I was up at daybreak to share a camp fire and some fine espresso with my new fishing friends.
The river water was warm to touch, so the whole river steamed in the morning chill.
By sun up, the kids downriver were throwing themselves in the water again, and the great fishing convoy had departed North.
I took a little longer to pack up camp, and was doing up my last straps when I saw that one of my pannier rail mounting bolts wasn’t looking too healthy. In fact, it appeared to have pulled out of the threaded bolt hole completely.
I felt slightly nauseous.
One of the peculiarities of the 690 Enduro is that it doesn’t have a rear subframe – rather, everything just bolts onto and into the plastic fuel tank. This is an excellent weight saving innovation, apparently, but it is also an unhappy point of weakness. Beastie already has upgraded tank bolts, but the standard rear grab rail mounting points are also, really, just a couple of bolts into my plastic fuel tank. (My plastic fuel tank. What could possible go wrong?) So I get a little twitchy about the prospect of those bolts stripping out or pulling out, or really, anything to do with them.
I pulled the panniers off the bike and inspected the damage. The bolt had pulled free; the thread on the bolt wasn’t damaged; I feared the worst.
Morosely, I put the bolt back into its hole and began to tighten it, not expecting to get any purchase on the thread. Inexplicably, it tightened. It was firm! My mounting point was solid.
The gods had smiled upon me and I wasn’t about to question it. I slated the issue for attention next time I was near a workshop, remounted my glorious orange RTW Panniers and got under way. My early start had vanished with the morning mist, but I was back on the road and that was all that mattered.
* * *
A few weeks earlier, before I set out, I’d asked my mother if she knew anyone in the more remote parts of Western Queensland and the Northern Territory who might let me camp in their front paddock on my way North.
Now here’s something you might not know about me – I never went to school. I grew up in the mountains, suitably far from a school or a school bus, and so I studied by distance education from kindergarten right to the end of high school. My lessons arrived in the mail once every couple of weeks; I would complete them, and mail them back to the teachers in town.
This is relevant, because that’s how my mother became involved in the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) over the years. The ICPA is basically an association of parents who work towards ensuring that children in rural and remote areas have equitable access to education; and it also means that my mother knows a few people from some seriously far-flung parts of Australia.
So I asked my mum for some contacts, and she sent through a few.
‘Call Andy Pegler,’ she said. ‘I think he rides motorbikes. He did that race, you know, in the middle of Australia…’
You mean the Finke Desert Race, maybe?
So I trundled into Mitchell, found a pay phone on the edge of town, and cold-called a stranger.
“You don’t know me, but can I camp in your front paddock?”
‘Oh I know who you are, your mother called me,’ he said. ‘Of course you can camp in the front paddock. We might even let you in the house!’
Winning, winning, winning.
Andy’s place was somewhere past Yaraka, but this side of Stonehenge; it took me a while to even find Yaraka on a map. An incredibly small dot. It looked about five or six hundred kilometres away. No worries.
‘Call me from Blackall so I know when to expect you,’ Andy said, then I ran out of coins and the phone went dead.
I put on some music and set out to cover some miles. It was main road through Morven, with a rest stop in Augathella.
There wasn’t much going on Augathella except for brilliant sunshine, so I bought the cheapest snack-like thing I could find in the supermarket. This happened to be a small can of rice pudding, reduced for quick sale, and it was genuinely horrible.
I sat in the park to eat it. The park was called ‘Meat Ant Park’ and I found this sign vaguely threatening:
Time to go.