Thursday, December 8, 2011

Grampians National Park

My first ride out with some of the folks from the Adventure Rider forum!  I was so stoked that I found some people in the area to ride with.  The only worry for the day was my rear tyre, which is a bit on the bald side.  Enough tread to make it legal, but I wasn't too confident in the amount of traction it was going to give me off the road.

I met up with the other three at Hamilton's MacDonalds.  GagsD2 a paramedic from Portland, JohnBoyKLR a truckie from South Australia and SlowPoak a mining plant operator from Hamilton. We work for the same company, but I think he works night shift and as I never really deal with the staff from the plant, we've never met.  After I quickly fill up the tanker, we're off, under the guidance of Gags and his Zumo.  We don't have a planned route for the day, but I suppose that makes it a bit more of an adventure.

Man, these guys have forked out some dough on their bikes.  All I have is a Safari Tank, raised handle bars and tuned suspension; all from necessity really.  These guys have it all:  hand guards, aftermarket handlebars, GPS, screens, aftermarket tanks, tuned suspension, luggage racks and loads more.  Most importantly, they all have aftermarket exhausts!  I'm the only idiot with the naff sounding stock exhaust.  Ah well, such is life.

Grampians Ride 2011/12/04

The Grampians is a mountain range northeast of Hamilton, Victoria.  It's a big natural tourist attraction for the region and a must-see landmark.  The Grampians also contains a National Park.  It consists of two main ridges running north-south, almost parallel to each other  and connecting in the north with a flat valley in between.  During 2010 the area suffered significant flood damage, washing away several roads and as a result  closing off access to a large part of the Grampians.

We approached the Grampians from the south of the western range, taking Victoria Point Rd, taking Bullawin Rd into higher country.  The first part was easy going.  It always takes a while for me to get used to riding off-road, so this was a good opportunity for me to find my 'off-roading legs'.

After we took our first stop to assess the situation and plan the road ahead...seeing that there was no plan, we started a steady climb, which turned into a rocky climb, with a bit of bedrock exposed here and there. Nothing serious.  We even talked about this during our second stop.  SlowPoak mentioned that this is probably as bad as it'll go...them sound like famous last words to me.
We head out and climb and drop, climb and drop and it gets more and more rocky.  SlowPoak doesn't live up to his name and he and Gags charge ahead like mountain goats.  JohnBoyKLR and me follow steadily.  JohnBoy's got a new set of tyres on (Dunlop 606s) , so he's still getting used to them.  I had no excuse.  Just slow, but then again, it gives me time to look around.  Not too much though, because we've already had two wallabies jump in front of us.  After one of the descents we take a smoko and recover.  That last descent was rough.  Loads of loose rocks and ruts all over the place.  I almost dropped the bike at one stage when I braked and front wheel twisted.  I suppose those stabilisers on Slow's bike come in handy at times like those. At this stage I'm quite worried about my tyres.  The tread's not that great and we're going over some pretty rough terrain.

Slow says he knows a great vantage point we can see the valley from and it's not too far ahead, so we mount up and head out.  Bottom of the hill and we meet up with my archenemy...sand.  We chat again, check the GPS and Slow hits the ground at walking pace.  Yes...sand, what more can I say?  We get to the spot Slow was talking about and it's great.  It's quite awe inspiring.  The wind's a bit strong and Slow and I wobble a bit as a gust pushes us.  We decide that was enough of that and we head out again down into the valley.  JohnBoy says the Dunlops struggle a bit on the gravel roads.  The front wheel feels really loose.
We encounter some more wallabies and then navigation exercise starts.  We decide on a route that would take us over the ridge to Halls Gap as it's lunch time and we're all a bit peckish.  A few minutes later and we hit sand!  A long stretch of thick sand.  Again, Slow and Gags head on and it doesn't look like it's an issue, but JohnBoy and me follow...slowly.  I must say, I didn't do too badly.  I had one wobble, but nothing serious.  I tried to keep my speed up and weight off the front wheel.  The first mistake you make in sand is to try and go slow and brake when you feel you're wobbling.  It doesn't feel right, but this is when you should open it up a bit.  Respect to the Dakar Ralley guys!

We didn't find many closed roads.  Not nearly as much as we were expecting, but we do take another road, that ends up being closed, forcing us to loop around and take an alternative route up and over the ridge to Halls Gap.  Luckily we didn't have to go back over the sand again.

That last blacktop section on the Northern Grampians Rd down the hill into Halls Gap is amazing!  What a blast.  There are warning signs up everywhere, telling bikers it's a high risk area and too right.  It's twisty as hell, but I loved it.  I was leaning the bike into the corners all the way down.  Loved it!

In Halls Gap we stopped for lunch.  Just a few pies from the bakery and we sat there for over an hour, just chatting away.  There are loads of bikes around as it's Sunday and this is a popular spot for bikes to stop and take a breather.  I see two BMW R1200GSs parked close to our bikes.  They're spotless.  I'd be surprised if they've ever been off road.  It's a travesty!  They're fully kitted out as well.  Why?  By a road bike then.  Talking about road bikes; a Ducati Monster pulled up as well.  Nice!  A couple of Harleys too.  Not my thing.

Finally, we decide to head out own ways.  Like most normal people, we have families waiting and chores to do.  We all head back on the Grampians Rd and JohnBoy and Slow turn off on the Serra Rd, going through the park on a more direct route to Hamilton and Gags and me keep heading down on the Grampians Rd to Dunkeld and and on to Hamilton, we he continues towards Portland.

Great day and a great bunch of guys.  I'm stoked to have met them on the Adventure Rider forum.  I look forward to more rides.

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