Category Archives: Travel

Wayward Roll: Snowy Mountains and Mount Kosciusko

A photo tour of the last couple of weeks: I came back to Canberra a month and over 2,500 miles after setting off on my travels, happy to see the garden I had established thriving. It was good to spend a few days eating my own organic veggies, Tom’s homemade bread and fresh eggs from the three chooks.

Early September: New bed made, dirt and mulch hauled in

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October bounty!:

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But of course, this is my year of travel, so I was off again just a few days later to explore the Snowy Mountains and Kosciusko National Park.

A month prior, I met a woman named Jacqui at the Cavendish Horizons Unlimited event. She was planning a trip around Australia on a Postie with a few others. I met the Postie bike crew on their way through Canberra and then periodically en route to Thredbo, via Cooma and Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains. Jacqui invited me to stay with them for two days in the cabin they’d booked, which sounded like a great time.

On the way there, I started noticing dozens, and then hundreds of motorcycles. Turned out they were all headed to Thredbo too, for the Snowy Ride, a yearly motorcycle event in support of the Steven Walter Children’s Cancer Foundation. I bid farewell to the idea of a quiet retreat in the mountains, but was glad the noise of thousands of motorcycles was at least for a good cause. I didn’t join in the group ride, as I’m more comfortable riding solo or with only a small group. Besides, the bikes there were all big beasts, and I didn’t think my  little Sherpa or I would keep up.

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Since I have an upcoming backpacking trip planned for Tasmania beginning on November 19th, it was time to get some serious exercise and get out of the saddle for a few hours. On our second day in Thredbo, to the sound of thousands of motorcycles revving their engines and zooming around town, I started my trek up to the summit of Australia’s highest peak, Mt. Kosciusko.IMG_7754

I needed to get back in shape, and fast, so I began the hike from the village instead of taking the chairlift half way to the top with everyone else. The first 4km were the most grueling; a set of stairs led up the hillside to where the chairlift stops, zigzagging through beautiful Snow Gum forests. From there it was another 6.5km to the summit, an easy stroll through beautiful alpine wilderness and patches of snow. It almost felt like being home again, high up in the Cascade mountains.

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In total it was a 21km (13 mile) round trip hike, and to keep my heart rate and motivation up, I had my timer going. I did it in 5 hours and 16 minutes, but my calves and shins are definitely  paying the price…

Tallest point in all of Australia!
Tallest point in all of Australia!

Back at the chalet that evening, I enjoyed the company of many other motorcyclists over a red curry dinner I made for the gang, and chatted away with Belle and Nadine, known as the Gobi Gals for their trip from London to Mongolia last year on two Chinese 110cc scooters. It’s a trip I’ve been seriously considering for me and my Sherpa, so it was a real treat to get an inside (girl’s) scoop.

Hanging out with the Gobi Gals and gang
Hanging out with the Gobi Gals and gang

The next day I set off for a 400km ride to Moruya via Bega (pronounced “Beega”. Australians laugh at you when you pronounce it “Behga”) on the South Coast of New South Wales. The wind was blowing hard through the golden fields at the top of the Great Dividing Range, threatening to blow me into the dancing sea of grass. If barbed wire didn’t line the road, it probably would have been fun.

But at this point in the adventure, I was already pretty accustomed to handling high winds on my little bike. I made good time, and was happy to arrive at Tom’s mom’s place, where we spent the next week taking care of the dogs and cats while his parents were away.

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After a lazy week hanging out on the beach and swimming in the Deau River, I did have to wrap my little Sherpa up in tarps and say goodbye for a while…

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As much as I love traveling on two wheels, it’s hard to fit the gear and the boyfriend on this  little bike. The next part of the trip will be on 4 wheels and two feet, as I undertake the Overland Track, a World Heritage site as well as Australia’s most famous backpacking trip, followed by the South Coast Track, the most remote hike in all of Tasmania.

Here I come, Tasmania!!

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Wayward Roll: Slip ‘n Slide

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My fingers are frozen, clutching the tiny cup of coffee and thermos I came prepared with. It’s a rainy, cold day, and I once again lament at not having better gear. Guy gives me waterproof gloves and we continue on our way, ripping around muddy dirt roads. My mind tries hard not to let my nerves take control. It’s been over two years and nearly 25,000km of riding experience, and I still fight the urge to clamp down on the front brake when nervous. Memories from past safety classes come flooding back: lean into your turn harder, keep your eyes up, look through the curve, and open the throttle. Don’t hit the brakes, don’t hit the brakes, don’t hit the brakes! I breathe loudly out of my mouth, a half growl, half cry, expelling anxiety along with air. I feel better, and roll effortlessly through the curve and mud, wondering why I was so nervous.  I’m not going that fast anyway. Riding is danger enough; I don’t need to add to it with excessive cornering speed.

The bike wants to stay upright. I remind myself of this as I fishtail here and there, giving more gas to straighten out. It works, and is an exhilarating feeling.10416318293_aa8bb60c4b_k

A hill looms ahead. I see Guy’s postie weaving, slipping and sliding, deep in a muddy rut. He doesn’t dump the bike, and regains control. It’s a steep slope for a small bike, and he walks it up the rest of the way, gently rolling the throttle. I don’t start moving until he’s at the top. It’s my turn, and I don’t have high hopes. In first gear, I pick my path poorly, and feel my back tire slide away. A little more gas, and it slides perpendicular to the road. One tire is in the rut, and the other isn’t. Stop. Repeat. Slide. Stop. Repeat. Slide, slide, slide. Stop. Tom-O comes to my aide, stabilizing the back tire as a I struggle up the muck.

Another easier section, and then another hill. More ruts gouge the sides, but Guy’s already to the top. I start up, staying in the rut to keep my tires in line. I stupidly decide to get out of the rut altogether, and feel the back tire slip out from under me. I put my right foot down to regain control, but my mud-caked foot slips in the mud and Sherpa and I come crashing down. I’m in half-splits, and the header pipe is singeing my rain pants. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATom-O comes running to help, but I shout for him to take a picture instead. I’m not hurt, and it’s these moments I’ll remember. Covered in mud, we right the bike and Tom-O walks it up the rest of the way, with my back brake twisted grotesquely.

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Guy signals for us to turn around and go back down, but gets some tools out first to set my brake like a dislocated joint in a sling. The mud just gets worse, he says, so I have no choice but to slide my way down, slipping to the left, slipping to the right, until I’m at the bottom. We head for home, with hard sharp hail stinging my face like needles. My visor is too fogged to close, so I squint harder and keep on riding.

Once home, I take the best shower of my life, and warmed up, feed the birds again. The big cockatoos are scarier close up than I expected, and look like they could take a finger off. I’m careful feeding them, but I don’t mind the little parrots gently nipping at my fingers and toes as I distribute sunflower seeds. image_2They’re getting used to me, and don’t mind landing on my head or shoulder, as long as I keep on feeding them. The galah’s are a bit more shy, but still get close enough to get their fill. Even a Magpie comes to say hello, scratching up my knee with its long, sharp talons.

Wayward Roll: Secret Societies

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I wind my way up and down narrow roads and hairpin turns through deep woods. I round the hundredth bend and find a car speeding towards me, tires well into my lane. I carefully swerve to avoid being taken out by the white family sedan. They continue on their way, oblivious to the life they just endangered. Fellow motorcyclists warned me about this stretch of the journey- The Great Ocean Road, one of Australia’s top attractions. Gawking tourists take pictures while driving and do a scary job of staying in their own lanes. Tommo sees the close call and veers past to take the lead. He’s a local, and although riding a tiny postie bike, has far more expertise and experience than I. I’m grateful for the companionship of these two Aussies, and feel better knowing someone’s watching out for me.

Unbeknownst to me I joined a secret society the day I started riding two years ago. Motorcyclists take care of each other the same way bicyclists, hikers, and climbers do. At the Horizons Unlimited event, I met people from all over the area who gave an open invitation to their house, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed. One woman living in Tasmania bid me farewell with, “I hope to see you in my kitchen soon!” It’s an experience you just don’t have when driving a car.

The night before last the three of us were put up by Dave in Portland, a fellow rider, and given a great tour of the area. He drove us to the local sights, including the lighthouse where he lived for several years, being the son of a lighthouse keeper.10416492334_d0c45be496_k The whitewashed buildings with perfect red trim were a stark contrast against the windblown landscape and grey-green low lying scrub. The waves below bashed the cliffs mercilessly, the wind howling and threatening to blow you off if you didn’t mind your step. I held on tight to the black cap grandma knit for me nearly 15 years ago.

Tony, another motorcyclist from the Horizons Unlimited event, handed me the key to a house his family owns in the town of Lorne. I was given directions to drop it off or post it back to him after a couple night’s stay, and to enjoy my time there. The generosity of people is heart-warming when travelling in a foreign country, and reminds me just how many good people exist in the world.

Arriving around lunch time, I find myself the temporary resident of a house straight from the 1950’s, down to the ancient fridge and floral drapes. It has an awesome old charm to it, and as I eat lunch on the balcony, I’m treated to a panoramic view of the coastline and sweeping ocean views. After a nap in a sunny window, I’m joined by the Postie gents, and have afternoon tea on the deck with our new winged friends. image_8The wildlife in this country just doesn’t cease to amaze me.

Part III: The Last Days of European Motorcycle Madness

Dropping off my bike to Vince Austin in London. Goodbye Ghettobike! You will be missed...
Dropping off my bike to Austin Vince in London. Goodbye Ghettobike! You will be missed…

“Where the frack is Essen? And why the hell didn’t I buy a GPS like a normal person??” I was once again totally lost, this time in my 6th European country. It would not be amiss to say that I was, perhaps, lost for most of the trip… I do love simplicity, but seriously, a GPS is just about the handiest thing you can have while on a road trip through foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak the language. I should have realized the German road signs wouldn’t match the English Google directions and town names. Köln does not look like Cologne to me. Google Gods- you have failed me!!

I had ridden some 600 miles in two days, at warp speed on the autobahn (sorry mom), and was exhausted… As mentioned in my previous post, a man found me falling asleep at a gas station, at night, and offered to lead me through the woods and across the meadow, to my friends house some 60km in an unknown direction. I was very lost. And very tired. And his German accent was very funny. Besides, he had a kid with him, so how scary could he be? Right? Right??

Within half an hour I was delivered to my friend’s house by these nice guys. IMG_4571The friend I was visiting was a girl I met while hiking 500 miles across France, on the Chemin de St. Jacques (the French side of the Camino de Santiago, which I did in 2010). We had spent quite a few days together, and I was looking forward to seeing her in her home town, where she was studying music.

We spent a day lounging by the River Ruhr and just catching up. A day later we breakfasted on dark bread and marmalade in Germany, lunched on waffles in the Netherlands, and dined on beer and chocolate in Belgium.

Antwerp will always be one of my favorite European cities. Glorious old architecture, cobblestone streets opening onto huge plazas, cathedral spires in the distance, bicycle riding all day every day, delicious waffles and chocolates, and a beautiful summer-only bar known as “Zomerbar”, open to all ages. Lit by fires and garden lights, one can wander winding sandy paths through woods, tree houses and hammocks while sipping on La Chouffe and watching whole families out enjoying the summer night.

With one of the biggest seaports in Europe, it was also here that I very seriously considered catching a freight ship home with Ghettobike, and riding across the United States. Unfortunately, the new school year was starting in just 3 weeks, and I needed at least a month to pull it off. Besides, my sister was pregnant with twins and due a month later. There would be other opportunities to travel through Scotland and Ireland… It was time to go home.

I thoroughly enjoyed my few days in Antwerp, staying with a Couchsurfer and ex-professional motorcycle racer turned police officer on Antwerp’s main park. When I rolled up he looked at me, pointed to my lack of proper gear, and said, “Fine for no jacket, fine for no proper boots, fine for no gloves…” I don’t normally ride without my gear, but it was brutally hot and I was melting. He taught me a thing or two about riding bikes, not to mention gave me a sweet new motorcycle jacket suitable for the hot weather, a relic of an ex girlfriend, I think. It was another great Couchsurfing experience, and I really got to see the best of Antwerp and its people.

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The days rolled by too quickly, and I soon found myself whizzing off to the ferry in Dunkirk, missing that ferry by minutes, and speeding for Calais instead. Destination: Dover, England. It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I do remember being escorted from Dover to the outskirts of London by a motorcycle gang of a dozen old dudes on choppers. They joked at me not wanting to be seen with the likes of them, and I have to say, it was a pretty rare experience! They also helped remind me to stay on the left, through the dark drizzly English evening.

It was a Sunday, and I didn’t arrive at my next Couchsurfing destination until nearly midnight (damn it- I REALLY could have used a GPS!). It was early August, and the Olympic Games were in full swing, meaning that even on a Sunday night, the traffic was terrible, roads were closed off, and I felt like I was going around and around in an awful smelly circus, which turned out to be Piccadilly Circus. Missing the open countryside and Alps, and absolutely exhausted after a whirlwind 8 country tour, I spent the next couple of days resting and getting my motorcycle to Austin Vince and his super-star motorcycling wife and author, Lois Pryce. He had offered to sell it for me when my trip was done, something I cannot thank him enough for doing. Besides, it meant I got to meet Lois, a true female adventurer.

The main part of the trip was done, and I was sad to see it over so soon… All my fears of traveling alone and figuring things out on the fly were for nothing. It was a hell of a journey, and one I cannot wait to attempt again.

Dropping off my bike and meeting Lois Pryce!
Dropping off my bike and meeting Lois Pryce!

ADVrider Super Sherpa 250: Adventures in Australia’s South Coast

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The road trip begins

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and for good reason. I spent two weeks cruising around on my new 2001 KL250 Super Sherpa, enjoying the warming weather at the close of Australia’s winter.

Continue reading ADVrider Super Sherpa 250: Adventures in Australia’s South Coast