing about Australia that you might know in your head but not in your spine is how big it is, and how thinly spread the people are. I followed the coast to Yanchep, where there’s a National Park with koala bears. Tourist photos in the bag, I headed back into farming country to New Norcia via Mogumber, These towns are marked on the map….Mogumber is a railway crossing and a tavern. New Norcia is a very odd collection of Benedictine monastic buildings. Between them were miles of warm, well-kept tarmac roads with bugger-all other traffic. I realised that carrying water isn’t necessary for comfort and feeling a bit thirsty. It’s because if I have a problem in a place with no mobile reception I’ll be waiting a very long time for someone to come along.

So: New Year’s Day was all about hot, red roads, the brilliant colours of the roadside flowers, flashes of bright red and green from the parrots as I scared them up from the verge, and one-horse towns. I stopped into the Mogumber Tavern for a cold drink. A cattle dog inspected me on the porch – I passed and got a wag of the tail. Inside an old guy with legs as leathery as his thongs said “G’day! How ya going.” It’s a fantastically warm greeting and “Very well thank you, how do you do?” seems inadequately British in response. He wished me an increase in happiness and I sat at the bar in my un-natural fibre mesh jacket feeling very out of place. I’ll do better next time…I’ll leave the jacket on the bike! (and I’ll practice “How do you do? ” in my best Betty and Phil voice. I’m a tourist, I might as well sound like one!)

Today I start south 🙂

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Me, looking hot ;)


The smart locals park in the shade.

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