More words than pics on this one, guys. :eek1 Sorry to those who can't be bothered reading! Since getting my 690 Enduro in February, I've had it on the dirt only a handful of times. Even worse, it's only seen two track once, for a total of about 15 minutes. So how did I come to commit such crimes against all things orange? That in itself is a story for another time. Let's just say that the last six months or so sucked, and this led me to my living room at 9:00 on Saturday morning in tracksuit pants with my brain on crooked. "I need a ride" was the only coherent thought since I realised Weetbix required milk, and milk was something I did not have. Fast forward through 45 minutes of leaving, working out I need fuel, backtracking once I worked out I'd forgotten my wallet, collecting said wallet and refuelling and we're now sailing out towards Hurstbridge with the 690 singing its usual hymn to the patron saint of heavy metal artists. My head was straightening out and I'd formulated a plan to get dirty for a day ride in the high country. Clearly my head was still not in complete alignment as I passed the Kinglake sign on the way out of Hurstbridge. I spent a good five minutes pondering whether Kinglake really was on the way to Marysville from Melbourne before realising I was on my usual path to Tallarook. At this point I pulled over and decided to defer all navigation duties to the GPS for the remainder of the morning. This turned out to be a good thing as Garmin took me down some nice back roads between Hurstbridge and Healesville (brain to self: "What? They both started with H...") and then out through the Black Spur. The road was clear and I built up a good rhythm. One of the great things I've found about the Kato is that the engine is a dichotomy: you can throttle on, keep the revs up and be a complete hooligan, wheelies in the first three gears, triple figure speeds etc, etc; or you can ride the broad spread of torque, shifting between third and fourth and maintain a brisk, flowing progress that is part motorcycling and part meditation. I like both from time to time and today I was in the mood for the latter. Just as well, given the mental electrical storm I was weathering. Hooligan mode would no doubt have seen me third gear wheelie-ing straight off the road into the greenery! By the time I'd got to Marysville my brain was coming good. I fuelled up and checked on the distance to Woods Point, where I was hoping to have lunch at the pub. 80 k's, which Google had down as an hour and a half. It was 12:45 by this stage... If I didn't piss about I'd be in there before two... I grabbed a few snacks from the Marysville shops just in case and set off on a mission. The 1st half of the Marysville - Woods Point road is some of the best tarmac in the country. I recall someone once telling me that the Ducati Owners Club considers it to be their own road - this makes sense as, like most Ducs, it is a beautiful thing. I made good progress and got to the gravel pretty quickly. I'd been having a ball so far, getting the Kato cranked right over, dragging my toes through the slow corners (a hazard of MX boots, I find) and generally channelling a bit of Rossi's return to form. When I reached the dirt, I made a note of mentally resetting myself and turning it down a few notches . Just as well considering the thick, ball bearing like gravel the road was made of. I found the front washing out regularly and really had to make a point of riding on the throttle to steer the thing round most of the bends. Is this a characteristic of the stock TKC's? The road eventually changed to hard packed dirt, was very fast and flowing. I had a broad smile and really got motoring. I was still cutting it fine for time though, and my gut wasn't impressed with the thought of missing out on a hot lunch. Mind you, I was enjoying the little bit of pressure that the time passing on the clock on the instrument cluster was applying to me, pushing me to keep the pace up. In the end I rolled up to the bar at Woods Point right on 2 pm. "Sorry mate, we're just finishing up in the kitchen" was the response to my enquiries. Bugger. I was tempted to stay for a beer but I was more hungry than thirsty. I headed out to the rest area / camp ground just north of town and sat down to tuck in to the supplies I'd picked up earlier: Cabana, bread and French Onion dip. No Parma, but i'd do. Camp ground north of Woods Point Life was good. The Kato was dirty, I had a full stomach and I was getting enough of a workout to ditch the winter road gloves for some dirt gloves. With the newfound confidence that being able to feel the handlebars brings, I set off up one of the tracks leading from the campground and promptly dropped the bike on a steep climb. It was always going to happen, and in a way it felt good to pop the Kato's lay-down cherry. However the track I'd chosen had large sections of rock in it which managed to dint the can and fold the tip of the shifter the wrong way. I wedged a stick in the shifter and decided it didn't really affect my ability to shift, so I gave up on the current track and carried on. I kept heading north on the Mansfield - Woods Point road, determined to find some easy two-track to play on. I came across Charles Road that fitted the bill. A good steady climb with lots of spoon drains, a bit of loose rock. However I found it pretty hard work - the Kato was bogging in 2nd and required constant use of the clutch, or it was spinning in 1st. The choppy throttle response that was bearable on the road was nearly impossible off the road when standing up. I got a good way up the spur before stopping completely drenched in sweat. This seemed a good time to try changing the mapping! So I whipped the seat off and switched it over to map 1. Good place to change mapping (or I'm stuffed and this is where we stop!) The difference was remarkable. The drop in power improved the traction in both first and second, and the surging throttle response was pretty much gone. I ended up riding a little quicker in 2nd due to the decreased wheelspin, using up the fat torque curve and generally having a ball. This was a great relief as ever since the 1st 15 minute two-track blast that I'd had back in Feb I had been concerned that the bike had more motor than I had talent when the trails tightened up. I will tell you right now I'm more than happy to deal with fuel injection gremlins, carry a spare pump and injector, etc. just so I can have access to that magic little map switch under the seat. It really does transform the bike and broadens it's abilities (and mine!). View from the top. Concrete is part of the base of the fire tower The summit at the top of Charles road had views slapped me across the face and shouted at me "the world is a great place!" This is what life is all about. I'm so lucky to live within a day's ride of the Vic high country and I need to make a point of getting up here more. Cold? Wet? Raining? No excuse, because once you're up here it doesn't matter. After poking around and taking a few photos I noticed that the sun was getting kind of low. It was now 3:30 and I figured I didn't have a lot of daylight left. From here I set off back down towards the Mansfield - Woods Point road on Frenchmans Gap Track, which again was a nice little bit of two track. Again the bike handled beautifully and the softer mapping made my life easy. Once I'd made it back down I had a decision to make: double back through Woods Point and Marysville, or press on north to Jamieson and skoot around the bottom of Lake Eildon, before heading south on the Maroondah Highway? The latter was far longer, but I didn't have any reason to hurry back. And I believe taking the same road twice is against the natural order of things. The best seat in the world! Frenchmens gap track Standing on Frenchmans gap, presumably! The sprint out to Jamieson was pleasant and uneventful. I left the bike on the soft map and was surprised at how rapid it was. There's still plenty of ponies under control of the right wrist and I made the most of them. It started to rain in Jamieson when I was on the side of the road swapping the engine map back to full power. This distracted me from the important thing to consider- Fuel. About 30 k's out of town the fuel light came on, which gave me a safe 40 k's in which to get fuel. No worries - I'd make Eildon with 10 k's to spare. Before the sun dropped completely I stopped off at a lookout back over the lake. A snow-capped Buller could be seen in the distance. Happy. Shortly after the sun dropped completely, leaving me in the twisties, in the dark, with a steady drizzle, my visor fogging, no moon, and my fuel light blazing at me. Not ideal, but all part of the fun. This is where one attribute of the Kato isn't ideal: the headlight. My 690 is a '12 R, so it's got the bigger light, but it still ain't great. It's better than the light my old KLR, but then again a tealight candle in a snowstorm is better than the light on the front of the KLR. I'll have to have a think about a farkle here. I rolled into Eildon about 5:30 and discovered that the servo closed at 5. Enquiries at the pub established that the nearest fuel was 20 k's away in Alexandra. By now I'd done about 35 k's on the fuel light and another 20 k's would be pushing my luck... However, a bloke in the bottleshop overheard this and offered a few litres from a jerry can he had at home. Mark was his name, and I followed him out of town and up a dirt road to his house. I admit I had to push the Wolf Creek thoughts out of my mind and I'm glad I did as this dead-set legend FILLED my tank and wouldn't accept any cash for it. Mark, you're an absolute champion. Then I headed for home, which included crossing the black spur again. This time in complete darkness, steady rain and cold. Not as much fun as the way up! Which brings me to now. I'm sitting in my living room which is covered in wet motorcycle gear, small puddles of mud forming under each piece. My legs, forearms and shoulders ache. I think I'm coming down with a cold. And I'm HAPPY. Damn I love motorbikes.