Sunday, September 18, 2011

Six Day Ride : Introduction & Monday

Two years ago I attempted a ride that would encircle the major deserts of north-western Victoria, a trip which would take me through three States. On the first day my 1986 Suzuki GR650 developed problems, and I abandoned the route in favour of remaining within the boundaries of Victoria. Now, one week ago, I returned on an older and less reliable motorcycle – my 1978 Yamaha SR500 – to complete the journey.

My earlier abortion was fortuitous, as the alternative route meant I explored closely the eastern side of the two deserts – the Wyperfield and Murray Sunset national parks - as well as taking a path through the Little Desert National Park. I explored every back road and stopped regularly to pay attention to places and their objects. It meant that between these two rides I could make a circle of the deserts.

My motorcycling is not about speed, petrol or adrenalin; though it is about spiritedness, the joy of motion, and the enjoyment of being alive. It is driven by an imaginative sense of the places up ahead. Without any clear picture of these places, they draw me like something flashing at the periphery of my vision. And even as I move through them, in an aesthetic of constant flux, what these places are is in large part formed by my imagination.

But it is always a combination: of imagination, but also attention. The indigenous Australians are right, as I find when I stand in a mallee forest or on the red dust of Wyperfield and am made silent by the heat, silent enough that my ears start to hear without prejudice. Then I begin to sense the living and breathing nature of these places. Aboriginal mysticism is a consequence of standing still for long enough. But there’s a special power, also, to standing still at moments in the midst of the larger action of spreading my body out over the broader spaces, in flashes of noise and colour. And this is what I do on a motorcycle, my throttle pinned open, my motor humming and hammering, my body leant forward in motion.


Monday morning I set off with minimal sleep, on the Western Highway. At Ballarat I stopped, utterly frozen after pushing the bike hard for an hour and a half.  I was so cold and tired that I could barely count out the correct change for a coffee. I become brain-dead in such conditions. As I sat down at the cafe, some people walked in and one of them complimented me on my bike. He then asked whether I had heard of a licensing proposal aimed at re-testing car drivers every five years, partly to improve their awareness of motorcycles on the road. I had not.  It turned out that these people were a TV news film crew, and following my coffee I stood with a camera and microphone in my face and was interviewed, then filmed as I geared up, kick started the bike, and rode off. I’ve since heard that all this appeared on the evening news. I cringe to wonder at the quality of my answers.

I continued up the highway until Stawell. The SR feels strained at 100kph, making 4700rpm. When I saw a sign indicating a sealed secondary road to Waracknabeal, near Jeparit where I intended to camp for the night, I made a sudden turn. This allowed me a more relaxed ride, and the opportunity to pull over and take in small sights and the dying light of the day.

I arrived at Jeparit before dark. I set my tent up in the empty council caravan park and spent some hours sitting alone in the dark, quietly experiencing the sensations emanating from the nearby waterlands, before sleeping. 

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