Story by Neale Bayly
During the course of our lives there are certain people or places that leave a permanent imprint on our soul: Pleasant lasting memories that can be replayed at times of quiet reflection. As the years pass, these memories tend to grow rosier provoking the question, is it prudent to go back, or are these memories better left alone? With these thoughts and more competing with the 600 mph roar of the Boeing xxx, I closed my eyes and drifted back to my first visit to Australia.
The year is 1987, and I am piloting a Yamaha XV1000 through the twisting suburbs of Sydney. Ahead my buddy David Peach is riding his immaculately restored 900SS Ducati. We had met some six months earlier in San Francisco. Dave had been driving to New York to take a plane to Europe. I was booked on a flight to Japan.
Cresting the hill at Kurrajong on the Bell Line of Road Dave is hard on the gas and I duck down to give chase. In a few days I will leave to ride around Australia, and Dave will get back to work on becoming a successful businessman. But that’s in a few days, and for now we have some serious curves to straighten out so it’s down a gear and back on the throttle.
Fast Forward to February 2004….
The squeal of stationary airplane tires hitting the moving runway jolted me awake, and within an hour the Australian sun was burning its way into my bones as I waited for ground transport to Sydney. I was back in Aus to ride Yamaha’s new R1 at the Eastern Creek racetrack with the world’s press, and have a two-day ride with Dave planned after the test.
The day of the test, the weatherman was promising 115 degrees. No worries, the track was awesome, the bike out of this world and around mid morning, Dave arrived. Seventeen years older, less hair peppered with gray, and everything a little bit closer to the floor, but the “G’day mate” smile and the handshake were unchanged. Dave is a regular track rat at Eastern Creek and trying to jam nearly two decades into my 30-minute rest period, I know immediately it was a good decision to go back. We are both self-employed, have a couple of kids apiece, and are still fiercely passionate about motorcycles.
Two days later we were preparing for our trip at the Peach residence. I had scored a new FZ1 from Yamaha Australia, and we decided on a bag, a toothbrush and a comb, with a set of fresh underwear, camera, notebook and Dave’s cell phone thrown in for logistical support. “She’ll be right for a coupla days mate” says Dave, and off we go. Powering through the Sydney suburbs, me on a Yamaha FZ1000, Dave on another Italian – an MV Agusta 750; he pointed out a few things I should remember. Not much was instantly recognizable I’m afraid, although there was a pleasant familiarity to the landscape.
Exiting the city and roaring up the road in tandem the adventure had begun. We soon picked up the old Pacific Highway, affectionately known as the “Old Road” where we were forced to a slow pace by fresh gravel. About 25 km’s up the road we pulled in at the famous “Road Warrior Café” for some refreshment. Here, sitting in the shade of the old Gum tree (sorry! couldn’t resist) Dave lamented the state of one of the Cities finer pieces of motorcycling real estate.
Back in the saddle all sorts of delicious, weird looking vegetation lined the road and would have been a delight if it weren’t for the gravel. Eventually smoothing out, Kulnura became Bucketty and then Wollombi as we pulled over at an old Convict’s bridge for photos. Next town was Kurri Kurri, birthplace of Casey Stoner for you GP fans, and it was just so stinking hot the bikes automatically pulled into the Kurri Inn.
As we were parking, Nikka came slowly out of the bar. Heavy set, with the de-rigeur Aussie singlet, shorts and flip-flops, his mullet and tattoos spelled biker. “Oath mate, that’s a beautiful Ducati. I used to have a Hailwood Replica, but I gotta Harley now” he proudly informed me. The condensation on the schooner welded to his right hand told me it was cold and I tried to lick my parched lips to correct him. No luck, so with the stream of sweat rolling down the inside of my jacket turning into a river I motioned to carry on the conversation inside.
Pushing through the door, the smell of old wood and spilled beer hits a memory cord of cricket matches from childhood, where the woman endlessly made sandwiches as the men swilled ale between innings. Inside, I found Dave clinging to his cold ale tighter than a nun’s….(*) . I opt for ice water and for the next hour we desperately suck cold air and cold water into our systems in an attempt to remove our body temperatures from the critical list.
“Now, did I ever tell you about the 1973 Isle of Mann TT?” Probably not – cos I wasn’t there! Neither was Stevo, one of our new best friends, but that didn’t stop him from slinging a fair bit of bullshit about anyway. Just how an Englishman comes to be looking more like your typical Aussie Yobbo sucking down beer like there was no tomorrow, bullshitting about how he marshalled at the Isle of Man (when, by my calculations he was probably about eleven!) is anybody’s guess. But, with 115-degree temperatures outside, I’d listen to just about anything – so long as it was inside.
Saying goodbye to our all our new friends, we mounted up for a couple of hours of fast riding in the open countryside through the Upper Hunter Valley towns of Dungog and Gloucester, via the Bucketts Way. Pulling into Taree, home of Troy Bayliss for you WSBK & GP fans, we park at the first suitable looking pub and duck inside in search of cold libation. Suitably refreshed the beer has a two-fold effect of gluing our backsides to the seats, and lubricating our laughing gear, as we relive a day of adventure on the roads of Australia. Beer number three is followed by dinner, which is followed a short stumble to a room upstairs: Beer, bed and board all under the one roof, great choice Peachy.
At $18 per night US, it is not the Holiday Inn, and ducking under my sheet to avoid the squadrons of mosquitoes, I start to laugh again. Having a déjà vu, I am taken back to the youth hostel in San Francisco where Dave and I stayed out all night drinking and telling jokes, before sneaking in through a broken window, laughing uncontrollably and waking half the hostel. It doesn’t make it any cooler, but it reminds me why we are here and I dutifully pass out.
The following morning we hit the street, shielding our eyes from the sun’s glare as we looked for a feed. Some passing locals pointed us to a street café, and as Dave worked the cell phone I watched the world go by. Our server brought bacon, eggs and beans and on the shady tree-lined street, we took the option of more tea as we enjoyed the quiet morning.
The sun was burning its way across the sky, and the heat already oppressive as we made our way north up Highway 1. The traffic was a nightmare crawling past never-ending road works, and thankfully, with 83 kilometers on the odometer, a cooling breeze from the Ocean signalled Port Macquarie. Peeling off our sweat-soaked jackets we lingered for a time on the high bluffs, watching sailboats glide across the sparkling Ocean before heading into town to plot our next move. The plan had been to head to the National Motorcycle Museum at Nabiac, but time was evaporating into the oven roasted air, so we decided to back track to Walcha along the Oxley Highway. “One of the great motorcycle Mecca’s of this country” Dave informed me with a grin. No worries mate! And a short time later we were attacking some of the sweetest, twistiest tarmac imaginable, as we climbed up into the cooler rain forest.
The road heads west across the Great Dividing Range as it passes through the timber town of Wauchope and on out to the Northern Tablelands. The conditions vary from beautiful roller-coasters in the hinterland to tight, technical stuff as it crosses the Range; finally opening to a wide ‘throttle to the stops’ drag-way as you pass through the grazing country. The climate changes from humid coastal sub-tropical near the coast, cooling to rainforest as you cross the range, and moving on to semi-arid at Walcha: Two hundred clicks, three climates, and three distinct types of riding in a few hours, more like a motorcycle fun-park than a road.
At least that’s what it should have been…
Dave was sat sweating and cursing in the dirt. The top of his big toe a bloody mess that probably didn’t look too good before the toenail got ripped off. Running up front on the big FZ1, I had found my groove and, fresh from a full day on the racetrack, was giving it loads. Dave was happily cruising along behind on the MV and we were having a blast. Suddenly out of nowhere a left hand corner tightened up under a cliff, turned 120 degrees back on itself, before spitting me into a nasty right hander. At close to seventy miles per hour, I just threw the bike on its side, prayed to the God of tire adhesion forcing my head and gaze left. Coming up hard behind me, Dave didn’t have my view, opting to stand it up and run into the gravel area. He almost made it unscathed, except that under hard braking his boot slipped off the peg. Goodbye Mister Toenail!
The incident started a chain reaction of events that was going to test the Aussie’s mettle, as we flew across some wide-open grazing land at a steady 200km per hour. Approaching Walcha, the fuel light came on so I backed off and enjoyed some solitude out in the Australian bush, as the rear end of the red MV Agusta disappeared into the distance. Riding alone I was surrounded by huge rolling expanses of green grass, peppered with the odd farmhouse, that disappeared toward the distant hills.
In town, I found Dave at a gas station sucking down water and trying to laugh at the attendant’s lame attempts at humor. He was actually pretty funny, but with the stifling heat and Dave noticeably suffering, we fuelled quickly dropping south on the Thunderbolt’s Way as we headed back to Gloucester.
Dave was showing no sign of trauma as the MV scorched across the undulating landscape. Challenging corner after challenging corner kept us on our toes, excuse the pun, as we crossed into Gloucester County, framed out with the Barrington Tops’ Mountains on either side. Here the two-lane road turned rough, but we kept the hammer down knocking of 140 kilometers in less than an hour, as we blitzed through the deserted farming country. Some time later I noticed smoke coming from the MV and, after pulling over, we stripped the bodywork and found oil in the bottom of the fairing. A seal had gone on top of the motor causing oil to drip onto the pipes. The oil level was up and there was plenty of coolant in the radiator, so a committee decision saw us press on into Gloucester where we found a safe place to stash the bike.
It was getting late in the day as we hopped on the FZ 1 and headed out along the 77 clicks of twisty country two-lane road to pick up the Pacific Coast Highway. The big four pulled like an Aussie road train, even with the two of us on board, and we made good time, turning south as we lost the sun. A couple of hours later, the lights of Sydney came up ahead as the softly falling rain turned to a downpour. Filthy dirty from the hot, dusty, sweaty ride through the bush, down to one bike and now we were soaked to the skin. I looked back at Peachy and we both started laughing. Seventeen years had passed, but it could be a day. Friends for life, we have just been on a quick adventure and the long hiatus hadn’t lessened our friendship a jot.
Maybe it’s ok to go back after all?