The back story
There’s a bit of a back story to this ride, and it’s kind of important as context.
Last year I fell off my motorbike – I was riding fire trails with friends, went over an erosion mound, landed front tyre first in a puddle, lost the front end and went for a slide. I didn’t break anything, but because I landed heavily on my shoulder, stretched a bunch of stuff out, and couldn’t move my arm easily for a while. Worse than the damage to my arm was the damage to my confidence – I had been enjoying riding on the dirt, but knew I didn’t really have the skills to ride a heavy bike off-road. Coming off it pretty much broke my confidence and I found myself happy when I could find a work-based excuse to miss out on a ride.
On a friend’s advice (my friend R who comes up later in this story) I bought a littler bike – a Yamaha WR250R. I bought it in Melbourne and we were going to do some easy dirt rides on the way home. It was cold and raining and the bike was tall and I had a convenient excuse not to ride it on the dirt and come home via the tarmac instead. I then got busy with work and took months to get the bike to a roadworthy status. I eventually did it, but the registration had lapsed and I had yet another excuse not to ride it. I finally took it out for a run and spent the entire ride telling myself that this wasn’t for me and I was going to sell the bike – despite the fact that I had a completely fine ride, no scary moments, and managed a decent pace on it.
So as you can probably figure out, I was trying to convince myself that adventure riding wasn’t for me…
I’d arranged a ride with R for mid-January but when another came up on our local riding forum, I said I’d be interested but couldn’t switch to knobby tyres in time. That wasn’t a requirement so I said yes. It was going to be a 3 night ride, down through the Victorian high country, camping in camp grounds if possible, or bush camping if not. Despite my hesitation about my skills, I was excited and looking forward to it. 4 days on a bike, exploring, camping & swimming sounded pretty good.
I already had enough camping gear from previous rides, so assembled what I had & packed it into 2 bags, to be strapped to the bike (I learned my lesson last time & knew not to use my plastic panniers for off-road riding).
Day 1: Canberra to the Snowy River
The three of us (G, R & I) met up at Tharwa nice and early, on a clear day that had a fairly strong wind. I dropped my tyre pressures and we headed off down Bobeyan Road. Luckily the wind completely disappeared and didn’t re-appear at any point while we were on dirt roads (yes, wind and dirt roads scare me – I worry that I’ll be pushed and my tyres won’t hold).
We stopped in at a lookout, where the boys just had to take the bikes out for a photo.
We then continued South. I’ve ridden this road a fair few times and usually just follow Bobeyan Road to Adaminaby. But this time we took Yaouk Road, which turned out to be a much prettier road, running through lovely farming country. This leg gave me a good chance to warm up, get accustomed to riding on my feet and get familiar with the bike again.
We stopped at Adaminaby, to find that the takeaway had been closed and the bakery (which had a ‘Burgers’ sign) was packed, so we decided on the pub for lunch. The only problem was that it wasn’t quite lunch time yet – that’s what happens with an early start. After a rest, a burger and some bike chat, we headed south again.
We took a detour to have a look at Lake Eucumbene. It was rocky, a bit nasty and had sand at the end (I’m scared of sand but I didn’t know it was there so fluked it coming into the lake). The boys went for a play in the hills, while I looked at the lake.
And of course, even though I theoretically know how to ride on sand (weight back, look where you want to go, keep the throttle on) I had to ask R to ride my bike out over the sand.
Then we continued to Jindabyne for an iced coffee kind of afternoon tea.
Given the time, we made a plan to ride the Barry Way and find a good campsite on the Snowy River. For months R had been telling me to ride the Barry Way and as usual, his advice was good. It’s a good-condition gravel road, winding its way down through some stunning scenery, with some fairly steep cliffside drops.
We eventually found a campsite where a friendly camper showed R a hidden site right on the river, with a little path to get the bikes down. We set up camp and went for a swim, as you do when you camp on a river.
Just in the water and I let out a BIG GIRLY SQUEAL!! No, I didn’t get in too fast or slip and fall in. Something bit me on the foot! I screeched, fell, flailed around for a bit (but didn’t drop my beer, just added some of the Snowy River to it). Looking at the bite later, we decided it was a turtle. In case you’re wondering, this is what a turtle bite looks like a day later, on disgustingly dirty feet. It must have been a big bugger to have a mouth that size.
Day 2: Barry Way, Nunniong Rd to Anglers Rest
We woke up when the sun rose, packed up camp and were on the road by 8am. Today’s destination was Omeo, thereafter to figure out what to. The easy way to Omeo is Limestone Road, but someone had recommended trying Nunniong Road as well.
The path South of the border on the Barry Way was stunning. The road winds around the edge of a cliff, which was mildly terrifying for me, but the view was incredible. As long as I didn’t think about what would happen if I fell down the cliff, I didn’t come near falling down. After winding down the cliff for a while, the road bursts out into long, flat grasslands. It is quite a remarkable experience to be in the hills one moment and on the flat the next.
From there, we ran across Limestone Road for a while, until Nunniong Road. According to the map, there was going to be only one small steep section (oh, did I tell you I’m not very good at steep?). This turned out to be a very mixed road – it started off as a single car-width road with grass up the middle then changed to single lane gravel road for much of the rest.
There were some remarkably rocky sections, and the short uphill turned out to be within my riding skill and my tyres’ capability, with a bit of coaching from R. In the middle of it was an old winching station, which was an interesting find. Close to Omeo it opened up into a wide gravel road, on the side of open hills, with a quite remarkable view that made the rocky stuff all worthwhile (did I tell you I don’t like rocky stuff? It seems to rattle the bike and I to bits.).
We zipped into Omeo, looking forward to a burger, and weren’t disappointed by Twinkles Cafe. It was here that we learned that G had a family issue and needed to go home, so it was just R and I to continue on our own.
Our morning ride had been so long (about 6 hours, including a couple of breaks) and we didn’t want to do much more, so headed towards Angler’s rest, along the Omeo Highway. I rode this road on my Two Snowies Ride and loved it then. Now I can actually ride corners, I loved it even more – I love that it’s a single speed limit, with no corner advisory signs, so I actually have to read the road instead of reading the signs.
We were hoping there would be space at the campground near the Blue Duck Inn. Lucky for us, we found a great space. And this time there were no biting turtles in the river – we had a cold, and completely safe, swim. We (well, not me) dragged a good-sized log from the side of the river for a fire and one of the other friendly campers, with a handy chainsaw, cut it up. That was lucky – though my gear was fairly extensive, I hadn’t packed a chainsaw!
We had a nice early night and even got a sleep in, waking as the sun topped the trees at about 8am!
Day 3: To Paynesville, via Hotham and Dargo
Today’s plan was to ride the Dargo High Plains Road, look at a camp ground on the way and end up somewhere near Paynesville so we could see the New Year’s fireworks.
The run from Omeo to Hotham is a classic (road) motorcyclists road – endless corners, beautiful tarmac, stunning above-the-treeline scenery. I’d only done it in the opposite direction once before, and it was great to do it in reverse. Just stunningly beautiful, but only for summer as it’s probably super-deep in snow in winter.
We then turned onto Dargo High Plains Road. It was summer holidays, so it was fairly well-trafficked, and the 4WDs kick up a ton of dust. The beginning was a little rocky but it eventually opened up in to wide, flat gravel, with long straights and good corners. I was actively practicing my posture here, standing on the pegs properly, steering with my knees, and I actually had a bit of speed up in some sections (the best I spotted was almost 100km/hr in 3rd gear – I’d never expected to do that).
We stopped briefly and found this – still not sure what was going on here:
Close to Dargo, we turned off to go down to look at a campground that R had been to before. We’d been riding for 3 hours straight and I was tired. We rode for 6km down the rockiest piece of crap road I’ve ever been on. I rode it badly – I wanted it to be easy and couldn’t be bothered standing up and riding it properly. Which meant I hit every rock and pothole and took every bump through my butt. By the time R stopped to see if I was OK and wanted to continue, I’d completely had enough. There was no way I wanted to ride another 6km to the campground (even with the promise of a swim), and the 12km back. So we turned around. On the way back, I rode my bike properly – on the pegs, using my posture to guide the bike, using my legs to steer – and it was much better, if still slow. I really should know better.
We made it to Dargo just as the pub closed lunch off, so we ate at the store. Despite being starving, there was no way I could eat all of my piece-of-crap chicken schnitzel burger. It was just about the most foul thing I’ve ever eaten.
We hoofed it out of Dargo towards Paynesville. Again, this is a beautiful piece of motorcyclists road – curvy, sweepy and nice surface. But I didn’t really notice it much.
We rode into Paynesville, where there is a large tidal lake, with a skinny spit of land running into it. We rode the length of the spit, found a potential campsite, then went back to see if there was something better. Nope – the one we’d found was about the best. We surveyed our food to see if we could manage without shopping. I had a freeze-dried meal; R had noodles, vegetables and a white hungarian salami; I had whisky and R had chocolate. We were all set for new year! We sat around doing nothing for a while, I picked his brain about posture on the bike, we set up camp and cooked dinner, then settled in and hoped we could see the kids fireworks at 9pm.
It turned out that we picked just about the best spot for fireworks. We were right at the end of the spit of land in the map below. From there we could see 4 sets of fireworks. We don’t know where they were, but I suspect there was one at Paynesville, the best on Raymond Island, and two out towards Lakes Entrance.
It was pretty fantastic, and even better when it was repeated at midnight. One of us should have take a photo, but we spent most of the time saying “ooh, did you see that one?”
Day 4: Paynesville to Canberra
New Years Day, and the plan was to get home. We packed up camp and went into Paynesville for breakfast as we’d run out of breakfast food. Two of the funniest things on the ride happened here.
Firstly, we walked into a cafe, wearing all our gear, which happened to be covered in dirt from 3 days riding. The cafe was decorated from christmas and full of nice people in nice clothes. R said “I think we’re officially ‘those people'” – and we were. It was funny to be us – both in very decent careers – and to feel that way. It didn’t bother me – it was just a curious feeling.
The second was to watch people looking at the bikes. Well, mostly looking at R’s bike, which is an all kinds of crazy KTM with enormous tanks. This had been happening all trip of course, but was even more noticeable today. Then when we went to leave, everyone watched – I swear, there was a crowd of about 20 people watching us take off.
From there, it was just a big ride home. We said “seeya next week” and I rode from Bairnsdale to Canberra in 5 hours – stopping for one bathroom break and one fuel stop. It drizzled the entire way and was windy from Bombala to Cooma (is it ever not?). Even though I usually like the Cann River Road, this was a fairly gross, uninteresting trip, especially when my headset power cut out half way through and I was out of music. But all was made better when I jumped in the shower and washed my hair!
So, how do I feel about adventure riding?
I started this trip hoping it would convince me that adventure riding was not for me. I finished this trip back in love with adventure riding. I’m crap at it – I spend most of my time worrying how slow I am, worrying about my tyres slipping, wishing my skills were better, and imagining what would happen if I fell down the side of a cliff. But there is NOTHING like exploring a new road, not knowing what the surface will be like, whether there will be something that terrifies me, and not knowing what the scenery will be like. There is little better than finding a camp ground on a river at the end of a day. And there is nothing like doing it all over again tomorrow.
This totally is for me. I just need to set up my bike better, sort out the weight of my camping gear and get out and ride.
Today I pulled all the plastics off and washed my dirty bike inside and out. I switched the windscreen to the stock one (this was something that makes it harder on rocky ground – the damn thing was so rattly and noisy) and will buy something better. Tomorrow I put the knobby tyres back on (and they are staying there), will fix the handlebar height and the gear lever. Then I’ll start various tweaks to make this bike work well on the dirt, and fix up my camping gear and luggage so it is not as heavy and in the wrong places. Then next weekend, I’m going to do a 3-day ride (followed by a week being grown up, working in Melbourne) and ride home. Then I’ll ride as much as possible after that. And in between, I’ll ride the little bike as well to learn how to manage slopes, sand and all the things I hate.
I’m back in love with riding!