Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recreational Rider

I enjoyed a good nine hours of riding today. I followed back roads from Yea to Longwood, to Nagambie and Heathecote, to Seymour and Strath Creek, down through Whittlesea and back through the twisting apple orchards of outer Hurstbridge. The day behaved like a golden summer should, the world pleasure brimmed with meaning, and I enjoyed the fact that motorcycling can be anything, whether playful or serious. It's nice to enjoy it so much but not take its definition too seriously.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


"It isn't all those promises that you vow to keep then don't,
It isn't that the world will end but the likelihood that it won't.
O alarm, o wonderful alarm,
Wake me up from remembering...

I employed my machine today to lose myself in a place of chill and fog. The summit of Mount Donna Buang was reminiscent of La Verna, where I once wandered among millennium-old chapels through a silent icy forest, before joining the Franciscans in solemn chant. This Boxing Day was like that one, except wrong: a wintry Summer.

The look-out tower looked at me through the dense white, almost ominously.

As did other objects.

And then the silence and slow walk through deep fog shifted something inside me.  I was taken back to that monastic Italian winter more than ten years ago.  Something about this place breathed, and I felt its breath in the quiet trees and cold stones. I found myself reciting fragments of Gregorian chant, remembered and sung under my breath.

But it was not only the Gregorian that was brought to mind in that place today. I thought of these words, which suggest a journey I had made in the years since that day in La Verna:

"He who knows how to breath in the air of my writings is conscious that it is the air of the heights, that it is bracing. A man must be built for it, otherwise the chances are that it will chill him. The ice is near, the loneliness is terrible - but how serenely everything lies in the sunshine! How freely one can breath! How much, one feels, lies beneath one! Philosophy, as I have understood it hitherto, is a voluntary retirement into regions of ice and mountain-peaks - the seeking-out of everything strange and questionable in existence, everything upon which, hitherto, morality has set its ban. Through long experience, derived from such wanderings in forbidden country, I acquired an opinion very different from that which may seem generally desirable...."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stone Jug Creek

When I feel like riding out I'll do it despite the strange days of a purple summer. Rain hangs rather than dust. But in my head something else hangs, just out of reach and with no name. Enacting the ride is a way for it to materialise. It is gone when I sleep in everyday distractions, but when my spirit is restless it is there - when music or words wake me up. It is a dream of the place I'm riding through, as though the dream fills up a missing half of the reality. I imagine the place while I'm there. Like we imagine our lives even as we live them. One sees things otherwise missed, and creates new things.  And all the while the rain hangs.

Rosy and I made easy confident sweeps through King Lake National park. Then she left me due to a lack of sleep.

And so I rode to Strath Creek, overtaking Sunday drivers with my chin on the tank for extra speed. I ate my lunch with a churning stomach, thinking of the rider Rosy knew who was killed last week when hit by a speeding taxi.

Then a motley group of riders pulled up, each a minute apart, and all laughing. We are all going to die, but you can choose to laugh in the meantime. And if there can be no imagining when you are dead, then there is no possibility of death's nightmare beyond what you imagine now. And you can change the now, because right now red blood flows through your veins. And what better a joyful assertion of your humanity than to mount a motorcycle? Most things are better in the wind.

At Trawool I took a new road - Upper Goulburn Road - which hugged the river until Tallarook.

Another new road - Pyalong-Seymour Road - and I made my way to Heathcote and coffee. From there I dropped to Mia Mia and paused, before choosing a farm road in preference over the main route. It had no name, but ran parallel to Stone Jug Creek.

I enjoyed different speeds on this road, cruising along between 40 and 50kph while sitting and looking about, or standing on the pegs and pushing along at at least 60kph, on my road-bike with road-bike tyres. I disliked the feeling at greater speed of the rear fishtailing ever so mildly on the gravel - I thought at first I had a rear puncture - and so I chose the these paces and really enjoyed the surroundings. That's the way to do it! Leave hustling for the tarmac.

And that's what I did: plodded along the dirt, and when I met the tarmac of the Burke and Wills Track, I opened up into my beloved staccato drum roll of an engine, rolling on and off between 4000 and 5000 rpm.  I sat at the speed limit.  A hoon appeared on the straight and attempted to ride my backside, but each time we entered a set of twisties he would lose more and more ground. On a long set of straights he would appear again, desparately breaking the speed limits, and then we'd meet the twisties and I'd laugh as he was lost again. This bike can be flicked effortlessly at freeway speeds through a tight mountain road. I love my SR500, which draws forth different elements of my being on any ride: contemplation and imagination here, adrenalin and the pulsing of spirit and blood there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The First Day of Summer...

...was wet. But it was the least wet day of the week according to the Bureau of Meteorology, from among the days I have free.

And so I put myself out there, stretching my body across time and place under a cobalt sky, cornering through rivers of spilled rain.

I rode the Burke and Wills Track north-west of Lancefield to Golden Point, past rivers that had flooded, and broken bridges.

I made a friend on the way.

Eventually I came to a marker of Major Mitchell's visit at a place which hasn't changed since.

At Chewton I had lunch before riding to Newstead and making for Dayelsford.

At Shepherds Flat I came across a house which I shared with you a month ago. It is deteriorating quickly.

Riding through Hepburn Springs I followed a small sign to a tourist attraction, which turned out to be a "blow hole". It was in a small national park, potted with old mine shafts and diggings, and the hole was dug through a hill so that a stream flowed through

and came gushing out the other side.

With the recent rain it was a crashing of water.

As I walked through the forest back to the carpark the bush was populated with visions of nineteenth century diggers, ambling past and acknowledging me as though this were an everyday event, which of course it was. So spying my motorcycle among the trees was an incongruent sensation. What is that? A replacement for the horse, you say?

I rode on through Daylesford and via Trentham to Woodend. There I found my indicator had broken off and was hanging by its wires, so I sticky-taped it in place and, with the day darkening, decided to ride up Mount Macedon to the soldier's memorial cross. Those roads are especially twisty in the wet, but I entered English-Gentleman-mode and plodded along on my big single, dodging fallen trees through the mist.

Once again I encountered the left-behinds of Major Mitchell.

From the cross I could see Melbourne.

And to continue the theme of incongruity, a neo-classical garden amidst Mitchell's bush.

I rode home down the Calder Freeway from Gisborne. The bike sat comfortably on 95kph - it is the perfect motorcycling for having a great ride while keeping your license. The characteristics of its engine were a thrill all day, as I rolled on and off in a crescendo and decrescendo drum-roll that made braking unnecessary. And at idle, "Pup pup pup pup pup pup". The truth is that our days are numbered. And this was a day well-lived.

Monday, November 22, 2010

SR500 Club Rally 2010

The best bits of this Rally were not photographed. I apologise, but I was in motion at the time. And it was too good to stop.

The title of the Rally is self-explanatory: the annual Rally for members of the Yamaha SR500 Club, attended also by those unwashed madmen who work their way up and down the eastern side of our continent, attending motorcycle rallies every weekend while their shipping-container-for-a-house sits idle in a bush block somewhere. You can read about last year's event here.

I left after lunch. The air was warm and flowed over me in all the colours of sun and sky. It was to be a perfect Spring the entire three days.

East of Yarra Glen I came round a corner at 100kph to find a flock of cockies in my path. They scattered except for one, who stood stubbornly and then attempted to walk casually out of my path.  This all happened very quickly.  He must have spread his wings in a final moment of panic, and my boot shattered one of them. I stopped and rode back, and there he was rolling about with a smashed wing, trying to stand up and get off the road. I quickly parked my bike, which took a moment - it was heavy with luggage.  A truck passed by and when I looked up the cocky was flat.

I curved through the Black Spur at speed overtaking cars like a '50s dare-devil bikey, my exhaust a thrilling drum roll. And so I made for Mansfield.

The road between Mansfield and Whitfield is one of the best in the state. I took it easy, waltzing from side to side through the turns: a baby in a rocker, a gentleman of motorcycling.

The roads all the way to Albury-Wodonga, where I arrived just on dark, were fantastic. I was tempted to become annoyed with myself for leaving Melbourne so late and thus missing a sunlit scramble along this tar, but I have an ideology about riding: I always choose the ride. That is, whatever is happening now on the ride, I assent to it, adopt it as my preference. And so, if I had to repeat this ride over and over, in some strange eternal return, I will that I would repeat this moment again, and discover the value in it. And indeed it had its own pleasures. The strong smell of cut grass on a warm dusk evening in Spring, as you weave amidst the paddocks, is very special.

I rode through the hills to Bethanga in the dark, looking constantly over the weir where the full moon sparkled on the water.

I decided to explore a road that loops from Bethanga, north along the Murray River to Corryong, then south back to Bethanga. On the northern side it follows the edge of the great weir.

This was one of the best roads I have ever ridden. It was the 19th century explorer Charles Sturt who dreamed of an inland sea. It was I who rode a motorcycle along it.

My fellow club member and friend Axel and I made this ride together, our pace matched, through a road that twisted and swept just meters from the water's edge, sometimes at its level, sometimes on a cliff. And the sea itself was perfectly calm, the lack of salt-smell uncanny. Out in the water white cockies sat on dead gums, reflecting the sun. I thought of T.E.Lawrence, the true gentleman of motorcycling, and envisioned a Bristol bi-plane racing me, low and out over the water. It is amazing that the world can afford such freedom and pleasure.

I took no pictures of this road though I travelled it twice. I simply could not stop, I was too happy in my motion.

Where there was not the sea, or the fast river, there would be a valley of lagoons spread out before us, green like everything else between here and Melbourne, but framed by ancient hills of granite.

While I was taking the last photo a car pulled in behind me driven by a conservative-looking lady in her fifties who seemed intent on getting our attention. I wondered what could be wrong. She asked to where we were heading, then warned us that the police were there pulling motorcyclists over. I thanked her, and it's good to see that not everybody makes silly assumptions about motorcyclists. But of course some "concerned citizens" do indeed make them, and the police were indeed in town and came over to us as we sat for lunch, asking how we were enjoying Bethanga. We were 100kph from Bethanga. The question had an implication. That town, which is itself a nothing - a pub and general store - yet sported a constant patrol car, day and night...the most policed small town in Australia. The police were all friendly, but it was the eager sort of friendliness which said, Note that I am here. And again, as you came around a corner, a wave which said "And here also!" I found it rather comical. Our bikes are the latest in low-powered, old-fashioned farm machinery.  The rally is a family event.  A bunch of nice bogans who like old bikes.  

We arrived back at the Rally just in time to park our bikes for the 'show and shine' display.

The best of all, in my mind: a stock SR400

Stock 78 SR500

Trick XT500, the model on which the SR500 was based.

About one-third of the line

One of the most long-distance, most adventurous SRs around (see).

A nice sidecar set-up, from a Bethanga local.

Phil Duffy's famous girlfriend Phyllis. Phyllis has LEDs in her eyes, and by virtue of a piece of string can appear to give you the finger. Police sometimes pull Phil over because his passenger has no helmet. Once, roaring past a truck, Phyllis' head fell off and rolled. But she always brings home the shopping.

Afterwards I spied an example of commitment to the club

The evening was spent in Rally games, conversation and beer. I made some friends, including a drunk and fun Tasmanian, though I spent much of the evening being talked at by men who assumed I had a fascination with the minutiae of their life, anecdotes from which they repeated multiple times. Or who argued with each other over what year some such engine went in this or that car. And so I drunk more beer. And appreciated, despite the varying quality of conversation, the general friendliness about. You could go up to many people and have a chat.

With little sleep both nights, I decided on a long day of riding: I chose the same route back to home.

I left with my friend Mike and we rode together until we split at Milawa, him to the Hume, me to Whitfield and down.