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The longest surprise

Clichés abound at Christmas time. There’s the food and drink, the decorations, the supposed goodwill and, if you’re so inclined, something about a baby being born in a barn. Every family has their own Christmas traditions, but my parents must have been particularly good at weaving suspense into our Christmases, because the element I’ve always most enjoyed at this time of year is that of surprise. Perhaps in this modern age of gift vouchers and instant gratification my favourite part of Christmas is less prominent than it used to be. Time to reinvigorate the festive season.

Over the past few years we’ve developed our own slightly unusual way of enjoying 25th December. Predictably, perhaps, it’s involved shouldering packs fit to give Santa a hernia and heading off into the bush on a long walk. In the last two Christmases we’ve had the company of Ella’s parents, too. So both aspects of this tradition looked set to collapse given that we’ve been doing plenty of long walks anyway and Ella’s folks are on the other side of the country. Well we couldn’t have that.

A couple of weeks ago, lolling around at the campground after climbing a peak of the Stirling Ranges, we hatched a plan for the longest surprise – long in terms of the time we’d have to keep a secret, and in terms of the distance it would require us to travel in order to deliver it.

Suppose we accelerated our travelling speed to warp factor and shimmied through several time zones (one of which we hadn’t even realised existed), 4500 kilometres, and a kaleidoscope of national parks, landscapes and adventures, could we make it to Bundaberg for Christmas day? More importantly, could we do all of this without arousing the suspicions of the most inquisitive species known to humankind … the Mother-in-Law?

Well, hiding near the end of Ella’s parents’ 800 metre long driveway as I upload this post, we can tell you…that it appears that yes, we could indeed spring the longest surprise. We managed to get through an entire fortnight of phonecalls full of little white lies about our location, the weather we were experiencing and our plans for the day. It’s going to be fun to see the reactions of the in-laws!

If you’ve been following our travels then this sudden climax of the no fixed abode adventure may come as a surprise to you, too. But if, by any chance, you’re concerned there’ll be no more content – don’t worry. Over the last couple of weeks, as we sped along the coast, through dusty outback towns, along iconic rivers, and over mountain ranges, we’ve met some great characters, seen some amazing wildlife, plants and weather and taken hundreds of photos. We even discovered a new time zone! Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing this with you, albeit at a more leisurely pace than it actually unfolded.

Meanwhile, as we head towards the barbeque, seasons greetings to one and all!

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Stirling stuff

At some indefinable point we finally passed out of the great forests of the southwest. But not before we’d done our duty, like good tourists, and wandered the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk situated a short distance east of Walpole. A tree top walk isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. The combination of a gently inclining suspended metal walkway and a downward sloping forest floor mean that with minimum effort one is almost tricked into the canopy. You really have to read a sign that says you’re now 40 metres up to believe it. It’s very impressive. It’s even worth the $10 entry fee to walk amongst the crowns of the Red Tingle trees – a huge buttressed species of eucalypts that only still grow in a small area of southwest WA. It is all very slickly presented and is managed by what seems like an army of staff for a national park venture .

Tree top walk

Our next destination, although relatively lacking in trees, took us to even greater heights. Having turned THE BENCH towards the northeast, up came something new, almost as suddenly as we’d left the forests behind. In the distance, beyond vast fields of wheat and the geometric lines of fast-growing plantation eucalypts, appeared a jagged horizon. It looked like an army of giants had pitched huge green tents in the middle of a wide plain.

The original inhabitants, the Mineng and Goreng (of whom we saw no signs), called it Koi Kyeunu-ruff and believed that spirits lived in the misty clouds that envelop the peaks. The explorer, Matthew Flinders, called it Mount Rugged when he sighted it in 1802, but since 1835 it’s been known, rather tamely I think, as the Stirling Ranges (named for the first Governor of Western Australia).

Approaching the Stirling Ranges

It’s hard to overstate just how impressive the ranges are. They impress geologically: the rock is 2500-2900 million year old seabed and was originally part of the huge landmass of Pangea. They impress biologically: with peaks over 1000 metres above sea level the high altitude creates rain that gives life to over 1500 plant species, over 80 of which are not found anywhere else on the planet! That’s a lot of species in anyone’s book, more than all of those found in the British Isles. But does that mean the Stirling Ranges covers a big area? Not compared to national parks like Kakadu. It’s merely 65 km long from east to west, and 25 km wide.

Looking through the trees at another peak

Had we arrived a little earlier in the year the hills would have been carpeted in the blooms of wildflowers. It would have been like Kalbarri but with an alpine twist. We weren’t too concerned, however, as it meant we spent less time taking photos and more time scaling the peaks. Our early starts found us alone at the summits to enjoy the expansive views.

Near the top of Bluff Knoll

Looking across Stirling Ranges from Toolbrunup

Looking towards Bluff Knoll from Toolbrunup

From our bird’s eye view it was difficult to see that there is a problem lurking in the undergrowth of the Stirling Ranges. Whilst it’s true that there are many unique species, they are under threat from phytophthora cinnamomi, commonly known as dieback. It’s a water mould that attacks the roots of plants and it has spread through large areas of the park, replacing the green foliage with the ghostly grey colour of dry decimated vegetation. To protect the remaining intact ecosystems – those that haven’t suffered from dieback – the good people of CALM have designated large areas off-limits to the public.

Before we left the only national park campground in the Stirling Ranges we were talking to the older couple that collected our camping fees. Their badges proclaimed that they were volunteers. We asked whether they had much time to enjoy the ranges. A bit, they said, but not too much, because there’s lots of work for them to do around the place. Especially since the number of full-time staff paid to look after this amazing place has recently halved. There’s one Ranger now.

The way of the Waugal

I’m standing by a coach in a gravel car park in the tiny town of Northcliffe when a an unnaturally smiley middle-aged woman approaches and starts talking to me.

“Here, have some magazines for your bus journey” she says in a cheerful American accent.

I glance at the publications thrust in front of me. The front covers feature images of people silhouetted by sunsets with their arms outstretched.

“No thanks. I just got off the bus and I’m about to walk for a week – I really don’t need any extra weight.” It’s more diplomatic than saying, stuff your religious propaganda!

Without changing her facial expression she switches from spreading the word of the lord, to spreading the word of the Bibbulmun Track.

“Oh, you’re walking the Bib Track? Wow, that’s great. Have you done it before?”

“Erm, no.”

“Oh, you’re gonna love it – it’s great. Have a wonderful time!”

The Bibbulmun Track (named in recognition of the indigenous inhabitants of southern WA) is a 960-kilometre walk, between Kalamunda (east of Perth) and Albany. The current route opened in the mid-‘90s and is marked its entire length with small yellow directional triangles attached to trees and posts, illustrated with an image of a ‘Waugal’ – the indigenous peoples’ creation serpent. We selected a weeklong, 130 km section, between Northcliffe and Walpole, which passes almost exclusively through National Parks.

Previous through walks we’ve enjoyed are elevating experiences, both literally and metaphorically; routes are designed to make the most of spectacular scenery. But because the Bib Track is a long distance route, much of the section we walked took the path of least resistance. This meant the first half of the week was particularly flat. Fortunately the lack of long dramatic views was made up for by numerous quantities of wildflowers and shifting patterns of vegetation – Jarrah, Karri, Banksia and so on.

In the second half of the walk we passed through the Pingerup Plains and along the coast. These powerful landscapes evoked memories of the wilderness of southwest Tasmania. The sprawling plains looked like wild, desolate prehistoric swamplands; places where strange species are found, adapted to the moody storms amongst the swaying grasses and sedge, in the clumps of twisted trees that poke up on the hillocks, and on the granite outcrop mounds that pierce the surrounding sandy soils. The ancient coastline is creased with epic dunes and plunging cliffs, and carpeted in coarse scrub and hardy blooming plants. It is also home to the shipwreck of the Mandalay, swept up by a storm in 1911 and now hidden by the beach that was named for it. Yet we saw no trace of harsh weather that creates these environments: in our seven days walking there was scarcely a drop of rain, only a few sections of track still mildly boggy from winter, and just enough breeze to cool us when the sun shone!

Pingerup plains

Our walks ended each afternoon when we arrived at a three-sided shelter built to sleep a dozen people, complete with picnic table, pit-toilet, rainwater tank (even fireplace and firewood in the areas where fires are safe). These were a joyous place to relax, eat, read, eat … and eat. Carrying eight days worth of food makes you hungry and adds an incentive to reduce the amount of weight to carry the next day.

View from inside Bib shelter

The shelters at Mount Chance and Woolbales had terrific views nearby, at Maringup the shelter was alongside WA’s second largest freshwater lake, and at Dogpool there was a beautiful tannin-stained river in which to swim and wash. Our final night at Mount Clare saw us tucked under mighty Red Tingle trees endemic to a small patch of the south coast of the state.

Sunrise over Lake Maringup

In these shelters we also got to know the characters of the Bib – not in person, because by chance we actually had all of the shelters to ourselves, but through the parallel world of the dual logbooks. The ‘signing-in’ book contains the names, ages, sex and destinations of other walkers as well as the date of their visit, and the ‘guestbook’ allows for the imaginations of walkers intoxicated by copious fresh air and freedom, to run free.

A half-completed book includes two years’ worth of entries, written by hallowed ‘E2Es’ (end to enders – people walking the full length of the track) as well as people like us who are just enjoying a section of the track. The full scale includes brief banal reports to essay-like descriptions of every element of a walker’s day. There are show-offs: “I walked 6km/hr today”, and there are solo walkers who use the book as conversation: “sorry I write so much and it’s not even entertaining. I think it’s the loneliness and this [writing] makes me feel like I’m talking to someone.”

Other contents include poetry (of varying quality), jokes, cartoons, complaints, and messages for other walkers, as well as comments on track conditions, and soliloquies. We read entries from a 13-year-old lad walking the entire route to raise money for a breast cancer charity and many from retirees enjoying an alternative, caravan-free, grey nomadism. There are inspirational stories of broken boots, howling winds and wading through bogs.

Each day we caught up with adventures parallel to our own: adventures that happened yesterday, last week, eighteen months ago. We read how others experienced the same landscape, sometimes from a different direction (not always intentionally in the case of two walkers that apparently walked the wrong way for a day!), often in different conditions, and certainly with a different perspective. There were many messages of thanks to the people of CALM, the Bibbulmun Track Foundation and the sponsors and volunteers that support the track and make it what it is, a remarkable parallel world.

Looking down from Mt Pingerup

Emerging from our weeklong retreat, spent so close to the highways, yet so far from civilisation, we received our last logbook entry over the airwaves the night after finishing, sitting around a campfire in Walpole listening to ABC Radio National!

We had been reading the lengthy daily accounts of Annie Didcott, a 69-year old woman from Canberra who was on the track a week or two before us. The presenter of Saturday Extra, Geraldine Doogue, read out a letter from Annie, singing the praises of the Bibbulmun and the worthiness of the experience as an opportunity to see up close this wondrous part of the world. Geraldine was so impressed she even suggested she might come and try some of it herself.

So it seems, that in small town car parks, on national radio, and even on travel blogs, everyone is championing the way of the Waugal.

Looking towards Long Point

Fine art and firetowers

The October issue of the National Geographic magazine screamed out at me from the shelves of the newsagent in Carnarvon several weeks ago. The distinctive yellow-bordered front cover and header were virtually obscured by the girth of a redwood overlaid with the title ‘The tallest trees redwoods’.

Redwoods have interested me since childhood, when I’d try to climb any tree that would bear my weight. The idea of such mighty targets must have appealed, even though they were the other side of the world. So I bought a copy of the NG and marvelled at the beautiful photography and long essay on the current status of the ‘super trees.’

Endemic to the Californian coastline, redwoods aren’t just the tallest growing tree species on the planet, they’re an incredibly complex aerial ecosystem, providing habitation to all manner of other plants, birds and, apparently, crusty biologists that virtually live under their canopies. It’s no surprise that they’re an immense source of American pride.

In this modern world the best is measured by its size. It’s the biggest, the tallest, the widest, the heaviest. Whatever. And everything has to be done fast. … Well, apparently there was a time when size wasn’t everything, and neither was speed. As we were travelling along the convict-built Old Vasse Highway through Warren National Park we came across a signpost marked ‘The Marianne North Tree.’

Marianne North was an English painter who travelled the world and left her collection to Kew Gardens when she died. On Charles Darwin’s advice she came to Australia in 1880 and made her way through the area of the west of Australia called the Southern Forests. When her cart broke she was stranded for several hours at the side of the road and filled her time drawing the incredible trees nearby – she called them “shining white pillars” in her diary. I like to think her description was a subtle dig at other travellers of her generation (and financial means) who took the ‘Grand Tour’ around the European antiquities but didn’t necessarily seek out the natural beauties of the so-called new world.

So here we were on her 130-year-old trail, except in a working Land Rover rather than a broken cart, looking at the same immense Karri tree with the distinctive burl that Marianne painted. Judging by her painting she was here at a similar time of year to us. The Latin name for Karri is eucalyptus diversicolor. It recognises the way the trunk changes colour throughout the year as it grows and then sheds its bark; yet to our eyes the tree looked today the same as it did to Marianne North, so many cycles of shining whites and soft reds ago.

Karri Gums near the Warren River, West Australia (Marianne North)

130 years on ... The same tree - plus Ella and THE BENCH

I don’t suppose it would have really bothered Ms North to know that Karri is the third tallest tree species in the world. It didn’t really bother us, either; they’re impressive enough to look at without knowing that they grow up to 90 metres (295 feet) tall and live to 350 years of age. However, Marianne could only have appreciated the mighty trees from their feet. It is easy to stand, nostrils pointed to the sky, and look all the way up to their lofty heights because Karri grow arrow straight and have few branches below the crown. In the 1930s, however, the region’s foresters selected some of the tallest Karri and built lookouts in the heavens to act as firetowers. Nowadays aeroplanes are used for firespotting, but the blessed Department for Conservation and Land Management – or CALM  (an unusually good acronym) – have maintained three of them for the public.

How could a couple like us (Ella was a childhood tree-climbing addict too), resist!

Looking straight up a Karri

Looking straight up a Karri

Ella coming down a firetower tree

Almost unbelievably, when there is risk of fire and the weather is too bad for flying, the lookouts are still used. It’s enough to hover 60 metres above the ground on a fine day, but imagine swaying a metre and a half from side-to-side in a thunderstorm up there! There’s a saying that in the Karri forests it rains for nine months of the year … and the rain drips off the leaves for the other three! It hasn’t quite been that bad during our visit, and we’ve been fortunate to have some brilliant campsites – first by the river in Warren National Park, and then in a hut (complete with pot-bellied stove) in Shannon National Park.

The Karri Forests aren’t just full of Karri trees, and they’re only one of the big trees – the others being Marri and Jarrah. There are countless other species of trees, plants and animals that make up the mosaic. But the predominance of eucalypts makes it feel much like the eastern states’ forests. It’s strange to think that we’re separated from them by such a daunting stretch of desert, and that we’ll be going through it at some point. But that’s not for a while. There’s more walking to do first – we’re going to spend a week on Bibbulmun Track.

Reflections at Warren National Park

Sold on the sticks

Heidi, Gerda, Freida and friends tower over us. It’s not an encounter with the German netball team; we’re in the shiny metallic heart of the rather flashy Duckstein brewery near Yallingup. Each of the huge shiny copper kettles and stainless steel fermentation vessels have been christened with a suitably Germanic name for identification, and no doubt as a sign of affection, by brewer Paul Gasmier and his (work)mate Shannon.

Even though he spends 65 hours a week here, Paul, a couple of years older than me, looks like an excited schoolboy. He’s just suggested we get some rich chocolate cake from the chef to go alongside his latest not-quite-finished-yet-but-we’ll-see-how-it’s-going concoction. He dashes off to the kitchen saying, “I love this!”

Returning, he syphons into some wine glasses a hazy pink liquid. It’s not your average beer – it’s a delicate lambic ‘framboise’ beer made with imported Belgian yeasts, massive amounts of raspberries, and a secret ingredient that has Ella and I guessing … incorrectly. Ella reckons it will be a hit with women visiting the brewery, and then Paul sheepishly admits it’s the favourite of all the beers he makes. It goes very nicely with the chocolate, but we all agree it needs to develop a little more tartness and a bit of sparkle, which should come with time.

It was touch and go whether we’d enjoy any beer today, though, after last night’s fun at the Bootleg Brewery’s fifteenth birthday, just up the road from Duckstein. Fortunately we didn’t have too much of their special anniversary brew before camping in a farmer’s field over the road to avoid having to drive or get a taxi.

This may sound a little extravagant compared to our normal travel mode but we had our own reason to celebrate; we’d just trekked 130 km along the Indian Ocean from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste on the Cape to Cape walk.

Ready to go - Cape Leeuwin

On paper the Cape to Cape is a long but easily achievable walk. The weather is mild, the terrain easy-going and there aren’t any steep climbs to contend with. Unlike most of the long-distance walks we’ve done (eg Jatbula), it doesn’t traverse wilderness – it actually passes through several small towns with shops and cafes. It reads like a relaxing stroll along the beach.

On the ground the Cape to Cape is a long but surprisingly challenging walk – at least when we did it. The weather couldn’t make its bloody mind up – rain, shine, all-night storms, gusts of wind from every direction – and endless tracts of impossibly soft sand slowed our progress. The general stores were spartan, the cafes were sparse and don’t open Monday to Wednesday, and all the local breweries are just out of reach!

But we loved it.

Where are we?

Bearing in mind the trail’s proximity to civilisation we expected to meet lots of fellow walkers, but actually they were few and far between. We only met two people whilst actually walking and that was on our fifth and penultimate day. A father and daughter celebrating the daughter’s impending 18th birthday were heading south and not altogether certain that they were going to make it the full distance – she said her entire body ached the morning after their first day’s walk.

The other walking groups we met at the quiet bush campsites in the evenings. The first night we had the company of three lads in their early twenties, Jared, Ryan and Nathan. They were travelling north like us and had battled against the wind up a long beach section. They decided to soak their pain in Port for the evening. Jared was clearly the leader of the group and was most impressed with our equipment – he reckoned that our lightweight walking sticks made us look ‘professional.’

It was the first time we’ve used such sticks since Ella’s generous parents bought them for us. Let me tell you now, if you ever set out to cross miles of soft sand along a wild coastline in a gale whilst carrying a week’s worth of calories, accommodation and your day’s drinking water, for sanities sake, pack your poles! They enable you to crawl whilst standing up.

Looking back at the Cape ... with sticks!

We did actually meet a professional walker, of sorts. We shared a campground at Moses Rock on the fourth night with Steve, who works for the Bibbulmun Track Foundation (the Bibbulmun is a long-distance walk in WA, more about that in another post). He’s surprisingly short and stocky for someone who also works as a walking guide, yet seems to have walked every trail going. He’s been putting the Cape to Cape walk off for years because of mixed reports – nicknames like the ‘Cape to Cappucino’ don’t really endear it to wilderness lovers! But it was the worst night on the trail: the weather didn’t let up and howling winds and horizontal rain meant we got little sleep. Steve didn’t seem bothered one iota. When I saw him in the morning he was crouched under his tarpaulin, cup in hand catching rainwater and had a great big grin on his chops.

When the weather was bad we watched in awe the massive swells that brought forth frothing crashing waves against the rugged coastline, but when the sun came out the place was transformed. After the rain the temperature rose, the wildflowers sparkled and the sea looked like a lurid turquoise sports drink. The path meandered in and out of the dunes, sometimes into the beautiful remnant Karri forest complete with huge Blackboys, Banksias and Black Cockatoos.

Sugarloaf Rock in the wind

Beautiful coastline

Perhaps we should have spent less time looking at the views. Harmless Bobtail skinks that look like pinecones were ubiquitous underfoot, often in pairs, and sometimes with red faces that had us thinking we’d interrupted some springtime activity (though cold-blooded reptiles obviously don’t get a flush of embarrassment). We also had several snake encounters – from medium-sized black and green/black to tiny green ones. Even on the beach we had to keep an eye out: Hooded Plovers (a type of bird) scurried along the beaches like sentries as they guarded their nests or young ones from our heavy stomping.

We can honestly say that we’re sold on the sticks – both the walking aides and this wonderful forested retreat. We’ve met some really kind people in our short time here, including fellow blogger from Melbourne (and most other places in the world), John Halbrook and wife Cally, who took us out for dinner. It would be sad to say we’re moving on, deeper into the great southern forests … were it not for the fact we know there’s more fun to come.

We made it!

We have a winner!

About a month ago I put up a caption competition. I’ve finally found an impartial judge to award a winner for all the great captions you sent…

Paul Gasmier of the Duckstein brewery has chosen

 

*drum roll*

 

“Warning! Animals playing leapfrog ahead.” as the winning caption.

 

A random present will be sent forthwith to the winner. Congratulations S, I, N, T & O.

 

“Warning! Animals playing leapfrog ahead.”

 

Tasting paddles

“Don’t slip the clutch any more than that. It’s a metal clutch, that’s not good for it.” My ‘sighting’ lap of the sprint circuit at Collie Motorplex began with tips from the owner – Andy Thompson – on how to ensure the longevity of his racing Triumph (no, that’s not an oxymoron!). As we made our way gently around the track behind the pace car, Andy, who’s raced it many times before, recommended speeds, gears and racing lines … most of which I instantly forgot. I assured him that I wouldn’t be trying to set any records, just bumbling around as best I could. Little did I know the addictiveness of this game.

Yes ... I have a thumb!

Andy’s a Triumph tragic like myself – except whereas I have one Triumph and scarcely enough mechanical knowledge and ability to keep it running, Andy has five. He also has a very patient wife, Del, who says “he can have as many Triumphs as he likes, as long as they’re all running.”

A few weeks back I called Andy to see if we could drop in to see them in Perth when we made it that far south. It just so happened that the annual week-long Triumph Sports Owners Australia (TSOA) National meet was being held in Western Australia this year, and Andy – a very generous man – offered me a drive in his race car and a loan of his 1972 convertible Triumph Stag for the week. So that’s why we hurried down the coast.

And boy, was it worth it!

The low-to-the-ground V8 was perfect for touring the mind-blowingly picturesque Margaret River region. It’s home to about 120 wineries, incredible Jarrah forests and a white sand and cliff-encrusted coastline worthy of a blog all of its own. Although the sun was too intense for us to lower the roof without turning the colour of the local Merlot, we cruised around the area enjoying the twisting roads and appreciating the lush green spring almost as much as the many dairy cows.

Stag in the woods

Food and wine tourism is key to the local economy and the place is set up to take advantage of this. Essentially there’s a main road connecting (from north to south) the small towns of Bussleton, Margaret River and Augusta. Between this road and the coast, running parallel, is the sinuous visitor-friendly Caves Road (named for the natural caves rather than as a nod to subterranean wine storage). Sandwiched between these two roads, down little lanes and dirt tracks, nestled among the trees or in pastures, are dotted dozens and dozens of food and beverage producers, galleries and other twee tourist destinations.

It’s not that we don’t like wine, but where do you start when there are so many places to choose from and your powers of description are as exacting as ‘nice,’ ‘not-so-nice’ and ‘mmm, fruity’? Fortunately we are discerning beer drinkers and there are six craft breweries in the area with really distinctive beers, as we discovered.

Most beer drinkers make their choice based on the logos and colour schemes on the containers, the advertising campaigns and perhaps the part of the world or country that the beer comes from (or claims to come from). To such people taste isn’t differentiated, and the ingredients, methods employed and even the beer style is superfluous. It’s probably because most of the stuff available is brewed in pursuit of money, but denial of flavour. However, a growing number of small breweries in Australia are fronted by artisans obsessed with tantalising beer-drinkers’ taste-buds.

Researching for some magazine articles about such breweries, we spent a couple of days interviewing head brewers, quaffing tasting paddles (small trays with selections of the breweries’ wares) and generally getting very warm and fuzzy about what an excellent job they’re all doing. We tried chocolate and spelt beers at Bush Shack brewery, tasty German style offerings at Duckstein, precise, well-rounded beers at Colonial, and subtle refined treats at Cowaramup. All of these in superb locations.

Our final visit was to Bootleg Brewery and we arrived as the head brewer and general manager Michael Brookes was overseeing a batch of his award-winning Raging Bull. “Ella, you can add the hops for me.” She duly obliged.*

Ella the Bootleg brewer

By the end of the week we were a bit ‘breweried out’ and we didn’t even make it over to three other more out of the way breweries. We headed back up to Perth to return the Stag and service THE BENCH at the Thompson’s place. We also wanted to see how things had turned out with the racing car.

Oh yes, the racing … how did that go?

Let me just say that I’d never had a go on a racetrack before, and the car was like no other Triumph I’d driven – incredibly rapid, very well-balanced and actually surprisingly easy to drive fast. Perhaps too easy for someone of my inexperience. In my first three-lap session I got faster and faster, learning the corners, the limits of the unbelievably grippy tyres and the awesome stopping power of the all-round disc brakes. I even managed to overtake another competitor (TR4a) and close in on a second (TR8). Perhaps, as I wrestled with the controls, I even slightly overstepped the rev limit at one point.

Entering the pits my adrenalin-filled body, now just a frame to control a race car, could hardly be contained by the harnesses. My borrowed helmet suddenly too tight for my rapidly swelling Grand Prix destined head. Just wait ‘til I get back on the track, I’m getting faster and faster!

Hunting a TR4a at Collie Motorplex

They say that pride comes before a fall.

Andy had very recently rebuilt the top half of the engine (read about it here on Andy’s blog) to give more power. He was second car out as he headed out on his second set of three laps and I watched and waited to see if he’d catch the car in front. The first car passed, then there was a big gap … then Humphrey (Andy’s mate) came past. No sign of Andy. Bugger!

Into the pit lane limped ‘the white thing.’ A blown differential meant our day’s racing was over after just a third of our track time. Andy was rather blasé about it, in a ‘shit happens’ kind of way. He still managed to get fourth out of 32 drivers and I came 17th.

After just a soupçon of racing a Triumph I’m sure I’d like to have another go. After a week driving a Stag, I’m hooked. And as for the south-west. Well, we tried a tasting paddle, now we’re going back for the full pint.

* Here’s the article I wrote for the West Australian newspaper about Margaret River’s breweries.

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