'Thats OK' I thought.
'I'll just whack it up here!'
|Tim and mine trusty steads. We were known as The Valkyrie Twins then.|
Townsville Ulysses has around three hundred names on the National members list. I’ve only ever seen forty at our functions. Where the heck are they hiding? I’ve been told that about one hundred of those make themselves known from time to time, however, I’ve not had the pleasure! At the AGM, I’ve run into people I’ve not met before, who came from our town! What’s that about? It’s a mystery to me. It is possible that some are too busy but there is still a fair number to account for. We have been on many rides with the local members but the AGM’s we’ve attended have been solitary riding events. It’s hard to coordinate a group ride with everyone needing a range of requirements for work and family commitments so it was a bit of a surprise when one of our members arranged a seven-day ride.
Peter Lucas, our ‘Weekly Wrap’ publisher put the itinerary together. He had in mind a handful of takers and was surprised when nineteen of us were up for the adventure! He designed a logo and had patches made. We were all given a number and listed into one of three groups that consisted of amicable riders who could accommodate any necessities along the way, such as puncher kits, Band-Aids, battery packs, Swiss army knives, etc. Riding in a big group does have limitations and can be a nuisance, especially on the outback roads, sharing with the B-Doubles. Pete must have spent months poring over the plans of this first ever “Fossil Ride” (by this lot at least). We took a section of what is known locally as the Dinosaur Trail; west to Hughenden, Winton, Longreach, then east to Emerald, onto Belyando Crossing, and home to Townsville; a 1784 kilometre round trip. Pete researched and prearranged our accommodation. All we had to do was book it, make sure our bikes were serviced, top up the credit card and pack a change of undies and our toothbrush.
On our vast variety of bikes, two wheeled and three, we congregated outside town at the Caltex, Roseneath, on Saturday morning 18th June. Tim and I drew lucky last in the third group. Each group left ten minutes apart with us at the rear to assist with any unfortunate mishaps. I had volunteered to be Sergeant of Arms. Misdemeanours included: bike droppers, credit card losers, getting lost, wet, arrested, being too young or old, losing luggage, being happy, grumpy, early or late or for the most outrageous pyjamas. Anything that got under my skin at the time! We had a lot of laughs and, going by the amount of dobbing that went on, it was clear everyone got into the spirit of things although I was demoted to ‘private’ by the time the week was out! Ronda Lynch organised a Poker Run and we raised a total of $300. We chose the Royal Flying Doctors as a worthy cause, thinking that in the event of a mishap we might need them!
|Arrest him Officer! Birdman Maddy being sorted.|
Pete thoughtfully split our days into an achievable number of kilometres for those of us not used to long days in the saddle. The shortest day was only 180 km Winton to Longreach while the longest day was Longreach to Emerald at 416 km. It wasn't an endurance trial that’s for sure and we had plenty of energy left for sightseeing and spending a bit of time having fun.
Townsville to Hughenden was fairly uneventful but for Ron, Ronda and Eddie dropping their bikes. Ronda lost luggage as well. Us tail-end Charlie's had no near misses at all. We managed to pull up at Prairie and sample country hospitality at the local market. Great scones and cream and delicious cakes. Diet? What diet?
The plan was to meet at the Northern Hotel for dinner. We wined, and dined and I fined my fellow companions. I think I need to watch my back…glad I’m last in the pack.
The forecast was for rain. It wasn't wrong. We kept dry while riding but got caught out walking back from the pub. Apart from that, I think it was a good start to the “Fossil Run.”
From Hughenden to Winton, it was lovely to see the country after the rain. Even lovelier to ride in and not be wet. Puddles along the Flinders Developmental Road must be a welcome sight for the locals. Us travellers though were wary of the very soft edges. The track was wider than I remembered from a few years back. It was only narrow as we got closer to town.
|Sax and The Single Girl|
We received a right royal welcome when we arrived at North Gregory Hotel. Dinner had been sorted and a special spot set for us in the dinning room. “I should be able to ‘get ‘em all’ tonight for something!” I thought as I checked in. After dinner some of us wandered down to the next pub to check out the local talent, “Sax and The Single Girl”. It’s well worth a look when you pass through.
I made a new friend, Nell from Winton, a classic Bushy. She’d done it tough most of her life, being cook and general hand in shearing sheds and fencing teams. She had her kids out there as well. She had a mop of snowy white loopy curls cropped at a sensible length. Her blue check flannel shirt may not have been a fashion statement but it too was sensible for warding off the winter chill. For the ten minutes we chatted, I found out lots of her life story and a goodly amount of info to square her up as a woman with attitude. “Not always been like that,” she said, “but not anymore. Buggar it…what have I got to loose, I’m seventy-eight! Stuff ‘em.” I’m not sure who ‘them’ were but I think I’ll stay on her side! Apparently, she sings and writes poetry. They’re a talented lot in Winton.
Just as we were preparing to leave, a young constable was coming out of the pub. I winked at him and said, ‘Excuse me, we are having trouble here. Think you need to sort this bloke out before we get into real strife.’ In a flash, he grabbed ‘Birdman’ by the wrists and had him spread-eagled across his bike. Out came the cameras. We needed proof to show his wife that someone at least could control him!
|The Great Northern at Winton|
The roads from Winton to Longreach were all pretty good even after the rain we’d had. I would not have wanted to leave the tarmac to make room for a truck though. The sides of the road were soft and I sure as heck didn't want to get my boots dirty. However, it was two lanes pretty much all the way so there was no need for concern. The roads have little to offer as far as bends go and I found myself thinking about flat spots on my tyres. I could probably do with a trip to Tassie to round them off! The horizon looks as though it goes on forever out there. Even on an overcast day you still get a mesmerising shimmer. I know people who think it's a boring ride but personally I am in awe of the vastness. Everything seems BIG out there…except you on your bike that is. If you happen to be last and the others are out of sight there is an aloneness that leaves you feeling very small. You ride for ages before passing a vehicle.
Most of us took the time for a chat with the Grey Nomads at Corfield and Morella. They counted us all and wanted to know what we were up to. One of the ladies just happened to be a past Ulyssean from Glen Innes NSW . Sheila Dunbar had great delight in telling us all about her last ride on their Goldwing, along the Great Ocean Road in 2000. She pulled me up for calling her a grey nomad.
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?” she asked.
Part of the fun of travelling is talking to people. I always seem to meet gems.
Waving our new friends goodbye we took off to catch up with our Fossil mates; the air getting chillier as we went. It was overcast but not threatening. Great conditions to ride in.
Country hotels can be a real treat with meandering hallways and old-fashioned furnishings, throwing back to a time that maybe you don't want to remember! For me I think it’s wonderful. “As long as it’s clean.” Even the most rundown of our lodgings were clean. Dusty maybe, but clean!
|Longreach Hall of Fame|
We stayed two nights at Longreach to ensure we saw all the touristy things: Stockmans Hall of Fame, Qantas Museum and the Cruise on the Thomson. If you choose to stay at the Tourist Park on your visit, it may pay to check your room first to make sure doors can be locked and microwaves are fixed to the wall! It’s a dusty place with no greenery. If you have never been out west before it can be a bit of a shock to the system at the ‘unfinished’ look of some places. Things only get fixed if they don't work anymore. Country people are very resourceful and making do is part of their life living in a place without a Bunnings or Myers!
The Cruise on the Thomson River was such good value for money, and they accommodated the group’s party requirements for two birthdays! It’s worthwhile entertainment from the moment you get picked up till you are dropped back. On the last night in Longreach, we had a BBQ in the park’s camp kitchen. We were having such a good time we even had gatecrashers. We shared the birthday cake and they shared condiments and their stories! I had to cancel the Grumpiest Old Man (or Woman) award. I couldn't even get a nomination from a wife! Any contenders had turned into very placid happy go lucky Fossils.
On the Capricorn Highway, and headed for Emerald, there was lots to stop and see; Ilfracombe, Barcaldine, Jericho, Alpha and it’s along this road that the scenery changes. Instead of the flat ‘wide open spaces,’ hills appear. The smells change. Dense shadows form. Grass and shrubbery line the selvage of the tarmac. About a 100 ks from Emerald there is a lookout at Drummond Range. A sharp turn left off the highway and up a kilometre of tarred track there is a view. From there you can see the road ahead winding through the range. It crosses a rail track that appears from the west. It too twists and turns its way through the hills and valleys. It's so quiet up there, but I can imagine in the deep of night under a velvet blanket of stars, a big ole’ coal train chugging its way east and shattering the peace. I’m going to camp up there one night. It says, ‘No Camping’ but crikey, who is going to know?
Emerald sports one of the best accommodation packages I have come across in Queensland; value for money, ‘Discovery Parks.’ Only problem was some of us couldn't find it. It is not signed very well. A GPS would have helped. If it wasn't for one of the other riders coming back from his usual reconnaissance run we’d still be out there looking! For $116 we got an ensuite room with two for one meal deals. It was State of Origin night and a lounge room was set up for us pretty much to do as we pleased. Being the well behaved Fossils we were, most of us hit the deck before the game was over.
|Western Blue Sky|
With so many riders and so many kilometres, odds are that something would go wrong somewhere regardless of any well made plans. One of the riders found a tyre developing lumps where it shouldn't! He would have replaced it but none were to be found in Emerald. Our local dealer in Townsville, Rising Sun Honda, happily sent a tyre to Charters Towers, but that was 470 ks and two days away according to our schedule. He decided to ride slowly and conservatively and make it without incident and that’s exactly what he did! Next stop for the day was Clermont for fuel and coffee and a wander through the museum. A quick head count, just in case they mistook our mob as exhibits, and it was off to Belyando Crossing for the night. Staying there was a first for most of us. Usually it's a lunch stop before the home run. The rooms were good enough but just not enough of them. We supplemented beds with a couple of pump up mattresses pulled out of panniers. The girls bunked in one room while all the boys dispersed over the rest of the rooms. It felt a bit like school camp. “It’s only one night,” I reassured my ‘fussy who he sleeps with’ husband! Soon after the bedding arrangements were settled, all the riders congregated around the fire place. Wood had been collected for the evening. A few cans had passed the lips of a thirsty few already. I sat down at the front of the store for some solitude and note-taking time. As I wrote, the business of feeding us began. The BBQ was cleaned of the signature outback dust, tables and chairs arranged, and a bain-marie was set up.
The sun was getting low, casting a small boy’s shadow into that of a giant, exciting his imagination. His mum ushered him past me into the shop. It wasn't long before they returned and climbed into their car. I was glad I wasn't going to be on the road at that time with old man sun burning my eyesight blind. The loud hiss of brakes being released shattered the quiet as a truck pulled out into the dusk. The crows choir ‘cawed' the day out. It wouldn't be long before an entirely new and fresh look would appear under the cover of night. A young man who worked there was watering the gardens; an oasis with the help of recycled water. The recent rain had left the land beyond the garden looking pretty good as well. It’s not often we get to see it like that. Earlier in the day, I had seen at least 50 Brolgas feeding in a freshly harvested paddock . I’d also had a close encounter with a Wedge Tail Eagle. I had slowed down so he'd have time to take off but he waited till I was beside him before he spread those wings and left his road kill. For a few seconds he flew adjacent to me before lifting up and away. I ducked to one side as I imagined I could feel his mighty wings! They are such magnificent animals. Riding beside one is as good as swimming with the dolphins I reckon!
|Ronda Lynch and myself|
Our dinner was ample even if plain. One cannot be too fussy out there in the bush. “No place for a Princess here.” After dinner, the fire lit, we settled into another round of yarn spinning. Everyone said how great the week had been and the seeds were sown for the next trip.
Early next morning some of us made a two hour dash to the Towers for breakfast and then rode the last leg home.
It has been a while since our group has taken any big trips away. Things have changed or should I say the members have. Not too many of them like the business of putting up a tent these days but there have been a few newbies in the group lately which has sparked a renewed interest in adventure. It’s time to make new memories to add to the already amazing history of the Townsville Ulysses Branch.
Our President, Frank McQuirk, sadly could not join us in this first Fossil Run but one of our riders kept him suitably in touch and in the know. None of this ‘what happens on the ride stays on the ride’ stuff! Well, that’s what Frank’s been led to believe at least!
Riding with nineteen people takes commitment to what the Ulysses Club is on about. It was on our way to our first AGM in Alice Springs that I witnessed the camaraderie with a group of mates. I want to be the oldest nana on a bike and I might need a hand to achieve that! The thing that inspires me about our club’s members is, no matter what, they just keep riding! Having cancer treatments, dicky knees, sore shoulders and a variety of ailments caused by ‘your date of birth’ doesn't seem to stop them! They are an amazing bunch who never give in when it comes to having some fun and they watch out for each other as well. If you are out there holding a membership and not riding, get yourself down to wherever they meet and join in with the rest of us ‘Delinquent Fossils'. It might only be for a chat and a coffee or it may well be the beginning of your next adventure!