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.
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.
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.
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.