Alpine Country: Motorcycling in Thredbo!

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Australia’s rolling hills

I slept hard last night. I think I crashed at about 8:30 pm and woke up a little after 8 am. I’ll admit, yesterday afternoon was not fun at all. I was overtired and needed the sleep. Calling the United States is a bit of a challenge as the window of opportunity is in the morning here when heading to work is the task du jour. The east coast in the US is prepping for dinner so the overlap is not great.

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Side road off of Murray Valley Road

Luck was on my side as my sister and her family was free! It was good to talk to someone as yesterday left me feeling a little lonely and lost. We caught up for almost an hour since it had been some time since our last conversation. My niece and nephew were also excited to hear from me (and I from them too!). I’m looking forward to seeing the whole family when I get back to the United States.

I wanted to get to the chemist before I had breakfast to save insulin so it was on the bike and up the freeway 100 kilometers (60 miles) to thriving metropolis of Wodonga.

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Wodonga’s Central Business District

Wodonga and Albury are the big towns in this area. Wodonga was in Victoria and Albury is just over the border into New South Wales. The chemist and Albury was open yesterday as Labor Day apparently was only a holiday in Victoria and not New South Wales. The things you learn as a foreigner! The whole thing reminds me of Massachusetts where Columbus Day is a state holiday that no one else in the United States recognizes. More power to the Victorians though!

out_to_cooma-3I wandered into the pharmacy of little unsure if I was going to actually get insulin. If they didn’t have it, it was going to be a long, painful slog up the freeway back to Sydney. When I walked up to the counter of the pharmacist asked, “How can I help you?” I hopefully answered “I have a script for insulin I need filled.”

“Do you have a Medicare card?” The pharmacist quickly asked.

I replied, “No, I’m an American citizen on a working holiday.”

$43!  Hot Damn!

Do you have private cover?” The pharmacist continued to inquire. At this point I really didn’t know what that was and asked what was hoping I could pay a hopefully non-exorbitant amount for a bottle of insulin.

I conceded, “No, I’m uninsured.”

The pharmacist didn’t seem to be bothered by my lack of insurance. She let me know it would be about 10 minutes to get the prescription filled.

I wandered over to Coles to get lunch. It’d been over 18 hours since my last meal and I was beginning to feel it. The adrenaline of the situation was wearing down and my body was needing nourishment. I’m not a huge fan of going to restaurants on motorcycle trips. I don’t like sitting in restaurants alone. Grocery stores often have good things to eat like fruit, nuts, and cheese. It just comes in quantities that I can’t store. I didn’t care though. I was hungry.

Walking back in the pharmacy I nervously approached the counter. The pharmacist smiled and said that will be $43.60. I was shocked. In San Francisco that exact same prescription for an uninsured person would’ve been almost $170. Hot damn! I was ready to hit the road!

I walked outside and and found some volunteers looking to raise money for the Cancer Council. Skin cancer is actually a really big deal here as the sun is significantly stronger than it is in the United States. I smiled and said I bought Cancer Council sunscreen a few days ago. It turns out they weren’t interested in me anyway as I wasn’t an Australian resident. I did get a photo out of the deal though!

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Today was the day to ride through the mountains. It’s the section of highway I was the most unsure of as the weather forecast had been predicting frost for the past couple of days. The insulin debacle routed me further north so I was going to miss The Great Alpine Road through Bright, which looks like a great ride.

Looking at the map, Murray Valley Road was the ride du jour out towards Thredbo. Thredbo was the heart of New South Wales’s mountain country. It’s also known as the Australian Alps and people ski here as the local option rather than flying to New Zealand. I was missing my Aerostich at this point. The gear from the rental company didn’t have the water resistance and the insulation my gear at home does.

out_to_cooma-7I was off! Murray Valley Road was great. The first part of it again reminded me of the Gold Country back home in California. It was full of rolling hills, grassy plains, and a wide-open sky.

The sign marked “Give Way” reminds me a lot of my experience here. The sign looks almost identical to a yield sign back in the United States. It’s just slightly different. It’s almost misleadingly different. That’s the fun of being here. You think something is similar and you realize it’s not. Kilometers are slightly different than miles. Light switches turn the other way. You ride on the left side of the road rather than the right. It all just takes time to get used to.

I didn’t see it at the time, but the entrance to the Snowy Mountains was also my transition from Victoria to New South Wales. Going over state borders makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere. After four days in Victoria, it was nice to be back in New South Wales.

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As I was getting into the Snowys I saw two mountains filled with pine trees. My heart jumped! I was missing the alpine country of California. That area for me on a motorcycle (and even in a car) restores my soul in a way no other place can. I was smiling ear to ear and knocked the throttle up to match my excitement.

out_to_cooma-10I pulled into the town of Corryong which was the last town in the foothills before deep mountain country. As I was getting gas in older gentleman and what appeared to be his grandson walked into the gas station. He looked to be full on Australian cowboy. He and his grandson were sharing ice cream together in the heat of the day. Since this is summer time in Australia I forget that school was not in session.

Gary was a sheep farmer in these parts in new the countryside well. I asked him about the pine trees and he replied, “Naw mate, those pine trees are from California. We need the timber for construction and it’s easier to grow them here then import them from the United States.”

My heart sank. I was hoping that experience was genuine but it explained why the pine trees were so short lived. It was just a small timber farm. Gary and I talked quite a while. He shared all about the land, his time here, and a touch about life overseas. He’s one of those guys you could tell loved his life. A life that was very different than mine, but full vitality.out_to_cooma-13

Leaving Corryong the road continued in good spirits into the mountains. A few minutes down the road was a massive hydroelectric power station. The bright white pipes dominated the landscape and the roar of the water below filled the air with sound. It’s a bummer that graffiti can be found all the way out here, but I guess that city-bogans are everywhere.

out_to_cooma-11I was noticing my tire doing a bit of drifting in the turns on the road. Looking down, the road had been chip sealed. That gawd-awful practice I was hoping was just in the United States. Alas they do it here too. Just pas the dam the road changed dramatically. What was a well paved two lane byway turned into a full on California goat trail. The pavement was mostly good, but there was no center line and the road was just a bit over a lane wide. My speed dropped considerably to match conditions. I was hoping the road would improve well before Thredbo.

Thirty kilometers (18 miles) down the road was a scenic overlook that intrigued me. The smell of eucalyptus was fully in the air. The foliage is different here. I keep going back and forth between expecting the deep forests of the American south and the wide open spaces of California. It’s neither. It’s Australia: seemingly similar, yet subtly different.

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I met two couples that were traveling together from Canada. They picked up that I wasn’t a local here and said hello by remarking that I have a big camera. I smiled and replied, “You only capture a memory once. Capture it well.” They asked where I was from and I shared that Australia was home but I was from San Francisco. They said they were from just north of Detroit. I asked, “You mean Windsor?” A smile came across the group as I knew of their homeland being tens of thousands of kilometers away. One of the ladies asked if I’d like a brownie. I declined, but asked If I could get a photo with the mountains in the background.

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I was on this tight road for about 90 minutes become coming up to this gem of a sign. What was a motorcycle risk zone? What would be different from the past 90 minutes of riding? There is one sign back in California calling out “dead man’s turns” as the turns are deceptively tight. I just had no idea what a “motorcycle risk zone “was.

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At about three in the afternoon it started to rain. I was hoping to stay dry but my luck ran out. The gear was not waterproof as advertised, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. The wind picked up and a warm sunny day went to a cold, damp climb up the mountain.

I summited the mountain at about 4:30 in the afternoon and the rain had let up. I always enjoy crossing over mountain passes and this one was no different. Dead Horse Gap was 1500m (5190 ft) above sea level. The cloud cover and wide open spaces made the wide angle lens sing. I was having a ball up here.

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Thredbo is a tiny town. On a Tuesday in the late summer it was a ghost town. Other than the small sign on the side of the road you could easily miss it when traveling at night. The entire town was tucked into the valley below. Charlotte’s pass was the highest point in Australia. I wanted to go up there but didn’t find the road that went up to the top of the hill.

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Heading down the mountain was the lake and town of Jindabyne. I love lakes. As a kid the family spent many weekends up at the cabin that sat right on the water. The childlike instinct still screams “Let’s go for a swim!” Jindabyne was a small but substantial city in the area that likely houses the travelers from Sydney and Canberra who are skiing for the day up in Thredbo.

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Another couple stopped to see the view with along with another impending rainstorm. We swapped cameras and then were quickly on our way as the day was getting away from us and the weather did not look good.

Australian roads have been good to me. I always smile when I see turn signs in kilometers per hour as it seems so fast. If only in the States we could take turns at 75 miles per hour. Guess that one’s for the track. The irony of it all is that American speed limits tend to be higher when compared in the same units.

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In the States on country roads you always find the odd and bizzare. Rachel, Nevada claims to be full of aliens. Dawsonville, Georgia has a large collection of animal sculptures for sale. South of the border is the eyesore just over the North Carolina border. Idyllwild, California has the big Tyrannosaurus rex. Baker has the largest thermometer. Cawker City, Kansas has the world’s largest ball of twine. Get the drift?

The middle of nowhere, Australia has a big copper ball. There wasn’t a sign. Nor was there a path to this odd beauty. A bit of bushwhacking through some brush and my wonder peaked. Who built it? Why was it there? How did it get there? It reminded me a lot of my year in 2013. I’ve traveled almost 100,000 miles that year to places all over the globe. Rather than being separated by enormous oceans it’s all intertwined by overlapping connections.

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I wanted to do some close up work with the new lens. The grey skies complimented the bike’s color well. The wide angle lens is working really well here.

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The landscape was very much rural Australia. The plains were wide open and rolled on forever. The windbreak out near the horizon was chattering with the tickle of the wind.

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The growl of thunder signaled that it was time to move on. I was about 35 kilometers from Cooma, my destination for the night. Normally it would have been a high speed ride into town but the weather was not cooperating. I was amongst two major storm cells that strong, shifting winds were competing for dominance. It was rough weather on the open seas.

I needed a break from the weather and am always up for scenic overlooks. When I turned onto the side road, three kangaroos jumped out! Awesome :).  I’ve wanted to see a roo since I first came into Australia. I’ll have to keep the image in my mind’s eye as my camera was packed and they were gone in a flash. The sun was all but gone when I got up to the top of the mountain. The larger of the two storm cells was up to the north of me, right over Cooma. Looking back to the west the last bit of daylight gave in to the impending night.

Time to roll.

out_to_cooma-51I got into my hotel at about 8pm and needed to get dinner. Note to self: stuff closes early in Australia. Stuff closes early in small towns. Stuff closes really early in Australian small towns. Subway was my only option at 8:15 on a Tuesday night. At least the #1 special was still on the menu :).  I was surprised when I went to the front desk to get  information about Internet service. The Internet is metered here.  They only give 500 MB to each customer per night. It’s not a huge deal, but it does limit the amount of video anyone customer can use.

Yesterday was a rough day. Today was grand. I’m back in action on the road again.

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