Tag Archives: australia

#29in29: Motel Hot Tub

The Metro Inn, Albany declares itself to be gay-friendly on its Wotif.com 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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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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#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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Rose Hotel, Bunbury

If I were pitching this story as a Vogleresque 12 Stage Hero’s Journey, this part would be Stage 7, Approach to Inmost Cave. I’ve Crossed the Threshold, met my Allies, made some enemies and now I am taking my leap into the great unknown. I am resolved not to sit in my room at the Dolphin Retreat Youth Hostel, eating peanuts and cheese spread on flatbread and drinking water from a tooth mug, which is what I usually do in the evenings when I travel alone. I have had a fantastic day riding the Balingup-Nannup road, looking for the Big Apple and drinking excellent coffee and now I am going to go into a pub and buy myself a proper dinner and a pint.

It may sound daft that I am making such a big deal of this. Going into pubs is not difficult. Or, it’s not difficult in your own country. Although Australia is hardly in the same league as Syria or Cuba for culture shock, the clues that unconsciously inform my choices in the UK are missing or misfiring here. For example, I know at home that Giraffe is kid-friendly and that going into one of their restaurants and asking for a table for one might lead to anxious looks from over-protective parents. All Bar One, on the other hand, is a great place to go for a solo dinner. What is the equivalent here? I can’t tell.

I walk around the town centre and find that Bunbury has lots of restaurants but mainly they are full of big groups, all having a lovely time. I start to lose my confidence, because this scenario is the one you would create if you wanted to kill me. Winston Smith’s biggest horror is rats. Mine is everyone else in the world having a wonderful time and deliberately leaving me on the wrong side of the glass.

In the end I pick the Rose Hotel because it is on the street back to the hostel, and because it looks pretty. The Victoria Street bar is all wood panels and high, lazy fans. It’s nearly empty – there is a table of fifty-something men talking loudly about somebody they work with but don’t like, and me. I order a bowl of wedges and a pint, carry my pint to the table, sit down with too much gusto and bounce my head off the mantelpiece behind me. My attempt to pretend it didn’t happen is foiled by one of the businessmen asking if I am OK. Wedges and a pint cost 15 dollars. I think for some time that the barmaid must have charged me for a full meal by mistake but it turns out beer in Australia is upwards of £6 a pint. Not quite such a lucky country after all.


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Back seat rider

8.00 am on New Year’s Eve and I am sitting on a table at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour, while Woody takes a phone call from his accountant.

It is not where I am supposed to be. I am supposed to be riding south on a gnarly yellow GS, not sitting looking at a placid harbour. I am between bikes. The ailing GS has been returned, and, rather than leave me in Rockingham with a book, Woody has taken responsibility for me for the day. He says that he doesn’t mind at all, that it will be a good opportunity to see how Trac Tor, his immense new Kawasaki, copes with a pillion. It is possible that he is just being polite and he would rather be at home with his wife and a glass of wine than entertaining me until Colin arrives back at Witch Suzuki to rent me a Bandit. But I choose to believe him. I spent too long with a man who would brood on every statement until he could turn it into something dark. It is not a habit I wish to acquire. Woody says he has done well out of life and now he enjoys helping people. I enjoy being helped, although, like cream cakes or tanning, it is something I ought only to indulge in sparingly. He is an entertaining and informative guide. He came to Australia as a young man with half his family – they only had enough money to pay for one parent to emigrate. He began as a policeman, and later became a very successful businessman, though the day is quite well advanced before he lets this slip. In Fremantle he tells me about the Kailis brothers, who own a fishing fleet, and a restaurant, and now a pearl business. In Scarborough and Cottesloe he tells me about Alan Bond, who made himself a rich man by spending other people’s money. Over coffees and lemon squash we talk about families, and bikes, and from my immense, comfy seat I watch the beautiful people on the beaches, and the trees which now have to be called Grasstrees, and the charcoal-and-ash fire breaks, and the windmills, and Woody doesn’t even let me pay for lunch as a thank you.


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Peeling with Feeling

I am relieved to be through with trees. In the end they freaked me out a little. Endless, ancient and crowding in on me with no respect for my personal space. I am happier when I can see the sky. Riding north from Albany to return the bike to Colin in Rockingham, it isn’t too long before I am back under beautiful, blazing blue.

Just north of Mount Barker, a sign for “Peeling with Feeling Shearing Services” marks my return to wheat and sheep country. I have a day to cover 400km – 250 miles in old money. I have been allowing myself to be nervous about making the distance but it’s far less than I cover in a day on an end-to-end or with Graham on the Old Farts Tour, and if I really screw it up I have dispensation to return the bike on Tuesday morning.

Because I am making good time, and the riding is easy, I allow myself a detour to Wagin to see the Big Ram. And maybe an iced coffee. It has been too cold for those in the south and I am in withdrawal.

My route to Wagin is via the Kojonup-Katanning Road. It is straight, like a cartoon, and black, like beauty. A silver pipe runs on my right, carrying water to the wheatbelt, and looking like an opportunity for malice in a Bond movie. I want to stop on the centre line and take a photo. I can see for miles in front and behind me. There should be plenty of time to pose the bike, take the picture and nip back to the verge. But fear of having to explain to Colin why his bike has been flattened into roadkill by an invisible road train forces me to compromise.

I also have to compromise on my plan to avoid the highway for as long as possible. Filling up in Narrogin I ask the pump attendant at the garage if he can point me at the start of the Wandering-Narrogin Road. I’m out of luck, he tells me. The bridge is down at Pumphrey and there’s a 25km detour via gravel. Unless I fancy myself as the next Steve McQueen. We look at the bike, and at me, and at the bike, and I ask him to point me back towards the Albany Highway instead. If I hadn’t had a chat with him I would have had to spend a long time backtracking. The universe is rewarding me for being sociable.

My reward to myself is a stop at what looks to be an excellent tourist trap. The Williams Woolshed held out the offer of a sheepy souvenir or two to come with me on future travels. I used to travel accompanied by a moose, but he went AWOL on a trip to Glasgow to see Def Leppard and talk about road safety. Since then I’ve tried a Highland Cow and a small dog from the Ducati factory, but they’re just not the same.

The Woolshed has a range of upmarket booths selling art objects and kitchen things, a restaurant which is packed, and a shop selling a range of spectacularly unattractive jumpers. This leaves me a choice between Ugg boots, which I can’t fit on the bike, and can’t really afford, or a teatowel. I have a look round the Shearers’ Yarn gallery to postpone the decision.

I know a very small amount about sheepshearing. I know that you do it in two-hour runs. I know that you need to know whether someone used straight combs or pulled ones before you offer to buy him a pint. And I know that wrestling sheep gives you flat knuckles.

But I want to know what it feels like to stand in a sling and shear a sheep every three minutes until the bell rings as part of a shearing team that works hard and plays harder. What it sounds like. Is it noisy? It must surely be, with machines to drive the shears, and sheep stamping around, but is it a place where people shout and banter, or can you only get the job done by keeping your head down and concentrating?

The Woolshed does its best. It’s got a display of equipment, and some posters about union rates and wool prices, and a copy of a newspaper interview with an old boy who talks about trying to do better than the bloke next to you, while playing fair – shearing the first sheep you pick, not picking the easiest ones to shear – but it’s terribly solemn and quiet. Which I suspect may be the exact opposite of how a shearing shed really is.

I don’t buy a souvenir in the end. All the cuddly sheep seem to have been shipped in from China.


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