Misty Mountain Hop
It had been a long time coming, like a tasty carrot dangling out of reach was this dream of mine to have a weekend out bush. A get away adventure offering balance to my synthetic existence of the weekly office routine. Life circumstances are never predictable, we think we have it figured out then a curve ball surprises us and we find ourselves in a places we didn’t plan for. After years of working for myself, driven by dreams of helping the world, I find myself back behind someone else’s desk. It’s not as bad as before but it’s just not natural no matter how awesome the job may be. I know there is life beyond the desk but I’m also a dad to four girls, which comes with responsibilities. The reality is, this is my reality.
I have a routine, it’s the ‘Divorced Dad Routine’. Every second weekend is a family weekend, we do things around the garden, go to the Sunday market, maybe camping, have a backyard fire cook up, go family adventuring, you know, the Dad and kids stuff we can’t do on our school nights. The opposite weekend is the adults only one and although I miss the kids, it is a good opportunity to do adult things like ride motorbikes, drink beer and play pool at country pubs with my lady.
We’re on the other side of a drawn out winter, and for a long time the ‘adult’ weekends have been confined to the house, the weather atrocious, colds and flu’s overstaying their welcome and the winter blues keeping us down. But we’ve scaled that mountain and we’re finally in Spring, and it’s literally a wonderful feeling. In my 20’s I didn’t really notice the change in seasons, but the older I get the more I’m fascinated with how they influence how we feel, mental health included. Winter really has been tough with depression for me this year, Spring has made such a difference. It’s a transition season that offers us hope and growth, as corny as it sounds. Literally, things in my veg garden have come alive, all of their own accord. Obviously, it’s nature, it does these things. For a change, this post is not just about growing food in a backyard garden, it’s about adventure.
With the recent loss of a friend and the acceptance of a dream project that fell apart late last year, I made myself a promise. Earlier this year I made a concerted effort to embrace fun in life. I grew tired of fighting, of seeing things wrong with the world and wanting to change them. I needed to alter my approach of how I viewed my world. Was there hope? Was there fun to be had somewhere past the darkness and frustration? Yes. I was sure of it.
I’ve been working on a dirty chopper project all winter. Earlier in the year I bought a relatively cheap old Honda V-twin 600 and I’ve been changing how it operates and how it looks over the cold winter months. There have been some very frustrating moments in the shed, grazed knuckles, scratching of head and maybe a tear or two of frustration. I reckon I’m almost there with the project. Now that I’ve said that, something horrible with fall apart on it! I’ve modified the twin carbs, the exhaust, the back end, lights and I rattle canned the tank. It’s slightly less ugly but still ugly, and it’s a great deal of fun and that is a big part of my MO.
All week I’d been checking on the weather forecast, praying that it wouldn’t play it’s normal hand and turn nasty just in time for the weekend. It was touch and go there for a little while, but finally the forecast on my phone app settled on a chance of animated showers with the sun coming out behind some cartoon clouds. Finally! I was able to activate P.R.O.J.E.C.T. A.D.V.E.N.T.U.R.E.
To the annoyance of my co-workers, I’ve opted for a four day week of slightly longer work days to make up for hours, which means I don’t work Fridays. So Thursdays are my Fridays, Saturdays are my Sundays, Sundays are my Sundays, and Mondays still suck. It’s very confusing. Suffice to say, a bottle of something often gets opened on a Thursday night to celebrate this fantastic commitment to work/life balance. Life is too short to just work. I’ve discovered fun, and I want more of it.
My lady had to head to the city to drop off some ratbag kids to their dad, and I’d ran mine into town to ‘mum’s house’ so all I had to do was pack the bike and head off to the hills, literally. I’d been AR with my packing plan. I'd even written a list of the essential camping items I’d need for this short trip to the bush. The list was minimal and practical. Something to sleep in, something to cook with, rain gear, bike tools and a camera. I figured I’d sort food out closer to the campsite. I packed everything into my trusty Filson bag and tied it to the sissy bar that my mate Dallas welded up for me in his mountain workshop.
It had been seven months since I’d done a decent size bike camping adventure. Seven long months of winter weather and garage modifications. I felt some uneasiness before I headed off, butterflies in the tummy. I am just a 41 year old teenage boy after all, I still get those nervous vibes (not ashamed to admit it either). I was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Would my bike make it? Would I encounter any accidents? Kangaroos or mountain deer on the road? Slippery conditions? Rain? Just get on the damn bike and stop over thinking! My first stop was the petrol station in my town. I filled that ugly fat tank all the way to the top and re-set the trip meter. As I put my gear back on, I smiled looking at the bike, loaded up ready for adventure. This has been so long in the making but finally I was here, riding alone, heading to the mountain country of my childhood where I once explored the bush tracks on my Honda XR100 with my brother riding with me on the CT125 or the CT110 PostieBike, now I was returning, on another Honda, but a much larger one with a good 30 odd years between rides.
I headed over the ranges up towards Kinglake. I’d been here a few times over the last few months, back and forth getting modifications done at Dallas’s workshop; ‘Ranch Cycles’. I did the hacking and chopping, Dallas did all the metal fab and engineering work making my ideas come to fruition. I hacked off the plastic rear fender and hideous wide stock seat and replaced it with a steel fender and spring seat. Pure dumb aesthetic motivation but I’m happy with the result. Anyway, up the hills I went. They turned into mountainous country filled with gigantic King ferns and enormous Mountain Ash reaching for the heavens. The roads became slower, each corner getting tighter and sketchier. At this time on a Friday afternoon in the mountains there was no one on the road, so I took my time and enjoyed the sound of the little V-twin working it’s way through the gears. Up and down the ranges I rode, around tight corners and back down into the valley country. I’d booked a night at the ancient Warburton Lodge, reminiscent of The Shining motel, dark and aged with plenty of dubious history. I arrived to find a note stuck to the reception glass door explaining that my room was #10, and that no one was staffing the place so the key was in the door. Classic motel vibes.
I untied the Filson off the bike and headed inside just as my lady pulled up the drive, her beautiful smiling face melting my heart as it always does. We did the obvious thing two adults would want to do free of parental responsibilities for a night, we headed to the pub for a few beers and crap Australian pub food. It’s always nice to be able to have a conversation without the interruptions of rats needing feeding or attention (jokes). With full bellies we headed home to do our traditional watching of crap TV before falling asleep at some ridiculously early hour a result of being over relaxed. In the middle of the night we were woken by the sounds of the bloke in the next room spewing his guts up on the other side of the paper thin walls. As gross as it was I was grateful that it wasn’t me, and we had to just laugh at the regularity of this kind of experience when we stay in our preferred type of country motels. It’s all part and parcel of the motel lifestyle.
I was first to wake in the crisp morning. I walked straight to the window and looked out to the high misty mountains outside the window. The sun was warming the forest that covered them, the tops of the mountains where covered with a thin cloud, a spectacular morning sight. My lady shuffled in bed so I offered her a complimentary motel instant coffee. She took one sip and expressed her dissatisfaction so we went out for breakfast and hoped for decent coffee. It still wasn’t amazing but good enough for the morning kick I needed to ride to our camp site. We left Warburton fairly early, the temperature through the forest valley was brisk to say the least, not that Kate noticed, she was in her warm luxury European vehicle, probably with the electric seat warmers on while I was screaming through the gears on the Little Ripper and loving every minute of it regardless of the chill in the air. We stopped at Poweltown, an old timber town in decline and then passed through the ferny and windy roads towards Noojee. This is my childhood adventure playground, where as a kid I’d camp and explore the bush, getting up to no good and finding my passion for trout fishing. For fun we stopped off at the local trout farm and caught some dinner. It’s fun remember, no fly rod here, just dinner. We made a whistle stop visit at the amazing wooden trestle train bridge, which I’ve been walking across religiously for 30 years. I don’t know why, but every time I’m in the area I drive to it, walk across it, then hop back in the car on drive off. Unexplainable human behaviour.
With a quick refuel and a stock up of supplies we headed to our final stop, Torongo Falls, about 25 minutes out of Noojee. The road out of town pass’s through a picturesque valley that’s simply wonderful. Yes, I said wonderful. Pretty little homesteads lost in time, with weathered cladding and rusty tin roofs. The paddocks dotted with plump wooly sheep, a few frisky young lambs and beautiful mountain horses all grazing in the warm sunlight on the lush green pick of Spring. The cool clean water of the Latrobe gentle snakes it’s way through the landscape, under bridges and around once loved old farm houses. Like I said, wonderful.
We found a perfect little campsite on the river and I unpacked the gear off the bike and set up camp. In no time the tent was up so we eagerly explored a track that followed along the river. It’s such a cool little camp spot, and it’s open public access so we weren’t the only ones there, but you could really get a sense of those nature vibes, surrounded on all sides by amazing ferns and grand old eucalyptus. From our campsite we followed the track all the way to the beginning of the waterfall track which rambled it’s way through more tree ferns, Blackwood and magnificent Mountain Ash. This is the forest of my youth, cool temperate rainforest at the base of the high country of the Great Dividing Range, my favourite type of Australian bush.
There was no shortage of day trippers making the pilgrimage up the muddy track to look at the spectacular falls, all sorts of people from all backgrounds and ethnicity appreciating the Australian bush. I respect that. We did the usual “oh” and “arrgh’s”. We admired the waterfalls, instagramed them to make sure it actually happened, then made our way down the wet track back towards camp.
It was still mid afternoon when we made camp on foot so we hit the old pub for yellow whips and a few rounds of pool, maybe even a dirty bowl of hot chips. The simple pleasures completely distracted me and I lost every game, but had fun losing. After plenty of laughs and a few drinks under our belts we headed back to camp to set a fire up as dusk had cooled the air.
Back at camp the valley was already covered in a high layer of campfire smoke which arrived with the cool air of evening. Most of the other camp sites were set up with roaring fires, we were soon to join them. I didn’t pack a large axe on the bike (obviously) but needed to split some wood I’d acquired from the local store, so I walked over to the nearest camp and asked for a lend of theirs. The men were Bosnian campers enjoying cigars, cigarettes, beers and grappa around their fire. I split some logs back at camp and returned the axe. Meeting these guys is what I love about camping, you meet all sorts, you experience. They wouldn’t let me leave without a shot of plum grappa which went down smooth like butter. I noticed a large old copper pot hanging near the fire which was exuding some magnificent aromatics. I enquired about the pot's contents and they proudly told me it was full of a beef goulash, which simmered away as the fella’s drank their way through bottles of “50 degree grappa”. We talked a while about their traditional recipes which got my hungry for some cooking back at camp.
With our fire now roaring, the beer cold and the company just perfect it was time to cook dinner. We wrapped two of the trout in foil with an olive rub, and for my trout I literally stuck it on a stick and placed it near the hot smoke and heat from the fire. We wrapped up spuds in tin foil and popped them in the hot coals for a perfect amount of cooking time where they finished up being super fluffy and would have been perfect with a knob of butter, which we didn’t have so we used olive oil and Tabasco. The trout cooked both ways was perfect, although I preferred my more delicately cooked trout on a stick, the meat was melty soft and slightly smokey.
We caught up with conversations we didn’t have during the week and laughed like lovers do. Dorky style. Nothing but us in the darkness, the sound of the river and the crackle of the fire, well except for one of the Bosnian blokes who walked over to our camp in the dark and said with a deep, heavy accent; “the goulash is ready, you come try”. Kate was buggered tired by this stage and headed to bed to sleep off a big day, I however spent some time with the Bosnians, hoping for a bowl of goulash. I noticed a few out of season chill on their table which one must never complain about when being treated to fine food by proud guests, so I simply pulled my knife out and started to slice up a little addition to the dish of goulash they had served me. “No no no, very hot, be careful, too much” “Haha you obviously don’t follow me on Instagram” my inner monologue dickhead voice exclaimed. “I eat chill for breakfast” Well, it is true. After my exclamations of the enjoyment of their proudly shared goulash, they put another bowl of slow cooked beef tripe under my nose, which I was mega excited about. I could smell vinegar from the bowl and tucked in straight away. Totally delicious as expected. I admire how so many cultures use and love offal, I wish our culture embraced it more, I certainly have, and don’t seem to have any adverse side effects effects adverse adverse side effects. After a few sneaky grappa’s I headed back to my uncomfortable bed waiting for me by the river. My lady was snuggled in and I joined her, happy as punch, full of grappa. I looked up through the moon roof of my hip Polar tent, up into the ceiling of stars and drifted off to sleep to the meditative sound of the river lulling me to slumber town.
The morning was one of those perfect starts. The cloud in the canopy, a little mist drifting above the cold morning water flowing downstream. I cooked some bacon and eggs and we packed up camp and headed to the nearest source of coffee, which heralded the beginning of the end of a perfect weekend. It’s always a bit sad leaving a camping spot you’ve fallen in love with, even if you just stayed for the night. I feel like some sort of connection is made with the landscape, the vegetation and the general feel of the place. I will return to this spot, hopefully with a better quality mattress. You couldn’t ask for a better weekend, well I can’t. Riding the bike, exploring nature, hanging with your best mate/lover, making new friends and sharing delicious simple food. Pretty well much covers all the things that need covering in life.