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Friendship makes the world go round

Into the real red heart of Australia... well, just a little way in

There are two main kinds of road trips. In Hollywood, they’re usually buddy movies – two friends or, better still, an odd couple overcoming adversity on their shared voyage. In literature, often as not, it’s a solitary pastime with the lonely traveller confronting his inner demons as well as the external difficulties on a journey of self-discovery. As I’m painfully aware that I could fall into that pomposity trap with my Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime, it’s great to catch up with friends as I go, to keep my feet on the floor – and that’s made the past few days some of the most enjoyable of the trip.

After the thrills of the Omeo Highway and Great Alpine Way, I wasn’t sure the riding could get better. And to be honest, it didn’t at first… but only because of the weather. Heading inland, for the hills that rise behind Melbourne, I got another shake of the rain stick. I’d had a good number of roads recommended up here, so the route should have been a gangbuster… if it was dry. The reality was that the Reefton Spur and other madly twisty roads were worryingly slick as I shivered in my waterproofs.

Where are you going? I wouldn't start from here

A lorry had turned over on the Black Spur, forcing me to take an extensive detour to get to my overnight stop in Marysville… so of course the sun came out for the final 20 minutes and baked me in my layers. I got to ride the Black Spur next morning – another cascade of corners through a surreal forest of towering white-trunked gums and eerie, Jurrasic-looking tree ferns. The road was still offputtingly shiny, but still a cracking ride.

I nipped in to Melbourne (you know, as you do…) to get fresh tyres for the bike. The Michelin Road 5s had done nearly 8000 miles, but the way they went down over the final 500 caught me out – I thought they were going to last forever! Still, they impressed me enough to get another set.

Then I turned around and went back into the hills, to the small town of Yea and the final round of the Australian SXS championship. This is exhilaratingly mad off-road buggy racing and possibly the most Aussie form of motorsport imaginable. It’s brilliant – and my old friend Damo helps organise the races. I arrived in time for the decisive final clash of the blue-riband class… and the end-of-season party. We had a proper catch up – and I was reminded not to take myself too seriously (and that until I can sing along to Hunters and Collectors, Jimmy Barnes, Icehouse and other Aussie classics, I’ll always stand out as a Pom).

Next day I set off inland – nowhere booked, just a desire to get as far in as I could. If possible, Broken Hill. As it was, for the first time on the trip, the distance got the better of me. It was hot, dry and dusty – and I found my eyelids drooping. I tried everything… but it was getting worse. In fact, I was worried it was getting dangerous and I might fall asleep on the bike. So at 4:30, a I rolled into Mildura, I admitted defeat and found somewhere to stay.

Next day I headed inland a bit, enjoying the strangeness of the red soil – as bizarre and Martian as any of the odd semi-desert landscapes I saw in America. Then I swung south for Adelaide, stopping for two nights with new friends: Gazza and Alex.

At the Ken Blake memorial in Strathalbyn

Now, I met these wonderful people just a few weeks ago, when my girlfriend Ali and I came out here. Gazza insisted that when the bike was finally delivered and I was ready to ride round Australia, I’d have to come back and he’d show me the roads. I’d had some great suggestions – especially from a kind chap called Daniel Lee (who I forgot to get in touch with – sorry Daniel) – but I would never have been able to knit a day’s riding together like the one Gazza treated me to. I have only the loosest idea of where we went – though it involved Strathalbyn, Mount Lofty and lots of vineyards.

Riding with Gazza: swift, smooth, safe. Great

There’s such a different dynamic to riding with someone else to riding solo. I really enjoy it – though it does depend on the other rider. I've ridden with some who scared me, some who made me wonder if they'd be better off taking up golf, some who frankly shouldn't have been left in charge of a kettle, let alone a motorcycle... Thankfully, Gazza turned out to ride like my pals at home (and I'm sure like all of you, dear readers!): accurate, smooth, swift and safe. Though most of the time I was busy putting him off his game, as the super-bright LEDs of the Kawasaki filled his mirrors. “It’s like being chased by a police bike,” he told me… Still, we had no bother with the law – just a fabulous day’s riding. As good as the Omeo Highway? Different but probably of the same quality – the roads in the Adelaide hills really are that good.

Life's a beach on tour in Australia... this is Beachport on the south coast

You're going to need a bigger chip pan...

So today I headed south again. Initially intending to take a loop through the Big Desert… but actually I was feeling so rough that I took the short route. After an early night I hope I’ll be fit and ready for what lies ahead – because it should take the riding to another, even higher level.

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