Returning home on Monday night - the bike is caked in dusty bug guts, tyres are 'shredded' around the edges, and the rider's limbs are a bit stiff - but the brain is still on a high. Hard to believe the story started 1,750 kms ago...
7:00am Saturday morning. It's raining around Bronte. Bugger. Just my bloody luck. Finish over-packing the panniers and squeak noisily out of the flat. The Beemer R1100RT , cleaned and polished, is eager to go - but complains as I fit the heavy panniers. The rain has eased to a light drizzle, and blue sky appears in most places. Looks promising. Arrive at the Asquith BP at 8:10am and everyone is there already. Maps are distributed, routes discussed and understood. Soon starters are thumbed and the rumble of Japanese, Italian, American and German machinery beats the quiet suburban air.
It's become a fine, warm day, with some overcast (which is good) and never threatens rain again. We motor in an orderly file down into Galston Gorge, where the tyres get warmed up through the hairpins. The cast of players includes:
Navigating up the Putty - some modestly quick speeds are soon ruining fuel economy. But hey - it's a perfect day for a blast. A quick stop at Howes Valley and we're off through the canyon esses beneath Mt Howes, (where Steve just disappears on the Duke), thence Singleton for fuel, and then the fun back-roads of the Hunter to a little village called East Gresford. Alan brings up the rear - but is nonetheless motoring that Harley at a good clip to keep so close. The Beatie Hotel has a pleasant deck overlooking farm country - and we enjoy a hearty lunch and a cleansing lite ale. This spot is do-able in a day ride. We wait for Ben (TRX850) who had elected to go up the Wollombi track alone, but he decides he's too ahead of our schedule and presses on alone to the Oxley, via Nowendoc.
Lunch is over and we mount up to press on to Dungog, again through picturesque Hunter farmland, along slightly dodgy but fun sealed roads. From Dungog we hop across to the Bucketts Way, via a connecting road that has perhaps 8kms of good dirt. What sealed bits there are, wind around the hillsides in a way that's a joy to ride on a rolling throttle.
The unfortunately named Bucketts Way is of fairly poor quality south of Gloucester, but once past that town, it improves & undulates to the north-east through some of the prettiest picture-postcard hills and farms in the state. We're swapping the lead so the group tends to vary its average speed a little. Everyone is a competent, safe rider, so we all feel comfortable by now riding together in a loose line. At Krambach we leave the "Scenic Wonderland of Gloucester" to motor across the Manning River - itself a paradise for families camping and water-skiing by the shore - to the town of Wingham in the foothills of some dramatic mountain country.
Climbing into the great divide, we take in some reasonable dirt road that winds sinuously up the thickly forrested slopes to the tiny village of Elands. From here we turn right and descend to Comboyne - losing all that height we'd fought hard to gain. But the views! Motoring down the narrow ridge line - the scenery drops away dramatically to both the north and south - a spectacular panorama of rolling river valleys surrounded by vibrant green farms not yet suffering El Nino, and impossibly jagged mountain peaks framing the scene against a background of clouds, sky and shafts of sunlight. Bloody magic.
The dirt kicks up very little dust - turns out it had rained 4 inches the previous day!
Just before Comboyne, whilst dodging the road-side cows, we happen across a hidden treasure (discovered by Laurie on a previous trip) - an English garden lurking behind ramparts of bamboo - with a maze of paths carved through the rainforest. Here we rest aching limbs and indulge in Devonshire tea for all of $3.50! The old dear running this garden cafe is quite a character herself. And no garden is complete without a full-plumage peacock jumping up on your table, looking for a feed.
Chris (GSX-R1100) skips the stop to push ahead to meet his pommie mate John (GSX-R750) at Long Flat. By now we are worried about getting to Gingers before dark ('roos are a real danger at dusk), so we set about some big speeds to connect across to the Oxley (back on sealed roads by now), and then through Long Flat to the serious stuff.
The Beemer really hunts in the sweepers, 160km/h curves are what this puppy is all about. After Long Flat though, Steve has to unleash the 916, by now impatient to be in that zone that only Ducatis can find. The red bike hurtles into the distance. I'm doing 180 just to stay in touch. The aggressive twisties suddenly start. The real twisties - the stuff that dreams are made of. Scratchers paradise. 50 kms of the stuff. Endlessly winding. From valley floor up the face of cleared hillside that turns into forrested mountains that give way to escarpment and finally open tableland.
I round a posted 35 km/h corner and can see the road snaking into a gully and out again, always climbing, to disappear around the ridge of the opposite hill. The 916 is already disappearing around that distant corner! Bloody hell! And after punishing the schnell panzer around the track like Klaus and Hans never intended. But who am I kidding? Mario and Guiseppe built the Duke for roads like this. What I don't expect is that Yoshimura san built the RF900R and ancient RZ350R for roads like this too - as Robert and Jeff are in very hot pursuit.
The corners, I swear, go forever. Aggressive, exhausting corners. Leg cramps kick-in from non-stop weight shifting. You're surprised to find you're sweat-soaked with concentration. And just when you think you're starting to hallucinate, Gingers materialises out of the heavy forest. We pull over, kill the motors, remove the glued-on helmets and stand there agog as the bikes stink of over-worked parts and sigh in that motorcycle way - "tink, tink, tink, tink".
Beers all 'round as we wander down to the 'paddock' where Chris (GSX-R1100) and a bunch from Mt White on similar machines are doing dirt donuts in the paddock and jumping their bikes off small ramps. Chris' donuts are usually thwarted by some dirty great stone that the rear hoop manages to dig out from under the grass. To his credit he keps the Suzi upright.
Everyone is exhausted but elated, and after a good but late dinner on the deck, that by day overlooks the valley below and the paddock with deer, wallabies and peacock, we crash by midnight in the comfortable, cheap bunkhouse.
Next day, the owners are a little slow to rise, so we decide to motor down to Wauchope for brekky. This would be the first part of a planned ride that ventures north to Kempsey, Macksville, then inland to Bowraville and Bellingen. We say goodbye to Alan (H-D ElectroGlide), Chris (GSX-R1100) and his pommie mate (John) at Wauchope - they've gotta be at work the next day poor bastards. And Rob (CBR600) elects to chill out at Gingers for the day - riding up to Byron Bay late that arvo.
The group is now a comfortable 8 bikes. We motor conservatively up the Pacific Hwy to Macksville. We turn off, Laurie in front. Motoring around a narrow, blind corner just north of Bowraville, there's a ruddy great tow truck reversing up the hill toward us. He's trying to find some road to turn around in. All the bikes concertina together but as all riders are quick-witted, no accident occurs. The truck driver is not our favourite person, and the marital status of his parents (at time of his birth) is called into question by each rider in turn.
Now the back road from here to Bellingen is something special. Some scary mountain dirt in parts perhaps, but once back on the sealed, there are some flowing, snaking corners that never allow the bike to be upright, except for that split second as you hurl it from side to side. You and your machine are a metranome - rythmically pivoting in time with the scream of gears and beat of the road.
Climbing up the escarpment to Dorrigo is one of the best 5kms of racetrack I've ever encountered. Better than any one 5km part of the Oxley, it's a smooth, wide, hotmixed surface with little traffic. The corners are 'open' (you can see beyond) 45km/h (posted) - inspiring confidence and resulting in real hero peg-destroying behaviour. Everyone raves as we pull up at the falls half-way up. Soaked in sweat, we shove our heads under the cool, clear water spilling from the falls. A stylish Peugeot 306 has been on our hammer ever since Macksville. He pulls over and out jumps Andrew Fay (VTR1000), who's visiting rels in the area, sans Honda. Andrew stays with us for most of the day - living the real experience vicariously as he watches the bikes ahead lean through the corners.
Lunch in Dorrigo is at the local, having not enough time to take in the magnificent Dorrigo National Park skywalk. Perhaps next time. We now take the scenic route nor-west to Dundurrabin via some more magic countryside, on fast flowing, undulating terrain. This road connects after 30kms to Waterfall Way, which turns sou-west to Armidale. The road quality decreases despite being a relatively major thoroughfare.
Armidale to Uralla on the New England Hwy, we crawl at 105km/h and sight our first and only copper of the trip. Ha! Ha! Connecting to the Oxley at Walcha, we screw the throttles to the stops and crank at warp factor nine to Gingers Creek. The double tonne is frequently and grossly exceeded on this open fang road through the gently rolling tableland farms. Laurie is setting the blistering pace. I rudely overtake - only to be sure I have clear riding for the up-coming corners. Lozza's ZZR doesn't like being passed by a whale - and whilst the RT is on 190 - the Kwaka hurtles past at 240km/h with a green blur and howling engine. I can't get anywhere near that kind of speed - the Beemer having the aerodynamics of your average house brick.
The sign that says "45 kms winding road" is worth preserving in a shrine somewhere. Farm country gives way to thickening forest, the corners steadily piling up - 85km/h, 75km/h, 65km/h, 55km/h, 45km/h. Corner speeds are often double and add 5, (or add 15 if you're on Italian machinery). The corner-mad riders position their machines out front.
The Oxley now snakes through superb thick woodland, complete with fern trees. I have a small head-start on the 916, and wonder if I can possibly make it to Gingers without Steve catching up.
I totally get off on these 55 km/h corners. I never know what speed I'm doing into the corner, as I'm so focused I can't even glance at the speedo. Hanging my butt and knee over the side I crank the RT over like her makers never intended. Slight mid-corner adjustments, as the corner tightens up in a sneaky, unexpected way, are corrected for with a gentle squeeze on the back brake to hook her in harder. A trailing throttle results in a loud backfire, startling the wildlife. The road shoulder blurs past. I feel she can take more if the road surface is good, so while still deeply dug in, I roll on a generous fist of throttle. In 3rd or 4th gear over 4,700rpm this gives the bike a wonderful snarl, and a modest rush of acceleration. The RT wants to sit up and run wide, but I keep it muscled hard over for the corner's last half. I marvel at the directional stability - no weaving or bucking - the telelever just soaks everything up. I sight the exit, rip the throttle right open - and the flat twin grunts satisfyingl
By now the corners are all 45km/h or 35 km/h corners - and we're one with our machines as we thread seemingly perfect lines through the cool, temperate forest, exhausts booming, wind tearing past, and all's right with the world. Suddenly the forest parts and Gingers Creek materialises in front. I pull over, peel myself from the bike, squeeze off my helmet and stand there giddy at what I had just experienced - motorcycling in its most supreme form. This is what it's all about.
After half a minute I hear the approaching thunder of a Ducati on song, and sure enough Steve appears around the bend and pulls the 916 over into the Gingers driveway. Jeff is not far behind - arriving in a haze of blue 2 stroke and a chainsaw crescendo. Robert purrs in on the RF900R right behind Jeff.
There's a wrecked GSX-R1100 being lowered off the back of a truck as we arrive. One of the Mt White boys had got a little enthusiastic on one of the tight corners, losing the back and low siding it into a corner post. He's fine but the bike's front end looks like a greasy pretzel - the forks shattered and oil dripping everywhere.
That night is another round of beers, hearty food, plenty of laughs and tall stories. David the Canuck (CBR600) has a friendly argument with the hired help about a stale piece of chocolate cake - sort of a Canadian version of Monty Python's famous dead parrot sketch. David wins & the cake mournfully returns to the shelf. We're so exhausted most are stacking zees by 11:00pm.
Next morning we decide to have brunch in Walcha. A few decide to warm their tyres by riding down the mountain for a few kays, before turning around and making after the others for Walcha.
Once below Ginger's Creek it's all 35 km/h corners with some 25 corners to keep you honest. An unforgiving piece of road perhaps, but still pure Nirvana. I'm stuffed by the time I've thrown the bike around the mountain, trying and failing to keep up with Steve. It's a joke to even try. The road quality below Ginger's Creek in general is fairly poor, with lots of very small yet quite nasty little potholes appearing in the middle of many corners. But still one of the best motorcycling roads in NSW.
The major blessing through all of this is very little traffic!
There are a few flick-flacks here where the road weaves up the mountain - hurling your bike from side-to-side through these under full acceleration is quite simply better than sex. Fullstop.
We stop at Appsley Falls briefly, all except for Dave who takes the turn off to Tia Falls by mistake, but enjoys those ones anyway. Coming into Walcha, Steve is going 140km/h on a totally flat, stone-punctured rear tyre. At the servo he has it plugged, glued & re-inflated within 10 minutes.
At Walcha we have brunch, top up our premium and then storm off for Nowendoc and Gloucester down Thunderbolt's Way. The 20kms of dirt is easier than I remember it being, and judging by the roadworks going on, it'll soon all be sealed. Descending gently from the tableland to the valleys below Nowendoc, the views over the Woko National Park to the sou-west are truely soul-lifting. And the sweepers! A series of linked, perfect radius 170km/h (posted 85km/h) curves that has everyone drooling with awe. And all this combined with the extraordinary descent to the Gloucester valley - 6kms of non-stop downhill, un-posted corners into the furnaces of hell. The heat in the valley is like a sauna gone mad. The rush of air as we hurtle along provides zero relief. The ride along the valley bottom beside the river is surely one of the most scenic in NSW. Be warned - take your swimming togs if you're coming past here in summer - the water is too inviting.
Following Michael's YZF600 - I notice his bike behaving 200% better than the previous day, when it was wallowing all over the place. He has tightened up the suspension, and ends up with a much better bike than the one he started with.
We stop at the Gloucester pub for iced water, lite ales and more iced water. Those wearing leathers strip down to shorts and t-shirts to try to cool down.
Then Dungog, Maitland and home. A few of us take the freeway from Maitland, sinfully, as girlfriends/wives wait impatiently at home. The other half of the group motor home via the Wollombi track.
An incredibly perfect weekend. Amazing roads, perfect weather and great company. Thanks to all the lads for making it a great success. I can't wait to do another netride adventure!
Oo-roo... - Finners
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