Monday, January 26, 2015

Tasmania on a Royal Enfield Bullet, 2015

I dreamed I was back in an old job. The aggressive clients were more abusive than ever, and we therapists were more micro-managed than ever. I was looking at a large, wall-mounted screen, on which my every movement was numerically recorded and assessed for efficiency. And then a noise from a caravan outside woke me, and I realised I was in a different job, and was at that moment on holiday in Tasmania.

That was the first morning, after arriving the previous evening on the ferry from Melbourne. It was the beginning of a holiday which is now a yearly pilgrimage; you might remember this and this. The difference on the current trip is that I fulfilled a longing and rode a Royal Enfield, purchased  new and just in time for the journey.

I had woken from my dream in Somerset on the northern coast. It was summer but the day resembled a temperate winter as the joy of my single cylinder engine rang out across the hills. I wound through bend after bend west of Cradle Mountain. The air was crisp, the light soft, the world lucid and kind. Greener and greener it became, moving from farm hills to mountains which were dense with forest and ferns.

Later that day the land dried out by degrees as I descended the western mountains, out onto the undulating plains of the midlands. 

On and on, at dusk I arrived in Nicholls Rivullett where I would be staying the fortnight with my father and his wife. The Cygnet Folk Festival was in full swing and the town was transformed during those initial days. Soon it quietened however and I settled into my daily round, of motorcycling and reading and drinking coffee. Every day I would do this, enjoying the local roads many of which skirted the ocean.

I took along Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, a long novel which I read slowly over the span of the trip, finishing the day before I returned. It is full of delicious descriptions of food, eaten on lazy days by the ocean, a description almost of my own experience.

I would sit by the ocean reading this book, my bike beside me, local fruit in my napsack. Some days the sun shone, some days it rained, and on others a moody atmosphere hung - the sea dirty and frustrated, splashing at my feet.

I had intended to write, and did edit this older piece after the sad events just prior to my leaving, but mostly I lived the passive life. 

This is the view from my father's deck, looking across the mountains:

It changed from day to day as I drank red wine and read or thought or imagined.

I often sat on the Woodbridge side of the coast and watched the boats go by.

My God, the roads in this area are a joy to ride on a Royal Enfield. I felt perpetually in a scene from Heartbeat. Many of the roads are single lane and weave past farms. At times I had to dodge sheep, tractors, and encroaching black berries. Everywhere I stopped people came and spoke to me about the bike, many of them non-riders who loved its 1940s looks. 

One afternoon I sat against the church in Cygnet, reading my book in the shade. I took the photo below while sitting there, and it shows the main part of the town, which is more like a village. A fellow walked past and asked what I was reading. It emerged that he knew Murdoch through philosophy, which is also how I first knew her. He, Michael, then told me how he had been involved for many years in federal politics and diplomacy under Hawke and Keating including as diplomat to the international criminal caught in the Hague, and how he had become late in life a priest. On the same day that I arrived in Cygnet Michael did too, to commence at his new (and probably last) parish. All this was told to me as we sat on his kitchen chairs, which he had pulled onto the lawn as we spoke, and while drinking the tea which he brewed for me, and which we drank while sitting there in the sun, in an old rose garden.

I was to meet many different people. The next daywhile returning from Southport I wanted coffee. I pulled up at an olde English tavern only to find it closed. A girl on the verandah directed me in broken English to an adjacent building. It looked closed. I pushed open its heavy door and stepped into a wall of marijuana smoke and loud folk music. I had stepped into a den of French hippies. They were clustered in groups drinking, smoking, some playing pool. There was a bar which looked like a druggie's lounge room, and a barman who suggested he could boil an espresso coffee pot for me. He did, with a ten shot espresso pot, and handed me a pint mug filled to the brim with those ten shots.

On other days I did not ride but instead adventured onto the water. I canoed through Cygnet bay among moored yachts, and on another day journeyed out onto deeper seas.

But mostly I rode, read, ate and drank, my feet dangling over the edge of rocks above the waves.

On my second last day I traveled north through the midlands and finished Murdoch in an 1820s convict cemetery.

After consuming a wallaby pie for lunch, I headed further north via Bothwell and up through the lakes district. I was alone in this landscape and the Bullet motored along joyfully, never skipping a beat, making me happy in its pulsating beauty.

The landscape changes so much up here. The sky is pure, the landscape untouched and inviting.

From high up the valley below spreads like a map.

I stayed the night at the Poatina Chalet, a left-over 1960s lodge in a left-over worker's village in the mountains. This was the view from my bed.

A view which changed constantly:

In the morning it greeted me.

I spent my last day riding a loop which took me slowly back to Devonport and the ferry. I overtook tourists in the twisty mountains and the Bullet proved adept, the torquey engine pulling away lustily and sounding like a 1920s machine gun.

I caught the ferry in the evening. It was, as usual, a wonderful two weeks, which as usual left me wondering why I live in the city. I had put 2,500km on the Bullet, taking it to over 5000km, and it performed flawlessly. Why did I not buy one of these years ago. This is the best bike I have ever ridden.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nyah, Christmas 2014

We make pictures in our minds, fantasies of future rides, and then we mount our machine and reality comes to resemble the picture. Of course it is a resemblance only, and only in the barest outline; the lived details differ from the initial image, but nonetheless it is the idea which brings the ride into being. I needed to go north. After a series of bad events at the end of 2014 - trauma and loss - I needed to be washed in silence and heat. The inexplicable and debilitating migraines I experienced just prior to Christmas were diagnosed as the result of heavy grinding of my teeth in my sleep - a new experience for me - such was the stress! So I spent Christmas Eve and Boxing Day on a motorcycle, riding my Kawasaki W650 through the burnt paddocks of the gold fields of central Victoria and then into the Wimmera, and finally the Mallee where I stayed at Nyah by the cool, silent waters of the Murray River.

I stretched the days out, choosing back roads and small towns. I purchased books in, and explored the buildings of, Dunolly.

Further along I discovered that the books had fallen out of my torn saddle bags. I retraced my steps but to no avail. Hopefully somebody has rescued a battered copy of Peter Carey's excellent True History of the Kelly Gang, which was purchased for a dear friend.

I stopped often.

This view reminded my, somehow, of Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina's World.

On Christmas day I wandered about Nyah paying attention to old shop windows.

And sat on the river. In the afternoon that day I received news that a close friend had died. And so I spent some time here. There is a healing element in the slow heavy water of the Murray, which has seen so much and which brings life to these arid places.

On Boxing Day the W650 turned over 80,000km. I purchased it at 20,000km. It has been a wonderfully reliable bike, and I would gladly purchase another. As it stands I intend to keep this one for the long haul, rebuilding the engine when necessary. From all indications that 'necessity' may be in the distant rather than near future.

I stopped in Quambatook and peered through dusty windows into abandoned shops and garages, with their dust and pigeon shit and tales of other times.

At Korong Vale I composed this text to a friend:

There are no sounds in Korong Vale, save the wind blowing dust over rusty roofs, and crows in the distance. There's no milk bar, no general store or petrol station. Aside from a passing farm-ute every half hour, Korong Vale appears to have a population of 3, and they're not particularly talkative. Cricket on a TV is heard from behind a screen-door in the empty main street, which has buildings - mostly empty - on one side only, the other side being a paddock and disused railway. Which all together makes it incongruous that I am sitting in a Thai restaurant - the only customer - waiting for my prawn noodles.

Further south I stopped at the Melville caves,

and at the site where was found the biggest gold nugget ever, near Moliagul.

I continued ever southwards through warm weather, arriving toward evening back home in Melbourne. I would have to return to work for two weeks, but with the knowledge that a fortnight of motorcycling awaited me ahead in Tasmania. Motorcycling can be deeply therapeutic, when it is not simply joyful and exciting. My pleasure in it never seems to abate.