Port Macquarie 9-12 June 2009

 

This ride story is mostly a repeat of the blogs I did as the trip unfolded.

Prelude

This might be called the 'Brothers Lockwood Tour'.  One of them has a daughter in Port Macquarie, so decided to do a run to visit her. Two of them have a niece there. So they were in on the tour also.

The attraction of the trip is that we get to do four of The Bear's (of Australia Motorcycle Atlas fame) best 100 rides getting there; and two more on the way back - plus a repeat of three from the first day.

The trip up will see us doing the Goulburn to Oberon road; the Bells Line of Road; the Putty Road; and Buckett's Way (part of it, anyway). Then there's a nice run, so I'm told, from Gloucester to Taree that rates highly.

A couple of us might just nod to Port Macquarie and continue up the Oxley Hwy to Walcha - yet another one of the top 100!

Life is Good....or am I plagiarising?

The return trip for the two of us will likely be down Thunderbolt's Way (surprised to learn another of the best 100?); and probably all the other 100s we can find.

The destination for Day 1 is the Australian Hotel in Cessnock. Not sure about Day 2, but might be Walcha. Day 3 could be Lithgow. I have reports on pubs in all three places.

Plan to get home by Friday.


Day 1: To Cessnock

Seven of us are safely perched in the bar of the Australia Hotel in Cessnock. For me it was a 595km ride. Seven hours actual riding.

Sleet falling in Black Springs approaching OberonAs foreshadowed, the ride is one of the best out of Canberra. The only dampener today was the unpredicted weather. It was supposed to be fine – and it was most of the time. But we were not ready for the driving sleet as we climbed to over 1200 metres approaching Oberon. It was bad enough that the temperature, which had been a steady 5°C from Canberra to Goulburn, dropped to about around 4°C as we left Goulburn. A brief respite as we dropped down the Abacrombie gorge and crossed the river at 7°C, but from the top it quickly descended to 2°C for the rest of the time into Oberon.  Fortunately, I had put my wet weather suit on in Goulburn. Not necessarily in expectation of rain; but for another layer of warmth.  Good move. It wasn’t long out of Goulburn before we got some light rain driven by a strong sw wind. At least we were dressed as best we could for the driving sleet which accompanied us for the last 25km into Oberon.

We all welcomed a hot meal in Oberon.

The run from Oberon to Lithgow was pretty nice. Dry enough, with easy and predictable turns. We also did all right along Bells Line of Road. It’s so heavily speed-limited that it can be a disappointment. But today, mid-week, cloudy and cold, not much traffic, so a good fun run. The Putty Road didn’t disappoint. Hardly a car. A few trucks to add to the challenge. And mostly dry road. Great stretch  after the Roadhouse. A litany of 2nd and 3rd gear turns.

We got into Cessnock at about 5.15pm. Already pretty dark. Just marginally safe with sun glasses still on.

Day 2: To Walcha

Very different day yesterday (couldn’t get a modem signal in Walcha last night). Sun shone all day. A cool start of 11°, followed by 16° around the coast, but then back to 4° by the time we got over the range on the Oxley Hwy.

The Buckett’s Way, I discovered for the first time, doesn’t peter out where Thunderbolt’s Way begins (at Gloucester), but, in fact, turns east and runs to Taree (more or less). It was part of our trip today as we initially ‘meandered’ across undulating countryside between Maitland and Stroud. It was a surprising treat to ride The Buckett’s Way from Gloucester to just short of Taree. It surely is the best part of The Buckett’s Way. No wonder it’s one of the Australia Road Atlas’ best 100.

Unfortunately such a good run was then followed by being subjected to the massive road works on the Pacific Hwy around Taree. Several decades late; but everyone knows that, including the responsible governments.

Two of our number returned to Canberra this morning. Three, the instigators of the ride, headed for Port Macquarie as planned. Two of us tackled the Oxley Hwy to Walcha. Another of the top 100! There’s something like a 60-70km stretch that simply does not stop turning. It might well have been the longest time I have stayed in second gear without changing. Great riding. The edge got taken off it a bit by having to cope with the setting sun in our eyes as the afternoon got later.

We stayed the night in Walcha at the Apsley Arms, where I have stayed before. My companion kindly selected the wine while I prepared this report. It was a Wyndham Estate ‘Founder’s Reserve’ Shiraz 2005. Very sophisticated!

Day 3: To Lithgow

I must be a slow learner. One would have thought that, after the horrific experience of riding the last hour and a half into Walcha yesterday with the setting sun in my eyes, I would have got the message that riding west in the late afternoon in winter was pretty dumb. Well, I didn’t. But after a second experience, I think I might have.

From Thunderbolts Way looking across valley to westToday started difficultly. We left Walcha at about 8.15am in -2°C, according to the bike’s computer. It only got worse for the first 50km out of Walcha. The sky was initially blue and sunny. That was well before we left. By 8.00ish, there was a low cloud cover – obviously fog drifting upwards from the surrounding countryside. So, for 50-70km from Walcha, I had the temperature reading on the computer flashing madly, as it does below 3° to warn of possible ice patches on the road; frost heavily layered on the paddocks; drifting fog that hovered closely above until it dropped onto us as we climbed and descended. Fortunately, it was never thick. Then, seemingly miraculously, as we came over a ridge from the grazing land into the forest country, absolutely HD clear skies and green trees. I still found that the flashing ice warnings acted as a brake, as it were, on one’s approach to an otherwise great run.

Gloucester brought a belated hot breakfast. Very much appreciated.  From there it was pure enjoyment through wonderfully undulating country, with mountainous backdrops, with the occasional range to cross, all the way to Singleton.  And then: the Putty Road again! Only this time, with a thoroughly dry road and cornering practice totally refreshed, it was a faultlessly smooth run (even if I say so myself). It’s not always or often that that’s the case.

Looking forward to a re-run of the Bells Line of Road soon got dispelled. It wasn’t far into that section before the setting sun took control. Being in by 4.00pm is a bit of a catch cry for motorcycle tourers. It’s a safeguard from grazing kangaroos. But travelling west in winter, even being in by 3.00pm might be risking the sun problem. We got into Lithgow at about 4.15pm, but the last hour or more was not very pleasant. Unlike the ride into Walcha, the Bells Line of Road wasn’t as consistently facing the setting sun. Small consolation! At least the Walcha road was straight. There were some bits of relief on the BLofR, with intermittent tree protection from the sun, but most of the last 50-60km of many tight turns and steep inclines was ridden with one hand steering and one hand making visibility possible. Not a great formula.

We gave the pub food a miss and dined at ‘Natalie’s’, which, from a walk the length of the main street, seemed to be the only restaurant in Lithgow.  The Maitre d’ alone was worth the visit; but the food was top class, although the wine was very ordinary – and the choice very limited.

A run today in excess of 500km.

Day 4: Back Home

Black Springs again! It’s 1200m - no wonder it gets snowWith a clear sky last night, we anticipated a cold morning and decided on an 8.00am start, with an immediate stop at the near-by bakery for breakfast. That worked well, especially since it was another -2° morning. But the temperature had risen to 0° by the time we left the bakery.

All but the last stint from Goulburn was ridden in full sunshine. Mind you, until Oberon the temperature didn’t get above 1.5°. There were amazingly thick blankets of frost and several signs warning of slippery roads ‘when frosty’. That slowed us down in all the shaded parts of the road. We probably were at our slowest as we crossed a gleaming, all-white wooden bridge! You could have shovelled the frost off it. Fortunately, there were two discernible, thin-line smudges across the otherwise immaculate white canvas, the legacy of the few cars that had already crossed it this morning. That’s where we gingerly made our way across.

Notwithstanding a few weather related handicaps, it was a good ride. As the morning progressed, the road dried, the sun shone warmer (though 5° was a hot as it got), and the bikes responded to the call of the wild.

Good old Canberra! From Goulburn, the clouds closed in and the temperature edged downwards. By the time we came over the ridge and dropped into Canberra, thick fog seemed to hover at tree-top level and envelop even the smallest hills. For the last 10km to home, the bike’s computer was flashing again at 1.5°. And this was 12.30pm! Middle of the day!

I clocked up exactly 1900km over the four days. It was great riding with good company. Can’t wait until the next time.

 

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