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Bright Sparks – Thrills and spills in the Victorian hills

This entry is part 11 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #23

Adventure Motorcycle Equipment’s Darin Rowley and a group of like-minded riders headed to the Adventure Travel Film Festival in Bright, Victoria, taking in the high country, a few beers and lots of laughs.

A mixed bunch of bikes from 250cc enduro bikes through to Kato 1290 mother-ships. They sounded good!

I packed my little WR250R with a light camping kit and meandered from Canberra down to Victoria, mapping out some beginner-level trails and a number of technical sections as I went.

A chat with a couple of dog trappers, some rangers and meeting people on the fly helped me sort the route, food and good spots for cold beer. With mates Terry Cunningham and Troy Collins I strung together some great tracks on the western side of Blowering Dam and up towards Cabramurra. Terry’s a crack photographer – as you can see on these pages – and we did have to recover his drone at one stage, but that’s a story and a laugh for over a cold beer some other time. A track with multiple options was marked out and an email to Adventure Motorcycle Equipment’s customers had about 30 riders ready to go. Richard ‘Richo’ Semmler, a mate of more than 30 years, and Cath McGrail, my assistant, volunteered to drive the support vehicle and be the designated first aid officers.

The ingredients were mixed and set to cook up an adventure.

Canberra down to Victoria, including beginner-level trails and a number of technical sections.

Ready to roll

On a sunny Thursday morning the crew was at the Canberra Aboretum lookout awaiting the riders.

Lead rider Cade Brian, Terry, Cath, Richo and myself were debating if Peter Fenyvesi’s Husky would blow up on the ride – it blew up on the last ride – when Ray Miller on his KTM 1190 arrived, followed by a bright, candy-red Vespa.

Cade gave me a quizzical look, but I didn’t know what was going on either.

It turned out Sandra Malnar, on her first-ever adventure ride, had her Vesper-riding sister seeing her off.

We rounded up the riders, gave a quick briefing explaining, among other things, the lead rider/cornerman/sweep system and how Cath was going to man the Super Soaker water pistols when the temperatures hit 40 degrees.

There were looks of disbelief from riders. Water pistols?

We hit the road and I thought to myself, “Always plan that the plan will not go according to plan! Let’s see what adventure presents itself.”

We had a mixed bunch of bikes from 250cc enduro bikes through to Kato 1290 motherships and they sounded good!

Underway and laughing

We headed out of Canberra towards Wee Jasper. Conditions were dry and dusty and the group flowed nicely.

Paul Johnston managed to domino Trev Hennocky’s bike and land underneath his own while parking near the Taemus bridge. No-one was hurt and no bikes damaged, but it was still a beerable and laughable offence.

In the Wee Jasper forest the group split so the experienced riders got to play on more technical terrain before rejoining the rest of the group on the easier trails. Graeme Windsor showed he could handle a bike, hustling his GSA with a big grin. Terry took the lead of the beginners’ group and gave them an extra, completely unorganised and unplanned loop. The group realised they’d been led in a circle and Terry had to take some funny one-liners on the chin for the rest of the weekend.

Running three or four people per corner meant riders generally ended up in the middle of nowhere talking to complete strangers about important issues such as bikes, tyres, travel, riding and beer.

The group was already starting to bond and help each other out. When Richo and the support vehicle turned up with a dislodged spring on the trailer, the riders tipped the trailer on its side and had it fixed in no time. Many thanks to Adrian Soligo and Terry for heading up this side-of-the-road repair job.

Temperatures were building, and those who were wary of the water-pistol idea earlier in the day were queuing and demanding their turn.

Cath ripped into the crew with the Super Soaker and, with riders cooled, we rode into Tumut for lunch.

Sandra got more adventure than she bargained for when her F800GS speared off the edge of the Goldie Spur Track.

Great day

From Tumut we headed up the western side of Blowering Dam, which was a little technical. There were some issues with overheated bodies, bikes stuck on hills and a couple of small offs in the mud.

Many thanks to Roy Chamberlain, who’d ridden most bikes up the hills by the time I arrived. Fortunately the support vehicle and its cargo of cold water was never far behind in the 40-degree temperatures.

The run through the pines along Blowering Dam made us think we were riding in another country, and that had the group buzzing before heading back into the mountains and on to the Elliot Way where the day – which felt like it’d just started – was nearly over.

We beelined down the Elliot Way to Corryong and enjoyed cold beer, good showers and a great meal at the Corryong Hotel Motel.

The Adventure Travel Film Festival had a very laid-back and relaxed feel about it.

Benambra Spur

The next morning saw a quick brief-ing outside Corryong’s bottom pub before the group was off towards Lake Dartmouth via the Benambra Spur.

It was one of those perfect still mornings made for riding, even though everyone knew the heat was coming and would hit hard.

There were some technical trails for those who wanted them and some flowing trails for those who wanted to take it easy. The technical trail had a downhill section that was well commented on by most who did it. I had a little snicker at throwing that one in.

That technical trail did lead to the historic Dart River goldfield though, and some old mine workings. It must be mentioned ‘Cheeky Pete’ Sutherland had a touch of the red mist and overtook everyone waiting at a regroup point.

He turned up 30 minutes later saying how nice his personal ride had been.

Ray and his 1190 went for an unscheduled excursion and before any-one would help him retrieve his bike they all took photos! Ray was definitely caught in the act.

Michael Lawrence (left) tweaked his back. Somebody had to ride that Moto Guzzi Stelvio. Darin (right)ended up enjoying the big bike.

Among friends

The group got together at the Benambra summit and enjoyed superb views and temperatures in the low 20s. A ranger pointed out topographic features including The Murray Valley, Mt Kosciuszko, Mt Pinnibar, Benambra Valley, Cobberas, Mt Bogong and The Horn. Stories were being thrown left, right and centre and there was quite a bit of chuckling going on. The group had gelled.

We headed into Mitta Mitta for a civil lunch and refuel. Temperatures were hitting close to 40 degrees again, so we beelined across Mountain Creek Road to Tawonga and into Bright, where all riders cleaned up and found their way to the Alpine Hotel for a cold beer.

It was a laugh of an evening and probably a few too many beers were drunk, stories embellished, one-liners dropped and jokes told. The Adventure Travel Film Festival was in full swing and we enjoyed a movie under the stars.

Coincidentally, a number of randoms in town were other like-minded adventure riders. It was a nice place to be.

Victorian high-country heaven.

Personal choice

Saturday the riders chose their own adventure.

A number of riders enjoyed the film festival. The rest of us went for a gorgeous morning run over Goldie Spur to see some Victorian high-country heaven.

The Goldie Spur jaunt was a hoot. The granite cliffs of Mt Buffalo tower above the trail with mountain views and blue sky for as far as the eye can see. Sandra got more adventure than she bargained for when her F800GS speared off the edge of the Goldie Spur Track. Luck was certainly on her side as she only sustained a few bruises.

After winching the BMW about 15m back on to the track, it was trailered home with a bent disc and some cosmetic damage.

Trevor Hennocky took over sweep duties.

One after the other

Temperatures had dropped significantly and there was rain on the horizon when Sunday dawned. We followed the Great Alpine Road over the mountains and enjoyed the stunning scenery until we found Terry pulled up with a collapsed rear-wheel bearing on his Africa Twin.

The bike was strapped on to the trailer as the rain started. The support vehicle could fit one more small bike on it and one more small person in it. We had about 25 riders heading into the rain with about 130km of muddy dirt.

I remember thinking, “Here comes the adventure!”

We motored on past Benambra up Limestone Road and saw many a skid-mark where it shouldn’t have been.

Mud and big-bore bikes with road-biased tyres don’t go well together.

Cheeky Pete had fallen at a low speed, hurt his ankle and was out of the ride.

I radioed the support vehicle and let Terry know he’d be riding Pete’s DR650. Pete was to travel in the support vehicle, but took solace in letting Cath and Sandra remove his rain pants. Terry passed on his commiserations, grinned, and then couldn’t get his helmet on quick enough.

He took off on the DR650, riding it like he’d stolen it.

Back in the saddle I thought, “What next?”

All change

Next was Michael Lawrence’s Moto Guzzi Stelvio on the deck.

Michael’s a lump of a man and he’d tweaked his back. Unable to continue on the Guzzi he had to fold his big frame into the back seat of the Land Rover.

Terry was enjoying Cheeky Pete’s DR650 and looked like a squirrell on cocaine. Sandra jumped out of the support vehicle and offered to ride my WR250R. That left me with the very heavy Guzzi to steer through the mud.

“Here’s the adventure,” I thought.

Sandra was shaking with nervousness as she’d binned her bike in a big way the day before and I was tentative about the piloting the big, heavy Guzzi in the challenging conditions.


Trevor Hennocky and Scott Bridgement took over sweeping and I started to mop!

I pulled up 10km further on and grinned at Michael – the Guzzi’s owner – and beamed, “I get it!” I had a ball on that bike.

Sandra and I stopped at the lookout on the northern end of the Barry Way and laughed. We’d both had great rides and some real adventure.

The support vehicle pulled up and found us all in in good spirits. We motored into Jindabyne where the ride finished and heard how other riders had also enjoyed the day.


The bulk of the riders had a ball on this Adventure Motorcycle Equipment customer/social ride and the Adventure Travel Film Festival had a very laid-back and relaxed feel about it.

Sandra’s bike is being repaired and Sandra was very lucky to get away without major injury. Cheeky Pete ended up with a strange fracture in his ankle and a broken smaller bone just below his knee. He was heading into surgery at the time of writing this and will be out of action for six weeks. It was his first major motorcycling injury in 50 years of riding.

The lesson from the above accidents is for riders to stay on their game. If signals of fatigue are creeping in, stop, rest and charge up with some snacks and a drink. Another thought which should be remembered is: “If you think you’re riding too fast, then you are”. Riding doesn’t feel fast when everything is right.

Terry begrudgingly gave Cheeky Pete’s DR650 back and replaced his Africa Twin rear-wheel bearings. Michael took the Guzzi into Jindabyne and his back came good over the next few days.

Scott summed it up by saying, “I love this adventure-motor-cycling caper so much more than fishing or golf. The big stories are generally true and you see the country one bend at a time.”

The Adventure Motorcycle Equipment team thanks all the riders for joining a great social ride.

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