Published on February 11th, 2014 | by Boris
DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF VARIOUS TOWNS – 2014 KCC POKER RUN
‘Cause tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town
In the darkness on the edge of town
The cause was just, the hour was early.
So they came from the darkness at the edge of town, loaded for bear and looking for glory – and a decent hand of cards.
Me? Well, I was astride the personification of Darkness itself. The matte-black Victory bagger could not have been any blacker if it had been carved from the soul of Satan himself.
And yes, I too was after a decent poker hand and slice of glory upon what could arguably be called “The best motorcycle roads in Australia”.
A sand-eyed collection of worthies were ready to roll from the Pheasant’s Nest servo at 6am, endure the transport stage to Gundagai, then immerse themselves in the Snowy Mountains Highway, and that cruel nastiness that runs from Kiandra through Cabramurra and down into Corryong over the roof of Australia.
It was high summer, but it was a bastard eight degrees as we headed off down the Hume. I was not alone in muttering pagan prayers to the sun and willing it to get its fiery arse over that horizon so that we could stop freezing to death.
I stopped just outside of Goulburn, and we all stamped some life back into our frozen extremities.
The Victory emanated night like a pit of vampires and seemed immune to the morning rays of the sun.
Was it the best bike for a run like this?
At the moment, the answer was “Hell, yes!”
A superb cruiser and tourer, made even more wonderful by being matte black and sporting ape-hangers and hard luggage.
As one worthy observed that morning: “There are two types of people in the world. Those who tease bastards with hard luggage, and those with hard luggage.”
I was once one of the former. I was young, haughty and full of self-righteousness for its own sake. I could (and still can) strap anything to any bike and still be sure it would all be there when I got to where I was going. Different bikes provided different challenges, but I surmounted them all.
As I age, I find that such challenges only complicate my life, and while I will still rise to them with the fierceness of a sea-dragon accosting a sailing ship, I really don’t mind not having these tests of manhood thrust upon me.
With the Victory bagger, one opens the cavernous right-hand pannier, puts half of one’s crap in it, locks it, then repeats the process with the left-hand pannier.
Job done. Ready to roll.
Yes, sure, no worries. I will wait for you to secure your ocky-strapped shit to you rear seat, and then I will wait for you to find whatever it is you need to find inside that bundle of crap at the next stop. And I will literally hum with schadenfreude as I watch you do this, sitting regally thanks to the apehangers, a little in front of my magnificent hard luggage – all of which is safe, secure, easily accessible, and unlikely to disengage itself from my bike and murder the bloke behind me by hitting him in the face at speed.
Slightly warmed by the rising sun, we sailed on. In a few hours we would have eagerly slaughtered each other for a taste of that bracing coolness, but as we paused for breakfast in Gunning, the temperature was quite pleasant.
We had passed one roadside speed camera, but it was facing forward and all it would have got from me was darkness moving at a respectable velocity.
Sleep (yeah, go figure) threatened to overcome us all in the last 50kms to Gundagai. The Highway patrol was out, so we kept it to a dull roar, chucked a left at the Shell servo and hit it hard on the way to Tumut.
After the Hume, the Gocup Road (which becomes the Snowy mountains Highway at Tumut) is a joy. It’s good and fun and beaut right from Gundagai’s town limits.
Gonzo, Mick and Atep (who had ridden from WA and was clearly in orgiastic glee at discovering corners) immediately started questing in the 200-plus region, and I discovered that the Victory was not much interested in speeds over 160km/h.
I reconciled myself to this fact, but found that I was still able to amuse myself in corners thanks to a level of ground clearance that, relatively speaking, is quite astonishing. Yes, you can grind the shit out of it, but you don’t really need to. So I didn’t.
I led the pack on a brief tour of Tumut, since I screwed up the turn-off, then we doubled-back to the servo, fuelled up and started to wonder just how hot it was going to get. It was already nudging into the high 20s and it was still morning.
The Snowy Mountains Highway proved to be free of revenue-raisers and we each indulged our speed freak to greater or lesser degrees. I managed to creep up onto the back of Lee’s KTM Superduke, and was intent on shaming him into the rock wall by passing him in the corners that came up on us, but he must have seen me and applied himself to the throttle with a little more verve. When I later asked him why he was riding like a man who collects bow ties, he told me that he needs his licence for work and matrimonial harmony and thus spends his entire riding day chanting “139, 139, 139…” that being the velocity number that will not send his licence squealing into the void.
We regrouped at Kiandra and sailed with great concentration over the Snowy Mountains and into a searing cauldron of heat that is the Murray Valley.
It was a pleasant 25 atop the Snowies. It was somewhere the other side of 38 when we stopped for lunch at the Corryong pub.
There I experienced something new and something old – both of which left a strange and unpleasant taste in my mouth.
The first of these taste-sensations was beetroot on a lamb souvlaki. Now I happen to like beetroot. I expect it on my hamburger. It is un-Australian for it not to be there. But I neither expect it nor appreciate it in my lamb souvlaki.
The second unpleasant tang was, once again and since time immemorial, the advice of the bartender about cops.
In all the years I have stopped at Corryong pub, one of the bar staff makes it his or her business to bathe me in lies about the police apocalypse that, according to some secret intelligence they possess, awaits me and my friends on the edge of town. A type of darkness that causes us to ride in fear of jail, dog-bites and Taser-death.
And such was the advice yet again.
“Just so you know,” he began, as if he was imparting ancient and unique wisdom. “There’s a fixed speed camera just out of town and another one just as you’re coming into Tallangatta.”
There was, of course, no such thing in either place.
Just like there is never a booze bus, drug bus, speed trap or herd of nightstick-wielding officers ready to truncheon my kidneys into my stomach like he tells me there are three times a year when I go to the island.
One day, his lies will have reached critical mass. And I will ride back from up the road, drag him out from behind the bar, tie him to the back of my bike and show him that lying is bad.
When we arrived in Tallangatta, it was very hot.
The Victoria Hotel’s air-con was struggling and the Murray Valley was doing what all valleys do very well – trap the heat, keep it there and make you wish you were elsewhere.
Still, I was luckier than the superheated swine who were sleeping in the non-air-conditioned rooms at the pub – a fate I just escaped when Sid bailed out of the ride and put her motel room up for grabs.
The Tallangatta Motor Inn, ably run by Ward Peffer (who rides a Hayabusa in ways that are beyond impressive and demonstrated that local knowledge is everything), welcomed me with open arms and a wonderful air-conditioned room.
After a bracing cold shower, I made my way to the Victoria Hotel and commenced to medicate myself with the juice of fermented apples. Had you asked me in 1986, the year I swore off drinking apple cider for the term of my natural life, if I would ever break that vow, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here I was again, glugging the sugary-sweet horror like it was water, and holding it to be a most refreshing drink. I strayed a few times into scotch, vodka and beer territory, but found that a schooner full of ice and apple cider was more efficacious than the alternatives in that heat.
And it stayed hot well into the evening, as more and more people rolled up.
Kris arrived on his astounding VMAX, limping, and swearing in one of the languages he and I both understand.
Bluey, who was speeding, managed to hurl a rock the size of a man’s fist into Kris’s ankle as they both sought to accelerate their shit out of the earth’s gravitational pull. The rear tyre of Bluey’s RC8 spun the rock into Kris’s ankle at a combined speed of about 250km/h.
“He should have dodged,” Bluey shrugged, which was a fair and equitable position to take on the matter.
More people arrived – all hot, all sweaty – all grinning and good-natured, and the inaugural BIKE ME! KCC Poker Run began to take shape and form.
That evening, as the temperature remained in the mid-thirties, and I was working my way through the second apple orchard, Al appeared out of the darkness.
“Bly has run out of petrol about 60kms out of town,” he said to the crowd, then went inside and bought me a drink.
“How could you let that happen?” I asked him as we sipped our beverages.
“How is it that I am to blame for this?” he replied.
“Look, you know about Bly’s dietary predilections, don’t you?”
“You are also aware that he rides a Ducati Streetfighter which gets about 50kms to each tank?”
Al nodded again.
“And you ride a VFR, which gets about 34000km to each tank, right?”
“This is all true,” Al agreed.
“So you must understand,” I continued, “that Bly never knows where he is going, doesn’t much care, and as a result, is much happier and more well-balanced than, say me, for example. It is thus incumbent upon you, as the bloke in front, to ensure that Bly has access to petrol every 50 or so kilometres. It’s in the rules.”
Al pondered this for a few seconds.
“Good thing we have our own superhero then, isn’t it?” he finally said, nodding at the street.
Bluey, who was out in that street, is indeed our own superhero. He had organised a car, petrol and, as we spoke, was eagerly departing to provide succour to Bly, who was stranded in the darkness at the edge of town and doubtlessly battling for his very life against all sorts of nocturnal evil that besets Ducati riders without petrol in the Murray Valley.
They were both back an hour later and people made fun of Bly, which was cruel and heartless, but probably warranted.
I returned to my cold motel room, tried to bat off to the opening ceremony of the Winter Games, but found Channel Ten’s garbage telecast simply too insulting to maintain a decent erection, and passed out.
The next morning everyone’s first card was dealt, and Swifty, the genius who organised everything (and I do mean everything – lunches, pubs, stops, prizes, sponsors, cars, tally sheets, helpers, dealers, bands, unicorns, the lot) was clearly in charge and sallying forth with fierce determination.
The dealer was Biffa, one of our most warlike rangas and a card player of national renown. It was he that gutted the house and the host at the Turn 13 Casino in 2012. He has all the card-skills of Rainman combined with a right-hook that can fell a bullock. Which is why I hesitated in applying a steel chair to him when he dealt me a two of clubs.
“Whatthebatsardbuggerydoyacallthatshit?!” I howled.
“A two of clubs,” Biffa replied. “Move along.”
I sat there beside him and watched him deal out aces and kings and queens and even some nines.
“You are my friend and you dealt me a two of clubs,” I muttered.
Biffa nodded. Both were statements of undeniable fact.
At around nine o’clock, Bluey and his lovely wife left at a great rate of knots for Khancoban where the next card was to be dealt. We followed as best we could. As did the police officer who encountered Bluey thundering along at Warp 10 and turned to pursue him. Unfortunately, the policeman got to the next intersection a long time after Bluey did, and not having any idea which direction Bluey took, pulled over Jonesy instead.
He then pulled over Mike as well.
He advised both of them that the velocity at which they were travelling was counterproductive to the nation’s well-being and let them go. And then went looking for Bluey, whose velocity was something that could only be dealt with by a nine millimetre round to the back of the skull.
Khancoban provided me with a six of hearts to go with my two of clubs, and after a brief remonstration with Bedlam, the dealer, I set off for Tumburrumba in high dudgeon.
Noodles had spent several minutes lying to me about how to get there.
“Take the first right out of town up the Toomah Road to Cabramurra, then turn left and go to Tumburrumba,” he said.
Neale Brumby, my beloved friend and publisher of Heavy Duty magazine, pulled up beside me as I gazed at the road to Cabramurra. It was the same road I ridden down the day before, and it was not called the Toomah Road.
“It’s the next one,” Neale said.
So I followed him, watched him take a giant divot out of the Murray Valley Highway with his Harley, and had one of the best rides of my life.
Neale, and subsequently I, had been watching a pair of wedgetails hovering to our left – which is a cool thing to be doing, but not when you’re smashing along a road at 140. Neale saw the pothole as he hit it, which enabled me to avoid it, he wobbled, recovered and powered on like the pro he is.
We found the Toomah Road, and rode along it followed by Scott astride his glorious-sounding VROD, being one with the universe. The scenery was breathtaking – vastly majestic hills dropping in smooth serrations to deep valleys, vistas of remoter ranges hazed by the heat, the wind warm but not yet hot in our faces and the thunder of V-twins bathing us all.
Others were doubtlessly bathing in the howl of fours and triples and twins as they diced with each other up the other road, though a few did follow us down the Toomah Road to Tumburrumba.
Lunch was waiting for us in town. Swifty had organised a meaty repast and we chugged beer, swallowed meat and I was dealt a Queen by my mate, Biffa.
“The next three cards had better be Queens as well,” I glowered at him through a mouthful of lamb-chop.
He shrugged at me. It was not his concern what my next cards would be. But I was feeling lucky.
I burped, straddled the Victory of Darkness that was happily absorbing all of the sun’s hateful rays into its paintwork and made for the next stop, Jingellic.
Now I have ridden through Jingellic a few times, but I have never stopped. But from now on I will stop and drink at its wonderful pub on the banks of the Murray.
It was now seriously hot, and we took our ease in the ample shade out the back. A few decided to go for a swim. I decided to spin Res around on his stool, after having been dealt another Queen by the amazing Rachel. Then I had to hug him because it was all too frightening for us both. Later, we watched a cute girl take off her top down in the camping area, where a few four-wheel drives and their passengers waited patiently for us to leave.
So with my pair of Queens, and hope in my heart that there would be a third one, I proceeded along The Road That Leads to Granya Gap.
Clearly, the heat had driven everyone mad. High-powered sports motorcycles were passing me at speeds that took my breath away. I had the Victory maxxed out, throttle to the stop, and they went past me like I was standing still. With my dick in my hand.
There’s clearly something about hot weather, hotter bitumen and what it does to tyres whose life is measured in hours rather than kilometres.
Thus far, the ride had been incident free.
But Swifty, who is also a seer as well as a great organiser, predicted that the Granya Gap would be the place of undoing for those who got too emotional.
And so it came to pass. I had resolved not to grind anymore off the Victory than I could cheerfully explain to the importer, and was somewhere mid-pack when I came across Swifty waving his arms at me from the side of sharp, uphill right-hander.
“Two,” he mouthed at me.
I rounded the corner, saw a four-wheel-drive police vehicle and Mike’s Multistrada in a deep drain on the left-hand side of the road. It was upright, and Mike was trying to ride it out of the depression with the help of a few people. Opposite him was the police car and the policeman, and behind them was Don’s big nude Yamaha, and Don sitting on the ground nursing a bloody left knee.
I stopped, got my camera out, photographed what needed photographing, and said hello to the policeman.
I always say hello to policemen attending a motorcycle accident. It calms them and lets them imagine I am benign.
We stood side by side listening to the others coming at full noise up the hill, then backing off the second they saw the police car.
“I think I’m a bit of a distraction,” the police officer smiled.
“I think that’s a fair statement,” I agreed.
“That bloke’s not going as hard,” he said, as we heard a triple make its slow way up the incline.
“He is not with us,” I said.
PJ was with us, but I did not want the police officer to think poorly of our efforts as a group on the Granya Gap.
We didn’t have much more to talk about, there was an ambulance on the way and I felt that everyone except maybe Don would be more comfortable back at the Victoria Hotel in Tallangatta, drinking heavily, so I left.
I hold the Granya Gap to be one of motorcycling’s greatest experiences. It’s only about 16km long, but every one of those kays is spectacular. The surface is great, the corners are cornery, and the chance of death or maiming is ever-present. It is as great a road as I have ever ridden, and the Victory acquitted itself with grace and style. Had the surrounding bush been full of girls, I would have been showered in damp panties, phone-numbers and offers of hot monkey-sex. That is a given seeing how I skilfully kept myself, my two Queens, and the massive black monster on the bitumen at all times.
Back at Tallangatta, the heat was unrelenting.
I immediately began drinking my way through several more orchards full of apples, acquired a seven, then bought a nine and a Jack to go with my pair of Queens and called it a day as far as the poker was concerned.
Red turned up from Shepparton and proved to be every bit as wonderful a superhero as Bluey was. He offered to drive Don back to Sydney with his busted bike, then drove himself back home to Shepparton – truly a call far beyond any kind of duty. But the BIKEME! website just seems to produce the most amazing human beings, time and again.
Curse is one of these human beings. A writer of rare talent and a rider of consummate skill, he was sweaty and jumpy at the pub that arvo.
“That was feral madness,” he breathed, his normally bright eyes somewhat crazed with endorphin overload. “Everything on my speedo started with a two on that last stretch. When your Gixxer’s front-end is juddering under brakes or trying to smash the air-vents off your helmet under acceleration, and the blokes in front are still getting away, you have to ask yourself why you’re so slow.”
“You did not die,” I observed. “That is a great result.”
We both agreed there was a profound wisdom in that observation and went to drink more crushed apples.
As the sun set, the prizes for the best hand were distributed and the top prize, a $200 gift voucher to Biker’s Gear Australia was won by a King-heavy full house held by Craig.
And it is at this point that I would extend my gratitude to the other sponsors who provided us with some beaut prizes – Heavy Duty magazine, Ozmotorcycle leathers (Gimoto), Andy Strapz, MCA Supermarket, TT Motorcycles, Hamish and Grace Homewares, Jan’s Impression Portraits and Paintings, and Croydon Floor Coverings. Thank you. Your generosity for the cause of kicking cancer in the reproductive organs is hugely appreciated.
Dinner was gourmandic splendour, put on by the Victoria Hotel, who dealt us porterhouse and rump steaks, barramundi and chicken in industrial quantities.
But the highlight of the evening was a two-man band, consisting of Dave and Macca, and called, appropriately, the Dave and Macca Band.
These two middle-aged local blokes literally rocked the shit out of the joint for hours on end, nailed every guitar solo and every vocal on a range of 80s and 90s hits that had the older people singing along and the younger bastards wondering what was wrong with us. Great stuff and the best soundtrack to round off an epic day.
I eschewed the Olympic telecast later that evening and passed out in preparation for a 6am departure. I missed that, by 45 minutes, and as Al and Bly hared off ahead of me, I resigned myself to a hot, solo, and hopefully leisurely cruise up the Hume.
Once again, whatever perceived deficiencies I might have noticed while trying to keep the Heart of Darkness on the rear wheel of a manically ridden GSX-R were absent as the bike was now in its element. Cruise control on 125, arse cossetted by a great seat, luggage stowed securely away in its vast panniers, it and I made our way home – like a parade of Freedom. And Blackness.
I discovered that if I had the cruise control on, I could rest my right hand on the master cylinder and my left hand on the ape-hanger, and thus alleviate some of the Hume Highway ennui. As a mile-munching tourer, the Victory bagger has it very right and very solid. As a machine that can dice with psychopaths on Blades and Busas…erm, not so much. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
I was in my garage by 2pm. Hot, bothered and buzzing with that special end-of-run feeling. Part sadness, part longing, part satisfaction and part anticipation for the next one.
May it be very soon.
1st Prize – Craig
2nd – Irena
3rd – Mick
4th – George (Island Mick returned his prize as he thought it unfair he won and didn’t go, and we drew George’s (who attended) name from a barrel)
5th – Trevor
6th – Julie
7th – Joel
8th – Chris
9th – Rox
Worst Hand Female – Sandy
Worst Hand Male – Lee
Last to Every Stop – Shim
I would extend my gratitude to Victory Motorcycles for providing me the Heart of Darkness. As it turned out, it was quite the most suitable bike for the occasion, and one of the best tourers on the market. It’s got ABS (Thanks to the Road Gods), good suspension, decent brakes, superb ground clearance, was quite happy to be ridden flat out for three long days, and was well-mannered and well-built enough to idle like a Swiss watch when I rode it to work on Monday. Oh, and hard luggage and apehangers. Unbeatable combination, that.