Flat out green - a sort-of outback ride

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Flat out green - a sort-of outback ride

Postby Caroanbill » Thu May 30, 2013 11:33 pm

Somebody sealed the Kidman Way, from Bourke to Jerilderie through Mount Hope in the near-outback near-desert of western New South Wales. The tremulous tourers could now do the newsouthwales sort-of-outback, so we bowed to the inevitable and planned.

El nino having ceded to la nina, we’d be dodging floodwater not desiccation – so preparation required checking river heights rather than hydration packs. I booked us into the biker icon of the Royal Hotel, Mount Hope – the rest of the trip could fall around that marker.

Day 1 Goulburn to Gilgandra

It is to be a full inland loop, so I bore my way down the Hume highway to Goulburn very early, and Wolf bounces up the back way from Canberra. Then we’re off! Along the Divide in bracing spring air and a high wide sky, before riding the rollercoaster down-into-up-out-of the Abecrombie River – hairpin bends so steep they have their own horizon. Loose gravel on faster sweeping corners begs caution, but still we blast by a flock of older-farts toodling the long Black Springs straights as we hike north.

We slip through Oberon for the grin-widening sweepers through Duckmaloi to Hampton, even if I’ve lost concentration and am a bit slower than I’d like. From Hampton we bump along a skyline goat track on the razorback spine of the divide. We weave and wiggle between moss and frost-heaved bitumen – rolling vistas take our breath away even as the surface jolts us all about. A see-sawing drop into daffodil day in Rydal village, an unexpected navigation failure onto dirt, and we sneak a few kilometres of the Great Western highway before peeling off onto the Castlereagh highway.

We wind between Colo gorge glimpses, pagoda rocks and miserable late-winter towns. Capertee looks so sad we skip it for Mudgee lunch, clawing up to 1150 metres on Cherry Tree Hill before swooping down the loops above Windemere Dam to the vineyards guarding the town. Delicious (if dear) lamb burgers and we roll on to Gulgong and down off the tablelands to Dunedoo.

Down into rising rivers. The Castlereagh River is as full at Mendooran as the weather sites and river heights had told us, and we have the odd backwater splash to get though. We follow the flood along the flat, then over a range of sorts before yet more flat and backed-up creeks into Gilgandra.

The grey nomads have filled the town caravan park but we find a down-budget cabin in the down-at-heel rest-a-while park for the price of enduring a strange pisstake from the owner. The local club has drinkable wine and digestible (if not perhaps delicious) nosh, then it’s back to our broadband to navigate a way around downpours and floods. We decide to give Walgett and Brewarrina the flick in favour of the dull but dry straightline from Nyngan to Bourke.

Day 2 Mounting Hope

For some forgotten reason we’d decided to eat healthy this trip, so instead of seeking out bacon and egg rolls we make tomato and avocado muffins – very country that ain’t – while we look at the forecast rain patterns for the day. Looks like minor flooding on the northern route through Brewarrina, so we opt for Nyngan and maybe Bourke, and set off.

At least it’s a dry start, out across almost flooded rivers and creeks to Nevertire, then the rain catches us along the Mitchell Highway to Nyngan to refuel. The map says the road to Bourke is straight-as, so we assume dull-as, but in a damp Nyngan petrol station we decide to explore anyway. It’s cold – 10 degrees – we rug up a bit more, check the handgrip heaters are on, and head out.

The first stretch is so dull the only interest is the splash from water pooling everywhere, but after a while the road gains trees, then low rises to low rolling ridges (hardly hills) and the dead-straight, map-straight road turns out to be less so on the ground. It’s a sort of slow weave over little rises, the odd hamlet or lone shack, and a steady alternation between scrubby eucalypt forest and patches of grey saltbush, to just 30 kilometres shy of Bourke. Then the plain is as flat and treeless as we feared the whole run might be, but we soon see the river gums and buildings emerge from behind levees.

We smile our way into town for the unexpected pleasure of the morning run and find the information centre to locate the Darling River port. A conversation-rich local from the ‘men’s shed’ adopts us … do we look like we need directional help or perhaps some comfort? Our insistent escort gets us to the port and we clamber about the old wharf and muddy, swollen Darling. No healthy food apparent in this outback town, so it’s Port of Bourke hotel steaknchips, an (almost empty) wander for premium fuel, and a ‘eek’ of small slips on the diesel and dust slicked around the fuel bowsers by the rain.

At last, finally, we’re there! Onto Kidman Way to endure a more familiar 30 kilometres of open flatness, and back into the saltbush in the rain. This maybe the back o’ beyond, but the empty road is punctuated with grey nomad caravans and an intermittent pulse of road trains hauling pipe to the gasfields. The landscape is empty even if the road has traffic, and we roll south through rain at 11 degrees, with the odd “yikes” of aquaplane across the open drains flowing across the road.

Cobar appears out of the mist as the rain eases. We see the town as we wind about trying to find fuel and backtrack successfully for premium, skating on the same slippery-diesel- wet-dust forecourt we’d had in Bourke. Then we’re on south, past iconic rusting mines and madmax Cobar town sign.

It’s a ratty, goattrack of a road to begin, prospector trucks meandering around the little mines near town, then we must dodge a mob of real goats billying out in front of us. This experience seems far from the dusty dry outback – all long green grass, billowing under dark callitris pines. An endless park estate, undulating up to open ranges and the easing rain stretches our park out to the horizon in a sea of green.

Yikes! I come upon a deep, full drain just as a roadtrain hits the same water from the other side. I’m blind in the Niagara it throws over me and leave all the levers soft to cope with the shock of wheels sliding from water to asphalt at speed without warning or vision. Gulp! Somehow the bike shakes its head and wiggles onward instead of wobbling over. The traction control is confused, and confuses the engine but we roll on straight as the bikes pulse and mine recovers equilibrium.

Hills? There are hills! We ride into shearing song country and the turnoff to Roto amid .. hills. Real hills. There-on-the-map but nowhere-in-our-expectation hills. The Way starts to wind and wend and we’re not upright anymore. My goodness. Around a bit more, and up – yes, up - to the Royal Hotel at Mount Hope. Hardly a mountain, but a definite, who’d-have-thought, thousand-foot big hill. With our pub for the night at the top of the road.

We walk off surprise with an evening ramble over the old mines at the top of the ‘mount’ as the weather clears. The view goes forever on the flat land east and west we see the ridges stretching out to Ivanhoe. Preconceptions pleasantly dashed, we retire to the pub for bush chatter over a simple but decent steak dinner, a couple of glasses of black ‘Old’ and glass of soft merlot.

It’s a wide open sky out here in the nowhere with only the pub’s small pinpricks to dull the stars, and between rumbling trucks the air is as still and quiet as our isolation might suggest.

Day 3 Back to the flat

It’s overcast again come morning, and we take the brief-but-fun wind out of Mount Hope and back onto the Lachlan river flatlands. The Lachlan is full and the roadside is puddles until Hillston and another diesel-wet-dust forecourt to fill up and endure the banter of fourwheeldrivers amused that we old-farts would bother to ride in this weather.

The Kidman Way bumps out past another town with its own black-stump legend, and hops over the Mid-Western Highway at Goolgowi as all trace of hills disappear from the horizon. Orchards become sporadic, then regular, then continuous as we follow the irrigation channels on to Griffith.

Maybe it’s a Burley-Griffin legacy (the american architect who designed Canberra and Griffith), but Griffith town is all winter-bare trees and a Canberra-bleak 9 degrees. Money shows in streets peppered with BMWs and Mercedes instead of the usual countrytown cars, and the cafes have real Italian coffee, served with real Italian nonchalance. We shiver into some calls to loved ones, sip another doppio, and suit up for more cold flatland.

There’s a city-esque roundabout moment as ms landcruiser tries to bluff my bike … but its new horn startles her into reluctant civility. I stop to shake off the adrenalin of the near-miss and we head out into the cold south westerly. A miserable wind whistles over flat, flat paddocks as we wind to the Murrumbidgee River at Darlington Point and stock piles of redgum logs by the just-closed sawmill.

Now it is truly open and bare out to Coleambally, and the wind howls unabated. No rain, but it’s an unexpected misery against to the surprise pleasure of the flatland ride out to Bourke. It’s on and worse southwards to complete the Kidman Way in noon-day shiver and cold grey light across the riverina plain.

The end of the Kidman Way is marked by the roar and sway of Newell highway B-Double trucks for a last blustery wiggle into Jerilderie. We find healthy in a bakery salad roll lunch and refill on another greasy forecourt before braving the trucks and blow back in misery to the Urana turn off.

Then the wind is behind us and we roll in relative peace, stopping for flatland-emptyland bike shots. Wolf is nervous of parking his monsterbike on the soft shoulder and gives me a small heart attack as he backs toward an oncoming car while snapping pictures. Back into the bleak - but now somehow more inviting - road winding around Lake Urana and on to hills, up and over to Lockhart to splash through the Murrumbidgee River overflows in more rain to the Sturt Highway

We turn west to dodge Wagga on back roads, but the Murrumbidgee River has other ideas – all the low river crossings are flooded, so it’s back to the Friday afternoon inland city crush. Thankfully, the ring road out to the Olympic Way dodges the worst of it, and we find the run to Junee easily enough.

Surprise! We’ve seen on maps that the north-of-the-river runs to Gundagai are twisty, yet somehow I’m still expecting the Olympic to be as flat as it is north of Young and south of Culcairn. Instead, it’s sweepers tightening up to real bends as we wind up and over the hills into Cootamundra. The weather clears and we get a lovely rolling hills run - I even wear the sharp edges off my flatroad tyres.

We compromise on staying in a brick “van” – it’s part cabin, part motel room, but it’s warmer than the chilling air outside. I experience a compulsion to clean the red mud and bugs off my bike, much to Wolf’s amusement. Then we find a couple of beers in the recommended pub – but the menu doesn’t look appetizing so it’s pizza instead, and a quiet evening after a long-ish day. We’ve had enough weather and cold to be part of the wintery landscape without being worn down by it, so it’s another sense of place locked into my memory of the feel of the land.

Day 4 New bends, old friends

Saturday brings Spring sunshine for a blue-sky hilltops ramble across to Harden and Boorowa. A little naughtiness in our throttle hands as we fly over the clear ridges with the green valleys flowing around us. Then the just-sealed backroad from Boorowa through Rugby to Crookwell – flowing ridgeline roads dropping into tight little gullies as we climb to the top of the Lachlan, the top of the range at 3,000 feet and some decent espresso in Crookwell.

A last high range run across the Great Divide to Goulburn and over the Divide again through Tarago on more familiar roads. We wave-off at Bungendore, and I squirt a last defiant wiggle along Mac’s Reef Road to slip into composure for the Canberra ‘burbs (lane-splitting verboten!).

A sisterly birthday warms me until the evening chills and I’m on to old-friend-dinner and too-much-red-wine. A spring Canberra morning brunch with another old friend completes the trip, since the Hume run home is, as always, not worth the mention.

I fill the 300km freeway run with the sense of outback time and space of the run from the Darling to the Murray … my world is a little bigger now.

© Bill Stanhope 2010
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Re: Flat out green - a sort-of outback ride

Postby Dr. Strangelove » Mon Jun 03, 2013 9:18 am

Thanks for the report!
But you need PIX!!!

'09 Schwarze Blanche DuBois
Well, don't do that-Hippocrates

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