Michelle's Excellent Australia Adventure
A 5000-mile solo adventure around eastern Australia on a BMW F700GS
Motorcycle.com has been following the riding exploits of Michelle Christine, who is exploring adventures on two wheels in between the stand-up comedy shows she performs around the world.
This time around, the Canadian living in Los Angeles ventures halfway across the globe to Australia, where she rents a motorcycle to transport herself to her shows in the exotic country, culminating in a performance at a Barry Sheene tribute show in advance of the MotoGP races at Phillip Island. Read on to find out how this adventurous young lady explores Oz on a budget and meets countless new friends during her travels.
After taking off to the Grand Canyon, what would be next? For me, the east coast of Australia was the next logical step.
Where we begin is in September, and I am on my way to Melbourne for the first time to attend a wedding. I decided if I was to come to this magical land for pleasure, it would serve me well to also do some business. I would perform in the Melbourne Fringe Festival and then get a bike to explore more of Australia. I’ve been a rider for seven years, long enough to have learned a few things, but not long enough to earn too many badges of riding honor. As you’ll see, I earned a few in my time down under.
I picked up a BMW F700GS, choosing familiarity in a machine that would not feel foreign to me while riding on the opposite side of the road. I couldn’t wait to hit the road and get the most out of my time, as my end goal was already set. I would be participating in the Barry Sheene ride and performing at his tribute dinner the night before in Bairnsdale. How far could I get before I had to turn around? I didn’t have a plan other than to strap a tent and sleeping bag on the back of the bike, fill the panniers and tank bag, and just go. Free as a bird, just the way I like it. The only stops that were a must included Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane where I would perform at a few shows.
I’m part of the growing breed of younger ladies starting to take on the adventures of two wheels solo. I’ve had my fair share of bewildered stares or comments that my bike was “too big” (that’s what he said) for me to handle, but more often I would get well wishes and a kind “safe travels” from the folks I would interact with.
I had a streak going of not paying for any accommodation while I was in Australia. My run at the festival involved doing a free show, and that opened me up to the kindness of people who were often strangers. In Melbourne I stayed with a girl I had met at a show in Toronto before she moved. I also spent a week at a fly-in-fly-out miner’s apartment while he was away; Chapel Street has some real charm. On the road I was hoping to utilize the ample free camping spots and hospitality Australia provided.
In Melbourne, a new friend was able to provide me with an adventure-touring goodie bag, with a camping chair, travel-size cooker and utensils, and a thin “waterproof” layer to go over my pants. I had wanted to bring these essentials with me, but ran out of room in my checked baggage that had to include my boots and helmet.
It always takes longer than anticipated to pack up, and I didn’t end up leaving until 6pm. When I swung by the miner’s apartment to drop off my old key, I was barely recognizable. September isn’t the warmest time of year in Melbourne’s notoriously unpredictable weather, and rain was in the forecast, but this lady is an all-weather rider, Toronto had hardened me on that. I live in L.A. now, where rain is still a myth that the elders once talked about. I had on a borrowed BMW all-weather jacket and some motocross pants I had brought with me from back home, and knee pads on underneath. Envision a fashion icon, then envision a six-year-old who negotiated she could pick what she wore on her bottom half if she agreed to wear the responsible choice for the top. I was more of the latter.
My goal for my first day would be to get as far as I could, and then wing it from there. Leaving a city is not usually glamorous. My bike was fully loaded and wider than I was used to because it was actually the first time I rode with panniers. It wasn’t my first time on an F700, though – I had taken one to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite a few months before. I had also taken some training at the BMW Off-Road Training Academy, in Castaic, California. I would find it very useful for what I was about to encounter.
I headed down the M1 and, dear lord, there are a lot of speed cameras in Victoria. I spent most of my time trying not to go over 100 kph (62 mph) or else big brother would know about it. Then the rains came in. Not that light little trickle you hope for from the dark clouds looming overhead. Oh no. The type where it seeps through your pants, drips down into your boots and soaks your gloves. Thankfully, the jacket my dad had chosen for me kept my upper half dry and warm, my saving grace, partnered with heated grips blasting on the warmest setting. I used the age-old side-glance trick to provide a temporary fix to a water-obstructed visor.
At points my body would start to shiver and my teeth would chatter. It’s a great way to start off any trip, get the worst weather out of the way during the first two hours. In order for me to press on, I would tell myself I would get off at the next town, usually around 30 km (19 mi) away, but when I would get close, I’d will myself to get to the next town. Lather, rinse, repeat. My brain works best imagining small victories.
When the sun started to fade, I knew it was time to think about where to sleep for the night. I am a big fan of going to McDonald’s as a first pit stop. (They are not paying me to say this, but I’m open to the idea if this falls on an exec’s desk…) McDonald’s has free wi-fi, and it always tends to be a busy spot for locals. I ordered a chicken nugget meal, took off the wet apparel that I could, and looked around the room in Traralgon to find a brain to pick. I noticed a couple in the corner and asked if they knew of any camping sites in the area. They were a good choice, and short of offering me their holiday cabin that was in the wrong direction, they turned me onto a good website for free camping sites. On their recommendation I chose one called Willow Park, about a 25-minute ride away.
Arriving to your first camping spot in the pitch black with rain clouds looming is not the ideal scenario to set up your first tent on a road trip, but ideal conditions do not sound like much of an adventure. I had a trusty head lamp, and as soon as I parked, the rain that had eased a bit while I had eaten, decided to come back full force. My comical efforts to set up camp that I had on my first trip in the Grand Canyon were a thing of the past, and I successfully put up my tent in record time, and it was time for bed.
Alone for the first time in a new place, with the winds fierce and all sorts of noises an imagination could run away with, I was a bit scared. I called my husband in L.A., and he tried to calm me down by saying the noises I heard could have been a kangaroo or dingo I had attracted from peeing close to the tent. That did not calm me down. I called my sister and had a nice long chat that did not center around possible wildlife in the area until my phone ran low on battery and my exhaustion could allow for some shut eye.
I woke up early to reveal that I had chosen a spot dangerously close to a puddle that could have doubled as a watering hole. The mystery as to why wildlife might have come around last night could have had more to do with H20 than urine.
It would make sense to adjust to a more primal sleeping schedule of waking up with the light and going to bed after the sunset, as it would allow for longer riding days. This was only my first full day on the road, and I was out of the city! Packing up seemed to take three times longer than unpacking, mainly because it was, but soon enough I was off.
As with most adventures, taking the long way through country roads and getting off the beaten path was where I wanted to find myself. I thought going along the coast would provide some interesting scenery and the plan was to take the B500 to the C620. I realized quickly my choice of cell phone carrier did not provide the best coverage out in the boonies. Who knew the cheapest option might backfire? I figured it wouldn’t be hard to memorize the route – famous last words!
As I unknowingly approached the turn off for the C620, which I thought would have been more obvious, or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention – the jury is still out – I ended up on the B500 for longer than I should have. I pulled off into a small town called Swift’s Creek, so small it did not have a McDonald’s, so I pulled into a local diner. Despite the fact it didn’t have wi-fi, a kind stranger with a larger cell phone carrier was able to tell me I had indeed gone about 40 km north instead of east. Well this wasn’t a huge deal, since Canberra was northeast of Melbourne, so I figured I would change the route instead of backtracking. I hate backtracking! I also hate the rain, which had come back in full force, but I was ready to move.
I took the B500 to the C543, and on my way I played a terrifying and fun new game: it was called dodge the cow. The excitement grows when you spot each new cow on the road, with bonus points if you are not on your own bike, which has a $4000 deductible if anything goes wrong. The cows were kind enough to stay still as I avoided them, and it earned me a new badge, successful avoidance of road-traveling farm animals.
This rush of adrenaline prevented me from taking notice that I was entering the Alpine National Park. I started my climb, and the chill I felt from last night’s ride felt like child’s play. Was this rain turning into hail? I noticed to my left and right there was some snow in the forest and started to realize that this supposed hail was caking on my visor. Then I noticed snow build up on the roads and it clicked: I was going up in altitude and the rain had just transitioned to snow!
Never in my life have I ridden through snow, even living in Canada. My bike would get some fuel stabilizer and go away from November to March. Despite facing the harshest conditions I have seen on two wheels, I had to laugh. Here I was alone, riding up a mountain in the snow, just trying to see the road, with no phone signal. I lifted up my visor at an angle to try to catch all the snow but leaving my sunglass-donned eyes with enough visibility to dodge the snow piles. Dodge was the word of the day! The only other car I had seen in ages crept up behind me and overtook me. Good, one less to worry about.
As my temperature gauge read -2 Celsius and my body was shivering and chattering again, I realized that I had hit the peak and was heading down again. The snow changed again to rain and, after a few minutes, stopped altogether. I was relaxed enough to reach a level of calmness I don’t think I have ever felt on a bike. It’s that sweet relief you can only feel if pushed beyond your previous limits, kind of like the relief when you find your phone after an exhausting search, almost happier than if it had never happened.
Heading down through this rainforest with the tropical birds flying overhead and the sun breaking through the clouds, the word breathtaking does not do it justice. The roads were windy, still wet with tree debris strewn about, but empty. It’s almost as if other road users had checked the weather. I had entered the fun, minus terrifying, part of the ride and earned another new badge, ridden through snow!
I descended further and saw ahead of me the car that had overtaken me had stopped with its four-way flashers on. Ahead, the road was lost underwater. The road was flooded and the creek beside it was raging. I’m sure I let out an audible “Come on!” as I approached. The first leg of this trip was an adventure with a capital A, and I did not want to turn around.
It took a long time to reach this point and there were no alternative options. It would be venturing into the same snowy mess I had just left. I went up to the car that had stopped and met a kind gentlemen who turned up the heat to help me dry my gloves. A car stopped from the other direction, and after about 30 minutes the water had calmed enough that the woman inside rolled up her pants and walked across it. Gotta love bad-ass Aussie ladies. She took her truck over the flood, and it didn’t move an inch. A smaller car behind her followed with the same result. The driver I was with was a former rider and had crossed many floods at this level. He said if I put the bike in a lower gear, got up on my footpegs and went across at a brisk but steady pace, I’d be fine.
It was go time. I felt the advice I was given was sound and that this Australian man did not have a wish to send a Canadian lady to her impending doom. I also did not have a wish to send myself to impending doom. If the water could not push a 130-pound human, it couldn’t sweep me and my bike into the creek. My suspicions were correct, and I crossed the water. I may have gone a tad too fast, as water sprayed from all directions and temporarily blinded my view, however, I was alive! I had also earned my third badge, crossing my first flooded road.
I passed through a few towns, Mitta Mitta (which I had wanted to reach purely because it has a cool name!), then Tallangatta, and continued north in search of a McDonald’s and some wi-fi so I could plan my next move. The rain which had subsided for a while came back again – I think the storm I had been driving through was following me – and the wind had picked up. Wodonga would be my next stop, and my waterproof pants were found to be only dubiously waterproof, as my pants and knee pads were soaked. I was like a drowned rat from the waist down, but I had found my McDonald’s.There were a bunch of bikes in the parking lot and what looked like a meeting going on inside.
I poked my head into the room where a riding group was in discussion, and I told them I had ridden through some bad weather and was hoping to find a dry place in the vicinity. I also joked that if anyone had a spare couch, that would be good too. After I ordered my tea, a guy from the meeting named Rex Beard came up to my table. He explained he lived at home with his wife, but she wasn’t home yet, and I could go there now. He gave me his key and told me I could take a hot shower and stay in their spare room. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and took him up on the offer! If you want this to work for you, the checklist is to be soaking wet, in small town far from home, finding your people, and hoping they exhibit a mix of pity and kindness.
I’ve seen a lot of the good in the world doing what I do. I think people have a lot of respect for a person taking on an adventure on their own. A lot of people feel that in helping you, they are in some way part of your journey, and it probably helps my case that I write about my exploits and bring back those memories to a permanent medium that they can read.
So, I found myself in this charming bungalow in Wodonga and it was the perfect place to unwind after a long day. The gentleman and his wife were lovely. I hung up my stuff to dry, they filled my belly, and gave me a pair of pajamas, a hat, and waterproof pants to take with me. The phrase “gave you the shirt of their back” was almost literal in describing these folks.
I woke up with my energy renewed, and before I departed got a special treat, seeing inside Rex’s garage where a couple of beautiful bikes rested. If only I had more time in Wodonga!
My last gift from this five star couple was some soup powder packets that were easy to squeeze into my tank bag. I was off to Canberra! There had been a lot of reports of flooded and closed roads off the beaten path, and I needed to make it there that day to start promoting my show the next day. I decided to take the M31 into Canberra, and at least in this part of Australia it wasn’t like driving down an L.A. freeway, so it could have been worse . I had posted online in a subreddit (sort of like a forum) about Canberra that I would be headed there for a comedy show and asked if anyone had a couch to crash on. A pattern was emerging.
On a refuel stop along the way, I saw that I had gotten a message from a lady who was part of a married couple. Married couples are less likely to be creepy, since they had found a life partner and were less likely to see me as some sort of opportunity. I had a couch available in Canberra, so I got the address and was all set.
A fun thing to do when you are in a cool new place with time to kill is to find local riders who can show you great roads. I posted on the Canberra riders page on Facebook and hoped someone would bite. A local messaged me I could come to a weekly meetup of their riding group at a cafe, and he and a friend wanted to take me for a ride. He had a 2007 GSX-R600, his friend an SV1000N, not too different to the SV1000 I have back home. These types of bikes may not do any off-road trails but showed their beauty hugging the sweet corners of a road called The Cotter. I would not be dragging a knee, as I’m sure my expanded panniers would find the road first!
Canberra had experienced the storm I had ridden through, so we stopped at a downed tree to try and remove as much debris as we could from the road. Bikers can be good samaritans! It was an excellent introduction to my new city.
The next day would not be a riding day, as I would spend it handing out flyers for my stand-up comedy show that night. Locals would get a kick out of my mountie costume. Despite my hat taking a bit of a beating tucked inside my jacket in front of my torso, it still worked. There was no other place it would fit, and the waves added character! After the show instead of having a few beers, I hit the road early Friday morning, my next stop would be Sydney, where my show was Saturday night.
My ride was uneventful along the M23 to the M31; the only issue I had was that I didn’t have my phone affixed to the outside of my bike. My map lady kept chiming in through my helmet that a faster route was available, as I started to hit some traffic approaching Sydney. There wasn’t an ideal place to pull over, nor did the battery life allow for me to keep turning on the screen. I wondered if there is some way to verbally change your intended route by replying to the map lady in your helmet, “Yes please save me from the 36 (97 F) degree parking lot I’ve found myself on,” but instead I starting dripping in sweat as leaving Canberra at 10 (50 F) degrees in the morning meant I was wearing all my layers of riding gear.
I did eventually cave to the heat and stopped at a gas station to check my phone to see if anyone had replied to my couch request in the Sydney forum in reddit. Thankfully someone had, and with my phone at less than 10%, I made the call, got my address, and entered my new destination. It would be a photo finish if I made it there before the directions disappeared, so I kicked it OG (original gansta) and wrote down the address with a pen and some paper, just in case some kind strangers would have to help me in the last legs.
I couldn’t wait to have a cold shower, as even taking off some layers at the station had not prepared me for the hot, sticky weather – the first time I had experienced real heat since coming to Melbourne mid-September. The roads in Sydney were busy, and the hills reminded me of driving through San Francisco. The bike, fully loaded, was the heaviest bike I’d ever ridden, so the hilltop stops and restarts had my heart pumping a few beats faster than normal. Thankfully my years of riding experience proved sufficient. Strength comes in handy, but technique reigns supreme – shift your weight in the right ways and let the engine do the talking.
The fellow I stayed with in Sydney was awesome. He and his girlfriend loved his adorable Husky. He worked at Google in the tech field, as does my husband. Come to think of it, the husband of the Canberra couple also worked in tech. Somehow I always find myself surrounded by programmers!
After my ride, I was ready to enjoy cooling off, but that would be brief, as I had another new friend to meet. This fellow saw my post on reddit and had a Multistrada. He had a friend already staying at his place and asked if would I mind meeting him at Bondi Beach. When in Rome! I hopped back on the bike, and went down a tunnel that took you across the city. It was a toll road to shave off some time, but Google told me to go that route, and I wasn’t sure where the bill would end up, fingers crossed, not to my mailbox.
I enjoyed Bondi on a Friday night, but my scheduled ride the next day did mean I had to turn down some beach cocktails. At least I wouldn’t be hungover for the fun day of flyering I had tomorrow. When I woke up there was one thing I wanted to do before getting to work: see the Sydney Opera House! Ticking off bucket-list items does not happen all that often, but the past week I was knocking them off at a feverish pace. Maybe one day, I dreamed, I could perform there.
Mr. Multistrada was in attendance at my show, and afterward we decided to join forces the next morning when I headed out towards Brisbane. He knew of some fun roads to take me on and would turn around mid-day as I continued north.
The route we took was called Putty Road, sandwiched between Wollemi and Yengo National Parks, and it was stunning. I told my friend I wasn’t the fastest at cornering and to make sure I was still behind every so often. I wanted to enjoy what I was going to see for the first time, but I did want to improve my cornering. With this partnership, it meant I kept a solid pace going a bit quicker than I normally would, but not to the point I ever felt pushed outside of a safe range for my abilities. I enjoy being surrounded by great riders the same way I enjoy being surrounded by great comedians – you learn the most when you watch how others do it better.
We separated after a few hours, but I knew I had a big day ahead of me because I had to make it to Brisbane for a show on Tuesday, and it was over 1000 km (621 mi) from Sydney on the route I had planned. I decided I would ride until I ran out of steam, and that took me to a little town called Guyra. I had stopped in a McDonald’s about 30 minutes south of Guyra and noticed a small group of people who looked like they had just come from an event. It turns out they were all part of the same church group, and with being charitable in mind, a couple offered me a place to stay. By this time it was dark, but I followed along behind them, and when I woke up in the morning, I realized I was in a little slice of heaven.
The couple were at the top of a hill with a lovely view of a farm, with a bird feeder on their deck which brought along tropical birds, my favourite being the Crimson Rosella. I took a picture and noticed my bike in the background. There are moments in your life where you wish you could hit pause, and this was one of them.
When I set sail on Monday morning, I thought, ‘Michelle you have a big day ahead of you to make it to Brisbane, don’t go the long way round this time, you don’t want to overdo it.’ I never was one to be told what to do, even when the orders come from myself, so when I got to a roundabout where I could take the more direct route onward or a detour down the B76 toward Grafton, I felt myself passing the exit of the A15 and onto the more entertaining B76.
Australia is such a large country with a relatively small population, so it makes it such an ideal place to go on a motorcycle tour. I found myself in peaceful serenity, rarely seeing another car, but often enough to not feel completely isolated. This part of Australia was so lush. In the past I had not thought of Australia as a place full of rainforests and green expanses, but I had found myself traveling for days through some of the finest landscapes on spectacular roads. Sure, one had been flooded, but that added to overall experience! I passed through Washpool National Park, and did a few scenic stops and talked with a few motorcycle travelers. They were surprised I was on the journey solo, but there is nothing like dictating wherever and whenever you ride, and it is easier to convince someone to lend you a couch when you are solo. No regrets.
On my way north, past Casino, I found myself at Mount Lindesay. It was so pleasing to the eye, I pulled over and attempted to take a selfie with the mountain. Okay, maybe a riding partner would be have some upsides. A few actions shots of me riding on this once in a lifetime journey would have been a favorable addition to my collection. At least the bike was a good model and never complained at how many takes it took to get the perfect shot.
The downside of riding off the beaten path is a phone signal is a luxury only afforded when you make it to a larger town. I had wanted to stay with another redditor to continue my streak, but if I overshot Brisbane about 40 kms (25 mi), I had an open invitation to my sister-in-law’s place in North Lakes, Queensland. She had a new baby I was excited to meet, and I was ready to see some family. I inputted her address and continued on. I had a tank bag, which was a great place to put my phone so I could see the GPS. The reason I hadn’t used it in Sydney was that the sun hitting it, mixed with hot days, caused my phone to overheat. It may also have been because I had an otterbox phone case, so it had very little room to breathe (but no screen cracks!).
After a monster day of almost 600 km (373 mi), I made it to North Lakes just in time for a late dinner. It just happened to be Thanksgiving Monday for us Canadian folks. My sister-law also grew up in Canada, and she had a turkey and stuffing meal all ready as a surprise. What a sweet gesture! I was famished and ready to load up on protein. I thought I would be more sore after the days ride, but the riding position on an F700 let me ride so much longer in comfort than I could on the Ninja 250 I used to ride in Toronto.
The following morning I headed back into Brisbane where I would have another day of handing out flyers for my show that night. I may or may not have taken some toll roads again to beat the traffic. The show went well, and although I wished I had more time to explore Brisbane, when I woke up the next day, I only had one week to get back to Bairnsdale for the Barry Sheene tribute dinner. I wanted to get farther north and thought snorkeling off the coast of Bundaberg could be the perfect reward for finishing the final leg of my northern push. It was time to hit the road.
The best part of the trip up to Bundaberg was going up Steve Irwin Way through the Glass House Mountains, and up the 23 into the Kondalilla National Park. I popped out in Nambour and started my mission on where to stay that night. I found that there was a free camping site not too far out of Bundaberg, and I would stop there after I inquired about the snorkelling in town. I wanted to make it to the shop before it closed, so I finished my ride by taking the A1.
I made it to Bundaberg Aqua Scuba, that last few directions came from memory because my phone died. It was a constant struggle to keep it afloat with my long travel days, even with a portable charger. I needed to get one with larger battery storage. Unfortunately for me, the weather was not going to play nice for the next few days and the snorkeling boats would not be going out. I did not have any wiggle room for weather delays, so I made it to my camping spot, set up my tent in the dark, which I had gotten better at, and thought of a game plan for the next day. I posted on a motorcycle Facebook group for Queensland adventure riders, and a fella would be free on Friday to do a ride with me. Another rider had messaged me asking if I could perform at their party on Saturday in Kilkivan, Queensland, and it was looking like I would be able to make it! They said they lived on a large property and everyone would be camping. Perfect!
In the morning I asked for some help from a man at a picnic tent in the area, and we got to chatting. At first he seemed really nice, but before long he said that we were being watched at the campsite, and that the government was spying on us. It was a tad unsettling, but other than that he seemed pretty harmless. I went on a hike nearby with a few younger girls from the campsite, and the plan for later would be to head to Seventeen-Seventy which was only about an hour and a half north. Apparently, according to a random blog I found on the internet, it was one of only three places on the east coast where you could see the sun set over the water. It was when in Rome time again, and I had to leave pronto to catch the sunset.
I had a bit of time before the sunset to explore some of the coastline of Seventeen-Seventy. It built on the site of the second landing of John Cook in, you guessed it, 1770.
I made it to Seventeen-Seventy and found a nice beach to park myself on and joined some vacationers as we looked out at the sunset. When I told them I had planned to get back on the bike as soon as it was over they seemed shocked. They reminded me there were a lot of roos at dusk and dawn and that I should be extra careful. As per usual, I listened to their advice and went about heading back anyway. The ride in the dark was colder and less visually stimulating, but an hour and half was nothing compared to the long days I had previously put in. Then I rounded a blind corner, and smack in the middle of the road was a kangaroo. It looked at me frozen, like a deer in headlights, or more accurately, like a kangaroo in headlights, and thankfully was not in my trajectory. I had seen a lot of kangaroo carcasses on the road, but never a live one. I was lucky we didn’t make short work of each other and I made sure to keep my wits about me and my speed a reasonable level. This was roo country and was the final push to the campsite.
That night I spent talking with girls I had gone on a hike with, and some backpackers that had made this free spot their home as well. They were all traveling in vans across Australia. We told each other stories of our adventures, and the constant fear of running out of fuel if you find you have not been careful about topping up in a town only to realize it could be hundreds of kilometers before the next station. It was a pleasant night until one of the girls told me that the man who thought we were being spied on had told the girls earlier in the day that I was a spy who had been living at the camping site for four years and that they should leave immediately. We laughed about it at the time, but I did not have the luxury of a locked van that night. Needless to say, I did not sleep well and was excited to wake up in one piece in the morning.
The next day I packed up camp and met up with my local who was going to take me for a ride. The weather, which had stayed very dry compared to the start of my trip, decided it was time to cry again, and the wind decided to join in. We wouldn’t let that stop us and went to The Hummock Lookout, which was an old volcano that had turned into farmland, and we had lunch on the coast.
Bernard had a DRZ400E, so on our way back to his house, we took all the off-road trails I had been longing to see and finally got some dirt on my bike again! His house also happened to be the way toward Kilkivan, which was my stop for the night. Bernard told me a fun way to get to my destination, I thanked him, and we parted ways.
Kilkivan is a cute little town, where I came to appreciate why there were colourful wheels along country roads. I would be looking for a brightly coloured pair to make sure I found my way to an unmarked driveway in the middle of the bush. As I entered, I passed a sign that said “no fuckwits,” so I knew these were going to be my sort of people. The couple who lived there both rode, and the man of the house was kind enough to welcome me like I was an old friend. Their place was being converted to become off the grid, and there was ample room for me to set up my tent and feel like I was in a national park. I enjoyed some relaxation that night, and in the morning the man of the house was kind enough to take me around. He had a classic KLR650 Kawasaki. He was happily surprised to see that I was able to keep up with him on the dirt and gravel, and to my surprise, this is where I was started to feel most at home.
That trip ended up with a bit of snag, as he noticed his front tire had a flat. It was a tubed tire, and seeing he was a veteran adventure rider, he carried all the tools to fix it himself. All I could provide was a bit of stability so he could make the repair on the bike without taking the tire off. It was impressive to see him adeptly make the fix. Of the 150 tires he had changed in his life, this was only the fourth or fifth he had done while still attached. With the bike repaired, he even had time to take a photo of me on my bike. Yay!
When we got back, the party was starting and many of the attendees were riders from all over. So many beautiful bikes in one place. I hit it off with a young couple, and the lady had ridden there pillion, but I think I inspired her to try out riding. I actually find riding on the back more scary, so if you can handle that, I think people are often pleasantly surprised at how easy the transition can be on the nerves. I do find comfort in being in control, but we all have our vices.
The show that Saturday night was a blast and ended in a charity auction. A person who had paid $100 for some custom embroidered towels gave them to me as a parting gift. It made my day and would be the perfect memento of the trip.
The next day was going to be another monster ride. I had a friend from back home who grew up with me in Ajax, Ontario in Canada and had moved to Bulli, New South Wales, a few years back. She lived with her boyfriend, and I had wanted to meet up with her. At this point in the trip, it was now or never. The ride from Kilkivan to Bulli was 1200 km (746 mi), and the plan was to ride as far as I could, camp for a night and make it to Bulli on Monday.
I inputted the fastest route into my GPS, which would take me along the coast, and off I went. That whole day was pure hustle. I stopped only for fuel and food, and once in Byron Bay, simply so I could cross that off the list. I passed through Coff’s Harbour and Port Macquarie, and when I came close to the 900-km (560 miles) mark, I decided it was time to pack it in.
I saw a service station in Taree, which had my free wi-fi at my go to McDonald’s, but after I ate, I saw at the corner of the parking lot a bunch of RVs and vans parked for the night. I figured I couldn’t sleep in my motorcycle because it wasn’t possible, but I did have a tent. I pitched it in an angle where the vans blocked it from the view of the service station, and decided this would be my stop for the night. To be honest it was one of the best sleeps I had in the tent because it was the safest I had felt. This might also have something to do with the gentleman who enjoyed accusing people of being spies back near Bundaberg. It was not so bad to be away from the middle of nowhere, with a steady stream of chicken nuggets being ordered not far from where my head rested.
In the morning I had to snap a picture of my most unique camping spot, and I still had about 500 kms (311 mi) to go before meeting up with my friend. The rain started to come down pretty hard as I got closer to Bulli, and unfortunately, the Bulli pass, the easiest way to get into town, was closed. With my phone having lost signal, I spent about 30 minutes mixed up but thankfully came across a tourist info spot called the Southern Gateway Centre. They printed off some directions on how to make it to my friend’s place, which I added to my tank bag, and I was rolling. I looked quite comical on my bike with all the rain gear. I shrank to about a third of the size once a disrobed.
It was awesome to see Beth again as she was a friend since I was a kid, and such a familiar face on this adventure filled with new experiences. We took a stroll on Bulli Beach, a popular surfing spot. The sun poked through the clouds and we enjoyed a coffee in an ideal location.
Beth’s boyfriend, Luke, was a motorcycle mechanic with a shop in his garage. He had had experience working with some of the racers in MotoGP and had traveled the world as part of their teams. I approved of her choice! I told them about how I was on my way to Phillip Island for the weekend, and Luke even gave me an old team t-shirt to add to my cool souvenir collection. After spending a relaxing night and morning in Bulli, I had to keep moving.
Michelle’s Excellent Australia Adventure
I now had two riding days to make it back to Bairnsdale. I was about 800 km (500 mi) from my destination, and it would take around eight hours of ride time, depending on the route I would take. I took the M1 to the A25, to the B23, and boy did the wind pick up as I was approaching Cooma. This was the strongest wind I had ridden through, and it was an effort to make sure I was kept the bike in the middle of the lane. Each gust tried to push me closer towards oncoming traffic. I could tell by looking at the trees that were getting whipped around that I wasn’t alone in feeling the punishment.
I stopped at a gas station to refuel, and a person pulled up in a pick-up truck and said it might not be the best idea to keep going in this wind. I said, “Well, do you have a couch?” He told me he lived up the road on the family farm and could spend the night there. As we pulled into the farm, his dad was outside and his son revealed he had brought home a windblown traveler. We all hit it off, and the dad even brought out his camera to take photos and do a video interview with me.
I would even be given a home cooked meal, and on my way to grocery the beauty of a rainbow, washed away all the memories of bad weather.
Inside their home I met the lady of the house, a wonderful Polish woman. She reminded me of my mom, and I listened to her stories of growing up in Poland and how different it feels to go back there now. We shared a beautiful dinner together, and I got to see their son feed an injured sheep with a bottle. I hit the jackpot meeting this family and was to be able to spend the night indoors, in my own room. The original plan had been to soldier on to a free camping site near Bombala, where the overnight temperatures was going to dip into the negative. I was not in Sydney anymore, I was in the snowy mountains region of NSW!
It was almost hard to believe I was at the point of my journey where tonight I would be in Bairnsdale to perform at the tribute dinner for Barry Sheene. Memories of the start of the adventure in Melbourne seemed like a world away. I said my goodbyes, and the lady of the house put my hair in a braid for me as to not get it tangled in the wind, which had at least died down from its gusts yesterday. It was cold as I set sail, about 7 degrees (44 F), but rain or shine, cold or warm, I had my mission.
The ride would be about four hours and 350 km. It was a beautiful ride as nothing felt rushed, and the scenery and roads as I approached the Coopracambra National park were awe inspiring. What a brilliant part of Australia I had stumbled upon. The road was pretty empty, and going downhill I imagined I was part of nature. I could feel myself hum the Jurassic Park theme song, something I only do when I am completely relaxed on a bike and feeling pumped! The weather had crept up to 17 degrees (62 F), and with my layers and heated grips, I felt quite alright. I passed through Cann River close to the coast and then Orbost. The roads that had been quite empty started to fill with motorcycles. The migration to Phillip Island was beginning, and by the looks of it, a large congregation of riders would be headed out on the next day’s ride.
I made my way to the hotel, which was walking distance to the tribute dinner, so I could enjoy a glass or two of wine. After my performance another charity auction took stage, with signed memorabilia from riders of previous GPs taking top dollar. It was great because it was all going to an excellent cause.
Our group gathered together on Main Street the next morning, and it was quite the sight! I would be riding up in the front with the MC of the previous night, and Pete and Bundy, who are local legends. Bundy is the dog that rides on top of the motorcycle with Pete!
We started the journey along the Princes Highway to Morwell before stopping for lunch and to do an interview with a local TV station. We then traveled through Strzelecki Highway along its winding hills and then to the Bass Highway through Inverloch, Wonthaggi into San Remo. I will never tire of the interesting names of Australian towns. We saved the best part for last, as the ride concluded in the early afternoon with a lap around the Phillip Island MotoGP course. It was incredible. Seeing as I was not racing, I could see that this track had glorious views of the cliffs and coast of Phillip Island. I could not wait for the race weekend to begin, as this was my first time at a MotoGP event!
The couch hopping did not cease, as the MC was kind enough to offer me a couch of the house he was staying in. I had some time to kill that afternoon, so I rode to the Phillip Island Wildlife Park. I had wanted to see a Koala on my journey, and I got to see dingos and a cassowary. Cassowaries are the second largest bird in the world and are endangered. They have a brilliant multi-colored head, and legs and feet that remind you why birds and dinosaurs are close relatives.
I returned home excited that the next day I would get to see some racing. When I woke up, I realized a smooth day was not going to be in the cards. The first session went ahead as normal, but as the weather worsened, the MotoGP FP2 was stopped early because of the torrential rain, and the Moto2 FP2 was completely cancelled. The next day the schedule would be starting an hour earlier so that the intermediate and premier classes could have more time. At least this meant I could enjoy some of the indoor festivities without feeling bad. There were bikes on display and interactive booths.
Saturday was still gloomy and cold at times, but the races continued. The amount of mud from the previous day made me happy that I had my motocross boots to walk in. It would be an exciting day for me, as I ran into a few notable folks. Loris Capirossi was signing autographs at the BMW booth, and he was an absolute pleasure to meet.
Later in the day, I got a tour of the paddock and ran into Keanu Reeves. He is a common sight at motorcycle races, and he is in the motorcycle business himself with Arch Motorcycle. I told a few people I met that I had run into him and a few hours later they sent me a selfie they took with him – he was cool as ice.
Sunday was race day and would be the nicest weather of the weekend. It would still be cold, getting up to 14 degrees if you were in the sun, but at least there was plenty of sun to go around. I am a big fan of Valentino Rossi, and at Phillip Island each racer goes around the track and waves to the fans from a convertible Apparently, it is the only race where this is done. Don’t quote me on that as I am a comedian journalist, but I’d like to believe that this was special.
I was in the Bass Straight grandstand, which is at the lowest point of the circuit on the outfield, where behind you is the cliffs and the coastline. At this spot you have a view of the riders as they are leaving the main straight and speeding around the southern loop. The sound was really something else. The race did not end with every rider crossing the finish line. My main man, Valentino, had qualified 15th for the race, and it was exciting to see him crawl all the way to 3rd, and then frontrunner Marc Marquez unexpectedly crashed out while having a commanding lead. Cal Crutchlow, who was in second, kept Rossi at bay and ended up being the first British winner of the Australian Grand Prix.
I would have taken pictures of the race but got so caught up in the excitement that I forgot! What I did get is a picture of me on the track after it was over. I didn’t realize they let the fans onto the track after it is all said and done. It was an amazing end to the weekend and a conclusion to my journey.
My ride back to Melbourne was uneventful, as it was only two hours away and around 140 km (87 mi). This gave me a lot of time to think.
It was less than a year ago that I took my first off-road course on a Husqvarna TE 630 at the BMW Off-Road training academy, then did my first group adventure in the Mojave desert on a G650GS. My first solo journey had been a trip from L.A. to the Grand Canyon, Utah, and back on an F700GS. That had only been six days, where many of the miles had been with people I met along the way.
This trip was on a whole other level. I rode nearly 7500 km (4660 mi), most of it on my own in remote places around Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. I camped along the way and embraced the kindness of strangers. I got lost, went through snow, wind, torrential rain, a flooded road, and dodged wildlife, all with a smile or a clenched jaw. I went through moments of shivering cold and sweat-filled blistering heat. I went on beautiful windy sealed roads and crossed puddles in the dirt. It was an adventure in every way I could imagine, including a paranoid man sleeping close by in a free camping site near Bundaberg. I saw old friends, made new ones, and performed comedy in three states.
I’ll have a hard time topping this trip, as I fear with busy schedules it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope that is not the case, as there has never been a moment I felt quite at peace as riding through rainforests humming the theme song of Jurassic park.
Michelle Christine is a motorcycle enthusiast, comedian and writer originally from Toronto and now living in Los Angeles.