These two things. Strangers and strong black tea.
I have recently returned from a solo bike trip out west.
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post Motorbike keys to Empowerment motorbike travel has taught me a great deal. Solo motorbike travel has taught me even more but it would be a different experience altogether on my most recent trip if it were not for the kindness of strangers and strong black tea.
The story begins as I set sail on a Saturday morning loaded to the brim with fresh energy and enthusiasm for the trip ahead. Amongst my carefully packed luggage nestle a fresh Moleskine notebook, my camera and a map. The plan – six days and over 2500kms of riding through the Australian outback (gloriously in bloom with wildflowers) and with absolutely no mindless paperwork to deal with – heaven.
One hour later at the township of Mitchell rain begins to patter down. I had been forewarned it might but the same weather app on my phone had assured me it would only be light passing showers. I will be fine, I think – I’ve ridden in plenty of passing showers.
Ten minutes down the road, the steady slap of rain on my helmet has increased and my visor is fogged and filmed with water.
Other things are happening. My air flow jacket even with its outer wind breaker intact has become soaked – it isn’t intended for wet weather – it is intended for what I had rather more expected – hot weather.
Another hour and a half passes in miserable conditions, finally I pull into Morven. The rain has increased, a nasty squally shrew, it pulls and snaps at me.
I decide my phone app is a filthy liar. I drip into the roadhouse and order breakfast. The lady looks at me half kindly and half like I might be a little crazy. I change my order from coffee to tea. The English are a stoic lot that often drink tea before battles – perhaps I may benefit from doing the same.
It feels bracing just ordering it. Black tea – how very sensible.
Perhaps by the time I have dined, these “passing showers” might be (as my lying app continues to promise) passed.
I gloomily observe this after draining the little teapot dry and scraping my plate clean. I can’t just sit here drinking tea all day. I have to get somewhere and was supposed to have gone at least 5 hours and hundreds of kilometres down the track today in my schedule. I have barely gone 1.5 hours and the kilometres (whilst they have felt long enough in the inclement weather) are not satisfactory at all.
It’s one of those unhappier decisions to make but there is no alternative.
Soggy and wet I climb onto my bike and head for Charleville.
I might note here that the weather app has got me riding into sunshine. Bastards!
The truckie is right. He had assured me in Morven it was rain all the way through – after all he had just come from that direction. Of course he is right! I want to ring the app people and tell them they are a liars.
I spend my time shivering and cursing weather app inventors.
Another hour pours down the road.
It seems like so much more but my misty dashboard clock tells me that it is almost exactly an hour as I arrive on the outskirts of Charleville.
My whole body is wracked with chills. In an effort to get the thing over and done with I have been doing silly speeds on the wet tarmac. Shaking badly, I decide that I will have to give it away for the day or risk catching pneumonia or worse. I’m a stubborn type but I don’t usually run to idiocy especially if it means I might wreck a pending adventure all together.
The receptionist at the Mulga Inn is wonderfully kind and clucks about me like a mother hen. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed being fussed over as much as do just then. After a hot shower and several cups of black tea I fall asleep under a pile of blankets and dream away the rest of the afternoon and evening.
My bike passes the night under the awning of the motel outside my room- I feel bad leaving her out there but…
The next morning I am off again. But it does take a bit of stern self talk and ass kicking. It also takes black tea -the black tea thing has well and truly taken hold.
The thing is, I’m usually a coffee drinker – I don’t really drink that much tea. Suddenly it is the only thing I want. I certainly look forward to my next hit that but it would be another two hours (it ends up being three) at least down the road before I get tea again.
The rain has stopped but everything is damp. My jacket, my boots, my pants. Damp. The wind is whistling cold under a metallic sky. The weather and chill factor are so out of the ordinary for what should be a Queensland late spring morning that I feel personally cursed. My imaginative superstition leaps into gear. This is a sign – an omen – I should’t be doing this. Oh shut up!
Playing carefully narrated thoughts on loop I pull out on to the highway and head south west.
I have two hours riding (did I mention it ended up three?) ahead straight up. The first section is broken up by the small town of Wyandra where I add more clothes underneath my outerwear pulling them on with pale shaking hands.
I am now wearing three long sleeved tshirts and my jeans underneath the pants. I wished I had thermals (who packs thermals in spring?) but am super glad of the little Merino vest that had cost a bomb on a recent Norfolk Island holiday. It is worth more than its weight in gold and keeping cold off my chest and neck. I just want six of them and with sleeves. Thinking warming thoughts of the black tea to be had an hour ahead I yank my helmet back on.
The voice in my head has become whiney and annoying. I swear at it – becoming increasingly savage and colourful as the kilometres flash by and the freezing temperatures do not abate. I am astonished by the profundity of potty mouth vocabulary that I seem to have at my recall. I even repeat the C word several times – (Note *I can’t say it out loud as a rule but it is terrifically bracing when whispered softly and harshly in the direction of ones inner sook).
My next kind person is the service station lady in Cunnamulla. Again with the mother hen clucking and patting. I love it. Ensconced at a corner table in greyish sunshine I am waited on hand and foot – which is handy because mine have turned to blocks of ice. Another several cups of black tea are pressed on me and I down them one after the other. Thus internally fortified I purchase a beanie to wear under my helmet and pull it down over my freezing cold ears.
Photo Credit ://www.flickr.com/photos/jmarkbertrand
Stalking stiffly into the cold slap of the southerly wind I prepare to soldier on but I am wondering – believe me – I am deeply wondering about my sanity.
By Eulo, a further half an hour down the track the sun is shining strongly and I can take off my beanie. I also have another cup of black tea.
Yes I can do this thing. I think as I sprawl outside the little shop in the sunshine. I can carry out this adventure as prescribed. I am indeed strong enough. My inner sook has been vanquished – sent scuttling back to the corners of my mind by the warmth of the increasing sunshine. My positive self is returning to the fore. Things are looking up.
As I sat at Eulo with my tenth or twelfth cup of black tea in those same 48 hours chatting to yet another kind stranger I even add kilometres to my trip on his advice.
Yes I will include Eromanga – of course it is a stretch even further into the abyss of the outback but …how hard could it be? Mentally and physically I have just overcome two massive hurdles of discomfort in the last two days – doddling along in the sunshine seemed by contrast – easy. My good luck continues right throughout the rest of the six day trip but strong black tea and the kindness of strangers everywhere I stop seems to be the enduring theme of my trip.
Mind you so did pubs and wildflowers, dragon lizards and goannas, fat cows, goats, wild pigs, plenty of kangaroos, wedge tailed eagles, red, grey, blue and the verdant green – which is so rarely seen out west. Oh and flies – by the millions – which are (seen out west) on a regular basis.
The clip below has a soundtrack by First Aid Kit the song is “My Silver Lining” the photos are all mine – not many snaps this trip as I had a schedule.
And so I believe I have learnt …..