Journey’s End

IT’S been a long time since I’ve ridden either but I never did come down in favour of the Pacific or the New England as a method of covering the 1000 or so kilometres between home base and Brisbane. And I’m hardly breaking new ground by making the observation that the New England, while longer, is faster, where the Pacific is more interesting and picturesque.

Given the choice I suppose I’d take the Pacific: there’s more entertaining scenery the further north you go, and you’re unlikely to be a victim of that horrible winter wind that moans across the New England tableland at its northern end during the uglier months of the year.
On the other hand, the New England offers the prospect of stopping at Armidale, which routinely gets my vote as the most complete town in New South Wales, and so is always a pleasure to visit.

And the Pacific is hardly without its problems: narrow bits, difficult overtaking and perennial roadworks all contribute to its ugly reputation; but if that’s the kind of stuff that makes you hot under the collar, maybe you ought to be grabbing the hundred-dollar plane ticket and leaving the road to the rest of us.

Driving, and riding, still less riding, is not something to be undertaken if you’re in a foul mood – the distinguished exception to the rule here being the late Andrew Johnson, God rest his soul. But in the last analysis I don’t really mind which way we’re going. For me the journey’s the thing, and the destination; the route is secondary. I appreciate that’s arse-about to the way many people feel, but I’ve always been resolutely hopeless at ‘going for a ride’, I’m afraid.

The readiness is all, as someone said, but having somewhere to go is not far behind. Just about the only major route that cops my heartfelt loathing is the Hume Highway, more so now than in past decades through the extension of its dual carriageway into New South Wales.
At least on the old route, a bumpy, ridged and potholed nightmare as it was, you got to stop off in one or two interesting towns. Not any more without going out of your way.

These days its grinding boredom is unrelieved, though I’ve travelled it by car often enough to appreciate the merits of a direct route. After all these years I still haven’t journeyed to Melbourne via West Wyalong (aka the Kel Wearne route), but know the Olympic Way fairly well and the coast road better. But my favourite route is still the composite twister that begins on the Hume to Goulburn and grinds out the long miles of the Federal Highway to Canberra before flicking up over the Snowies and onto the Murray Valley Highway.

The route after that is usually dictated by the time available, but cross-country via Mansfield, Alexandra and Healesville keeps the entertainment quotient high. As for the Omeo Highway, I’ve done that but once; but now as then, I’m no lover of dirt and haven’t been back – though someone said they’d tarred the middle section some years back, in which case we could be doing it again.
I don’t believe there’s much room for dispute in the commonly held belief that Victoria is the best spot in this wide brown land for a road bike, especially in the golden days of autumn such as we’ve been enjoying these months past.

On a trip south recently we came north via a loop to the west, taking in the colonial treasures of Ballarat and Bendigo, enjoying the varied scenery and other diversions country Victoria has to offer. Even on a Sunday, when such places retreat into their Victorian origins and are still largely shut but for the odd bakery and museum, they were enchanting and so different from the farming settlements that studded the Olympic Way as we headed further north. There was no problem with the road, of course.

Good roads rank high on the list of benefits that accrue when living in the nation’s most densely populated state, and an astonishing number of its communities live within commuting distance of Melbourne, making elimination essential. Moreover, each of these towns represented real objectives where business might be conducted, and experiences undertaken that might not have been possible in other places.
Lacking much family to visit, I often find it difficult to find clear objectives for undertaking lengthy journeys and relished the change.

Melbourne is always a distinguished exception to this unhappy rule, even with the closure of McGill’s Newsagency and the splendid Technical Book & Magazine Co of recent legend. There is still a richness to the fabric of the place, a variety to the warp and weft of everyday life there that makes it interesting at pavement level where Sydney implacably reduces itself to so much glitz; it’s becoming a theme park of itself.

One thing is for certain, however: all things being equal, I’ve done my last 1000km day. With the best will in the world I never found them much fun and can remember deriving pleasure from just one – and that had the Bol d’Or and a week in Provence at the end of it; much more fun than ‘going for a ride’.

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