My mate told me it was nuts to go to the Snowy Mountains on a bike in winter. It’ll be snowing there. Now, I didn’t believe it actually snowed anywhere in Australia. Maybe they had a freak storm 20 years ago and claimed it as a regular event. I come from the Himalayas, whose literal meaning is the “abode of snow”. “Him” means snow in Sanskrit and “alaya” means home. Australia’s not going to scare me with its threat of snow. I packed my trusty rucksack, which had held together despite getting dragged along the deserts, beaches, cliffs and forests of Australia nearly every weekend for the past 6 months. I didn’t have any cold weather gear to speak of so just packed as many t-shirts as I could stuff into the pack that was already busrting with camping and cooking gear. I’d acquired an OzTrail 2 man hiking tent since my desert adventure and this wonderful invention literally saved my life on this trip.
So I walked into the service centre toilet at Goulburn and shoved my hands, which were paler than Nicole Kidman’s, under the hand dryer for 5 minutes. I stifled screams as the blood, and my native complexion, returned to my hands like a river of needles. I wondered if that’s how white people felt all the time. Stinging needles under their white skins, all the time. A truly great people, to be sure.
I was a bit shook up at how cold it was and I hadn’t even reached the mountains. Now, there are 2 types of people in this world. There is also, of course, the 3rd type who give up and go home but this is not a story about them. The first type, when faced with adversity, innovate and find creative solutions to overcome difficulty. The other types go about it with brute force. They will keep hacking at the mountain with stone tools making tiny dents every day, till they have made a cave big enough to house their family. We all have a bit of both in us and today I called on my dogged reserves of determination rather than the ones of sub continental cunning. I didn’t want to hide behind gloves and parkas and insulated pants. This passage of cold had become a challenge to my masculinity and I roared back at it, baring my chest and challenging it to do its worst. I headed out again to the battlefield, gloveless still but a lot more determined and prepared for the battle, now that I knew my enemy. And riding a motorcycle can sometimes feel like a battle when the elements turn against you or if you take it lightly.
The ride up to Thredbo was scenic and there were finally some big hills to be seen. I stopped in at Thredbo and got a bite and a coffee. But it was so bloody busy and crammed with cars in the tight streets, it put me off civilization. I headed further up the Alpine Way till I came to Dead Horse Gap. There was not a human in sight and patches of snow dotted the ground. This was more like the mountain views and solitude I was looking for. I lingered and watched dark storm clouds pull in from the south. It was getting dark as well and still didn’t know where I was going to spend the night. This seemed as good as any place though, so I decided to walk into the wilderness and camp. But first I hid my bike in the bush. Not because I thought someone was going to steal my shitbox but I have always been secretive about my whereabouts and movements in the bush. The less people that know about where I am and what I’m doing, the better. I have always been more apprehensive of humans in the bush, than of animals. I remember when I was younger and trekking in the Himalayas, if I heard or saw people, I would hide in the bush and watch them walk past or circle around them before emerging and going on my way. It was a kind of boy-scout game I played to amuse myself in the bush but stems from a deeper self-preservation reflex.
I broke camping rule #1 (no I didn’t fall over in the tent) by firing up my gas stove inside the tent to cook my 2 minute noodles and melt some snow. But my tent didn’t have a vestibule and it was too cold and windy to even contemplate an outdoor cooking excursion. I was well aware that if I burnt myself along with my tent in the middle of this wilderness, it’s likely my remains may not be found for a long time. So I worked with exaggerated care and slow motion movements and succeeded in not setting the tent on fire.
It was a long night. It was well below Zero, the storm thrashed the tent around and I didnt think my little $50 would survive but to its credit, it did. And saved my life. I got little sleep but. At some point close to dawn the storm abated and at last I let myself relax a little and believe that I won’t die out here!
It was already late afternoon and while I had planned to head over to Khancoban and explore further south, I just didn’t have the testicular fortitude to spend another night up in the heights in case the bike died on me again or I got snowed in. So I legged it down to Jindabyne and found a beautiful, secluded camping spot on the lake and just thawed. I remember losing feeling in my hands and feet on the ride down and being seriously concerned about frostbite but down at Jindabyne, the sun was shining and it was mild. I dried out all my clothes and thawed out in no time. It’s amazing how the human mind can flip from misery to ecstasy in the space of a few minutes.
The next day was clear, I rode over the Snowy Mountains Highway and was really impressed with the road and scenery in the national park, especially around Kiandra. Desolate, wind-blown, god-forsaken kind of place but with a haunting beauty. I poked around the old ruins strewn around the hills, then continued on my way to explore this fascinating area further. The Cabramurra road was closed due to snow so I went on towards Tumut. There was some scenic stuff around the reservoir but I missed the beauty of the mountains I’d left behind so I had lunch in Tumut, bought some sausages to cook for dinner and headed back to Kiandra. I pitched my tent in that vast amphitheatre of grass and mountain streams near the Cabramurra turn-off. It is, till date, one of the most memorable experiences of my life, that bitterly cold night in the Snowy Mountains. The sky was clear, with a fire going, watching stars and plugged in to the awesome silence. The silence and isolation in such a place can drive you mad or fill you to the brim. I didn’t ride many kilometres that day but I was deeply content and wanted for nothing more than what I had and to be where I was.
As I remember those events in my life, I can’t help but think that last night in the Australian wilderness at Kiandra was an immaculately planned farewell that the universe had conspired to make happen for me.