A picnic table beside a road Somewhere in Eastern Victoria.
Been meaning to write for a month or two but severe laziness set in. The family caught up with me because I stayed a while at my cousin's near Sydney, and my sister said you'd phoned to see whether I was dead or not as you hadn't heard anything for a while. It's wishful thinking mate - I'm not leaving you any of my bikes. You can have the same deal I offered Roger Bennett. Pay for them now and get them when I die. Seems entirely reasonable to me. Beats inflation if nowt else. Course, as you're older than me, there's always the slight chance that you might pop off first in which case I win.
It's 4 months since I wrote from Nevada. After Silver Springs I returned to the Yamaha shop in Reno to get an exhaust, only to find they'd been bullshitting me and couldn't get one. They said they would get two different ones from the local Supatrapp distributor so that I could check them to see if one would fit my model. It's not listed but they do one for a TT600 or a XT550. Then they said they couldn't do that after I'd waited over the weekend. Why can't anybody in that country tell you the bloody truth? Everything is bullshit. So I went to the Supatrapp factory in Sacramento who were really friendly on the phone, and said they could probably take the pipe from a TT600 and put a quiet street silencer from something else on the end of it. What happens at the factory? - "We can't do that it would mess up production runs", so why couldn't they say that on the phone? Eventually in desperation I bought the TT600 "sports" model, but it turned out to be so loud it was un-rideable through towns and gave me headaches. A day later I went 80 miles back to where I'd thrown the old Yamaha silencer away, cut the end off, got some aluminium sheet and some pop-rivets and stuck it on the end of the Supatrapp to deaden the noise a bit. It worked O.K. but needed constant attention, coming loose often. It also messed up the carburation, as did the standard Supatrapp, so obviously only a temporary solution.
That overcrowded part of California is awful, and there was nowhere to camp around Sacramento except one caravan and trailer park 20 miles out that wanted $20 to camp there for the night. I headed into the hills but still couldn't find a normal site, so went into a small bar in the middle of the hills (which are covered in houses, tucked away in the trees out of the valley heat - all commuter area) to ask, and ended up staying with one of the drinkers - there were only three - and his family. He owned a BMW and was curious what I was doing wandering around suburbia looking for a campsite.
Next day I decided to head for Clearlake, where I knew I could camp as it's the place I met the friends from Berkeley (near San Francisco) when I stayed there by chance in 1990. They have a caravan by the lake and I planned to phone Berkeley when I arrived. However I got there in the middle of their Octoberfest piss-up weekend and Katie was there. George was away doing his Alcoholics anonymous class, which is compulsory before getting his licence back after a second drink-driving nick. So we all had a jolly drunken weekend with a load of other friends, then I followed them back to Berkeley (Georges driving as always, who needs a licence?).
I checked all the marinas around the Bay area, but nobody was sailing to Australia. I looked up some other friends, got pissed a lot then we all went down the California coast, camping south of Monterey to do a 10km charity run (yes, on legs). Then they all went back and I carried on down Highway 1 again looking for sailors. I tried a couple of shipping companies around Long Beach, trying to work my passage if you'll pardon the expression, but no luck. Did a bit of blasting around the hills, then tried San Diego, but again nothing. Got done by Radar near San Diego but got away with it being foreign - too complicated for him as he couldn't put my licence details into his computer terminal. At least I know my speedo is exactly right at 68mph. (in a 55).
Now in a hammock camped up by a river for the night.
By now it was early November and what does anybody in Southern California with something like a Tenere and a bit of spare time do in early November? Go to Baja of course for the lOOO mile off-road race. Yippee! After visiting familiar people and places down the East coast of Baja, it started to dawn on me that if I wasn't careful I'd just end up repeating the same trip I did almost two years earlier. Not the idea. I ran about 100 miles of the route mainly because its the road down that part of the East coast, the tarmac road being over on the West side at this point, but I kept coming across teams pre-running the race to check the route. I met the factory Kawasaki team who eventually won, also the Honda crowd, who were running over 30 bikes, and at the other extreme, two middle-aged BMW dealers from Michigan who were sharing a 600 Honda ?). The serious teams use 3 riders per bike, and Team Green won at an average speed of sixty something mph, a lot of it on b******d awful rocky tracks. It's not just bikes of course, as I soon learnt when I heard a rumbling behind me, but couldn't see much for my own dust, then suddenly got engulfed in a giant cloud of dust, rocks and anything else that was lying around, as a giant Baja-special pick-up truck with tyres as high as my bike went past at around the ton, this being one of the straighter sections of track. The next week on the way back I got a bit carried away on the same section and knackered the front rim again.
On the way down I travelled a couple of days with a German on a Tenere on his way to South America. He was in for some fun getting through mainland Mexico as I found out when I tried to go a day or two later. They've introduced a new system to cut out the trade in stolen vehicles from the States being sold in Mexico. You have to have a credit card and leave a signed credit card slip with them with no amount on. You also need the registration papers etc. which is no problem. If you don't return through the same border crossing within six months and cancel the sticker they give you, $1,500 is charged to your card. It doesn’t apply to Baja as you have to return north again anyway, or else get a ferry to the mainland in which case the system applies. They have made no provision for leaving to Guatemala or Belize like I did last time. When I tried to use my carnet they refused it even though Mexico is listed on the cover as a participating country.
I went to Tucson instead to see some friends there that I made last time at the BMW shop. Then I decided to go back to Berkeley then Oz or else I'd miss the whole summer down under. I planned to ship the bike from there to Sydney as it only cost $350 (US) as opposed to $2000 to fly it - too much. After another visit to a bitterly cold Joshua Tree Park, I spent a night with some Danes who live near Mojave (accidentally copped a Thanks-giving dinner and a party for one of them who was returning to Denmark.). It was still bitterly cold and windy until I dropped into the valley through Weedpatch (read 'The Grapes of Wrath') near Bakersfield, and then up to Berkerley. I got a free steel-framed crate from the local Yamaha shop, packed up the bike and waved bye-bye.
We all went back to Clearlake in the car for another, late Thanks-giving party and dinner, this time outside by the lake in hot sunny weather. Then I flew to Sydney on Dec 10th.
My cousin picked me up at the airport, then promptly ran out of petrol in the middle of the traffic right underneath a massive hoarding which was apparently paid for privately, by somebody not too keen on British Airways attempt to buy Qantas. It simply spelt out the details of the proposal and said in enormous letters "Piss off Poms". I knew I was going to like Australia.
Now Camped By a Different River 3.2.93
Wonderful place. The next weekend I went to my first Australian Rally, then stumbled across lots of bikes at a pub on Sunday. Half of the crowd were Brits or ex-Brits living in the Sydney area, and I tagged on with then to another pub for lunch and a swim in the river (this is in the 80's or 90's Fahrenheit by the way). There was a free council campsite opposite the pub by the river, so up went the tent and down went the beer. Beautiful place, tiny village called St. Albans. Monday I went back to Newcastle via fabulous bendy empty roads, stopping twice on the way to jump in rivers to cool off. Hardly saw a soul and not one police car all day. What a difference to the States.
So as to be bright and breezy for the exhaust job Tuesday morning, I paid £10 to stay in a local pub. More than I like to pay, but cheaper than England. In North America they have drive-through everything, banks, food etc., but one they don't have, which every town has a few of in Oz is the drive-through grog shop (booze shop). I parked the bike in the one behind the pub overnight and can't think of anywhere it's been safer. Surrounded by booze, locks, alarms, and night-time checks.
While the exhaust was being made, I used the workshop to make stainless brackets for the oil cooler. It's mounted across the fairing above the headlights. If you're going to have an oil cooler, have an Oil Cooler I say, not some piddling little thing hidden away between the exhaust pipes. When all that was finished, I went back and camped at St. Albans again, via wonderful hilly roads, both tarmac and gravel and had my first kangaroo run across the road. I'd seen all these signs with pictures of animals I didn't recognise, saying "beware of” and had been playing at trying to imagine what the flat ones looked like before they were flat to see which sign they matched, but it was difficult. However no problem with the still inflated ‘roo.
After St. Albans I drifted south to Canberra and my next rally, everywhere away from the cities are fabulous bendy empty roads. Just avoid the main connecting roads, which everybody seems to use like sheep, and which have the radar-traps. Elsewhere it's like our old A and B roads before they were straightened. The bike breathes properly now, and goes like it never did before - responsive, smooth, wants to rev., much more mid-range right where you want it. Wonderful exhaust.
Virtually anywhere you want, you can just find a stream, put the tent up among beautiful trees, and nobody comes along to say you can't. I've actually seen more signs saying "camping permitted" than the reverse. In the three weeks that I've been away on the bike I've only paid to camp once. There are no facilities of course, but that is accepted as normal here, as with all low population places. Everybody carries a shovel and in the National or State Parks, instead of saying "no camping" they tell you to camp anywhere, but go to toilet away from the streams and to bury it. They have information boards up showing all the 4-wheel drive tracks in the mountains, and saying what precautions to take depending on the season. Quite the opposite of all the signs we've got used to when we go trail riding in Europe.
I've been up the highest mountain they've got which is only 2173m but there are dozens more only slightly lower. All very pleasant rather than spectacular, but almost every day I come across another fabulous road, and think I must have died and gone to heaven. Then it dawns on me that if I was in heaven the beer would be better. You can't have everything I suppose.
Rallies here are just like over there. There's a choice of basic, traditional, bring your own everything types or all singing, all dancing wet T shirt, donut comp., burn-out comp., rock concert types, or anything in between. I've been to both types so far and found out about lots more. I've got one planned every weekend into mid-March so far, roughly heading clockwise round the south-east, with two in Tasmania late February. Also lots of invitations to stay with people. Last Sunday night I was sitting around a camp fire, one of many, everybody lights their own to cook on at the Confusion Rally, talking to a couple from Melbourne, when John Sargent's name cropped up. So I said I knew him and did they know where he lived? Not only that, but they said two of his friends went out for a meal with them a couple of years ago when they were out here on holiday. Somebody called Graham Butler and his friend Mitch. Even smaller world.
It's now Thursday morning, Feb 4th and I'm finishing this in the hammock under a shelter on a council campsite, by yet another river in beautiful hills in the next valley to where last weekend's rally was. By the direct route it's only 100 miles from there to the rally this coming weekend, but I'll be pushing it to get there on time. There are too many nice places to go, rivers to jump in - the last few days it's been hovering around 100F - small out-of-the-way pubs to investigate. All jolly good stuff. Remember when you could find a rural basic pub in England that needed the business and welcomed bike rallies? There's hundreds over here. Bare floorboards and walls, good basic food, quite often their own free campsite by the river. I may be here some time.
If you like to do your touring from one hotel to the next, I've no idea what Australia is like, but it suits what I like. Mind you, I'm still learning. Apparently a lot of perfectly healthy looking trees are rotting from the inside, and tend to go horizontal in the middle of the night when you least expect it. Big buggers too. Last Monday evening I was camped in the woods with lots of thunderclouds building. I heard a roaring noise like an avalanche or tidal wave (not that I've ever heard one of those) but there was no sign of anything, no wind, nothing. For a few minutes it got loader and closer, but I had no idea what it was. Suddenly it hit. The trees went wild and started falling. The edge of the rainstorm was like a waterfall moving closer. I've seen some weather but never been scared like this. There was a solidly built dunny (bog) so I hid in there where, I could watch what was falling and where it was heading. After half an hour, just normal rain and no wind. I now camp under young trees for shade, out of falling distance of the old big ones wherever possible.
This letter didn't get finished. I'm now camped up again in an old gold mining valley. Great winding, narrow, gravel track through the hills, but today the weather changed. Positively cool, although still T-shirt and shorts. I've actually lit a campfire myself this evening, and the tent, the bike, the hammock and of course me are all under a wooden shelter. So it doesn't matter whether it's pissing with rain or hot sun in the morning, I'm sorted. This area actually reminds me of a hotter Yucon, same smells and sounds, but no bears. No great loss when you're camping alone in the woods.
Oh well, on to the next rally tomorrow, then a few more in this south east corner. After that I suppose I'd better start drifting west. There's a whole lot of desert out there that needs living in for a while. Got to get up to put more wood on the fire.
All the best my little koala. (Actually you look more like a possum.)