The day I left Riung, I wasn’t feeling like a superhero. On the contrary, I felt headachey and clumsy with the lingering aftertaste of nightmares and poor sleep. Little did I know that by midday I would be ten foot tall and bullet proof, and by sundown I’d be sporting one of the biggest bruises of my life.
* * *
So I start the day feeling shady; I’m sweaty and uncoordinated as I pack the bike. I don’t even feel like riding, but I’ve imposed on Itchan long enough. It’s time to get my sorry, non-fee-paying ass back on the road.
I take things easy at first, waiting for body and brain to click into gear. I’m heading west, tracing along the northern coast of the island, and I know the road will turn to dirt. I’ve been looking forward to it for months.
And sure enough, Flores does not disappoint. Soon I’m picking my way around deep puddles from last night’s storm as the yellowed landscape bakes dry again under a beating sun. Off to my right is the sea. It’s alternately dark blue and pale aquamarine as it becomes shallow or deep, sandy or sedimented, while the road grazes cliff and bays.
I’m starting to feel better, the synapses are starting to fire, as I come around a corner and see a beautiful sight: half a dozen KLXs lined up along the cliff in front of a blue sea.
If that’s not a sight to lift the spirits, I don’t know what is.
I already know who these guys are: they’re the police. With postings from Ruteng to Reo and further up the coast, these are the local coppers, and they’re all out for a weekend braap. From Reo to Riung on Saturday, and heading again back today; nothing happens in Riung without the whole town knowing about it.
And now they’re flagging me down.
I drop another gear and slot Beastie into the line of bikes. I can tell she likes it. So do I.
* * *
The coppers are all top blokes. You can probably already tell just by looking at them. I’m instantly adopted and their spirits are infectious. It’s Sunday morning, they’re out on dirt bikes with mates, and the sun is shining over a road full of mudholes. What’s not to like?
Arry insists I wear his mirrored sunnies and we all pose about on the cliff trying to look impossibly cool with our motorbikes. When it’s time to leave, they ask me to ride with them; I hesitate for a moment. These guys are all riding KLX150s with full knobbies, whereas I’m riding a 690 Enduro with 80/20 street tyres and forty kilograms of tools and gear. Guys, I say, I’m not going to be fanging along as fast as you, but they insist it’s alright. I’m worried, on one hand, about feeling pressure to ride faster than I should; but on the other hand, it’s brutally hot and I know there’s mud to come. The temptation to accept a helping hand is strong. Also, these guys are fun.
So off we go, and it IS fun. My mud riding technique is utterly shit – I’ve ridden almost no mud at all on the 690, and practice… well, I need it. She’s too tall for pussyfooting through the puddles. You’ve gotta line her up, maintain your balance and maintain your speed; she who hesitates is lost.
One day, I’m going to find myself in a vista of endless mud, and that’s probably the day I will learn to do this properly. But on this day, the mud patches are not that big. Beastie and I go down once, but with the unspeakable luxury of having mates to help me to pick her up again. Thanks bro!
Later, we stop for icecream at little homestay in the paddy fields, and Arry offers to swap bikes. Does he really want to ride my bike, heavily loaded as she is? Or is he just being gallant? I don’t know, but I’m keen as mustard to go nuts on his little KLX, so we swap over.
What a change! At first I feel weird, the bike seems tiny and cramped, like my knees are up around my ears. But she’s perky and light and the knobbies grip like nobody’s business; after a few moments of hesitation, I realise that mudholes are no longer a risk but really just an opportunity to see how a big a bow wave you can create.
I’m disappointed when we eventually reach the bitumen again; I have a spray of mud that goes right over the crown of my helmet and a little on my face too.
We do a few kilometres on the bitumen, and I see Arry looking a bit excited on Beastie as she swoops through the corners; she’s coming into her own here.
We stop for a rest and another victorious photograph. Arry tells me that Beastie both excites him and scares him on the bitumen – too much horsepower, he doesn’t trust him himself with the temptation! – and we swap back.
What a rush. I feel ten foot tall and bullet proof.
Then, there, on that smooth bitumen, it all unravels.