We left the lights of the pub and headed into blackness. There was no moon, and I was riding in front of the Landcruiser, even though I didn’t know where I was going: the dust will just hang in the air, Andy told me. You’ll choke if you follow us.
So I headed into the kangaroos and darkness with my headlight doing its usual impression of a candle. Only one of my spotlights was working – the other had had some kind of circuit-blackening melt-down – and the one that did work had some wonky angle going on.
I hadn’t noticed this previously, because I generally don’t ride at night, because I’m horribly blind. My eyes are bad enough in broad daylight – without optical correction, I’d qualify for a guide dog – and night-time is just a joke. Not a very funny one, either.
But here I was, riding along amongst the kangaroos in the dark, bound for a station somewhere on the other side of the Barcoo River.
It was alright for the first few kilometres out of town, because the road was sealed: I just lined myself up between the reflectors and concentrated on the flashes of movement from kangaroos in my peripheral vision. Within a few minutes, however, we’d progressed to the broad gravel expanses of an outback dirt road.
The gravel was deep, and rolling, and piled into shifting ridges between one or two sets of clear wheel tracks. It’s perfectly easy if you ride in the clear wheel tracks and stay out of the gravel, but here’s the thing – I couldn’t see the wheel tracks. In the weak light, the expanses of gravel looked flat and pale and unvaried to me. I knew when I was riding in a wheel track because I wasn’t sliding all over the road; I knew I’d drifted out of the wheel track when I felt the front start to twitch and the back start to step out. Once I felt that, there would be teeth gritting moments of blind exploration until I felt the wheels contact clear ground again, back in the tracks.
I couldn’t get up enough speed to maintain stability through the fine gravel because I couldn’t see where the road was going: for a long time, it was so broad that I couldn’t make out its edges properly in my lights. I couldn’t afford to overshoot the clear line through a corner with gravel like this.
After a while, we turned off and the road narrowed to become pale tracks on pale claypan, and I even lost sight of it altogether for a moment while riding through some sleepy cows.
I was tense, and tired, and cursing. I could see sweet nothing in front of me and just the lights of the Landcruiser constantly in my mirrors. I knew that Andy and Caroline and Gregg were watching me, I knew that I was holding them up, I knew that they knew exactly where the road went and probably couldn’t understand what my problem was. But I vowed I wasn’t going to go down in the gravel with all my gear on the bike. I was too tired for that.
At one stage they caught up with me and Andy offered to ride my bike for me, but I was way too stubborn. Not in a million years. I get enough crap from people telling me that I’m a silly little girl and I’ll never make it to Paris on my big motorbike; no way was I going to give them material. I’d get there as slowly and lamely as I damn well liked, but I’d get there.
In hindsight, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by just letting Andy ride the bike back to his house. He knows the road, he can probably see the road, and his legs are twice as long as mine should he ever wish to put a foot down. And he wouldn’t have given me shit about it. But I didn’t know that back then.
So I rode on, across the claypan, through the channels of the Barcoo River, until we eventually came out at the cattle yards, the shearing shed, the house. There was a barking dog and a high fence and I parked Beastie in the house yard, under the clothesline.
Hot shower, warm bed. I was done.
* * *
When I woke up the next morning it was quiet and sunny, after 8am. I found a note on the kitchen table: Andy was off doing something useful, and would be back for breakfast.
I was tired and relaxed, and in no danger of getting myself organised. Caroline fed me, Greg introduced me to the poddy lambs.
Nutmeg the dog was suitably concerned when I suffered a sandal failure.
The poddy lambs were not.
Anyway, Andy didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to send me on my way.
I thought it might be washing day.