CONFESSIONS OF A "TV"
(Also some tips and observations)
I have a confession to make. Well, more a “revelation” than a confession. Until not too long before writing this (2007) I had never toured on a motorbike. Now I know that, for someone who’s stated preference in bikes is the sports-tourer, this is hard to believe; but it’s true. I’d been riding for over 30 years, and had a lot of experiences on motorbikes, and I’d ridden in a wide variety of riding conditions, but I’d never toured. I’d ridden on short trips and long trips; on my own and with large groups. I’d ridden on multi-lane interstate highways and rocky bush tracks. I’d ridden in heavy traffic, and in bush where you’re lucky to see another vehicle all day. I’d ridden in floods; across creeks; and through swamps. I’d ridden in scorching heat and freezing cold; in rain, in fog, and even in hail. But I’d never toured. Not a proper tour anyway. I had stayed away from home with the bike, but only when my wife was driving the car to the location as well. On one occasion we combined a motorcycle event with a short holiday, and trailered the bike to the event. I did the ride, then spent the rest of the holiday with the bike on the trailer. So yes, I have to admit it, I was a “TV” – a “Touring Virgin”! There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it comes down to my history with bikes. As I’ve described in other articles, my early years of motorcycling were spent on trail-bikes; going out on weekends and riding bush tracks and trails. Sometimes we’d trailer the bikes and then spend the day riding; sometimes we’d ride from home and go to closer bush areas. But we never stayed over-night. In later years, after I got into road-bikes, my riding still revolved around the weekend day-ride. I just never really got into touring. Part of the reason for this was that the bikes I owned weren’t really suitable for touring. And having a dodgy back, I wasn’t really suitable for long-distance riding either! Also, by then my wife had long since given up riding; and wasn’t interested in being a pillion. So touring on the bike would mean going on my own. And we don’t really do separate holidays. It’s not that we can’t bear to be apart – we’ve been married for well over 30 years, so a break away from each other is probably a good thing! And it’s got nothing to do with missing out on any “nocturnal activity” – I could just about do a world-trip and not upset that schedule! No, it’s just that we always go on holidays together. And whenever I did consider going away on my own, despite no objection from my wife (truth be known she’d probably be glad to get rid of me for a few days!), I couldn’t help feeling a bit selfish going off on a holiday and leaving her at home. But, over the last few years, having a bike that is capable of at least moderate touring duties, I started to think about touring. I even considered joining tours organised by various groups I belonged to; but I never actually did it. But I often considered it! The crook back meant that the distances traveled would have to be limited, but that’d be okay, I could still experience the joys of touring without necessarily traveling long distances. So as each annual holidays came around I’d talk about going away on the bike; but I never got around to doing it. Then one day I happened to mention this to my mate, Steve. Now, Steve has been riding for most of his life, and has done more tours than he could possibly remember! Back in the 1970s he’d ride to the annual Easter bike races at Bathurst. He was involved in the rally scene for a while and rode to many of those – usually with his wife as pillion. He’s done innumerable other tours; sometimes with his wife riding her bike (back when she used to ride), sometimes solo, sometimes with friends. He’s toured to destinations near and far; culminating early in 2007 in a solo trip around Australia. Yep, Steve’s a real “TV” – a “Touring Veteran”! (Hmmm, these acronyms are confusing!). We haven’t done much riding together though, because for the last 20 years or so, Steve has lived about 250km away. Anyway, when I mentioned to him about how I’d often thought of going on a tour, (but of course had never actually gone), he said, “I’ll come down and go with you!” That gave me a bit more reason and incentive to go; just the push I needed to actually do it! So, time for all procrastination to end! And a date was set. Knowing, of course, that this would be my first tour, and also knowing my crook old back and it’s limitations, Steve very kindly let me arrange all the details of where we’d go and where’d stay. With his vast experience in touring, this was a bit like Casanova telling a young maiden, “You pick the time and place, and what you want to do, and I’ll just come along for the ride!” So, first decision; where to go. And here’s where differences can occur. For some, a tour is all about the destination; for others it’s about the journey getting there. I tend more towards the latter. Riding up and down a highway to me was a bit pointless - might as well go in the car! (Although I’ve changed my opinion a little on that now). So I chose a destination that wasn’t too far away (not being on my annual holidays, I couldn't afford too much time off work) and tried to pick out an interesting route to get there. My choice was a trip down the south coast of NSW, with a detour through the Southern Highlands. This would include some well-loved biking roads – Macquarie Pass and the road from the highlands through Kangaroo Valley and out to the coast at Nowra. Then it’d be down the highway, with perhaps a couple of detours out to coastal towns. The final destination was a harder decision than the rest of the trip because it would dictate how far had to be traveled each day. I kept wavering between distances that were “possible” and distances that were “easily-achievable.” Steve’s advice was to remember that the object of the trip was “to enjoy the experience, not break any records.” It’s good advice, and highlights a mistake that I think is often made by people planning a tour. Set the goals too high and an enjoyable tour can soon become a test of endurance! This is especially true for us older riders, who might not be quite as capable of long distances in the saddle as we once were. So I planned an itinerary of daily distances that were “easily-achievable”. I reckoned it was better to under-achieve the distance traveled and know I would enjoy the riding. And I think that’s a good approach for anybody planning a ride! Next decision was where to stay. Some people carry their accommodation; a swag-roll and a one-man tent are all that’s required. I recall one guy telling me about his trips to Phillip Island; “Just take a small tent, and you spend the whole weekend in your leathers”, he said. Hmmm, right; by the end of the weekend I reckon the B.O. from the paddock would be stronger than the 2-stroke fumes from the track! As for me, I don’t do camping. Not now anyway. These days, for me “roughing it” is when the motel doesn’t have a micro-wave! Steve assumed I’d go motel and was okay with that. But then comes the question of whether you share or have separate rooms. Sharing makes sense, of course, (and obviously halves the cost!) and I know Steve had shared when he’d been on trips. The only problem is that two blokes sharing a motel room can give the wrong impression! Hmmm, have to be careful about that! Knowing Steve’s sense of humour I warned him, “If you even touch me as we walk into the motel, I’ll be staying somewhere else!” But to be serious, you do have to be careful with sharing. Steve shared accommodation on the “Long Ride” part of his round-Australia trip, and he reckons the standards of personal hygiene and tidiness of some people left a bit to be desired. Remnants of every meal eaten left lying around, wet towels all over the bathroom floor, and so on. Living your own version of “The Odd Couple” can take the shine off an otherwise enjoyable trip. If you tour you’ve got to carry stuff. That means decisions on luggage and what you put in it. The luggage was easy to sort out. I always carry a Ventura bag, and then there was a smaller bag I used to use (actually a back-pack that I converted for motorcycle use) that I could strap to the back of that. Steve, as you'll see in the photo below, has a somewhat more elaborate set-up. (Well he did have to pack for an around-Australia trip!). He had a larger Ventura bag, plus some throw-over panniers that were attached to specially-made brackets. I am a renowned over-packer! When we go on holidays my case is always filled with “just-in-cases”; an extra jumper just-in-case it’s cold; and extra T-shirt just-in-case it’s hot; an extra pair of undies just-in-case…. Well, you get the idea! “Remember”, said my wife, “you’ve got to pack light!” Hmmm, okay. I placed a small pile of clothing on the bed. A very small pile. My wife looked proud of my achievements, but to me it just looked wrong. “I can’t go away with just that!” But I knew I had to; and I knew that what I had was really all I’d need. Throw in the usual toiletries and medications etc and that was it. And it all fitted easily into my bags. I moved some items – like my camera and maps - from the pockets of the Ventura bag into the smaller bag, where I would be able to get to them more easily. Actually, I thought I got the luggage and packing sorted out pretty well! Steve is used to long-distance touring, and likes to go well-prepared; very well prepared! Whenever my wife accuses me of over-packing I’ll remind her of what Steve took with him on our trip! He had an abundance of clothes; a different shirt for each day (you’re not supposed to do that, are you?) and different pants for off-the-bike wear (I just made do with the denim Draggin’ Jeans I was wearing). Then there were numerous other things like his favourite drinking mug, his own supply of coffee and sugar, and even nail-clippers! (Well, I suppose if you’re going around Australia you are going to have to cut your nails). He even had not one, not two, but three mobile phones! (There was a perfectly logical reason for this – at least it sounded logical when he explained it!). And when I came to fill in the breakfast menu at the motel and couldn’t find a pen …. yep, Steve had one! When he did the round Australia trip he even took his own supply of washing-powder. His wife had packed it into small job-lots; but traveling around Australia with your luggage containing several small plastic bags of white powder was probably not a good idea! Steve did the 250km trip to our place the day before our trip, ready to leave the next morning. We ended up having a late start though. As a musician, I’m not a morning-person. Most people would be up and away well before I’d even got out of bed. Knowing me, Steve expected this, but our departure was delayed even further by me making a quick trip to the doctor! I had a pain in my side and, tending to get a bit paranoid about such things, I started to worry what it was. “You’ve pulled a muscle,” said my wife, “just get going!” But no, I had to go get it checked out. The doc gave me a good check-over and said, “It’s just a strained muscle, you’re okay”. So, feeling re-assured by the knowledge that no internal organ was about to self-destruct, I went home to a gloating wife (don’t you hate it when they’re right!), and a very patient Steve (I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d given up and gone home by then!). The bikes were ready, so we mounted up, posed for a couple of happy-snaps and away we went. One advantage of my “easily-achievable” daily itinerary was that, despite the late start, we still got to the day’s destination in good time to take some photos, check into the motel, unload the bikes and relax for a bit before heading off for dinner. When we checked into the motel Steve was quick to introduce “my wife” into the conversation with the guy at the desk. But our heterosexual image was yet to come under attack! We walked to a nearby club for dinner; then I decided to catch their courtesy-bus back. In retrospect, maybe not a great idea. People can get the wrong impression when two guys get dropped off at a motel! There were a couple of giggly 20-year old girls on the bus, and as we were dropped off they giggled and said, "Have a good night!" We tried not to walk too close together as we crossed the road! Steve may have foreseen this (he did seem a bit reluctant when I suggested the bus, but I thought that was just because we could have easily walked), but he hadn’t said anything. But I didn’t make that mistake again! On a long trip Steve makes sure the room has cooking facilities and he makes his own meal. On shorter trips he suggests finding an eatery within walking distance (and walking both ways!). I’d suggest using a cab if you don’t want to walk (and chat to the driver about your “few days away from the missus!”). On a short trip, if you’re not too worried about the nutritional quality of the food for a day or so, you can get a take-away, or order pizza. As for the motel, I think it's important to be able to park your bike outside your room. Anyway, despite that first day’s late start (and the suspicion about our sexual orientation!), the whole trip was great! That bloke Murphy must have been on holiday, or had trouble applying his law to the weather, because the weather was what they boast of in Queensland, “beautiful one day, perfect the next!” It rained the day before we left and it rained the day after we got back, but each day we were away it was sunny skies, warm temperatures and no wind. A great time to be out on the bike! The riding for the whole trip was very enjoyable! The road up to the Southern Highlands and down through Kangaroo Valley involves four winding mountain roads. The traffic, especially on Barrengary Mountain down into Kangaroo Valley, can spoil the fun a bit, but they’re still great roads to ride! (The photo on the left is of the famous old bridge at Kangaroo Valley). Steve had ridden the roads before, but that had been well over 20 years ago. So he found that part of the trip especially enjoyable – “Just as good as I remember from 20-odd years ago!” From Nowra it was to be a run straight down the highway. But this was much more enjoyable than I expected. I did remember, from a previous holiday in the car, that the highway around Batemans Bay would be great on a bike (there’s a particularly nice section from Batemans Bay to Mogo!), but I even enjoyed the road immediately south of Nowra and down through Ulladulla. It’s all undulating with flowing corners. Another factor in the enjoyment of the ride was that we have similar riding-styles, in terms of speed. In this regard I reckon touring with other riders is like any other type of group-riding; you need to choose people with compatible bikes and compatible riding styles. As I said in my article on group riding, a rider on a 1000cc sports-bike is not going to enjoy riding with someone on a 250cc commuter! Similarly, someone who likes to cruise along enjoying the scenery is not going to enjoy riding with a Valentino-wanna-be! For us, the bikes are different in style, but we both ride at similar speeds. So it was a relaxed enjoyable ride. Destinations can bring out differences too. For some, it’s about being there; tick the “been there” box and keep on going. For others it’s about the seeing; spending time and seeing the sights etc. Steve probably tends more toward the former, while I tend towards the latter. I enjoy looking around, exploring the town; and taking photos. (The photos on the left are just a couple of places we visited). At one stop I spent about an hour wandering around the shops looking for souvenirs and gifts for my wife and grandkids. Steve waited patiently and phoned home. On the trip back we detoured out to the coastal towns of Vincentia and Huskisson. If you’re down that way it’s worth the detour; Huskisson is a particularly pretty spot. (The bottom photo was taken from there. The pub I’m told does a good lunch, and there’s a great view of the coast from the balcony). The last day was to have been more direct, and therefore shorter, but that detour brought it out to about the same distance as the equivalent leg on the way down. Steve had planned on continuing home after we got back, and although we were arrived back later than planned, he filled up with petrol and continued on for the next 250km leg to his home. So, there it was, my first “tour”! It had been an enjoyable and inspiring experience! As I’ve said already, the weather was great, the riding was enjoyable, the company also, and just the whole experience of being away on the bike was good! A particular highlight for me was the feeling of leaving the motel in the morning. Have breakfast, pack the bike, and then ride away for another day’s motorcycling. It was a great feeling! I’d experienced that before, but always with our car parked beside it. This time it was just the bike, the gear on the back and the road in front! And I can now understand how that can make even “boring” roads enjoyable – just being out there, touring on the bike. People had been friendly too. Everyone from motel staff to shop assistants, and even a guy who stopped to help us with directions. We’d pulled over to consult the map because I thought we’d missed a turn-off. We were near a driveway into a farm, and the guy happened to turn into his driveway just after we stopped. Seeing us looking at the map he came over and told us the best way to get to where we were going. So now I’ve got the bug! And when I get the chance, I’ll be off again! Maybe I should get Steve to write his own “Confessions Of A TV” – although in his case the “V” would stand for “Veteran”, of course! I know there’d be some great stories, because I’ve heard a lot of them. And right at the end there’d be one about how he went with a mate on his first tour. It’d probably tell of the frustrations of leaving late, joke about a daily distance he’d normally do before lunch, and probably other embarrassing things I don’t even know about. So, over to you, Steve. (But maybe you can leave out that last one; I’m sure you’ve got far better stories to tell!).
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Click here to read some tips from Steve and planning and what to take etc.