There are few pleasures that can compare with getting on a bike and riding off alone into the country. It's something that unites so many sparkling facets into a single shining experience: the rugged beauty of the land; the friendliness of the people you encounter; the excitement of exploration; the visceral satisfaction of sweeping your bike cleanly through a turn as though it were stuck on rails and could not be anywhere in the world other than where it is - the sense that you're meant to be right here and now.
By one reckoning, my trip began when I came back to Rockhampton to collect my bike from Sarah's shed, where its battery had slowly flattened and carbeuretors had slowly flooded. Even with a new battery it wouldn't start, and I exhausted myself trying to push-start it on the dirt roads around Sarah's property: wet with recent rain, there wan't enough traction; the rear wheel would simply lock and slide. Eventually I had to push it to the nearest sealed road, where a combination of starter motor and pushing finally got it running!
The ride from Rockhampton to Bundaberg that evening was the coldest, most miserable, and most dangerous I'd done. Darkness came early, brought on by a storm that drenched and buffeted me for the whole 4 hours. I dearly wanted to speed to get to Bundy as soon as possible; I forced myself to slow down lest I kill myself: poor traction, shivering with cold and wet, blinded by oncoming headlights. Oddly, though most of me was utterly miserable, there was a small part of my mind that said: hey, in a way this is exciting! It's an experience worth having, for experience's sake, and afterwards you'll be glad of it. I took refuge in that corner of my mind, and I made it, and eventually I and everything in my backpack dried out in front of a heater in the family home in Bundaberg. It rained without break for three days afterwards.
Weeks later, I started out again, this time for Sydney: a trip of over 1300km. It was raining when I left Bundaberg, and I feared the worst, but as soon as I got out of town the skies opened up and I had the best possible riding weather for the entire journey. I left after lunch, and planned to take the inland route to Sydney: through Toowoomba, Armidale, and Tamworth. From previous trips driving a car I knew the roads were well maintained and sparsely occupied, gently sweeping turns with a few diversions along the way.
The first night I got as far as Nanango - not very far, but by the time I got there it was dark and cold and I didn't want to risk any riding any further and So You Think You Can Dance was about to start. These factors all weighed roughly equally on my mind. (Kerrington was voted off, I couldn't believe it!)
The second night I stopped in Armidale, a small university and cathedral town on the New England Northern Tablelands, around 1000m above sea level, and it was freezing - literally, temperature dropped below 0 that night. I was intending to visit Annette, a family friend, but she was away. She introduced me instead, over the phone, to her mother Thelma who I stayed with at her beautiful farmhouse in the hills overlooking the town. Thelma is an amazing woman, deeply rooted in Armidale and a member of the Order of Australia for her community work. But arguably, the thing I appreciated most that night was the electric blanket!
Thelma suggested I take an alternative route through the Hunter Valley to the coast, for which I thank her dearly: Thunderbolts Way, between Walcha and Gloucester, is the best ride I've ever done. The road swept through rolling hills, soft with wind-ruffled grass, clung to rocky switchbacks replete with just enough potholes to keep you on your toes, and dived into dark and ancient forests. Gloucester, at a crossroads, seems to be a popular resting place for bikers and I met a friendly couple who were coincidentally from Rockhampton and Newtown! They told me that early that morning there had been snow around Armidale. I was glad I had slept in.
From Gloucester it was an easy, pleasant ride along Bucketts Way through the national parks to the Pacific Highway, and along the Pacific Highway it was an easy, boring ride through three-lane traffic to Sydney.
Now I, and all of my belongings - including my hideous sofa suite! - are in Sydney. I'd intended to have them sent down a long time ago, when I first got my apartment here, but I never had the time to go up to Bundaberg to organise it. Well, at least on this last stay in Bundaberg I had that time, so I sent everything ahead by truck before I rode down. So, coincidentally but, in a way, appropriately after Mum's passing, the journey back to Sydney felt like a transition from one stage of my life to the next, leaving nothing behind and everything ahead. When I finally got back to my apartment in Newtown, it finally felt like coming home.