The following week Andy and I were back in town. I got the bike out of Roy’s shed and wheeled her back to the bike shop.
It still doesn’t start properly, I said. Now it also cuts out when I’m riding it, and there’s a loud scratchy noise when the starter motor is engaged, which wasn’t there before.
Don’t worry about the starting problem, they said. If you take your finger off the ignition button and hit it again, it’ll start. With the rocker arm fixed, it starts properly about 8 of 10 times.
Well, okay, I said, but something’s still not right. I’m going to be relying on this bike to get me half way around the world. A work-around is all very well, but what if there’s a bigger underlying problem? What if something is damaged or deteriorating and going to cause serius damage to my engine?
They said they’d looked and everything seemed alright: timing, decompression, electricals. They said the next thing to do was replace my starter motor.
Oh, so my starter motor is no good? I said.
Well, not exactly, they said. It tests fine, but the brushes are a bit worn. You can’t replace just replace the brushes, so you’ll have to replace the whole starter motor.
A new starter motor is about $550.
Hm. How worn is ‘a bit worn’? How imminent is failure? I wasn’t able to get a firm answer. Either way, I really can’t afford to be replacing a working starter motor when there is no solid indication that there’s a problem with it. I will replace it when it fails. Instead, I went and unkinked the spotlight wires where they were fastened down on my battery; whoever had tightened the battery terminals had let the spotlight connections twist with the screws, leaving the wires kinked and primed to break from vibration.
Okay, I said, so why did my bike cut out twice when I tried to ride it around the parking lot? (Thank you, but no, I didn’t stall it.)
Might have been air in the fuel line, they said.
On an injected bike? After it had been running for several minutes? Okay.
But what about this new scratchy noise when I start the bike, I asked. That is definitely not normal and it definitely wasn’t there before the bike went into your workshop.
Oh, that’ll be your starter clutch, they said. You need a new one. It might last a few more thousand kilometres, but that sound means that it’s on its way out.
New starter clutch eh? That would be another $650, shipped from Austria, and I’d have to head for the coast to find a workshop with the right kind of flywheel puller. I felt mildly ill. I also felt rather surprised that my starter clutch would suddenly become toast while the bike was sitting in a workshop.
Finally, I asked about the bill. $800 seemed a bit steep to replace rocker arms that I’d supplied, put in a new battery, have a look at the starter motor, timing and decomp… and not fix my bike.
But apparently I was being unreasonable. Apparently even $30 in overnight freight charges for shims is reasonable, even though the job took weeks. Apparently the new loud scratchy noise and the fact that the bike now spontaneously cuts out are either not real problems, or not their problem.
On my insistence, they took bike back, checked the earths, rode it around Longreach for a bit. A week later they reported that the bike was fine.
I was $800 poorer, and I didn’t have enough confidence in the bike to ride it out of town.
* * *
Andy got on a plane to the coast – another of many pilgrimages to spend time with his partner Mary as she battled through cancer treatment thousands of kilometres from home. I drove back to Navarra on my own with a few weeks’ worth of groceries, half a ton of cement and a thousand kangaroos throwing themselves at the bull bar as twilight set in.
My fishing hat had long since disintegrated so Andy had left his battered work hat with me, said I could wear it until he got back. I liked to think it gave mysterious outback superpowers.
As I worked with Shawn on the sheep yards, he would jokingly refer the executive decisions to me. ‘Well, she’s got the hat!’ he’d say.
We built yards and took care of sheep. I went about in the local community, wondering to myself if there might be a place for me there, or somewhere like it, under that big quiet outback sky. I worried about my motorbike, about my dream and my finances, and stopped answering emails and messages. The advice I couldn’t implement and the sympathy for the loss of a dream that wasn’t over yet was more than I could bear. Still, I was sprung one day by an eagle-eyed friend who saw me in a photograph in the rural newspaper, attending celebrations for the centenary of Yaraka’s now-closed railway line. Yes, there I was in my motorbike boots, without my motorbike.
I joked to Andy that he might come home and find his trusty old mustering bike gone – an unkillable old CRF230. Don’t worry I said, I’ll send you a picture of her in front of the Eiffel Tower.
But we made a better plan instead. In a few weeks, Andy’s next trip to see Mary would be by road. We would put Beastie on the back of the ute, do some solar pump jobs on the way, and haul her all the way back to Brisbane. Back to friends. Back to the excellent Sam Richards of Queensland Motorcycle Doctors, whom I trust with motorbike’s life. Back to my man Shane, whom I trust with mine.
Beastie and I – we were both a little frayed around the edges. We needed all the help we could get.