Day 40: Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra - The Final Adventure
Arr: 630pm at Broadford, 8pm in Southbank (home)
Riding is the greatest escape. Anyone who spends most of their time on two wheels will tell you that. The first time I ever pulled throttle was on my Ninja 250 to get onto a highway, and I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It's a passion that spans people of every age, nationality, gender, and colour. Riders will tell you that it's fun and a great feeling to be on a bike. They're not lying, but they aren't telling you the whole truth. It's also about conquering fears and challenging yourself.
990km would be the single longest solo ride I've ever done in a day, at the tail end of a journey that I will be retelling to my dogs and grand-dogs for years to come. Here we go!
My alarm went off 10 minutes after I was already brushing my teeth. Seong was supportive of my absurdly early start, and woke up with me to help me get Sheba out of her garage. The little scratching of the paws racing around the house made me miss my best friend back home, who did the same thing whenever I got out of bed. Truth be told, I'm one of the worst morning people in the world. I own not one, but two singlets that read "I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON". It speaks volumes that someone would be up this early to get on a cold bike and freeze her tits off voluntarily. That, and I missed Melbourne and my own bed so much.
By 530am I was on the road, with a half asleep Seong waving goodbye behind me. I had not yet conditioned myself for the biting cold that set in after the morning adrenaline wore off. It was an hour in and I was still on the bloody freeway within Sydney, enduring this snappy 5°C windchill that reminded me of the snowy morning rides to uni back in Canada. To this day I cannot believe I rode through snow all those years, but in retrospect, it probably helped with the Brown Pants Detour substantially.
Why the fuck is it so cold in NSW? It's only early April, we haven't hit the depths of winter yet. I I later figured out that the cyclone had much to do with the weather conditions in Southeast Australia. I felt bad for wishing it was warmer while people north of the cyclone conversely had record-setting highs. As soon as I could, I pulled off the highway toward Canberra and literally put on every piece of clothing I could pull from my bag. My face was frozen into a grimace and my soul escaped several times in the form of breath vapour. It didn't help much and I was shaking furiously trying to keep warm. I even tried reaching down and putting my hands on the engine, to no avail. Sheba was a chilly 70°C the whole way - a far cry from her normal 100°C in desert and street conditions. I literally thought warm thoughts all the way to the next stop.
I stopped in Sutton Forest for the first meal of the day, which was a petrol stop muffin I don't recall eating. While refueling, I also caught notice of two female riders and made it a point to introduce myself. It was the first time I saw female riders since Perth. They were wondering where I was going and where I'd been, and I get a feeling they didn't fully believe me when I told them. Regardless, we agreed to ride together until the next stop. It then occurred to me why I love riding solo, because I could pass freely and go at my own pace. Being newer riders, they seemed a bit hesitant on passing cars - I could feel myself age while sitting and camping behind a minivan full of toddlers.
I bid adieu at their next stop and decided to trek straight to Canberra in one hit. My body was just starting to defrost a bit and I didn't want to lose momentum. I also planned to meet Kelvin, a rider I met through Motorcycle Camping Australia Facebook group who was interested in buying the Desert Fox Fuel Cell off me. It seemed inefficient to stop every 50-60km and it would have taken me ages if I went with the girls. For those who don't know, Canberra is actually a solid 70km off the highway. But I wanted to make this Australia trip complete, and to do that, it only seemed right to visit the nation's capital. on the way through.
I swept into Canberra at 10am, making decent time for the overall trip. I've become a master of predicting arrival times at this point, though I was off by about 30 minutes to meet because I was distracted by about 2 dozen lycra-donning cyclists in fluro yellow. I couldn't unsee them. The good part is they helped take a photo of me, because incredibly I hardly have any proper photos of Sheba and I. The bad part is that I looked like a complete dorcas because I was so cold and I had already been awake for 5 hours.
Kelvin and his partner took me through the pretty city and up onto a tree farm that doubled as a lookout of the whole town. A Saturday in Australia's capital meant that it was next-level quiet. Most people were walking around and enjoying their day, but when I say that, I mean it was near silent in the town aside from the lookout. I spent 90 minutes in Canberra just riding around with Kelvin and his partner, but this meant I fell behind schedule and needed to make up for it. Afterall, I needed to be in Melbourne at a decent hour. One more coffee and refuel and I was back on the road.
The Hume Highway is a bit drab but it doesn't cause too much stress if you're respectful of the roads. At least after noon it became warmer and more tolerable. It was actually quite pleasant! Being in the Outback makes you appreciate things, like how close together petrol stops are, and how many people could possibly help you if you're stuck. The stops were usually only 100km away instead of upwards to 300km. And there's always water somewhere, which is a nice little bonus.
My next stop was Gundagai, a small town that someone ... somewhere along the trip... told me to go. They mentioned a dog on a tucker box, whatever that means. When I arrived, there was a crowd of people surrounding a statue of a literal dog on a literal box. This statue is rated as one of the "Things to do in Gundagai" and it actually brought a lot of energy into an otherwise remote town. I snapped a quick pic with Mini-Shebs, filled up, and hopped back on. Trying to make up for lost time on a police-patrolled highway can be difficult, and I didn't feel like speeding on bald tyres. It would be embarrassing to lose my petrol can and hat again.
I made it into Albury doing exactly the speed limit and behaving perfectly the entire way. As a result, I made up TWO FULL HOURS of lost time and my friends back home started texting me to slow down. I was a bit hungry anyway so I sat on the gravel and finished 3 bananas while watching some Youtube. Ah, how nice is it to eat bananas that aren't warm? And to be able to stream Youtube. And to be able to sit on a curb and not the ground. At this point, I had forgotten that doing things outside of the social norm is usually frowned upon, but I couldn't care less. Just 3 hours from home!
The sun was shining and the birds were chirping. I finally clicked the ignition and rode about 5km to the "Welcome to Victoria" sign, which is actually located above the road (not to the side) and is very small and unnoticeable. But no matter. I knew I was getting closer when I started to see Victorian license plates again. Trees were bright green and a flock of doves (my friends say they were cockatoos, but anyway) flew across, chattering happily to each other. On top of all that, a rainbow appeared in the general direction of Melbourne - people who experienced the storm on April 8th will know that this is absolutely real.
The Hume curves slightly, back and forth, all the way from Albury NSW to Seymour VIC. It was a nice sweeping motion, only interrupted by the occasional ute or minivan. In the final 100km into Melbourne, that's where shit got real.
A dark funnel of evil had placed itself neatly on the Hume about 10km in front of me. The cars that were coming from Melbourne (toward me) looked like they had each personally visited the Niagara up close. I didn't want to stop and take the raingear out, so I went into full tuck and entered the dripping wall of charcoal coloured hell.
It was foggy, dark, and misty all at the same time. The mist was collecting on my visor and making everything blurry, like if you had 15 beers and you opened your eyes underwater. The rain and mist wouldn't stop. I was soaked inside out within minutes, constantly fighting the puddles on the road. My square, bald tyres were fish tailing every time I skimmed through some oily water. I kept at a safe speed that I could handle, but it didn't come without some facial expressions in some sphincter-tightening moments. I would not wish this on my enemy. The intensity of the thunder and lightning grew alongside my hunger pains. By the time I reached Broadford, it looked like I swam here from Canada.
I did a mini-loop around Broadford, a small town that hosts a motorcycle racing complex I'm familiar with. Sadly, there are very few street lamps in Broadford. Trying to text someone in pitch black, thundery madness is somewhat of an issue when your hands are cold and shaking, it's raining, and your phone is touchscreen. I had to take my gloves off and text while holding the phone in the sky (think Simba in The Lion King) so that rain doesn't hit the screen. An outsider would think I'm praying to the heavens - and they wouldn't be that far off.
I was also trying to lower my heartrate from the adrenaline rush of Fitzroy Water Crossings flashbacks. Wallan, the meeting place, was only another 20km away but I might as well empty my boots onto the ground and use Sheba as a canoe.
Squinting and rolling at grandma speeds, I finally pulled into the BP at Wallan, slowly making my way through a parking lot filled with travelers and locals alike. My vision was blurry even without the visor, and I was exhausted from the ride here. My body was the consistency of a vigorously used dish sponge and my hands were shaking. Then, I did the unthinkable.
As I pulled into the car space - something I've done without fail for years - I realized just how tired my body was. My right leg was supposed to support Sheba while my left leg kicked the stand down. Instead, my leg completely gave way.
Soul: "Yay, we're here! All we need to do is just put this stand down and..."
Left leg: "Okay guys, I'm ready!"
Right leg: "Not today bitches."
Sheba: "I'm going down!"
Everyone: "Oh shit"
Sheba gently laid herself into a puddle while I walked off to not get caught. It happened in slow motion. The collective gasp told me that there were more spectators than I realized.
I stared emotionlessly at Sheba who was now lying in her own puddle of filth. The dust from her insides came out and dyed the puddle bright orange. The tip of the handlebar took most of the weight and the luggage, which ironically one of the reasons my legs gave way, somehow managed to save the fairings and rearsets from breaking. I found myself reenacting the Dog on the Tuckerbox - people gathered around, curious as to what the hell happened. 2 burly men came and lifted Sheba upright again. Families stopped and stared. Everyone in the crowd was getting soaking wet. I turned around, and a group of my closest friends were standing behind me.
Surprise!.... um... do you need help?"
I didn't expect Eric, Amelia, and Monty to come up to Wallan (the outskirts of Melbourne) to meet me in weather like this. It's safe to say that given what I just went through, seeing them completely obliterated my thoughts of being cold, hungry, wet, and exhausted. Eric and Steph came on bikes as well, also battling the rain and wind, so they can provide moral support. Amelia and Monty drove up in their car so they could take all my bags and lead us home. We had a little celebration dinner at the BP in Wallan. There was a large and detailed map covering a wall inside the petrol station. I gazed over the path from Wallan leading to Aubury and beyond - this was the trek I did today, and this map represents only half a day out of a 40-day journey around this entire country.
I turned to face my friends who were all gathered at a table and happily eating hot chips and fried chicken. Back then and now as I write this (a month later), I find it hard to hold back tears of gratitude.
We hopped into/onto our respective vehicles and started the 60km journey straight south into the heart of Melbourne, where I live. We decided to take the good ol' M80 Ring Road around the western suburbs. It was raining almost as hard, but I stopped caring. I didn't feel cold or tired anymore. Adrenaline was pumping and my heart was beating big and loud. As we went over the West Gate Bridge, I started sobbing uncontrollably in my helmet. This is it - on February 28 2017 at 7am, I took this bridge and branched off toward Ballarat, not knowing what a water crossing looked like, how long wild snakes could get, how hot it could be, and how nice people are in rural Australia.
As a final test (which didn't seem like much after what I've been through), my friends weren't sure of how to get to my house so at the last minute changed lanes from left to right. It was a fork on the highway that was separated by a plastic ledge. I matched their lane change but because the car didn't want to let me in, I revved hard and hopped over the ledge (think about going up onto a curb and back down again, diagonally).
Sheba scoffed at the challenge. I smiled to myself and patted her on the side of the tank.
One of the most common questions I get about this trip was "Is it difficult to ride Australia?". My answer is no, it's not. Even though I stuck to the highways for the most part, the long distances and harsh weather is not much of a worry if you're confident in your skills, your bike, and your perseverance. The pacing was perfect for me, but 40 days might seem long or short depending on your interests. The hardest thing about riding solo is the thoughts that can come into your head - the personal issues from years back get dredged up and sticks in your mind for hours. That's where you have to be really damn headstrong. If you gave up in the middle of the desert and you were alone, you'd still be there for days without seeing people. The obvious answer is to stay strong and keep riding.
Flying solo is one of the best things you could do for yourself. The further away you get from home, the more you realize what you've taken for granted. The more I rode, the less I cared about social media status or the people who are out there to cause misery. Before this trip, I had numerous naysayers and negative feedback. But challenge is what caused Flying Solo Gear Co. to be born. And I wouldn't change that for the world.