Nineteen and a half hours. That’s how long it takes to ride across three islands, from Lakey Peak to an airport in Bali.
Months earlier, when I’d been in Timor Leste, my man decided that he was coming over. He was going to fly into Bali and meet me on the road somewhere in Indonesia, ride with me for a bit. So I hadn’t been hurrying; our paths would cross soon.
Well now he was in Bali but the volcano was erupting, his bike marooned in airfreight. Now, he said he wanted me there.
So I left the next morning.
Breakfasted with the surfers one last time.
Chatted with Geoff for a bit. I was glad to see Geoff. A softly spoken Aussie bloke, early middle age, retired for ten years, he lived simply and surfed a lot. He’d been sick for the last few days, nobody had seen him, quietly shut up his bungalow waiting for it to pass. Now he was convalescing, getting his strength back. A man with a sense of wonder and a lot of kind words. I was glad to have met him.
And then I was back on the road with a long haul ahead of me. It was fairly slow going through the villages, back up to the main road that runs the length of Sumbawa; then there were more trucks, less goats, more space. Some twisties through the jungle, then shorn hills and palm oil plantations. I stopped at a rumah makan – an eating house, a truck stop – for coffee and the truck drivers stared at me.
I rode, I rode, I rode. Sumbawa is a big island. Sometimes I hit about 70km/h, but usually it was more like about 50km/h. Too much stuff going on. I stopped at a roadside warung to eat rice and vegetables in the middle of the afternoon; the lady there had a hundred questions for me and invited me to stay at her house if I ever came back that way.
I skirted around the city of Sumbawa Besar, but just before I hit the end of the island – just before the ferry port – I found myself again in the crowded confines of a town. It was 4pm, and there were people everywhere; the streets narrowed, the traffic got thicker; little boys were standing in the road, stopping traffic to collect donations for a local mosque.
Behind me, I head the signature scream of approaching 2-strokes. I looked in my mirror, and then they were there, flying past me, one two three four five Yamaha RX Kings, streaming blue smoke as they cut up the traffic at breakneck speed. They were wearing club colours, leather jackets, skull-and-cross-bones buffs; one was wearing an official issue hi-vis police jacket.
They overtook me on a corner, hands out in a jaunty salute as they disappeared through gaps in the traffic that didn’t even exist. I looked in my mirror and saw the last one come past – the sweep. On the front of the bike, peering over the headlight, I saw the intent eyes of a little boy; then behind him, there was a bloke in club colours; and on the back of the tiny bike sat his wife nursing a newborn. My eyes locked on the wife: she was completely relaxed, feet planted on the footpegs, cradling the baby in total serenity as they flew through the traffic at lethal speed. Supreme calm.
And then they were gone. Out the other side of the town, I saw some of them stopped by the road; then they all flew past me again, racing by in all their raucous 2-stroke glory. No way was I going to try to keep up.
But when I pulled up at the ferry terminal, they were all there. The woman I’d seen earlier was serenely breast feeding the baby. They introduced themselves – they were from the RX King club chapter in Sumbawa Besar. It was Friday, and they were going to Bali for the weekend, for an RX King reunion with chapters from all over Indonesia.
They reckoned they would get to their destination in Bali by around 3 or 4am, smashing the miles through the night on their on their smoky speed-demon bikes.
So we all took the ferry together, shipping out for Lombok. The sun set while we were on the sea. We had coffee and rice and chilled; they invited me to visit them in Sumbawa Besar next time I was out that way. They were cool people.
On the ferry, one of the officers was a sweet young guy from Lombok. He said that his family home was on the road that crossed Lombok, the one I would need to take, and that I was welcome to rest there for the night with his family. His mum, his sisters. It was another incredibly kind offer, but I wasn’t tired yet. I thought I’d keep going. Now that I had a goal, I just wanted to get there.
So we rolled off the ferry in Lombok, it was pitch dark, and I set out to ride across the island. Two lane road, a lot of traffic, raining lightly. I quickly realised that the oncoming traffic could only see my headlight, and had no idea that I was sporting full panniers on each side. The oncoming scooter overtakes were way to close for comfort; the hairs were up on the back of my neck.
Sorry guys, I thought to myself, and switched on my double spotlights. After that, the scooters and trucks gave me a wider berth.
Towards the end, my map directions led me astray. Suddenly, it was 9pm and dark and raining lightly and I was lost among the rice paddies of Lombok.
Where had the town gone? A moment ago, I’d been almost at the next ferry terminal. Now it was winding tracks, becoming skinnier and skinnier, then switching to dirt; then lights up ahead, buildings; then suddenly I found myself riding in the back alleys. Men playing cards in pools of light, staring at me as I passed. It felt sketchy as hell.
Eventually, I just stopped following the map directions and plotted my own route back to where I thought the main road should be cutting across the landscape. And there it was. Well thank fuck for that.
I was tired and hungry now, and when I made it to the port, it turned out that the next ferry would cost four times more than the previous one. What, why?
My bike was the first in line to load; I parked up against a railing. It seemed safe enough. The crew kept trying to sell me a private cabin for the voyage. One hundred thousand. No, I said, no thank you, I don’t want it. Again and again. No, no, no. Eventually I just said, Look, I have no money okay? And the message got through. Oh she’s got no money, I heard the guys relaying the message in bahasa Indonesia.
They urged me to go upstairs, to the passenger seating area. I went. A couple of young guys harrassed me at the top of the stairs, laughing and catcalling. Yeah, lone white girl, very fucking funny. Whatever.. I sat down for five minutes. Something didn’t feel right. I went back downstairs. Loading was in full swing, and it was a sight to give you horrors.
There were at least forty motorbikes on the boat now, and they were still loading trucks. As they tetris-packed the hold, the crew would grab motorbikes and shove them out of the way. Helmets rolled across the floor. Bikes were roughly pushed over onto each other, or into each other, jammed up. Paint work scratched, zero care.
Oh no, you don’t , I thought. I staked out my bike, put myself between it and the chaos going on in the hold: if they wanted to shove or drive anything into my bike, they would have go through me first. I was a tired, hungry woman by this stage. I was ready to bring down seven shades of hell.
The crew stayed away.
Eventually we sailed. The seas were rough. I pulled out my own straps and tied the bike down; the ferry was pitching so hard I could barely stand up at times. The hold smelled of diesel fumes; I felt ill. I patted Beastie on the pannier and she kept me company as we swung into the small hours of the morning.
In Bali, I got lost again. AGAIN. Google Maps this time – last time, in Lombok, it was maps.me – swore that I should turn left and follow this tiny path that became a smaller path that eventually ended in muddy midnight single track. FTW. I turned around, went back, found the biggest road, followed it in generally the right direction.
There were a lot of trucks with no lights. It was a dual carriageway, quite fast; people doing 70, 80km/h. And trucks just parked in the road with no lights.
By the time I got to Denpasar, the sky was beginning to grey with dawn. I ended up on a toll road – a giant, beautiful causeway over water, and you had to pay to use it. I was caught completely off guard. I barely remembered what a traffic light was, let alone a toll road. When did I last see one of them? Brisbane?
I found myself in the wrong lane, the car lane; I couldn’t get through the automated boom gates. I managed to thread my way through barriers back to the motorbike lane. There were no people, was all automated: you had to have an e-toll card. Me, hobo, e-toll? No. This hobo is not e-toll compliant.
So, I didn’t have the vocabulary for any of this, but there’s always sign language. Eventually another person on a motorbike rolled up, and I convinced them to pay my toll for me while I gave them cash. And then I was in. Riding across this beautiful causeway at dawn in Bali.
So I was heading for the hotel where my man was supposed to be staying. I messaged him again, told that I’d be there in a few minutes, what room number? I kept riding, riding, riding the wrong way up a one way street but hey it was five a.m., washed-out dawn, I didn’t care anymore and neither did anyone else.
And then I was there. Budget hotel, beautiful courtyard shrine. Fresh incense burning. Definitely Bali.
I looked around. Which room? Still no reply to my message.
I sat there for a few minutes. Well, Beastie, I said. We made it.