31 October 2015

The Spark of a New Plan

The plan was for us to ride the last FarRide for 2015 on the Wing - Clint in the pilot's seat, Charleen in the princess pillion seat.

I had to work all Friday – well pay attention and look interested during a training session about advanced government decision making. Mix those words up as your humour sees fit.

Our plan started at 7pm Friday riding north up the Blackall Range to Yarraman as the turning point then down the New England Highway, through Toowoomba and home for a few hours of sleep.

Just as we’re about to back the Wing out of the shed, Clint turns on the ignition and I notice that both indicator lamps are lit. A quick check of the fuses. Nope not that. Can’t ride the Wing with no indicators, says Clint. Ok, what are our options?
1.       We can take the little bikes! I’m nervous and Clint’s a little concerned as I’m rather tired and overdue for some much needed rec leave.
2.       I can stay home and Clint will ride the loop by himself on the CeeBee. Yeah, but ….
3.       Both stay home. Not Likely!!!!!

We take option 1 and see how we go.  Quickly change the gear over to the two bikes and head out.
Start docket obtained at 7:07pm. Not bad timing considering all that’s transpired.

I’m wearing a summer flow-through mesh jacket with a microfleece jumper underneath and soon realise that it’s not enough. Time to pull up in Woodford to have an unscheduled stop to put on more clothing and set ourselves up for the rest of the run. That stop was not factored into our timing. Still not comfy warm, but not shivering to distraction.

Stop 1 – 10 minutes out of our sleeping time.

The traffic wasn’t a worry. The recent rains seemed to keep the skippies away from the road. The only hoppies we saw were frogs, toads and one hare.

We’re poking along at a steady, easy pace. It wasn’t long before we reached Yarraman and turned south. Still no traffic to complain about, just the occasional vehicle to dip our lights.

Before reaching the township of Cooyar, there’s a really sweet set of twisties to drop down the range. We passed a couple of vehicles after the twisties, didn’t think much of it really. Then on the approach into Cooyar, a vehicle had very quickly caught up behind me. I couldn’t make out any real detail other than it was a car, probably a 4WD. I let Clint know and moved to the left of the lane so that he could see how close the vehicle was. On approach to the town, the speed sign showed 80. As I was engine braking, I also tapped on the brakes to let the vehicle behind know that I was slowing. I did this again as we hit the 60 zone. I was a little concerned that this might have been a local who just wanted to keep going … through me and then Clint.

Just as I turned into Cooyar proper, the vehicle behind invited me to a party. He put his disco lights on, just to show me what he meant. I hear the local pub crowd cheer! Oh, be still my racing pulse! What did I do so wrong that it drew his attention??

So together we pulled up down the road a little away from the pub patrons. The police officer introduced himself as Steve and chatted with us for a while. Turns out he wanted to check out the bikes and the best way for him to do that was to breath test us. No problems unless there’s restrictions on caffeine. As it turns out Steve has ridden a Blackbird and was genuinely interested in the set-up of the bikes and why we were travelling. I told him that we were out giving me night riding practice as I normally only commute for work. Didn’t really want to give him the full FarRider story … this time. A handshake and a thank you from Steve to allow him a chance to talk to ordinary folk. His night had been all about domestics and taking people’s guns away.  We wished Steve well and we were on our way.

Stop 2 – around 20 minutes out of our sleeping time.

We pushed on along the New England Highway starting to look for fuel at Highfields.  Three outlets all closed for the night. Finally found one that had fuel for the bikes and coffee for us.

Stop 3 – our planned one. Stopped for around 30 minutes.

The final leg down the Toowoomba range was just determination to get home. Our plan had us back home around midnight-ish. With our two unexpected stops we rolled in and were tucked up in bed by 1:05am. Why is this significant? Because the alarm was set for 5am and this meant only 3 hours 55 minutes of sleep. I don’t usually function well on less than 5 hours sleep.

Stop 4 – our sleep stop. Stopped for almost 5 hours.

I woke from a rough night’s sleep, too many achey bits didn’t let me get quality sleep. I questioned myself if I could complete the FarRide. Checked with Clint that if we were underway by 6am there’d be plenty of opportunity for stops if need be.

In for a penny, in for a pound – we’re out the gate before 6am headed for Cunningham’s Gap and a fuel and breakfast stop at Warwick. The morning was still cool. A second layer under the flow through jackets was needed. Clouds covered the mountain tops as we approached Cunningham’s Gap. Vehicles travelling from the Gap were given a cursory glance to see if they were wet. No! Thank goodness.

Stop 5 – our planned stop. Stopped for almost an hour.

Through Warwick and headed towards Inglewood. We chose the smoother, straighter track to make sure there we would make it to Texas in plenty of time. The country around this road looked drier and for that we saw quite a few dead skippies along the roadway. Just before Inglewood, there’s a turn off to the south to Texas.  What a great little road. Clint speculated that it might have some gravel. I think he was teasing me, knowing my preference for tarmac. This was a new road for both of us.

Soon enough we rolled into Texas and there were a few FarRiders scattered throughout town. Our host, Helen of the Stockman Hotel and the ladies of the local kindergarten were busy setting up. The pub didn’t open until 11am. However, we were welcome to sit in the lounge area out of the sun. Steadily more and more bikes rolled into town. What a sight - the diversity of LD steeds filling the main street of Texas.

When making arrangements with Helen, it became clear that their kitchen wouldn’t cope with feeding the masses of FarRiders, especially those who were keen to check-in and be gone. Arrangements were made to include a fund-raiser grab and go BBQ through the local kindergarten. Somewhere along the way, Clint remembered the FarTin. The FarTin went round to collect some funds for the kindergarten. Thanks to Lynne (LTP) and her clever ways of engaging people, that was one heavy tin.

Check-in went smoothly. Clint and Michael (Fatman) worked their way through the line-up with everyone who was there checked-in with ten minutes to spare. No-one was caught out with the different time zone. Only one rider didn’t show. Jordan on his three-week old Wing met some misfortune in Mungindi. It was good to see him and his niece even if it was after check-in closed. Lynne herded the cats and we all lined up for a group photo with the FarRider flag.

Clint took the opportunity to welcome the new FarRiders, talk about the memorial service for Saaz and to thank Helen for making the destination so welcoming.

Stop 6 – the meet and greet. Stopped for 3 hours.

Time ticked by, riders left for their next destinations and the storm clouds were building. Back on the road for us. We still had to complete our 1,000 km. Even though I was tired, the Texas to Stanthorpe road had a lot of curves, climbs and tight corners to keep my energy up.

Our final stop for fuel and a coffee was Stanthorpe.

Stop 7 – our planned stop. Stopped for around 30 minutes.

The ride home back into the traffic beckoned. There was usual amount of traffic. However, we had the unusual experience of having the road over Cunningham’s Gap to ourselves. No slow going trucks, no-one. Closer to the city, the traffic made up for it though.  So much that I missed seeing my 1,000km tick over. It was a full 26km later that I had the opportunity to look down and take it in that another FarRide was complete.

We were parked up in our shed by 5:16pm with just under 2 hours of our 24 hours spare.

What did I learn from this?
That FarRides can be accomplished with unplanned stops and some sleep.
That it could be possible for me to attempt a SS1600 without falling asleep.
That policemen named Steve who ride Blackbirds are good people. I have a score of 2 for 2 on that basis.
That FarRiders are diverse, fun, generous people and
That there’s still a lot of riders who want to challenge themselves riding longer distances.

20 June 2015

Cee Bee Goes North

The Little Bike is dwarfed by NT ant nests

I sadly missed out on North #1 due to having to visit a hospital every day for several weeks. Stoopid cancer of the stoopid prostate.
But all that was out of the way now and I also had clearance from Charleen to travel. Only trouble was on a club run the weekend before, the Wing developed an electrical fault which sent all the brakes and indicators crazy. The shop is still trying to sort it out.
Of well, only thing to do is use the little bike. The little old CB1300S. I’ve done a couple of FarRides on this bike so it wasn’t all bad but this was to be the longest run ever on it.
I attached the test TomTom and the SPOT to the handlebars, threw over some saddlebags, tied a 5 litre can-in-a-bucket to the back seat and filled up the topbox with stuff and was away on the Wednesday morning around 6am.
It already had a nearly full tank so first stop was Dalby for fuel and breakfast. First and last try of HJ’s “barista coffee” – BLEA.
Roma and Augathella were the next fuel-ups, then the few miles in to Barcaldine for 1073km by 5pm and still light. Good thing about travelling west is getting that extra few minutes of sunlight each day.

Barcaldine Knowledge Tree monument

Away early next morning and here was the converse problem. Still dark even after 6am. I knew this section from Barcaldine to Longreach is bad for kangaroos, so I was prepared for a slow ride for the first hour or so. Three roos on the road before leaving the town limits gave me an idea of what was ahead. And they were surely there. Everywhere. I travelled at under 80kph and with good lights could dodge most of them, but still had to stop completely a couple of times.
The sky lightened up before Ilfracombe and things got better as the numbers dwindled to almost zero.

The Sunrise Shot

I stopped at Longreach for a bit of Breakky and got chatting with another rider who had recently crashed his Royal Enfield in a bulldust patch out Mt Isa way. He was sporting a broken arm. Having had a great time exploring the local area for the last week he could not fathom I was just passing through and would be up near Darwin in two days. Whilst departing, I explained I was on a Ride, not a holiday, but I don’t think he got it.
Next the long dry sections through Winton and Cloncurry. Boy do they need some rain through here. I fuelled at Winton and decided to see how the CB went for distance. Having the spare 5 litres allows you to do these things. I set a brisk pace on the long straight roads and had a bit of a tail-wind. Could have taken on fuel at Kynuna or Mackinlay if necessary but it turned out not necessary. At Cloncurry, with 355km on the trip meter and the fuel gauge complaining, I put 20.5 litres in the 21 litre tank. Could have got another 8km at least.
Then it was the enjoyable run in to Mt Isa. Enjoyable because the road has a few curves and goes through a few rugged hills. A nice change from the wide open flats of the last thousand or so kays.
Another couple of hours up the road and I arrived at Camooweal at 4pm. Still in daylight and only 944km for the day but with the sun about to go down straight ahead and only needing to do 450km before the midday start at Three Ways tomorrow, I settled for the Camooweal Pub. This is the spot where a few years ago Tabledrain and I stayed for him to set out on his epic 3000/24 ride so good memories for me. Chris still runs the place but with the tourist season in full swing, he was too busy to have a chat.

Camooweal Digs

No hurry in the morning so I waited for the sun to get up and set out across the Barkly Tablelands at about 7:30. 11km of 110 limit then time to enjoy the 130 limit of NT. The CB loved it.
Got to the roadhouse in good time for a breakky break and then on to Three Ways with over half an hour to spare.
I parked by myself in the car park and went in for a snack and returned to find another bike or two, then even more appeared. Seems Three Ways was a popular place to begin this FarRide, being 1022km from Bark Hutt Inn. So seven bikes in all were gathered.

All awaiting midday

At midday there was a rush on the bowsers and ATM and the slow internet in this far-flung servo meant none of us had early dockets. Out the door and already several bikes were powering up the Stuart Highway.
I got under way and slotted in behind ColdComfort on his GTR and we held a good pace, again with a slight tail wind, and rounding up caravan after caravan all of which were travelling at well under our speed.
At Elliott, we refuelled and I found the CB with only half a fairing was not as economical as the fully-faired GTR. I used two more litres over the 230km. Still, I was probably using less than I would on the Goldwing, so there was that.
A good fast run up to Daly Waters and top up again with several riders all trying to get to one Premium pump was a bit of fun, so I elected for standard. It was only half a tank after all and the CB can handle it.
The plan was to stay at Pine Creek then decide which way to go around the “triangle” in the morning. Only trouble was at the increased speeds, the CB was never going to make the 375km to Pine Creek, so I stopped at Katherine while CC kept going. I promptly forgot the name of the preferred place to stay and so when I did arrive – after dark – I just found a hotel-motel and checked in. Nice room, but no one else in sight. Oh well. 1185km for day three.
Saturday morning and I decided to take the short route up the Stuart Hwy and would do the long way after lunch. This decision was mostly because the longer route would be in to the rising sun in the morning, but not in to the setting sun in the afternoon. Turned out a good decision but for a completely different reason.

Starting out with an hour or so of dark ahead, I fired up the bike, rode out of town on low beam then hit high beams on the highway. All good for ten minutes until a truck came along and I dutifully hit the dipswitch – and was plunged in to blackness. EEEK!
Pulled over as much as I dared and found the side by the lights of the oncoming truck. Once he was gone hit high and everything came back. OK so low beam was gone. Bugger.
So I continued on with the headlight on high beam and just turned off the LEDs for oncoming. It was never much of a headlight anyway and the cage drivers could suffer.
Of course the very next oncoming vehicle was a bike. Pretty sure it was Fatman and Lynne doing the anti-clockwise run around the triangle. Sorry Mick.
After a while it all lightened up and I switched off and ran with no headlight all the rest of the way up the highway. Stopped at Victoria River for fuel and met up with Kevy who was doing a south run to get his miles up. I pulled the bulb and sure enough no low filament.
Wouldn’t you know the only bulb the servo didn’t have was an H4. Aaagh.
Off again, I stopped at Humpty Doo, bought a bulb and spent a frustrating hour trying to change the damned thing. Just no room for my moderately-sized hand to get inside and actually do things in there.
Finally under way again and it was only a few kays to Bark Hut Inn where I arrived in plenty of time but with most of the riders already there.
We all had a great time over checking in and lunch and group photographing and all too soon it was time to get back under way.

The Group Shot

Reason for ride accomplished, now I was heading home.
I headed east towards Jabiru, only stopping to refuel at West Alligator. It was probably amusing for some local riders – who had also lunched at Bark Hut – to see the noisy CB pull in, fuel, pay and gone in three minutes, powering off down the road while they sat under their shady tree beside the obligatory ute-with-trailer. We all ride, just some of us do it differently.
A right turn just before Jabiru and on to the nicest piece of road of the trip. 200km of good sweeping corners – none of it too tight. Just made for a lone rider on a good sized semi-sport bike. I also practically had the road to myself that Saturday afternoon, only overtaking about three vehicles and passing half a dozen or so. All the way to Pine Creek was posted 110km and would have been a nice ride at that speed. With the FarRide over and the near-empty road it was a great ride. Nuff said.
I made Pine Creek still in the light and after refuelling and a coffee milk decided to do a few more kays. I made it to Mataranka a bit after dark and settled for a cabin there at the roadhouse. Only 821km for the day, but a great day nonetheless.

130 on the dial and chasing the shadow on the long road. This is FarRiding.

Away at 6am on Sunday and thought I had better make up some distance so it was just a solid day of riding, re-tracing the Stuart Highway back to Three Ways, the Barkly to Mt Isa and a late arrival at Cloncurry well after dark. Exactly 1300km in just under 13 hours. And that was a few hundred on Qld roads of 110 and 100 limits. The NT is sure good for a decent overall average.
One tip for staying at Cloncurry. The Discovery Holiday Park caters for travellers with cabins etc, but also has several hundred rooms for FIFO miners. They are nicely appointed with single beds, en-suite and fully black-out windows – for shift workers – and only $74 per single per night. Add to that a $25 all-you-can-eat buffet in the huge dining area and it is a great place for an overnight stop for a rider.

Pre-dawn with rising crescent moon.

Away in the dark in the morning, it was another relatively slow ride until it got light. Even then I had a precision performance with a pair of smallish wallabies dashing across together, one going in front and one behind me. Probably would not have caused any grief if I had hit one, but it sure gives an adrenaline boost.
On through Mackinlay and in to the desolate drought-stricken lands towards Winton. Just before Kynuna, the CB turned up 100,000km on the odometer so that was worth a stop and a few photos.

The 100,000 shot...

...and where it was

Then breakky and a fuel top-up. I started to put in premium but almost immediately the pump stopped. The lady came out and we worked out it was due to the tank being dry. So I backed up to the standard and put that in. She made sure to charge me the extra fifty cents for the little bit of premium I did get though. Talk about opportunistic. While I was eating, a B-Double loaded with V8 Supercars pulled in. The driver ordered breakfast and they were trying to hit him up for free merchandise. I considered asking if he had any free Mercedes on board, but he’s probably heard it all before.

Then the rest of the day was the long slog through Longreach, Barcaldine (nice to do in daylight with no hoppies) and Augathella then found a motel at Morven as it got dark. 1065km for the day and only 600 or so from home. I did need to put on the wets between Augathella and Morven with storms moving through. I willed them to go north and they obeyed, with the Winton area getting a nice little drenching behind me. That was good. Not so good to hear the Matilda Centre burned down the next day. Poor buggers out there can’t take a break.
Tuesday I slept in until well after sunrise so I wouldn’t be riding in to it. Needn’t have bothered as it was very overcast with those clouds heading up north and dropping a sprinkle or two on me. Nothing to worry about though and before I knew it I was re-joining the traffic madness of the big city and making it home.

Seven days, just over 7000 kays. Apart from the headlight issue, the bike performed flawlessly and did a great job as a long distance semi-tourer.

02 June 2015

East #35 to Eungella

As well to write this while still fresh in my mind.
Our FarRide East #35 to Eungella was decided a while ago when Charleen ordered Friday off work. We decided to take The Twins, our twin Honda CB1300S bikes.
We also have Sena bike to bike coms which are great for two or more riding together.
The bikes are pretty standard but each fitted with a pair of 3000 lumen mini LEDs attached to high beam. I also tacked on the TomTom and the SPOT.
We fit all we needed for the weekend in our topboxes and wore all our warm gear as we expected some cool riding.

Our start point was Kilcoy. Mr Google tells us it is 1070km from Eungella Chalet via Valkyrie, a small town on the Fitzroy Development Road. We chose this way to stay away from the Bruce Hwy. I've grown not very fond of that highway over the years.
Target for Friday night was Biloela and a booking was made at a local motel with advice we may be a little late.

The ride up the Burnett Highway is always a good one. It runs pretty much parallel to the Bruce as far as Rockhampton and for me is the much better of the two. Compare we overtook maybe half a dozen trucks and about twenty cars all day and never saw one police car. Contrast that with the constant traffic on the coastal road and a news item that night of Qld police doing a blitz for the weekend. We all know where. One rider may disagree with me that they were all on the coast.

Charleen and The Twins at Gayndah

Friday was fine and cool so we didn't overheat in our winter gear.
A restless night's sleep, you know how it is, and the alarm sounded at 3:30am for a 4am departure. Like clockwork.

The morning was clear and fresh with thousands of stars in the sky. Lovely.

About 20km on the road to Dululu Charleen mentioned it was nice not to see the fog we had on our last FarRide through here.
I'm not sure if all the fogs in the world were thrown at us at that moment. Maybe not. It took a good five minutes before we were pushing our way through a fog the world's best pea soup chef would have been proud of.

First casualty was the visors. They were flipped up. Next our clear safety glasses. Pulled down and it was eyeballs to the wind as we slowed to under 60kph and stuck to the white line.
This was how we travelled for most of the next 100km until we got to the Capricorn Hwy where we turned west and things began to improve. Must be the coal trains warming the place up.
Finally at Dingo 24hr servo at 6:03, exactly when TomTom predicted we'd get there. She must have known about the fog, or wasn't aware of the 110k zone now on the Capricorn Hwy.

Refuel and a quick iced coffee and a snack. It was now starting to get light with an overcast sky. I think it was just the Fog looking for us.
North along the Fitzroy Development Road. This road was originally built in the mid-twentieth century to allow the fast transport of cattle and for many years was a single lane of bitumen which was "owned" by cattle trucks. Woe betide any other vehicle who dared challenge the big semi-trailers for that bitumen strip.

Nowadays, however, it has been widened to a good wide two lanes and although a little undulating, is capable of allowing riding at a good clip.
263 to the next fuel at Nebo and now to make up some time with clear air and an empty road.
Lasted for a good 50km before the fog descended once again.
Not quite as bad as before but we still needed to open the visors. Travelling a bit quicker we were able to keep the glasses fairly clear with the breeze and we were still making fairly good time. Until I spied some flashy lights ahead.

Out of the gloom ahead appeared this huge piece of machinery on a low-loader. It looked like the body of one of those mining dump trucks and was three times the width of the low-loader, just missing road signs on both roadsides. With two police escorts and two normal escorts they were travelling at 80kph in the fog and sending any oncoming traffic right off the road. Would have been scary for them.
We were stuck behind this behemoth for about 20 minutes until there was a wider bit and the escort waved us through. We rode under the overhang and were on our way. Overtook the police car on his left (!?).

Stopping for a glasses change

Ten minutes later we were out of the fog and pulling up to change to sunglasses and wipe down the visors. Our helmets and balaclavas were soaking wet from condensed fog, but we were fine. Just underway we overtook a stopped ST1300 with the Strangs mounting up. Waved but didn't stop as I guessed we'd all stop at Nebo for fuel.
We had a good quick run the rest of the way to the Peak Downs Hwy, right turn and 30km to Nebo and fuel.
Sure enough Graham and Teela turned up not far behind and they stopped for breakky. We continued on to be sure to be early at the Chalet.

60km to Eton and we turned north to make our way through the cane fields to the Mackay-Eungella Road. We saw several bikes here and there all timing their arrivals nicely.
The weather was now fine but cloudy up in the mountains all around and of course the Chalet is up in the mountains.
Sure enough as we entered the last 5km climb the fog closed in again and the road was wet and slippery.
Everyone knows about the metal grids on sharp low speed corners on this bit of road. When they are wet it is even more treacherous. I'm guessing no one was having red hot goes at the twisties on this morning.

Hackle arrives in the fog

There were just 31 people to check in and they all made it on time. There were seven newcomers who all looked like they had enjoyed the ride.

Lineup for Checkin

We all gathered on the lawn for a photoshoot and then it was time for lunch. The chalet serves some good meals – every one of them with chips!

Posing with that fabulous backdrop

Half a dozen or so riders were staying the night but most of us had places to be so within an hour or so most had gone. Charleen and I mounted up on The Twins and tippy-toed down the mountain to retrace our route.

Normally we don’t like to “out and back” a ride. A loop is generally better to see more of the countryside. But the road up was so good and the prospect of the Bruce so daunting that we headed back to Nebo then down the Fitzroy once again. Saw only the barest few vehicles all the way.
We pulled up at Dingo just on dark and found digs at the Dingo hotel-motel. The pub isn’t much to look at but has several rooms built out the back. They are reasonably quiet, the shower hot and strong and bed was comfy. We opted for a meal at the 24 hour servo, which was quite reasonable. After such a day we had a good sleep not even hearing the 100 carriage coal trains that rumbled through every so often.
Sunday morning and we still had 780km to home. It was light and cool as we left but we soon found some morning fog on the Capricorn Hwy after Duaringa. Even came across another of those large wide loads, but this time going the opposite direction to us so we just rode outside the fog line and ducked under.

We got a good look at the Leichardt Hwy down through Dululu to Biloela – something we had only ridden on without actually seeing the morning before.
In Gayndah we pulled the lining out of our jackets as the day was warming up considerably and powered on down the Burnett Hwy. Our good pace was interrupted through Goomeri which was holding its annual Pumpkin Festival. There was a wide detour through the narrow back streets and we came out of town behind a semi being followed by a dozen or so cars. Time to put in some serious passing manoeuvres. One by one we picked them off using the excellent acceleration of the 1300s. Once past the semi we were free and clear with an empty highway stretching out in front.
A great ride.
Through Nanango and Blackbutt then down the Range and we were getting back in to civilization again, evidenced by the crazy things people do in cars. One good thing about bike to bike coms was we were able to keep each other informed of the nut-jobs around us. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.
Back home in Carina just on dark and our FarRide East #35 was done and dusted.

Thanks to all participants for your good company and good nature. Charleen and I had a great weekend.

Look! Rabbit ears!