November 09, 2001
Way back in May 2001, I was invited by a few of my riding mates to accompany them on a motorcycle rally in November that year, around the Alpine Way in the Snowy Mountains of N.S.W. Not having been in that neck of the woods for over 30 years, and then in an old Holden, I jumped at the opportunity, especially when I found out that all the roads are now bitumen sealed and in good condition for motorcycling.
The purpose of the rally was to raise money for the "Steven Walter Fund" to enable more research into the treatment and ultimate cure of child cancer.
We originally had about 6 riders interested, but ended up with only 3, including myself. We sent off our application forms with the necessary donation, and Marie, who was the instigator, arranged for accommodation for the 2 nights we were to stay at Jindabyne, where the rally headquarters was located.
The plan was to leave on Thursday morning November 14th , and ride to Mudgee the first night, then to Jindabyne, for the next 2 nights, and take 3 days for the return journey home, visiting a few friends on the way.
Everything went according to plan. I met up with Marie on her Yamaha, and Billy, who I had only met once before at a "Christmas in July" celebration at Stanthorpe, on his beloved Harley, and with yours truly on the B.M.W. we left Grafton at 7.40 A.M. in fine weather and good spirits.
First stop was Armidale, for fuel and coffee, and a welcomed break for half an hour or so. The weather was ideal for riding and our next stop was for lunch at Wallabadah. We thought a nice pub lunch would be the go, but the old stone pub did not serve meals, so we settled for a snack at the local cafe. While we were sitting outside eating, a bike pulled up with 2 oldies on board, the rider being Ulysses member No. 17 with his Chillian fiance on their way to Melbourne, to get married. She did not speak much English but he made up for it .They were both very excited. We wished them both the best of luck for their wedding and set off on our way again.
Mid afternoon saw us at the township of Scone, for refuelling, where Billy, who is in the tyre trade, pumped up a lady customers tyres for her. He just couldn't help himself. Billy and Marie had been taking the lead up till now, so now it was my turn. We headed for Mudgee at a slightly faster rate since we were now off the New England Highway and there was very little traffic around. The weather turned overcast and in fact we rode through a few light showers of rain near Cassilis, a one horse town with a population of 110. Our only concern on that leg of the journey was passing through a herd of cattle grazing in the "long paddock" on the side of the road. Marie was travelling last in line and although Billy and I slowed right down to pass them, our bikes must have upset them a little and Marie felt relieved when we had passed them without incident.
We arrived at Mudgee late afternoon after a beaut days ride, only to find that the motel that had been recommended to us had no vacancies, so we rode around till we found another, which was very comfortable and affordable. After cramming the 3 bikes into 1 available car space, we unpacked, showered and walked to the pub that had also been recommended to us for a nice char-grille and a few drinks. After we had cooked our meal and were busy enjoying it, the local Firies were selling raffle tickets. We were only a few tickets off winning a meat tray, and we got to thinking what would we have done with it had we won it. A pleasant stroll back to our motel helped digest our meal whereupon we had a map reading session to determine the best possible route to Jindabyne the next day before falling into bed for a well earned rest.
We climbed out of the cot at 6.30 am, had coffee and biscuits in the motel room, packed the bikes and were on the road again by 7.15. We stopped at the old gold mining town of Sofala, intending to get fuel. It was 8.30 by this time but the sleepy little town had not yet awakened, so after taking a few photos we headed for Bathurst. We were all on reserve and rode with our fingers crossed until we came to the small village of Wattle Flat, where we were able to buy enough fuel to take us to Bathurst. In our excitement the previous night, we had broken the golden rule by not refuelling for the next days ride. At Billy’s suggestion, we stopped for a cooked breakfast at a very nice cafe named "The Mews" situated in the main street of Bathurst. Billy had spotted it previously in his travels, but had never eaten there. It was a massive meal and almost stopped me and I'm pretty good on the tooth. We had planned on riding around the famous Mt. Panorama racing circuit at Bathurst, but it was closed to the public for practice for a week-end 24 hour car racing event so we fuelled up and set off for Young, where we stopped for a light lunch. Young is a very pretty area and we struck it in the height of the cherry picking season, yet Marie wasn't able to buy a cherry pie. The friendly waitress suggested that if we liked to wait long enough she would go out and pick some and bake us one, just kidding of course.
The lady at the service station where we fuelled up took our photo with Marie’s camera of the three of us standing under the monument of the "Big Cherry", which is a must to see in Young. After checking with her on the condition of the roads, we decided to ride to Harden, Jugion, Gundagai and on to Tumit. It was a wise choice, being a good road all the way with plenty to hold our interest.
We stopped at Tumit for quite a while, to take in a couple of cool drinks (water of course) and to smell the roses in the park opposite the town swimming pool which looked very inviting. Until now we had not seen many bikes on the road, but while we were there, quite a few appeared but mostly travelling in the opposite direction to us. Marie made the comment that maybe we were the only bikes travelling south, but soon realized once we got on the road again that she was wrong. Bikes came in groups from everywhere, most of them overtaking us at high speed. We three rode at a comfortable speed to suit the conditions, allowing us to take in the magnificent scenery. We rode into the little town of Talbingo, to refuel, and admired the huge man made lake there, before negotiating a steep climb up into the highlands in the late afternoon coolness. By now we were getting closer to our destination and it was becoming more exciting by the minute. It was particularly exciting in another way for Marie, for as she was riding along with her jacket top button undone, an insect hit her on the neck and worked its way down inside her shirt to her middle. She managed to stop without having an accident to reach down and drag it out. It could have been quite nasty and I wasn't even there to assist, as I was well in the lead.
Our next stop was Adaminaby, where we stocked up at a small supermarket on provisions for breakfast. Billy got chatting to one of the local ladies who rode a bike, and she was very excited with the prospect of the bikes she was to see assembled there the next day, the main day of the rally. We only met very friendly people, who were no doubt pleased with all the business 2000 or so bikes would bring to the area over the next few days. The last leg of our journey that day was quite fast getting into Berridale, then finally to Jindabyne, keeping an eye out for kangaroos, police radar traps and fast bikes overtaking us. We arrived at our destination at 7 pm, having been on the road for almost 12 hours, but we were not tired, as the "adrenalin rush" was still in progress and we were very excited about the following days ride.
It was great to see such a lot of bikes with their riders happy and talkative, and unlike the Ulysses rides I have become accustomed to, there were a lot of younger riders in attendance. Some, I imagine may even have been old friends of Steve's doing their bit to support the cause.
We eventually obtained the key to the unit from the estate agent, and made our way there, parked the bikes alongside some others and unloaded our gear. We would be here for 2 nights so we took everything inside. The parking was under cover, which meant we did not have to bed the bikes down for the night, although I did overhear Marie saying goodnight to her "little girl". After a well earned shower, we walked down to the village hotel in the last rays of sunlight, commenting on how quickly it was cooling down. The pub was crowded with happy people but we managed to get a table and we all enjoyed a nice fish meal and a few drinks. Billy and Marie don't drink alcohol, so I followed suit with a schooner of squash. It was a shock to my system but I did this every night for the rest of the trip and I proved that you don't need grog to become intoxicated. The companionship and the excitement of finally being there, after waiting many months, was intoxicating enough. It was quite cool walking back to the unit but the sky was clear without any sight of a cloud. We all slept well that night, Marie in her huge room with ensuite and spa bath, Billy and I were confined to bunks in the back room, which I have to admit were equally as comfortable.
We arose at 6.30, fully rested, and ate a light breakfast before waiting in the queue for petrol at the B.P. garage. By this time there were bikes of all makes and models getting ready to depart. To explain the rally rules briefly, there were 7 checkpoints on the route, namely Jindabyne, Khancoban, Cabramurra, Adaminaby, Cooma, Berrydale and Dalgety. To qualify for the draw in the raffle of a Honda motorcycle, all riders were required to check in at any 4 of these points and have their cards stamped, and be back at Jindabyne by 5 pm. It was permissible to ride in either direction and leave at any time, thus preventing any unnecessary congestion of bikes on the narrow mountain roads.
We chose to make Thredbo our first stop, although we did not check in there. Marie showed us all around the village with which she was quite familiar, having been there earlier in the year. We rode up to the top of the village, where there is a monument for the 18 victims who lost their lives in a landslide in July 1997. It was a sad few minutes we spent there and quite eerie trying to imagine what those poor folk had gone through.
The view from the monument, across the valley, was quite spectacular, with the mountain peaks carrying patches of clean snow under clear blue skies without a trace of cloud. It was a sight to behold, and took me back a number of years. I particularly noticed there were a lot more trees growing there than I remembered 30 years ago, and realized that after all it is now a National Park, but I could not help wonder why the trees were so close to the ski lodges and other buildings which would lead to disaster in the event of a bush fire.
We had coffee at a quaint little cafe, sitting outside soaking the atmosphere of this busy place and striking up a conversation with other riders doing exactly what we were. The next section of the ride around The Alpine Way to Geehi River via Tom Groggin was undertaken with extreme caution, due to the narrowness of the road and the many sharp bends. We mostly travelled in groups of a dozen or so, with the odd rider overtaking when safe to do so. I found it most exhilarating riding these mountain roads and at the same time, listening to Swiss yodelling on my cassette player. Our next stop at the Geehi river tourist park proved to be a pleasant one .We parked the bikes, walked down to the river, drank the clean water, and admired the rapids. There were some children swimming and we befriended them to discover they were locals enjoying the day equally as much as we were. After a photo session with them, we departed when there was a break in the bike traffic and continued on our way, stopping at Khancoban, where we made our first check point. We had our cards stamped there and allowed ourselves a short break, to admire the array of bikes and the odd trike. We then rode on to the Tooma dam and stopped to admire the deep blue water (just like the Mt. Gambier Blue lake) and to read the signs explaining the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. A policeman in a 4 wheel drive stopped while we were there and we asked him if everybody were behaving themselves. He replied that so far he had not heard of any accidents, but as he was taking a photo of the 3 of us together with Marie’s camera, a bike pulled up coming from the opposite direction to the way we were travelling and reported an accident about 10 kilometers away, on the way to Cabramurra. The policeman beat a hasty retreat to attend the accident. We proceeded slowly, negotiating the somewhat narrow road, observing the speed advisory signs and limits and eventually came around a bend, to be flagged down by fellow riders, warning us of the accident ahead. It transpired later that day that the accident victim had been overtaking a line of bikes on a bend and lost control. Had he been riding more carefully and slowly this "accident” could have been avoided, although at his expense, the incident did serve as an object lesson to some of the other fast riders.
Cabramurra was our next check point, where we also stopped for lunch, toilet break, souvenir purchasing etc., and of course the inevitable photo session. Cabramurra is the highest town in Australia, and as such it attracts a lot of tourists. It is a pretty place even without the snow, and there are ski lodges in neat rows on the mountain side .The joint would really be jumping in the height of the snow season. Unfortunately, the fly population is at its peak in the summer months, as we soon found out when we were eating our lunch. Looking over the bikes once again, I came across an unusual sight which fortunately I was able to photograph. It was a rider with his blue cattle dog passenger, sitting on the petrol tank. The dog had a grin from ear to ear and was dressed in a jacket, scarf and goggles and was sitting on a non-slip tank cover. The owner informed me that they both enjoyed travelling fast and the dog was no trouble at all.
A short downhill run out of Cabramurra brought us onto a plateau that led us to Adaminaby. The road widens at this point and we were able to travel a bit faster. Marie was trailing us and dropped back out of sight. We stopped for a short while and waited for her and were just on the point of turning back to investigate when she appeared. It transpired that she had caught another "bug in her bosom" and had to stop to remove it. We rode on to Anaminaby, our third check point, refueled, had our cards stamped and beat a hasty retreat towards Jindabyne, hoping to arrive before the deadline.
Unfortunately, yet another accident occurred on a sweeping bend, about halfway to Berridale, and this time a lot more serious. By the time we arrived on the scene the police were in control of the traffic, which had already started to bank up several bends back. We waited about 45 minutes or so until a rescue helicopter arrived to take the rider and his 14 year old son pillion passenger to hospital. Apparently the bike had left the road, hit a huge rock, jumped over a fence and landed in a paddock totally wrecked. When the chopper had left, the police let the bikes leave in short intervals to prevent any congestion, and I am glad to say the traffic flow was generally quite orderly for the remainder of the ride to Jindabyne. We were late getting back to the checkpoint, but no matter, the delay caused by the accident had been taken into consideration.
At this point, hundreds of bikes had assembled in the car park, and Billy, who had intended selling his Harley (and taking delivery of his new one the following Saturday) put "for sale" signs on it to attract a possible buyer. As he was so doing I happened to notice a small oil leak on the crankcase and discreetly bought it to his attention, thinking he would wipe it off. Well, Billy being the honest fellow he is, got quite upset and immediately removed the signs, claiming he would not sell it privately with an oil leak, he would rather trade it in on his new one, which in fact is exactly what he did. It is a well known fact that in the motorcycling fraternity Harley owners toke a lot of crap from owners of Jap, Italian and German make bikes, so not to let the team down, Marie asked him "does the new Harley come standard with oil leaks or is it an optional extra?" Billy took it well with a smile on his face. I like a bloke who can take it as well as give it.
After leaving our stamped cards at the final checkpoint, we rode back to the unit and garaged the bikes for the night, then shed some of our clothes and walked down to the park, overlooking the lake, to listen to the speeches and prize presentations and generally unwind after a good days ride. Apart from the major prize of a Honda bike, which was won by somebody from Melbourne, there were dozens of smaller prizes of open orders from motorcycle safety apparel manufacturers and motor bike shops, but we were not lucky enough to score any of these. It was announced that there was a total of 1852 bikes registered on the rally, and with entry fees and sale of rally clothing and souvenirs, $150,000 was raised for the Steven Walter fund. This announcement was received with outstanding applause from the huge crowd in attendance.
Shortly after, the crowd dispersed, and we walked back to an Italian restaurant for our evening meal and while we were slurping on spaghetti bolognaise, we discussed our plans for the next days ride. Although the rally was over, we still had 3 days to enjoy the trip home and take in some sight seeing and visiting of friends and relatives. We all slept well again that night.
6 am, rise and shine, gathered our gear together, ate a light breakfast, then packed the bikes and returned the key of the unit to the estate agent and hit the road again. We met up with a dozen or so other riders and had a quite sedate and enjoyable ride to Cooma, observing the speed limit (most of the time). We felt that the police were extremely lenient yesterday on the rally, but it might be a different story today. This theory proved to be correct as later in the day a bike went racing past at breakneck speed only to be pulled over shortly after by a police radar vehicle.
Cooma has grown since I was last there, but once again Marie knew her way around and easily led us to her partner Glen's mother's house, where the dear old lady welcomed us and made us morning tea. She is in her late 80's, lives alone and has a very well kept, comfortable home, with a beautiful rose garden, featuring some of the biggest roses I have ever seen. After an hour or so we reluctantly said our goodbyes and headed for Canberra, where we refueled and rang Billy's son, who came to meet us and guide us back to his flat for a while. We left Billy to chat to his son, while we sat on the porch talking to Billy's sons charming girlfriend. They made coffee for us and after looking at numerous photos we left at 2 pm, and rode to Braidwood, where we stopped for a late lunch.
I can thoroughly recommend "The pigge outte and runn" restaurant at Braidwood as being purveyors of great food, as their sign indicates. It was once a homestead, is 150 years old and has been tastefully transformed into a restaurant, displaying decor of the pioneering days. It would not surprise me if there were a resident ghost there. We chose to eat outdoors as it was another glorious day, and while we were waiting for our meal, we studied the map and decided to make Nowra our overnight stop.
The ride down to the coast on the Kings highway was interesting with plenty of bends to hold our interest. It was Sunday mid afternoon and being the main route from Canberra to the coast, the traffic was pretty heavy until we got to Batemans Bay. Once on The Princes Highway it was plain sailing to Ulladulla, then on to Nowra. It is only about 16 years since I had travelled this road, yet I was amazed at the development in that short time.
Marie and Billy had stayed overnight at Nowra on a previous rally, and were anxious to stay at the same "bed and breakfast'” this night. We had no trouble finding the "M&M”s Guest House, which is just on the left, before crossing the Shoalhaven River at Nowra.
Another friendly policeman on a bike gave a wave as our 3 bikes passed him. He was parked in a side street presumably waiting for someone to jump the traffic lights.
We found "M&M's" to be a most interesting place with old world charm. We were able to get a room with 4 single bunks, with a door leading onto the games room which housed a billiard table, pin-ball machine, reading matter in the form of motorcycle magazines, writing table and a comfortable old lounge. This was the first time in many years 1 had to flush the toilet by pulling the chain. On my friend's previous stay, the owner had raced motorbikes and the A.J.S. she had raced was then on display in the foyer together with other memorabilia. The business has since been sold and the new owners have kept some of the memorabilia, but the bike has been replaced by a lounge.
After resting up till about 8pm, we walked up town to the local R.S.L. club and enjoyed a nice smorgasboard and a few lemon squashes. The walk home in the cool night air completed the day.
We all awoke early and had a cuppa, before packing the bikes, ready for a quick getaway straight after breakfast. We had done our homework and decided to climb the Camberwarra mountain north of Nowra, and travel through the Kangeroo valley to Moss Vale , Mittagong, Picton, Camden, Windsor then on to the Putty road to Singleton. I had heard somewhere in my travels that the Putty Road was excellent for bikes and talked the others into trying it out.
Over a light breakfast we talked at length with Neil, the new proprietor of "M&M's". He showed a keen interest in bikes and is trying to get hold of more memorabilia to complete the decor. We promised him we would get him a Ulysses flag to hang in the foyer, to help promote his new venture and motorcycling in general. After taking a few photos, we left Nowra and fuelled up at a servo at the foot of the mountain. Marie was worried about a "rustling "noise she had heard coming from her "little girl." We checked the tyres for stones and the guards for leaves or sticks but could not find anything out of place. It was a pretty steep climb up the mountain, but by then we were used to mountain climbing. I took them to the lookout overlooking Nowra and was pleasantly surprised to find a modern restaurant there. I was equally as surprised to see a poster on the window promoting the snowy ride we had just attended. I asked the proprietor if he would sell it to me and he happily removed it and handed it to me for free. What a great souvenir I had aquired. [I have since framed it and it hangs in my lounge room] At the risk of boring him and my travelling companions, I told them of the times I used to stay there with my parents and brother in an old guest house when I was about 6 years old and travelling in the side-car of dad's Harley. Bugger me if he didn't show me a picture hanging on the wall of the very same old guest house . As one grows older the memory plays some funny tricks. If I hadn't taken notes each day of our activities on this trip, I would not remember enough to relate in this story, yet I remember the name [Mr. And Mrs. Lumsden] of the owners of that guest house we visited 64 years ago.
We took coffee , overlooking Nowra, and watched the King parrots feeding from the hanging dishes provided. We then bought souvenirs for some of our friends, who couldn't come with us, and our loved ones at home. Again, reluctantly, we left the mountain, descending into the picturesque Kangeroo valley, rode across the old stone convict built Hampden bridge, through little villages, then climbed out of the valley on our way to Bowral. This climb entailed a few tight hairpin bends and we came across a semi-trailer laden with tyres,that had left the road and gone over the edge with his trailer still on the road preventing him from crashing into the valley below. We were able to ride past safely and since there were plenty of helpers on the scene, we pressed on to Bowral where we stopped at a nursery for Billy to buy his wife a nice "ground cover " rose for their garden in Tenterfield. He had no trouble fitting it in the huge pannier bag on the Harley and every time we stopped from then on, it received a drink from his water bottle.
I was in the lead and had a little difficulty finding the direct route from Mirtagong to Camden, even though we had studied the map that morning. We seemed to be getting on and off expressways all the way to Camden and to add to the confusion, Marie had to stop and retrieve my water bottle which unbeknown to me had jumped out of its holder on my top pack. Not far out of Camden, we stopped for a drink and to consult the map, and I found a walking stick lying in the gutter and I strapped it onto the bike for possible future use. We stopped at Camden for lunch, and ate at a cafe with tables on the footpath and watched the world go by. Camden is a very busy place these days, and quite trendy, compared with the quiet little country town that I remembered from my youth. I asked a courier driver how to get to Windsor and he happily pointed us in the right direction .Once on the right road, we had no trouble following the road signs and although the traffic was very heavy, and it wasn't even peak hour ,we arrived at the outskirts of Windsor at 2 pm, fuelled up and rested for a while before taking the Putty road to Singleton.
This road was developed by army engineers during the early years of world war 2, to provide a more direct route to the army camp at Singleton, and the last time I had used it the surface was gravel and bloody terrible in places . It is a different story these days , being fully sealed and widened in many places, generally a good gradient with not overly sharp bends, and little traffic , which all lends itself to be ideal for motorcycling. There was a lot of smoke around from bushfires but at no place was the road blocked and I found out later the firies had been burning off and doing property protection that week. We stopped about halfway to Singleton for a drink, and as Marie was brushing the flies away with the great Aussie salute, a passing motorist mistook it for a wave and returned the greeting. We watered, then smelt the rose, and headed off again to arrive at our destination about 5pm. Accommodation was a bit difficult to find, as there was a hockey tournament in town that week-end, and all the motels were fully booked, but we were lucky enough to obtain a unit that consisted of the top floor of an old house that had recently been totally restored and fitted out with all mod cons. It was expensive but luxurious and very comfortable, and the bikes were safely locked up in the back yard. Once again we took a short stroll to the local pub for a nourishing cooked meal and a squash [which by now I was growing quite fond of] and back again to the unit to collapse into bed to sleep peacefully. I don't remember us watching any television on the entire trip.
We woke up to yet another beautiful day, had a cuppa and a biscuit, packed the bikes, and were soon off again on the last day of this fantastic ride. As Billy had told me before we left Grafton, it's not only the rally we will enjoy, but getting there and back home again. He was so right. Our first stop was Bendemeer, for fuel and a hearty cooked breakfast. We chose to stop at a popular truck stop, where apparently, the food is always good and plentiful and we weren't disappointed. At this stage of the trip I found my Draggin jeans were becoming a bit tight around the waist, so I decided to go on a diet when we got home.
Somewhere between Bendemeer and Uralla Marie did it again. For the third time this trip, she had an insect sting her on the neck and get into her clothing. This time I was close by and came to her aid, with cold water, to dab on the sting. Billy was quick off the mark to photograph the incident. At times I think he has his camera grafted to his hand, he is so quick on the draw.
The New England Highway always holds my interest, especially the Moonbi range which is constantly being maintained and a delight to climb on a powerful bike. Lunch time found us at Armidale, in an open air cafe in the mall, opposite the old courthouse, where we enjoyed our last meal together for the trip. We set off again; headed towards Ebor and Dorrigo, and pulled up on a plateau just out of Dorrigo, to admire some of the nicest scenery in Australia. There was no sign of any smoke from bushfires and the countryside looked surprisingly soft and green and proved to be very photogenic.
Billy had been talking of possibly attaching a side-car to the Harley at a later date, to take his grandkids for rides. I congratulated him on the idea but having ridden an outfit years ago I suggested that he take a ride on one before deciding to buy, since it is a whole different riding technique. This conversation reminded me that I had seen an old outfit through the window of a mower repair shop in Dorrigo on a previous ride, so we stopped there to have a close look. The owner had a few old bikes on display, including 2 early Sunbeams in reasonable condition, but taking pride of place was a fully restored World war 2 model W.L.A. Harley, complete with side-car, with American army insignia. We had a good look at these bikes, then after a few more photos, we discovered an ice cream shop and splurged out and tasted their wares. Marie also bought some cheesecake slices, which the shop assistant very carefully packed for the trip home. We will probably go there again.
We said goodbye to Billy at Dorrigo, and followed him to the Urunga turnoff and continued up the highway to Grafton. Somewhere on the Smokey Creek range, the traffic was held up for quite a while, to allow a crane to upright an overturned semitrailer. There was no ambulance in attendance, so the accident must have happened much earlier in the day. On the remainder of the ride home I reflected on the accidents we had encountered on this trip, and was thankful that we weren't involved in any of them. After a cuppa at Maries place and a chat to Glen, I arrived home to Braunstone at 6.45pm, to find all is well.
We had traveled 3033 trouble free kilometers in the 6 days, riding on good roads, enjoying good weather and lovely scenery, in the company of good friends. What more could I ask for?