The plan for this weekend’s ride was to ride some easy roads through the Victorian high country, this time on my small adventure bike (my WR250R). I was going to ride down by myself, then we’d ride together for a day, then I’d spend a week in Melbourne doing some work and seeing some friends.
I bought my WRR last June, as a way to get practice on the dirt with a small, light bike. But due to a whole bunch of boring excuses (not reasons), I’d only taken it out twice on the dirt. The first time was a terribly slow ride, where I spent the entire time scared of the height of the bike. The second I took the same route, telling myself the entire time that I didn’t like this, despite the fact that I was riding ok and had no mishaps (sometimes my head tells me some really stupid things).
But after a week of getting ready & getting my kit all sorted, I was really looking forward to it.
Day 1: Barry Way to Omeo
Today’s goal was to get to Omeo – riding to Jindabyne, then along the Barry Way then Limestone Road. I’d ridden all of this except the last part of Limestone the previous week, so knew what to expect. But it was on a different bike and I was going to do it in one day, not 2, so it was going to be a big day. There were also some parts that had made me nervous the previous week.
I made it all the way to Jindabyne for morning tea. The 40km of gravel on Bobeyan Rd was a good chance to get a feel for the bike – it is an easy road and one I know well already. It was a comfortable ride & was a good chance to get a feel for the bike and my body position.
There was going to be nowhere to stop for lunch. There’s nothing between Jindabyne & Omeo, and I was at Jindabyne too early for lunch. So I planned to eat on the road.
Last week when I rode along the Barry way on the big bike, I spent a lot of time nervous, and particularly disliked the descents (well, mostly the corners at the bottom of the descents). On the other side of the Vic border I had spent a lot of time not liking the ascents (can you see why I can’t figure out whether I like adventure riding…).
This time, on the smaller bike, I was looking for the descents that I’d disliked. I couldn’t find them. I liked it all, though I still wasn’t riding well or fast.
I stopped at the bottom of the road, ate jerky & chocolate & drank water. When I got back on the bike I felt so much better – it’s a fairly steep ascent, and last week I gave myself a bad neck ache tensing around every corner, imagining the consequences of dropping off the edge of that cliff. This time, it was good – I got a bit of a flow around some corners, didn’t worry about how to get up hills (the little bike just walks up, even at super-low speed) and didn’t once think about the fact that I was on the edge of a cliff. I just enjoyed it.
When I got to the turnoff for Limestone Rd, I still had 100km to go, and I’d been on the road for about 7 hours already. This whole stretch was tough. I was tired, hadn’t had a proper meal and just wanted it to end. The road is dead easy – it’s flat, with open corners. But I couldn’t get up any pace, and crunched around every corner. It was probably the easiest road I took all weekend, but all I did was watch the odometer & looked for the end.
And there, finally was Omeo, and the Hilltop hotel, with an ok, though squeaky bed & beer! R met me there later in the evening.
Day 2: The Birregun Rd (plus a swim & some sand)
R had lots of plans for routes we could try, rated from grandma to challenging, but the main one was for me to ride the Birregun Rd. The first thing I did was to stop on a straight stretch & get him to ride the bike . I thought it was feeling a bit squirmy, but it turned out that it was completely fine – that’s just how light bikes feel on the gravel.
When we reached a spot with corners, I went ahead so he could watch me ride. It’s hard for me to put myself in a position where someone is assessing me (yep, 2 unfinished masters degrees). But he gives good advice so I was ok with the idea. I was riding badly though – I couldn’t get my posture right, my throttle control was all over the place, I was slow and my corners were terrible.
We stopped after not much distance and debriefed. Yes, I was as crap as I thought. R pointed out that I was taking corners wide and steering around them with the handlebars, which is just wrong. I need to keep the bike straight and lean it around corners. So it doesn’t fall over, I have to lean my body to the opposite side. He showed me how it looked on my bike. I also needed to get some pace up, to better ride across the rocks & rubbish. He suggested I try it for a while sitting down & then stand later.
So I tried it. I just focused on my bike & body position, and picking up the pace. I forgot about posture, throttle & where to position the bike in the corner. I just concentrated on leaning the bike in. I couldn’t do it sitting down as we were going uphill (& I need to stand forward to get uphills) so I did most of it on my feet.
It felt amazing. I floated around corners (well, for me), and zipped along. R had folded my mirrors down so I couldn’t see where he was. There were some long stretches of straight uphill ruts and I put on some speed to zip up them – they were lots of fun.
I saw a track off to the side & a bit after that, he zipped around me and stopped. He wanted to look at the campground we’d passed. We went back, got off the bike & he said ‘wtf just happened there?’ with a big grin. BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE WEEKEND.
You know how sometimes you can just feel your skills ramp up, and it feels amazing – yes,that!
We rode for a bit further and stopped to talk about which way to go – we could take a route with some easy hills, or one that was about the same as we’d been doing that was scenic. I chose the scenic. We stopped on the Dargo River and had a swim (in my underwear – I could strip in public & put swimmers on, or stay in my underwear. The easy option won, despite some looks from the neighbours).
After lunch in Dargo we talked about what to do next & decided on to take the tarmac for a while (we’d made much less progress than we wanted with the fiddling around with my riding). R offered me to ride the KTM. I was a bit unsure as it’s a bigger, more powerful bike than I’d ridden before, but I really should be a decent enough rider that I shouldn’t worry about that.
It was fun. It’s heavier than anything I’ve ridden, and more powerful, but not as scary as I thought. R still completely outran me while I figured it out of course!
We swapped back and continued on the tarmac. R stopped, pointed at a dirt road and asked if I wanted to go that way. I said ‘sure’ and we took off.
R had stopped ahead and I saw a patch of sand. I thought he’d set me up – we had talked about riding sand this weekend as I had convinced myself that I was scared of sand. We talked about whether I could ride across it and I said there was no way I could manage it. He pointed out that it was a perfect situation – it was quiet, the sand was a small section, I could tackle it using whatever method I want and he was there to help me if something happened. I finally agreed (there may have been some childish sighing and face pulling first). I faced it and said ‘I’m going to paddle through’, then as I moved towards it, just stood up and rode over it. Naturally it was fine. It was a short section, so by the time I realised the front wheel was moving all over the place I was out of it. My technique was rubbish, but I got through it easily. Later on the road I hit another, longer (but probably shallower) patch. All I knew was that the front wheel was gone again – I leaned back, looked where I wanted to be & just rode through. The theory does work.
We headed to where we were planning on camping, but the wind was starting to pick up. I was on a light bike, riding along a straight road with strong side winds – of all the hard things I’d done today, this was just about the hardest. I focused right down, thinking about nothing except bike and wind and staying on the road.
After a fruitless search for a shower, we got to the campsite. We went along about 5km of dirt road to the edge of the beach scrub then followed a walking path through the scrub and ended up here, all ready to set up camp.
Day 3: Grand Ridge Road
We woke late, packed up, made breakfast & got ready to leave. Taking the bikes out forward meant going up the dunes. Naturally, both go bogged!
We laid them down, spun them around, and rode out down the hill (that was a good lesson). I couldn’t see the path, so tried to follow where I could see R had been. I finally go to where he was & he pointed to the path – metres and metres away – we had both missed it and gone straight through the scrub.
We took a twisty single-lane tarmac road to start. It was the kind of road I’d have hated riding with on the BMW – lots of really tight corners. The little bike was excellent for it. I still probably rode slowly, but the bike felt light and the corners were fun.
And we stopped for a quick look at a waterfall.
But the real goal today was to ride the Grand Ridge Road, or at least some of it. This is really a series of roads, running west/east across Gippsland, through very pretty, hilly country.
I can say with all honesty that I have never had a worse day’s riding. I rode like complete rubbish. I couldn’t get my throttle control right so was on and off the throttle. I couldn’t lean the bike into the corners so I crunched around them all and hit every rock, and when I had a straight stretch, all I wanted to do was rest, instead of speeding up and getting on with it. It was just an endless cycle of feeling like I was riding like crap, riding like crap, and feeling worse for riding like crap. The arches of my feet were screaming and I could feel blisters starting on this weeks callouses that we’re forming on last weeks callouses on my hands. By the time we hit the tarmac (and we didn’t actually go far – maybe 100km) I was ready to cry.
We had a late lunch at Mirboo North, said goodbye and I slabbed for an hour up the freeway to Melbourne.
Apartment, shower, beer, food!
This was an interesting ride (in terms of skills, not roads). For a while I rode well. I was in the zone and not overthinking everything. But then I undid all of the good by thinking I couldn’t ride on the sand, and riding incredibly badly for a whole day. As some justification, by Sunday I was fatigued – I’d never ridden this bike before so had no bike fitness for it; and two long days had done my body in – I wasn’t sore, but I just couldn’t get my body to respond. The blisters/callouses on my hands were painful and that was causing all kinds of problems.
I learned more about my energy levels and mental fitness. And I watched myself dig my heels in and say I couldn’t possibly try something that turned out to be completely within my skills. It must be frustrating to ride with me! Even I dislike me when I’m being like that.