Day 1: On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me… A Grom tourer, gone outback roaming… Currently out in Coonamble where massive storms held me back overnight. Weather has now improved, so I’m looking forward to the next few days on the road with my new mini adventurer. Wishing you all a safe and Merry Christmas this season 🙂
I’ve never considered the Grom to be a ‘real’ bike before I purchased it. But I knew that, if I were to get one for myself, it was going to be a given that I make the absolute most out of it. Inspired by the one-off luggage system made for my Ducati 1199 Panigale, the tiny OEM luggage accessory rack of the Grom was modified to make it a legitimate long distance tourer, adding on storage boxes to extend its carrying capacity.
A sunny day in Sydney to start off the Christmas long weekend, brilliant conditions outside beckoned me for a leisurely ride on the many twisties that surround the Sydney basin. But my eyes were set further up on the road. I was craving a path that will take me far and away from the usual grind of everyday life. What is a holiday break without a change of scenery?
My life schedule tends to get pretty hectic as I work every single day, so road trips were forgotten until the end of the working week. For this trip, I left home quite late in the morning because the days preceding this trip was wrought by work, and work. And more work. I didn’t really have much time, nor energy, to prepare and pack up my gear. Route directions were also left up to the very last mindute. In fact, even my destination wasn’t that clear.
To make it a simpler planning process, I decided on a similar route for the first half of the trip that I had completed at exactly this time last year on the Panigale. I decided that this was a fair call as I knew what to expect in terms of fuel availability, distance between towns, road conditions and location of amenities. Embarking on any +100km camping trip on the Grom is already a sort of challenge, so I wasn’t going to take any further unnecessary risks by travelling roads which I had not done before. My hope was to make it to Lightning Ridge by that evening, which is over 700km north-west from Sydney.
Taking the Bells Line of Road route out of Sydney, it was time for me to pay respects to a fellow fallen rider. I will never forget the day when the life of a man so loved was taken away so abruptly. I will never forget the handshake between me and Mark Jones that day. Who would have known that, 30 minutes later, lives will never be the same? A month on, and I am sure a year onwards, the memory remains. As a rider who has never witnessed a loss of life before, this event really hit me hard. It was a significant reminder of the dangers that are inherent to travelling on public roads, and the importance of keeping aware of changing conditions on roads that had been travelled before.
Mudgee was my last big-town stop before heading out to the more desolate part of the state. I had to stock up on food from Mudgee so that I wasn’t relying solely on servo meat pies the next day, Christmas Day, when all supermarkets will be closed. I wasn’t going to settle for another mistake like last year, when I prepared absolute no food at all. The only item of consumption that I had with me last year was a bottle of water, which turned out to be close to useless when I spent the evening in Lightning Ridge, a town that relies on bore water that is undrinkable straight from the tap.
When I have time to do so, capturing a standout feature of a locality is a constant goal that I have in mind for when I am travelling on the motorcycle. Church buildings, I felt at the time, were the standout feature in Mudgee. Churches have historically been the centre of communities; a meeting place for all those in town. Many resources in the past had been allocated to these venues, so it’s no surprise that churches in country towns are the most prominent structures. Although the role of churches as an influential part of life have gradually declined in recent decades, the monumental significance of churches make them a culturally integral part of country towns.
Reader advisory: Boring, contemplative words to myself for the next three paragraphs.
Speaking of photos, it’s been almost two years now from when I first started up my Facebook page as a place to share my photos. It was merely just a page where I could post up my motorcycle shots without annoying my online friends. Back then, all I knew was to flick my camera into auto mode and hope that I would be able to retrieve at least one photo out of the millions of random snaps that I took. Since then, I have gradually improved the quality of my photos, though I still have a long way to go until I really make it a ground breaking art form.
One thing that I realised about my photos is that it can get monotonous and boring. For me, an extraordinary photo captures both imagination and the natural lapse into questioning the whys and hows of the subject. A good photograph pleases the eyes. A great photograph seduces the mind. An incredible photograph fornicates with your soul; whether that’s consensual or not is dependent on the subject and the viewer. Compared to subjects that focuses on people, politics, history, sport and culture, there’s a relatively limited space in terms of the breadth of emotions that can be manifested into a picture of a motorcycle when creativity is pushed aside.
This little realisation had forced me to rethink the way that I take my own bike shots. Looking back at my past published photos, I feel that I have been making progress in creating only good photographs. A few have been great, but I struggle to find anything in my catalogue to fit that particular description of an incredible one. People who love motorcycles may recognise the value of the shots that I have done, but I doubt that the ordinary Joe Blow would even care about them. Despite the usual challenges of a tightly-scheduled road trip, I made it a priority to at least try and do a greater variety of shots as the days progressed in this journey.
Passing the town of Gulgong and approaching the intersection where the Castlereagh and Golden Highways meet, the weather grew dark and gloomy. The clear and balmy conditions that were present throughout the journey from Sydney to Mudgee were no longer the same that I could expect for the journey that was waiting ahead of me. If anything, the journey up to this point of the day was a representation of the extremely slow pace that I was travelling.
The weight and size of my luggage on the Grom had a massive impact on its outright performance. Depending on my riding posture, gradient of the road and the strength of tailwinds, I could momentarily reach an indicated 100km/h, but this is not sustainable when the Grom is revving its guts out near its redline. Averaging at 85km/h on full throttle, I was by far the slowest vehicle on the road, and was nibbling on every kilometre rather than devouring them as I would wish. I was like a small puppy that’s jumping up to reach for its treat on the kitchen top, but without the outright ability to acquire them without some sort of assistance. In any respect, it was going to take much more time for me to get anywhere; Lightning Ridge was still a long way away.
Once in a while, I become a stubborn person when it comes to setting up a Plan B. When I place my finger on the state map, that becomes my decisive end destination. Plans for alternative accommodation wasn’t organised, in the case that I had to cut the trip short due to any interruptions. Coincidentally, a friend and his wife was staying at Lightning Ridge for a few days, in the same caravan park that I had booked for the night. Knowing that I had company to greet me upon arrival, my determination to reach the the town pushed me to do what ever I could to complete this mammoth task. There were more than a mountain of hints inscribed all over my brain that this 700km haul was going to be impossible. But if you believe it enough, it can come true.. right?
Leaving Gilgandra in the evening, I could see clearly up in the dimming horizon that massive lightning storms were waiting to welcome me for showtime. Hoping that I wasn’t going to end up being toasted to death by a thunder strike, and although night was setting in, I had to at least get to Coonamble by 9pm, before the main service station closed. I wasn’t prepared to stop in the midst of worsening conditions because once I leave town, there was going to be absolutely no place to take shelter on one of the most desolate parts of the Central West region. At the same time, riding at night in these conditions is a massively dangerous undertaking, especially on a bike like the Grom. Swallowing a mental pill of insanity, and a very deep breath, I charged into the night.
Minutes and seconds ticking in my head, the worsening conditions climaxed to an atmospheric rush of titanic proportions. Massive puddles on the road filling up every sunken wheel track on the open road as I ventured into the darkness, I could truthfully only see just a few metres ahead of me through all that the storm was prepared to lash at me.
The stock headlights on the Grom light up absolutely nothing in the dark; great for reading a newspaper in the dark, but essentially is just a minuscule candlelight in a hallway. The high beam function is nothing more than a beam of light that is better described as an additional daytime running light. I should have known better to install those aftermarket touring lights that I had been telling myself that they are essential. Clearly, this bike was only designed to be an urban runabout at most.
Initially rebuking the drenching rain as the storm continued while embracing the remaining dry areas of myself, eventually I surrendered to the immersing wrath of the remorseless downpour as it worked its way into every tiny crevice of my double-layered waterproof gear like a viral infection. Dryness conceded defeat by the oppressive dampness of the storm; nothing remained untainted and untouched by the new host. Helmet, gloves, top, pants, undies, socks, boots, everything was decimated by moisture.
The night run was probably the most intense ride through a storm that I will ever dare to do. That was as much as I would ever want to do in this part of the country on any bike, let alone a small urban bike like Grom. Surprisingly, the bike felt relatively stable, despite its small size and the crappy stock tyres that I decided to keep for this road trip. It was enough to get me to where I had to go.
Considering the terrible weather conditions, through all that I had experienced so far, the Grom did alright. That, or I had momentarily lost any element of fear as survival instincts took over. The possibility of hitting a dead animal on the road or flipping over a submerged pothole was ripe. One day, if I continue my moto romps in this fashion, I probably won’t live to tell further stories. I must develop safer riding decisions for the sake of my life.
I arrived at Coonamble at exactly 8:55pm, 5 minutes before the main servo was due to close, but the lights were already off by this time as staff began leaving. There was probably a 24/7 servo somewhere in town, but I just had enough of it for the night. There was no way that I was going to take a further step in the rain, on a country road, late at night, after what I had just experienced. Taking the safer option, I decided to rest up until the rainy night passed underneath a shelter. Where did I go wrong today?
Basic Statistics for the day:
- Route: Lithgow, Mudgee, Gilgandra, Coonamble
- Total distance: 503km
- Range of ambient temperature: 21°C to 29°C
Expenses for the day:
General map route: