was one of those confusing days in which, all day, I never really caught up with what was going on. We packed up our bikes and were ready to roll sometime after 08:30. There were some amendments to the route we were taking due to bushfires along the original way. Somewhere we gassed up at a roadhouse and ate a bacon and egg sandwich. I went mad and bought a coffee in a travel mug, having been rather desperately caffeine deprived over the last 24 hours. The travel mug would not sit in my cupholder which was an unforeseen disaster. At least it would sit there, but being top-heavy it inverted itself at the slightest movement. Luckily the lid kept the coffee in. It was too hot to drink before everyone was saddling up again, so I just tucked it upright into the saddlebag and rode on thinking about it.
We reached the liaison point just before the designated time of ten thirty, just in time to see a huge body of riders setting off without waiting for the agreed starting time, or the latecomers. It was at this stage I learned that the destination was no longer Windy Harbour, due to the camp ground refusing to accept over 130 arrivals on bikes. Apparently someone shat in the nest last year by doing burnouts in the wrong place. There is a fekwit in every crowd. So it proved on this trip too.
I refuelled and finished my coffee, which was still warm. We set off, a smaller pack pursuing a larger one. Soon we turned off the main road and headed Southeast. Once onto the Vasse Highway through the forests the ride just got better and better. The pleasant smell of the bush, the sunshine and the quality of the road surface made biking the only possible thing to be doing at that moment.
At Nannup we stopped for a break and most of the riders headed for the Nannup Hotel. Others wandered off for a late breakfast. I bought an electrolyte drink at the corner deli and sat in the shade of a tree to drink it. Then, to pass the time I retrieved the two Eric-the-Chickens from my pack and began photographing them sitting on all the bikes lined up on the roadside. About three quarters of the way along the line, for no particular reason I stepped out and bypassed a blue Harley, placing the toy birds on the next bike in line. There was an immediate banging on the pub window. I thought someone was objecting to me interfering with his bike, even in this small way, so I picked up the stuffed birds and turned just as someone appeared at the pub door. “You missed the blue bike! Put them on the blue bike!” I dutifully did so and took a photo. He retired to his beer.
One interesting thing I noted was a line painted on a tree growing near the end of the line of bikes. It said “Level of flood 1980” you can see it in the Google Earth picture below, and in some of my photos. We were a long way above the river. i would guess at least 20 metres.
After the rest we rode on in our own small groups, intermingling as we went with others who rode either faster or slower than we did, then separating again. Riders were strung out over a few kilometres or more so there was no claustrophobic feeling of riding in a bunch. Now and then someone who liked to ride fast zoomed past and sometimes I passed someone on an old Triumph or Harley who obviously preferred a slower pace. I cannot deny that I had to ride a little faster now and then in order to keep my companions in sight. Eventually I gave up trying because although my bike can do over 180 KPH, I don’t particularly want to ride fast. I outgrew the speed kick addiction long ago. In any case there were plenty of others to follow if I lost my companions.
I thought it ironic though that as we rode the straight past a sign saying Tunnup Mine, many of us were doing it.
At one point, as we emerged from forest to field on a wide right hand curve, I saw ahead a cloud of dust go up and a chorus of flashing brake lights lit up immediately along the road before me. Naturally I hit my own brakes and cruised up to what at first appeared to be a disastrous scene. Something that may or may not once have been a bike was in a pile on the roadside. Beside it was standing the most strangely dressed chap I have seen for a while, in lycra tights of silly harlequin colours.
Gradually the wreckage resolved into a bicycle of the sort one lays down on, and a silver bicycle trailer piled onto it. A hundred metres or so up the road on the verge was a large Harley, still upright, with a skid mark trailing behind it in the gravel and a pall of red dust still hanging over it.
It appears that the push-bike threw a chain. The cyclist was fixing it on the roadside (rather than on the shoulder ) right on the corner. The Harley came round the corner at speed, clipped the trailer and ended up on the shoulder gravel, skidding towards the fence, which he managed to stop just short of without going down. An amazing feat. Especially considering he admitted he was going over 140 at the time. No one was harmed, nothing was broken. Both riders patted each other on the shoulder, and expressed great pleasure that no one had been hurt and no damage done.
One or two people sobered up their riding after that.
Near Pemberton, which I had at one stage been informed was the next stopping point, I was confused as some riders turned left to go into Pemberton town, and some went right towards Northcliffe. I had lost sight of my companions by then, and had no idea which way they had turned. Since Pemberton was only 2 km away I went to check it out. None of my group were there. A few riders were refuelling and a few others were in a cafe.
I turned around and rode back to the Northcliffe turnoff and onto the road I hoped my friends had taken. More lovely forest road. At Northcliffe I found my mates – at the pub of course. I ordered a steak sandwich and a pint of lemon lime and bitters and joined them.
Not once on these rides so far has anyone cast any aspersions on my choice of ride, or beverage. In this at least the Aussies are more couth than Kiwis.
Not entirely though. there is always a fekwit or two to muck things up. In this case there were a couple of young riders who, fuelled by a beer or three, decided to do burnouts up the main road. It was not long before the police arrived in response to a resident’s complaint. What could they do with over a hundred bikers but move them on? They only had to threaten to bring out the breathalysers for anyone who remained, and there was a mass exodus from the pub. Most bikers believe they can hold a lot more than the law believes they can. But the breathalysers and blood tests are final. To nearly everyone’s credit, the resentment was directed at the hoons rather than the police who were after all only doing a difficult job.
We all headed for the Northcliffe golf course which was our new destination and venue for the evening. The club house had limited facilities, probably not suitable for nearly a hundred and fifty people (132 bikes arrived) but nice nonetheless. Many groups had support vehicles which carried the swags and tents of those who did not want to carry them on a bike, as well as eskis of ice and beer. As everyone had been chucked out of the pub sooner than they had intended, the support vehicles were loaded with extra booze and splits from the bottle store. I am told that the publican was most upset at the untimely despatching of a hundred or so paying customers. Hoons spoil it for everyone.
Sand! The feckin track into the club was soft sand. I did not lose it, but quite a few did.
We circled our wagons and set up our swags. Out came the booze, and the drinking and bullshitting began in earnest. I was still unpacking when a couple of riders came up to me and said “Hi.”
“What were you putting on our bikes at Nannup?”
I produced the two toy chickens, Big Eric and Eric Junior. “Meet Eric the Chicken” I said. “And his stunt double Eric the Chicken Junior. They have travelled the world with me and feature in my photographs now and then.”
Astonishment gave way to grins.
“Stunt double. You are a mad c**t”. they said approvingly.
The rest of the evening was given over to booze, tall stories and reminiscences. Now I was not riding I had a drink or two and of course bought the inescapable raffle tickets.
There was a series of raffle prizes, from eskis to clothing, camping gear, vouchers and bottles of whiskey right down to stubby holders (Little cylinders of wetsuit material used to insulate bottles and cans so the drink stays cold until the last drop – a very Australian invention). Tickets were drawn and the winner came up and took the prize of his choice. One of my tickets was called about third or fourth up, so I had a reasonable choice. I took the folding camp chair which I could carry with the swag on the bike. I had to hang on tight to it as it was highly coveted. I fought off a few good-natured demands, swap offers and threats.
I sat on it for a while looking at the stars and finishing off a Jack Daniels and cola before retiring for a pretty good night’s sleep.
To be continued