Gordon was planning this ride pretty much since we went into lockdown for COVID-19. He named it ‘The Freedom Ride’.
For those living under a rock, or reading this sometime in the future when all this is long forgotten (unlikely), 2020 was the year of a strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, that sent many countries into lockdown and killed tens of thousands of people around the world.
The way it worked in New South Wales, was that between late March and early June, everyone was required to pretty much stay at home, unless there was an ‘essential’ reason to leave. These reasons were exercise, food shopping and work. Whilst not as specific as many places in this world, we were asked not to travel too far from home and holidays were not allowed; and the borders were closed, both international and state.
Luckily, Australians are mostly a compliant lot. They mostly followed the rules and transmission of the virus was kept to a minimum. So, around the end of May, it was announced that, in New South Wales, we could start regional travel again in June.
The plan was to go north, to explore the treats of the New South Wales north and central ranges.
So Gordon rallied the troops!
Gordon: aboard his 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200
Perry: riding his venerable and LOUD Honda VTR1000 Firestorm
Rob: on his 2007 BMW R1200 “Freedom Machine”
Gary: with his BMW S1000XR
And me: on Ruby, my trusty Triumph Street Twin
Day 1 – Sydney to Walcha
Our first overnight stop was Walcha, a firm favourite of motorcyclists being close to the Oxley Highway. It was also great to get out on the bikes and support rural New South Wales so badly affected by the lack of travel plus the bushfires in summer. We motorwayed the first 100km to get away from Sydney then cut inland through the Hunter Valley to Dungog and from there to Walcha up the Bucketts Way and the Thunderbolt Way.
Day 2 – Walcha to Glen Innes
Waking up in the next morning, we were greeted by frost but we were prepared. Wrapped up warm we headed further north to Uralla and Armadale, where we took the Waterfall Way east.
The Waterfall Way is highly-rated motorcycling road that descends the Great Dividing Range from Armidale to Grafton. Long sweeping beds turns into tighter corners as it descends the mountain range.
Unfortunately, at the moment, the recent bushfires swept through the area and have left damaged roads and burnt out trees.
This damage included potholes, some extending across the road.
One of these almost ended unpleasantly for Gordon, showing itself as he arrived at a tight corner. Hitting a strip of gravel, hidden in the shadows and around the corner, his bike stepped out to the side. He instinctively threw his right foot out and scraped the tarmac. Fortunately, the bike then got purchase on the tarmac and uprighted itself in time to save a nasty slide on the top of the mountain; the only damage done was a hole in the side of his boot, shown here sealed up with trusty duct tape.
Perry, who was close behind Gordon, crossed the gravel, parked his bike and ran back up the road to warn the other three of us, who were following a little way behind, about the gravel patch. He must have moved at the speed of light, but he warned us in time – thanks Perry!
Despite this one incident, the local authorities have done an amazing job to mitigate the impact of the fires. In an area so vast and devoid of roads, the closure of a single road can cause major inconvenience to locals and travellers alike.
Such as this creative solution to a bridge being damaged. It was a little unsettling after riding a hundred kilometres along a forest road to arrive at a ‘road closed’ sign. Fortunately, this only signalled a detour around a downed bridge. This required an “exciting” little off-road adventure down the gravel road to the left, through the dry creek bed, and back up the other side to rejoin the road.
The end of the Waterfall Way is Grafton, time for a break and fuel refill. After a lunch of the best hot chips in the Southern Hemisphere, we then took the Gwydir Highway back up onto the range towards Glen Innes. Another amazing mountain road but with the benefit of stunning views and places to stop to take pictures!
Gary got quite excited about a particular stretch that he persuaded Gordon and Perry to double back and do that stretch again.
It was consensus among the Troops that the Gwydir was the riding highlight of the trip. Wide road, awesome bends, great surface, amazing scenery, low traffic: very hoony. Another contender for Best Riding Road In Australia.
We finished the day in Glen Innes, where we found one of the few open restaurants to eat. For a town that draws a large income from tourism and those travelling between Sydney and Brisbane, it felt far too quiet with many places closed.
Day 3 – Glen Innes to Moree
The next morning we awoke to more frost but sunny skies.
Day 3 took us north to Tenterfield where we joined the east-bound Bruxner Highway. This was a quick side-trip, down the range about 45 kilometres (and 400m of elevation) before doubling back to Tenterfield, just to get in some fun curves. Super riding again and some bike swapping might even have occurred…, although not me, Ruby has enough oomph for my riding joy.
Passing through forest, there was more evidence of the recent fires although many of the trees had started to sprout from their trunks, a positive sign that they are on their way to recovery.
Lunch at Tenterfield involved us having to provide our names and phone numbers at our chosen cafe, a strategy designed to try to control a potential second wave of ‘the virus’ by enabling monitoring of contact with others. We had done the same in Walcha, at the local pub where we had had dinner.
After that, we continued on the Bruxner Highway west, this time towards Goondiwindi.
The Bruxner Highway here did not provide us with many curves but it did give us an insight how vast this area of the country is. Long straight stretches of road with the occasional gate to a farmstead, we rode for around an hour between settlements.
A rare hill for this area provided a great view across the farmland, as demonstrated by Gary.
At Yetman, we turned south and linked up with the western end of the Gwidir Highway at Warialda.
Our destination for the night was Moree, another 90-odd km west, where we were treated to stunning skies as we arrived around sunset. If you look carefully at this pic, towards the right, you can see a rain cloud dumping its contents on the grateful farmland below.
Followed by a dip in the artesian spa at hotel, a beautiful 35 degrees pool of restorative minerals.
Day 4 – Moree to Gloucester
Leaving Moree the next morning, it was a relief not to see frost. I was prepared for the cold, with multiple layers, thermals and my heated handgrips, but it can be bulky wearing all the gear.
As we rode away from Moree, I noticed little puffs of white caught in the verges. On closer examination, these turned out to be cotton flowers, probably lost from a truck as it passed through the area, after having collected this plant from the local farmers.
Arriving at Bingara, I spotted this house so I took a picture. I didn’t notice the old man sitting out the front, I gave him a friendly wave, hopefully he just worked out that I liked his house and that I wasn’t doing anything more sinister. It’s a lovely house!
Another thing we saw in Bingara was lots and lots of orange trees, laden with fruit.
There was also a sign in several of them asking for the fruit not to be picked. As demonstrated here by Rob.
While paying for petrol, I asked why so many? The story is that these oranges are grown as a tribute to the ANZACs each year and are usually picked during an orange festival in July each year.
More information here.
After Bingara, we headed towards Bangarra via Copeton Dam.
As we approached the viewing spot, I could see metal glinting in the distance which turned out to be a bike group from Inverell on a day trip.
We joined the Thunderbolt Way after Bundarra and took it all the way to Gloucester. As we descended the range, Gary spotted this view from the road. With no chance for him to stop, I pulled over and took this shot. I am sure you would agree, it really is quite a shot and a real treat after a long day on the road.
Our final treat was to arrive just before the rain arrived, although not before we enjoyed this beautiful sunset.
Day 5 – Gloucester to Sydney
We woke to rain on the final day of our trip. So far, believe it or not, I have managed to ride in barely any rain. This day destroyed all my good weather luck as it showered pretty much from Gloucester to Singleton.
This certainly tested my gear which was meant to be ‘rain resistant’ rather than waterproof. I can confirm that my Alpinestars jacket held up very well, my DriRider trousers allowed a bit of water through, my Daytona boots were brilliant and kept my feet dry but my DriRider gloves were soggy. The gloves have Hipora waterproofing but the water ran down my sleeves and into them, but with the help of the Thinsulate and my heated grips, it wasn’t too bad at all!
Taking the Putty Road back to Sydney, we stopped at Grey Gums for a break. Sadly, the owners can’t afford to open during the week, having taken a huge hit as a result of being closed, first by the fires, then due to COVID-19. Hopefully they will be back soon.
In the meantime, I said hello to their ‘pet’ emu, it seemed quite friendly.
South of Grey Gums was an area which was badly affected by the recent bush fires so it was wonderful to see the recovery happening. Here’s a photo I took in November 2019:
And here’s a similar shot from nearby taken in early June 2020!
We said our goodbyes at Windsor, certainly feeling much freer than we did before, feeling exceeding lucky that we live in Australia.
It’s an odd feeling, when you live in a country where you can go pretty much anywhere you want at any time, to have those freedoms taken away. Even for very good reasons.
We are very lucky in Australia to not have to live under these conditions as part of our ‘normal’. It certainly made me reflect on those who aren’t so lucky, and those that, by accident of birth, are not ‘free’ even in those countries like Australia.
So to all those out there who are still navigating these strange times, I wish you well and hope that your freedom will resume sometime soon. In the meantime, please stay safe.