“Why are you putting that on?” my wife asked. “Has Toby Price injured himself?”
“Gee, that’s funny,” I said, “Do you have a stage show I can buy tickets for?”
“You’re my endless stage show,” she smiled. “Where are you going and what are you doing?”
“I am going for a ride with Jason. He wants to show me some roads where he apparently made sweet love to hot bitches in his youth.”
“Hopefully that’s not going to be a bunch of inner-city laneways where the homeless sleep on piss-stained mattresses.”
“I’m sure his youth was different to mine.”
“So where are you going so I know what to tell the Rescue people?”
“I wrote a bunch of names down, which don’t mean anything to me, but you might pass it them on to the chopper pilot, and tell him to keep an eye out for my helmet. He should be able to see it from space.”
Lynette first looked at the paper I handed her, then read it out. “Meet at Dungog. Beer. Ride to Salisbury. Then Barrington Tops National Park. Find Allyn River. Follow Jason and river until Ladies Well. Rest. Check availability of gak and weed. Then Eccleston, Halton, Allynbrook. Gresford. Beer. Home. This means nothing to me.”
“Means nothing to me either. I know Gresford and Dungog. The rest is a mystery.”
“This is dirt?”
“Yes, but not the kind of dirt I will likely die on.”
“How do you know if you haven’t been there?”
“I told Jason not to take me down single-track hard enduro bullshit because I am old, the Africa Twin is an automatic, and when he puts his head down on my chest to see if my heart is still beating, I will bite his face off with my last dying breath.”
“When do I call the Rescue chopper?”
“Make the call at sundown if I have not returned. Raise my son with honour, make sure the dog gets his pineapple so he doesn’t eat his shit, and head straight for the nunnery because I have ruined you for all other men.”
“I stopped listening after I heard the word ‘sundown’.”
And hour later, I found Jason waiting for me at the Dungog pub.
“I need this,” he said to me. “I just can’t Monday today.”
“Brother, I have not been able to Monday since 1998. I even moved out of Sydney because of my inability to put up with that whole workday week paradigm. So where we going?”
Jason pointed vaguely at the distant hills. “Up there. Haven’t ridden it for decades, but it’s not a bad loop.”
And off we went.
The run to Salisbury was all bitumen. But crap bitumen. The roads in that part of the world are all terribly in need of repair. And some repair is going on. We found ourselves stuck behind tip-trucks at 30km/h for short periods, then wound it back up to a sensible 120-130.
The Africa Twin was very much in its element here. Beaut, plush, long-travel suspension, a great comfy seat and corresponding ergos, and a 1100cc engine which delivered its bang in a most civilised and satisfyingly Honda manner.
We all kinda make fun of Honda now and then. But it knows more about motorcycle-building than is really fair to the rest. It builds brilliantly competent, high-quality bikes, and is a byword for reliability and longevity.
On that note, if you were going into dark jungles and wild mountains, far from civilisation, I’ll bet good money you’d pick something quintessentially Japanese, like a Honda, to do it on. The reputation the marque has is totally deserved.
I’ll go into more detail about the Africa Twin and its automatic gearbox and how that works in the real world when I do the review – but just briefly, it works very well.
You do find yourself reaching for the clutch, now and again, especially when you’re slowing down or things start to look a bit loose or steep. But that gearbox is amazingly intuitive. I think it’s better suited for a bike like the Goldwing, but it does work on the Africa. Don’t like the gear it picks? Thumb the minus button (or the plus button) on the left-hand switch block. Pick a gear you’d rather be in. Gas on.
When the bitumen ends, sit it in Gravel or Dirt mode and just ride. Relax. It’s got this. If you’re not a hard-core dirt beast, you’ll love it. I did. I’d still buy the manual version, but ask me that question a few years’ time when I’m older, and I will certainly have a different view.
The road went to dirt after Salisbury – which is not a town, so much as it is some random buildings set in pretty rolling hills. We were now in the bottom reaches of the vast Barrington Tops National Park.
The road was fine – a decent, well-graded, and maintained fire-trail that went up and down, and could be negotiated by a road-bike without a drama. It can be negotiated much faster on a bike like the Africa Twin, but it needs a braver and better rider than me. Still, I was enjoying myself greatly.
The air was clean, my skill-set wasn’t being challenged, I was with a competent mate, who could ride well and whom I trusted, and it was Monday.
We had the place to ourselves. I know it gets very busy up here on the weekends – Ladies Well is a very popular local swimming and camping area – and the chances of you ploughing into the front of an oncoming and very pimped Ford Ranger are rather high. Keep that in mind when you’re negotiating those blind bends.
We stopped a few times to absorb the tranquillity, listen to the birds, and breathe clean air. Monday is never farther away as when you’ve stopped on the side of some bush-track, turned off the bike, taken off your helmet and simply breathed deeply of…well, Not Monday Here, I guess.
We were at Ladies Well maybe half-an-hour after hitting the dirt. It was just us, and a young couple in one of those all-purpose ancient vans you see backpackers in all the time.
The bloke had been swimming, and they were packing up to leave. The girl was actually removing dream-catchers from where she’d hung them, and folding various furry blankets away.
Jason and I exchanged looks. The smell of recent wild and musky bush-boonting was thick in the air.
“Is this where you made the beast with two backs in your youth?” I asked Jason.
He nodded. And sighed.
“I too engaged in filthy scrub-love when I was young,” I sighed in sympathy for times long gone. “Now I have to take them to places with ‘Hyatt’ embossed on the walls.”
We walked down to look at the waterfalls and swimming holes of Ladies Well, where the crystal clean waters of the Allyn River come racing down from the Barrington Tops.
It’s pretty special when there’s no-one there, and the water looks as pure and clean as the tears of a teenage nun. But neither Jason or I were about to nude-up and go swimming. It wasn’t that warm, and no-one needs to come across two old tattooed bison splashing awkwardly in the nation’s rock-pools. Maybe another time.
We remounted and belted off towards Gresford and cold beer.
The road stayed dirt, but it was no longer going steeply up and down and giving you the odd switchback to deal with. The Honda stretched its rather long legs out a little here and I found I had not forgotten to ride standing up.
I stopped to photograph a cow power-hosing its bovine urine into the not-any-longer pristine waters of the Allyn River. There are dairy farms downstream of Ladies Well. I wouldn’t go swimming there.
You ever seen a cow emptying its vast bladder into a river? It’s a confronting sight. If you were to get a firehouse and half-block the end of it up with shit, then only turn the water half on, you’d get this crazy spray of hot urine coming out of a beast that’s all hunched up like a rooting dog without a fellow dog to root.
Ya just gotta love our salty native livestock, don’t you?
“That is hard to fap to,” I muttered to myself as Jason waited at the other end of the causeway, no doubt wondering why I was photographing cattle pissing into a river.
I remounted and we wended out dusty way to Gresford. It’s a totally pretty ride. The country is very green at the moment, and you will cross and re-cross the Allyn River many times. It is no longer the pristine, rushing joy it was in the national park, but hey, we gotta drink milk, right?
And we have to drink beer.
Jason and I ordered two cold ones at the pub in Gresford, sipped and smiled, and counted ourselves wise and clever in having spent such a wonderful Monday so wonderfully. The whole loop took maybe two hours with stops, so it’s nothing onerous, and a great half-day run.
We do indeed all have to work to feed ourselves and our families. It is the way of the world. We are men and we do not resile from that duty. But every now and then, when we are confronted with a Monday, we have to thumb our nose at what is expected of us, and do what we must for ourselves instead.
It’s not selfish. It’s a mental health thing. It ensures we’re able to face all the future Mondays that await – and face them boldly and with a glad heart.
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