I woke to rain with the forward edge of Cyclone Debbie bearing down the East coast towards me. The previous morning, I’d read the predictions of impending deluge, and determined to head West. If I went fast enough, I’d be out of the cyclone’s path and back under baking Summer skies in a day or so.
I scouted some dry tinder out of the wet scrub and lit a little cooking fire for my coffee and morning porridge. Under the barbecue shelter I drank my coffee slowly, two cups, and read my book, and ate slowly; because I am a hobo now, and I can.
There was only one flash-looking campervan in the park, and after a while its resident grey nomad poked his nose out the door and came over to my camp, making crackly plastic sounds in his spray jacket. He gestured up at the sky.
‘What’s it doing?’ he said.
I looked at him, I looked at the sky. Was this a trick question?
‘Um, it’s raining,’ I said, after a moment.
He shook his head and gestured impatiently. ‘No, what’s it going to do?’
‘Well…’ I said, still slightly confused. ‘I understand there is a cyclone somewhere…’
He shook his head again. ‘No, no, what does the forecast say?’
‘I have no idea,’ I said, comprehension dawning. ‘I have no reception out here. I’m too poor for Telstra.’
He frowned at me. ‘I thought all you people had reception, all the time,’ he said, and turned around and went back into his campervan.
You people? Who is you people, exactly?
I packed up camp and headed for Theodore to fuel up.
There was nothing going on in Theodore, a tiny town in the Banana Shire. Everything was wet. I put petrol in the fuel bottle for my duel fuel stove because I could see some seriously damp camping in my future.
I looked at my map and it looked like an interesting dirt road headed West from Taroom to Injune, so I turned back South to pick it up.
Just out of Theodore, I saw a sign for Isla Gorge National Park. No worries, I thought. I’m a hobo, watch me dawdle! I took the turn off and headed down to see what I could see.
No-one around for miles.
In Taroom, I stopped to check the road conditions. The kid behind the counter at the servo looked too young to have a driver’s licence, and went on to assure me that he’d never, in his life, taken the dirt road that headed west out of town. Having struck out there, I apologetically interrupted the conversation of a couple of grazier-looking types and asked about the road conditions. They seemed surprised that I wanted to take the dirt road west when there was perfectly good bitumen that would take me south to Roma then onto main highway west; but they said that the road was fine, a bit rough, but I’d get through.
Now, drivers of motorcars are treacherous, hazardous creatures for the common motorcyclist: not just because they might take you out in traffic, but because when they tell you about the road conditions, they never think to mention the sand.
Oh, the sand. Beastie and I were well into the hills, through farmland and state forest, when the road started to turn to creamy stretches of fine pale sand. The washed out creek crossings hadn’t bothered me, nor the gullies full of standing water, but Beastie got to the sand and she started to shake her head.
Oh no no, I thought, I’m not going down with this much gear on the bike. There will be no pulling my panniers off in the middle of a sandpit while I sweat like a pig and wonder why I didn’t take the bitumen. I locked in my ankles and rolled on.
According to the distances printed on my map, I should have been in Injune fifteen kilometres ago, but the sandy sweeps kept appearing in front of me, getting longer and longer.
I started to talk myself through it: weight through the pegs – relax – front wheel light – even throttle – not too slow – go with the bike – follow the forward momentum – forget the surface – relax and throttle on.
Eventually I stopped and pulled out my phone to check my GPS location. It turned out that I was pretty much where I was supposed to be – in the middle of a big green patch on the map somewhere between Hallet State Forest and ‘Pony Hills’ – but the reality of the road was much longer and windier than the mapmaker’s smoothly plotted line.
It was just me, some cows, and the coal seam gas installations: tangles of metal piping, painted salmon pink, squatting on the landscape like parasitic growths.
I kept riding.