8 blokes, 8 bikes, not enough degrees Celsius, 2 days, one night and 1000kms. This is the essence of the plan we had as the sun rose on Saturday 30 March 2019.
We met at first light and departed from Preston right on sunrise. The air was reasonably warm as the cold front to the west had not yet crossed our part of the state.
7 bikes and riders, consisting of two hired BMWs (an F750GS and an R1200GS), a Yamaha Tenere, a Triumph Tiger, a BMW R1200RT, another BMW R1200GS and a Kawasaki Versys. Wide range of road riding experience in the group.
Most of this crew choose mostly to ride either alone, or with one other carefully selected person. It was an interesting experiment to have such a crew ride as a group of 8.
We left before this frontal system reached Melbourne, and it caught up with us later in the afternoon as we approached Bright. The ride over Mt Hotham to Omeo was in the conditions just behind the front. It was a reasonably strong system of two lows in close succession, with the isobars tightening up as it progressed across the state. The strong, cold and moist onshore winds (from the west then south west) produced a lot of rain, and were forecast to produce snow above 1000m in the high country.
But first, the riders.
The group of 8 wasn’t complete until Bright, where Gilbert (a resident of Bright) joined us.
If there is a common element in this crew, I would say it is that they are all great company.
Noel – acknowledged master of the motorbike, both mechanically and as a rider. A privilege to ride with him. I have done most of my long trips with Noel. I continue to learn a lot from him. He is a gun. After the 1000kms at the weekend, on the Wednesday following Noel climbed aboard his BMW R1200RT and departed Melbourne at first light. His route? Melbourne to Mansfield to Whitfield to Myrtleford to Bright to Mt Hotham (where it was dry, sunny and 11C) to Mitta Mitta to Tallangatta to Corryong, where his trip ended not long before dark. 800kms on that particular day. A lot of curves, a lot of riding. Hard core effort.
Gilbo. Long time resident of Bright, been riding (and flying various things) for years.
Mike, getting off his Triumph Tiger. Got his learner plate when I did, and we rode a lot together building up initial experience on identical Honda VTR 250s. In 2010 Mike did the first day of my ride around Australia with me (Melbourne to Orbost).
Hambo was riding on a hire bike. He has been on a few short road trips with Noel and me. Some paddock experience on unregistered motorbikes as a boy.
Darren, on a hired BMW R1200GS. A lot of off-road experience including competing on a trials bike, but no real road riding experience. Had never ridden a BMW R1200GS before picking up his hire bike on Friday afternoon.
Brendan. Very experienced rider (road and off-road), and has owned quite a few bikes. His current bike, the Yamaha Tenere, is a favourite I am guessing. In 2010 Brendan did the first couple of days of my ride around Australia with me, and we parted ways in Nowra NSW.
Andrew – commercial pilot, Kawasaki Versys owner and drone flyer. He has the best mentor in the business in Noel (his father). He is rapidly building up experience on this his second motorbike.
The first lesson I learned about riding in a large group is that there are more stops and progress is much slower. The route we took to Bright (via Yea, Mansfield, Whitfield, Oxley and Myrtleford) can be done in 3 hours or so. We took 7.5 hours (!), but enjoyed every one of them. We had coffee stops at Yea, Mansfield and Whitfield! This photo was just before the T intersection in Whitfield, near the pub. We had just ridden through 65 kms of mostly curves from Mansfield. There was some fog, and quite a few damp patches on the road. A sign of things to come as it turned out.
Parked at Whitfield, L to R: BMW (Noel), BMW (Darren), BMW (me), Kawasaki (Andrew), Yamaha (Brendan), BMW (Hamish) and Triumph (Mike).
Beside the Whitfield Cafe, a popular watering hole with motorcyclists and others.
8 bikes fitted in Gilbo’s garage at Bright, out of the rain. There was a fair bit of rain falling by this stage of the day. We checked on conditions ahead, and were told there had been 43mm of rain in Omeo (and counting) and that it had been snowing all day on Hotham. The BoM rain radar showed lines of heavy showers approaching Bright from the west. Accordingly, after a brief chat we cancelled our booked Omeo accommodation while in Bright (Margie, the proprietor of the Omeo Motel having very kindly left a message on my phone that we could cancel if we wished, without charge, given the conditions, and her wish that all stay safe). That was a generous gesture. But we then decided to have a look at the Mt Hotham road by riding up it until we struck either dense fog, too much rain to ride in, wind too strong to continue safely, unrideable amounts of snow on the road, or black ice. While I had some faint hope that conditions might not be as unrideable as they sounded, I was entirely comfortable with the decision to cancel the Omeo accommodation. I expected not to get too far up Mt Hotham, and to return to spend the night in either Bright or Mount Beauty.
We continued our way cautiously up the mountain on wet roads, with rain at times, fog at times, and a constantly dropping temperature. This photo was taken at a roadside parking area just after we encountered the first hint of falling snow, not too many kms from the summit. The process reminded me of nibbling away at bad weather in a light aircraft on a VFR flight – no harm in having a look so long as the plan is to do a 180 in plenty of time without pushing your luck. A series of decisions is required as conditions permit progress through or around bad weather, until they don’t, at which point you divert, land nearby or turn around and go back home. Sometimes you can fly a long way in bad weather where visibility at any point is only a few miles in front of the aircraft. In simplified form (less variables), this was our ride up Hotham, at no point feeling confident of getting much beyond the next few curves. Despite all the dire forecasts however, conditions did not become unrideable. But this was not confirmed until we actually reached the village at the summit.
At this stop I was increasingly confident that we had a reasonable chance of getting over Mt Hotham, and proceeding on to Omeo (hoping we could re-book our accommodation if that occurred). I checked with each rider to ensure nobody was hypothermic and that continuing on was acceptable to all. It was. Everyone denied being cold, but I later discovered that some were in fact already suffering a bit in this department. Compare the smiling face of Andrew (heated jacked, ample jacket and liners, heated handgrips) with the face of Hambo (summer jacket with plastic waterproof liner, heated handgrips, generally underdressed). Hamish was let down by the hirer in this regard, who in my view should never have sent him in off in this hire jacket given the cold snap that the state was experiencing. I later discovered that Darren had very cold hands and feet, and that Gilbo’s gloves weren’t quite doing the job for his hand either.
Success! The summit car park on top of Mt Hotham. Light snow was falling, it was windy and wet, but there was no black ice on the road. The air temperature at the summit car park according to my motorbike instruments was -0.5C. Noel said there was a lit sign on a building in the village showing -3C. The wind chill on any view was -7C or colder. When the motorbikes were moving, the wind chill would’ve been much colder again.
My BMW R1200GS in the summit car park area. Snow was freezing on impact and sticking to my windshield and visor. I had to continually wipe ice of my visor.
I was wearing thermals and a T shirt under my jacket (which had a quilted liner). But I had not put my heated jacket on when we left Bright (probably reflecting my view that while getting over the mountain was not necessarily impossible, it was unlikely). My gloves (and heated handgrips), legs and feet were all warm, dry and comfortable. Just before this stop (between the summit and Dinner Plain), I felt a couple of involuntary body shivers that indicated I was perhaps a bit colder than I felt. I figured it was time to don the heated jacket. The stop shown above and below was not far north of Dinner Plain, and I checked if all were happy to check out whether the pub there was open. There were no objections.
Hambo on the left taking some advice from Noel. A good thing to do.
About to head off to Dinner Plain, hopefully to find an open and warm pub, or at worst, an alcove or two out of the wind and snow in which to warm up and rug up a bit more.
The open sign on the door was most welcome. Inside, the central heating was doing its job, as were the two adjacent roaring open fires in large stone fireplaces. This was a very timely and most welcome stop. I rang the Omeo Motel from here and was able to re-book our cancelled accommodation. We had a few refreshments, dried off and warmed up a bit, then continued on our way as last light was approaching fast. By my calculation, 3:30pm was the latest time we could leave Bright to make Omeo before last light, with a bit of an allowance thrown in for unplanned stops or delays. We rode out of Bright at 3:30pm.
The ride up the last couple of kms to the summit was in thick cloud and wind, with snow flurries eddying in all directions around the road, including some blowing up from the drop-off to our left beyond the orange snow poles. There was a minor sense of adventure to the extent that successful passage to the summit and beyond was still not guaranteed. But having reached the summit, and ridden through light falling snow and strong winds until a km or two past Dinner Plains, our success was reinforced and brought with it a great sense of satisfaction as the snow disappeared to be replaced by rain, the air temperature slowly climbed into positive figures as we descended, and the wind seemed to drop off as we were essentially on the lee of the mountain now. It was a wet but very enjoyable ride down the hill through all the big curves into Omeo. This photo is the crew of 8 at the Mt Kosciuszko lookout a few kms out of Omeo. Well below the snow line now, but still cold conditions. I took this photo with the Nikon, using the delayed shutter function which gave me 8 seconds to take my place in the group. When I saw the photo and all the faces, I assumed I had inadvertently stood in a hole as the shutter went. But no. It appears I had just shrunk. Disappointing. I’m sure I’m taller than Noel.
Less than a week ago, Andrew passed the last of his Airline Transport Pilot Licence theory exams – the notoriously tricky Navigation and Flight Planning exam (which was the last step he had to take before being eligible for employment as a first officer with an airline – he is now waiting to hear from QANTAS on the fate of his application for employment, having done his interview and simulator check late last year). He promised himself a new drone as a reward if he passed this last exam. Being a good bloke, he honoured his promise. This is the drone. I have watched the arrival and evolution of drones, without any real interest in getting one. But this drone’s amazing capabilities did interest me. Andrew has mastered it quickly.
Another drone photo – fantastic angle. Omeo is nestled in the valley in the distance near the top right of frame.
The Omeo Motel. Margie, our host was just great. Apart from being prepared to forego any charge when we cancelled our booking, upon arrival she shouted everyone a bottle of beer (thanks Darren for being my proxy drinker). This generosity was for occupants of rooms paying only $64 per night each. Some of us didn’t get our breakfast orders in by 8pm the previous night (or indeed at all), and as Margie delivered the properly ordered breakfasts, she offered to take any orders from the delinquents. Another kind gesture. We all left the motel feeling well fed and well cared for. She gave us the feeling that as customers we mattered. The rooms were entirely comfortable and warm. A bargain at $64 a head. I’d go back there. We dined in the neighbouring pub on the Saturday night. Classic country pub fare in a warm and hearty atmosphere.
Practically speaking, we had three routes to choose from to return to Melbourne from Omeo – via Gippsland and Noojee, or over Falls Creek and down into the Kiewa Valley and home via Bright, or north to Mitta Mitta and across to Myrtleford via the top of the Kiewa Valley and on to either the Hume Highway or Whitfield and Mansfield. Option 1 would’ve been all low level (but would’ve left Gilbo and Andrew riding north alone), option 2 would’ve required getting over the top of Falls Creek (elevation 1800m) after a cold night, with high probability of ice on the roads, and option 3 which involved climbing no higher than 1400m AMSL en route to Mitta Mitta, and thereby avoiding both snow and ice but at the cost of an extra 100kms or so. It was agreed that option three was the only practical option in all the circumstances. This photo shows the road beside the Mitta Mitta creek as we descended from the high country and neared the township. The curves were starting to widen out by this point.
I have ridden from Omeo to Mitta Mitta many times, including years ago when it was mostly dirt. I always have a feeling of achievement and triumph on cruising into the town of Mitta Mitta, with all those curves and all that wild country successfully negotiated and now behind me. We had sunshine, rain, heavy fog and cold conditions and wet roads all the way on this 114km leg. That’s my son in law Hambo fossicking around in his top box.
Brothers (and my nephews). .
Nephew and Uncle.
Brothers. See, I am taller than Noel, unless of course he was standing in a hole this time.
Father and son. Noel having a chat with Andrew who left us at Kiewa and headed up to Griffith to renew his low level flying endorsement the next day.
We departed Melbourne at 7:30am on Saturday, and returned just before last light around 7pm on Sunday. Distance travelled 1000kms. No frights (or none reported….) or falls. Widely varying road and weather conditions encountered. Lessons learned about how to stay warm and dry. Each one of us is now that little bit more experienced. It was an enjoyable little adventure. A lot was packed in over the two days. The trip was short because some of the group have real jobs requiring attendance on Monday morning. The company of the large group was most enjoyable – but they were carefully handpicked.
Andrew left us at Kiewa. Gilbo left us at Myrtleford. Brendan peeled off at Yea and returned to Geelong on secondary roads NW of Melbourne. Noel left us at Growling Frog Road just south of Whittlesea. Mike left us in Thornbury, and Darren and Hambo waved me off as they rode down Plenty Road beside my street heading for Richmond where they returned their bikes to the hirer. Hambo then caught an Uber home, and Darren found his way to the station and caught a train back to Geelong. All checked in reporting safe final arrival at respective homes with a flurry of short messages. Job done.
I’d do it all again, with this group (but hopefully more days and more kms next time).