Belgium - Australia on an BMW R1100 GS motorcycle, solo.

Report #21 - May 29th to June 24th, 1999...

Some serious repairs

I follow the car transporting the side-car to the center of Melbourne, it's raining heavily. Vincent and Alison live in a converted warehouse, everything breathes racing in side-cars. We get my bike inside, and Andrew and I start on an interesting project: removal of the gear box. The workshop is well equipped, but I still get out my tools. I want to know whether I have enough tools to take apart my bike (and re-assemble it again, but we'll worry about that later). I do miss some tools, I hadn't planned on revising my gear box. I have to borrow two wrenches. We also use a 'heat gun' to loosen a couple of bolts. Angel and I split the bike in two in just one and a half hour.

Then it's time for dinner in the pub next to the house of Vince and Alison. For some reason, they refer to this as 'tea'. At first I don't feel like drinking tea, but I am hungry. After their goal has been made clear to me, I roder a steak as well.

Gold digging

The next day is Sunday. Vincent's kids, Aaron and Elise, are visiting, so we're planning on doing something 'nice'. We drive north, to Bendigo. Here people dig for gold. Well, 'dug' and 'will dig' actually, the original mine is no longer active. They are preparing the new mine: a kind of highway in the ground, stretching for several miles, and many hundreds of feet deep. Large trucks will drive down this road, and take out the ore with tons at a time.

Gold mine

We enter the old mine to see how they used to do this. We all get one of those hard hats with a light attached. "Good for the ambiance, this hard hat", I think. There are a few signs about the management not taking any responsibilities, and you should wear some solid shoes. We enter an elevator cage, just large enough to hold the entire group of tourists. Our descent is swift and very loud - the electric engines of the elevator are built in the cage (probably for maintenance conveniency). I feel water dripping on my head and shoulders - I now see that some iron parts show the signs of high dampness. The elevator halts at 100 feet below the surface. We enter a shaft, and I almost fall flat on my face in the dirt. "Hm, these sandals probably don't categorize as 'solid shoes'". It is pitch dark; those lights aren't just for the show either.

Our guide explains and shows us what mining really entails. The shaft we are in is the least deep underground of six levels. Everything we see here is copied five levels down. Essentially we are walking through a rock formation with tunnels. All the raw material has been hauled out of these tunnels with carts on rail tracks, the gold is extracted on the surface. A few grams per 1000 kg of ore, everything done by hand.

There are pipes and conducts everywhere. For the air and electricity, they tell us. We arrive at a big pipe, made of canvas. At the end there is a big vent. The guide turns it on to demonstrate its workings. This is how they provide the air for the men all the way back in the shafts. These shafts aren't dug out, they use explosives. The guide shows us several different drilling patterns, matching the ways the ore is gathered. No explosive demonstration for us. The ore then has to be put in the carts to the elevator. A 'modern' cart with a leverage installation is put to use. It operates pneumatic - hence all the conduits over our heads.

The dayly routine of the mine worker is as follows: in the morning they remove the loose ore in the shafts. They don't have lunch in the open, but in small rooms next to the shafts, containing a few long tables and benches. The food consists of some type of meat pie, all wrapped in dough. That way you don't have to wash your hands, and you can still handle your food. In the afternoons they drill holes and place explosives. There are many drills, all pneumatic, some are demonstrated. It's faster than digging, but I'm happy to have a different occupation (or should this be: had?). The afternoon is finished with a series of loud bangs, so there will be something to clear up the next day, when the dust has settled.

Back on the surface we spend some time examining the tools in the museum and the rest of the equipment. The conduits are pressurized by a compressor which is older than me. A very educational tour.

(S)low gears

BMW in repair

On Monday Angel and I take the gear box to BTX, on the other side of town. Mick takes apart the box, and the verdict is harsh. Most of the inner parts are fit for the scrapyard. The cogs are in excellent shape, but the notches and holes that switch the box in a gear are almost as bad as the replacement provided by BMW. The stuff Steve Adcock of BMW Melbourne gave me are useless - we choose to rebuild the box using the original parts. This is called 'undercutting': the notches (the 'dogs') and their matching holes ('sprockets') will both get a slanted edge. This way each gear will get 'stuck' when I open the throttle. The new six-speed boxes on the K1200 already have this improvement. All necessary parts are available, except one: a switch fork. I order one of those with Math Koevoet in Elst, Holland. It will take about a week before it will arive.

I spend my days walking around Melbourne, writing journal #20, and preparing for the re-assembly of the bike. I clean all parts, and make all checks for the upcoming service, for which BTX has no time. Saturday afternoon Angel and Rowan (the fourth and last member of the team) arrive to work on the bike, as usual. Vincent has gone on a business trip earlier this week, he's not present. The assignment for today is cleaning up the workshop - I help out, for I have also been partly guilty for making the mess.

When we're almost done, Rod stops by. Rod and Alison take out a couple of wooden models of wings, and they discuss then for a long time. They make scetches, think up modifications, and write up 'to do' lists.

I ask Andrew if he can bring along an oil filter wrench for my bike one of these days. BMW has covered up the filter, you have to use a special tool to remove the old filter and install a new one. Rowan and I remove the protection bars and drain the oil from the engine. "I have a trick for your filter", he says. "You penetrate a screwdriver through the casing, this will give you a hold on the filter." We try this, but even using two screwdrivers and lots of violence the filter won't budge. I now have a filter with two large holes, but the sides are still in one piece. We quit, so I can still try the tool of BTX.

Traveling on four wheels

The hospitality is enormous - who would take in a stranger for a whole week, lets him use all your tools, and trust him with the keys to your house? For Vincent and Alison there is no discussion. 'Of course' I can use their car as well - the Ford Falcon of Alison. I'm not easily silenced, but this does the trick. Because the switch fork has to be shipped from Holland, my schedule takes a week's hit - at best I will be able to ride my bike on Thursday (it would be Saturday). Alison's car is a utility vehicle, or 'ute'. Australians like to abbreviate everything: they don't eat breakfast, it's brek, a journalist is a journo, a car's registration is a reggo.

The ute is an ordinary car with only two seats. The space behind the seats is an open bed, like an American pickup. The car is powered by a V6 engine with an automatic gear box. The steer is on the right side, for me the wrong side, but we drive on the left side (and I'm used to that by now). The brake and accelerator are in the correct place - no problem. The indicator is away from the hand to shift gears, wrong again. At first, many a turn is introduced by waiving windshield wipers. For a couple of days now Alison offers me to use the car for a tour 'nearby'. To Philip Island, for example.

Wilson Promontory

Sunday starts off sunny. I decide to take her up on her offer - I'm off for a 300 mile tour 'nearby'. Philip Island is just south of Melbourne, and is reached in two hours. The mail attraction is the 'penguin parade'. This is the only island where a small type of penguin lives; every morning the whole group leave for the sea, for a day of fishing. Just after sunset, in the relative safeness of darkness, they return to their nests underground on the island. It is an impressive day's work for such a small bird, keeping himself and its youngs alive. I drive passed the Formula 1 circuit to the penguin parade.

This is a tourist trap in its purest form. The coast is untouchable as always, but a massive ugly concrete stands with flood lights to see the penguins after sunset distroys the scenery. They ask a hefty entrance fee: for financing the expensive scientific research into these birds. But nature pays the highest price: robbed of her beauty, the air filled with the smell of french fries. I feel so far away from India, where I listened to the alarm call of the deer from a jeep, looking for tigers. Disappointed I walk between the mediocre information signs in the visitor's center. I don't learn much - on a questionnaire I advise them to check out Uluru, or the Monterey Bay Sea Aquarium in California.

The Seal Rock, nearby, is not much better. The rocks are 'polluted' with a wooden walkway for tourists, not painted in the colors of the surrounding scenery. You can get pretty close to the shore, but most seals are on a rock some 300 feet in the water. In the visitor's center you can watch live video images of the current events on the rock, for a fee of course. I fail to see the difference with a bad documentary. They even have a ride like in Disneyland, taking you along a few displays about the seals and their enemy the big white shark.

There is activity on the circuit, or so I've heard. I noticed the sound of a Porsche-like car when I drove by. But they don't let me in, it's a race between members of a club. Just as I decided to watch illegally a big rain shower descends on me. They obviously don't want me to see the circuit.


But the afternoon is concluded with a great visit to the Koala Sanctuary. Koala bears are no bears at all, bears are mammals. Koalas are poach animals, just like the kangaroos. They live off the leaves of the Eucalyptus tree. And these trees are here in large numbers. The type most present is the Candlebark. The leaves are green on top, and grey on the bottom. The Koalas are very hard to spot, they are grey as well. I see a couple of them on my short walk, they are all asleep. They sleep for 20 hours a day! Two hours they spend eating, the remaining two hours they walk around and take care of their coat. The visitor's center here is informative. I even learn the name of a dominant bird species in this area: Kookaburra. It is a King-Fisher-like bird with a very large beak and grey and brown feathers.

I'm in luck: in the middle of the park there is a sealed-off area for animals in need of special care. They feed the animals fresh Eucalyptus branches just as I'm watching. I see some movement - these animals are so sweet!

My next target will be Wilson's Promontory again. I stay in the motel in Foster, just north of the park. The next day it rains again, but now I'm in a heated car. I still decide to go, although I see little of interest in the mountains covered in fog rolled in from the sea.

Taking apart the bike

The missing part from Holland has arrived at BTX just before closing time. We agree I return around noon the next day. The cogs are still with Max, the engineer who has modified them. I go and get them.

Max and I talk about the other things 'Planet Tools' does: making brake disks. Max replicates any worn down disk you give him, he also makes them to specs. All racers in this area buy their brake disks here. They cost a lot less than the original BMW stuff, and Max thinks they are better, too. The rear disk has suffered a lot from the worn clamps in Beirut, it is well below the minimum thickness. This is a great opportunity to get hold of a new disk. It has to be done quick, I don't want to have to delay my trip any longer. Max tells me who does the crude work - I'll take the worn disk to one Ahmed myself.

Upon return in the center of Melbourne at the place of Vincent and Alison I start with the last preparations. First I want to remove the oil filter. Oh no, the wrench slips over the damaged edge of the filter. With indistrial clippers I cut out the bottom of the filter. The filter element is not attached. Rowan's method would never have worked. I'm looking at the top of the filter casing, it is stuck. The holes where the oil is pumped through are visible. I put the bike on its side, and bend a steel pin in a U-shape fitting the holes. The pin bends under the force I excert to loosen the remails of the filter.

Desperation sets in. If I don't succeed detaching the filter, the bike won't operate. Although now it's only half a bike, it will not be easy to ship it to someone who can help me out. I already get visions of longer delays. "But wait a minute - this shop has all the tool to work this out!", I think. I rummage around in the scrap bin, and I saw, drill and file a metal triangle with a screw on each corner, exactly matching the holes of the bottom of the filter. In the middle I drill a larger hole, I secure a large bolt there. A very specialized tool is forming in my hands, my hope rises...

The bolt won't stick - a second bolt especially made for high torque also gets loose. I disassemble the thing, just when Alison arrives. We talk a bit about this solution I've been working on. Alison has an idea: Marty can weld the bolt to the plate, and no doubt he can be found in the pub next door. She goes out and return ]s with Marty - he has an idea as well: a screw driver. He breaks one in an attempt to loosen the blasted filter. Finallly the solution is found in E-Z-outs: left-turning pyramid-shaped bolts which secure themselves tighter and tighter in the hole of the triangle the more power is applied to them. The 3-mm thick metal plate is twisted when finally the filter surrenders.

High tech racing

Wednesday is spent touring around. First to BTX to return the oil filter wrench. Michael is very busy with a carburator of a Suzuki - my gear box will have to wait. Oh well - off to Ahmed with his laser cutting machine to drop off my old brake disk. On my way I stop to fill out my tool box with the missing pieces, and buy some more tie wraps and other stuff. Early in the evening I settle down in the pub. Rene doesn't even have to ask me what I want to drink - he gets me a light beer.

At about 8:30 PM Alison drops in as well. She is in the company of Rowan. They order 'tea' as well - I ask Rene to serve mine at the same time they will have dinner. Just as we start eating, Rod shows up - save Angel the whole crew of last Saturday is complete. Again Alison and Rod start talking about their wind tunnel project, Rowan and I keep ourselved occupied with eating our food, for it is already ten o'clock when it is served.

I tell Rowan about my oil filter extraction techniques. Shortly after dinner we return to the workshop - there is still work to be done. Rod is wrestling with some practical issues in his project. He explains what it is he is working on.

Obviously Vincent is not the kind of man who is willing to accept the fact that a side-car has a frame you buy. All of the European Grand Prix teams use frames built by LCR in Switzerland. That is a fact, but for Vincent this is not something to be accepted blindly. Their frame is largely designed and built by themselves. Before we went to the gold mine, we visited someone who was building Vincent's latest design: a frame consisting mainly of honeybee grate carbon fibre. Of course there is a shell around it as well, looking similar to what others are doing. As low to the ground as possible, inlets in the proper places, enough room for the 1100 cc four-stroke - nothing new.

Last Saturday Rod and Alison were working on a wing. No side-car has elaborate aerodynamic constructions, no doubt a left-over from the times a side-car was much more like a regular bike with a seat attached. Nowadays the side-car designers check out the Formula 1 cars for new ideas. It seems Vince and Alison are busy thinking up a wing to provide more grip on the front wheel. Before something sensible can be said about the shape of the wing, they have to get a clear picture of the current state of affairs.

Rod has brought along four transducers, a data logger and a laptop. Every transducer can take measurements in three directions: x, y and z. They consist of round, metal plates, attached to eachother at four points. The lower plate is the 'moving' one, the upper plate is secured on the floor of the wind tunnel. They are sturdy - we only get a reading when we stand on them with all of our body weight. That's how it is supposed to be, they are meant to have cars on top of them. Rod explains to me what the difference is between an air flow over a moving car, and an air flow over a car in a wind tunnel. (The problem is in the air that 'sticks' to the floor of the tunnel.) To get a usable reading the side-car has to be lifted about 8 mm above the floor. We discuss some possibilities, and decide on adjustable supports, one under each wheel, they will be fastened to the receptors.

As it happens, I'll be going to Ahmed (from Iraq) tomorrow, he has cut my new brake disk on his laser cutting machine. And then I'm going to Max, the tool engineer who has modified my cogs. He probably can make the axle and contra bolt. We decide I will drop off one of the transducers at his place.

I'm getting all excited about this project. A side-car is an asymetrical vehicle on three wheels, two of them are in line (else it would not be a 'motor with side car'). It is a difficult thing when it's static, with the driver between the wheels in line, the engine besides him, but the bulk of the weight in the back. And then there is the 'swinger', the passenger., he makes it dynamically challenging. This passenger moves his (or hers) body weight dependent on the curve to be conquered. On the straight the passenger tries to hide behind the engine as best as possible. This is the position to be examined: the 2.5G force in the curves can't be studied in a wind tunnel, unfortunately.

There will be a lot of data: the air resistance of the vehicle, measured per wheel, the weight for each wheel (Vincent and Alison will have to enter the tunnel as well), the side forces caused by the uneven shape, and of course the added weight by the down force of the air flow over the side-car. And that's just the actual situation - after that the research on the wing will start. Rod has things under control: he has done all the theoretical calculations. He 'knows' the front whell has relatively little weight - bad for the steering capabilities (understeer). This is motor racing at its best: not just going through curves as fast as possible, but also thinking about how the machine can be improved.

Ahmed and I hit it off the first time we met - I have got 'the' Muslim man pretty much figured out, I think. I get the plates for the wheel suppors exactly made to specs. This is the first time I see a laser cutting machine: a computer directs a laser beam, it can move freely within a range of 3 by 2 meters. We computer whimps would call this a plotter. Ahmed enters a kind of program that describes the shape of the product. The machine is very accurate: within tenths of a millimeter. A circle, small holes, oval-shaped if you like - anything. Ahmed is busy making rectangles out of a big sheet of metal now. The material that's left will be enough for my purpose. The laser head moves to the start of my 100 by 250 millimeter piece. A small red light is visible, the metal melts! A the proverbial hot knife through butter the machine cuts a rectangle out of the plate. Amazing! Ahmed doesn't want to get paid for the four plates. Imagine I had to cut through 6 mm of steel with a saw - proper tools makes half the job.

Max asks me all sorts of questions, like a good tool maker should. I answer them myself, or have them answered by phone. Max likes this, he doesn't come across such a project every day.

Tying up

Finally my gear box is finished, it's Thursday. Not at the agreed time, but half a day later. Whatever, I don't care anymore. Michael is very precise: to get the axles fixed without any unwanted free room, he takes the box apart four times. Each time he thinks he can do better. All excited I leave for home with a gear box with all the bearings, the carriage and the forks brand new, and the cogs are modified. I have written a lenghty letter to BMW in Germany, asking them if this is they can't help a world traveler in any way. "We have sent your letter to our specialized department", they told me. Well, we'll see.

Around 8 PM I start assembling the bike.l I can't stop - it all goes so smoothly. All bolts are clean, all materials within reach - the assembly is a joy. Around midnight I connect the battery and put back the tank. At 1 AM I go to sleep, knowing I can ride again tomorrow!

Friday I'm off to BTX again, but now on my bike! Michale and I take apart the front wheel suspension, I let him straighten out the bent tube. The consequences of the Indian accident are almost all fixed - only the teflon rings will have to be replaced some day. I synchronize the injectors and adjust the CO level at the local Porsche garage. Michael wants to make a test ride, and upon return declares the bike road-worthy. I get together all my stuff, and wash my clothes for the last time. Alison and I enjoy a Greek farewell dinner (Vincent is still on his business trip). Saturday morning I'm continuing my trip.

I hope to find Vincent and Alison as my guests in 2000 in my house in Belgium, with their side-car. With Alison I've been discussing ways to trap a sponsor. Heleen Luteijn was a great help - she has added several ideas , and looked up many addresses. Hopefully something good will come of this, but if anybody knows someone willing to be a sponsor...

Change of scenery

I have been in one city for far too long: I yearn for some nature. And no straight roads for me, I want mountains and curves! I select the Snowy Mountains, I can reach them over a small roadalong the Snowy River. At first I ride in the sun; the mountains are covered with clouds. And it's cold, but I don't care. I travel through a beautiful protected nature area with lots of forests. The eucalyptus trees are very dominant - I never expected a few species could be so dominant.

After a while the road changes from asphalt (called 'bitumen' here) to graavel. After another look this is noted on my map, but I've missed the dotted line along the road. Well, the bike is performing great, so no worries. The speed on this gravel is much lower, I ride amongst the kangaroos in the dark. I now see why there are so many dead corpses: it almost looks like they jump in front of you on purpose. I slow down some more, I don't want to cause more deaths on my trip.

In a freezing cold with a strong wind I reach Jindabyne in the provence of New South Wales. It's a winter sports village. Today, the Saturday of the Queen's Birthday Weekend, it's the opening of the winter season. I rent a small, noisy room with Italian neighbors, for a lot of money. The heating matches the season: in no time I'm warmed up. I heard it would be Queen's Day, although I didn't ask myself who that Queen might be. It turns out to be that old lady in England! A remnant of the colonial age, which is protested more and more. "Australia one republic!", that's the current subject this weekend. "We haqte the Queen, but we love her birthday!", some opportunists tell me. The English are a practical kind of people: Queen's Day is always on Monday.

I continue my trip on Sunday - it's clouded now, and everybody is thrilled about the upcoming snows. Not me, but then again I don't have my skies with me. After 25 miles I run into a police car. Usually I ignore them - oncoming police cars are not dangerous in Europe and the US. This one immediately switches on his lights and comes after me. "One hundred and nineteen, where one hundred is the limit", his opening sentence is. "How do you know that?", I ask him. He points to a black box next to the lights. "With that!". Darn, they measure the difference in speed here, and substract their own velocity. Smart, but not funny, especially because my conscience is not clear. I can only hope the computer in the car isn't linked to the ones in Victoria.

"I can't advise you anything, but if you decide not to pay you won't get any trouble until you try to return to Australia", this one tells me as well. "Then forget about the fine all together", I tell him. "I can't do that, this is a points offence." He explains to me every license has 12 points. Every offence incurs a points deduction. For this one it's three points, but because this is a long weekend, that amount is doubled. I already had three points in Victoria - that's three quarters of a driving license in three weeks! This way I'll never reach the northern parts. Lucky me this only involves Australian licenses.

This police officer is a motor man himself. He gives me a few pointers on the workings of his radar detector. During takeovers and when I'm close to other cars this device starts to make mistakes. And in the next village a colleague of his is hidden in the shrubbery. The third officer is on the road to Canberra. So I continue my trip to Canberra at a slightly lower speed.

A city is a city is a city. You can buy anything, like a cup of delicious capuchino. That's all I want - I'm heading for the National Park in the Blue Mountains. The road is partly paved again - when I'm almost at the gravel part the rain starts to come down very hard. I stop in a pub for a while, but the rain is relentless. The other guests tell me it's even worse in the Blue Mountains. And so I go back to the coast - I arrive in Wollongong. At sea level the temperatures are much more pleasant, and it's dry.


I reach Sydney via a National Park on the coast. Nice city, but still another city. I tour around for four hours, and get to see most important spots. Edo de Waard (the leader of the Operahous orchestra) threatens to walk out on them because the acoustics of the Operahouse is bad. The building itself is impressive - great to see it with my own eyes. One Paolo has invited me to visit his apartment in Bondi Beach while I was in Egypt (a beach in the center of the city), but I want out.

I give the Blue Mountains another go - there is a highway leading from Sydney to Katoomba. It's getting colder on this (English) Queen's Day, the higher I go in the mountains. And the oncoming traffic is increasing: the long weekend is at an end for most Australians. They fight themselves through the traffic jams, back to the coastal cities. The weather is nice - the sun is shining. But there is an extremely cold and very dry wind coming in from the desert. In Katoomba I hear the road to Bathurst, the place I wanted to reach, is closed because of snow dunes. I need little encouragement to settle down in the local motel. Next to it there is a Thai restaurant: that'll be delicious Tom Yam soup for me tonight.

The next day I check out the typical 'Blue Mountain tourists attractions', like the rock formation called 'the three sisters', an Aboriginal tale. No one can tell met the original Aboriginal name however. And come to think of it, I haven't seen any Aboriginals lately. Hmm.

I return to Sydney - it's a few degrees too cold for me here. And it's time to change the oil of the gear box. I reach a local BMW dealer in an suburb. The workshop is booked solid for the next month, but they allow me to change the oil myself, provided I buy the oil there. But they don't let me clean the injectors and synchronize the ignition. Probably my protesting the forced oil sale fell wrong with the lady proprietor. I leave, looking for a knowledgeable dealer. At a specialist not two blocks away I have the injectors cleaned thoroughly. Clean injectors add some 10 percent extra gas - I may be able to get the CO level right now.

I end up with ProCycles - a company with very knowledgeable people, but they are closing up for the day. The next morning the job is done in two hours: the CO level is exactly at 1.5%! I even get the gas meter working again. And, it reaaly seems I bought my bike too soon back in 1996. After taking off the tank the engineer says: "Ah, I see why your tank leaks a bit when filling it up: the tubes in the tank have to be changed. The original ones are no good." Will the troubles with this quality product never end?

My next goal is Hunter Valley, 'wine tasting'. After another night in one of those hotels on top of a pub in Cessnock I'm on my way. My list only shows two wineries. That's because I actually don't want to be wine tasting - I'm riding my bike. In the leaflets I picked up I read about a winery called 'Van der Scheur'. Upon my arrival I meet Helen, she is Australian. Her husband Kees is not in.

Kees has a rather original idea to involve his customers in the wine production: you can adopt a row of wine plants, help with harvesting the grapes, and cast your vote about the mix process (blending) later in July. The voters taste the young wine right from the barrel, and mix until they agree on the final result. Then the maturing process can begin, in the oak barrels. When the wine is bottled, it gets a label with the name of the winery and the name of the customer. Every customer has to buy at least two cases each year. Guaranteed sales, and customers who won't complain about their own wine. Clever!

One of the larger wineries is the Wyndham Estates. Their Chardonnay alone is two million cases each year. They stopped growing the grapes for a while now: the raw products are collected from all over Australia. I suspect they produce their wine in an industrial complex, the Chardonnay is only one of the sixteen wines they produce (not all in the same amounts). The building is nice, and they do produce wine, but such a huge production cannot be done here. And here the silent season has started as well - the pressed grapes are fermenting in huge barrels. I politely decline the tour. I buy a bottle of white wine, made from the Verdello grape; I hadn't seen that one as a wine. This grape is used mainly to make Madeira.

4WD with a 1WD

Well, I think the 'required exercises' are done now. The bike has been repaired, I have seen a winery (or two), I've tried the Blue Mountains twice: now it's time to get on my bike again. And I'm excited, I've got a tip from Harmen and Nathalie: "go to your average book store and read the 'Explore Australia by Four Wheel Drive', by publisher Claremont". The book is easily found in Melbourne, and is filled with GPS coordinates (the reason Harm and Lie told me about it). It is a bit large and heavy, but it contains so much beautiful things I decide to buy it anyway. There are trips laid out, from Melbourne to Sydney, but I have found them already myself. The detours are discouraged in the winter, but here they should be doable.

4WD only?

I have some problems getting the hang of it, because I start in the middle of one of the trips, but after a while it's easy. I start off on gravel roads. Nice and flat, even warning signs for oncoming sharp bends. But quickly I enter a State forest. This one is called Kuruah State Forest - it is a protected area where lumbering, hunting, and camping outside designated areas is prohibited. You have to take care of your own waste disposal. The road quality ranges from paved to muddy.

The book warns about Winns Creek Trail: difficult to conquer after rain. This experienced off-road rider (yeah, right) is giving it a go, if only to get a feel for what the writer of this book thinks is difficult in a 4WD. I follow a forest path. The road has clearly been used by 4WD's, and I can use the tyre tracks pretty well. A couple of times I have to go through the mud - no problem. I cross two small rivers, also no problem. But the road is going down, and the wet, muddy patches are getting bigger, deeper and more numerous.

I decide to turn around, and follow the wet-weather detour. This second time I keel over twice in the mud. It is quite a battle getting the 300 kg heavy bike with all the luggage up straight again, and quickly I'm breathless. I don't have any options: to get out of here I have to persevere, and reach the paved roads.

The scenery is wonderful. I am alone in this huge forest for quite a while now. Slowly the eucalyptus has to make way for other trees and bushes. There is water everywhere, and when I turn off the engine, a blanket of silence descends over me. Then, after a moment, the birds kick in again; every now and then I spot a few scurrying in the bushes. I can't exactly explain why this scenery is so much more impressive than seen from a paved road. I do know I will try to use these roads for a while.

At the end of this day I reach Gloucester. I'd like to eat some pasta, and after some searching I end up with an Austrian chef of a motel. He is willing to make some aglio & olio (spaghetti with olive oil and garlic), but he doesn't know how. I explain the dish, and I get my starter. The main dish is authentic Australian: kangaroo steak.

The second day takes me from Gloucester to Kempsey. The distance is about 180 miles, and there is no chance of buying some gas underway. The first 25 miles are paved, the scenery is mainly fields. Then I say goodbye to the black stuff, and I enter the first state forest. The road keeps on rising and falling, through small rivers and over dusty trails. The nature here is impressive when you start looking for it. Suddenly I understand why so many Australian drive a 4WD semi-permanently, and drive around their country for months. It's so gorgeous!

Again I reach a camp site. This is the way camp sites are meant to be - in the middle of the forest, with only the bare necessities. The water used is from a nearby river, the toilet is a hole in the ground, and you prepare your meal in a concrete barbeque. If I weren't in the middle of a trip, I would stay here, despite the cold. Maybe one of these days, when I'm a bit more northerly.

I'm crossing the forest for about 130 miles now, using gravel, sand and mud trails. Once I've seen a sign: 'Road closed - bridge out'. I continued nevertheless, to see what the problem was. The bridge was out alright, but I could go through the river. So I've continued my trip. Again I see a 'road closed' sign, it now is part of a gate. Feeling brave I ignore it, but after a bend I find a large hole. Here too the bridge is gone. I can't descend - the forest is too dense. And the river is a bit too big: I turn around. It is a two miles up the hill again, to the last intersection. This path doesn't look used - I think I have seen one a bit further back.

This path has some fresh tracks, and goes to the east. Looking at my GPS I roughly know where I am, but no better than within 30 miles. I have no maps with sand paths on it. This new road is nice as well. I first descend the mountain again, the road is getting slightly muddy. Now the path turns southward - this is not what I want! I ascend again, the eucalyptus trees are getting on top again. The lower parts of the forest resemble rain forests: ferns and palms, high leaf trees which are green in the winter as well, and climbing plants all around. But higher up the mountain it's almost exclusively 'Koala food'.

After 20 miles on this new path the gas light comes on. I get scared. I don't know where I am precisely, I'm following a path on a hunch, and I surely don't have enough gas to go back the way I came here. I hope I won't get stuck without gas. I start thinking what to do 'in case'. But then again: how to prepare for a walk of possibly two days when you aren't prepared? I decide I'll use my boots, until the blisters are getting too bad. I'll take along my sandals as well, and the GPS and batteries. And I don't have to think about water and food, I don't have that with me. A while later I reach an open field, and I can see on the gas meter I have about 40 miles to go, not counting the half liter in the burner.

After another 12 miles I see cows! They definitely look Dutch. A while later I'm amidst these animals, talking to the owner. "You know the way around here, of course!", I greet him. "Ehm, a bit, I think", the old man answers. Later on he'll tell me he has been living here for 29 years, in his house which we see down the hill. All fields, as far as we can see, belong to his farm. Of course I can get some gas, but I'm only 10 miles off the paved road, and 20 miles away from the nearest gas station. That's fortunate. The next time I won't empty the tank more than half.

Mark and Tracie

Possum steals left-over tuna

I spend the night in Kempsey. The weather is still lovely - it now gets warmer. Again the trip is beautiful, and I use every gas station to fill the tank to the rim. Arriving in Coffs Harbour I have some trouble replacing the broken charger of my cell phone. On top of that, the last part of today's trip is 'difficult' according to my book. I decide to go camping, for the first time in quite a while. After a walk along the beach I eat the tuna salad I made while enjoying the Wyndham wine. That night I sleep and listen to the waves breaking on the beach in front of my tent. Tomorrow the trip will be short and simple, the day after tomorrow I'll arrive at the place of Mark and Tracie. I call them to confirm my arrival.

I met Mark and Tracie in Goreme, Turkey. They have been traveling for a year - when I met them they were on their way to North Europe in their converted van, which they bought in England. Next they went to Mexico. We've stayed in contact over the Internet, and after eleven months we'll meet again. Tracie tells me they would prefer if I arrived tomorrow, Sunday. I use the asphalt going north, but that quickly gets boring. The last part of the trip I cross some rain forest, and climb a small hill to enjoy the view.

At 5 PM I arrive at Mark and Tracie, they live in Surfers Paradise at the Gold Coast. They have a beautiful house: all of the rooms at ground level, with a gorgeous designed garden with terrace and (of course) a barbeque. I can stay as long as I want. Being travelers themselves, they know how great it is to hang around for a couple of days and sleeping in. I'm treated on an excellent steak, and Monday Tracie sacrifices almost all of her day off to show me Surfers Paradise.

Surfers Paradise (yes, that's the actual name of this city) is all about beach and vacation. I've rarely seen so many different hotels packed together. From the Sheraton to pub-bed: it's all here. And during the summer time the place is even more packed. Today things are quiet, after all it's winter time. The camp site in the middle of yet another area with hotels and apartment buildings for the elderly is still almost half full.

The next days are spent e-mailing, writing journals and resting, while Mark is deploying a 110 kilovolt high tension line for the local electricity company, and Tracie does her job as a social worker in the hospital. I get the key to their home - I bask in the trust and hospitality offered.

After five nights I continue the trip. On to... (more about that next time)