Ok folks. I'm off on my first big ride in a week or so. When I say big ride I mean about 1100 kms all in spread over 2 days. Now, I know it's not a big ride for most of you hardened, weather beaten old timers, but its a bloody big ride for me. 4-5 hours is probably my current personal best. Luckily I will be accompanied by a couple of experienced fellas. Exile730 (Brian) will be there to show us how it's done although if it starts raining his face is going to take a pounding in his open faced helmet. Also coming along is our little welsh friend Dave who is certainly the fastest Welshman I've ever known, except possibly for Colin Jackson and Ivor the Engine! Now I have identified a couple of issues I may have with this ride. Keeping up with the other two will be a problem. Brian is usually pretty relaxed and cruises along at a steady pace on his GS1150 enjoying the countryside and generally allowing me to keep up with him on my weeStrom. Dave has just got rid of his R1 and replaced it with an also extremely quick Tiger 1050. Dave will no doubt want to put the Tigger through its paces and when he sees the big wide empty country roads it's goin to be very difficult for him not to open it up, leaving me far behind on my screaming 650! If Brian gets the itch and follows Dave I reckon I could be riding alone for much of the ride! I was secretly hoping Dave wouldn't sell the R1 before this ride as although he would get there quicker than me at least I'd be able to walk on arrival. Now he will be quicker but still comfortable. Damn the Triumph Tiger! We plan to leave Mandurah and head out to Williams then on to Narrogin, Wagin, etc as we head south towards Albany. The quickest route would be to take the Albany Highway south from Williams but its a boring road so we are doing the Great Southern Highway instead. It certainly heads south but ill tell you how great it is when we get back! Some nice little towns to visit on the way down, many of which I've never been to before so should be interesting and hopefully plenty good coffee shops en route! My other concern for this trip can be summed up in one word which until recently was a benign term which did nothing to raise my heart rate. Now this simple little word scares the life out of me- Gravel! Now that I am a highly experienced off-the-beaten-track rider (I've been off the black stuff 3, yes, 3 times) I know how gravel roads can make you feel like your life is about to end very quickly. Gravel certainly makes you very aware of your own mortality! A couple of weeks ago Brian and I tried out a couple of gravel roads and lets just say it scared the sh!t out of me, more than once. The way the back wheel swings around on gravel is in itself somewhat disconcerting but my main issues are firstly, steering is almost obsolete on gravel and secondly braking in any way shape or form can be hazardous and extremely unpredictable! Our last little jaunt on the loose stuff ended with the back end of the wee flicking out to the left unexpectedly just as we neared the Tarmac. My heart was in my mouth but I didn't drop the bike and made it safely back to terra firma in one piece. I am pretty sure Brian had a little chuckle as he rode behind me! I compared that section of gravel road to a rather dicey nightclub I frequented in Aberdeen a long time before I was happily married. It was known as the "Clappy Valley" which was to be honest a suitably descriptive title. But Gravel is like the Clappy Valley in that I know I shouldn't go near it again but some sick part of me draws me back to it! I have a feeling all the roads in hell will be gravel roads. This ride will have its fair share of gravel. We plan to do Stirling Range Drive which as the title suggests takes us through the Stirling Range, a mountain range near Albany. Gravel in mountains? Are you mental? Clearly yes we are. But to be fair to us, mountains are scarce in Western Australia so it's an opportunity we couldn't miss. An overnighter in Albany and return via Walpole, Manjimup and the South West Highway. No mountains but some great winding forest roads for the way back. I'm really looking forward to it and ill tell you all about it when we get back. Should be some great photos and lots of laughs. I'm taking extra underwear!