Saturday, October 26th, 2019 – Nhill, Victoria to Sandringham, Melbourne, Victoria.

Distance travelled – 420 km

When we left Nhill it was, at least dry, so we had no need to take shelter in the Pin Ball museum. The skies had that steely look that they have when rain is imminent and it did seem very apparent that it would not be a nice day.

The weather application forecast rain later on in the afternoon and it is fair to say it was not wrong. The main problem though, as we set off along the A8, was a strong and persistent wind which rendered it rather cold.

The greater availability of petrol meant that we had stopped filling up at every opportunity. When we came to the slightly larger than normal town of Horsham, we saw a large garage with a little restaurant attached, so we thought that filling up everything would be a good plan. No sooner had we sat down than the heavens opened and I do mean opened. At least we were inside. We decided that we would wait it out. Three more Harleys pulled into the car park. They greeted us when they were paying, but did not sit down and chat. They all waited under the canopy above the forecourt and huddled miserably together until the storm eased, whereupon they left in the direction from which we had come. Maybe the Pin Ball museum did get some visitors that day after all !

Our delay in Horsham had not, in reality, been that long and, as the roads dried, we sped along, cautious of Victoria’s lower speed limits. I decided very quickly that these must be ruthlessly enforced. The A8 was wide and, like most Australian roads, well surfaced and straight. But the traffic was just crawling along. I have said throughout that we seldom exceeded 100 kph anywhere on our whole trip. There was the odd section of the A8 where 110 kph would have been permitted, but huge stretches of it were limited to 80 kph and sometimes less. The result of this were long lines of cars and lorries moving in well spaced but contiguous units. There were designated overtaking places, but nobody did overtake, because nobody could overtake, because EVERYONE was already doing 80 kph. It was insanity and, of course, being in a line of traffic requires a far higher level of concentration. Inevitably, I crept by by going just a fraction over the limit. This earned us stares and glares similar, in my opinion, to those that might have been directed at Pol Pot or Jack the Ripper.

Life does like to play jokes on you. Our attempts to make even slightly better time soon came to a grinding halt. The dark skies decided to unleash yet another downpour. Whilst it would be hyperbole, to describe the new deluge as being of “biblical proportions”, it did send us scurrying for shelter under the welcoming canopy of a garage – in, of all places, the town of Ararat. Noah must have been smiling ! This was a far longer storm and we spent quite a while drying out and talking to the very pleasant lady who was minding the pumps. There was a handy vending machine and we drank a lot of warm tea and coffee.

Eventually, the rain petered out and it became clear again, so off we went. The skies were still pretty dark and we said to ourselves that, in the worst case, we would simply have to get wet on the last leg of our trip. We headed into the gloom with nothing of note to see at all. It was all very rural to the point where the sudden addition of the wording “Western Highway” to the signs for the A8 was something noticeable.

The A8 became the M8 and the speed limit increased to 110 kph, we went faster although I did not quite reach that lofty pinnacle. I was very conscious of banks of truly scary black clouds ahead and Lucie, usually such a reliable navigator, was paying them too much attention as well. So sadly, we missed our intended turn to Ballarat. The M8 looped around the town so we decided to press on and then loop back. The classic “change of plan”. As we droned on towards the next exit, it began to rain. It was nothing too serious, but given the lookout ahead, it seemed certain to be persistent. It had been windy all day, but it then became very windy. We pulled off of the motorway in the increasing downpour, passed by the sign that said Ballarat and stopped at a junction. Ballarat proper, was to our right and the Map application, already directed towards Mount Egerton, pointed us ahead. We looked at each other through our steamy visors. In half a second we mutually decided that if we were going to get soaked we may as well get soaked whilst riding along, rather than whilst walking around the wet streets of some town. Sherlock Holmes had seen “Black Jack” in London, we would not, after all, be seeing where Jack conducted his literary exploits.

So, for the second time in quick succession, we changed our plan. This meant we took a slightly different path to that which had we originally intended, but Mapy informed us we had less than 45 kilometres to ride. Those quickly turned into the worst 45 kilometres of our entire trip. Almost as soon as I went straight ahead, the road out of Ballarat began to dwindle in width and became a narrow tree fringed lane. Mount Egerton is not exactly in the mountains, but it is high up. The road began to undulate, quite dramatically, but whilst still climbing steadily overall. The rain redoubled and the wind rose to the point where it was effectively raining horizontally. A small sign pointed up an even narrower road to Mount Egerton and, as we turned, the persistent rain and strong wind turned abruptly into a blizzard. Only two days before we had been boiling to death and now my visor was clogged with sleet.

The road surface had obviously been recently renewed, which was good. But the renewal had been too recent for either the edging lines or a white central line to be repainted. That was not good. Visibility was so poor that we were reduced to crawling along and this made the Harley an easier target for the wind. A sudden fierce gust of wind, while we were negotiating a slow and very sharp corner, literally blew us off of the road. Unlike most roads elsewhere in Australia, there was no run-off space beside the road, just trees. As I instinctively accelerated, I felt the back wheel crab momentarily on the loose roadside gravel and briefly slide away before gripping the tarmac again. Phew ! In over 11,000 kilometres and countless hours in that saddle, that was scariest five metres and quarter of a second of all.

My heart was pounding hard as we moved slowly onward. Visibility was bad enough for me, but on the rear seat it was just as bad for Lucie. She was holding her iPhone, for navigation, in her ungloved hand and could hardly see it because of sleet on her visor. After what seemed like an eternity we emerged onto a marginally better road and there was the town sign for Mount Egerton.

I should maybe point out that, until that moment, I had thought I was almost intimately familiar with the little town. Our friend in Prague has a webcam in his mother’s window and the comings and goings, or rather the almost total lack of them, can be watched from 20,000 kilometres away. I had imagined there would be no difficulty in finding Sharron’s (his mother) home. This was not so. The camera view foreshortens everything and, in real life, all of the angles and perspectives were different.

Luckily, if it could be counted as luck, the sleet had given way to rain. I felt a bit like a drowned rat and my dear wife looked like one. I later confided to Lucie that, at that moment, I was wondering about whether she would still like me when all of that was over. Totally lost, I decided I simply had to call Sharron. She answered at once because we were standing right in front of her house. She had heard the Harley arrive and she was watching us through the window. The scene from the webcam really was VERY different when I was actually standing in it !

Sharron exhibited typical Australian cool. Although she had never seen us before, she greeted us very warmly. Lucie is normally a bit reticent with strangers, but she hugged her like an old friend. I am certain that the possibility of going to a dry place with no wind had nothing to do with that.

Australian ladies can be very forward and, in next to no time, Sharron had made us remove most of our wet clothes. We huddled around her fire, me in a towel and Lucie in a bathrobe as the tumble-dryer was turned on and our clothes tossed in.

We all sat around, drinking coffee, tea and Sharron’s delicious home-made minestrone and getting to know each other. It was like being in heaven. Sharron already knew a lot about us, from Leigh. She seemed so familiar with our doings, in fact, that I briefly wondered if she watched us via a webcam in our house ! Eventually, most of our clothes were only slightly damp, so we redressed. Sharron gave us each a pair of dry socks, which were actually Leigh’s. They were super comfortable and we wore them almost continuously, for the rest of our holiday. When we got home, we washed them and presented them to Leigh. A present from his mum, 20,000 kilometres away.

We had two things we wanted to do. First, we had to go to the garage and check on the condition of Leigh’s cars. These were two large bodied and huge engined Chryslers. They were a bit dusty, but present and correct. Tick.

Secondly, we wanted to make an appearance on “Mount Egerton Cam”. We all went out and posed in front of the camera so Leigh, in Prague, could see us. Tick ! Poor Leigh was awake and in communication with us via SMS, although, to him, it was about four in the morning. He did a number of screenshots which he emailed to us. It was strange to see ourselves participating in such a familiar backdrop.

The weather was clearing, there was even a faint glimmer of sunlight to the east. Sharron, who was familiar with the local climatic vagaries suggested that we made a run for it while we had a chance. We packed and bade her a fond farewell. If that lady ever finds herself in Prague she is guaranteed an extremely warm welcome from us.

Our final destination, that day, was the house of our friends Rick and Gőknur in Sandringham, a seaside suburb in the south-west of Melbourne. Mount Egerton is in the middle of nowhere and it seems remote, but it is not. Thanks to Sharron’s directions, we managed to locate (or perhaps, relocate) the M8 motorway so the going was at least straightforward. It was “only” another 110 kilometres but, long before we got out of the hills, it rained heavily again and the soaking, combined with a cold wind, soon froze us through. When we stopped for a coffee and to refuel, we were almost reluctant to go on. It was hard to imagine the contrast between the temperature outside of where we were sitting and that which we had so recently experienced elsewhere.

We finally came into Melbourne. The final twenty kilometres, through an continuous string of complicated junctions, small roads and traffic lights seemed endless. Sandringham is adjacent to Port Philip Bay. Perversely, the sun had come back out and the route down the edge of the azure bay was probably very picturesque. The sun was not really warm though and even I was so frozen that I scarcely noticed the sea. The wonderful map application guided us right to the correct front door and we were finally done for the day.

Gőknur is Turkish and Rick, the son of my good friend and also a good friend to me himself had stolen this occidental beauty away. Their wedding, in Edirne in Turkey, in 2012 had been an incredible experience, but we had only seen them once in the interim. They now had a small daughter, Maya. The little girl was fortunately possessed of her mother’s looks and was was totally enchanting – and an obvious handful.

We were again greeted with tremendous warmth but, as it had been with Sharron, we needed to dry and thaw out. We all caught up on our lives while our bones thawed. While Gőknur put Maya to bed we popped into the nearby centre of Sandringham for a meal with Rick. He is a man who knows his food and who, like his father, is an accomplished cook himself. He took us to a great place where he was obviously well known and we ended the day warm and full.

We returned to Rick’s house, relieved that the next day all we would need to do was to ride into central Melbourne to our hotel. We were ready for bed, it had been a long day.