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Giving a talk this Thursday at Glebe 26/05/16


The event has become slightly larger than initially planned, and for this I mainly blame Kris Spann. Kris, in one of his many incarnations, has been an avid supporter of The Answer Is Always Yes for a long time. He has gone above and beyond on a number of occasions - from organising my leaving party before I left Sydney through to his current support in getting sponsors involved and providing a venue for tomorrow's event.

 

Fortunately, I have had a couple of supporters come on board for tomorrow, which will assist in making the night a better experience for everyone while raising even more money for beyondblue.

 

·         Stockade Brewing Co has made a very generous donation of beer, which will be available to buy on the night (with all proceeds going directly to beyondblue) Stockade Brewing Co will keep the atmosphere light with their chopshop PA. For you beer fiends the out there the details of this new beer is made with a combination of cascade hops and a comfortable IBU of 30

·         Royal Enfield Sydney has very kindly offered a door prize to one lucky patron!  

·         Signpac.com.au which will be providing people with a handy little memento from the night.  

 

The night will be broken into two sections:

 

The first will be more of an overall talk about the trip: the highs, the lows, what I have learned and my experience after spending 18 months on the road with an old bike. This should run for about 40 mins before we take a bit of a break for some pizza and a few beers and the announcement of the door prize.

 

The next section will be a more detailed outline of how to get yourself to the other side of the world - from the technical details, costings and how to avoid paying bribes, to navigating the difficult paper work and how to p̶h̶o̶t̶o̶s̶h̶o̶p̶  acquire important documents.

 

I'm looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow for what should hopefully be a fun and informative night! Can I please ask you to respect the venue and also the neighbours. I like glebe and would love to be able to continue the relationship with this cracking venue and suburb.

 

See you tonight! 

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The road has been ridden, the people met, the questions asked and old bike has been taken from one side of the world to the other.

So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?
— Hunter S. Thompson


  • Countries: 18
  • Kilometres: 27,000 (My speedo has never worked so this is a google maps calculation) 
  • Bottom end rebuilds: 2
  • Pistons: 5
  • Thank you emails from followers: 24
  • Gearboxs: 2
  • Batteries: 4
  • Rear Tires: 1
  • Bad crashes: 1
  • Fractured bones: 1
  • Police bribes paid: 0
  • Clutch Packs 6
  • GB of footage taken: 600
  • Donations: 58
  • Breakdowns: 94
  • International TV appearances : 2
  • Radio interviews: 6
  • Motorcycles events attended: 10
  • Weekly social media reach: 50,000
  • Total Instigram likes: 73,607
  • Individual Flights: 15
  • Helmet stickers gifted for the trip: 63
  • TAIAY business cards handed out 450

When the trip started at the start of last year, I had no idea where it would go - I mean, I knew that it was to go towards London, but I did not see it becoming the beast that it did. 

In full disclosure: I have never really been completely in control of the trip. People keep asking me for advice about doing a “round the world" trip and I think, if anything, I am less qualified now than I was two years ago. But I think I needed to travel such a distance to learn that it’s ok to have no clue about anything. I would hate for someone to take off on a trip and not have their own joy of learning while they’re on the road. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to crash their motorcycle, but for me it was involved in the adventure. Someone once said, “I have learnt plenty of ways that don’t work and a few that do”.  What I did take on this trip with me − which undoubtedly put me in a better position than the best gear or training was the ability to roll with the punches, bounce back from challenges and to keep at it with an almost moronic tenacity and complete openness to this strange and wonderful world.  
I was never really in control of the trip. Instead, I would follow the advice of strangers and try to direct this collection of incredible encounters and episodes slowly in the direction of London. I wish I could take more credit, but my distinct lack of control of the situation is what drove the trip along. 


Given how little I was in control of the process, I think I, more than anyone, was surprised, shocked and even bamboozled when I finally rolled into Ace cafe, with the Enfield spitting hot oil in all directions, tattered jeans and a unmistakable slight craziness about me. I felt like I had just been spat out of a wild LSD bender. The trip might have been over but there was still a certain fuzziness about everything. While the goal was always London, the arrival point was really there just for the sake of having one (everything has to have an end point, right?). The point was always the journey. When I stepped off the bike at Ace to friends, followers and complete strangers clapping and showering me with beer and congratulations, my body had the response of crying then throwing up my breakfast. It was done. The end point had arrived. My collection of encounters had finally been directed all of the way to London. 

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Throughout this journey, I set out to find some answers. Answers to what it was to be a man. To make sense of what it was to grow up. To explore these concepts of masculinity in different cultures. Urrg. Even writing that out feels gross to me now. How shallow, naive and egotistical of me to think that I could ride through all of these cultures and sum up such experiences so simply. Fuck, I struggle to string together a few sentences that make sense, let alone articulate something as complicated as that.

 

That’s not to say that my trip was a waste. I have, above all, certainly had a successful trip - it’s just that what I wanted and my understanding of the questions I set out with have changed. I didn’t find any clear-cut answers, but I have come to the understanding that it’s ok to be hopelessly confused by the world. It is a confusing place and I now know that I will never really understand the role of masculinely - which, over the course of 27,000kms, I have come to accept and even enjoy a little. 

My bike and I at the Goodwood Festival

My bike and I at the Goodwood Festival

So.. What’s next? Honestly, I have no clue. My inspiration for taking such an old bike on this trip − my grandfather, Herman − is terminally ill. Once I finished the trip, I headed from Brisbane to Gympie to spend time with him. For the last week, I have been helping around the house, chopping wood, mowing, driving my grandmother around. Doing the things my grandfather would be doing if he wasn’t bed ridden as the cancer eats away at him. They have an old caravan out the back. I am staying in that. It’s simple enough and, after living out of a bag for so long, I finally feel like I have my own space, my own little apartment all wrapped in 10 foot of portable 60s design. My Dad has leant me his Enfield - a very shiny and relatively new 2012 500c fuel injected bullet, which is parked out the front that starts every time I press that red button. It’s a dream and a joy to ride. I am writing. I still have a year or more of blog posts to publish and sponsor reviews to finish.  Enfield has agreed to come on and support me. They will help me get the motorcycle back to Australia and I will tell some of my stories at upcoming motorcycle events, including the past Good Wood festival in the UK. Meanwhile, I am trying to get back into my profession: urban design.

My little home in Gympie Australia while I chase work in Sydney

My little home in Gympie Australia while I chase work in Sydney

I guess what I’m saying is I don’t really know what’s coming next. What I do know, though, is that whatever the world throws at me; whatever expectations I, or others, place on me and the concept of masculinely… I think I will be ok. I think I will be able to share what I have come to understand. Answers or not. 

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South-East Sumatra - Rigid motorcycles in an unruly town

South East Sumatra. 

Here is your basic idea. Take everything functional about a motorcycle and throw it out the window. There you go. Thats your basic idea of a rigid chopper.
— anonymous
  • Islands visited: 7
  • Other people’s bikes ridden: 12
  • Other people’s bikes crashed: 0 

I jumped onto a ferry from Java to Sumatra.  It would be my last Indonesian ferry to my last Island and after the craziness of Java I was looking forward to some long stretches of less crowded areas. As I was riding off the ferry I ignored the usual hawkers trying to sell me things.  It was dark as I pulled out past one rather aggressive seller who just about jumped in front of the bike.  Giving credit where its due, the dude knew how to push a sale. 


After this encounter I rode a bit further.  It was dark but I was meant to be riding another 150kms to a small town where my good friend Teddy was staying currently.  I usually try to avoid riding at night because my light drains the battery and takes away from the strength of the spark. Also my light sucks - it’s basically as bright as the zippo in my pocket. However, the wiring that the Royal Enfield Indonesian guys had completed gave the light a new strength so I took off, but not before the guy who had jumped in front of the bike at the port pulled up next to me on a bike. It was then I picked up on his biker vest. 

“Jon! I found you, you are late” 

Yeah the story of my trip so far I thought. 

My new escort rode me to his house where I loaded up on coffee and hit the road to find Teddy still another 2 hours away. 

Teddy rocking out in another sidecar

Teddy rocking out in another sidecar

Finally after some confusion I met up with Teddy who was putting me up at his parents’ house.  It was a lovely house that doubled as a school and Batik factory. I know I have said this before but the kindness and generosity of Teddy caused him to become one of my closest friends in Indonesia. I felt a familiar pang of sadness that this would be one of the last times that I would get to hang out with him.  Before we would part ways though, there would of course be a big send off - beers at a local garage that was famous for producing something only made in Lampung - Custom bobbers that use a 700cc V-twin Mazda engine. 

To explain why these bikes exist is a fair description of how things work in Indonesia. When you have such a huge workforce of skilled fabricators, but a currency that makes foreign purchase tough - you learn to just make do. 

These bikes are reflective of that. They loved the big V-twin engines found in the American bikes but to get them in Sumatra was tough. So instead they pull the car engine from a small 1970’s Mazda, fabricate a connector to an old motorcycle gear box, weld together a frame, attach a car rear tyre and weld on a front end.  Bam! A rather reliable custom bobber which sets you back a fraction of the cost. 

Sorry for the quality of this photo. It was a late night and like a bunch of workshops... Dark. 

Sorry for the quality of this photo. It was a late night and like a bunch of workshops... Dark. 

After the usual issues of trying to kick start someone else bike, it fired off(ignition was connecting two wires together). I sat down on the bike and due to the loose tolerances jumped the bike into gear.  The bike lurched from under me so I was sprawled out, legs dragging behind before it stalled.  Through some miracle I kept the bike upright, with much laughter from everyone. 

A few angry kicks later and the bike was running. Teddy jumped on his friend’s bobber and we both took off. 

This workshop pumps out many handmade ridged bikes a year. 

This workshop pumps out many handmade ridged bikes a year. 

From here I headed North. 

From here I headed North. 

"Sweet-Jesus!" I thought as bike shot off. Rigid, unbalanced and a front end that had no place on anything with a motor, let alone something as strong as this, the bike was beyond violent. Shaking in all of the wrong directions and with a stupidly large pull, the rigid tire would bounce around on the smallest bumps sending a jolt up my back before spinning and re-gaining traction.  I gripped the ape bars hard and opened the throttle trying to catch Teddy as he made the next turn. The turn was coming up fast. Turn, how *do* I turn this thing? This stupid, stupid motorcycle. I jammed on the rear brake (the bike has no front brake of course) and the bike started to skid.  I pushed the bike hard right, with the ape hangers I felt like a rag doll as the bike half skidded and tried to turn. I held on through some miracle. Due to my earlier blasphemous curse, I assume it was a Hindu god looking after me.  I pulled back into the workshop with Teddy and I stalled it of course. Everyone laughed and someone passed a beer. I lifted the shaking bottle for a sip, unsure if the wobbling beer was from nerves or from the vibrations still running through my body.  I have ridden many, many bikes and to this day that has been the bike that I felt wanted to kill me the most. 

 

You can see my route on motortourer here. 

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One year on the road - A memo from Pakistan.

I am very behind in my blogs. Riding, fixing and other priorities have kept me away from it. Here are some notes I had down from when I was in Sukkar Pakistan celebrating one year on the road. 

One year… What is they say about best laid plans? I left Sydney for my little stint to London with full plans and a budget to last eight months. My intention was to be back before Christmas, before a close mate’s wedding, before my father’s 60th. 2015 was to be spent with a new office job, settled, grown-up. Answered. 

Forgive the cliché, but life and adventure happened and threw me off track a little. Things broke and didn’t always go to plan. Things went my way but also against me. I have struggled more than I thought I would - the delays and challenges were never what I expected them to be. I am on engine rebuild number four while looking down the barrel (literal engine barrel) of my fifth and gearbox number three. 

Throwing in the towel has been a frequent temptation. When I am broken down by the side of the road, when I have to fork out another $150 for another visa, when I miss my sister’s 30th... Well, all of these things stack up and, damn, if a match in the petrol tank and a cheap flight home hasn't been appealing at times. I could wake up in my own bed. Dinner with friends on a Monday. Riding on a Sunday. Clean hands in-between. If I’d done that I’m sure there wouldn’t currently be a police guard outside my room with a high-powered rifle for protection against bad guys. 

However, the thread that weaves through my journey is that I am exploring the concept of what it is to be man and raising the subject of depression with the people I meet along the way. I’ve chatted with people of various ages and walks of life: exploration miners, outback truckies, consulate workers, motorcyclists and backpackers. It has been these interactions that have kept the towel – or, in my case, a filthy rag covered in grease and oil – in the bag. 

I will not share some of the stories and comments just yet but it's the people I meet and the conversations I have with them that keep me tracking along. Digging a little deeper to make it to the end goal. At the end of the day, it’s the difficult times that make the small wins just so much more rewarding. Without the crushing lows the wins would just not be as sweet.

A blown piston is a small price to pay for waking up and loading your life onto a leaky old bike with no plans apart from making it further down the road while not crashing or getting arrested.  If I can keep doing that – keep raising money for beyondblue, keep getting people to discuss the issue of depression – well, does it really matter that I haven’t hit my initial goals or found the answers I was initially seeking?

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Jakarta - Rated the worst city in the world for traffic but does that matter when the hosts are amazing?

All drivers run red lights the same way - with a glance in the rearview mirror to see if a cop saw them. I love the same way-with a sense of defiance, urgency, emergency, and caution that comes too late.
— Jarod Kintz, Love quotes for the ages. Specifically ages 18-81.
Custom made rear rack

Custom made rear rack

  • Workshops/Garages Slept in: 3
  • Burnouts done on other peoples bikes: 1 
  • Custom racks built: 1 

Through Instagram I had been contacted by Royal Enfield Indonesia. They said they would be able to help with a service. My bike wasn't charging correctly and while the bike was running, I had no headlights, tail/brake lights and no horn. The lighting wasn't such an issue as I try to avoid riding at night but the lack of a horn was risky in Indonesia. Horns are used like an echolocation communication method in most of Asia. Without a horn was I was basically flying blind - risky. It was possible, but like riding a motorcycle late at night drunk and fast - just because you can pull it off safely once doesn't mean the experience can or should be repeated.

Anyway, I met Andy (one of the RE Indonesia guys) at the RE shop which was a double storey warehouse. Now I feel I need to explain some of the cultural differences with RE in Australia and my first experience of them in an official capacity overseas. Enfields are seen in Australia as a very niche motorcycle. How do I describe them? They are seen as a bike that has a questionable build quality and the price point to match. It's the cheapest non-Chinese 500cc available and is mostly ridden in Sydney by three defined groups.  The largest group would be adult men who want to throw back to the rock and roll 60’s bike styling without having to actually work on a bike from the 60’s. The second would be younger guys who also want to throw back to the 60s styling and the final group are Indian ex-pats of any age who bring their worship of the mighty Bullet to Australia. That is of course a huge generalisation but it’s my experience. People who don’t ride Enfieldtend to view them as aging technology with poor performance appealing to ageing men chasing their youth and hipsters (sounds like most of my awesome friends from home). They tend to be sold in shops with scooters and Moto Guzzis. To see them with an entire showroom floor was a strange experience.  

Enfield had a full time mechanic on staff to handle the regular servicing of the bikes. To this day I am unable to pronounce his name but I was happy to just use his nickname - Houndini. He didn't have much English and my Bahasa still hadn’t progressed much beyond being able to order a drink and politely decline a hooker but once again bike mechanics tend to use a universal language. I would point to my issue, mime, swear and he would repeat the process back at me until we came to a mutual understanding. 

Up until that point I still didn't have a rear rack on the bike and my gear was haphazardly tied to the back of the bike, and this had broken the sub-frame. Every pothole or sleeping policeman (speed bumps as they are called back home) and I would be feeling madly behind me to see if my bag was still attached.

As usual I talked with the RE guys about my trip, the adventures and what had been going on. The guys wanted to put me up in their houses but given I had been sleeping on the floors of garages, club houses and the side of the road I just plain did not feel comfortable in these houses. These feelings were personified when I was picked up by Andy in a brand new AMG Merc coupe, full leather interior, flashing lights and beeping sensors. I sat in this racing seat and when I buckled up, it automatically adjusted to the right tension and seat height based on my weight. At that point I was incredibly aware that I had not washed my underwear in 5 days. 

At his house Andy threw me the keys to his Buell lightning and asked me to do a burn out... Now It has been a long time since I was able to smoke some rubber on a high powered bike (the enfield would never partake in such hoonish behaviour) and with his AMG and other toys very close I was concerned. Of course my "The answer is always yes" attitude won out and I soon had the back wheel spinning. 

I felt strange explaining how I didn't feel comfortable with this generosity. Given most of the Enfield guys had ridden Leh and done similar hard trips they evidently understood what I was going through. I felt grubby all over and not very comfortable accepting the offer of hospitality. Clean sheets and carpet. What was this madness? 

They were happy to put me up in the Enfield showroom. I rolled out my sleeping mat and sleeping bag on a mezzanine level overlooking the rows and rows of new EnfIelds. I slept well and when I woke up in the morning was able to do some more shooting for the next Stories of Bike video. People have told me that Jakarta is a difficult city to navigate and really explore, but I didn't find this to be the case all. 

Do a burnout? TAIAY

Do a burnout? TAIAY

I have slept with worse company before

I have slept with worse company before

I hung out with the Enfield guys and their sons and was introduced to some of the nightlife. While some of them were non-drinkers they still indulged my habit and took me a number of bars or restaurants that served food and booze. 

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After a week in Jakarta getting my bike worked on, it was time for me to head out and face the largest island of Indonesia - Sumatra. I had made some great friends in Jakarta and was still blown away by the continued generosity and genuine kindness of the people I had met. Mr Houdini had fixed my charging issue and even had a custom rack welded up for the back of the bike. It was large and sturdy, perfect for what I needed. My bike was never a show pony, more like an erratic mule. They put the bike into the best condition they could for the rest of my ride and waved me off. 

 

Sunday in Jakarta is riding day, and also the day when the traffic is the least crazy. The Enfield guys took me around town to introduce me to a number of people - Enfields are still very new in Indonesia so to have someone riding around the world on this bike was a great marketing tool for these guys. I was more than happy to chat bikes with the Triumph guys, the BMW guys, the Harley guys and the custom cafe and scooter guys - photos, chat, coffee, ride repeat. 

 

Some of the RE Indonesia team 

Some of the RE Indonesia team 

On one of the last stops we were to go for a ride out to the last cafe. One of the bikes was an amazing Harley kitted with Rolandsands gear and police lights. I grabbed a few photos. We jumped in formation and started riding around town. The Harley bikewanted me upfront but kept very close to my right. I wanted to get some shots of riding so I was doing my usual questionably safe tactics to get the best footage, standing on the pegs, hands off the bars and using my right thigh to control my throttle. As said not the safest way to ride but not a bad way to ensure you get total coverage of everything you need (note to self - buy a go pro selfie pole).  Jakarta is a pretty heavily policed city, with cops on most corners of major intersections. I noticed my mate on the Harley would wave at most of these guys and they would in turn wave back at him. What a cheeky bastard, playing a copper and even giving them a sneaky wave. I would find out later that my police bike riding friend, the one who I was performing questionable motorcycle activities next to, was  a  very, very high ranking Jakarta police officer. I really need to get that selfie pole. 

At the last stop, as I said farewell to my Enfield friends, they refused to take any money for the work they had done on the bike. It was amazing to think that in this heavily populated city, there was a group of guys so passionate about Enfields they decided to sell them exclusively. I know these bikes sometimes get a bad wrap but there is undoubtedly something about them that generates passion - much more so than any other bike group. 

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Who takes a book to a gentlemans club? (or how I learned to stop worrying and make no plans of India)

I am going to mix up the updates on my blog and jump right ahead to the present (whoooa! look at me skip 4 months of blogs!) The next post will still be about Jakarta but in the meantime I want to talk about my experience of India as I approach it for round two. 

I admit it. India got on top of me. I went in there with plans and expectations, aspirations and high hopes. Incredible India laughed at me and my sense of rationality and wanderlust then spat me out. India for me was to be the triumphant halfway point of the trip.  I planned on easy availability of parts for my bike, mechanics who I could afford to employ to fill the gaps in my mechanical knowledge, cheap food and cheaper beer - a motorcyclists dream. 

I flew into Chennai after an amazing month with new friends in Kuala Lumpur.  Arriving into Chennai, customs kicked me up the security chain of command 3 times to superior officers due to what I think was my lack of exit plane ticket (and my Pakistan visa).  This was my first run in with Indian bureaucracy.  Two hours later I was released onto the street from a small room with two utilitarian chairs and a table to match, and no explanation. 

Several days later my bike arrived in port and I attempted to get my bike out with an agent. As a big fan of doing things myself, I was determined not employ someone else to do a job I should be able to do for myself. After being turned away from most customs offices for my lack of agent (I later learned a shipping agent is better skilled in the art of greasing palms), I bit the bullet and engaged a shipping agent, who luckily for me also had a love of old Enfields. This was perfect, a fellow biker and Enfield enthusiast; just the kind of guy I needed on my side to get my bike pulled from the sea of red tape of the Chennai  port. 

7 weeks later… I still did not have my bike, my agent had almost tripled his initial and agreed quote while holding my passport ransom for additional fees. The media, the Australian Embassy, friends in high places and friends in low places were all involved in the process by now. 

I am not a man of petty revenge but every second day or so when I went to the agents office only to be told that he would be further trying to extort cash from me, all I could think how amazing it would be to drop a litre to two of bleach into the oil reservoir of his vintage Enfield parked out the front. The only reason that I never enacted such a plan was that even a full engine rebuild in Chennai would only set him back about 10th of what he was charging me to remove bike the shipping warehouse, plus more importantly, I love old bikes. 

Because of the time I spent meeting the challenge of extracting my bike from the port and my passport and carnet from a fellow bike owner, my Pakistan visa has expired, my Iranian visa has expired and I had to fly back to Australia to sort out these issues. 

Chennai was tough, but that said, because of my time in Chennai I got to meet and hangout with some really interesting people, cafe owners, hoteliers, farmers and finance gurus. That would continue to be a theme of my first trip in India - meet amazing people then have plans invariably go sideways due to red tape and the corruption of a few people. People keep telling me I just didn't understand India - and if I was to try and understand I would be missing the point. They are right. I have no clue what I am doing.

This was illustrated on one of my last nights in Bombay when I decided I wanted to read my book and drink a beer in a local cafe. A short google and stroll later I arrived at "cafe hind".  I pushed the door open and strolled down the stairs to the basement. I noted that the elaborate neon lighting might make reading a bit tricky but what of it? Walking across the room, I took a corner table and started reading after ordering an overpriced beer ($4 for a late beer - what is this madness!).  I was the only one in the bar apart from a couple of girls huddled near the centre. I looked at them, they looked at me. Yep. I had brought a book to read in an Indian gentleman's club. By the time I had finished my beer the room was filled with men staring at the girls with a few of them drinking red bull out of brandy gallons (that’s a thing apparently). Once again, I had done my research, made a plan, enacted it and then was blindsided by a cultural misunderstanding.

Ah... Incredible India. 

I am about to fly back to Bombay where I will pick up my bike and continue on this adventure. This time it will be with no expectations, few plans and a slightly tamed sense of wanderlust. 

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West Java

Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.
— Patrick Rothfuss
About this post… 
I have left a few cities, motorcycle club names and details out of this part of the blog. I am not always comfortable with what takes place in my travels but for the sake of the story I feel some parts must be shared. There are other parts that I will keep to myself, for future books or perhaps to share with someone over a beer one day. One of the main reasons I have struggled with keeping my blog up to date is my own questioning of how to write about some of the things that have happened on this trip.  I am aware that one day this trip will be over.  One day I will have to resume a normal life and return to a job. A future employer may check these stories and make judgements or see them in a way that I do not. I have met people from every walk of life while trying to explore the concepts of masculinity and to exclude certain men’s stories because I don’t agree with their values would be limiting my understanding. While I do not think I have ever done anything that goes beyond what I believe to be morally acceptable, some of the activities are illegal in certain countries. Not all people feel the same way I do about these things. For those people who might feel left out of this part of my story, please know I think about it all of the time and I am sorry I could not include your contribution to my experience in Java.
Also, my grandmother reads my blog and I’m sure she doesn't want to read about the time I slept at a friend’s brothel when there was no affordable accommodation in town.  Like Joseph in the stable, sometimes you just have to take what you are offered.

I was disappointed to leave Yogjakarta (Jogja). I was having too much fun there and as was often the case, I needed to leave. I know I have said it before but one of the hardest parts of this trip is meeting amazing people, people who are kind, honest and welcoming; people with whom you have a real connection, only to have to leave a short time later in the name of the trip. I would have been happy in Jogja, but the road was calling.  This journey must have an end point somewhere, at some stage and if I didn’t keep moving I would never find it.

I loaded up and left Mr Bang Bang’s place and pushed west. I had started with a few contacts at various 1% motorcycle clubs and now had contacts all the way through Indonesia, from Bali to the top of Sumatra. They were excited to meet me and a fellow classic bike enthusiast is still a fellow enthusiast regardless of their patches. While in Australia I did unexpectedly have help and support from these types of clubs, but here in Java there is undoubtedly a sense of apprehension when you are surrounded by men who have no issues showing their rank, chapter and 3 piece patches.

In the bigger cities the larger motorcycle clubs have a central clubhouse. This is often a bar run by the motorcycle club, with ample motorcycle only parking out the front and relaxed RSA rules.  Apparently these are open to the public but I never saw anyone there who wasn’t patched or clearly trying to be introduced into the club as a “Prospect” or “Probie”. Then scattered around the city are various biker friendly hangouts called checkpoints. They tend to be on the outskirts of town along the main entry and exit roads. Often just a house, workshop or café, you can usually pick them from the large amount of biker paraphernalia floating around or the oil stained parking spots.

I was to meet a friend of a friend at one of the outlying checkpoints and he would show me around.  I later learned that he would be my introduction to the main chapter and some of the riders who make up the top end of the clearly defined ranking system.

The checkpoint where I was introduced was a bike workshop. The local clubs seemed to base their iconography and symbolism very heavily on the outlaw clubs in the States.  Surrounded by Nazi insignias, diamond patches and the confederate flag on an island in Indonesia takes some getting used to, though not as much as the power dynamic between the Probies and the fully patched members. The Probies wanting to join the club would have to enter a period of ... well service is the only way I can really put it.  They wear a denim vest with only a bottom rocker as opposed to the fully patched members who only wear leather and the full 3 piece patches. The Probies fetch the coffee, run off to buy cigarettes and beer, they do the washing up and any other tasks that need to be done. There was never any animosity either way but just a happy acceptance that it was how things were done. As a guest I never really knew where I stood. If I needed anything (or my host thought I needed it) the Probies would hurriedly get it. It was a strange power play and dynamic but it appeared to work for everyone.

I spent the afternoon hanging out at the checkpoint, drinking beers promptly purchased by the Probies whenever we ran short. We talked bikes, my trip, riding around Indo and as tends to be the case after you have been drinking with new blokes, girls.  I could tell that the half dozen or so guys I was hanging out with were all single and wanted to hear far more rock and roll stories and exploits than I was able to provide them with. They were amazed at how few women I had met on my trip - I think they had visions of tales of nightly misogynistic conquests from Sydney and across the world. It was never really something that I had given much thought.  The goal of this trip was to explore concepts of masculinity. I found it interesting that these guys, despite their ultra-defined and patched social group, still felt that this was a huge part of who they were. I grabbed a beer and went to do some routine checks on the bike.

The head member of the checkpoint told me that I would be able to meet the President that night at the club house when they went for a weekend ride. 

In the centre of town in the nightclub district, the club house was starting to fill up with members. Most members were milling around the front, checking out what was happening on the street and welcoming friends as they arrived. The higher ranking members all hung around one table, patched members with fresh cuts (patched vests with little signs of ageing) all hung around one table and the Probies all slunk around the corner… except when a member would turn up.  Then 3 or 4 of them would run up to the member, shake his hand and then park his bike for him like a tattooed, leather clad valet service.

The bikes were exceptional. Words don’t really describe the huge range of classic bikes. The rat theme was stronger here than I had seen before - no headlights, no plates, not many front brakes in sight and a bunch of bikes that didn’t even have stands so had to be propped up on a wall like an MX bike. 

While there was plenty of smoking there wasn’t much in the way of drinking.  I was introduced to some of the higher ranking members and I quickly bought a pitcher of beer to share. After a couple of beers I loosened up and relaxed enough for some of the questions that I had been wanting to ask. I was talking to “Enforcer” who spoke English very comfortably. 

I told him that this club was more regimented and had a much stronger sense of identity than some of the clubs I had met in Indonesia and even in Australia.

Loosely paraphrased he told me that they really wanted to provide a sense of brotherhood, a family structure and social organisation that would be known for the good work they did. I guess the clubs back home do the same things with the toy runs. 

They talked about their social work. The reality is that in Indonesia you needed to come from a certain section of society to be able to afford these kinds of bikes. The members were clearly more wealthy than the average Indonesian. After learning more about this, I felt that this felt more like a rotary club than a criminal organisation – a rotary club with tattoos, leather and motorcycles.

Enforcer asked me what I enjoyed. “Whisky, motorcycles and women”, I replied. It felt like an appropriate response at the time when surrounded in a biker bar. He laughed, slapped me on the back and passed me a beer and told me I was now a friend of the club and would be welcomed by anyone with that patch. I didn’t know though that I would now be known by that saying throughout Indonesia and I might come to regret it.

I was passed a large glass of orange juice. I took several large gulps – hmm vodka and orange.  It was not the kind of thing I had imagined drinking in a biker bar but a drink is a drink.  I downed what I thought was my share and the table raised their eyebrows at me.  I smiled back.  The glass was passed on and replaced with another orange juice from under the table. 

I thought back to the strange nature of the drink in the bar.  “Orange juice and vodka?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes…orange juice and vodka and mushrooms - we said before”.  I had missed the “before”.

Urrrg. I have no patience for hallucinogenic drugs.  I am just too much of a control freak and an over thinker to surrender my thoughts and vision to the experience that they require in a strange setting. I kept trying to tighten my grip on normality even as the drug pried my fingers away from my already loose grip of social interactions. Luckily by the time I should have been in the full thralls of a trip, I had only some mild sensations, but my companions were giggling.  There is something incredibly hilarious about a dozen men, all tattooed, leather vested and patched - giggling like school girls. Large shoulders heaving, bouncing up and down while they cackled madly at any comment, sight or unshared thought they have. I was laughing with them in no time at all. Maybe, sometimes a looser grip is the way to go?

Unlike what we hear reported in the media in Australia, I never experienced any animosity between the motorbike clubs in Indonesia. All of the clubs appeared to get along fine (with a few small exceptions). While I was riding through West Java I was introduced to many different clubs, and chapters of clubs. Everyone welcomed me, and provided me with support and help. It made getting around Java pretty simple.  I would ride to a checkpoint on the edge of town. They would welcome me and I would spend the night.  They would then take me across town to the other side and I would ride in that direction to the next town where a different club or chapter would be waiting on the highway to take me through town or put me up for the night. Repeat until you get to the end of Sumatra.

 I mentioned before that somehow along the biker grapevine it got around that I enjoyed “whisky, motorcycles and women”. I thought it was simply a throwaway line but Indonesian hospitality did not let that one slide. I learned this when I needed to spend three nights in a town near Bangdoung doing some repair work. I was staying at a guest house (very kindly provided by my motorcycle friends). I kept being told I could get a massage *wink* *wink* here. I let them know that it was ok, that I really wasn’t in need of a *massage*. They kept insisting and I kept politely declining before I finally told them I was tired and needed to sleep.  I wished them good night and retired, showered and was about to jump in my silk sleeping bag liner (it helps with bedbugs) when there was a knock at the door.

 

 Yep. There was a prostitute at my door.  Like most Indonesian women, she was unquestionably beautiful - large eyes, high cheek bones and a slender smile.  She wore a tight fitting dress. She kept saying “massage sir, massage sent. I had been on the bike for most of the day riding around the local mountains; I was tense and a massage would have been perfect. She stood there with a shy smile.

 

I looked towards my empty bed, back to her. Shook my head, apologised, slipped her a small tip and closed the door as slowly as I could. I kept reminding myself that I had made the right call. Lying there in bed, muscles sore and thinking of her shy smile,  I had a chuckle to myself. How many people end up this situation? 

I am glad I was able to experience all of these more unusual aspects of Indonesia but sometimes they do know how to test a man.

Jakarta

I rode into Jakarta at about 2am. Though only 70kms away, it had taken me 10 hours to make the ride. The traffic was oppressive.  There was no room to squeeze a pedestrian through the gridlock, let alone a fully loaded Enfield. My bike was getting hot from the lack of air over the cylinder.  The jam was so bad I spent several hours with the engine off, rolling it forward a few meters whenever a gap appeared.

I noticed the sticker of the largest motorcycle club in Indonesia (Biker Brotherhood MC) on the back of a guy’s helmet. I waved him down and asked him where the South Jakarta checkpoint was. He rode me there and called my friend who I was to meet. It was midnight and the traffic was still thick. He said that we should wait until 2am when it will clear. We sat around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, which did help me stay awake.

The two riders would take me into the city to my hostel that I had booked.  They did offer to put me up but I felt like I needed a break from the Indonesian biker hospitality. My companion rode a cafe’d Buell while his friend was on a classic BSA. He was right about the traffic - like a light switch the roads were empty whereas only two hours before they had been gridlocked.

We rode fast and hard. If you ever want to see a city, blast around it on a motorcycle at 2am on a Wednesday morning. There was no slowing it down through traffic lights, just eye burning speed in the cool of the night. Riding so fast that I kept my weight on the rear wheel of the bike so when I would hit the pot holes the bike would lift right over them like a heavily loaded and slow Evel Knievel.  I bounced, sped and likely destroyed my front end while loving every second of it. 

We pulled in to get petrol and my patched friend filled my tank. There was no letting me pay for it. While this happening, a local custom Vespa club turned up. Now I ride with custom bikes back home but these Vespa guys take it to another level and make it something else. Extended, questionably welded unibodies and strange trike numbers that if they could pick up any speed would surely kill you faster than riding through the Java mountains with a head full of mushrooms. They explained that this is the only time they could ride their unregistered contraptions on the road. They smiled, waved, kicked their engines bolted on wheels and rode off. What a strange experience.

 I pulled into my very Western hostel and arranged to meet my biker friends later that week. People speaking English, hot showers, wifi, beds with sheets, and toilet paper. There were half a dozen backpackers still up drinking so I grabbed a bottle of whisky I was gifted from my bag and joined them. 

They asked me the usual questions: where am I from, where have I been, where am I going?  I thought about my last two weeks of outlaw motorcycle clubs, parties and twisting mountain roads, close calls with trucks and the impossible kindness of the locals.

“Just around", I responded.  I wasn’t trying to be mysterious; I just didn’t really feel like going into details and there is no way I would be able to do the experience justice.

“Tell me about your travels, I want to hear about your time in Kuta”, I said to fill a slightly awkward silence, knowing that the Essex girl would happily talk on for half an hour without pause while I kicked back with my glass of warm, cheap whisky.


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Why I use a swag for motorcycle touring

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t know, a swag is an Australian type of one man tent made from heavy canvas. It’s similar to a bedroll and features in our unofficial Australian Anthem - Waltzing Matilda.

Early Australian swagman - I think we have the same jeans - Wikipedia

Early Australian swagman - I think we have the same jeans - Wikipedia

A few years ago when I really started to get into motorcycle touring I needed to make a choice about my sleeping options. 

  1. Light camping/hiking tent 
  2. Hammock/fly situation 
  3. Swag 

Trawling the net and various forums I found that people asked this question a lot and each time I give a detailed outline on why I think the swag is the best option so I have made the call to just drop it all here so I can quickly copy and paste this link then go back to looking at pictures of funny cats. 

The most useful feature of the swag is just how flexible and tough it is and how it provides adequate shelter in nearly all the situations that you will encounter when riding a motorcycle. It’s not the perfect solution to all needs and sometimes a tent or hammock arrangement would be more useful, but for me it’s the most flexible option and now I wouldn’t consider touring with anything else. 

Hammock

A hammock is super light and you don’t need flat ground to put it down but what you do need is two points the right distance apart to hang it off. This can be harder to find than you think. Most camp sites in Australia have been cleared of trees as they need to accommodate people with tents, caravans and importantly avoid the “widow makers” or gum trees that randomly drop limbs. Also if you are ever camping with a group, you will have to hang your hammock away from the group and camp fire and most importantly the beer/whisky. Importantly, the place where you are likely to find the trees to hang your hammock will be in the uncleared scrub which can contain a whole bunch of nasties such as spiders and snakes which you don’t really want to be dealing with in the middle of the night or the first thing in the morning. 

Pros 

  • Light and small
  • Easy to pack up
  • Can be used on uneven ground

Cons

  • Nowhere to place your gear such as boots or jacket 
  • Limited use in traditional campsites
  • Usually needs to be set up away from friends/campfire if you are with a group. 

Wrap up: Useful if you are solo traveling on the road or a “just in case” item to include on a bike if you think may have a night on the road. 

 

Tent and sleeping mat 

Most people swear by a tent. Now if you are planning on staying more than a few nights a tent is the way to go. That said, even the most simple tent will take longer to setup compared to a swag. Further still the size (and usually the colour of the tent) makes them stand out. This is perfect if you are pitching at Everest Basecamp. Not so much if you are trying to squat camp on the side of the road or the back paddock of a farmer. Tents also tend to be pretty rigid when packed down. This can make them tricky to tie down onto a bike if you don’t have a rack or a sissybar to strap to. 

Pros 

  • Spacious 
  • The most waterproof option 
  • More room for gear
  • If you get rained out you have a decent and comfortable shelter option for as long as you want. 

Cons

  • The size can make squat camping hard. 
  • Needs a larger cleared area. 
  • Can be hard to tie down to a bike. 
  • Stands out
  • Takes more time to set up and pull down
  • Can be difficult to use on hard, uneven or sloped ground. 

Wrap up:  Useful if you are staying for more than one night, if you think the weather will be bad or you plan to stay at the more commercial camping areas. 

Swag 

For me the main advantage of swag is how versatile it can be. If you just need a quick place to rest, rolling out a swag takes seconds. If you need a bit more space or it looks like rain you can find a way to pitch it into a larger structure as most swags come with poles. Swags also make great little seats to sit on when you winding down at the end of the night. As they are so easy to set up you really only need to make camp seconds before you want to sleep. With a tent you need to be prepared much sooner. Likewise with packing up in the morning. It takes seconds not minutes to roll a swag. Once again this is useful if you are squat camping or in the more likely situation, you have slept in and just need to hit the road quickly.

Rolling up my swag and sleeping mat on the East Coast of Malaysia - Photo from http://beeskneesbobber.tumblr.com/ 

Rolling up my swag and sleeping mat on the East Coast of Malaysia - Photo from http://beeskneesbobber.tumblr.com/ 

People will always complain about the size of a swag compared to a tent and sleeping mat. An easy solution around this is to remove the foam mattress that comes stock with the swag and replace it with a hiking inflatable mattress or your ex-girlfriend’s yoga mat. This will reduce the size of the roll considerably.  

A weekends worth of supplies for motortouring - All rolled into a swag

A weekends worth of supplies for motortouring - All rolled into a swag

If you are planning on a quick overnight stay out of town, what are the essentials you take on a motorcycle trip? A spare teeshirt, sleeping bag, woollen blanket (depending on weather), toothbrush and bottle of whisky? With a swag you safely place all of these things into the canvas before you roll it. Now you only have one thing to tie to your motorcycle, not a tent, sleeping mat, backpack etc etc… Having only one thing tied to your bike improves handling and you can spend more time riding and less time worrying about your gear falling off the back.

Pros

  • For short trips all of your essentials can be rolled into one swag
  • Easy to make and break camp
  • Can double as a seat around a fire 
  • Sturdy and durable 
  • Can be used on hard surfaces with no need for tent pegs 
  • Can be easily tied to a motorcycle without any need for racks 

Cons 

  • Will never be as waterproof as a tent 
  • The lack of space may concern some people 
  • Expensive compared to cheap tents 

Speaking of things falling off motorcycles… I was once riding late at night on the highway, perhaps riding a bit faster than I should have been. I was fully loaded with a bag and swag strapped to my adventura rack when I noticed my backend handling started to feel all off. I looked down thinking I must be losing tire pressure. Turns out my rack had shaken loose of the bike and was being dragged down the highway. My swag was dragged for at least 150 meters before I stopped. While some of the plastic base had worn through that was the only damage. A few strips of duct tape later and I was fine. 15,000 kms later and I’m still using my duct taped repaired swag.

My swag setup for the night on the West coast of Sumatra - Still with the duct tape repairs from 15,000kms and many, many sleeps ago. 

My swag setup for the night on the West coast of Sumatra - Still with the duct tape repairs from 15,000kms and many, many sleeps ago. 

Perhaps I am just too nostalgic but I also get a kick of the simplistic nature of swag and the old time Australian bushman vibe. When I try to explain the concept of a swag to people who are not Australian they just don’t get as excited about it as I do. “So it’s like a heavy bivvy tent” they ask. Well perhaps for me it’s more about keeping a part of Australian culture alive every time I need to sleep out. I guess for me that is worth something too. 

 

On my trip I use a Darche swag. For your own Darche swag contact www.darche.com.au 

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A ride to the South Coast of Java

But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you: Home is home, be it never so homely.
— ~Henry David Thoreau

I got a call from Teddy telling me that he and a few riding buddies were planning on riding to the coast that weekend. On Saturday we would ride down to a little beach spot for a few beers. 

Beers by the beach - perfect. My bike however was blowing far too much smoke and the whole thing was chewing through oil like a two-stoke. I mean… my bike always blows smoke. It’s just what it does. Before I blew a piston in the outback, I was spending more on oil than fuel. Not the most environmentally friendly form of transport but it worked well in Australia. Until of course, I blew a piston in the outback that left me stranded and put me a month and a half behind schedule. 

 The local club I was riding with often take their pre-1960 bikes on runs that are several thousands of kilometres long; sometimes the full length of Indonesia. To do this they need an amazing mechanic and luckily they have one. Mr Agung used to race two strokes in the 70’s and now he is known as *the* mechanic for old bikes. The locals talk about him in near mythical terms. “He only sleeps for 2 hours a night!”.  “He once wrote off a Blackshadow moon riding but repaired it the next day so he could race it”. Anyway, he was the man to see about my smoky bike. I was still feeling a bit sick so when he came around to pick up my bike at close to midnight, I didn’t think too much of it. I went to bed and conceded that I would have to ride someone else’s bike to the beach or worse, ride pillion, “the seat of shame”. 

I woke in the morning after being tagged in a bunch of facebook photos from Mr Agung working on my bike. That clock in the top left isn't broken. He was working on my bike at 4:30 in the morning. 

I woke in the morning after being tagged in a bunch of facebook photos from Mr Agung working on my bike. That clock in the top left isn't broken. He was working on my bike at 4:30 in the morning. 

Teddy woke me up in the morning with the ripping of his WLA outside the wok factory. I pulled on some pants and walked down. 

“Jump on - we go and get your bike now” 

 I am not a morning person at the best of times. With me still feeling sick I wasn’t really looking forward to a day of wrenching on my bike but with the heroic Mr Agung working with me it should be a good learning experience. 

 Getting to his shop I noticed that the gearbox cover is off. This isn’t a step for working on the engine. 

 Turns out for Mr Agung, he had not slept. Perhaps the Blackshadow tale was true after all. He had pulled off the head, replaced the rings and rebuilt the engine. Of course it is impossible to find Enfield rings in a few hours so he fabricated a set. Unfortunately when he was rebuilding the engine he stripped off a rocker oil feed bolt (a bolt with a hole in it that allows oil into it).  Once again he didn’t have this part. He did however have the ability to fabricate one with no issue. Ditto the kickstart return spring that broke when he was starting it up.  The talented dude worked all through the night to get my bike running - just so I could go for beers at the beach. People talk about Indonesian hospitality but if you have only experienced the sellers at Kuta you are missing out on some of the kindest and most caring people you will meet anywhere in the world.

Why are the mechanics so good in Indo? They learn to hold a wrench before they can walk. 

Why are the mechanics so good in Indo? They learn to hold a wrench before they can walk. 

That afternoon we jumped on the bikes to the beach there was to be 7 of us.  A ratted matchless, 3 WLAs, a couple of BSA and Cosmas bikeexif level cool custom. Seriously follow this link for more details on this bike.

 A bunch of old bikes, winding mountain roads and a grin on everyone’s face. It was a great feeling. The quality of the road also allowed us to really get the most out of our bikes.  I feel I need to say that I often get pulled up on how hard I push my bike - scraping pegs, cornering too fast and just generally being a hooligan on an old bike. I have to say though, these guys rode the be-jesus out of me. Bikes that had 20 years on mine, suicide shifters and no rear suspension footplate carving every corner. It was nuts. Some kids love standing on their seats (guilty) while riding.  Watching Teddy handsfree stand on his 42 WLA ridged…well it made me feel like I should put my training wheels back on.  Once at the beach the first cold beer was cracked.  The beach was perfect, movie set perfect. Waves, little huts, dramatic rocks and cliffs. If this was Bali it would be packed with hotels. Instead it was us, a few locals and thatched hut/bar/daybed type things called Bales

Not a bad place to kick it and drink some beers. 

Not a bad place to kick it and drink some beers. 

Our drinking table.. and later our resting area. 

Our drinking table.. and later our resting area. 

After a few beers I started winding it back - aware of the night ride through the mountains.  Noticing my slowing pace, I was pulled up and quickly told we would be spending the night there. Sleeping at the bar under the thatch. Perfect. I grabbed another beer - one of many. Eventually falling alseep under my jacket, with my friends’ glasses clinking and waves not too far away.

 In the morning we woke with a tasty breakfast, coffee and a clutch issue with a WLA. The clutch plate bolt had threaded. Mr Agung grabbed one of left over beer cans from the night before, drank the last few sips, pulled it apart and used some plumbing tape to get some traction on this bolt. 

This Matchless has no right to run as well as did. The owner rode me under the table with it. 

This Matchless has no right to run as well as did. The owner rode me under the table with it. 

The ride back was at a more relaxed pace. It might have been the hangovers or perhaps everyone was just taking in the last moments of the weekend while they could. 

 I think we have a habit of trying to overcomplicate what makes us happy and what is needed to have little adventures. I had just had the most amazing weekend. No real plans, friends, bikes and a friendly thatch roofed bar - no frills but all fun.



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Arriving in Yogyakarta

I’ve always been amused by the contention that brain work is harder than manual labor. I’ve never known a man to leave a desk for a muck-stick if he could avoid it.”
— John Steinbeck, America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction

I didn’t know it at the time but Teddy (the guy with the WLA) was about to be one the closest friends I was to make in Indonesia. We ate at his house and enjoyed home made ice-cream. He worked as an architect but you would never be able to tell that from the amount he smiled (sorry architects but you do tend to be a surly bunch). His home also doubled as sort of orphanage. A place where children could stay, get fed and be taken to school. He and his friends pooled their money to make this happen and at the time of writing he had about 30  little ones running around the place slightly high from the sugar in the ice-cream. 

Teddy and his family. Please note the little one did not like me messing up his hair. 

Teddy and his family. Please note the little one did not like me messing up his hair. 

Despite being in Indonesia for a month I am still blown away by the incredible hospitality. After a tour of Solo taking in the palace and checking out the musesen he told me that he would ride with me to Jogja and introduce me to a friend of his called “Mr Bangbang”. Mr Bangbang lived on the outskirts of town at his successful metal manufacturing factory. Hand made woks were his bread and butter but he also had a number of CNC machines and other tools in his 100 staff factory. 

Teddy and 2 days worth of supplies tied to his WLA

Teddy and 2 days worth of supplies tied to his WLA

He was also, unsurprisingly a huge motorcycle fanatic, with a collection of WLAs and BSAs. 

"Don't crash the antique motorcycle" 

"Don't crash the antique motorcycle" 

He lived in a 3 level building that would be best described as a “treehouse”.  It was produced and by designed by Teddy and this was a high and airy home with the top levels looking out over Jogja and the surrounding trees. 

Despite Mr Bangbang's limited English (which was still leaps and bounds better than my Bahassa) he welcomed me into his home and allowed me to park my bike next to his collection. 

I needed to spend a week waiting for an extension to my visa (had it already been 30 days?) and he told me to stay here. 

Teddy rode out and said he would be back soon.  He motored off close to midnight for the hour ride to Solo.

I  tried to use the time as best as I could. Updating the blog, working on the bike and  doing some b-roll and interview footage for the next stories of bike episode. I was still feeling slightly down from the cough that slowed me in East Java so it was a good time to rest and take it all in. 

During the day I would spend a rather large amount of time watching the workers as they hand made these woks. There was a guy who would make the molds from clay. There was a team that would melt down the ingots, the guys who would pour molten fluid into the molds and finally the two man teams that would pull the still soft woks from the molds and stack them. 

The factory

The factory

The speed at which the workers was able to produce the woks was amazing. Full auto pilot while they talked, joked and stood around 1370 degrees liquid. 

Carving the clay molds that would be used to make the woks.

Carving the clay molds that would be used to make the woks.

Through his son I started talking to Mr Bangbang about this process and how it was amazing that this work was all done by hand. He talked about how that a long time ago, it became more effective for him to use machines to make the woks. That would of course mean that 100 plus employees would be dramatically downsized. He didn’t like the idea of this and instead made the choice to use the new machines to move into different markets such as the CNC machining and (he giggled when he said this) parts for old motorcycles as he required. 

My Bangbang outside his factory/home.

My Bangbang outside his factory/home.

Mr Bangbang was content with his business, home and family and felt no need to pull the jobs of his employees who he had known for years -  just for profit. It was impressive - I am not sure if I would make the same choice. To get to a point after starting a business from sratch and go  “Now is when I need to give back’. It is not a choice I have ever had to make and will cross that bridge when I run a hugely successful wok and machining factory. 

He found me some fried cow-lungs which would help my health. It tasted like the balance between jerky and fancy packet chips. I got better rather quickly after that. It may have been the lungs. Or just the rest I was getting. 

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East Java

She described to us six lanes’ worth of unadulterated fear, populated exclusively by motorists whose driving education had been paid for by the blood of pedestrians.
— Jeff Deck, The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time
Heading towards Solo after catching up with a local club

Heading towards Solo after catching up with a local club

I rode from Pronorgo into Solo. I always find more difficult to find accommodation in large cities than I do the small towns.  Whenever you ask for a guesthouse the locals always want to point you towards a large hotel. My usual process is to find a net connection/free wifi spot; find the name of a guest house in the next few cities and sketch a mud map and address into my moleskin notebook. With no GPS and a phone that doesn't work this tends to get me there... most of the time. The larger the city though, the more difficult it is to track down the small guesthouses which tend to be tucked away in a back alley.

A Java funeral 

A Java funeral 

Driving around Solo trying to find a guest house my bike kept spluttering at the stop lights. Each time it would take more and more kicks to fire into life again. Even then it was still misfiring until the next set of lights. After the 5th time this happened, the bike just plain refused to start again. 

As I had done so many times before, I pushed it to the side of the road, grabbed my tool roll and started to work though my trouble shooting process. 

  • Pull the fuel line from the carburettor and check if there is fuel running to the carb.
  • Check to see if there is power and a full circuit when I hit the ignition. 
  • Pull the spark plug and check the state of the (terminal plug???). Is it clean or oily? 
  • Place the spark plug on the engine case and give it a kick - making sure you don’t grab the metal part or else you will get a friendly boot of current. 
  • Check to see the strength of the spark. 
  • Check oil level. 
  • Check to see if points and timing are correct. 
  • Check engine compression with the thumb over the spark hole. 
  • Check if my thumb now smells like petrol or if it’s oily. 
  • If the bike has cooled by now check the tappets and valve clearance. 

The bike passed all of my usual checks, however the spark was weak and plug was filthy. I scrubbed it with a steel brush as best I could then asked the restaurant behind me if I could use their gas stove to burn off any excess oil on the plug.  With my lack of Bahasa it took a while to explain what I wanted until I eventually just moved the large pot out of the way using my jacket as an oven mitt and held out the plug over the blue flame.   Once I replaced the still warm spark plug, my bike still refused to start. As a last ditch effort I tried to push start it. It spluttered, fired twice then died. The sun had set, the mosquitoes were out and I had no backup beer in my top bag. A horrible situation to be in. 

I made the call that there was nothing more I could do on the side of the road and started pushing my bike to where I thought the guest house was. I have spent a fair amount of time pushing my bike but with the bags on the back it is always an awkward experience. There is a certain amount of defeat involved in pushing a busted bike which only adds to what is rarely a fun time. If you ever want to know the incline grade of even the slightest hill - try pushing a 250 kilo bike up it.  I find it varies from “this blows” to “f*ck this - will insurance pay out if I drop my lit zippo in the tank?”.

Before I had a chance to pull out my zippo on a steep incline, a guy on a custom scrambler pulled up. It was a local made Honda with a highpipe, custom seat and bare metal polished tank - simple but effective mods to a bike. 

“Where are you going? I will give you a push.” 

I smiled. I told him I wasn't really sure but I thought it was over there-ish while pointing vaguely in the direction I was heading. 

He jumped on his bike and stuck his leg out to push on the pillion peg. I don’t know why Dad and I didn’t try this in Australia. It is far more effective than using a rope. That’s just my opinion but I do know I tend to crash when I use a rope.  We made it to the guest house slowly, but without a problem - impressive. 

Danang's custom scrambler 

Danang's custom scrambler 

Once we got to the guest house Danang my new friend and I had a chat about cafe racers, old bikes (he used to own a BSA), travel and Sydney (he had just finished working for four years on the large cruise ships that would pull into Sydney harbour). After a shared beer he moved on and I went to sleep. 

I woke up late the next day and looked at my bike, sitting there with an unknown problem in the courtyard of this guesthouse off a back alley. Oil was dripping and staining the floor as it had all the way from Sydney.  I pulled out my tools and my bible (the well-thumbed and oily Enfield workshop manual). I decided to have another coffee; then read a book for a while; then check the packing on my bags; basically anything that wasn’t working on the bike. I really wasn't in the mood for it. While sipping my second coffee Danang turned up again on his bike and asked if I had got the bike working yet, clearly noting how relaxed I looked sitting next to my intact bike with a book and coffee. 

“Ahh… not yet, just reading up on possible issues” I lied feeling guilty about my wasted morning. “I am just about to get into it” as I put down my non-Enfield book and went to my tool roll. 

“I have some time off if you would like some company” 

Someone to look over my shoulder, making sure that I was working on the bike and not just slacking around in Solo was certainly what I needed. Plus it’s always nice to have someone to share bikes stories while wrenching.

I pulled out the carb and gave it a proper clean - still not starting. 

I cleaned the points and made sure the gap was correct. 

When it comes to bikes there is a saying “if you have a spark, fuel and compression…something should happen.”  I had all three of those but still no “something”. 

Still no love - I was lost. Like I tend to do when I get stuck in such a situation, I turned to the internet - I asked my riding buddies back homes and they suggested the things I had already tried. 

Danang got off his phone. He said he used to be a member of the “Old Motorcycle Club” and that he has told the club about my situation and they should be here soon. When a mechanic turned up riding in the sidecar of a rat WLA 1940's Harley I figured I was in good hands. 

It's hard to be concerned when your mechanic turns up in a 60 year old sidecar rig

It's hard to be concerned when your mechanic turns up in a 60 year old sidecar rig

The guys loved that there was someone trying to ride from Sydney to London on such an old bike. The mechanic pulled the spark plug and sent one of the boys to go fetch a new one (I was out). He pulled and cleaned the carbs and reset the points again (setting points or tappets or anything fine like that has never been a strong point of mine). Once back together he kicked the bike. I won’t say that I was relieved that it didn’t start but I am glad he had gone through the same steps as me and come to the same conclusion. The bike should have started - but it didn’t. 

Reaching for my circuit tester he started working on the wiring. Now I should say, as a blanket rule - I just don’t get electronics on bikes. When an engine is broken you can usually pick what the issue is rather quickly.  Is there a hole in your piston, a broken valve - you can see these issues. Electronics is kind of a dark art. There may be a problem but you can’t see it and it could be anywhere and it’s very difficult to find. It turns out my battery was stuffed. There was enough current to push a bit of spark when it was kicked but not enough to fire it into life. A quick phone call later a guy turned up with a Harley battery from his shop. Of course the large battery didn’t fit into my battery holder but that was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the backside of my hatchet, brute force to bend the battery holder and a bunch of heavy duty zip ties. 

The bike fired up with amazing strength on the first kick. 

The Solo old motorcycle club - Once again the local clubs got me further down the road. 

The Solo old motorcycle club - Once again the local clubs got me further down the road. 

The bike was running and the club was stoked to be able to get me back on the road. Teddy (the gentleman with the WLA sidecar) invited me back to his house for dinner with his family as they broke fasting for the day.  I love side cars; always have. So I jumped in his unsuspensioned  rigid rig as he took off into the traffic towards his house. 

I walked with a limp for a week when I tried to kickstart my bike with thongs and it backfired. 

I walked with a limp for a week when I tried to kickstart my bike with thongs and it backfired. 

As much as I may complain about the old bike, if I hadn’t been pushing it on the side of the road there is no way I would have got a chance to ride in this painfully spine jolting vintage sidecar that I loved.  The stupidly big smile on my face said it all. 

I was smiling just before this however he had just hit a bump. 

I was smiling just before this however he had just hit a bump. 

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Leaving Bali

But in Africa bureaucrats are usually too proud to accept a bribe, something I admire when I’m not the one being arrested.
— Tahir Shah, In Search of King Solomon's Mines

On my last night in Bali, Aileen, Frenchie (Tony) and I headed to Ubud. We stayed in a Balinese villa out of town. It was incredibly good value at $20AUD a night and with its own courtyard, kitchen and day lounges it was the most relaxing and chilled place I have stayed on this trip. Next morning we woke up early. Aileen was planning more time in Bali to sort out her bike issues while Frenchie and I planned to head to Java. 

We said goodbye, smiled, hugged and both wished each other well on our journeys. I have a sneaky suspicion that we will ride together again one day. 

Leaving Bali we blasted North to take the top road. 

Leaving Bali we blasted North to take the top road. 

 

Tony and I planned to take the highroad across Bali. We motored out. The Enfield was running well and unsurprisingly Frenchie’s twist and go was running perfectly. Heading north through the small villages and rolling green rice fields, a number of cars started to flash their lights at us.  There was a police road block - 3 of Bali’s finest in well ironed uniforms smoking by the side of the road. We had heard this road was notorious for grabbing tourists and charging them for not having an international licence. I had just hit the ATM and had all of my weekly cash just sitting inside my wallet.  Normally I only carry a very small amount of cash in my wallet for safety reasons and so that bribing is more straight forward.   While I am completely legitimate, I knew that if they checked out my wallet there was no way that I would able to avoid paying a large bribe for whatever frivolous reason came to their mind. 

They waved us over. 

Tony pulled off his helmet and wished them good morning in Bahasa.  From there the conversation continued but they were speaking far too fast for me to understand more than a  few simple words to follow. Tony pointed to me and to my bike, with a large smile. They checked out my Australian number plate. Tony then looked at me and then whispered in rapid English “make a phone call ... to anyone”. 

I pulled out my phone and looked for the number of the hotel I had stayed in the night before. Tony started talking to the police again. 

Tony must have said the right thing because the police suddenly waved us on. Tony quickly fired up his bike. I kicked the Enfield into life and took off after him. 

We stopped for coffee a short time later and I asked him what had happened. 

He said the police wanted a tourist fee for us to pass through. He said that he had already paid it last time he was coming through and didn't want to pay it again. They said ok but his friend (me) would have to pay. He pointed out that my bike was a foreign registered bike (which is why they checked out the plates). He then told them that his friend (me) would be happy to call his politician friend in Denpasar to sort out any communication issues.  That was when he told me to get on the phone. 

The police wanted to avoid any external communication outside of their well ironed, smoking circle and decided to wave us on. 

Sneaky Frenchie - I paid for his coffee after that. 

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Bali

Total kilometers : About 8000ish (My odometer has never worked) 
Workshops wrenched in: 5
Motorcycle clubs welcomed into: 2

If I show up on your doorstep don’t worry I’m just there to party.
— Kenny D. Eichenberg

It was close to midnight and it was the first time in a long time that I had ridden my bike without it being heavily loaded with all of my gear. The bike handles roughly at the best of times but when you add 60 kilos of camping gear, parts and electronics haphazardly packed over the rear wheel… well it takes some getting used to.  When you remove that gear, the handling improves, the throttle responds and braking all works to make the bike feel like a different machine.  I was riding with a motorcycle club to a rockabilly gig that a sax player I had met the day before in a motorcycle shop suggested I check out. There was me, my old bike, Aileen (the face behind the themotoquest) on her custom Honda and the Old Motorcycle Club blasting through the light (by Denpasar standards) traffic. 

I opened the throttle and overtook a bemo (small van/public transport bus).  I then had to pull hard to the left to miss an oncoming tourist on a scooter flying equally fast but stupidly swerving in the other direction. He was wearing a Bingtang singlet … of course he was wearing a Bintang singlet.  

A crash would have been his fault but when you're smeared across the road does it matter who is to blame? 

To my left was an impeccably restored Triumph 1972 Bonneville. He had seen how very close I had come to becoming unstuck and nodded. I nodded back. We both understood that perhaps we shouldn't have overtaken like that but we did anyway. He smiled at me as he ripped open the throttle again and left me behind to hear the engine roar through his straight pipes as he shot between two trucks. 

Bali has one of the most amazing collections of old English still on the road that I have ever seen. 

Bali has one of the most amazing collections of old English still on the road that I have ever seen. 

Behind us followed three other bikes of similar vintage. One of the things that I love about Indonesia is that there are these people riding bikes the same vintage as mine; riding them as hard as I ride my old bike. Sure in Australia you get the guys who take out their old bike out occasionally to bike night or the local cafe/pie shop in the mountains on the weekends. I have never however seen anybody in Australia ride as hard and as often as the guys in Indonesia: 1950’s triumphs, WLAs, Matchless, BSAs ridden every day to the absolute limit. 

...

Drunken Australians rocking Bingtang singlets, aggressive street sellers and the occasional Australian getting caught with drugs in a country where you should not get caught with drugs - I initially had no plans to spend any real time in Bali. I could get sunburnt, drunk and buy drugs in Australia. Why repeat that overseas?  My thought process was to just motor through as fast as possible and try not to spend too much money.  I had been to Bali before. I got sunburnt and then was violently ill on cheap, poorly made cocktails. I am not proud of any of it but that is the truth. This time I wanted to avoid my past indiscretions. I cannot afford to buy booze only to have it go to waste on the floor of a cheap hotel. 

Here I was though, blasting south to Seminyak from Ubud with the Old Motorcycle Club that I had met up with through Aileen. It is strange meeting someone for the first time who you already feel like you know very well. Aileen blitzes social media so I knew a fair bit about the issues she had faced (at this stage both Aileen and I were about 4 months behind schedule) and we both have similar styles of travel - we are both dangerously under-funded, we both ride small bikes and we both have ray bans attached to our face 90% of the time. We got along well.

Aileen and I at the Moonstone garage 

Aileen and I at the Moonstone garage 

She pulled to my right, her custom bike made by verve and the always rad Gringo helmet. She thumbed up as we resumed formation moving towards the coast. 

We rolled into a bar called the Salty Seagull, parked the bikes, and took off our helmets. It was a hipster bar just like the ones I was used to back home.  It was packed with tourists and they all looked up as the half dozen of us walked in. The sax player was mid solo when he saw us and grabbed the mic and introduced his friends and me. He raised his drink and everyone in the bar paused to stare.  I have to admit, a bunch of leather clad local bikers, a bule (Caucasian tourist) and Aileen with her enormous smile and long red hair made for an interesting sight. 

Rockabilly gigs. Always fun no matter the location. 

Rockabilly gigs. Always fun no matter the location. 

The master of ceremonies for the night, an Australian who clearly spent a lot of time at the gym picked up on new arrivals and in one motion had summoned a bottle of tequila and indicated me for a layback.

The beers came, we drank, the music played. 

We had our own table and watched the crowd, the tourists occasionally throwing us strange glances wondering why we might have been getting the treatment that we were. 

The MC came up and started to introduce himself to the people he didn't know. 

One of the members of the local club pulled me aside. “He (pointing to the MC), has lost a friend today, very sad, bad death, he was crying before but now he drinks” 

I looked the MC who was still jumping around on tables trying to get people more involved in the band. 

“Killed himself, 33, he was so happy in Bali.” 

I took another sip of my beer, but was conscious of slowing down as I knew I still had at least an hour’s ride ahead of me that night. 

The MC jumped on the table, asking people to dance in exchange for free drinks. 

The unresponsive crowd was… unresponsive. 

He tried again. 

This time he was asking for people to dance in memory of his friend. He looked around a little desperate with a small, sad smile. 

I asked Aileen if she remembered how to dance. “Only if someone can lead well.” On the dance floor I tried to remember the right steps (back, left, quick, quick and step?) I had learned from a few swing and rockabilly gigs in Sydney. After a failed attempt at leading I gave in, laughed and apologised to Aileen and resigned myself to hanging out with the riders near the stage.

I went back to thinking of the MC, the guy who had just lost a good mate and was now at least half a bottle of tequila deep trying to get people involved into the band. I tried to catch his eye to find out more about his friend… I couldn't think of anything worse than trying to MC a bunch of tourists at a rockabilly gig when I had just lost someone to depression. 

He smiled at me then went back to trying to get people to dance. 

...

My arrival into Bali was mixed. I had met a Frenchmen while on a ferry who was touring the Indonesian islands on a scooter. As two guys who are on the road, we decided that we would travel together for a while (His 50cc honda was still faster than the enfield). His English was great and he also spoke comfortable Bahasa (Indonesian). However on the last island before Bali (Lombok) he had to return his bike to the rental shop. He was planning on taking his backpack on public transport all the way into Denpasar, Bali (about 4 hours and a ferry ride away from where we were). Instead we would take a page from the locals and load the old Enfield with me, my bags, the Frenchman and his backpack. 

Like this we rode through the heavy traffic. 

Like this we travelled for over 10 hours. 

Like this we travelled for over 10 hours. 

I had made plans to meet Aileen that afternoon and Frenchy was interested in pursuing some business opportunities that might fund some further adventures. We parted ways and agreed to catchup in a week or so after everything was done. 

Frenchy and I came back to camp here a few days later. 

Frenchy and I came back to camp here a few days later. 

I jumped on the phone to Aileen and arranged to meet her in Ubud where we would ride down to a local custom bike shop where she was working on her bike. 

Off a main street and behind a statue workshop we rode through to the back of the property where I came across one of the most impressive collections of custom motorcycles I have ever seen. 

Moonstone Garage had an amazing collection of bikes 

Moonstone Garage had an amazing collection of bikes 

I was silent as I took off my helmet and gawked at the bobbers, choppers, cafes, Harleys, Triumphs and a neat little rat hotrod in the corner. 

Transient

I must have looked rigid and uptight.  The owner of Moonstone Garage - Kadek, walked over handed me a beer and told me sabar (Bahasa for "be patient, keep calm and relax") . Beautiful motorbikes, a comfortable garage, a fellow traveller and a beer. I smiled - life is good. 

Transient

I spent the next week riding around with the “Old Motorcycle Club”, Moonstone garage boys and Aileen. We talked of the difficulties of what we were trying to do.  

I think a lot of people think that we have life pretty well made. Riding motorcycles in a foreign country every day is a dream for most - they are envious. What many people don’t realise is that for most people, it takes something incredibly dramatic in their lives to go “I am going to leave everything I have behind to do this.” People often tell me they would love to do this kind of trip… if it wasn't for the kids, wife, girlfriend, job or house. These are all valid reasons for not doing a trip. What they often don’t pick up is that it was failed relationships, personal hardships or a shitty job that led us to do something this incredible. It’s far easier to contemplate doing something incredibly reckless when you have absolutely nothing to lose if it fails.  For myself it was a combination of personal issues, losses and a broken relationship that pushed me to where I am today. While I love the trip that I am on, if I could go back and change what cannot be changed, I would. 

Alieen, Charlotte and the Moonstone garage boys going for a blast to North East Bali 

Alieen, Charlotte and the Moonstone garage boys going for a blast to North East Bali 

 

 I sometimes wish I could be that guy - the person who tinkers on bikes while working a 9-5 with a bed free from bedbugs, a group of riding buddies and someone that I could sit and watch bad movies with on a Monday night. Instead I went through a series of circumstances where for me the best option, the only option was to ride a busted motorcycle across the world, away from where I was. I am happy to be where I am today but a year ago, when I was in Sydney and made the call to do this, to change from a person who wanted to do this trip to someone who was doing this trip - I was not in a good place. I guess I am almost jealous of the people who have things that prevent them doing this kind of adventure. I am sure some people call them burdens. For me I guess they look more like anchors keeping them safe. 

 And there was Aileen, who would never have been about to ride motorcycles across world if it wasn't for her own personal change. It gave me a chance to realise that I wasn't the only one on a journey to find out some answers and we often only seek them when we are left completely bewildered, lost and desperate. 

Anyway, because I am so far behind schedule I need to get back to riding motorcycles in foreign countries.

...

Next blog post - 1% motorcycle clubs on the Island of Java or "How I learned to stop worrying and politely decline prostitutes." 

 

 

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Darwin to Bali

Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
— Will Rogers
  • Things I thought had been stolen but I had actually just put away somewhere appropriate - 2 (Leathermans and my medical kit)
  • Things I actually had stolen - 1 (Motorcycle gloves)
  • Kids highfived while riding since leaving Dili - 32
  • Breakdowns since the engine rebuild - 1! 

 

I was stuck in Darwin for far too long. A month and a half of working a bar which overlooks a beach with daily spectacular sunsets should not have drained me emotionally like it did. Pulling beers in the sun, running a small satellite Tiki bar barefoot on the grass and getting paid well for it is just about the dream of anyone who has ever stood behind a dingy ice well surrounded by barflies (both the insect and person kind).  Here I was though. I was in a slump - bike less and building inertia in no particular direction. 

 

Motorcycle pistons should not look like this. 

Motorcycle pistons should not look like this. 

The bike was getting a rebuild. A new piston, barrel and an overhaul of all of the little things that due to the gaps in my knowledge, I had just overlooked or ignored. The process took longer and cost more money that I hoped it would but as said, I had work which was helpful for my budget. I felt like I should have been riding motorcycles not slinging booze to Darwin locals. Perhaps I just felt like I was falling into something more permanent. Sydney to Darwin just didn't feel right but there I was doing what I have done some many times before. Working for a paycheck trying to ride motorcycles.

Sling drinks, drink drinks, fish, sleep, repeat. 

Sling drinks, drink drinks, fish, sleep, repeat. 


The hold up did give me chance to make it to a close friend's wedding. After wearing nothing but my Maple motorcycle jeans with grease permanently under my nails, putting on a suit was a strange feeling. It felt very wrong in every way possible. Sliding in my cufflinks, I couldn't fathom that this process used to be a daily routine for me when I was working in Sydney.  How impractical the outfit was. Is that what is waiting for me at the end of the trip? The thought frightened me in a way I didn't believe possible. A suit, cufflinks and shoes that would wear through the sole the first corner I took I speed - perhaps that is why I left Sydney, and how terrifying that one day I must return. Still, at the reception after an amazing meal and an over indulgence of champagne, the far distance problems of suits and engine pistons were soon forgotten as I danced, spun, threw and caught one of the bridesmaids and other spirited guests. 


After a month and a half in Darwin I got to ride my bike for the first time in 2 months (getting the bike to Darwin took a while). The piston felt strong and as I cracked open the throttle the bike pulled away with a force I didn't know was possible with the old girl that had almost got me to Darwin. The thrill was short lived. I had only two hours blasting around Darwin before I had to race to the docks to load the bike onto a freighter. 


The bike was on its way to Dili - East Timor. I followed it shortly after. 


East Timor 

My bike is somewhere in that Port. 

My bike is somewhere in that Port. 

 

Heavy humidity, the smell of clove cigarettes and two-stroke engines. Asia at last. After 4 months I was finally out the country. Being so far behind schedule didn't concern me as I drank $1.50 beer and looked West to where I knew I must soon ride. Dili is a strange place for tourism. Most tourists were divers with heavily padded budgets and the only Backpackers tended to attract a rarer breed of travelers - overlanders, crossing the world with a vehicle. Either leaving to, or arriving from Australia, Dili in East Timor tends to be the most common jump point in both directions. There were two guys heading to Australia on fully kitted and appropriate bikes (BMW and a Honda) and a Dutch couple going in the same direction as me in a land cruiser. Sitting around and talking I felt far more at home talking with these types of travellers than those I had met at the Backpackers in Darwin. Chat of road conditions, bureaucracy and tool kits suited me more than talking how great that unknown spot called Bondi/Byron/Sydney/Noosa/Melbourne/(Insert Australian icon here) which was about of 90% of the backpacker chat in Darwin.  

 

The bike cleared customs - it was relativity straight forward after I convinced the officer that the typo in my middle name on a completely insignificant document (a receipt given in Darwin) was in fact not an issue and not a reason to hold my bike - the officer felt different.  I smiled.

 

Then onto the next round of bureaucracy - the Indonesian embassy for the overland visa. It was an ordeal and not one I wish to get back into because I try to limit the amount of colourful language on my blog… the long and short of it was that after several knock backs I was given a 30 day visa (not the 60 day that I applied for). 

This extra time gave me chance to see some of Dili. One night in a bar (why do most of my stories start like that?) an Australian I had been hanging out with suggested a hike up to the 3000m peak of Mt Ramelau. Pat (another overland traveller), and I hastily agreed and the next day we were bouncing along in a 4x4 to the base of the peak, trying not to show any signs of distress as the car overtook trucks on blind mountain corners. 


Shortly before we jumped in the car we were reminded that it was a two hour sunrise hike. (I had missed this part the night before). Even in East Timor 3000ms high and above the cloud line at dawn would be cold. The hike in the dark was fine and the guide we hired was helpful and talkative as we chatted about his family while I stumbled and kicked unseen rocks which he had avoided. The top was of course cold, windy and generally miserable. Oh what I would have given for a bowl of mulled wine or mug of buttered rum. When the sunrise did make an appearance it was spectacular. I try to avoid over used clichés like 'moving, spiritual, all consuming beauty’ so you will just have to take my word for it that view was amazing and check out the pictures below.  If you ever get a chance to make that hike you should - bring buttered rum though. 

Mt Ramelau casts a shadow over the other mountains to the East at sunrise - Photo stolen from Pat. 

Mt Ramelau casts a shadow over the other mountains to the East at sunrise - Photo stolen from Pat. 

The hilux was rather full in the back seat so I jumped in the tray. Photo taken from Pat. 

The hilux was rather full in the back seat so I jumped in the tray. Photo taken from Pat. 


Back in Dili, I packed my bags, triple checked my paper work and started West. I was Indonesia bound and the bike was running great. 


While the road quality left something to be desired the impeccable mountainistic (yeah I just made that word up) coast line made up for the sections of soft gravel. Sometimes so distracted by the view I would send the bike right through the centre of the oversized pot holes.  Stupid mistakes I know but as my last 2000kms of riding had been through the unchanging Australian outback I was happy to just enjoy the curves and the view. If the potentially lethal and suspension destroying potholes and gravel was the price to pay for the view - I would happily pay it. Many times over. 


While I was travelling, the local kids would see my foreign bike and rush to the side of the road for a high five while I rode by. I wear an open face helmet. I know the statistics that when I crash I am likely to lose a better part of my chin.  I also know how cold, wind and rain burn can all be mitigated with a full face. Mostly I was concerned about losing the rugged good looks behind my cutting wit …. That said, being able to smile back at the kids as they waved, I would never consider switching back to a full face while I travel. I would happily go ugly with a face full of road rash if I get to see the big smiles on kids' faces again. 

Riding on the front of the ferry to Flores. 

Riding on the front of the ferry to Flores. 


I made great time and spent the night on the East Timor side of the Indo/Timor boarder. A small guest house I found had one other visitor. He was a gentleman from the Asian development bank who was helping to establish a marine park to prevent the Indonesian industry over fishing East Timor waters. He was one of the most well traveled and gentle people I have met. He talked of the challenges he was trying to mitigate on his many trips away (around 250 days out of a year). 


He talked about his family and how he needed to balance the responsibility to the bank and the good work they do with the requirements of being a father. I felt a strong link between this man and the guide who had supported us up the two hour hike to Mt Ramelau.  They both gave up exceptional amounts of their time to support what they thought were worthwhile pursuits (bringing people to worship sites and protect the environment). It was interesting that there seemed to be so many parallels between the two men - one had never left his state in Timor and  the other had travelled the world. Both raised the same concerns, both felt that they should spend more time with their family, both had the same outlook on work and providing for their family. We never talked about concepts of masculinity (the language barrier on my behalf prevented that) but there was an undeniable link between these two. One who wore a suit, the other who wore a pair of comfortable shoes.  

Watch for potholes and ocean views. 

Watch for potholes and ocean views. 


I had a deadline to get to Bali and so the run to Bali was a blur of islands, more amazing roads and long ferry crossings. With nearly vertical jungles climbing up impossibly steep mountains Flores was the first place I rode though thinking … I need to come back here. Not just transit through but spend a month exploring, hiking and camping. If you ever want to feel like you are riding around Jurassic park… Flores is your place.  The eighteen hour ferry ride from Timor to Flores was by far the most interesting though. The ship was packed with at least a hundred motorcycles, half a dozen trucks and at least a dozen pigs. People hustled for space. I found a bunch of missionaries from the States and Indonesia who were very fond of the Australian Hillsong movement. They clapped their hands and played guitar while they worshipped. Not being a god fearing man, I still found their ability with a guitar and vocals impressive. I smiled and practiced my Bahasa (Indonesian) with the locals. While I sat reading through my motorcycle workshop manual they sat and read through their bibles. Both essential documents were studied carefully as we tried to find guidance to questions we needed answering. My bible had significantly more grease stains though. 

Spot the enfield. 

Spot the enfield. 

Looking back over Flores 

Looking back over Flores 

 

Arriving in Bali I avoided the sunburned, Bintang wearing Australians and found a small guest house in the main town. 

 

The following day I met the amazing Aileen who took me a bike shop full of custom bikes and vintage triumphs; a workshop full of old British iron; the kind of guys who hand you a cold beer without removing their welding mask then invite you to a midnight ride through the city.

 

Next blog entry - One woman, Two wheels, Four corners of the world - The story of Aileen.  Also Riding with a Bali Vintage Motorcycle Club, A Frenchman and his Backpack and A Visit from a Friend from Sydney. 

 

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Croydon to Darwin

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
— Lao Tzu

Rides hitched since Sydney - 15
Kms off course - 2,893
Longest Road Train ridden in - 56m

Note: Some names and minor details have been changed to protect the privacy of people in this post.

In Croydon, Darwin had felt so very close, right up until I realised that I had a hole in my piston. Arriving in Croydon I really didn't comprehend just how remote some of these small towns are. I certainly didn't think it would take me over two weeks to get myself and the bike to Darwin. Further than that, I know that without the immense help of complete strangers it would have been impossible for me to get the bike to Darwin. 

Rural QLD. Snide jokes from the local graffiti cats. 

Rural QLD. Snide jokes from the local graffiti cats. 

I still had some hope that my lack of compression might have been a minor issue; that it might have just been loose valve or something minor. There was nothing for it but to strip the bike down to the cylinder and have a look. 

I didn't have any shade where I could work and the ground was red dust that was being blown about constantly. My tools were always covered in grit and dust. As the heat came down on me I realised that this would have to be one the worst possible places to strip a bike down. With no other option though, I opened the poorly scanned and re-printed workshop manual, weighted the pages down with a torque wrench and started the engine strip. To avoid the dust getting into all of the parts, Dad would collect the pieces and place them into marked zip locked bags. This made the whole process far easier than it would have been if I was just doing this solo. I could focus on the bike and Dad who always borderline OCD could do his organisation thing. Dad looked on with a mixture of concern, worry and the occasional smirk which I think was a glimmer of pride. When I was growing up he had tried so very hard to get me to learn how to work on cars. He had a 1978 V8 Triumph Stag convertible which he was forever wrenching on (I guess our family has a soft spot for temperamental British engines). Repeatedly I know he tried to get me involved with his cars but I was never interested in learning - at age 13 I was too busy being a youthful delinquent and trying to look at boobs on the internet to be concerned with the likes of oil changes and car wirings.  Here we were though many years later, passing tools, parts, bolts and nuts between us. Neither of us are great mechanically but by utilising our strengths we were able to strip the bike down much faster than I thought possible.   

Pulling the head off the bike I found that not only had I killed the rings, the piston but worst of all, the bore had been very badly damaged. My bike was going to need some major work.  It was much more than what I would be able to do in Croydon without access to specialist tools, machining and the ability to google the huge gaps in my mechanical knowledge. 

I felt devastated. 

Not just for me but also for Dad. I always had a vision of us riding into Darwin, engines only half running as we come to the end of the Stuart highway and leaning over and fist bumping as we stopped outside a pub in town, dusty, tired but alive with the sense of having done something great together. 

With my bike like this and Dad’s limited leave… I realised there was no way that we would get the chance to finish the ride together. 

I sighed, cursed, placed the head back on the bike and Dad passed me a beer. Filthy from grease and dust, the ice cold clean can was a stark contrast to my mood and everything around me.

My bike was going nowhere. Dad handed me a beer. 

My bike was going nowhere. Dad handed me a beer. 

The lovely couple that had helped us out getting the bike into town very, very kindly offered to get us to the next town over with their Ford f250. At Normanton there were a number of transport stations that might be able to get us to Mount Isa. 

I decided to move on from the foul mood that I was in the day before and as if the universe decided to positively reinforce my decision -  my Ray Bans were returned to me. They had fallen into the back of the pickup when I was riding the motorcycle off the f250. He handed them back to me, and apologised that they looked scratched. I didn’t care, I threw them straight back onto my head and suddenly life just seemed that much manageable through the polarised lenses.

Dad was going to sit in the passenger seat with my bike in the truck and I was going to follow behind on his bike. It was a 150km, mostly sealed, narrow road. I would stay in the right hand tyre track so I could to see what was coming up ahead and when a car would pass the other way, I would switch over to the left tyre track to avoid some of the stones thrown by the passing car. 

It felt amazing to be riding again. I had forgotten what it was like to ride a bike that you could just ride. On my old Enfield, it felt like I was steering an old junk ship in treacherous waters that needed constant attention. You could never give it a direct input - just nudge it in the right direction and hope luck would take care of the rest.  I was forever checking things while I was riding my bike and you never really knew if it was going to make it over the next hill or not. If you opened up the throttle, would it go forward or if you told it to stop would the old drum brakes be enough to pull it up? You never knew how long it would take or if it would even be able to make the planned destination. Instead I just kinda willed my bike in the right direction and made adjustments on the fly to both the bike and riding style as required.  With Dad’s new Enfield, you just rode it. It took corners well; it stopped well. With this new confidence I blasted music and smiled underneath my dust stained face cover. 

Not the first time the bike got a lift... I know it will not be the last. 

Not the first time the bike got a lift... I know it will not be the last. 

 

I was looking at my bike on the back of this truck thinking just how different the two bikes were when a road train started to appear in the distance. I started to shift across to the left tyre track. 

Suddenly the f250 moved hard to the left. I didn't think too much of it as I figured it was just to give the road train more room. It wasn't - the car had shifted so it didn't drive over the corpse of a huge kangaroo. I was too close to the car to see it and before I knew it my front wheel was aimed directly at the centre mass of this corpse. A solid, once living 90 kg, seventy centimetre high speed bump that if I hit directly would likely write off the bike and me, if it didn't throw me into the path of the oncoming road train in the other direction. 

I jumped on the brakes, shifted my weight to the rear of the bike and tried to swerve to the left, I clipped the tail of the roo which knocked the bike into a speed wobble. I jumped off the brakes and rolled off the throttle to try and smooth it. The road train passed, the f250 was powering ahead. I was alive and ok. 

It was the closest call I had on the trip so far. Luckily I wasn’t on my bike and the improved suspension and handling of the new bike managed it well. I looked around with my heart and head still pumping. It’s been a while since I have had an adrenaline rush like that. The music was still playing but it suddenly seemed very inappropriate for the situation. The car ahead had no idea just how close I came to being completely undone. Visions splashed through my head. Dad wouldn’t have seen the crash but the driver of the truck might have seen it in her review mirror. The truckie going in the other direction… would he feel guilty if he cleaned me up or would he rightly assume that I was just a fool making a stupid mistake?  Dad had warned me not to follow too close. It was decent advice and if I wasn’t such an idiot who backed my riding ability on someone’s else bike I would have followed it. Lesson learned. 

What a strange place. Normanton was the kind of town that had an air of danger about it. It felt like those small Bolivian border towns, dusty and with low quality housing stock. Perhaps I just felt the same way in Bolivia as I did now and that gave me that same edgy feeling - slightly lost with an unknown destination and a feeling of helplessness. I was unnecessarily checking my wallet and throwing nervous glances at my bike whenever someone walked past. A few drunks yelled at us as we pulled in. I rotated the bike in the tray of the truck and rode it down the two small planks of wood we had been using as a ramp. 

Dad and I both said goodbye to the kind woman who had helped us not just once but twice. I am not sure she ever really knew just how grateful we were. It was unquestionable kindness that I will never be able repay. How often on my trip would I have to rely on the kindness of people?. So far I have never been disappointed in people but is it unfair and selfish of me to continue if I know I cannot do it without their support? 

Dad went and found accommodation at the local caravan park while I started to poke around and seek out some transport options. 

The local store, as is so often the case in these small towns, acted as a transport depot, postal centre, travel centre and covered just about all the local needs. 

I explained my situation to the shop owner and she couldn’t be more helpful. She gave me the number of a truck that would be running through town that day. I jumped on the phone to the driver. He said he had no issue with it but I needed to check with the boss back in Brisbane. The shop owner was determined to help me and mentioned that the boss owed her a favour. She grabbed my mobile from me, winked and explained the situation. She smiled and passed the phone back to me. With that smile I knew everything was going to be ok. 

The owner told me that they would be able to sort something out and I would just have to get myself and the bike to the depot which was about 4kms out of town. 

I pushed the bike back to where Dad was unloading his gear into a donga (temporary accommodation which resembles a shipping container). We came up with a plan. Dad was to ride in the road train with my bike and I was to ride his bike down to Mt Isa. The caravan park would only charge us a few dollars cleaning fee if we left in the next hour. 

The only issue was how to get the bike to the depot when it was at least 4kms out of town and at 40 degrees outside. 

We towed the bike of course. I had tried this before but Dad was deadset against the idea. We only had a rather short strap and I knew it would be difficult but it was a better option than pushing the bike. I rolled the bike out of the park and after 50 meters of pushing the loaded bike my shirt was already soaked through and sticking between me and the jacket. I am not made for this kind of heat and humidity. 

Dad stated he thought it was a bad idea for the 30th time but begrudgingly allowed me to tie the strap onto the back of his luggage rack. He took off and then slowed down. The slack in the strap caught under my front wheel and pulled the bike from under me. We had gone less than 10 meters and I was sprawled on the highway with the bike on top of me. 

Towing bikes is hard. As is the highway when you hit it. 

Towing bikes is hard. As is the highway when you hit it. 

I asked Dad again to go at a steady pace, not slow and if he was concerned about going steady that he should go faster.  I held the strap firm and he took off again. 

We rode the rest of the 4kms without any incidents but by the end my arm and hand was aching from the strain of pulling a 250 kilo load with one hand and a short strap. 

We rolled into the depot and started explaining the situation. No one there knew about the arrangement so I waited for the truckie that I had spoken with to arrive. 

Then a familiar face walked into the smoking area. A truckie who I had met in a pub in Croydon recognised me. Back in Croydon we had a bit of chat over a beer as you do in small pubs, but seeing him here and not in such a relaxed environment I felt uneasy. At the time we had talked about depression, the issues associated with anxiety and why I was doing this trip. How would he react now? Did he regret the things he said at the pub now that we stood in his place of work?

His eyes were darting everywhere, he had heavy bags under his eyes and his hands where constituently fidgeting and whenever he passed something he had to touch it. Having worked in nightclubs for years while balancing full time Uni and a 9-5 job I recognised the symptoms of someone who had not slept for a long time and while very energetic was clearly very, very sleep deprived - this man was in need of a solid feed and a good 12 hours rest. 

“Fuck me, you didn’t get very far!” he broke out with a wide smile and said this like he knew something I didn’t.  

“Well, further than yesterday which I guess is the main thing.” I replied, not sure what else to say to this. 

He was on a forced 24 hour “rest day” having driven too far and for too many days in a row. He clearly wanted to be back in his truck but he made it his mission that while he was not able to drive his truck, he would anything and everything possible to help us.  

When you are moving one bike on a 56m long rig... why not take two? 

When you are moving one bike on a 56m long rig... why not take two? 

There is a long list of things that he did to help and while we waited for our ride out he not only managed to find us transport to Isa, weld a patch over a hole in Dad’s exhaust pipe, explain to the depot boss the purpose of our trip, and he made us feel welcome in a town that I had struggled with upon first entering. 

Soon the rest of the truckies knew about the trip and were keen to help. Once again, we heard stories of hardship, learned about the realities of trying to make a living in rural Queensland and the levels of bureaucracy they had to deal with when all they wanted to do was drive trucks. 

Here a few examples. When they drive through a town they have to record the name. It seems straight forward enough but then you consider that they may cover the length of Queensland in 24 hours and every single town they pass through has to be spelled absolutely correctly. With names like Boulia, Thargomindah and Kaimkillenbun – that’s a big ask. One driver mentioned that once he abbreviated “Queensland” to “QLD” and for this he copped a fine and loss of points. The best part he said, when he got his ticket, was that the person who had written it out also abbreviated “Queensland" to "QLD". 

Soon the bike was loaded. It was pointed out that if they planned to take one bike, they may as well take two to Isa. This would save me riding the bike 600kms in the dark on rather awful roads full of roos, birds and other things that would win in a collision with the bike. 

Ready to go, I climbed up the ladder to the cab of our 56 meter long road train. I have never been in a truck this size before but there were dozens of lights, gauges, dials and rows and rows of flip switches. The interior was red padded studded leather. I was incredibly disappointed that there was not a nudie picture anywhere to be seen in the cab. 

 

"The dashboard was full of esoteric lights and dials and meters that I would never understand."

"The dashboard was full of esoteric lights and dials and meters that I would never understand."

The lack of nudie pictures was not the only assumption that was shattered that night while riding South. 

I don’t know why I thought this but I always assumed that with modern technology, cameras and reverse parking sensors that driving a truck would be pretty simple and straight forward. How wrong I was. As we rode along the driver was never not adjusting something, switching engine fans, adjusting headlights, or stating the location of his rig before crossing single lane bridges on the CB radio. Then there was just the physical mongering (wrangling) of this rig. The road was straight but the driver was forever rotating the wheel a full 180 degrees left, then right. The entire rig would also violently bounce up and down. His seat which had his own suspension would move a foot or so every time he went over a bump.  Meanwhile, sitting on his bed, every time he hit a bump I would be thrown several feet into the air. 

It was a rough 6 hours. 

At the end of the ride, we unloaded and Dad and I tried to slip him some cash to thank him for helping us out. He didn't have to help us and cash seemed a poor way to thank him but we wanted to show our gratitude somehow. It felt cheap and wrong. He wouldn't take it however, wished us the best and sent us on our way. 

We got to Mt Isa and I called every bike shop in town. No one wanted to even entertain looking at the bike. I called the last shop but I already knew the answer. These guys are not interested in working on bikes. They will sell bikes to the cashed up miners who come in looking for the latest highpowered toys every so often. I get that they need to make money but it pretty disappointing that I would have to go all the way to Darwin before finding someone who was willing to wrench on my bike.  

The bike was going to have to go to Darwin. Dad’s bike was going to have to go home to Brisbane. This meant that we would have to find a way to crate Dad’s bike to be loaded onto a truck. You can’t just load a bike into a truck – at the very least it needs a frame to keep it stable.

I called the last bike shop to see if they has a spare crate from any bikes they might have just got in. 

He mentioned the scrap guy was coming in an hour to collect the spent frames. Dad and I raced there and grabbed the largest, most sturdy looking disposable frame we could find. 

It was designed for a dirt bike and would need some changes to make it suitable for the Enfield. 

We found a welder that would have a look at the job for us. 

We were then stuck with this large frame and no way to move it. 

My grandfather grew up in Mt Isa, and it was there that he had the Enfield that he used to race in the scrambles. During his youth he rode with a few guys who would put on stunt shows for the locals. My grandfather never liked to talk about these shows too much. We knew he raced; we also knew that he lost a few friends in riding accidents at the time. One of his close friends and cousin was Len, an old riding pal now in his eighties. We hadn’t planned to come to Mt Isa originally, but now we had Len’s number, and we called it. 

Len came through and picked us and the frame up in a ‘66 land cruiser. It was a monster of a machine and made more strange sounds than my Enfield. 

Len's 66 Land Cruiser - Old things rescuing old things 

Len's 66 Land Cruiser - Old things rescuing old things 

He didn’t say much but he was very switched on. He talked about times when stuck out bush he made a bearing out of timber survey post soaked in oil and how to best tow a bike with another bike. Dad gave me a sideways glance… he was positive that before our tow effort, no one else in the entire world had ever tried something so stupid. 

We found a welder willing to reinforce the frame to take a larger bike; a quick easy cash job which would hopefully support the bike in transit. 

Both bikes were loaded, one was to go to Darwin, the other to Brisbane. This was to be the end of the road trip for Dad and I. We had ridden over 3,500 kms together and learned more about each other over the past three weeks than we had in the past three years. It was time for us to part ways though. 

Now I am in Darwin. The motorcycle is still broken but no matter what happens, moving forward as I try to make it to London, I know that I will be able to look back on my time riding with my Dad and know we had both given it everything we could. We didn't make it the entire way… but then we did have three unforgettable weeks riding together and in the end the trip was about the journey. Darwin was just the destination. 


 

 

  

 

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Cairns to Croydon

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
— Thomas Edison

Things lost since Cairns: 

  • Ray Bans
  • Compression on my engine 
  • Clear direction and a decent plan of how to get to Darwin.

 

My last time looking at the South Pacific Ocean

My last time looking at the South Pacific Ocean

Shorty after my headlight bracket broke causing my headlight to jump its mounting luckily with some patience and gasket glue I was able to fit an aftermarket harley light.  

Shorty after my headlight bracket broke causing my headlight to jump its mounting luckily with some patience and gasket glue I was able to fit an aftermarket harley light.  

The bike was running so very well. That should have been the first sign that I was clearly
heading towards a major situation that would leave me stuck on the side of the road for five hours while my father went ahead to scare up some support. The day had started out fine. I was in Georgetown, a small town with a little pub, friendly locals and a British backpacker bartender who had taken a working contract. That’s the only way to get and keep staff for more than a couple of weeks, due to the dull nature of the work and the tiny towns the travellers would be stuck in. I couldn't help but giggle in the morning as I watched her run two laps of the city (and my campsite) kitted out in Lorna Jane and white headphones. It was a common sight in Sydney but in Georgetown, it was a sharp reminder of when I would ride my bike through the Sydney CBD dodging runners who looked like this.

As the quality of the roads decreased the amount of rocks thrown increased. Finding a spent bit of rubber I fitted an oversized mudguard to Dad's bike.  

As the quality of the roads decreased the amount of rocks thrown increased. Finding a spent bit of rubber I fitted an oversized mudguard to Dad's bike.  

 I ran through my daily maintenance routine which that day included a tappets adjustment. 

We needed to ride a little over 300kms that day. It was to be a pretty easy day of single lane bitumen road riding with the occasional excursion off the side of the road to dodge the 50m long road trains. Ninety kilometres into the ride, just as my second queued album was starting up (Black Keys’ Brothers) the bike died. I rolled onto the side of the road and started running the usual quick checks - fuel, spark, oil (it was low), and compression (equally low). Dad was looking on and as I had done this plenty of times before, he didn't look too concerned. However I couldn't help but think that the lack of oil and compression meant that I was in for some trouble. I noticed that the tappets I had adjusted this morning were very tight (to be expected given the natural heating and expansion of the bike when hot) so I told my Dad and myself that surely the bike will come good when it cools and I fix the tappets. That must be where I am losing compression. 

It didn't and it wasn't. 

When I still thought it might have been a simple tappet adjustment. 

When I still thought it might have been a simple tappet adjustment. 

Dad made the call to keep riding to a small town on our map (60kms away) to try and find a way to return the bike to somewhere that wasn’t the middle of nowhere. Some very helpful Croydon locals managed us get to somewhere that was slightly more than the middle of nowhere… but not by much. A two street gold mining town long since forgotten by most but a few friendly locals and people still making out a life from the surrounding cattle stations. During the Gold Rush, Croydon had 36 pubs but today there’s only one. To make this town all the more difficult to deal with I had lost my Ray Ban sunglasses in the bike moving process. My Ray Bans got more daily use than my Leatherman and were given to me by someone who was very dear to me when I was in Sydney. I felt lost without them.

Cutting a gasket - hoping.... 

Cutting a gasket - hoping.... 

The locals that had picked us up in exchange for fuel and a meal at the pub were friendly and we soon got talking about my trip and why I would choose to ride a motorcycle across the world. My old bike attracts friendly attention in the towns we pass through and it’s great to have a yarn at the end of the day.

I always knew that talking about depression and suicide would be difficult for some. What I never really took into consideration was just how much of an impact hearing about it and exploring these themes would have on me and how it would make me feel. It seems every town I go to is just recently mourning some young bloke or a farmer that had lost his battle with depression - as they tend to put it “offed-em-selves”. 

Further than that, the guys who are willing to talk about their own battles with the frankness you expect from country people continue to blow me away with their honesty.

“Yeah, fuckin woke up in the hospital didn’t I - all day on the piss and thought I would show all of those cunts by downing a bottle of pills. Woke up in the hospital didn’t I!” He pauses, takes a swig from his tinnie of gold (chilled in a stubby cooler dispensed from a down pipe near the till) 

“The nurse told me that she bet I felt a bit silly, but she was wrong. I was angry and fucking pissed off I didn’t do it right!” 

He told me he “came good”. He didn't elaborate on what it was that turned him around. He then went on to talk about the issues he was having with his son. “Yeah, son is going through a bit, missus found him with a noose around his neck. She called me up saying he was drinking two and a half cartons a day. We told him that he needs to get some help.” 

I wish I could say that these stories were a once off in a small town going through some tough times. The hardest part is that they are not. Far from it. In a motel West of Cairns I got talking with a bunch of drilling explorers who were setting out for a thirty day exploration trip. Thirty days of hard work, in the middle of nowhere with no real support - just a swag, supplies and a job to do in the North Queensland heat. I do not think they make people any tougher than these guys. Yet here they were, talking about the people they had lost, the bosses that belittled them when they admitted they had problems and the issues that they faced. 

I thought my biggest issue would be finding people who were willing to talk about the problems they faced. Instead I find my biggest problem is knowing how to deal, on a personal level, with these stories of people who have struggled, and continue to struggle with no real understanding of when they might feel better or when they might find a solution. I don’t have an answer for any of it of course. I just hope that talking about it helps and that the money that I raise for beyondblue might be able to do some good and help the people who need it. 

Meanwhile, I my Dad and I are  stuck in Croydon with a very broken bike and a mail truck that arrives only once a week. My issues however, seem minor - apart from my sunglasses. The desert is way too fucking bright to not have sunglasses.

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Brisbane to Townsville

Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.
— Truman Capote

 

          

 

 

Total trip kms: 2,541
Vechicles passed: 2 (A wideload haulpak truck and a tractor) 
Litres of oil consumed: 5
Bike repairs: 13 

2 months into my trip and I am a 1/10th of the way to London. 

2 months into my trip and I am a 1/10th of the way to London. 

I ended up spending far more time in Brisbane than I had planned. There are worse places to get stuck though. I was able to stay between family and friend's places but I couldn't help but feel my trip was suffering some setbacks. Here I was trying to takeoff on this massive trip around the world but I was back at my parents' place, sleeping in my childhood bedroom - being reminded by my Mum that I needed to clean my room. 

The bike was having issues. More than I had planned and further still some of the parts I needed couldn't be found in Australia and had to be sent over from the UK at a great expense of time and money. 

Fortunately having grown up and worked in Brisbane for years I had a great group of people I was able to meet up with. I pulled into a dive bar I had run a few years ago. The place had undergone some renovations but the clientele were still familiar and friendly. While I sat drinking my beer thinking about the countless hours I had spent pulling beers, hauling stock, clearing tables while working there, the owner walked through. Having worked with plenty of bar owners I am yet to find one as committed to his business as Lee. No job was too small or too big for him to approach personally. He didn't drink to excess or do drugs and he always paid his staff - perhaps I have just been unfortunate, but  such qualities are often hard to find in owners. 

Lee was able to help me out with work. This was a huge help as the trickle of income was useful while I sat around and waited for the parts to arrive. 

Have barblade, will travel and work for booze and enfield parts. 

Have barblade, will travel and work for booze and enfield parts. 

Two weeks later my parts arrived from the UK. I was due to leave two days after and while I was fitting them I discovered that they were not the right parts. The trip has had some pretty major setbacks but I felt particularly low at that point. I had blown far too much money on the shipping of these parts. How was I meant to ride this bike across the world if I couldn't even get the right parts delivered to Australia? Should I really be taking this bike all the way to London? I was closer than I liked to admit about ditching the old girl and picking up a new, more suitable Enfield. 

Instead, I refocused, and found a fabricator that was able to repair my broken parts. I don't know why I didn't consider that option before. Not only was the skilled welder able to improve my parts, he did it at a cost that was much less than the postage alone I had paid for the useless parts. 

The trip was back on track. Which is lucky because the next day Cam who is behind the stories of bike series was flying into Brisbane to film my Dad and I to finish the first episode of the series.  

I found it funny that this was first time my Dad and I had ever ridden bikes together and there was someone there filming it. 

 

Two days later with very little testing of the bike my Father and I rode out of the Ellaspede bike shop supported by 20 or so of the Brisbane cafe racer crowd. I can’t stress enough how nervous I was that there would be a repeat of the Sydney ride out where the bike failed miserably and I would be stuck trying to kick the bike over with a crowd behind me waiting to head off. 

The ride out to Dayboro from Ellaspede went far better than my Sydney leaving gig. Supported by the Brisbane cafe racer crew and this beast of a hotrod - the bike ran perfectly 

The ride out to Dayboro from Ellaspede went far better than my Sydney leaving gig. Supported by the Brisbane cafe racer crew and this beast of a hotrod - the bike ran perfectly 

To its credit the bike ran perfectly. 

Dad and I were on our way to Darwin. 

As the bike doesn't like sitting on more than 80kms an hour we avoided the main highway as much as possible. Small towns, pub accommodation and squat camping. 

We stopped at my grandparents' place near Gympie and had our last home cooked family meal.  There were lots of bike stories that night but it was hard to beat the grandfather’s tales of racing a stripped back Enfield just like mine at Mt Isa in the 50’s.

The bike ran without a fault. We fell into a routine where I would draft behind my Dad on his 500 at 90kms/hr. By drafting I was able to substantially reduce the strain on the small engine. 

 

Resting at Ban Ban Springs with Trevor Gibson, Dave Dri and a local rider.

Resting at Ban Ban Springs with Trevor Gibson, Dave Dri and a local rider.

We had long hot days to Townsville. There we spent some time with an old friend while I fitted a new front end and front wheel hub (Indian parts I had sent to my friend's house). After a couple of days we headed off without any issues to Cairns - the last real break we would have before trying to cross the Savannah way to Darwin. 

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Singleton to Tamworth.

Never sit a table when you can stand at the bar.
— Ernest Hemingway

The night before a mechanic who had seen the Enfield suggested that if I needed parts he had a great machinist/engineer who not only loved old bikes but could perform miracles at his workshop. I find the guy. Say what you will about the issues of mining in towns but this small little shop had clearly benefited. The guy in no time had tapped a few nuts for me so I no longer had to use zip ties in my gearbox. 

 

The bike was running like a dream. I pushed it. 4 hours later as I was blasting towards Tamworth when the bike seized. It was too hot, the climbs too steep and the weight too much. I had no movement in the piston at all.  In Brisbane, less than 24 hours away was my Grandfathers 80th birthday.  It was usually about a 7 hour ride from Tamworth. If the bike was running fine I would have been able to make it with no issues at all. However… the bike wasn’t and I needed to make it there. I could wait around in town, work on the side of the road, wait for parts.  Or I could try and hitch my way to Brisbane - get some transport/parts and work my way back. It was unfortunate but I had a deadline and that forced my hand. A local bike store took my bike in and I waited at a roadside diner/fuel stop cafe. 

I knew that in 6 hours’ time a greyhound bus would be running through and I could jump on that if I couldn’t get a ride. It was a Friday night and traffic on the highway was light. There were no late night runners doing the New England BNE-SYD run, just a few truckies not stopping and some families that would never stop to pick me up. 

I made a Facebook post of my gear, helmet and sign - posted it on the page and started trying to write this very post. 

An old friend commented on the photo and mentioned she was in Tamworth. I feel I should say that this old friend was from my days in Brisbane, several years before when I was working as an urban designer for a consultancy. The last time I had seen this girl was when she was heading off to start up another China office. How strange it was to be broken down in Tamworth, waiting at a truck stop and have someone say “Hey, I live several blocks away. Beer?”  After having such a long 3 days it goes without saying that the answer was clear. 

"Brisbane - Will pay"

"Brisbane - Will pay"


I packed up my sign, resigned to catch the bus and headed to the pub. We talked about old times, how we both ended up in a pub in Tamworth, gossiped about old staff and what they were doing now. It was fun and surreal. 

I tried to have a wash/cleanup in a truckstop bathroom. I was not successful. 

I tried to have a wash/cleanup in a truckstop bathroom. I was not successful. 

When it came time to get the bus I waved her goodbye. Far from completely sober, unwashed, poor facial hair and a leather jacket displaying an array of dead/splattered bugs I jumped onto the bus. I realised that between my smell and my looks, I am the reason people avoid public transport. 



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Broken down in Broke

Broken does not mean non-functioning, or incapacitated, it does however mean ready for repair
— Shawn Boreta

I woke up early. I have never really been a morning person but when the sun is out and your swag cover is down, the light gets you and the day starts early. 

I had slept well. The weather was clear. I still had that broken clutch lever assembly, no front brake but at least my gear box was no longer dropping oil. Around me were at least a dozen caravans and tucked away at the back of the site was a Wicked camper van. Grey nomads and some backpackers - friendly types who would never camp near a crusty biker but if you wave and talk will eventually become friendly. This was the case at this camp site. Old guys love my bike and I am happy to chat about it. Before long there was a small crowd and one of the kind grandmotherly women had made me cup of tea. 

After the bike fell over due to the soft ground I strapped to a tree while unloading

After the bike fell over due to the soft ground I strapped to a tree while unloading

I started working on the bike. The front brake I could fix (it just jumped out of its hub) but there was no way I could get moving without the clutch. I could have swapped the brake lever for the clutch but I thought it best to just get all fixed before the day ahead. I grabbed some of my bags, my helmet and thumbed it to Cessnock. 

Sometimes you just have to grab your bags and walk 

Sometimes you just have to grab your bags and walk 

 

Finding a new assembly, I started hitching back to the small town of Broke. Leaving small towns is always easier than getting to them. Small town folk are more friendly and the only other towns anyone drives towards tend to be the larger ones that I needed at the start of the day. 

Two rides later I was still a good 10kms away from the bike with very little traffic heading in my direction. 

I kept walking. 

Plenty of cars drove past but none were too keen on stopping for the guy in the jacket. 

The thing about Harleys is that they have a sound. You can hear them from miles away and no matter how much the Japanese try to copy the sound they can never get it just right. The rumblings got closer. I figured “Hey, it can’t hurt to try" and stuck my thumb out just as a fully patched and dressed fatboy thundered past.  He slowed but shook his head as his grey beard touched the middle of his leather vest. 

Oh well - I started walking again.  Looking forward I see the Harley brake lights come on and he pulls up and waves me forward. 

I jog up to the bike. A huge white Harley, custom parts, some looked like hand custom; this bike was kitted to the works. The rider was massive, he had a pair of dirty jeans, a tattered black shirt and a leather vest covered in patches from various poker and charity runs, the name of his club, chapter and his rank “Pres” then next to that, his name “Tops” 

“Sorry mate, I didn’t see your helmet until I rode past - I was wondering why you’d try and wave me down”.   He pauses, looks me over and continues “so ya outta fuel, broken down or just wandering?” 

I wanted to tell him he looked like Hagrid from Harry Potter but that didn’t seem like the appropriate response. 

“Broken down just 10kms ahead. I picked up the part from Cessnock now trying to get back to Broke -  if you’re heading that way I could really use a ride” I committed. 

He told me to jump on. 

Fortunately the bike has a sissy bar so I didn’t need to get too cosy with Tops. He was pushing the bike solidly past the speed limit the whole way. 

He dropped me off at my bike and I offered to buy him a beer from the corner store to say thanks. He took me up on the offer. I grabbed a couple of ‘Tooheys New’ and passed one to him. He told me they call him “Tops” for all the beer tops he knocks off. He grinned, opened the beer, drank it quickly and then offered the full help of the club if I needed anything to get back on the road. Fortunately the Enfield is so easy to work on that I was able to get the bike running in no time. He gave me his number and told me to promise I would call if I needed I hand. 

I found a pub in Singleton to stay in that night. I had only made 30kms for the day but punching big kilometres was never what this trip was about. 

I am not sure what makes a great pub - I have spent plenty of time in pubs, both as a punter and tending bar and if I knew what it was that made a great venue I would have opened one up years ago. I do however seem to have a knack for finding the coldest beer, friendliest locals and the ability to sniff out the perfect venue. 

In a Singleton I fell back on this skill again and it didn’t fail me. 

The first bar I went into wanted $70 a night for a single room, the patrons were all dressed nicely, and the pokies were too neon. I quickly finished my beer and tried again. The next bar I pulled into looked more like my sort of place. There were a number of crusties (bike riders in need of a shower) out the front however there were no patches or cuts to be seen so I figured it wasn't affiliated with any clubs. They had a $35 room, cheap beer and I could roll my bike into the beer garden with other riders for the night. It was perfect. 

A country pub should have at least one horse parked in the carpark. 

A country pub should have at least one horse parked in the carpark. 

 

I got talking with a few of the other riders there, two free riding (no club affiliations) brothers who were on a 10 day spin around NSW together. ‘The Hammer’ and ‘Buffalo Bill’ do this every year they told me.  No plans, no girlfriends, just two old brothers going for a spin around NSW. One of them picked up that my bike said “SYD to LDN” and so I had to do that thing were I try and explain the trip as best I can while not sounding too sheepish that I have already been on the road a few days and have only made it 400 kms. 

‘The Hammer’ unsurprisingly was a large man.  He didn’t say much but when he had a question or comment you (and everyone else around him) listened. His younger brother was more open and chatty with a Kiwi accent. We got talking about the roads, bikes, beers… the usual things you talk about in pubs. 

After a few stories about trips around the place and talking about my plans for the trip - Hammer looked at me and goes “Jonathan, I am going to buy you a steak dinner and a couple of beers to make sure you leave tomorrow well fed”. 

I have always struggled accepting things. 

“Mate, I was planning on eating a tin of beans up in my room but a steak does sound great - you really don’t have to”, I let out looking down.

He casually moved his pack of cigarettes to the side and then quickly slammed his had flat on the sticky beer table. The pub paused, he looked at me and said “I know I don’t f***ing have to, but I want too - So tell me how you have your f***ing steak and say thanks”. The pub returned to its usual clatter. 

It was a tasty steak. 

I woke a little late in the morning. Never being a morning person my brain tends to operate at about 20% until at least the second coffee. I walked down and to see how much oil had dropped under the bike. The pub was open and serving at 7am with a few guys drinking - night shift workers from the local mines. Then standing at the bar I noticed a young girl wearing nothing but a g-string. Of course this bar has a topless waitress serving beer at 7am. 

Good people, good bars. 

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