Riding out of Moni, upset, distracted, just getting the hell out of town.
A set of beautiful asphalt s-bends. Badly cambered. Thin layer of sand across the road.
I’m doing about 45 or 50km/h but should be doing about thirty. As I lean the bike gently to follow the bend in the road, I feel the rear start to slide out.
I’ve got my weight forward and centred over the front wheel to compensate for poor traction, so I’m not leaning with the bike when she starts to go down. Instead, my body position is vertical. As the world thickens and slows, I’m still balanced and upright as the rear slides out and gravity kicks in. I ride the bike down, all the way to the bitumen; now the bike’s down on her right side, sliding ahead of me, the sandy road surface slippery as glass. I’m kneeling on one knee – right knee down, right hand out for balance – and we’re sliding, sliding. There’s no traction, we just keep going down the road, Beastie and I, sliding endlessly on the gritty bitumen.
Then we stop. I’m still kneeling on one knee. We’re at least forty metres from where we hit the road.
There are no trucks coming, no traffic. I’m safe. I jump back onto my feet, take one step to Beastie, hit the kill switch, turn off the ignition.
Take a deep breath. There are people around now; half a dozen locals who have just watched me sliding down the road. They are looking at me, looking at the bike, waiting to see the blood. There is none. I’m wearing kevlar draggin jeans, leatt knee guards, sidi adventure boots up to my knees; leather klim gloves with carbon knuckles, lightly scraped now from the road.
They’re used to seeing people slide down the road; not used to seeing them get up again without blood, road rash and grief.
I just want to get the bike upright and off the road; three men help me lift her, we put her on her sidestand. We’ve slid so far, in a gentle curve, that the bike is now facing the opposite direction.
I look for damage. Barkbuster, scraped; safari tank, scraped. The plastic rear bobbin is half scraped away, too.
My right pannier is damaged. I’m a moron: I’m carrying a spare rear sprocket, and that morning I hadn’t packed it properly on the inside of the pannier. Instead, it was near the bottom of the pannier and the teeth of the sprocket have scraped through the canvas as we slid along the road, leaving a gash in the pannier fabric like the bite of a shark.
Fuck. I’m sorry, Harold, I think. My pretty, pretty Giant Loop panniers, fucked up through my own stupidity. If I’d packed the sprocket differently, everything would have been fine.
I test the pannier. The holes through the orange canvass are small, lining up with the tips of the sprocket teeth. The gash through the fabric flap on the outside – the flap that holds the bottom of the three quick release straps – is more badly gashed. But, the straps are still strong. The strength and structural integrity of the pannier doesn’t seem to be compromised.
Fuck, I say to myself again, feeling slightly sick.
The locals are trying to straighten my rear brake lever now, and I have to tell them to stop stop stop, because it’s aluminium and I’d rather have it bent than snapped. It wasn’t damaged in the crash anyway. It’s been like that for 25,000km, since being kissed by a rock on a dirt track in southern Queensland.
They desist. Now everyone’s looking for my injuries again. There are none, I assure them. I let the old men poke my knee so they can feel the knee guards under the kevlar. The denim of my draggin jeans has been ripped through, down to the kevlar, so there goes my only nice pair of jeans. Now, I have no decent looking clothes and will just have to hang out in the gutter with my motorbike, like the hobo I am.
Seriously, though, my gear has saved me. Sliding down the road on my knee for forty metres: without kevlar and knee guards, I have no doubt that I’d been sitting beside the road looking at the bone of my kneecap right now.
But I’m not.
I get back on my bike, and ride away.
* * *
Where the fuck am I going?
I’m not sure anymore. I’m just glad to be alive, glad my bike is okay.
I’m not thinking straight; I feel woozy. I stop beside the road; well, actually, I slightly run off the edge of the road by accident, then pretend I meant to do it. I stop in the grass.
A guy on a scooter goes past me, waves and smiles. He was one of the people who helped me pick up my bike off the road, forty kilometres back. Bless him. I wave back.
I come to a turn off for a place called Koko Beach, it’s supposed to be beautiful. There’s a guy with a bamboo boom gate, wants ten thousand rupiah to let me in. Okay, fine, I pay. I get down to the beach, there’s another boom gate, another guy wants me to pay him too.
I tell him I’ve already paid. I tell him I wouldn’t have paid the first time if I knew I’d have to pay again. He argues. I argue. He gives up. I don’t know, I’m not in a friendly mood. The beach is indeed beautiful, white sand amoung cliffs, reminiscent of Thailand and that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio in it. There are a bunch of Europeans on the beach – some Scandinavian, some German – they say they’re running a landscape photography workshop. There are two women with them, scantily clad. One is only wearing a g-string.
I feel mortified and kind of offended on behalf of the locals who have come here with their families to picnic on the beach. It’s pretty pornographic. The white guys are fawning over this chick in her g-string, slathered in coconut oil like sexy saveloy.
I get on my bike and leave again.
The road is beautiful, but I’m not having a good day. My fuel light comes on so I stop to buy fuel from some sleepy girls, napping in a shade shelter beside glass bottles of petrol. While they fill up, I see a sign on the house, directly across the road: Inna’s Homestay.
I walk across to it on impulse. The verandah is shady. On the other side of the house is the sand of the beach.
I meet Inna and she’s lovely, her place is lovely, but it turns out I can’t afford it. There is, however, a very small room, no ensuite, mattress on the floor; Inna will rent that to me for less. I accept. I need to stop, get my head straight. I wheel the bike across the road, into her courtyard, and park.
I am in the village of Paga.