We rode back to Brisbane in the freezing rain then turned around and drove back again in the ute. In the pitch dark, I waited with trepidation for Beastie to emerge from the darkness. A glint of reflector, a flash of orange in the headlights: yes, she was still there, beside the highway where I’d unceremoniously left her six hours earlier.
Somehow, Shane and I managed to push her up onto the high trayback without dropping her on our heads. I’m still not sure how we did it, but it was one smooth move and I was too tired to doubt.
We unloaded Beastie back at Sam’s garage on the Gold Coast and limped back to Brisbane. It was four a.m. There was only one beer left. We drank it, and went to bed.
The next day, Sam flew to Thailand to buy motorbike parts for his next project. And the day after, Andy was expecting me to show up in Gatton with the ute at dawn for the 1500km drive back to Navarra. There were sheep, cattle and a half-built dingo fence waiting for our attention.
Beastie was supposed to be coming back with me – fixed, perky, and ready to get back on the road to Paris. Instead, she was in Sam’s garage ag’ain; mysteriously ill, again.
I didn’t want to leave her there but I couldn’t justify staying: I’d already told Andy I’d go back for a few more days’ work, and the more things went wrong with Beastie, the more I needed every penny I could earn. Realistically, I knew Sam would fix her much faster and better than I could, whenever he got back.
So I had a stupid argument with my boyfriend and then drove back to the outback. I was in a terrible mood, and rest was quite beyond me. I drove 800km before I was tired enough to relinquish the wheel.
Then Andy took over and I slept fitfully as we drove through the dark, waking when we stopped to fix the spotlights, and half-waking every time Andy slammed on the brakes for kangaroos. I don’t think we hit any.
By the time we got back to Navarra I was too tired to shower, too tired to eat. I rolled into bed and crawled back into the shadowy relief of sleep.
* * *
If you can’t ride your motorbike, drive a bulldozer.
Life been walking all over you? Raze a few landforms with a massive chunk of chugging metal and you’ll feel better in no time. I guarantee it.
I never thought anyone would let me play with their bulldozer, but Andy was sanguine about setting me loose on his 1959 Allis Chalmers.
‘You’ll never drive anything more simple or stable,’ he told me, showing me the steering clutches and how to jiggle the main clutch to get the gears to mesh. I wasn’t heavy enough to get the decelerator down to the floor properly so I started out with the hand throttle, initially terrified and deafened by the primitive machinery under my hands.
First I walked the bulldozer from one site to the next, cutting the blue sky with a plume of black soot as the old girl ground across the landscape. Then Andy introduced me to the mysteries of operating the cable blade. You have a giant lever tucked under your right arm, and you pull it to engage the drum winch at the back of the dozer to raise the blade up; push the lever away from you to let the cable run out (gently gently) under the weight of the blade. The trick is that the winch will only wind as fast your tracks are moving: it’s not possible to move the dozer slowly while winching fast, or vice versa. So you have to plan ahead: distance and speed and blade height.
Don’t forget how the angle of the bulldozer on each rise will affect the relative position of the blade to the earth, six feet in front. Don’t let the cable go slack even when the blade is down and pushing, because you’ll have to wind that slack before the blade comes up again. Don’t let the tree branches tangle in your tracks; don’t let the sharp cutting edge of the blade bite into patches of soft soil; think carefully about the angles you’ll use to cut down the sides of the creek crossing that’s too steep for a straight approach.
Bulldozing is really quite zen. The deafening roar of the engine makes the auditory landscape peaceful through its uniformity. The world is full of textures and you can smell the underlayers of the earth as you scrape them clean, mixed with the heady smell of diesel and grease that always makes me think of my father. You feel powerful as you raise the blade and inexorably bulldoze a tree to the ground, but you feel precise, too, as you navigate around the others, clearing only as much of the scrub as needed.
We were building a wild dog exclusion fence, six feet tall, straight as a rifle shot. On broadly spaced rises, Andy would get the rifle and use the sights to line up the distant sighting pegs, sinking another peg in the line.
Far away, down the cleared line, Shawn and Thommo were sinking corner stays and rolling out gleaming mesh.
There were wild dogs around – tracks in the soft sand of the creek crossings, restless behaviour from the sheep. The fence would be months yet. In the meantime, Andy set traps for the dogs, and sometimes waited for them with a rifle at the top of a windmill platform. He said that the dogs would sometimes come right up to the windmill, padding straight into the rifle sights.
‘They never look up.’
In fairness, dingoes aren’t the only ones who, gripped by hypervigilence, might fail to look up and see a bigger picture.
* * *
Back on the Gold Coast, Beastie dried out in Sam’s garage. Sam came back from Thailand, started her up, and she ran fine.
Something had gotten wet. Something had dried.
For goodness’ sake.
Oh well. I could deal with that. When and if the problem replicated itself, I would track it down and fix it. Test light, multimetre, time. Those things I have.
While I bulldozed gidgee scrub in the outback, Shane and Sam inspected Beastie’s wiring, cleaned connectors, and recrimped joins.
Shane rode her to work, parked her in the rain, hosed her down. She was fine.
After all that – after all the catastrophes in my head – I still have a motorbike that I can ride to whatever crazy place I want to go. She didn’t need a rebuild; didn’t need a new starter clutch; didn’t need anything else wildly expensive. She really just needed a new rocker arm, some attention to detail and a bit more care on reassembly.
The electrical gremlin has vanished. If it comes back, I will find it.
But for now, I’m done. I’m done with trying to get the bike perfect, because it never will be. I’m done with worrying about everything, because something will always go wrong.
Now, it’s time to leave the country.