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RIDING WITH GIRLS

A strange and terrible tale...

A long while ago, when magazines were a thing, I pitched a yarn to Sam, the editor of AMCN at the time. I would often pitch yarns to Sam and all the other editors, before and after him. If it got up, then I’d get to do some funky shit on a bike, make a little coin (you don’t ever go into this gig thinking you’re gonna be rich), and hopefully write something that would amuse and inform people.

 

Of course, not every yarn I pitched got the nod. And some of the ones I pitched I regretted very soon after they began. Feel free to do an Iron Butt ride on an R6 sometime and see if you still think it’s a good idea three hours in.

 

Anyway, Ken was always the most enthusiastic. Matho was probably the bravest. Sam had his moments, but most of the time he got with whatever program I had in mind. Shieldsy was also very open to my often bizarre notions. They were all very different editors and men, but what they all had in common was imagination, courage, and a fair idea of what people wanted to read.

 

The whole motorcycle magazine business has pretty much gone down the shitter in recent years – and this is due in no small part to the people who now edit them – and I do use the term “edit” very loosely. None of them actually have any business calling themselves “editors”. Back when that title meant something, these muppets would be making coffee for the actual editor and crying onto their keyboards.

 

What I’m going to tell you about concerns a yarn I pitched to Sam, and which was never written for reasons you will understand when you read it. Don’t get me wrong. I was more than happy, and indeed keen, to write it, but Sam understood that if it was written and the whole story told, there might well have been all sorts of fallout. Not for me, you’ll understand, because I did nothing but pick up the pieces.

 

But for the magazine, his staff, and himself. And fair enough. We both worked for a large company, and when you work for a large company and your magazine is endlessly in danger of being shut down, as was the case with AMCN, there are lines that must be toed.

 

I came across the few pictures I took on that ride, and figured: “What the hell. I’m gonna write this. It’s a good tale. Strange and terrible things happened – and strange and terrible things are the very essence of a good story, are they not?

Like fluffy wool.

“So what do you think?” I asked Sam.

 

“Shortest day of the year, you and three girls ride to Sofala, camp the night, get frostbite and exposure, ride home the next day?”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

“Who you gonna take?”

 

I shrugged. “No idea. My wife cannot ride, and the only other girls I know are strippers. You have girls on staff. One is your Deputy Editor (henceforth known as Deped). The other is your Editorial Co-Ordinator (henceforth known as Edco). But we need another one. What about that girl from Australian Geographic (henceforth known as Ozgo)? She rides. I see her in the carpark waddling around on her bike.”

 

“I’ll ask around and get back to you. What bikes are you taking?”

 

“I think we should all get a bike that speaks to us about our manhood – or womanhood. You know, in keeping with the vibe of the thing. I’ll call Geez and get a VMAX. I don’t give a shit what the girls choose.”

 

“You’re not going to turn this into some misogynistic shit-show, are you?” Sam said, looking a little concerned.

 

“Not at all. But lots of girls are getting on bikes these days. I am curious to see how they roll when the ride is climactically challenging and involves camping rather than hoteling. An Old School run, if you like. Old tattooed bikie embraces new world girl-power type of thing. I promise I will do everything I can to keep them undamaged.”

 

The date I’d chosen was the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year, and likely the coldest. I think it was in late June. Sofala was absolutely bound to be a frigid hell at that time. I knew because I used to go there a lot around Easter and commemorate the Bathurst bike races with a whole bunch of mates. This consisted of us burning fuck-tonnes of firewood to stay alive, while simultaneously drinking ourselves into varying stupors, and doing dumb shit on bikes. I felt it was a worthy commemoration of the races.

 

The plan was to ride from Sydney to Goulburn down the freeway. Turn right at Goulburn and ride to Oberon via the Taralga and Abercrombie Roads, eat lunch, and then head for Sofala via Bathurst. A solid day’s ride. But nothing horrifying at a mere 430-odd klicks.

 

At the appointed time, the girls were there. Deped had chosen a KTM 990. Edco, being all new at this and on her Ls, went with a little 250 Honda cruiser, and for the life of me I cannot remember what Ozgo picked, but let’s say it was some kind of 650. It doesn’t really matter, as you shall see.

 

They could all have been riding fucken unicorns for all I cared. I had a VMAX. And I do love me a VMAX. Like, seriously. I think the Gen Two is one of the greatest bikes ever built, and I pray to the most evil of spirits Yamaha will once again start sending them to Australia.

 

We set off down the Hume Freeway and I rode at the back, wondering whether Edco’s or Ozgo’s luggage would fall off first. Neither girl seemed to have any idea how ocky straps worked, but in this they were no different to many blokes I had ridden with.

 

The ladies all seemed to be in a good mood at the petrol stops, but they were remarking on how cold it was. And it was cold, but they all appeared to be wearing adequate gear from what I could see. I was not interested in insulting them by playing Mum and constantly checking on their well-being. They were all told this was going to be a cold ride with cold camping, and I would no more interfere in their preparations for that than I would on any ride I go on with blokes.

 

My view of motorcycling may well be idiosyncratic. I don’t care. Motorcycling is a bloodsport which tolerates idiots not at all. I love that about it. I don’t mollycoddle anyone, but I don’t abandon anyone either. You are an adult. You are responsible for yourself. I will not chew your food for you, stroke your fur in the right direction, or make goo-goo noises at you if you need some kind of emotional support. Man or woman, I do not give a shit. If you ride like an idiot, and this is the first time we’re riding together, I will tell you to fuck off and we shall never ride together again. Simple stuff.

 

The sky was a steely grey colour as we headed out of Goulburn. I had assisted Ozgo with her luggage issues in the servo, but I would have done that for anyone, male or female. Ocky straps are cursed things and some kung fu is required. I’m a Shaolin monk with ocky straps, so I am happy to share my wisdom with all people.

 

We stopped at the pub in Taralga to warm up some, and for me that involved a sharp whiskey. The girls exchanged looks and had coffees, but I’m not the type of person who will be clucked at by any sex, so no comments were made.

 

It was a strange dynamic. It lacked all the vicious shit-stirring that happens between me and my mates when we go on runs. But there was certainly a sense of being in this together – which is inevitable among a group of riders, not matter how well they know each other.

 

I had actually never ridden anywhere with any of the ladies, and two of them had never ridden very much out of Sydney at all. None of them were doing anything weird on the bikes, and I had ensured the pace was not going to frighten anyone. That was maybe my only concession to them.

 

I ordered another whiskey and the barmaid told me it was going to snow as she poured it.

 

“Where?” I asked.

 

“Here,” she said, putting the glass in front of me. “And other places. Where you off to?”

 

“Sofala,” I said.

 

“Via Oberon?”

 

I nodded.

 

“It’s gonna snow in Oberon.”

 

I went over to the girls.

 

“It’s going to snow in Oberon,” I said to them.

 

“How do you know?” one of them asked.

 

“The barmaid told me.”

 

“What are we going to do?” said another one.

 

“Ride past Oberon to Bathurst and Sofala. Oberon is more than a kilometre above sea-level. It snows there from time to time, but once you get past it, the elevation drops and the snow most probably won’t be around.”

 

“But snow is slippery!” one of them said. They all looked somewhat alarmed that I was even considering going on.

 

“No, it’s not. Ice is slippery. We will be fine. But we should get going and see if we can get past Oberon before it does start snowing.”

 

We set off, transversed the Abercrombie River gorge, and eventually got to Black Springs. It was getting colder, somewhere in the low single digits, and the sky certainly looked to be full of snow, but thus far we had been spared. We’ll be fine, I thought. Oberon was only a bit more than 20km away from where we were.

 

I checked to see we had all arrived and knew to turn right, nodded at the girls, who all nodded back, and off we went, with me leading.

 

Only Ozgo and I arrived at the petrol station in Oberon. Edco and Deped were nowhere to be seen.

 

“When did you last see a headlight in your mirrors?” I asked Ozgo.

 

“I dunno,” she shrugged. “I wasn’t looking in my mirrors.”

 

I waited for ten minutes, thinking maybe some luggage had fallen off, and they would be here any second. There was no sign of them. I had seen them both turn right at Black Springs and follow me and Ozgo. There were no turn-offs between there and Oberon.

 

The girls did tend to string themselves out a bit on the road – which was very unlike the mates I normally rode with, who tend to be not very far apart at all when we’re banging along. Not outlaw close, but close enough.

 

I had said nothing about this to the girls. Not having them bunched up together was not a bad thing in my view. And if they were comfortable having a few hundred metres between them, then I was good with that.

 

“Stay here,” I said. “I’m going back to look for them.”

 

Ozgo looked terrified and very cold. “You’re coming back?”

 

“Absolutely,” I assured her. “Put petrol in your bike, park it over there and go inside the servo. It’s warm in there.”

 

I only had to ride back some 12-odd kilometres before I found them. And a whole bunch of other people, including an ambulance, an unmarked police car, a timber-jinker, and a few cars parked higgledy-piggledy. And just as I pulled up in front of timber truck, it started to snow.

 

It was a strange scene. There was a big lady in a badly-cut pants-suit standing in the middle of the road directing traffic. She had a gun on her hip. The ambos had someone on the gurney and were slowly making their way to the back of the ambulance. One of them was holding a bag of intravenous fluid above the gurney. Deped was wandering in circles in the middle of the road and her KTM was parked off to one side. I could not see the other bike, and I did not know who was on the gurney.

 

I walked over to Deped, who was clearly in shock.

 

“What happened? Where’s Edco?”

 

“She crashed.”

 

“How did she crash? Did a car hit her?”

 

Deped shook her head. “I was riding behind her, then I saw her hands come off the ’bars. Her gloves flew off.  The bike…I don’t know…it sort of lurched and bucked and went off the road into the fence.”

 

I looked at where she was looking, and saw what was left of Edco’s Honda cocooned in fencing wire between some trees off to the side. The bike was completely wrapped in the fence and the impact had torn two of the posts out of the ground. There was bits of bike and bits of Edco’s gear strewn about the place.

 

“Get on your bike and go into town. Ozgo is at the first servo.”

 

“Is Edco OK? How far is Oberon? I don’t know where my helmet is…”

 

“Look at me, “I snapped. “Your helmet is on your bike. Get on your bike and go to Oberon. It’s ten minutes down the road.”

 

It was now seriously snowing. I had not seen it snow like this since finding myself in Thredbo some years before this, and not being able to leave for a few days.

 

I watch Deped sort herself out and ride off, and then I went to see the ambos. I told them who I was, what my association was with the girl they’d just loaded into the back of the ambo, and asked if they could tell me what state she was in.

 

“She’s pretty badly banged up. We have stabilised her. But she has some internal bleeding, and she’s broken several bones. We think her spine’s undamaged, but it’s possible she’s broken her pelvis and scapula, and maybe some other things.”

 

“Which hospital are you taking her too?”

 

“Bathurst.”

 

I thanked them and went over to see the lady with the gun, who was soaked through and shivering, but still heroically standing in the middle of the road directing traffic. On the way, I grabbed my wet weather gear off the VMAX.

 

“Here,” I said, handing her the thick RJays rain-top I’d brought.

 

“Mate, you’re a lifesaver,” she stuttered. Her lips were blue. “Did you see what happened?”

 

“No. They didn’t turn up in Oberon and I came back to look for them and found this.” Then I told her what Deped had told me, which didn’t make a lot of sense. The road was straight. There were no potholes. She was maybe doing 90 in a hundred zone. It’s possible there was some kind of catastrophic machine failure, but there was no way I could tell from just looking at the fence-wrapped wreckage on the other side of the road.

 

“You’re a detective,” I said.

 

She nodded. She then told me her name, prefaced by Detective Sergeant, and stuck out a big, cold, man-hand for me to shake.

 

I shook it and said “Nice to meet you. You from Bathurst?”

 

“No,” she said. “Sydney. We were up here chasing down an old cold case. I was just heading back to Bathurst when I came on this.”

 

“What’s the cold case?” I said, and offered her a cigarette.

 

She accepted, I lit it, and as the snow fell even harder, she told me about her cold case…

 

It seems there were a few young girls who went missing around the Oberon area back in the Sixties (don’t hold me to that, but it’s what I remember her saying), and people said one of the itinerant sawmill workers was snatching them, doing heinous shit, and then dumping their bodies never to be found. Except one body was found. Not much could be done back then, but with the advent of DNA technology, new avenues of enquiry had presented themselves.

 

“So you’ve cracked it?” I asked.

 

“I reckon so,” she smiled. “Gonna have a few beers tonight to celebrate. You staying in Oberon?”

 

“Wasn’t planning to. We were going to go to Sofala and camp there the night. Then this happened.”

 

“So there’s two couples?”

 

“No. Just me and three girls.”

 

She looked at me suspiciously. I am very used to cops looking at me suspiciously so I was unperturbed.

 

“It’s not what you think. I am doing a story for a magazine.”

 

“Penthouse?” she grinned.

 

“Those are all made up, you know.”

 

“Feel like joining me for a drink this evening in Bathurst?” she then said. “Least I could do is buy you a few drinks after you lent me your jacket.”

 

“Be a bit hard if they close the roads because of the snow.”

 

“I can send a car. We have access all areas. Here’s my number,” she said, handing me her card.

 

“I’ll see how it pans out,” I said. “Can I have my jacket back. I have to get going.”

 

I had never in my life been hit on by a cop before, and I was struggling to come to terms with what had just happened. The detective-sergeant slipped off my wet-weather jacket and handed it over, with what I’m sure she imagined was an endearing smile. “Giz a call, aye?”

 

I walked back to the VMAX. The snow was really coming down and kinda sideways, and swirling a bit. It would have been all winter wonderland had I not been so cold, had one of the girls not been on her way to hospital with serious injuries, and had a cop not creeped me out.

 

And now I had to ride through this shit. Sure it, wasn’t all that far, but…well, you know.

 

“You wanna take it easy,” the driver of the timber-jinker I was parked in front of said as I pulled on my helmet and gloves. He had been there the whole time, watching from the comfort of his cabin. But he’d climbed down and was having a cigarette as the snow flurried around us.

 

“It’s not far,” I shrugged. “I should be fine.”

 

I rode off, but within fifty metres, I was unable to see anything. My goggles had frosted over with rime. I stopped, gave them a rub with my gloved finger, put the bike into gear, and was once again blind within metres. Guess this was gonna be a no-goggles ride, I thought, just as the timber-jinker pulled up beside me. The driver leaned out the passenger window.

 

“Mate,” he yelled. “Tuck in behind me and I’ll lead you into town.”

 

I gave him a thumbs up and off we went. We didn’t get much above 50km/h, which was fine by me. I could not have ridden any faster, and if it wasn’t for the truck two metres in front of me, I probably could not have ridden at all. It was really snowing heavily.

 

It was tough even with him there. The snow was hitting me in the face, and even stinging its way into my eyes, which were tearing up, and the tears would freeze. I was blinking and wiping them like mad, and hoping the truck wouldn’t suddenly slow down or stop.

 

A short time later, I saw his blinker go on and his arm came out the window with a thumbs-up. We were on the edge of Oberon. I had made it. I gave him a wave and idled into the servo. The bikes were gone. Ozo and Deped had left. I rode into town and saw their bikes parked in front of the Tourist Hotel. They were covered in several centimetres of snow, and Oberon was starting to resemble an alpine village without any of the quaintness I’d seen in movies. There was at least 40cm of snow on the ground and more was falling.

 

I parked the VMAX and went into the pub. Someone took a picture of me. I look at that image now and it looks like seagulls have beshat me big-style. But what you’re seeing is ice.

“Giz beer…”

Deped and Ozgo were having a drink, and I was told they’d booked some rooms, the roads were all closed, and we were to spend the night here. I went upstairs to me room, had a shower, got changed and rejoined the ladies at the bar.

 

We went over and over what had happened to Edco. None of us could make any sense of it. The bike was still back at the crash site, wrapped in the fence, and that was an issue that needed dealing with. Never mind contacting Edco’s family and telling them what happened.

 

Deped took it upon herself to make the call, and then we had a discussion about what happened next.

“The snow will probably stop this evening,” I said, which is what the barmaid had told me when I was ordering a beer. “We’ll be able to ride out tomorrow morning.”

 

“But what about the snow?” Ozgo asked.

 

“It won’t be there five or so kays out of town.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“The barmaid told me.”

 

“How would she know?”

 

“She lives here. And what she said makes sense. Oberon is up pretty high. But as you go lower, there’ll be no snow.”

 

“I am not riding out of here,” the Deped said.

 

“I’m not riding out of here either,” Ozgo agreed.

 

“So what’s your plan?” I asked. “Because I am riding out of here tomorrow morning.”

 

“I have organised a truck to come and get the crashed Honda. He can load our bikes onto that truck and we can go back to Sydney with him. Why don’t you do that?”

 

“Two reasons,” I shrugged. “Firstly, there won’t be any room in that truck cabin for three people. Secondly, even if there was, I have no reason not to ride home.”

 

“It’s too dangerous,” Deped said.

 

“I’ll take my chances.”

 

And we kinda left it there. I was not about to insist the girls rode out with me. If they had decided this was all too much, then I had no interest in changing their minds. If they were blokes and they were making these same noises, the shit-stirring would have been epic, and we would have all ridden out the next day. But maybe that’s why women live longer than men.

 

As darkness fell, the snow stopped. But Oberon was literally blanketed with white. It looked very surreal. I played some pool, had a steak for dinner, drank a fair bit of beer and went to bed before midnight. I was up at dawn. The day was clear, the air was cold, and the snow had all melted off the VMAX. There was still some white stuff laying about the place, but the roads were open.

 

My only concern was black ice. I’m OK riding in a bit of snow. Be smooth on the throttle and you’ll be fine. But black ice is an evil bitch of thing. Still, it hadn’t dropped below zero in the night, and I was thinking I might be OK.

 

The ladies joined me out the front of the pub as I was preparing to ride off.

 

“What time is your truck coming?” I asked.

 

“Late this afternoon,” the Deped said.

 

“I should be home before lunchtime. Sure you don’t want to come?”

 

They both shook their heads. I rode off, and as expected, there was no snow ten kays out of town. I celebrated by going fast. And that was all going swimmingly until I got booked coming into Bell by a well-hidden Highway Patrol car.

 

I was still home before lunch.

All clear and beaut…

EPILOGUE

 

When Sam and I sat down for a debrief the next week, he felt it might be best for me not to write the yarn. Edco was still in hospital and she’d be there for a while. Her injuries were not life-threatening, but she was very banged up. She never rode again, which was a shame. She could also not remember what actually happened, so we never did solve the mystery of why she crashed.

 

The other aspect was that I was the only one who rode there and back. Writing the story as I have here, would maybe have cast the girls who did not ride there and back in an…well, unkind light, I guess.

 

I am not sitting in judgement on them, not then and not now. I explained that to Sam. Everyone has different acceptable risk-levels. What is OK for me, is maybe not OK for someone else. I’m of the view, a person’s chromosome allotment has nothing to do with that. I have known some mad-as women in my time.

 

Still, I did make the argument that the story should be told as it transpired.

 

He disagreed, and felt it was probably best for everyone’s feelings if we all pretended like it never happened. And he was the editor, so that was entirely his call.

 

But here’s the thing. It DID happen. And now I have told you the story of how it happened.

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Boris Mihailovic

Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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