Easter 2011 was already a 5 day weekend due to ANZAC day falling at the same time. Now the following weekend is also a public holiday so it was no surprise that many people, myself included opted to take the days in between off to form a week + off work.
I had been toying with going to ride the Oxley highway again this year and then in the days leading up to the break saw the weather down Victoria forecast to be fine and came up with an impromptu plan to ride south to the alpine roads and maybe the 4 mountains roads west of Bega if time and rain stayed away.
I literally made my mind to go the day before and packed up the bike on Thursday evening and booked a room at the Top Pub Uralla as my first night. Next morning a mate confirmed he would join for part of the day and I rode down to Lismore via Murwillumbah and Nimbin to meet him. Heavy fog made it slow going.
We rode over to Woodburn and south on the Pacific highway to Maclean rather than the Summerland Way which after Casino is perhaps the most mind numbing road after the Hume. I was in my winter gear so was feeling a bit warm waiting for the ferry to Lawrence.
Riding over Nymboida range this time was pleasant, previous I have experienced a hail storm and 45 degree heat wave there. We took the road to East Dorrigo which might not be as good as the Waterfall way descent but was car free and has plenty of curves all the same and after a refuel and rest we rode the Waterfall way and my friend returned home whilst I rode south to Wooloombi Gorge.
Still plenty of time up my sleeve I took a walk around Armidale park and streets to view some of the autumn colour and heritage buildings.
Then on to Uralla and checked in at the Top Pub. Hard to find much in the way of value these days however this is the separate wing of the pub at the rear with ensuite rooms for $35 a single a night, not flash but clean with tea/coffee etc tv and a comfy bed that’s value. Had a decent meal there too next to the fire place. A good reason I suffered earlier today the winter gear, this high country gets very cold, already just in April it is about as cold as mid winter in Brisbane.
I had a problem to solve that evening, where to get e new visor for my Shark RSR helmet next morning. I had left home with a brand new iridium visor fitted from ebay and I know to wash these by hand which I had done during the day however this thing was junk, the coating was starting to scratch and go cloudy with just a couple of gentle cleans. I Googled the 3 bike shops in the nearest major town of Tamworth and next morning headed straight there in the very brisk morning air.
As luck would have it two shops closed for Easter and the other could not help. Looking at the visor over a coffee I could see the coating was so fragile that any touching would make things worse rapidly and it was another 4 riding days before shops would be reopening. I had to make a tough call there and then because I know from previous rides that getting things in the country towns is not so easy. I tried to get a visor for a KBC helmet many years ago on a tour and road into every bike shop from the Snowy Mtns back without luck, even getting a common size tyre on my MV Agusta was difficult on tour as I think people pretty much order things in and little stock is kept on hand unlike the city dealerships. I think it would be impossible to get tyres for this bike if not prearranged.
So I decided to stay riding in the New England tablelands as worst case scenario I could buy a pair of sunglasses from a petrol station and ride home with the visor up once the day has warmed up. Not too many bugs in Autumn either to make it possible, still there are always some and I dunno how the Harley guys deal with that.
I rode from Tamworth to the Thunderbolts via Port Stevens Range which was a fantastic ride. The route starts at Nemingha east of Tamworth and joins the Thunderbolts way after the boring initial bit out of Walcha not far from Nowendoc. Note the last 5 minutes of this road was unsealed roadworks which I hope means it will be fully sealed in the near future.
After this is my favorite part of the Thunderbolts way. You plunge down from the pine tree forest in a series of sublime curves where you experience the defy gravity feeling for an extra long time in each radius.
This brings to mind something that I was pondering on this ride. Why try and get through every corner quickly? Seriously, isn’t it the defy gravity feeling in the corner we riders enjoy so much? I understand the young sports bike rider challenging themselves and testing their skill/manhood, been there long ago, but for the rest have a think about it sometime.
Dropping down into the valley the next best part of Thunderbolts winds its way along the river. A sea of tents and camper vans were lined up in the camping areas. Funny how people load up a tonne of gear and drive a hundred miles to get away from it all and then set up camp a few feet away from dozens of other campers all busy staking out their claim – seems just like back in the ‘burbs they left from … Buckets way starts well enough but it really gets into a bad state by the time you get closer to Taree.
I road via Lansdowne before a blip up the highway and had mapped out a route from Kew to Lorne and over to the Oxley. The friendly folk at the Kew servo told me there was a lot of dirt which I had not seen on Google maps so I rode on and the Bago road to Wauhope is not that far further down the highway, the other route looked like it had some great curves in places so one day I might try it anyway.
The Oxley highway, what more can I say to previous. Each time I ride this road it gets better, I particularly like from Gingers crk west to the end of the forest where the road serves up a series of near perfect sweeping corners which would be some of the best riding I have experienced anywhere. They work hard to have such a good surface on a minor connecting route such as this, it is a tribute to the efforts of the local road crews who I am told are also riders and take pride in the Oxley. It is a better ride than any of the switchback mountains I rode in Europe and I have not ridden the famous USA roads (yet) but with three times the corners I am confident the Oxley would compare well. I have tried but it is impossible to capture it in a photo, you simply have to experience it.
I was the last rider to leave Gingers after a late coffee and cake and punting along in the forest I was thinking gee that light is fading fast better get moving or the wildlife will soon come out and then I saw a wallaby on the side of the road ahead and realised I was already out a bit too late. So what to do, go faster to get off the roads sooner but if something comes out then your speed is high or go slow but then be on the roads later as more wildlife comes out – both are a negative I guess. Leaving the forest at the start of the 110 k/ph posted open part of the Oxley the sun was shining again so I decided to try cover the non forest and mostly fenced road into Walcha quickly. This was working fine until about 35km out when I hit reserve. Seems the CB likes a drink at higher speeds. I kept going but doing the maths on how much fuel the CB had drank if I stayed with a wider throttle then who knows what I would get from reserve, it was not impossible that I could run that out in 30 k’s, so I backed it down a bit. About 10 k’s out three bikes come up from behind, seems I was not the last person out that day after all, these guys must have had the same idea, albeit with more fuel as they were really moving and went past me like I was standing still.
I did a quick splash and dash with fuel at Walcha and road straight on to Uralla where I had secured the last room in the town earlier in the day. More of those Kangaroos next xx km signs leaving Walcha and by now the sun was all but gone so busy time scanning for skippy next 30 k and very glad to get off the bike in Uralla just on dark.
Another enjoyable night drinking with locals, this time in the Thunderbolt Inn hotel as the Top Pub was a bit rowdy. The next day the zipper on my Alpinestars WP10 jacket broke and that kind of killed things given it was freezing cold outside in the morning. I was not able to do much riding but had a great breakfast in the the only café I know with a Ducati superbike replica parked inside, on the corner across from the Top Pub you can’t miss it. And it is great to find some real coffee when touring.
I eventually patched things and only option was to wander back towards home, the fog was still heavy in places. I took my time and explored a few historic towns along the way and despite once again something stopping me from going further I had a real good time.