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TALES OF THE ROCKET – WHEN THE BUFFALO ROAM

Especially the old buffaloes...

So right in the middle of winter, with the Plague eating the earth, and city people locked in their homes like rats in sacks, while cops with massive compliance-erections threaten to beat them if they leave their sacks…erm, homes, I went on a run.

 

And I went on it with old buffaloes. This is because old buffaloes don’t much care if the cops beat them. They’ve been beaten before and it ain’t too bad. Youngsters, on the other hand, have been raised to fear the State. And they have not been beaten often enough – or at all – for a beating not to matter all that much.

 

So it’s best they stay at home. Tend to their whatevers, and await the Aldi sales and permission to leave.

 

The weathered and leathery old buffaloes shall roam, because it is what they must do. Keep moving or die.

 

Being weathered and leathery, and girthed with cold-refusing blubber is not a bad thing when you head into the blasted wildlands of western NSW.

 

And I was on a Rocket 3, so I feared nothing and no-one. Not even the cops.

 

The route was elegant, and promised much.

 

In case you’re interested and wish to essay it, it went like this:

 

Depart Singleton, and ride to Warren via Merriwa, Dunedoo, Mendooran, Gilgandra, and Collie.

 

Once in Warren, avoid unpleasantness if possible and embrace it if not, visit with road-kin, sleep, wake, absorb caffeine, carry on.

 

Day Two would see us leave Warren, proceed back to Gilgandra, then head for Gulargambone, cross the incredible Warrumbungles, behold Coonabarabran and Gunnedah, then ride like fury across the Breeza Plain, and abide for the evening in Quirindi.

 

Then we kiss and say goodbye and go home.

 

From my perspective, it was a route that would showcase the superb touring might of the Rocket 3. I had already scratched like a thousand bastards with fast boys – a journey you may read about HERE – but I was keen to see how it played in Big Sky country.

 

To be honest, I knew exactly how it would play. I’d spent enough time on the Rocket to know what was gonna happen. But the cussedness in me always enjoys seeing the expressions on the faces of people who have not seen the Rocket rocketing.

 

Especially when two of those people, Will and Gary, were on Harleys. Jason was on a 650 V-Strom, so his top-end was somewhat limited, and there wouldn’t be all that many corners for him to show off his arsenal of riding abilities.

 

There is an old truism that comes into play here. And that is Harley riders don’t really see the limitations of their Harleys until they go riding with things like the Rocket 3.

 

It happens like this…

 

Everyone gets their shits and giggles on, say between Dunedoo and Mendooran. The speed rises to a Christian 140 – the normal, happy velocity for Milwukee’s finest. It’s where the big V-twins are on the verge of reaching their limits. Sustained speeds over that 140 tend to become stressful and terrifying, and the Harleys’ limitations – suspension, brakes, handling, ergos – become evident.

 

The Rocket? Twist the throttle open at 140 and you’ll very soon see numbers that start with “Two” appear. You’ll also see Harleys disappearing in your mirrors. Oh, they have also cracked open their throttles. And there’s lots of noise (Hell, Will’s is one of the loudest Harleys I have ever heard), but not much in the way of acceleration.

 

If you can coax the brutes up to 200, it’s certainly exhilarating. But if you can get there – and you can’t unless you’ve done some work on your Harley – you don’t want to be there for too long. They just aren’t made for that kinda thing.

 

But the Rocket is. Its brakes, its suspension, its ergos, and its staggering, stunning, sensational engine, just keep on giving. Progress, rapid and glorious, is effortless. It is not hard work to ride quickly. Sure, you have to be on your game, because 180 is still 180, but you’re able to focus on that rather than the washing-machine-rolling-down-a-mountain thing a Harley is doing at that speed.

 

Sadly, Gary had lost sight in his left eye when we arrived at Dunedoo, so he couldn’t fully appreciate the wonder of me disappearing into the distance.

 

“What happened?” I asked, because I care.

 

“Something went into it, I think,” he rumbled.

 

“Is it still there?”

 

“Can you see anything inside it?” he asked, peeling opened his bloodshot peeper.

I looked, but I’m no ophthalmologist.

 

“Can you see out of it?” I asked.

 

“Everything is foggy,” he replied.

 

“Are you able to continue?”

 

“Have I got a dress on?” he replied.

 

Old buffaloes can ride blind. Ask me how I know.

 

We ate lunch in Mendooran. It was excellent, and the welcome was warm. Which was nice because it wasn’t much over nine degrees outside.

 

“We shall get petrol at Gilgandra,” I said, fired up the Rocket, and we kept it at a meaningful 140-150 until we crossed the swollen Castlereagh River on the town’s outskirts. It had more water in it than I had seen in years, and there was lots of standing water everywhere you looked.

 

We fuelled up, established that Gary’s blindness had not worsened, and I issued some advice to my companions.

 

I don’t do instructions. I just provide advice if I know things. If I don’t know things, I shut up. I’m no road captain. Just like I’m no ophthalmologist. I tell people at the start of every journey that if I am not going fast enough for them, they are free to pass me and carry on. I tell them where the next petrol stop is (if I know), and what the final destination might be. And because they are grown-ups, they are free to do as they wish.

 

“We will stop at Collie,” I said. “Johnny is waiting for us there with Diddles. You cannot miss Collie. It is about 35 kays up the road. It’s a pub and a few houses and it has ‘Collie’ written in giant letters on a sign. You’ll also note the speed sign will say 80 instead of 110. But the buildings are a dead giveaway, because they are the only buildings between here and Warren.”

 

I was in Collie very soon after that. Jason was with me. I hugged Johnny and commiserated with Diddles, whose engine mount had gone to Jesus, and whose Harley was now having its engine levered up with a shovel so wood could be jammed between it and the frame. Hopefully, this would get him to Warren where a proper fixing could take place.

 

A local bearded man wanted to speak to me about the Rocket, because he had an original one.

 

“You like it?” he asked.

 

“I love it,” I replied.

 

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Mine’s got 350 horsepower. It will eat yours.”

 

“Go and get it,” I said.

 

“It’s not running at the moment.”

 

“I’ll wait.”

 

Just then Johnny felt he should buy me a beer, so I went inside with him, and left the 350-horsepower man to offer Diddles advice about his missing engine mount.

 

As we sipped, Will and Gary, who had decided that 200 km/h was not the speed they needed to be doing out of Gilgandra, rode past.

 

“How could they miss the pub?” Johnny asked, as their Harley thunder receded in the distance.

 

“Well, Gary is blind in one eye, so he has a valid excuse. I have no idea why Will did not see it.”

 

Jason, Johnny, and I finished our beers, and left. Diddles said he’d limp on home, and if he wasn’t there in an hour it meant the piece of wood he’d jammed between his engine and the frame had failed, and we should get a truck and come back for him.

 

We were in Warren some 20 minutes later. Gary had gone to the hospital after checking into the motel, Will was drinking beer, so we checked in, and headed off to Johnny’s property, which is about three kay outta town. A touch too far to walk, so Johnny had organised a mate to collect us from the motel.

 

I elected to ride because I hate being reliant on others for transport, Gary’s eyesight repair might require some input from me, and until his situation had been resolved, I could not fill myself with beer and bad manners.

 

Johnny had done wonders with his property since the last time I’d visited, which was when my late brother, Whitey, Johnny’s dad, had his last birthday there. There was green grass everywhere, big sheds, kids’ swings, and a whole damn house. It was magnificent, as was the huge fire he’d lit to warm our old buffalo bones.

 

The Clubhouse Hotel was the only place in town serving food that night (it was a Monday after all), so we agreed to meet there in about an hour, and I rode back into town to see about Gary.

 

“We are in lockdown,” the nurse who answered my bell-ringing advised me.

 

“Yeah, look, I don’t wanna go in. I just want to know if the blind giant who came in here a while ago has been repaired.”

 

“I’ll go and check. Nice bike,” she smiled.

 

“Isn’t it though?” I smiled back.

 

She was back in minutes.

“There is no Gary here,” she told me. “There is no-one in Emergency, blind, giant, or otherwise.”

 

I absorbed this information with calm insouciance.

 

“OK, then,” I shrugged, and went back to the motel to change out of my riding pants and into my drinking pants.

 

Gary had disappeared from the face of this earth. He was not in the hospital, apparently, and not answering his phone. In my experience, he would either re-appear at some stage, or he would not. My expectations were that he would. And so it came to pass.

 

A message appeared on my phone. “I’m finished” it read.

 

I got on my bike and rode around the corner towards the hospital, and there he was coming out of it – all eight-feet-tall of him.

 

“You good?” I asked.

 

He nodded. “They flushed my eye out really well, found nothing in it, and it feels much better. I can even see out of it some.”

 

“The hospital said you weren’t there.”

 

“Strange,” Gary blinked. “I was.”

 

“I know. I saw you walk out of it.”

 

Old buffalo know when to leave mysterious things as they be, and move on to less mysterious things. Like beer.

 

The Clubhouse Hotel greeted us with an open fire and a working kitchen. And a bar manager who rapidly became a woman we came to fear and admire in equal measure.

 

I will now post a language warning for those of you with gentle dispositions. And I wish to advise that I am merely recording what was said, and not adding anything for colour. Hand on my heart.

 

The first words out of her mouth were: “You cunts keep your fucking masks on unless you’re seated at the fucken table. And you, fucken Johnny White, where the fuck have you been lately?”

 

Johnny told her he’d been working, and he would like some beer, so she went behind the bar and asked: “What’re you cunts having?”

We ordered, were told once again to keep our “fucking masks on” unless we were seated, and the drinking commenced.

 

The bar manager, whose name I believe was Raelene, kept a very watchful eye on us, and now and again, if one of us got up from the table, she would advise us at the top of her mighty voice to “Get that fucken mask on!” because she was not having “the fucken cops in here carrying on like cunts again”.

 

Now and again, she would come and collect our empty glasses, and advise Johnny “these big-notin’ cunts” better not “start any fucken shit”.

 

In past times, us big-notin’cunts may have fought each other over her like bison in rut, and the winner would have carried her off for an evening of wild country pleasure.

 

As it was, we chose to admire her from afar, until I summoned the courage to ask her to turn the jukebox on.

 

“Youse cunts are gonna fucken sing, aren’t you?” she grizzled.

 

“We probably are,” I said.

 

“I’ll turn the cunt up so I can’t fucken hear you.”

 

And she did, and it was the loudest jukebox for 500km in any direction.

 

With singing, there was some dancing, but apart from us, three locals, and three Japanese tourists, there was not much of an audience. Still, I did manage a few delightful passages across the floor.

 

Every so often, Raelene would sing out: “Oi! Cunt! Get your fucken mask on!” Whereupon the offender would instantly comply.

 

We knew our time was up when she started vacuuming around us. Will did attempt to propose to her, dropping to one knee, in the hope she may keep the bar open if she was engaged to him. She just told him to “Get out of the way, cunt!” and drove her vacuum cleaner into his shins.

 

We went back to the motel after she had escorted us out, demanding that we fucken return the fucken glasses we fucken had taken and stop being fucken cunts. Johnny did try to remonstrate with her, but was yelled down and sent on his way.

 

At the motel, Will went to bed, but Jason, Gary, and I did not.

 

It was barely midnight. And we had been over-stimulated by things. But, as you can imagine, not much is going on at Warren at that time on a Monday night.

 

“Fuck it,” I said. “I’m waking Will up.”

 

We hammered savagely on his door until he opened it, then he climbed back into bed as we rampaged around his room turning on every light, the TV, all the taps, and the shower. But Will, who is an old buffalo, absorbed it all, understanding that if he did not engage, we would get bored and leave. Which we did.

 

“Let’s wake the other cunt up,” someone suggested. There was another bloke with us, but since he will never be with us again, he is of no consequence other than as a catalyst for what happened next.

 

We thought he would be in the room adjoining Will’s. So Gary went to the window, and started banging on it very loudly, and screaming in his giant’s bellow.

 

“Open up!” he howled. “I’m gonna fuck you like a duct-taped weasel! Your tears will be lube! Aarrgghhhh!” and things of that nature.

 

There came an answering scream from within the room.

 

“Ha!” Jason laughed. “He’s going off.”

 

Yes, he is, I thought, as I listened to the frenzied shrieks from within the darkened room. They were pretty full on. So full on, Gary took a few steps away from the door, which then burst open, and a dishevelled and clearly terrified Japanese man appeared.

 

“Waaaaaa!” he wailed. “Whadyouwan?!”

 

Gary was instant contrition.

“Oh mate,” he said. “We are so sorry. We got the wrong room. Please forgive us. We didn’t mean to wake you up.”

 

The Japanese bloke looked at us, felt that all that needed to be said had been said, slammed the door and went back to bed.

 

“Can you lot just please keep it down!?” said a stern voice from behind us.

 

It was the motel’s proprietor, a nice lady who, judging by the tone of her voice, was on the verge of not being nice any more.

We apologised to her, and then went to stand out in the street under the bright red service station sign beside the motel.

 

“How the fuck did we fuck that up?” I asked. “I could have sworn he was in the room next to Will’s.”

 

“That poor Asian guy,” Gary sniffed. “He was genuinely terrified.”

 

“You did say you were going to hate-fuck him,” Jason grinned. “Half the town heard you say that.”

 

I’d like to tell you we all had a nice comforting hug at this stage, but I think we just laughed for a while longer and went to bed.

 

The next chilly morning, we had breakfast at the local café, and hit the road by nine. It was still cold, but we figured the kangaroos would be away from the tarmac by this time.

 

Buffalo bowels had to be moved in Gilgandra, and we decided to stop for fuel at Gulargambone, which would leave the frightful toilet catastrophes far behind us.

 

Gulargambone has petrol, but it’s a self-service arrangement. You guess how much you’re gonna put in, pay for it with a card, go to the nominated pump, and apply yourself. There was a farmer filling his Hi-Lux when we pulled up.

 

I went over to question the man.

 

“What the road like into Coonabarabran?” I asked.

 

“Which road?”

 

“The one through the Warrumbungles.”

 

“It’s not good,” he shrugged. “Floods come through the other week. Still a bit of water around.”

 

I thanked him and walked off. Great, I figured. We now either chanced it, or did a massive detour around the Warrumbungles. And I mean massive.

 

Three old Aboriginal ladies walked past and waved to us.

 

“G’day,” they said.

 

“G’day,” we echoed, and I went over to have a chat.

 

“Excuse me, Aunties,” I said. “We want to ride through the National Park to Coona. Do you know what the road is like?”

 

“Coona?” the oldest one blinked. “Yean, you can get through to Coona on them bikes, no worries.”

 

“So the road’s not washed away?”

 

“There’s a bit of water here and there, but you be OK. We was there just yesterday.”

 

I thanked her, told the blokes we would now see some magical shit, got the petrol, and hit the road.

 

If you’ve not been to the Warrumbungles, I suggest you rectify that. It is one of the most stunning national parks in Australia. Massive volcanic rock formations define it, and you ride right through them with your jaw gaping open. The rock cliffs and tors, which are 66 million years old (quite recent actually), were formed by a massive shield volcano – so called because of its low profile and resemblance to a warrior’s shield lying on the ground.

 

The road in from Gulargambone is sealed for a bit, then it becomes dirt, but very good dirt. We crossed about three shallow wash-outs which caused us no issues at all. The Rocket 3’s massive rear tyre does walk about a bit on the dirt, but nothing that should cause anyone except a novice any terror.

 

And there’s only maybe 15-odd kays of dirt until the road becomes tar again. By then you’re in the park and it gets twisty, winding its way through amazing piles of red volcanic rock, until it offers you a chance to check out the Siding Springs Observatory, or carry on to Coonabarabran.

We chose to check out the observatory. Some of the clearest skies in Australia are here, which is why they built an observatory. You can see the massive white dome from 40km away as you enter the park from the west.

 

The tourist thing done, we belted on to Coonabarabran for lunch. The only thing of note in our rapid descent was the water-filled causeway I suddenly saw over a rise. I hauled on the brakes, not wanting to enter it at 140. Will, whose brakes are from the 1800s, brilliantly avoided rear-ending me by spearing off onto the wrong side of the road, and together we entered the causeway like two hippos splashing into a river. It was magnificent and wet.

 

After lunch, we toiled away at the mostly straight and boring bits that run from Coonabarabran to Gunnedah. We amused ourselves by doing top-gear roll-ons. I won them all. Like it wasn’t even close.

 

After a brief pause in Gunnedah, we turned the wick up across the Breeza Plain (part of the Liverpool Plains), and made for Quirindi as the thermometer plunged in time with the sun.

 

We were in Quirindi as the sun sat halfway down behind the hills. This is where I let Gary ride the Rocket.

 

“I’ll just take it through town,” he said.

 

“No,” I smiled. “You’ll take it back the way we came, and you’ll red-line it in second and third. See how you go in fourth.”

 

He was back after the correct length of time, because he is an old buffalo. And old buffalo know that when someone lends you their bike, two things are graven in stone.

 

The first thing is that you take the bike only for as long as good manners dictate, ie. If the bloke who lent you the bike starts worrying about where the fuck you are, then you’ve been away too long. The second thing is if anything happens, then you own the loaned bike and the full price of that bike needs to be in the previous owner’s hand before the sun sets for a second time.

 

But all was smiles as Gary returned.

 

“Fuck,” he said.

 

I nodded. You can tell people all about the Rocket 3, but until they ride it, they will not understand. Then when they do, they will swear.

 

Our evening meal was delightful, and as the temperature went down into the minuses, we retired to our respective rooms to snore away the cold.

 

The next morning, Gary’s bike would not start. We tried and tried, but the battery had died. We got it to an auto electrician a few doors down from the motel, he had a new battery, but the Harley’s ECU had gone out in sympathy, and Gary was not leaving Quirindi on that bike.

 

We had a discussion, and it was decided Will would return that afternoon with a trailer. This meant Gary could work on his tan in privacy, and contemplate a future that saw him aboard a Rocket 3.

 

The three of us now wended our speed-limited way back down the New England to our homes, and counted three Highway Patrol cars. They were the first we had seen since the one cruising through Merriwa two days ago.

 

We’d remained unbooked and unbowed. We’d added some leatheriness to our hides, and chilled our old bones deeply and truly. But we had seen new things and done good things, and added some more miles to our lifetime tallies.

 

And that is always something to smile about.

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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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