Well, it’s about time I added my story to the thread although I’m really looking forward to seeing Cat and Lochie’s photos, since I don’t have many…
As I explained to a number of people during the weekend, I have no experience on dirt, coming from a background of road riding. I have future plans to do some big rides around Australia etc including crossing the Simpson Desert, so I figured I would need to learn and practice my offroad riding beforehand – and hopefully have a bunch of fun too!
My weekend started on Thursday night, as I battled with the unfamiliar task of changing tyres to a fresh pair of D606’s. Attempting the front first, it took around 2 hours including several breaks for beer and contemplation. The rear took a while to break the bead but after that only took around 45 mins – I’m sure that time will come down with practice!
I took the smart option (rare for me!) and took annual leave on both Friday and Monday, so as not to be rushed getting up and back. A mid-morning departure took me from Sydney up the Putty Road, Buckett’s Way to Gloucester, and then up the Comboyne Road to Wauchope. 500kms on the stock DR650 seat was painful (my backside was numb enough to be ready for any ‘initiation’ ), but apart from that it was a relaxed, enjoyable way to settle into a good weekend’s riding.
Sign-in was painless, meeting plenty of people and settling in, loading up the GPS (the phone worked well, for those who saw it). Plenty of tips on setting up the DR650 and riding offroad followed, as well as meeting fellow DR rider Usi, who agreed to ride the “Standard” route with me instead of the more technical “Special” – in particular, skipping around Jacob’s Ladder instead of going up it. Pizza, beers, and the rider’s briefing followed, during which Wigster arrived late to make our Standard group a trio, then it was off to bed. A quick trip to the dunnies at some ungodly hour showed that Usi didn’t even make it that far!
An early start the next morning, with all of us feeling the after-effects of beers and being keen to tackle the day’s run, led to us accidentally “missing” the sign out form…sorry guys! The route took us straight into the State Forest outside Wauchope, onto some fun fire trails and a bit of single track. Slow starting by me and not being used to following the GPS led me to falling behind the other two a bit, then going off the track and climbing what seemed to be a challenging hill – nothing compared to the much talked-about Jacob’s Ladder, but intimidating for a newbie! And the worst bit was realising I’d gone wrong, and having to come back down!
Once I’d caught back up I quickly settled into a rhythm with the other two, taking it at our own pace which let me explore the limits of grip on dirt and have a ‘play’, while not worrying about where I’d end up! The rest of the morning was a good variety of fire trails, single track, and occasional road sections, up until the last stretch to the Taylors’ Arms pub for lunch – a very slippery dirt road, bringing on a number of sphincter-clenching moments. This stretch initially wiped out the confidence I’d been building until I pulled up at the end and confirmed with Wigster and Usi that the road was slippery, and it wasn’t just me! A nice relaxed lunch gave way to a spectacular afternoon stretch, running through the bush along the ridgelines, up to the lookout, and back down the mountainside. A meander along a creekline through some farmland was a great way to come down from the exhiliration of the tight bush riding, into Nambucca for the night.
Stiff and sore from 280km of hard riding, the first thing we did on check in was hit the bar! It must have been a really hot afternoon, because the beer was evaporating really quickly, but fortunately there were plenty more to open once one was dry. It was here we heard the bad news that King Strucky had come to grief early on in the day, riding sweep – hope you’re recovering well mate! Dinner, beers, jokes about Breckenridge / Brokeback Farm, beers, conversation, more beers, then off to bed. As a group (under peer pressure, I might add!) we decided to change to the “special” route for the second day, which meant two things: (1) everyone would be riding the same route; and (2) we’d be going down Jacob’s Ladder!
The second day kicked off much like the first – brekkie helped cure some mild hangovers, then we all lined up for an “official” photo in front of the motel…pity we were looking (squinting?) directly into the low morning sun! I’m sure there’ll be some funny expressions when those photos go up The early part of the ride went back the way we came, following some of the same routes, but it was in no way boring or repetitive! I was starting to feel a little more confident on the loose stuff, getting some tips overnight on how to weight the bike etc, so I cut ahead of the other two back through the Forest, up until the top of the dreaded Jacob’s Ladder! I paused to gather my composure, and wait for the other two to catch up, only to see four bikes come around the corner – Pete the Wulf and Trailraider, our two valiant sweeps, had caught up and were now riding with us.
The Ladder, well, how to describe it? As a newbie, I couldn’t believe how steep it was – more than 1:1 gradiant for much of it, I’m sure. Using the advice to take it slowly and not let momentum build up, I crept down, balancing on the limits of adhesion with front brakes, rear brakes, and engine braking doing the trick – had a few small lockups and slides from the back but managed to get down in one piece. There were a few nervous moments at the bottom as Usi was right behind me, but Wigster took a while longer to appear. Eventually back on track, we swept through the rest of the day, and here was where my confidence started to get to me – once again pushing out in front of the other two, a little separated, I had a rock (maybe?) take my front wheel away, and I went down…popped both mine and the DR’s cherry! A scrape on my elbow and hip, a few scratches on the tank and mirrors, but otherwise unharmed. A moment’s reflection on Strucky’s fate the day before meant that I resolved to stay closer to the group. After lunch I had another minor stack, this time directly in front of the two sweeps – it would have been funny to watch, particularly as I was laughing at myself so much that I couldn’t pick the bike back up solo! Thanks Pete for the hand there
The final run in around the forests near Wauchope had the first real traffic on the trails – a near miss with a P plater in a ute and a Magna (of all things!) doing some offroading, made me thankful we’d seen almost no-one else through the bush for the rest of the weekend.
Finally arriving back at Brokeback Ranch brought both a sense of achievement and relief (to my poor aching muscles and sore bum) – I’d made it through two days of challenging offroad riding. A quick beer, then the decision of whether to stay another night and head home slowly, or make the run for home straight away? In the end I jumped on the freeway, but after turning off at Taree for fuel (and seeing a few familiar faces at the pumps), I decided to take the long way home along Buckett’s Way instead of facing the brain-death and wind-deafness of the Pacific Highway. This was truly Zen-state motorcycling, following the sweeping curves and feeling truly at one with the bike. Reality kicked back in as I rejoined the Highway at Hexham, and I ended up safely home a little after nine.
Overall I had a fantastic weekend – a massive thanks to TB, Steve and all the others for their hard work organising the weekend, and to everyone from the Old Bulls community for being friendly and helpful to a newbie I will certainly be back for more.