Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Walking in the Northern Rivers: Ballina to Lennox Heads

I've been so active and busy doing nice things that there has hardly been time to blog about them. One of the things I've been doing is walking, training for the upcoming walking marathon from Ballina to Byron (38 km along the coastal headlands and beaches).

Last weekend several family members joined in a walk from Ballina to Lennox Head (10 km). John, Claudia, Ian (Claudia's partner), our Briony, and myself, accompanied by our super-excited young dog (Radha). The latter was maybe not a brilliant idea (managing her bouncy energy was a bit exhausting in itself).  Briony is one of Claudia's two lovely daughters; and at the same time she is one of my step-daughters. (Yes yes, I know, we have a complicated family.  At least we all get on very well! )
John, Claudia and Ian
The day was sunny (UV!) and required sunscreen. In the photo below John is tending to Bri.

Slip slop slap: Briony being tended by her Dad, and flanked by Radha
We could see that recent storms and heavy tides had taken their toll on the dunes and beaches. Here, a pandanus palm has lost grip ...

Pandanus having lost grip on reality, has a lie-down on the sand.

Briony was great, dealing with Radha's indefatigable energy ...

Being bounced on by a Radha in full flight is like being hit by a B57 bomber.

Boundless joy of a young dog :-) Four-paw drive, covering at least six times what us paltry humans do!

Radha the Rocket Dog
The advantage of walking with a plant biologist (Dr Claudia, PhD) is that one's attention is drawn to the wonderful biodiversity of the area. Claudia told me the name of these lovely native coastal wildflowers, and explained how they developed resistance to the salty air and exposed conditions. It would be even nicer if I had a better memory and could actually *remember* the name ... but there you go. Sorry!
Pretty yellow native

Pretty purple non-native
And the pretty purple flower above is actually an invasive species. Sad that some of the pretty ones are actually unwelcome.

It was a very pleasant walk and we ambled into Lennox Head about two hours after setting off. Having taken *heaps* of photos of the view of the headlands on previous walks, I didn't this time (but you can see some of those photos here).  A yummy (but slightly greasy) lunch of fish and chips followed, and then back to base.

Thanks Catterall / McAdam family for a lovely walk!  Oh, and Radha wasn't tired after all that. Sheesh!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Music, and more music! Folk, Blues, Celtic, Gypsy ... and more

I'm behind with blogging (been busy at work and marking assignments in the weekends) ... This is going back a weekend or two, but I still wanted to post about it! We had a lovely long weekend, absolutely steeped in all sorts of music ... (It's so good for my heart and soul to get back into playing music).

 A friend of ours, Phil Levy, heads a band called The Romaniacs.  They play original music which has been "inspired by Gypsy, Folk, Latin, Celtic, Spanish and Eastern roots grooves". I love their work.  Recently Phil initiated a new series of gigs in the Gollan Hotel in Lismore. The night is called "No Depression" and is run on the 2nd Thursday of each month. The house band, The Romaniacs, support a special guest each time. That Thursday it was the wonderful singer-songwriter Kim Cheshire.

Kim Cheshire takes centre stage and performs some great solo pieces
And here supported by the house band. I love this photo: lighting makes it looks like a Vermeer painting

Every now and then our friends Carmel and Shaun host a BBQ-and-Jam session at their farm.They have a large macadamia farm and frequently host Help-X or WWOOF'ers, who apparently have a wonderful time there (and frequently seem to return, bearing huge smiles, hugs and cuddles for everyone). On these nights we run a jam session - Carmel on guitar and woodwind, myself on the same (though usually more woodwind, as there are more guitar players around). This night our friend Malcolm came along, as did a chap called Ken Thurgate who I love playing music with as he knows many of the Celtic tunes I used to do with the Naughtons, and my two previous bands, 'Shakin' Hands' and 'Under Milkwood'.  Ken's especially good on the music by my favourite C17th composer, the blind harpist Turlough O'Carolan. John, coming along extremely well as a novice, played along as well. There were also other performances: poetry readings, song, and drummers. 

From L to R: John McAdam, Malcolm Young, Ken Thurgate and Carmel Warnock. In the foreground my oh-so-familiar roll with various woodwind instruments.

Love the backdrop of flags :-)

A home session, and a curry dinner! We invited my friend Tanya Nolte (who is a horsewoman of much repute, and a holistic therapist) and her husband Phil Levy (yes, you just met him earlier - see above); and Malcolm Young and his partner Rhonda Munro (who works with me at the university). Delectable dinner followed by lots of great music.

Malcolm, Tanya, Rhonda and Phil
 I love it that both Malcolm and Phil - both incredibly gifted guitarists - take time out to show John various techniques and strategies. John's an avid learner and improving daily.

You can sit closer together if one is left-handed and the other right-handed :-)
Phil's playing is so awesome it sets even the cat on fire!! Go Sunny!

The Romaniacs were playing an afternoon gig out at Sphinx Rock Cafe, in the heart of the Mt Warning caldera. As it's such a great ride out to there, John and I hopped on the motorcycles and rode out there for lunch. Once again, good food, good music, good company.

The stage at Sphinx Rock Cafe

A lovely ride homewards in the warmth of late afternoon. And thus endeth the weekend ...  What a fortunate life we lead ...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ruby's returned! Back to brumby training business :-)

My young horse training friend Ruby has returned from the state swimming championships in Sydney, after three long weeks away (she came sixth)! So, we got back to horsie business, training Elara ...

Milestones today:
- We led Elara over "very scary" footing, putting her in a slightly stressful situation (see video) - which she did really well after only three tries. This builds trust (in the pony) and leadership (in Ruby)
- Also, we got Elara onto the horse float. This wasn't as successful as the previous - mainly because of physical obstacles (float was in a poor position), but we did succeed in the end. The horse float eventually became a peaceful place for Elara.
- Mounting training: Elara, skittish, would at first not stand still for Ruby to mount. But we overcame that with patience. Ruby was brave about this, which I really appreciate.
-  Finally, Ruby rode Elara in a headcollar and saddle all around the lower paddocks, on a long safety lead (just in case). This really was the first big ride out. There were some challenges (e.g. when Nova, Elara's sister, came careening at a hysterical gallop over the hill to demand where Elara was, sending Elara into a tizzy). We managed ("OK, everybody, just BREATHE!"). It went well overall with both Elara and Ruby relaxed and negotiating rocks, gullies, hills and weaving in and out of a series of posts.

Great work, Ruby: I really appreciate your willingness, bravery and patience.

No more tests!!

Hurrah, I've earned my P-level motorcycle licence! It's a fairly long and convoluted process here in NSW, but as the main focus is road and rider safety I do not mind. But negotiating the bureaucracy leading up to this point has been quite frustrating.

If you'd like to read about the long (international) process I had to follow, read on: otherwise skip to the photos :-)

I had a motorcycle licence in Australia (having passed the two very simple tests in the 1970s) but it expired eventually while I was in the Netherlands in the 1980s. The Dutch authorities would not acknowledge or exchange the licence for a Dutch one (they still do not acknowledge non-EU licences: one must pass the testing for a Dutch licence within 185 days). At the time the stipulations for a Dutch motorcycle licence involved being able to pick a fallen (Virago 250) motorcycle up off the ground using only one arm*.  I did the obligatory lessons for a while but did not even bother 'sitting' for the test. I ended up going for a car licence in the end, and passing both theory and practical first time round. Was always regretful about the motorcycle licence though.

(*It is theoretically possible. But why would you? Here you can read how to do it using all of your body.)

Once back in Australia in 2001 I encountered the same thing: Australia would not acknowledge or exchange the Dutch car licence for an Australian one (sheesh!). Luckily it's a lot cheaper to get your licence here than in NL (where one must use accredited driving schools, which charge exorbitant prices). I did the two car driving tests and passed with flying colours. Naturally, as my motorcycle licence had expired they would not reinstate that automatically (... sad face).

Living with John and meeting his very lovely motorcycling friends (all of whom are interesting, kind, well educated, intelligent and sane!) has encouraged me to get back on the bike. So in November 2012 I did the excellent and interesting two-day pre-Learner course (followed by a practical riding test). Thereupon I went to the RTA (now RMS = Road and Maritime Services) and passed the theoretical test. (You can try the test for yourself here). This allowed me on the road with my own "learner-approved" Honda 250 cc and ride around "on my L plates" which restricts me to 80kph (but  don't get me started about how potentially dangerous that is on the Pacific Highway).

If you are already bored, reading this far, perhaps you can understand how much tenacity it takes to get through these hoops :-P

On the L's and ready to ride!
Then came the next stage (allowable after three months on the L's): a one day Pre-Provisional training course including a 40 km road ride, and passing the final component, the "Motorcycle Skills Operator Test" (MOST), which involves eight short but stringent tests.

This is one of the eight tests. You may not put your foot down, hit a cone, stall the bike or cross a yellow line.

To prepare for these John and I had gone over to the university car park on Saturday to practise some of the more difficult moves. John gave me much valuable advice and instruction.

John showing me how to manage a very tight U-turn on the BMW

On Sunday's Pre-provisional day itself, I had classroom training, practical training sessions on a course and a 40km road ride (which was both testing and training, rolled into one). This culminated in the final MOST test. For various reasons I took my 250cc Honda rather than my bigger 650cc BMW.

In the classroom my classmates and I learned about the three principles of road-craft: observation, slowing down, and creating buffer zones. We discussed the dangers of taking unacceptable risks, exceeding comfort or skill levels, and how to prevent other people crashing into you (well, as much as one can). We learned how to take the best 'line' in corners (in general, start wide, finish tight but stay flexible: it depends on the oncoming traffic and road condition). We learned the mantra of "Monitor; Think; Ask" and even had a session on the psychology of self-talk (externalising potential dangers versus internalising them and asking oneself "what could I have done differently?"). The content was interesting and very useful, and our trainer ("Hans", a well-spoken Australian / German man) was excellent.

Just some of the scenarios we learned about
During the road ride we stopped several times on the way and our instructor Hans talked us through many different potentially dangerous scenarios and how to adjust for them as safely as possible. Great stuff, and potentially life-saving.

Stopping at the roadside, and learning lots from Hans

Back on the bikes to continue the road ride training / test
It was a great day, but by the time the time came for the final hurdle, the MOST (skills tests) I was very very nervous. I so very much wanted to pass! I had done well on the practice course, but I was the last in my group to do the test. As I saw some of my classroom buddies stack up penalty points (and even fail outright) I became even more nervous. But the excellent practising I had done with John paid off in SPADES because I ended up being one of the two participants who passed with zero penalty points. I was even dubbed the "U-turn Queen", being able to turn the Honda in a slow controlled circle well within the yellow lines :-D

So now I have my motorcycle P plates, which I can automatically convert to a full open licence in 12 months. No more tests!! (I have by now done ten official driving tests all up, and that's counting MOST as a single test. And passed all first time!). PHEW.

But the training was brilliant - I'm so glad I followed the full process. I would recommend the training to anyone wanting to improve their riding skills and enhance their safety on the road.

Monday, April 1, 2013

540 km later ...

John and I went for a mini-break, taking the bikes on a short(ish) one-night tour to Dorrigo and back. For me this was the first 'big' trip on a motorcycle, and certainly on a bike of this size (650cc).


As always, one organisational challenge is ensuring all our animals are well cared for while we are gone. A huge special thank you go to Chris Koh and her partner Jessie  for picking Radha up and looking after her. Jessie is naturopath and Chris is the designer and builder of Smokin' Guitars (you can the amazing sound of one of Chris' cigar box guitars here). Also thanks to my parents for taking our elderly Chicco and giving her a peaceful break away from playful Radha.

Here is our route:

View Clunes to Dorrigo in a larger map

So we set off and all well, but the rain soon came solidly. My bike went well though it had a tendency to stall when going round roundabouts slowly (rider error, we eventually decided). Clunes to Lismore and then Casino ... Then on the Summerland Way to our first real stop in Grafton. By then, wet and cold, we had a nice hot cuppa and Thai fish cakes (yum!). John wasn't too cold but I had to avail myself of the hand dryer in the ladies' to blow warm air down my shirt (sorry ladies, I was very cold by then!)

The Crown Hotel in Grafton. That's John striding through the rain :-)
Grafton is very pretty and they do a marvellous job with council parks and gardens. Here are our bikes parked outside the Crown Hotel. I couldn't take many photos because of the teeming rain but you can see how pretty the hedges are (they are clipped into a series of words and letters, but I didn't explore them alas ... too wet).

John's trusty Triumph Sprint on the left, my BMW F650 GS on the right. My metal panniers turned out to be very useful.

The next section was along the Armidale Road, which is a steeply winding and mountainous road: great for motorcycling but a bit daunting for a ride in the pouring rain for one newly returned to riding after many years!  John was terrific and coached me through the wireless communicators we use on our helmets, helping me find the best 'line' round the steep curves and hairpin bends, and bolstering my confidence with supportive words and a patient demeanour. (Me, crawling round a hairpin bend at 25 kph: "I'm such a chicken!" He: "Cautious. Cautious is good...")

After a few hours we reached Dorrigo and the welcoming dry sturdiness of the Dorrigo Heritage Hotel. We were quite wet and by then very happy to have arrived. My arms were quite sore and my hands exhausted from gripping the handlebars. As we discovered, John's leather gloves had leaked tannin (or ink?) onto his palms, staining them an interesting dark colour :-)

Yes well, we all can see John has West African blood in him ...

A lovely meal and a restful night later saw blue skies reappearing in the morning. The hotel provides a generous breakfast and a dryer, so with full tummies and dry clothes we headed North again.

The iconic Hotel Dorrigo. Such a lovely place.
A half hour after leaving we stopped by to visit friends in Tyringham, Tracie and Patrick, at their 250 acre farm. I really like visiting them and we somehow managed to achieve a lot of catching up in the short time we had. We caught up on Tracie's interesting psychology thesis, family, music, the horses, politics, Patrick's classic Triumph, and other interesting topics, and we have all have reaffirmed that we'll catch up again soon!

The weather stayed dry for the most part and we made good progress, taking the same route back. At times I was confident and at times less so but everything went well and the bikes carried us safely through the mountains to Grafton, where we stopped for a delicious lunch.

Lunch on the way home at the Crown Hotel in Grafton, looking over the Clarence river.
Despite some crazy drivers taking extreme risks in overtaking us, it was a good drive from Grafton to Casino and then through to Lismore. We arrived home in Clunes, having beeped cordial hellos to my parents' house in Eltham as we passed, at about 4pm.

In all we covered 540.6 km, we averaged 67 kph, and 8.1 hours was spent with the motors running ...  (John's bike has a computer that tells us such amazing things).

It was a lovely short break and a good adventure!