I’d soaked in the hot springs and from there it was an easy run into Darwin – just four hundred kilometres up the highway.

I wasn’t in a hurry because my friend Brad – not being a hobo like myself – couldn’t meet me until after work anyway. So I took things easy on my way north.

First, a splash of fuel at the service station in Mataranka. I treated myself to another milky coffee – only 1,128km since the last one, I must be getting soft – and was savouring it in the shade when a couple of middle aged blokes on BMWs pulled in. One of them was on a 1200 GSA. He parked beside Beastie and said to me, ‘What’s that tiny little thing parked around the corner?’

He was joking but I can’t begin to describe how boring this joke is to me these days. Yes, your motorbike’s better/bigger/shinier/cheaper/nimbler/simpler/more expensive/sophisticated/spiritually enlightened than mine. But I just don’t care. Get on a motorbike and ride it, and I’ll do the same, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

So I mustered up a smile for him and there ensued the usual banter about how he was tougher than me (he took the dirt road out towards Borroloola that I didn’t) and how he was tougher than his mate (his mate seemed used to this), and presumably how his vital masculine appendages were also bigger than mine. Yes, mate, they are… infinitely.

Maybe I was just cranky that morning; or maybe you just shouldn’t interfere with a woman who’s trying to drink her first coffee in 1,128km! But it was alright. I wished them well, and they sent me a picture afterwards: here’s me, still looking filthy dirty despite my little bath in the hot springs, in front of the sunbeaten facade of a petrol station in Mataranka.

At Mataranka servo.jpg

So I cruised north to Darwin, stopping for a long rest break under the lazy fans at Emerald Springs roadhouse where the furniture is cane and somehow reminiscent of mid-century Singapore. The view of scraggly gum trees and dongas out the back kind of ruin the effect, but I was still deeply sorry that I couldn’t down a cold beer there. In this heat, with a few hundred kilometres to go, I knew the last thing I needed was beer; but still, a girl can dream.

Now some of you might have noticed the sticker that’s been on my bike since Sydney: WHERE THE HELL’S NOONAMAH?


Beastie, about 13,000km ago: can you see the sticker?

Well, Noonamah is right here:

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m28!1m12!1m3!1d1990871.771699386!2d130.80444537379805!3d-12.944863221660084!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!4m13!3e6!4m5!1s0x2cbf58359a24dd41%3A0x50217a82a248130!2sNoonamah+NT+0837!3m2!1d-12.634167!2d131.073611!4m5!1s0x2cbf58359a24dd41%3A0x50217a82a248130!2sNoonamah!3m2!1d-12.634167!2d131.073611!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sau!4v1517129200414&w=600&h=450]

Just south of Darwin, it’s a pub and a service station and bottle shop. It’s the place where you meet your friends and buy ice on your way of Darwin for the weekend. It’s also the place to be for toad races and, twice a year, the Noonamah rodeo. On a hot afternoon, under the big trees out the back, the shade is cool and the beer is cold.

It’s not a fancy place, but it’s one of the places where you can just be yourself. Brad gave me the sticker when we stopped here years ago, and I found it again when I was packing up all my belongings to leave for this trip. I stuck it on my bike to remind me of where I come from – of good friends, no frills and no bullshit; to keep me grounded when I’m far away in foreign lands.

And here I was again, in Noonamah.

There was Brad, with the biggest hug I’d had in a long time. I was only six months later than expected.

The next challenge was getting my bike on the boat to Timor, but in the meantime I had the ultimate luxury of a home to go to. I trailed Brad’s ute back to the family property where his mum and dad welcomed me like family.

I felt a weight lift off me. I was tired and skinny, and my eyes had felt like they were full of sand for the last two thousand kilometres. A bed, a good meal, and the company of friends – those are the best things in the world sometimes.

* * *

The first few days I slept and slept. Each morning I’d wake up long after everyone had gone to work, closer to lunch time than breakfast, zombie-dazed in the heat. By nightfall I’d be shattered and crawling back to bed for another twelve or fourteen hours’ sleep.

Was I sick or just tired? I couldn’t quite tell. Colin, from one skinny person to another, theorised that maybe I just hadn’t been eating enough. Maybe my body had just run out of energy and had gone into conservation mode? It sounded like a good hypothesis to me, especially since it kind of justified me eating everything that wasn’t tied down. Beverley kindly fed me up on roast chicken and vegies and chops and ice cream and Brad even let me raid the fridge for his iced coffees and apple crumble.


Eating ice cream in bed… if this doesn’t fix me nothing will.

The dogs were constantly upset that I never left any food for them; they probably thought me a very disappointing house guest.


What, no doggy bag? You REALLY ate it ALL?

I was just starting to think I should cart myself off to the doctor and see if I’d contracted some horrible mosquito-born virus when my energy started to come back. Yes! Now I could deal with all the other practicalities that I’d been dozily avoiding.

The first one was my eyes: what the hell was wrong with my eyes. They hadn’t been feeling right since Queensland; sometimes they were merely a bit stingy and other times they felt excruciatingly sandy, blurry and occasionally photosensitive. It seemed logical to me that the constant flow of hot air over my face while riding would be causing my contact lenses to dry out and become uncomfortable, but this was next level.

I made an appointment with an optometrist and rode into town. She took one look at my eyes and told me my corneas were horribly inflamed and how was it not unbearable? How was I still wearing contact lenses? The answer is very simple, of course: I wear contacts to ride and riding is more important to me than pain. However, my optometrist didn’t seem to be on board with that response and now I was slightly worried too. She said that she couldn’t see what was going on with my eyes because the corneas were too inflamed: go home, put these three different ointment in your eyes, throw away your contact lenses and come back in three days.

I felt hot and cold. I can’t ride in my glasses; they mess with my depth perception and peripheral vision. What if I couldn’t wear contacts anymore – how would I ride? What if my always-defective eyes were finally packing it in altogether?

People sometimes ask me ‘how long will it take you’ and ‘what will you do after the trip’, as if this is just a small intermission from my ordinary life which remains patiently waiting for me, wherever I left it. But there isn’t anything to go back to; there isn’t anything ‘after the adventure’. This is it.

This was my last and only plan, and now here I am standing at the edge of Australia, shrouded in the smoke from all my burning bridges.

0 thoughts on “Smoke gets in your eyes

  1. Jamie Sagadore says:

    Goodmorning From Baja California Grace; good luck with the second chapter of your incredible journey and as my brother would say keep your pecker up!????

  2. Doug Brown says:

    Best of luck for good health Grace!

  3. Shawn says:

    Speaking to group of teenagers here in Texas last week I used your journey as an example of the big things we can do in our life if we just put our phones down l, explore our limits, and stop worrying what everyone (even thier parents) think.

    1. Shawn – that’s a pretty epic compliment! I would love to think that this crazy journey has some relevance to people other than myself. Sometimes I get caught up in the small stuff too and wonder what the hell I’m doing. Thanks, you made my day.

  4. Rod says:

    Yeah I had a similar issue with tiredness after several months of moto overlanding. I put it down to my budget traveller diet.

    Def enjoying following your IG posts though!

  5. Dan Irby says:

    I’ve been riding for 45 years but have never managed to disengage for a trip like you are on. You are inspiring me to load up the DR650 and head out for a couple weeks this coming fall. I like to read a lot so I may end up spending as much time with a book as I do riding. Travelling alone is therapeutic, but I’m not sure I could be as intrepid as you are. take care of yourself and try to keep up your blog when you can-very interesting.

    1. Thanks Dan, and I hope you and the DR have some wonderful and peaceful wanderings. I’m the same with books… I thought my throat had been cut when I ran out of books in the far hills of Timor, where there are no English language books to be had! I started randomly accosting the few foreign aid volunteers I came across and asking them if they had any books they had finished ????

  6. Kevin Weir says:

    Hi Grace!
    About the “tiny bike” thing; I find it inexplicable. I have been a male since I was born (well, probably a bit before), and I find the machinations of men with tiny cocks on large motorbikes beyond understanding. Because I ride a BMW F650GS, and I’m a short-arse, I have to put up with the came kind of crap.
    “Oh, I see you’ve opted for the girls’ BMW” is one of the more common remarks.
    Another regular one is the question: “Have you thought of upgrading?” to which I reply: “To what?”
    This generally gets the reply: “Well, er…, BMW 1100, 1150, 1200, KTM 1190, something like that.”
    I then answer (trying to sound as if I’m interested): “Why does that constitute an upgrade? I’ve done 65000 kilometres on this girls’ bike, and, where I come from, if it’s not broken, we don’t fix it.” This usually deflates his sails.
    At this stage, he usually realises that his wife is calling him, so he scarpers.
    Another fun thing is meeting someone who has a ‘much bigger bike’ than mine, but it’s at home.
    Pity Sigmund Freud isn’t around any more; I’m sure he’d have something to say about it.

    P. S. Sorry for the 7-month delay in commenting on your post. I couldn’t remember when I started following you, so yesterday I started reading your blog right from the first post in April 2016. It has been a pleasure. I am also a reading and creative writing nut, and I really enjoy your writing style.
    As you have—no doubt—guessed, I have now read as far as January this year.

    Sorry for the verbose reply. Ride safely, and keep up the lovely blog!

    1. Hi Kevin, thanks for reading through the back issues haha! Yeah I don’t know what all the dick measuring is about, but I wish it would stop. It’s also a pain because it’s such an impediment to learning: riding with others who have different or superior skill sets is how you learn, but up to this point I’ve been avoiding it like the plague because I can’t stand all the competitive bullshit. I’ll be the first person to agree that other people know more than me or are better riders than me or whatever – seriously, whatever – but if they could just stop building themselves up by putting me down, then we could all do some learning and have a nice time.

  7. Daniel Ankenbrandt says:

    Once again, thanks for sharing your experiences. You’re stories are more realistic and tells your thoughts and concerns as apossed just the grandeur of riding.
    Now reading your old posts too and glad to see it goes back to April of 2016!

    1. Yes, I’ve been on the road for nearly three years now… years of mishaps and victories to retell! So far, all of the ups and downs have been completely worth it. But there are some moments when I can’t see the forest for the trees; fortunately they pass!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *