Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ride Report Adelaide-Sydney-Snowy Mtns and return August–September 1978

In February 1978, after returning to Oz from five years in New Zealand and with nowhere in particular to go, I finished up in Adelaide for the arts festival and the wedding of my friends Spot the Dog and Pat the Sheila. I moved into their shared house in St Peters, living in the enclosed veranda until a proper room became vacant.
My first home in Adelaide in 1978 (that’s me on the left).

With a roof over my head, a steady supply of food and a steady income from a journalist job with SA National Parks and Wildlife Service, the only other thing I needed (apart from a woman, but read on) was a set of wheels. I found a fairly youthful Yamaha XT500 advertised for $1200 so I took $1000 in cash and wafted it seductively in front of the vendor’s face. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

On the XT500 wearing state-of-the-art safety gear from the 1970s.
The XT500 was a 500cc single-cylinder dual purpose thumper. It was my sixth bike, following (in order) a black Honda S90 sports model with patented T-bone frame; a red Triumph Trophy 250 which handled like a dream but set new records for unreliability and on one trip left a trail of parts from Sydney to Hobart, returning on the train while I hitch-hiked; a red and white Honda CB350 twin with hollow megaphone exhausts that my whole suburb hated; a green Yamaha DT360 two-stroke enduro that was fun to ride except at night when the headlight would switch off without warning till I pounded it repeatedly with my fist; and, my favourite until then, a white Honda XL250 that carried me and Jan Number One all over the South Island of NZ. 

In July the money ran out for my NPWS job so I went back onto the dole and decided, with my new-found freedom, to visit my parents in Sydney. And, seeing as I was going that far, I might as well pick up my skis, which were stored at Mum and Dad’s along with lots of my other stuff, and head up to the snow for a few days’ skiing. 

The XT500 packed for the ski trip.
It didn’t take long to strap my gear – tent, sleeping bag, foam mat, cooking gear, pack, daypack and cameras – onto the bike’s rack. I left Adelaide in bright winter sunshine (similar to Adelaide’s summer sunshine except a bit cooler and no dust storms) and took two days to ride to Sydney, crossing the glorious Hay Plain for the first time in my life. 

It was a simple matter to tie the skis and poles onto the bike – in fact, the skis sticking out backwards at a 45 degree angle gave the XT a rather dashing look. Back in those days there was no freeway and the ride from Sydney to Sawpit Creek campground, on the road to Perisher Valley, took most of the day. I set up camp, put the billy on and kicked back with a good book till it was time for bed.

Camp at Sawpit Creek.
I skied by myself at Perisher for a few days till my friends Steve and Prue turned up, then skied with them for a few days at Perisher and then at Thredbo. After that, Steve and I donned our cross-country skis and slogged from Guthega Power Station up to Whites River Hut and the crest of the main range for a few days, learning how it feels to face-plant in the snow wearing a 25kg pack. The snow was still good after Steve left, so I stayed on and skied some more at Perisher.

But eventually my body clock told me it was time to leave the mountains and get back to responsible living on the dole, including maybe even looking for a job. I packed the bike again and headed for Sydney in one of the worst storms I have ever ridden in. At one point during torrential rain on the Federal Highway (highway in name only in those days) the car in front of me braked suddenly on a right-hand bend and, knowing I would be unable to stop without laying the bike on its side, I veered past him on the left and rode straight into a flooded creek. The water was near the tops of my wheels and there were waves from oncoming vehicles but I kept the power on and somehow made it through.

I left the skis at Mum and Dad’s and, after a detour to go rock climbing for a few days in the Blue Mountains, I headed back to Adelaide. The XT had performed flawlessly for the whole trip and, while it was definitely no Goldwing, it made the 4000km trip seem easy (of course, I was a lot younger back then).

While I had been on the road a new tenant had moved into the house in St Peters, a Kiwi named Meatloaf. We became good friends and, even better, his ex-wife started visiting. This eventually solved my only other problem, and at the end of the year she and I moved to Hobart. (Note for history buffs: this was Jan Number Two; Sally came later).

Ian Paterson

Rider was:

Ian Paterson        Yamaha XT500