Published on March 3rd, 2013 | by Al
BURN, RANGA, BURN
“In”, I said, when Boris told me about his desert trip, which he had presciently named “Burn, Ranga, Burn”.
“Good”, said Boris. “22 February. We leave at 4:30.”
“YOU leave at 4:30”, I replied. “I leave at eight.”
And I did.
I did the M2, and the Bells Line of Road. It was damp. I traverse the Great Dividing Range over the Bells Line of Road two or three times a month, and I was not as fast as I usually am.
I took the Great Western Highway from Lithgow to Bathurst. First time in ages. Usually I take the infinitely more interesting Tarana road. It’s rough and dangerous, but fun. Bly had to get filled up with morphine and choppered out once. He would have liked that. But, to save precious minutes, I took the GWH.
I’d left with half a tank. Fuel at Kelso, after maybe 190km. South on the Mid Western Highway. Usually, I take back roads and never see the part just south of Bathurst on the MWH. Spectacular. Lush rolling hills. Grazing country.
The spaces are getting wide and open. It’s only a hundred kays to Cowra, but as I roll through I think of the time the Japanese POWs broke out of the Cowra POW camp in 1944. Where did they think they were going to go? Crazy Japs.
I don’t stop.
It’s getting flat. There are few towns, and few other cars on the road as I head west. My cruising speed is going from Slow Cruise to Fast Cruise. After maybe 270km I stop at West Wyalong for gas.
But not for long. There are a bunch of bikes outside the pub in West Wyalong. I recognise some of them. I stop, greet some friends. Boris tells me we are to meet some guys in a small pink car down the road. They are doing a story for Top Gear magazine. They want to photograph us. He says the model of the car like it should mean something to me. I nod vaguely. I don’t understand cars. I understand pink, though.
Twenty kilometres on, the pink car is there. There are ten or twelve of us. We disappear up a lonely side road, and caper for the photographer. We are supposed to look menacing, he tells us as we ride too close to the car. He rides pillion backwards and takes shots from the front.
Merry highjinks done, I continue alone into Hay, another 270 or so km. I have neglected to book a room, and want to secure one. There are Harley-Davidson 48s in the pack. They will want a fuel stop or two, and will slow me down.
I ask the lady at the motel at Hay how much a room is. She asks me if I have a Seniors Card. Bitch. I say no. She says a hundred and ten. I ask her if it has a lawn I can tell people to get off. It doesn’t.
Unpack, lube chain. The pub is next door.
A beer alone. Soon people start arriving. There are tables out on the sidewalk. We commandeer them. Boris’s crazy Serb mates arrive. Stiv pulls out bread, and cucumbers, and onion, and some Israeli halal chicken sausage in a metal tube. He cuts it up with his Leatherman. He insists we eat. I go to buy some more beer.
There is an old guy looking out the window of the pub at Stiv. “What’s he doing?” he asks me.
“Never mind”, I tell him. “They’re Serbs. They get their wog on about beer o’clock.”
“What’s he eating?”
“Some horrible middle eastern chicken mince sausage thing”, I tell him.
“It looks all right”, he says, and holds the door open for me while I carry the beer out.
I drink much beer. The pub sells steaks, too, so I have one and drink red wine. Then I drink more beer. I am in my cups. I lecture Dino on the importance of the doo-hickey and how he should get it replaced on his KLR. I interrupt him about forty times until he patiently tells me that he has ridden here on a KLE500, not a KLR650. I thought it was a bit uncharacteristic that this big chook chaser was right behind the VFR at a hundred and, oh, never mind.
I meet many people, whom I usually meet on this last weekend in February at Phillip Island. I was getting sick of getting pulled over by VicPol for endless licence checks, and it is better to be here than to be harassed by goons with guns that roar up behind me at 200km/h and make me stop for no reason.
I stagger off to bed about eleven.
I break my fast with Boris and Dino the next morning at the bakery over the road. The bakery sells bacon. I go to the ATM to get some money. It takes a couple of tries to enter the PIN. I am still drunk.
Leigh tells me the word is that the local police intend to breath test everyone this morning.
The photographer only has one joke. He wants us to go around the corner and park our bikes near the gay pink car and look menacing again. We do it. Everyone leaves for Ivanhoe, except me.
I wait until check-out time. Then I walk around Hay for an hour. I calculate that gets me below the 0.05% BAC. I get petrol and head north.
It is flat. It is 220km. There are no random breath tests. It is saltbush and red dirt. Wedge-tailed eagles and letter-winged kites hunt along the side of the road. There are emus. I stop to take their photo, but they run out of range by the time I am stopped, so I just photograph my bike.
Banjo Paterson wrote a poem called “Hay, Hell and Booligal”. The order of the names was significant. I pass through Booligal, and don’t stop.
I pass Leigh and Barney just before Ivanhoe.
I stop at the servo. There are many people there. Some are camping behind it. I fill my tank.
I look at Ivanhoe. Over the road, I make out a pub. I feel like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken, or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes he star’d at the Pacific. I cross the road and enter. “Innkeeper! A tankard of your finest ale!”
Their finest ale is XXXX. I cancel the order and buy some bottled beer.
The barmaid is the publican’s wife. She tells us the word went around a few weeks ago that there were thirty “bikies” coming to town. Then, last night, one of our vanguard, Thommo, told her that actually, there were more like sixty. So the publican has gone to Griffith to buy more beer.
She tells us the population of the town is about a hundred and ten. It’s closer to a hundred and seventy now.
We work on drinking the place dry. I go over to the camp grounds behind the servo. The Serbs have bought their own portable barbecue on one of their bikes, and are full of meat and beer. I chat with them for a while, wave them a merry “Picka ti materina”, and head back to the pub.
A B-double groans past, packed with live goats.
The publican arrives. He is pleased with the situation, and is recommending strange drinks to the spirit drinkers.
There are Feats of Strength.
The RSL opens at 1500. It’s 200 metres down the road. We have dinner booked there. We walk down, and play pool on their tables. The tables have big rips in the baize, some of which are patched with duct tape. There are only two cues with tips intact, and one of the tables is missing a black ball, but there is another ball which one can substitute for the black, which makes playing complicated. The barmaid looks a little overwhelmed.
Around 1700, another barmaid arrives to help out. She is surly, and greets orders for drinks with a rolling of eyes, and pulls beers with a long-suffering look on her face. We have a barbecue dinner, and then leave and go back to the pub. I tell the barmaid at the pub that we probably would have stayed at the RSL through sheer inertia except the surly barmaid has driven us away with her rolling of eyes and bad attitude. She smiles and gets me a beer.
The sun is going down. Some people want to go outside and take photographs. I walk with them. There is posing on motorcycles, and more merry highjinks. Then it is back to the pub.
The publican wants to go pig hunting at midnight. He kicks us out.
I sleep on the couch in the house Daz has booked. In my clothes. That is, I sleep in my clothes, Daz has not booked the place in my clothes. He never wears my clothes as far as I know. I sleep a good sleep. It is an innocent sleep which knits up the ravell’d sleave of care. It is the death of the day’s life, sore labour’s bath, the balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course and the chief nourisher in life’s feast. The beer has helped.
We’re up early. I leave at maybe 0705, five minutes behind the rest. The sun is in my eyes much of the way, and I am wary of wildlife, but I don’t see any. I catch up with them at Booligal.
Hay, Hell and Booligal. Booligal is closed. We are waiting for JD, whom we thought would have to stop and fill up his V-Max. Apparently not. The smokers smoke. We move on a hundred kilometres, to the truck stop at Hay.
They have bacon. And coffee. We eat and drink.
Biffa needs a tyre. Someone has read somewhere that you can wrap duct tape around a tyre and get an extra thousand kilometres out of it. Biffa is holding the rear wheel of his SV1000 off the ground while Boris wraps duct tape around the tyre. A cop wearing a senior sergeant’s three chevrons and crown walks past. “Good luck with that”, he smiles.
Boris asks if he has impounded any bikes lately, and if so if we can borrow a rear tyre. The cop says he will make some phone calls.
It turns out I am the only one who wants to leave. Boris is staying in Cowra, Daz is waiting to see if Biffa needs a hand. I leave.
Flat. 150 steady. West Wyalong, gas.
Grenfell, rain. Heavy rain. The GPS loses signal. I take a wrong turn. It turns out it isn’t that far off course, and it’s a nice fun road through the hills. I pass through Canowindra, and across to Mandurama.
It rains again through those fabulous lush rolling hills coming into Bathurst. Heavy. The cars are going really slowly. I pass many of them, but I hydroplane a bit, and it is unnerving. It dries out as I head for Lithgow. There’s an unmarked Highway Patrol car booking someone on the Great Western Highway. I stop for petrol at Lithgow: last stop.
Scenic hill is dry, and I like uphill turns. It’s a while since I used the side of my tyres. It’s dry up Mount Charles and Mount Tomah as well, and I revel in the lean angle.
It rains on the descent at Bellbird Hill. Some clown in a car wants to race me for the lead where the lanes converge. He has contact patch, but I have acceleration and rat cunning.
It rains hard before Richmond. There is lightning striking near the road. I am concerned that in some places I am the highest thing around and I might get struck. I figure if I stop I will still be the highest thing, and will be stopped with a bunch of rain-blind car drivers moving around me. I keep moving.
The rain stops. An hour after Richmond, I am home. I hang my sleeping bag in the garage, unclip my panniers and head upstairs. Dinner is about to be served. I pour myself a glass of red and sit down at the table.
My jeans are still wet. I’ve ridden 936km since 0700. The wine tastes good. A little pool of water forms under my boots.
I’ll change later.