The first stop on my journey to where I’m going was the place I came from: I was headed into the Tinderry Mountains to say goodbye to my Dad.
Loaded up under the weight of two year’s tools, spare parts and personal effects, Beastie and I barrelled down the Hume Highway from Sydney. Beastie’s new shoes – Metzeler Karoo 3s – gave a smooth and dreamy ride on the highway, a far cry from the tooth-rattling vibration that I’d come to accept from my stubborn adherence to knobbies.
I was a bit stressed and tired, and had left town later than I’d planned: packing everything onto the bike is a precision exercise which I am yet to master. I was anxious that maybe my set-up wasn’t going to work properly; that I had things that I couldn’t afford to carry and didn’t have things that I would end up needing. The bike was heavy, wide and cumbersome with all the gear; I felt silly and weak. But you know, that’s okay. I’ve come to realise that if you only do things that you’ve already mastered, you’ll end doing the same couple of things all your life and it will be fucking boring. So sometimes (often) I look like an idiot, and that’s completely fine.
Of course, at certain times I need to consciously remind myself of this thinking – for instance, at the moment when I ran onto the dirt road that day and realised that wrestling a tall, fully-loaded 690 through rolling gravel with dualsport tyres was not going to be as relaxing as I’d hoped.
Now, my parents live on a couple of hundred acres out in the mountains; it’s just bush running down the hills and gullies to edge of the river. To get there, you take a dead-end dirt road and follow it about 15km into the hills.
No road is more familiar to me than that one: each patch of clay, each causeway, each blind corner is etched into my monkey brain from a lifetime’s exposure.
This is me fanging along normally, one clear winter day last year. I had an epic case of tonsillitis and should have been in bed that day, but I obviously wasn’t.
I wouldn’t bother watching the whole 15km of that video… but you get the idea.
So now it was February 2017 and I was heading down that road again, but this time with my panniers full of gear and a crazy plan to keep riding until I got to Paris.
As soon as I hit the gravel, the new tyres were a bit slippy-slidey. I started to miss that nice bite of a knobby front wheel to pull me out of the gravel drifts that had formed through the corners, and the back was stepping out faster and more suddenly than expected. I sweated a little, and switched into granny mode. This wasn’t such a bad thing, because it meant that I was barely doing 40km an hour when I came around a blind corner and found myself nose-to-nose with Mr De Sousa’s extremely large bull. After we’d eyeballed each other for a few minutes, he ambled off and allowed me to proceed.
By the time I got to the front gate, I was ready for a cup of tea.
In front of the closed gates, I gingerly found a spot to kick my sidestand down. Bonus trauma on that front: the KTM has always been a very tall bike with a very long sidestand; put a whole bunch of luggage on the bike, and you’ll only ever be stopping with the downhill slope on your left hand side. How embarrassing would it be, I thought, to end up on my face trying to put down my sidestand in my parents’ driveway.
Find depression, put down side stand without landing on face; open gates, close gates, side stand up: still not fallen on face. So far, so good!
We headed down the driveway. It’s a windy little road, 2km of rocky track cut into side of the hills that drop off steeply into the river valley.
When I was a kid, my Dad used to have an old bulldozer – it was a vintage Caterpillar that had been salvaged from the old Snowy Scheme hydroelectric project. In all its 1950s glory, this beast required two hours, an external starter motor and about four cans of WD40 through the air intake before it would start. My Dad would use it to grade the driveway; many days of my childhood were spent with the fresh smell of ripped dirt in my nostrils as I watched him building culverts and road edges. I remember, as a child, fingering the cold smoothness of the red clay which would retain a perfect imprint of the Caterpillar tracks after the bulldozer had gone.
Anyway, that bulldozer eventually got too difficult to keep repairing and reconstructing as its old cogs slowly wore smooth, so my Dad sold it some years back. He has been finding other ways to repair the road surface ever since. This was not a matter to which I gave much thought until the moment I came over the hill near the woodshed and saw – laid out in front of me, through the steep hairpin bend and all the way down the hill – a veritable fucking BEACH.
Yes, there was a foot of river sand over the entire road, all the way down the hill, around the corner, into the woodshed, up to the clothesline, down to the house.
Should’ve eaten lunch, I thought, I’m clearly hallucinating.
By the time I’d slewed my way through the first hairpin, I knew the sand was for real. I had that sinking feeling, because that’s what your front wheel will do when you’re on a steep downhill gradient on a fully loaded bike executing a hairpin turn in deep sand.
We made it through the turn. This is not good, I thought, as an even greater vista of sand opened in front of me. At that moment, I hesitated, I touched the brakes, and I was gone.
Arse over tit, as Dad would say.
Beastie went down slowly and I got out of her way. As per usual, fuel started pouring from the vapour release hose on top of the safari tank; as per usual, I took the hair elastic off my wrist and crimped the hose shut.
I was tired. I couldn’t lift the bike on my own without taking my panniers off, and taking my panniers off would involve taking everything out of the panniers. I also knew my Dad would have been standing at the kitchen window watching the whole thing. So I just waited. After a bit I saw him ambling up the hill towards me.
‘What’s with the sand, Dad?’ I said.
‘You know, repair the road,’ he said. ‘When it rains it’ll eventually compact down to a really nice road surface.’
I glared at him.
He shrugged. ‘When I saw you come past the workshop and over this way, I thought, oh no, here comes trouble…’
We picked up Beastie and had a cup of tea.
I stayed out there in the mountains that night.
Dad and I chilled with the dogs.
Cooked a barbecue.
Dad’s still not entirely on board with the adventure. He isn’t convinced of the necessity of riding to Paris.
‘Can’t you just find a nice man?’ He’d asked me previously. ‘It’d be a lot easier.’
This time, however, he had a constructive suggestion.
‘Look,’ he said. ‘If you really want to ride around the world, just book a ticket on the Queen Mary II and ride a monkey bike around the deck every few weeks.’