While I wouldn’t even consider a parallel with the legendary Alistair Cooke and his BBC Radio 4 Letter From America series, I am in America, I haven’t migrated, and as a new experience and adventure for us all it feels time for a brief update on our move to Texas.

They arrived as planned, as scheduled, on time after a very long time apart we are finally back in a family unit, although a little thinned out with our other 2 direct members far and wide.  Along with Lindsay and the kids came the dog, Archie.  From rabies-free Australia he was able to travel on the same flight without quarantine and arrived with Jet Pet in the most expensive dog pod I, or he, has ever owned!  He was pretty pleased to see us when we drove round to Freight to collect him, thought his tail was gonna wag right off!

Within a couple of weeks we had sorted out some basics for the bedrooms; air mattresses are only good for overnight stays right?

Our community has a well presented pool for our use and that became a regular hang out as summer got hold of north Texas.

Then we began the task of enrolling the kids in the local schools, middle for Ted and Scarlett in 8th and 7th grade and elementary for Lottie in 5th grade.  That presented a few challenges with paperwork, vaccination records and the expected red-tape.  The back-to-school nights were chaotic frantic affairs with hundreds of kids and parents wandering around the school rooms and halls but we made it to first day.

School is proving to be a good little stretch, not just for the kids but for us all; for them it’s both for sport and fitness as well as academically; for us it’s keeping our sanity as we dig through time ravaged memory banks to remember dividing fractions, equations, and the awful journey into the mind-bending world of algebra.  Thank heavens for YouTube tutorials and wine!  Goodness knows what they weren’t being taught in Oz because we’ve spent the last few weeks every evening until late going through maths homework; fractions, decimals, improper, proper, negative numbers, composites… and so on.

I see a very old school system of learning developing here with much repetitive practice of calculations, all working to be shown, and, unusually in this world of PC, wrong ones marked wrong, in red, but with time spent working out why.

Not something we saw in the school curriculum at home.  That’s not to say it wasn’t getting taught, I’m sure some schools it was, maybe we never saw it.

And they’re all very up to date on technology here, with online access portals for us to view all the kids work, class, homework and projects, almost as they are finishing it.

The home is coming together after having to sell a lot of furniture so as not to have to pay to ship it, we are slowly putting things back in place.

And of course there’s Texas. Texas plods on, its nodding iron donkeys pumping crude out of the ground irrespective of what we think or do.  Its weather is still very hot; a slight let up with some rain and cooler temps coming but it definitely has the jump on Sydney for the heat.  People spent August dodging from air conditioned cars to their homes, their offices and into shops for the cool again.  Locals park in a car park and prefer a 100 yard walk to the shop door over a parking place right outside because they found the tree to park under!  And when I say hot I mean hot.  Fahrenheit is the preferred choice of confusion over here and we probably haven’t seen a daytime temperature below 90F (32C) since early June and for most of August, 40-odd days straight, it never dipped below 100F (38C) during the day and 80F at night. The temperature in your parked car that wasn’t under a tree was easily 120F!  So it’s hot alright.

They continue to drive at whatever speed they want to.  It seems the norm is to drive at about 5-10mph over the posted speed everywhere, but you will still be passed by many cars anyway.

Our second nectar of life, gasoline is now at a heady $1.95 for a yank gallon and even though that comes up short of a real gallon by half a litre, it’s still a nice feeling standing there with the fuel hose glugging away into the 28 gallon tank of the Chev and seeing the bill top out around 55 bucks!

Even nicer when you plant the throttle and hear the huge ol’ V8 chug back the unleaded without worrying about it!

But the horror of drivers and mobile phones is along every mile and at every intersection as it reaches plague proportions here.  I’m not kidding when I say that every 4th car might contain someone who is NOT on their phone, whether texting, calling, browsing or just playing with the damn things there are some very scary moments to be avoided.  There are no fines for it, and it is currently not against the law in Texas to use one while driving as long as you are over 18, not a school bus driver, not in a school zone and not on a learner permit!

San Antonio and Austin have however introduced 500 and 200 dollar fines for using them while driving so perhaps the other big cities will follow.  One can only hope so.

Some of the habits and trends I don’t have a problem with and the general “go about your business your way, so long as no-one gets uptight about it” is fine with me, (except for phone use while driving!)  I quite like it with everything else in fact.

And what about guns I hear you cry?  What indeed?  The argument for and against will rage on long after I’m not here, I don’t have one, nor particularly want one.  I do love the engineering and beautiful craftsmanship that goes into making them.  If I stay here a very long time I might take up recreational shooting at targets and beer cans at my mate’s hunting lease whereupon any gun I might own would stay locked in his safe.  To be able to safely and expertly handle firearms can only be a good thing, I have no desire to ever go and shoot animals to kill them for trophies, but I might assist in obtaining some freezer stock.  Deer and boar are quite tasty…

And then there’s the beer.  Maybe Texas isn’t famous for beer, the US certainly has a reputation in some parts of the world for watery, too cold, fizzy stuff that’s only good for a refreshing headache but that’s Miller Lite.  There is a brewery in Shiner Texas, started by a German migrant that produces a fine range of beers.  Long may they continue.  And a 12 pack should only rush you a bit over 10 bucks.  If I were to make a comparison with Australia’s best offerings… well I won’t alright.

And of course America is making global headlines with its race for a new president next year.  The range of characters is wide and varied, if not widely interesting, the options for those who have to vote are quite worrying and I’m sure you’ve heard of America’s very own Clive Palmer, Mr. Donald Trump.  Says what he means, or what people are thinking, speaks the truth (really?) and only wants what’s best for the people and the country – sound familiar? – He has a lot of followers.

But then so does Hilary Clinton, although perhaps Jeb Bush might be struggling.  The thought of a third Bush in charge of the USS Nimitz (and the one named after his dad!) is just too scary for even for the most die-hard supporters.  It remains to be seen who will end up in the actual race to the Whitehouse.

September has seen the 14th memorial service to honour and remember those lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon back in 2001.  I remember it as though it were yesterday watching the whole thing unfold live on the internet from my office in Vienna…

Ted has made the football team for his school, not soccer this year but football.  We watched his first scrimmage the other night at a local stadium and it looked impressive.  All the 6:15 am training sessions are paying off, he’s gone from the B team as a cornerback to the A-team for a full game and enjoying every minute.  Football in America is big, probably bigger than anything, anywhere in any other part of the world.  Even the coaches for college football are on handsome salaries for a year, it’s huge.

Scarlett meanwhile is aiming for the basketball team and we managed to score a real tidy hoop from the local internet garage sale that stands in the street outside the house for practice.

And Lottie is keen to explore some gymnastics but currently more intent on getting her hands on Henry, who you will be wondering about for a while to come…

There hasn’t been another road trip to really sample more of America but we’re working on it…

Advertisements

North Texas – loads of flat, open countryside, miles of endless straight concrete roads.  East Arkansas – large areas of twisting, hilly countryside, tarmac roads with intact surfaces, good markings and lots of bends.

So we head for Arkansas.

Concerned the ’77 Z650 I rode to Austin MotoGP  earlier in the year wouldn’t make the anticipated 1000 mile thrash we decided to rent a more reliable steed – just in case.  It was German.  I have recurring dreams about them.  We’d be fighting over the keys.  I won most of the time but I’m bigger than my mate and my legs are longer which helped, coz he couldn’t reach the ground at stop lights!  A 2014 R1200GS, 16,000 kms on the clock with Conti Attack tyres.

We’d picked it up the night before and dropped it at my place for a normal take off time the next morning.

Well helloWell hello…

I couldn’t resist a quick midnight fang just to see what was in store for the trip.  Lots of smiles on the short loop with its brutal bolt of speed, giddy eyeballs at the stunning brakes.  It would have you off the back or over the ‘bars if you weren’t physically strong enough to hang on.

Leaving North Texas wasn’t very noteworthy, so no notes.  In Oklahoma I chuckled at numerous signs pointing out one of America’s best known phenomena; Bigfoot.  Yes, he’s alive and well hiding in a wood near Honobia.

After 300km of scenery reminiscent of rural NSW and aside from having the handlebars on the wrong side of the road, I was infatuated with the bike.  Its controls worked so well, the cruise control – new to me – was superb.  I clicked through its readout, 49mpg or 4.8l/100km. We sped on, eager to get to Mena and wash the dust from our throats.

Mena and we checked our gear in the cabin, at the diner the first beers didn’t touch the sides and dinner/late lunch was first class.  In the Harley shop next door we got recommendations for riding the Pig Trail including road conditions.  Apparently some of it had slipped away in a rain-induced landslide but was passable.  I thought anything’s passable on what I’m riding.

An evening on the verandah with cold refreshments beckoned but there are no liquor shops or “bottle-o’s” in Mena.  In Arkansas some counties are dry, so you have to go searching for it.

The pannier equipped H-D and Ducati came into their own as cargo mules but so did Rok straps.  Back into Oklahoma to a low lying shed we passed on the road and we ducked inside for a quick one.  The bright outside sunshine was painful on the eye as we entered the dimly lit bar, adjusting to the dark I registered where we were, the American movie scene struck me.  A true drinking den, swirling smoke, the pool table, the “Coors” light hanging over it, the bar regulars all lined up, beers in front, smokes in hand.  Beers all round and we queried if we could order some take-aways.

“Sure, it’s gotta go through the window though, them’s the rules.  You can order it at the bar, but it’s gotta go out the window…”

Out the window“Out the window…”

A short time later and sturdy Armadillo brand brown paper bags were being piled into panniers and a lone case of Shiner Bock sat on the “window” ledge.  Companions looked at me wide-mouthed and then commented about not being able to get back to the cabin without losing the case of beer.  They even made me ride at the back in case of accidental jettisoning.

I haven’t dropped a single beer yet, I wasn’t about to, nor did I, Rok saw to that.  Although we did get a couple of funny looks back in Mena, having no brown paper bag meant it was pretty obvious what was on the back!

A quiet night was the order of events, Saturday was for riding.

It didn’t disappoint either, we set out in ½ wets as skies were grey and light rain dampened the roads.  I put the Panzer in “rain” mode, selected while stopped and in N. Our route took us north through Y City – yes, it’s called Y City, you guess why – and Ozark for fuel and gas-station coffee, then we hit the “Pig Trail”.  The history of its name is one you’ll have to look up, but the scenery is certainly wild hog country and although only about 15 or 20 long miles it’s worth the ride.  It zigs and zags through very pretty backdrops deep in the Ozark National Forest.  For sheer beauty and colour it would be best to visit in the Autumnal Fall.  “Rain” mode dulls the GS’s power delivery noticeably so there’s no inadvertent wheel spinning but it’s a rider thing.  You go at it with too much twist then you’re gonna need a rider aid.  Go back to basics and feed throttle in with a delicate touch and it’s perfectly possible to ride the GS in the soaking wet in “road” mode, which is more useful in the showers because it’s not possible to switch modes on the fly.

Some of the Pig Trail had indeed slipped off the road into the forest but we didn’t need any off-road techniques, not even any gravel, just a short traffic signal control section.  Along route 16 and the whole run was traffic free, both from dreaded tourist cars and wind-in-the-hair helmet-less Harley riders.

A country store appeared so i pulled in for a break.  Wets off.  Drinks, snacks, and a chat with ‘Stumps’ at the ‘Who’d A Thought It’. I never asked where the name for the shop came from.  Maybe to do with the contents of the shelves, the usual sweets, drinks and snacks but also ornamental armadillos, tools, car spares, toys, books, gas cans, antique farm tools, maps and maybe guns; who’d a though it heh?  Oh, and ‘Stumps’?  In between ‘bacco spits he recalled how he lost all four fingers on his left hand when he…

“put ma Harley down at a ton 60, an’ had the clutch lever take ‘em all clean off, you wanna watch ‘dem there Harleys boy…”

Interesting character if only for a Road King that could do 160mph!

Who'd A Thought ItWho’d A Thought It…

Setting off again we scooted through Deer constantly on the lookout for them and cut off along the route 123 where my affiliation to the BMW Motorrad brand finally became set in stone.

Pushing the twisties I was far too close to the leading Multistrada.  We had no ride rules as such and it wasn’t a club thing with road captains and all that so I simply waited for a space and wafted past in 6th.

The GS just took off with its water cooled horsepower blitzing the tarmac sending the thing rocketing down the road.  I don’t consider myself a fast rider, I wouldn’t push things stupidly on a public road, I simply have too much to live for and not enough talent or skill to show off.  But the bike made it all so easy to ride exhilaratingly fast. The engineers have played with its frame dynamics, taken its steering geometry and refined and refined it over and over.  They’ve blessed it with tractable horsepower manageable by even the most ham-fisted of riders, they’ve fettled its brakes to be as close to perfect as it is possible to get.  It looks fantastic in a geeky kind of engineer-built way, its performance belies that iconic goofy look and it goes.  Man oh man it sure as hell goes.  It goes so well it just takes off.  And here I was loving Arkansas and it just took off!

Into corners feeling as if on rails, no front end brake-induced dive, throttle on, drive the corner, counter it into the bend radius and hold line.  Sniff of corner exit, feed in millimetres of throttle and it sings its way out of the bend, let it fully straighten then wring the twist grip’s neck as 90-110 blinks  below sight line.  And this is America – mph not kmh.  Next curve, gear down, 2 fingers stroke the brake lever, lightly dip the right toe, and in again for another whoop-de-whoop corner ride.  Faded Italian LED headlights flicker in the mirrors… Still no cars, no traffic.

We talked late into Saturday night, cleared out the fridge, a lot of it centered around the GS, and surprisingly a lot of the talk from people who never even thought a BMW could be so fast.

On Sunday we headed home and rode high up in elevation along Skyline Drive into Oklahoma, visibility was down to just 3 marker lines in the centre of the road and the mist and rain meant the only view was of very dim tail lights.  But it cleared and we stopped at a couple of viewing areas.  I took a while to reflect on the trip; the stand out?  The BMW, hands down.

It’s going to have to be a very special bike indeed that veers me off course now.  It’s a brilliant bike.

BrilliantBrilliant…

So what’s been going on to have ended up in Texas?  Basically the usual rejoin the hum-drum rat-race all-work no-play lifestyle really.  Australia has treated us well and continues to be a safe and beautiful place to be in, but the part of it we’ve ended up in has also become horribly expensive, stiflingly overcrowded and just a little too fraught and frayed around the edges, subsequently presenting more challenges to overcome than pleasures to be enjoyed.

Recently while sitting in the local doctor’s waiting room I read a properly made, laminated sign stuck to the counter next to the usual ‘please register and take a seat’ sign.  This one read;

“Verbal or physical abuse of staff at this surgery will not be accepted, if anyone verbally or physically abuses any member of staff they will be asked to refrain or the police will be called. Thank you”

What!  Perhaps expected in the local cop shop, but in the doctors!  And there’s even the polite little “thank you” at the end of it.  That’ll make the thug on the end of the foul tongue or fist take notice.  So I asked myself, what is this place coming to?  It’s similar on the roads for the daily commute.  Road rage has probably always been around but it’s uglier, people are more wound up, more highly strung and always in a screaming hurry to get anywhere in a lot of parts of Sydney.

This unfortunately has been a major aspect to have upset me these last many months.

Now I can hear the cries; “What on earth have you gone to America for then?”  Surely they don’t have the reputation of being a peace loving, easy going nation?

Well might you be mistaken though, because strangely enough I’m not in America per se, I’m in Texas.  And they would appear to be different.  Like being from Berlin is different to being German.  And of course the Texans, and many of them, have guns.  So here’s the deal; are you going to pull alongside someone in the traffic and start gesturing hand signs at them, rolling down the window and hurling abuse?  Are you going to chuck a brick through a back door window and go for a sneaky look round someone’s house and pinch stuff?  Probably not if you were to stop and think about it for a second or 2. And even then, perhaps only if you fancy chewing the business end of a 12 gauge Browning.  They sell special cartridges in the camping shop for “home dee-fence”.  Normal shotgun cartridge with 4 lead balls the size of glass marbles inside which will cut you in half if you’re nosing around somewhere you “aint” welcome!

So I reckon this kind of silent peacekeeper (there’s an oxymoron in there somewhere) is sort of welcome and fitting.  I’m under no illusions however, it’s not Utopia we’re moving to for a while, it has social issues like anywhere else, and of course, I only hope it stays silent and peaceful.

2014 wasn’t a dull year; we had several events that happened along the way.  Our eldest son became a proud father for a second time with another boy to join the Clan, so if his hands weren’t full before they certainly are now!  And our lovely Zoe reached the ripe old age of 21, celebrated in style with a party night at the Rocks in Sydney under the shadow of the magnificent Harbour Bridge.  And for us we received another landlord notice to get packing and had to move out of our ‘beach house’, which turned out for the best as we ended up in a much nicer place in a real kid-friendly street.  Only trouble was we had to furnish it!

We spent a lot of time on the road in 2014 traveling between the cold and temporary ‘beach house’ that we didn’t want to be in at weekends up to our little piece of Australia where we very much did want to be, the country retreat.  Getting there was always the challenge on a Friday afternoon, being there on Saturday morning is always magical; it’s sorely missed, so hard to reach, even harder to leave.

Among many other trips for me, there was a fabulous motorcycle ride to a rally at Dargo in Victoria and on it a realization that there’s something better out there.  Another such road trip was to Phillip Island MotoGP with son Ted on the back of the Suzuki.  Free of home, rules and schools we rode a total of 2400km for 6 days to the hallowed track on the granite bluff facing one of the world’s grumpiest oceans.  We hotelled it, we camped at the track and generally had a fantastic time mucking about and imbibing in petrol passion.  The race was a classic tussle with a great result, the people we met were mates we rode with, and the company was top class.  I couldn’t have asked for a more genial, fun to be with companion.

And then there were some major changes to my employment situation that took me from roaming around the countryside of NSW doing inspections and audits to being fixed to an office chair staring at documents all day, every day, no change in sight.  Those dreary changes finally watered down any enthusiasm and we started exploring opportunities abroad with a vacation in USA.  Dallas, Texas to be exact.  It worked out well; we tasted a lifestyle we all wanted a little more of and laid the foundations for a more full time move.  Further negotiations came good and here I am writing this from Texas with plans for some family members to join me soon.

My first impressions have been very good, people are extremely friendly and as laid back as any Australian I ever met, perhaps more so.  The economics of the place are favourable too, with obvious stand-outs like petrol, or gas as I’m learning to say, and groceries.   Utilities haven’t reached bank account walloping levels (yet), service industry is alive and kicking but there are a few downsides like insurance for just about everything you can think of, although it too is very similarly priced and structured to Australia.

I arrived at the beginning of the calendar year and all my seasons were upside down with the US gripped in the middle of a winter, news bulletins were full of snow reports and chaotic weather conditions across the north-east of the country.  I was told by many it doesn’t get like that here in Texas.

Four weeks in and Dallas had its winter ice-storm event.  Tiny balls of ice fall like rain covering everything as if it were snow, the temperature goes haywire, first it goes up to create lots of wet surfaces then plummets to freeze everything solid with a smooth, jelly-feel ice.  Venturing outside just onto the pavement is nothing short of treacherous and highly unadvisable.  And then there’s the driving.  As if it wasn’t enough of a challenge for the locals when the weather is fine, dry and sunny, they sometimes get foolish enough to try driving in these conditions…

So that all cleared up after a few days but then came the start of what has turned out to be very unseasonal weather.  First it snowed!  Very unusual in this part of the state but there was over 6 inches (see inches, I’ve lost my metric head!) on my car one morning and I hate the stuff; frozen water is good for one thing and that’s to put in drinks.

More slidey sideways driving, more danger and high risk on the roads but it went away and things brightened up for a few weeks as we sped into Spring.

April brought the opportunity for a road trip on the bikes down to Austin and the Circuit Of The Americas for the US round of Moto GP.  I was loaned a beautifully restored 1977 Z650 Kawasaki and we had great 3 day trip.  The roads were quite different once out of the suburban area where I have settled and country north Texas is quite a pleasant place to roam around.  The unseasonal weather continued and we never saw a drop of rain all trip.

But back in Dallas and the rain started to fall… and fall… and fall some more.  It seemed to rain for something like forty days and forty nights and perhaps an Ark may well have been a good idea.  Flash flooding which became extremely dangerous hit all over North Texas.  Parts of Houston were badly affected, people lost lives, the levees along the Trinity river in downtown Dallas came into force as the water began to creep up their banks.  For a while there wasn’t a day go by without rain, thunder, lightning and tornado warnings further north toward Oklahoma.

Everything turned a vibrant green and then the summer arrived.  Temperatures sail every day into the high 30 Celsius or the old familiar high 90’s Fahrenheit.  The humidity hits hard too, for there is no ocean to blow it away and I have a feeling that this part of the world is going to eclipse Sydney for summer heat.

Back up now to the plans for the family to fly over from Oz and join me, and we’re in a slightly different place to the situation when we flew into the sunset from Switzerland ten years ago.  Everyone is just that little bit older, friendships are a little more established and the bottom line is that there’s a lot more at risk this time around…  But the tickets are booked, the boxes of stuff have been packed for shipping, and all that along with my most precious of cargos is on the way.

A motorcycle club gathering in the depths of the Alpine National Park at a pretty little grassy spot beside the Crooked River past Dargo into Talbotville, Victoria, an historic mining township long since closed and gone.

Dargo’s a long way from Sydney, in fact it’s a bout 900km give or take so the journey started on Friday with an overnight stop planned at a hotel pub along the way.

Skies were grey and rain was trying its best to break out of the heavens as we set off from Kingsford in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. And it still looked bleak at the Bald Hill lookout, Stanwell Tops.

Our blast up the twisty Macquarie Pass was almost compromised by some seriously slow tourists and a truck that couldn’t help but be slow, soon overtaken as we climbed into the cold.

It stayed cold for the entire journey from the top of the pass to the hotel in Orbost 600km later, heated grips on half setting, winter gloves and liners in jackets.

A bit past Goulburn onto the Braidwood Road and just after Bungendore the Strom needed a drink by Queanbeyan where we left the mediocre roads behind and headed for Cooma. The Monaro Highway took us south through Nimmitabel for a pie stop at Bombala around 3 in the afternoon.

Crossed the border into Victoria, road surfaces deteriorated, Nanny-State signs proliferated about doing this and not doing that, and the faint whiff of a cold beer could be had in the air as our destination for Friday at the tiny old Bellbird Motel in Bellbird Creek became a reality. As in all good trip planning books, guides and lists I asked if Jeff had phoned ahead with a booking.

“Well I did end up thinking about it fleetingly…” He said.

That’ll work then.

Cann River we filled up again with what was euphemistically labelled 100RON Octane fuel sadly containing up to 10% ethanol, which probably didn’t bother the cast-iron guts of the GSA, but certainly seemed to upset the Strom’s more sensitive tummy. Manifesting itself as a maddening stall at extremely vital moments like slowing for a roundabout to make a quick pass through when just as you nail the throttle you realise the motor’s asleep!

The evening was closing in and the Bellbird Motel appeared on the left with a tellingly empty car park and although there was a steady plume of smoke rising from the chimney the whole place looked like something from a cheap rate horror movie. Never mind Wolf Creek, this was Bellbird Creek.

Convinced we’d find someone home, after knocking on all the doors and windows we sat down awhile to wait. And wait.

Finally after photos, a chat, a pee-tree-stop, a visit from a passing thirsty motorist who left quicker than she arrived, we binned the whole idea to find digs in Orbost. Dark had fallen as we arrived and the grand old Marshall’s Commonwealth Hotel welcomed us with open arms, an open kitchen and best of all an open BAR!

35 bucks for a single with shared amenities, too good to pass up and with a good feed on offer plus a few coldies that polished Friday off good and proper.

Refreshed from a top sleep in what could be described as a comfy bed, even if it was forty years old with a shagged mattress – and I reckon shagged was the key word – the showers were piping hot and we went in search of breakfast. Found and demolished at the excellent ‘Orbo.St’ Bakery – superb pies, home of the Great Orbost Meat Pie actually, good coffee and top service –bikes packed we shot through to Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale.

Another top up of 98 V-power in Bairnsdale to try and water down the iffy Cann River petrol and it was off to Dargo.

This is a motorcyclist’s road made in heaven through beautiful countryside, reminding me a little of Switzerland with its rolling hills and pine forests. The Dargo Hotel is another gem from this trip, a pub established in 1868 and still looking like and feeling like it was from an era long gone. Uncharacteristically for a rally we were early, very early and so could relax and take in the beautiful spring weather with a beer in the pub and bite to eat from the General Store. Recommended.

With only 30 km to the camp area we topped up panniers with supplies for an easy run in and then 20k’s on the dirt, most of which was ok, even if a bit hard going in places on suspension and wrists if you travelled it at any reasonable speed because of the bare rock exposed on the track. Slow down, take it easy and check out the stunning views and sheer drops of the surrounds. A good idea all round really, and the easiest way to get into these rallies on any kind of bike. Contrary to what some believe a round-the-world specc’d up Teutonic 2 wheeler is not required to participate!

The rally evening was the usual meeting and gathering of die-hard souls, drinking buddies new and old and at the raffle ticket draw we had some unexpected entertainment with a group of orange-clad dirt bike riders turning up at the crossing of the Crooked River. To the tune of much cheering and goading we had hoped they would take the plunge but they shied off and went to hide in the trees like scared marsupials.

Not to be deterred one of the assembled dedicated rallyists, fuelled by VB courage fired up his XL Honda – well somebody helped him – and lined up for the plunge. We held our collective breath as he ploughed into the icy Crooked River, stumbling not once he made the crossing to rapturous applause, sped off up the track and returned 5 minutes later to show them the right direction for the crossing. But still not one of the hardy Kato bunch was brave enough and they all high-tailed it along the track.

With dinner done and dusted a well fed camp fire, good red wine and a load of old rubbish to talk about the Dargo Rally was a good place to be.

Sunday morning packed up and took the Dargo High Plains Rd across about 60km of dirt to Livingstone and into Omeo on the bitumen for a well-earned coffee and pie! Fuel tanks topped off, quick stop at the weird Dog Tree where local farmers hang the shot carcasses of pesky wild dogs, and a push for Corryong and Khancoban.

The Alpine Way is another road made in heaven for bikes with top condition bitumen, beautifully paced sweeping bends and very little traffic and we pushed along with a quick stop at the Geehi Hut. A few more photos of Skippy, a final stop for one of real Aussie snow and then through Thredbo and Jindabyne where weekend skiers were finishing up for the day before joining the queue bound for return to metropolis. It was cold for sure but the road surface didn’t quite turn icy and the roadside Emus stayed put.

With yet still another few hours riding back to Sydney we had dinner in Cooma and took a steady ride through darkness properly illuminated with Rigid Industries LED’s having to dodge only one suicidal fox who decided to lay down in the blast of the lights in the vague hope he wouldn’t be seen, before darting out of the way a split second before the GSA took him out.

With one final fill at the services on the Hume it was freeway home to stand under a hot shower and fall into bed, bike left in garage to be unpacked the next day.

 

Follow this link to pictures;

https://www.flickr.com/photos/111199495@N06/sets/72157647678867071/

Avoca FC 12B boys team had been at the top of the league for long enough to get a little laid back and easy going. The last few matches became more than a tussle for the boys to get back to the top. A couple of losses to the second best team and they had to win their last-chance game for a spot in the Grand Final. With some spirited football and inspirational coaching they nailed a 2-0 victory for that place.

On a rainy morning full of promise they turned up at the local surf club for their ride to the game. The manager had set them a challenge throughout the year; win the league and get to the Grand Final and you’ll be going in a limo.

DSC_0790

DSC_0779

 

DSC_0778

 

DSC_0811

The league was in the bag from a couple of games back and that 2-0 win sealed the huge white stretched Hummer now sitting with the music blaring waiting to take the boys to the game. On reflection it probably wasn’t the best way to prepare for the biggest game of the year, but good fun anyway.

When our supporters turned up at the game the drizzling rain had been going all morning and due to other fixtures the big game kicked off 10 minutes earlier than scheduled. Yet another element that sent the plan slightly off track, for not more than five minutes into the game and a completely scrappy defence from our boys had arms and legs everywhere and a goal slipped by.

Now the pressure was on.

As the rain drenched their bodies we could see little cracks appearing in their resolve. Missed kicks, fumbled tackles and frustrated moves, but they kept trying and as good as the opponents were, the Avoca 12B’s kept up the pace and more importantly, kept trying.

Half time was the turning point, as the little group huddled out on the pitch, the grey skies and gloomy rain still trying to wash us all off the field; words of encouragement were the order of the day from Coach. He must’ve been in these situations many a time as an ex-professional premier league player from years gone by. This was his last chance to guide the boys from languishing behind to getting back the place they deserved. We watched as animated outstretched arms pointed, gentle firm words prevailed and then the second half was go.

DSC_0814

The Coach had definitely talked ‘em up at half time and they came out ready to go, with a fluke of a kick from the half way line that soared through the air, we all watched it come down straight through the only gap between the goalkeeper’s reaching fingertips and the cross-bar to rapturous applause and they were back on target at 1-1.

But the other team had no intentions of rolling over and giving away anything and we still had it all to do. That goal was definitely a lift for the boys out there in the non-stop rain but it was more decisive egging on from Coach on the sidelines that fired up our number 4, the Big Defender. An attack came too close for comfort and he had no choice but to get rid of it, seizing the moment and literally taking the ball off the attacker. The chance then came for a run down the field and with grit in his teeth and sheer determination he ran his heart out taking the ball all the way into their box where the ref blew up for some kind of offside infringement. Never mind, it was just what the Coach ordered. And it fed through the others too as they took possession and drove the ball toward the opponents goal at every single chance.

DSC_0831

 

DSC_0841

The minutes ticked by, the game stuck in that desperate stalemate with extra time and the dreaded penalty shoot-outs looming.

Ted in defence

DSC_0849

DSC_0851

 

At full time it still stood at a goal apiece. No time for letting off the pace and after a short break and some more wise words, 5 minutes of extra time to be played each way with Golden Goal kicked off. Golden Goal is the heartbreaker because unlike some other tournament rules the first to score wins and only if it finishes with no goals after extra time does it go to penalties.

So it couldn’t have been more tense as the pressure built up within the group of family and friends all cheering their boys on. As quick as they kicked off within just a couple of minutes it happened. The ball got loose from the pack and the run was on, they chased and chased, closer to goal, closer to victory and then with no choice but to pass to someone with a bit more space, it really was do or die. Lining up, clean shot at goal, no-one close enough and a sensational roar of willpower from the sidelines and that ball was going nowhere except the back of the net.

The opponents net!

It was in, 2-1 they had it in the bag home and dry. Champions! And the moment was all the more glorious for it was our top goal scorer who had so unselfishly passed the ball to fellow striker in a true move of teamwork. Every one of those Avoca lads deserved the win thoroughly. They were justifiably elated and as the handshakes went round between the players it was quite a shame that a team from such a good pair had to go home without the trophy. Hard luck to the opponents.

Ted Heatley 2014 Avoca FC 12B Champions

 

DSC_0894

DSC_0874

DSC_0927

 

Somehow our son Ted appears to have taken a stretch, legs or torso, he’s taller this week than he was a couple of weeks ago. It happens like that, kids seem to increase in size almost overnight. The same goes for their attitudes as well and since he’s just returned from a week-long year 6 school camp featuring heavily on peer relationships without parents I’m not at all surprised at a little extra bite in his outlook on life.

But that’s not entirely a bad thing when it comes to the soccer field. Ted’s football playing career has come on leaps and bounds (no, he’s not a goalkeeper) in the last season or two. Starting with the Heathcote Waratah under 9’s team he picked up a position in the back line, heartily encouraged by a clever coach who could really visualise how a game could be played and won. It’s not easy putting young lads into defender positions in any football team as they all want to be a number one striker, banging goals into the back of the net to the cheers and applause of their team mates, Mums, Dads and onlookers.

And so it was with Ted early on, we had quite a few open chats where I would explain such strategies as goal difference, championships won and lost on a single point down to a single goal that sneaked past the defence and caught the goalkeeper off guard. Slowly he came to realise that the back line was as important as the mid-field and the front row and he became more and more confident when the Waratahs were up against a hard attacking team where his clearance skills were heavily relied upon to keep those opponent goals out of the net.

Building on this he went on to develop skills in communicating with the others in the defence line, reminding his team mates of marking close and keeping the door shut. After a near championship win in 2012 he went on to play for the Wingham Warriors and his defending skills were a refreshing surprise and top talent addition to the team, regularly keeping goals out and the Warriors near the top of the table.

This year the skillset has truly expanded and he now has time to play the ball, take on other players, look around for space and team mates up front and push the ball through with accurate passes. His team mates look to him for a bit of guidance here and there and the coach, who this year is an ex-premiere league player from years ago in the UK, is using Ted to great effect as they currently work through the games to play.

Those of you who know me may find this piece as something of a surprise, my football skills have been limited for years to nothing more than a heckling or light hearted derision of grown men running around chasing a leather covered goat bladder. Rooney, Giggs and Beckham are laughing on the other sides of their million bucks a week faces though!

But I am enjoying this year more than ever and the tension is rising as we get closer to the season end which is shaping up to be a thriller for the last few games. So, if you ever see Ted Heatley’s name on a UK team’s football shirt, he’ll have succeeded in making himself and a lot of other people very happy, including his Dad.

Where has the time gone? When I last looked there was a newborn baby, and that was years ago. Each morning I awake the first thoughts are those of looking forward to weekends, which are precious time off work.

But, where’s the Adventure? The exploration that brings the events that happen as fun, that make you laugh, make you fear, cry, think, see, react and do, the things that just make each day different to the drab, hum-drum shit that is the rat race.

Life is tiny compared to the many things nature made; we are even tinier. If life were looked upon as if it were a journey from beginning to end, birth to death, then we only have a few decades of opportunity and it’s not a very long road to travel.

The destination is not important, we all end up there anyway, but the journey is the only opportunity to live, it should always be first.

If you end up saying “it’s great that we’re here”, then you probably didn’t get the journey part.

Mark Twain is credited for writing, among hundreds of wonderfully prophetic verses, the following;

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore Dream. Discover.”

Every year the internet group of VStrom riders get together somewhere in the country for a weekend of catching up and yarning over all things Suzuki. I’m not a one make rider but I have been to a couple of gatherings and met some interesting characters so I made the trip up from NSW Central Coast over the weekend of 17/18 May to Esk in Queensland.

Left on Thursday to ride up to Elands where I could spend the night at our home there and enjoy a few kilometres of dirt up the mountainous Bulga Road and across to Comboyne. The last stretch of Oxley Highway on tar into Wauchope and then on up to Urunga to visit an ex work colleague made for a great Friday morning start.

Urunga Boat Ramp

Urunga Boat Ramp

The Waterfall Way through to Dorrigo was glorious on a sunny empty Friday morning and apart from one little hold-up, which I cleared at some road works the run through Bostobrick to the Armidale Road was car free. Grafton came and went and then a dull stretch to Casino before stopping overnight at Kyogle. The camp site at the edge of town is clean and quiet and at just ten bucks for an overnight stop, irresistible!

10 bucks, no barking dogs, clean showers!

10 bucks, no barking dogs, clean showers!

There’s 2 pubs in town, with very distinct differences in atmosphere. Tradies and cattlemen gather at the Exchange Hotel to wrap up their days, while the more genteel retirees congregate at the Commercial which has carpet and a quieter ambient noise level. Both have a meat tray raffle and the beer is cheaper at the Exchange as well, just another reason to savour its timber faced walls and local historic flavour.

After breakfast in town, I headed off for the Lions Road over into Queensland where it becomes Running Creek Road to Rathdowney. Never having ridden this road before I wasn’t sure what to expect, although the writings about it being a community project gave me a pretty good idea on what the surface would be like. There’s no doubt it’s a fantastic road to ride on a bike, wouldn’t be so liberating in a car, because from the saddle I didn’t just ride the road, I felt the countryside through it. The early morning sunlight was spectacular and the rays backlit the whispy heads of silver grasses turning the roadside banks white. The climbing sun speckled the reflections from the many creek crossings, silhouetted the wings of the wedge tail, and left me with an everlasting memory as I reached the border. I wasn’t alone either, there were many groups of bikes out on the road, but there’s something unique and appealing to me about riding alone.

Lions Road form Kyogle

Turn off for the Lions Road

Grieve Crossing Richmond River

The Grieve Crossing at the Richmond River

DSC_0471

Queensland and some odd signs about rabbits…

After Rathdowney, I headed for Boonah and then on to the southern suburbs of Ipswich before a short run to Esk past Wivenhoe Dam. There were friends at the campsite, so the damp tent from Friday night was duly opened and set up, before we headed off for a fang up to Crows Nest and back, chasing our interloping colleague’s Multistrada 1200 which rapidly disappeared into the distance like some kind of ballistic missile. But that meant the coffees were waiting up the road for us!

The campsite at Esk

The campsite at Esk

So many uses for an aluminium pannier! The Esk-ee.

So many uses for an aluminium pannier! The Esk-ee.

Once back in Esk I topped up the tank with fuel, my new ally panniers with take-aways and throttled the first coldie of the day! Saturday night was a good mix of familiar faces and new ones, most people happy to talk all things V Strom and then a few of us wandered down to the fireplace where quite a healthy little fire gathered watchers and chattering til it was time to retire.

A Big Breakfast at Enigma cafe in town set things up for an even bigger trip ahead. Personally I wouldn’t eat there again, things were a little too overcooked, but it was a good enough start.

Homeward bound on the A15 Cunningham Highway and soon I could see things were going to get boring. It was straight and a long way to Tenterfield in NSW but saviour came with a friendly chat at the servo at Spicer’s Gap where an alternative back road route along part of the Settlers Route through Freestone, Killarney and Legume was suggested.

Heading home

Heading home

At Legume I picked up a sign towards Tenterfield which took me on to the Mount Lindesay Road and this I followed all the way to Tenterfield, the other direction would’ve taken me to Woodenbong. A good run into the National Park with some dirt although it started to rain lightly but the surface was good enough. Wilson’s Downfall – allegedly named after Mr George Wilson who had a “capsize”, presumably vehicular, along the way – past Boonoo Boonoo State Forest and out onto bitumen at Tenterfield.

From here my journey became one of decision. Should I decide to find an overnight stop, or should I decide to ride on toward NSW Central Coast for home? Filling up at Uralla around 4pm, putting 400km into the tank brought home that much closer, the statue of Captain Thunderbolt made the decision for me and I would push on to Gosford. Obviously we all know the hazards of traveling by road at night in Australia, particularly through forests and parks but I was to be lucky this Sunday night, encountering only one sole possum wandering around on the road somewhere in the Bretti Reserve along Thunderbolts Way. Blinded by the LED Cree’s he stopped in his tracks and I managed to slow enough for him to stotter off out of harm’s way.

Gloucester was quiet enough, closed in fact, so it wouldn’t have been worth stopping anyway and once out onto the Pacific Highway I could sense the welcome feelings of home. And after some 800km of riding the last 120km became the hardest and most boring. Probably due to the enormous concentration of the twisty roads and constant scanning for suicidal marsupials, my mind had been very occupied. Now, with nothing more than a few car tail lights and the odd truck I just wanted the trip to be over.

And after some 13 hours in the saddle with 920km under the tyres I rolled into the driveway. The weekend had seen 2,113km covered and with 104 litres of unleaded run through the pipes, the VStrom had returned a very respectable 4.9l/100km. So good in fact, I’ll probably go for a ride again soon…

Dangar Falls

Dangar Falls

Running Creek

Running Creek

The most undignified of motorcyclist’s manoeuvres – ‘the Off’ – happened to me last year for the first time but fortunately it only resulted with minor cosmetic amendments to the V Strom.

Since getting back into the saddle after the mandatory raise the young family lay-off I’ve covered considerable distances on a weekly basis while commuting from country NSW to Sydney. Some of the commute has been on dirt roads and this prompted the trade of a motorcycle I fell head over heels in petrol love with to something more suitable for the commuting.

So, the Harley with its hot-dog pipes was traded for a Suzuki V-Strom, the big brother DL1000, not the more nimble six-fifty. In fact I didn’t even know they made the 650 ‘til a few weeks after I bought the thow, but I only had to do one trip home on the twin pipe machine to instantly appreciate its competence – long distance freeway lounge chair and dirt road challenger fall readily into its resume.  Cruising at rally speed [1] on the freeway is effortless and there’s plenty of grunt in reserve to drag its lardy frame up to ‘licence-at-risk’ speeds with a twist of the wrist.

The ‘off’ happened just about 5km from home as is always the case, and although I would dearly love to blame it on all kinds of other world circumstances out of my control the simple facts are that I broke a technical rule, well probably several actually.

To begin with I deviated from my usual route home taking a road off the Bucketts Way just outside Gloucester to Cundle Flat which I had a strong inkling would give me some dirt to run on. And so it did all the way through to Nowendoc Road, where I took a second deviation on the dirt to Wherrol Flat.

All of the dirt riding was huge fun and good experience but had put me well behind my scheduled arrival time at home. Calling home failed as each of the 3 times I stopped and attempted it the little bars from Telstra vanished.

So I carried on knowing that there was now only one route home through 60km of dirt in the Dingo Tops State Forest with an almost certain frosty reception for inflicting so much worry at home.

Exercising more due care as a solo rider than one would as part of a team; the ride through the forest roads was huge fun in the gentle rain and failing light. Parts were excellent, with smooth packed dirt, not too slippery, not too rough and good for reasonable pace. Other stretches were daunting with corrugations and ruts from weathering as well as truck damage from the logging activities.

There were a couple of ‘moments’ where I caught the slide or managed to pick up the nose as it went for a dive towards the road, probably down to luck but I felt it was more down to improving my techniques at every turn.

On the last few kilometres I had to sit down as I was knackered. It was well into dusk, the fog had cleared down out of the forest canopy and the rain had thankfully stopped. Into a smooth left hander with a bit too much speed and I stayed in the saddle going harder onto the back brake with a step or two down the cogs.

And so we had the first “arse-right, bars-left-then-right to catch it” slip as we flipped the other way with “arse-left bars-left right to catch it” and so on, gracefully sweeping from right to left to right to oblivion. You get the picture; idiot on large motorcycle pretending to be completely in control power sliding round long bend on dirt road.

Not.

Because then I broke the really important technical rule about brakes and fearing that we were heading into the ditch I ever-so-lightly two-fingered the FRONT brake and oh boy did I know things were going to end badly as the split second film frame played in slow motion through my mind!

The bike decided, not me, it had had enough and spat me off as the brakes flipped it hard over onto the ground, a classic high-side, somersaulting me through an arc I hit the road and felt my head whack the ground as I rolled into the second somersault before standing up, just like I’d planned it all.

And then the swearing really started! With visions of bent discs, buggered forks, twisted bars, split plastic, not to mention the bollocking I was in for at home I surveyed the damage before me. It had stalled so I turned off the ignition but strangely it looked like it was just having a lie down. No bits detached and sent down the road, no fractured plastic lying around, just a smashed indicator, then a squashed hand guard but not much else, so I got to picking it up.

All my little practice moves of laying the huge machine onto its side at home in the paddock paid off as I was able to heave it upright relatively easily without further pain or shame. I leant over the saddle and flicked down the side stand with my hand and stood back to check the damage.

Remarkably it was fine except for the aforementioned busted winker, a cracked hand-guard, a bent rear brake lever and some heavy scratching to the crash bar. It started first time and I headed home still muttering expletives…


[1] Rally speed – an old term from my motor rallying days when traveling in convoy with others referring to a certain speed that is not the legal speed limit. Plus or minus a number gives a rate of travel for the convoy which is unknown by anyone monitoring the radio channels being used by the convoy

Easing into 2014 couldn’t have been less stressful if I’d booked into one of those tech device-free, no internet, no mobiles allowed resorts for a couple of weeks of relaxation therapy, but no need to do that because we have a place for times just like that.

The overwhelming pull of Whackadoo and its surroundings have kept me out of the rat-race rush for an extra week with the youngsters over and above the planned 2 week break, and we’ve had a great time.

Each morning a walk up the road and back we’ve spotted a koala on more than one occasion, and probably a different animal each time. Just sitting aloft in the forked branch of a tree high up or maybe lower down, taking in the view and expending zero energy. He watches us, watching him, watching the world and doing what koalas do best, which is pretty close to nothing at all.

We’ve played a fair bit of Scrabble – old school with board and tiles – brought about by a scheduled power cut lasting most of the day. They’re getting quite good too, not easy to beat any more with the scores getting higher and higher.

Archie’s had his mate Katie the old cocker spaniel come and stay, the pair getting themselves into mini barking contests as one hears something odd prompting the other to bark in response. They’re crap guard dogs but having fun nevertheless.

Ted’s been having a blast on the dirt bike gaining in experience all the time, shown clearly when his mate came to visit on a smaller, but just as fast bike, which he couldn’t get round our track on as quick as Ted. He complained it was too tight, to which Ted replied, “that’s coz you’re not doin’ it right, need to move your weight around and lay the bike into the turns more…”

So he has been listening then!

The cicadas have been screaming their little abdomen powered bellows out in temperatures that have climbed to almost 40C on some days. Their frantic efforts at bragging for mating rights drown out the gentle sonar pings of local bell birds. Rain hasn’t come yet but there’s enough in the tanks. When the cicadas pack up for the day the cackling chorus of frogs pipes up into the night. Orion the hunter is still upside down in this Southern Hemispherical place and the Southern Cross laying on its side another reminder of where we are.

The rising sun from the East plays the gentle shafts of orange glow into the front of the house – and most of our bedrooms – to bring another day.

On the really hot days we’ve simply had to jump in the car and take a few kilometre ride round to our favourite swimming hole, known as The Rapids. Typically Australian it lies at the foot of some cool tumbling waters, which make for an excellent slide and in keeping with all good swimming holes it has a rope swing for all ages. So plenty of hours have been spent cooling off, swimming and jumping off the swing and while driving back we’ve left the back tailgate of the car open for a better breeze than Toyota air conditioning.

All in all then a fantastic way to finish 2013 and a perfect way to ease into 2014.

Happy New Year to you all.