[WARNING: v long blog post ahead]
Ox handed out some additional bonus info at checkpoint 1. For leg 2, and only leg 2, some additional bonuses would be available. These were the ‘planets’ on the various ‘Solar System Drives’ in central western NSW:
Roughly speaking, the drives centre around the Siding Springs Observatory (the Sun) outside Coonabarabran and extend outwards with distances between the planets and the sizes of the planets scaled to give a sense of how big they are in the scheme of things. And when I say ‘scale’, that scale is 1:38,000,000. My mind boggles!
There are 5 different drives extending outwards from Siding Springs – to the north, east and south-east. The points allocated increased with proximity to the observatory and there were combo points on offer for any complete set of planets. Helpfully, because the first 5 planets are so close together, those planets were common to all 5 drives (check out the map if you’re still confused – it took me a while to get my head around it and I had the rally book in front of me. If Ox posts the rally books anywhere I’ll send a link through.
With the points on offer very clearly sending us towards Coonabarabran we made the (pretty easy) call to head down there. We figured we could get at least two full drives, plus a couple of extra planets on some of the other drives and then hit some decent bonuses that were roughly on our route. We’d finish off the big circle by heading up as far as Moree, then across to Inverell and Guyra and back to Tamworth:
So we headed off up the road. After coffee and food we were both feeling pretty chirpy and in the groove. Pluto was an easy stop, as was Neptune but we did our best to sail straight past Uranus #1 and had to do a U-turn. In Coonabarabran we paused for some more food then collected another two Saturns and headed up the hill to Siding Springs.
We’ve ridden past the observatory before. It’s fairly prominent in its position on top of a big hill (mountain would be an exaggeration) and can be seen from the highway at various points. I’ve also seen the planet signs before but hadn’t realised there were multiples of some planets! They were pretty fun bonuses to get and the scenery around the Warrumbungles is beautiful. All in all, the ride up the hill was a lot of fun.
Up the top, we passed Simon heading out (he’d obviously hit his bonuses and was off again) and Ox turned up to say hello. He bought us hot drinks, gave us some lovely words of encouragement and sent us on our way!
We had some “fun” on the way back down the hill trying to pick up Venus. The pull out off the road was all gravel and not the neat, organised kind but the patchy, who-the-heck-knows-what-might-be-under-there kind and it was a pretty decent downhill slope. Kiwi pulled off and I jumped off the bike to look for a decent rock to put under the side stand. After a few bike relocations and the strategic placement of a large rock in front of the front wheel, we got our photo and were back on our way!
Back out on the Newell Highway it was a beautiful afternoon – we collected a couple more planets (Neptune wasn’t in quite the right place but we came up with an alternative the rally master was happy with) and then headed up a side road to Sawn Rocks and a big bonus called CAST. Part way up the Highway, Kiwi’s headset got a ‘low battery’ and we had to turn off to plug him in.
The photo of Sawn Rocks in the rally book was pretty impressive and it was a bonus we were both keen to visit, but we had noted that the rally book had the instruction “There is a 1.5km return hike to the rock face from the car park”. For some reason I interpreted this to mean it’s 1.5km each way rather than a 1.5km round trip, so when the entrance to the car park looked a little steep and gravelly, and it seemed like we’d have a 30-40 minute walk in motorcycling gear ahead of us, we decided against it. Had our headsets been on in the drive up and had I read out the full description to Kiwi I hope we would have realised that it was only a 15-20 minute stop (and we would both have loved to go for a walk!). As it was, we made a call to go to the next stop instead and bag the 1000 points available there. But a lesson for next time…
After that we headed back out to the Newell, collecting our last planet Pluto and then on to Moree for the big rocket. It was roughly 5.15pm and we had a bit of a break off the bike, ate our sandwiches and watched the sun setting. There were no more bonuses for a good 300kms and our next points would be after our rest stop. We’d hoped to stop for the night in Inverell, but I couldn’t find a hotel room and with temperatures dropping below zero, at no point was the Iron Butt hotel behind the servo going to cut it. So we agreed to press on to Glen Innes which allowed us to stay on major roads and get a good night’s sleep in a warm bed.
Pluto #2… the last planet
By now we were riding in the dark – and it was definitely kangaroo country. Mostly they were fairly well behaved and stayed to the side of the road. We stopped at Inverell to fuel up and I pulled out the AirHawk pillion cushion that Kiwi had kindly purchased for me. I cleaned off the lights and then we were back on our way. I was happily espousing the benefits of the AirHawk and how comfortable it was when some blinking red lights appeared to the left of the road…
Vaguely wondering if the aliens had finally arrived to take us to their homeland, we worked through a range of options, finally settling on potentially a wind farm but wondering what the purpose of the red lights were since we hadn’t seen them on other turbines previously. With temperatures at 3 and 4 degrees Celsius I wasn’t taking my gloves off to ‘do a Google’ on my phone and was happy to just hunker down on the back, ‘hiding’ from the air flow behind the Kiwi.
Not far out of Glen Innes Kiwi hit the brakes hard as a (relatively small!?) roo came at us from the left hand side of the road. With almost no warning, he had no chance to avoid it and we hit it hard. Kiwi kept the bike upright and under control and with nowhere to pull over to check the bike or take a breath we kept going. Both fairly shaken and with the awful feeling in our guts that we’d been responsible for the death of an animal, the next part of the ride was pretty quiet.
At Glen Innes we found our hotel and I jumped off the bike to check us in. Only I couldn’t find my AirHawk. I was sure I’d been sitting on it but it sure wasn’t on the pillion seat any more! Figuring it must be on the driveway somewhere I left Kiwi checking out the damage to the bike and headed in to get a key. The bloke in the hotel reception asked the usual questions about ‘isn’t it a bit cool to be on a bike?’ and ‘did you hit something on your way in?’ since he could see Kiwi checking over the bike. Apparently someone had hit a big roo closer to town the previous morning so things obviously could have been worse for us. The damage was limited to a bent bracket on one of the lower lights.
Kiwi could have murdered a burger but I was tired and just wanted a hot shower and some sleep. We unpacked the bike and I handed over the ration bag with peanuts, snack mix and some crackers and then jumped into the shower to defrost. It had been a pretty good day but I was tired and pleased again that we weren’t pushing too hard this weekend. I was also kicking myself about the AirHawk – how can someone lose a $160 cushion the first time they use it and not even notice!!! I have come to the conclusion that I must have kicked it off the seat when I got back on the bike in Inverell and somehow imagined that the seat had more cushioning than it really did. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing as far as my butt conditioning for the 11 day marathon ahead but I feel like a bit of a plonker!
Anyway, Kiwi defrosted and kept the hunger worms at bay with our random collection of foodstuffs and we packed down for an 8 hour rest stop.
As usual, too soon the alarm went off and it was time to get moving. It was freaking cold and I grabbed my gear and hopped back under the covers to get changed. We were on the road as planned before 5am with a couple of hours of riding in the dark still to go and the temperature on the dash showing -4 degrees. I had every piece of clothing I’d packed on, as well as one of Kiwi’s jumpers. I had my heated vest on high and I was still cold. By our stop in Guyra to collect the big lamb, I was struggling to feel my toes and I was reluctant to remove my gloves to write up the rally book.
Next was Uralla where we stopped for Captain Thunderbolt’s statue and who should we come across but Simon! He was looking much chirpier than I felt, seemed to be in the groove and told us he hadn’t even turned his heated vest on yet! These Canberra chaps are very hardy!!!! He was heading north while we continued south and aside from me providing incorrect directions at one point, requiring us to do a couple of u-turns things went fairly well. We’d originally had a bonus at Walcha built into our plans but changed our plans to collect it on the way out of town instead.
We arrived in Tamworth well ahead of the checkpoint opening time and found our ‘usual’ cafe to defrost. I was physically shivering by now (the battery in my heated vest had died) and I had no desire to get back on the bike to collect another bonus out of town. We had coffee and another bacon and egg roll and considered our options for leg 3. With work tomorrow we’d agreed (at my request) that we’d aim to be home by about 4pm to prepare and sleep.
Unfortunately our Leg 3 planning established that we couldn’t get the bonuses along the Walcha, Port Macquarie, Taree route (including the one we’d just gone relatively close to) and still get home any time even close to 4pm. Unless we were prepared to add an extra 4 hours to the trip and get home at 8pm, we would be going back the way we came up. My competitive streak wanted the extra bonuses, but ultimately the thought of trying to front up to work after a full weekend of riding and no work-prep time was enough to send us back down the more direct route.
With that we headed off to the checkpoint for scoring of Leg 2. All went fairly well, no points lost at the table, but Ox pointed out there was a better Leg we could have ridden and we hadn’t even seen it. To be honest, it would have required us to do a few more hours on the bike, and almost all of those in the dark and the cold, so we perhaps wouldn’t have chosen to be quite that ambitious in any case, but it was a lesson learnt that planning in straight lines doesn’t always net the best result. Next time we’ll do a bit more ‘war gaming’ before we commit to a plan.
So that was leg 2…