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Thunderbolts Way: Day 1

By Wom Battle

May is a wet month here around here, it's risky organising bigger rides but after seeing a brochure about riding the Thunderbolts way between Gloucester and Walcha NSW I decided I was going to do it on the first weekend I had free. I was going good weather or bad. This weekend was the one (Mother's Day and my son's birthday aside) and a workmate JP, was keen to come along in any weather.

The plan for the day was to ride to Gloucester for lunch and then head over the mountains via Thunderbolts Way to Walcha for an overnight stay.  Day 2 was penned in to head to the coast and down the Pacific Hwy to catch up with the local HOG chapter at Tuncurry and ride with them back home.  All up, a little under 700ks for the weekend.  Plans have a way of not working out!

JP turned up on time 10amish, and bikes packed.. we were away.  This was the first "weekend" social ride I'd been on on the Harley that was just about riding (Oran Park trips don't count). When you head off with someone you haven't ridden with before the obvious goes through your head.  Personality stuff aside, a good time is had by matching riding preferences.. should we go slow, should we push the speed limit, what'll happen on the bends?  Will I get left behind? Will I have to stop and wait? All irrelevant in the scheme of things, but there anyway.

I took the lead to Gloucester, a perfect mix of sun and the briskness of Autumn. We weren't in a rush, so we stopped for an hour or so at Perenti for luch and coffee and got ready for the ride up the mountains. JP had travelled the road before so took the lead out through Barrington, over the old bridge and a quick right. The countryside was spectacular as we wound through pastures and crossed rivers and creeks on dodgy old wooden bridges (babbling brooks come to mind but that's a bit flamboyant for a "biker") . As we travelled higher a definite chill became apparent but we were working hard enough not to notice too much.  The pace was still quite sedate to the lookout just prior to  highest point on the trip where we stopped to take in the view, take some smaps and chat to some fellow weekend warriors (BMW RS and a Ducati).

After the lookout the road opened up and we soaked up a series of broad 85k bends, rode past the Nowendoc turnoff and arrived in Walcha a bit after 3pm.  Some roadworks and a truck spewing water out of the back minor inconveniences.

At Walcha though, best laid plans started to get thrown out the window and the weekend got significantly more interesting.  We hadn't pre-booked any accommodation, our intention was to check out the options and pick somewhere.  After a coffee, a huge Anzac cookie, some thawing and remarking on how many bikes were moving around the town, JP said,"It's a bit too early to stop, the sun's out, what do you reckon?" 

Earlier that day, recalling from the "old days" my propensity to "not stop when I should" I had resolved not to let that happen today.  But, after the exhilaration of the ride so far (mixed with the coffee), the brains went out the window,. I swapped my head for a Queensland Blue pumpkin and said "You're right, lets go to Wauchope, it's only another 160k's or so...".  Neither JP nor I had ever travelled that road before, and we were blissfully ignorant of the Oxley Highway's reputation among the biking fraternity.

A few k's out of Walcha I led us on to a nice tableland/plateau, well sealed 110k speed limit road and it crossed my mind that despite leaving it a little late to depart Walcha it was going to be a nice simple run to Wauchope ad we might be there before dark... wrong!  We started to climb and I caught sight of a road sign that implied that upcoming 45 km's of windy road.  Rubbish I thought, no way! Then I started leaning over. What followed was quite simply the best bit of winding road I've ever been on.

The first few things that ran through my mind were "OK, JP's behind me on his fatboy.  He used to race. I'm in front. Should I go harder? If I do, will he get bored behind me? Was that really a 25k bend in a 100k zone?  How great is this view?" Luckily I still had the Queensland Blue on, I limbered up the old legs and started to climb off the bike and did what I could to get around every corner as safely, but quickly as I could without grinding too much of the Road King away. 

I could see JP in the mirrors. He was following me in to every corner and by appearences was doing it easily but the sound of fatboy metal on pavement over the roaring machines was clear, he was working hard too.  I learned a lot about the Road King during the first 10k's. It was the first time I'd experienced significant cornering with leaves, dirt, uneven surfaces, no shoulders to speak of which meant no room for error. It sprang to mind that I didn't have my son on the back to care for so there was no need for restraint, but still no reason for stupidity. I found the old HOG willing, compliant and predictable albeit a little "flexy" around the faster more open bends.

Then,  I was totally committed to a left hander, almost sitting on the side of the bike with my knee out around the handlebars and I felt the whole bike slipping sideways. I guess you could call it "a moment" but the tyres gripped back up gracefully without throwing me off and a couple of skipped heartbeats later I was around.  JP, in the obligatory ride post mortem,  later described that moment and the sinking feeling he had knowing he was following me hot into the corner and expecting the same result.  Call it a shared moment if you like. That over and done with, it was on for young and old (me being the old).

As confidence in the Road King grew, the speed rose, the fun level skyrocketed and the sunlight ended.  By the time we got to Long Flat it was dark.  It took me a while to work out how to get the high beam going with the riding lights (they worked) and then learning to switch to low beam when required rather than blowing the horn at oncoming traffic.  After that was sorted my first taste of proper night time riding on the Harley was quite enjoyable, even if I left my sunglasses on.  I knew JP, who is a stalwart open face helmet fanatic,  would be struggling a bit with vision, bug splat had turned my screen opaque and I was guessing his sunnies weren't any better, so I backed off and gave him a tail light to follow into Wauchope. It turned out he had to take his glasses off and ride squinting for the last 30k's.

We arrived, elated, helmets off and smiling ear to ear, what a huge surprise, JP's favourite word described it perfectly: "Awesome".  Adrenaline still pumping we started taking helmets off, JP remarking at the number of squashed bugs on my screen, me remarking on the number of squashed bugs on his forehead.  While I respect the choice to wear an open faced helmet, and understand the thrill off the wind on your face, I'll stick to my full face helmet and cop the odd looks from HOG people.

We parked and wandered into the Hastings Hotel for a well earned drink, not sure at that point what we were going to do for accommodation but keen to debrief and re-live certainly close to the ride of my life.  We ended up scoring a room in the Hotel enjoyed a huge steak at the restaurant and settled into the bar for a few quiet ones and some more review and debrief.  At one point, for a while we enjoyed the abusive ramblings of probably the most potty-mouthed woman I've ever heard.  Fortunately she was abusing the television and not us.  

After the excitement of the day, we decided to turn in quite early.  The $60 p.n. twin room was a site to behold, didn't even have a power point but I was ready to sleep anywhere and dream of corners.

Thunderbolts Way Ride Map


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June 2024