Ok, this is a rewrite of something i actually wrote as part of a Blitz travel thread, believe it or not. Which was subsequently lost and which i never saved because it was actually written “live” on a blitz page rather than in Word. I never expected it to develop beyond a paragraph or two but it morphed.
So, totally Rewritten in the sense of totally started over without the original to refer too. The events are true, the broad story is true and it dates to 1998.
ok, here we go. Flame away, lol
An Old Meeting.
Dawn had broken some time ago and now a newly minted sun was threatening to creep over the horizon. Pale, cold shafts of light began seeping across an icy morning. As if granted animation by the departure of darkness, coils of mist lifted languidly off a scene of foreshore and the mouth of the Clyde River. Their lazy unhurriedness was matched in character both by the corresponding tendrils of steam from a freshly brewed cup of coffee, and also my own sluggish thoughts. Distant bird calls announced the imminent arrival of a new day, a low murmur of conversation and the clink of crockery emanated from the nearby café, but all else was silent. Even the gentle lapping of the water on the shore was undertaken with stealthy tenderness, a gentle caress in keeping with the mood.
Away to my left could just be seen, beyond a small forest of gently waving boat masts, the frosty metallic skeleton of a bridge spanning the tidal river, its stark rectangular form at odds with the rambling coastal bush that extended out behind it. I contemplated it with surprise, for it looked far smaller than the structure whose lights the previous evening had shone out of the inky darkness like a beacon of salvation. Never had a storm-battered sailor been more relieved to espy the warning glow of a harbour lighthouse strobe than I had been to see that line of welcoming sodium vapour lamps.
A series of delays, miscalculations and rampant stupidity had seen me benighted on the curving, flowing road that is the Moss Vale Road, running from the central New South Wales highlands town of Bowral across the high country, before plunging down through the Kangaroo Valley towards the coast and my destination of Batemans Bay. The road wasn’t the only thing that plunged. So did the temperature. And my spirits. And the blood flow to my extremities. Which made controlling the big capacity motorcycle I was riding all the more problematic. In daylight, with good weather, it would have been a glorious ride, but now it was a homicidal enemy, an entity to be negotiated and merely survived.
Things reached a crisis point when the headlight – now revealed as largely inadequate in the stygian darkness that engulfed everything beyond its narrow cone and running a very real risk of being over-ridden – belatedly revealed the presence of a murderous wombat, apparently intent on ending my life forthwith by acting as a marsupialian roadblock. How I evaded that not-so-mobile hazard I will never know.
Things didn’t really improve, either. As the black, sinuous ribbon that marked my pathway flicked back and forth savagely across hidden shoulders of mountain buttresses and slowly dropped in altitude, it was accompanied by an increasingly solid curtain of fog. Peering with straining eyes into the near distance, searching for threats in road surface, evading the local flora and fauna, and realising that your braking hand is becoming increasingly numb and disconnected from your wishes, does not for a relaxing ride make.
If you happen to do a defensive riding course, you may be introduced to a tactic known as a “Commentary Ride”. I had done one, and thankfully I recalled it on that interminable road of frigid darkness. The idea is that you maintain alertness by literally commentating – out loud – what is happening and what your next action will be. What it needs to be. What it has to be if you hope to live. For a while. I tried it. It works. I covered kilometre after kilometre, waffling to myself inside the helmet, undoubtedly sounding absurd had there been anyone to hear it.
I had also read that in the final stages of hypothermia you start to feel quite warm and comfortable. Then you sleep. And then you die. If so, I obviously hadn’t approached the scythe-bearing gentleman quite that closely, because I was still bitterly cold, chilled to my very marrow and would gladly have snatched at some warmth. Fingers ached and protested, feet were clumsy and the wind seemed to slice through leather and wool with impunity. At one point, I’d even considered pulling over and hugging the engine. It didn’t happen. Lady Fortune did appear to take pity on me, though, as eventually I closed in on a semi-trailer and sat some 50 meters behind it, using it as a form of protection from any wildlife that attempted to dispute possession of the road with me. Again.
And then those lights! Oh, those lights. The roadside markers had been inexorably counting down the distance to Batemans Bay in 5 kilometre increments. And then I’d seen a sign welcoming me to the town. But it hadn’t seemed real. Not until that warm orange tint of street lights loomed out of the night, and the superstructure of the bridge was flitting past, moist and glistening in a seaside murk. I’d rolled into the Pub carpark just after 9.00 pm, and fumbled with the ignition key to finally kill the engine. The silence had seemed surreal. So had the astonished, amazed look from the barmaid when I stumbled inside and asked if it was possible to get a room and a heater. Fair enough, too. Only a madman would be riding in such conditions.
My reverie was broken by the arrival of my breakfast, bacon and eggs piled satisfyingly high. I asked for a second cup of coffee and set to, enjoying the peace, quiet and a fitful sun that was now well risen to the east. The day promised to be far better than the just departed night, and my trip southwards – where it would eventually end in Melbourne, timeframe unfixed – was likely to be a pleasant cruise along the coast.
The drone of an engine carried in on the calm air, coming from the south. It sounded like a V-twin, probably a Harley, slowly increasing in volume as it drew nearer. A motorcycle swanned into view on the highway, and I noted with half-interest that it was actually a Japanese Harley-copy, namely an old Yamaha Virago from the mid 80’s, loaded with saddle bags and a luggage rack. Like my own ride, a Victorian registration plate adorned the rear mudguard. It pulled off the road and into the carpark, finishing up on the far side of my Suzuki, my attention still only the casual one of a fellow motorcyclist. Silence settled as the engine died, and I was returning to the remains of my meal when I noticed the new arrival struggling to remove a helmet that eventually revealed a crop of snowy white hair. Dismounting the bike seemed an inordinate effort, as if the rider was stiff and sore. He fumbled with something on the far side of the bike, and I took an incredulous second glance as he emerged unsteadily with his weight placed on an old walking stick!
It’s safe to say that I was now fully engaged, but I looked nonchalantly off in the direction of the bridge, just keeping the man in my peripheral vision as he divested himself of a leather jacket, retrieved something from one of the bags and tottered concerningly across the carpark towards the tables at which I sat, complete with walking stick. I looked at him as he neared, a high-necked woolly jumper somehow suiting what was revealed to be an old, weathered face, tinged silver with the early makings of a beard.
“Good morning, lad”, he opened with a clear voice that was somewhat at odds with a general air of advanced age.
“Morning”, I replied. I nodded in the direction of the bikes. “You’re out and about early today.”
“Aye. And it’s a bit brisk isn’t it?” He shifted his weight on to one leg, buffed his arms about a few times and exhaled with deliberation, his breath a white cloud of vapour.
I agreed and invited him to take a seat, an invite which he happily accepted. I introduced myself, “Jason”, and he stretched out a gaunt and trembling hand, dark splotches on the skin. I met him in the handshake, the grip none too strong or stable, but in sharp contrast to the obvious steadiness in the blue-eyed gaze that he fixed upon me. “I’m Jock, and it’s a pleasure to meet you, lad”. Of course. Jock. It could be nothing else, could it.
The waitress had been hovering and my new acquaintance ordered himself a coffee. Intrigued and in no hurry, I added my third. “So, “I opened, “just out for a little jaunt around the place on a sunny day?”
“Nay, nay. I’ve actually come up from Narooma, I thought I’d get an hour on the road before breakfast and then keep going”. He fished an old, discoloured map from an unseen pocket and placed it on the table.
Trying to contain my astonishment, and with fake calmness, I enquired as to where he was heading from here.
“Hmm”. He pondered on it for a moment, a far way look in his eyes as if he could see somewhere that I couldn’t. “Eventually, maybe, I’m thinking of Cairns. But I’m not sure. I may keep going from there”.
“Cairns!” I nearly choked on my coffee in surprise, and Jock broke into a massive smile at my astonishment. A myriad of lines and small creases exploded across his face, like a well-worn ancient parchment of hide and his eyes twinkled with humour. I couldn’t help laughing, myself.
Recalling the Victorian licence plate, I went with the next inevitable question. “And where exactly did you start from?” the query laden with genuine and very real curiosity. Jock was clearly ready for it, because he replied without hesitation. “Two weeks ago, I was in Geelong”.
I looked at him searchingly, and then wonderingly at the walking stick resting against the table. The coffee’s arrived and I took a moment to contemplate the situation. Jock must have been watching me too, because he broke in on my thoughts. “In case you’re tempted to ask, lad, I’ll save you the trouble. I’m 89 years old, if I’m a day. Nearly 90, in fact”. My expression must have been something to behold, because he chuckled at my nonplussed look.
Well, this was something! I ruminated on the idea of an octogenarian motorcyclist, one thousand kilometres from home and at least three thousand kilometres from his stated destination. Jock slowly stirred his coffee with deliberate concentration, and again I couldn’t help but notice the trembling frailness.
“Ahh…… right……… so ……when do you think you’ll return?”
He turned a calm pair of eyes upon me. “I won’t, lad “. It was quietly said, quite deadpan. And then more brightly. “ ‘T’is a one-way journey, that’s what it is. Go where I go and see what I see, but I won’t be back down that way.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the indomitable jauntiness of the final utterance.
“Do you have family, anyone, in Cairns?”
“Just a never-ending road trip, eh?”
“That’s it. That’s it.”
I fixed him with a stare. “Do you have family in Geelong? Wife? Children?”
“Aye. Two daughters and a few grandkids. My wife passed on two years back.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Ok. What do they think of this?”
He grinned. “Och, they’re horrified. And they thought I was just going for a week. One of my girls threatened to report me to VicRoads and have my licence taken away.” He chuckled again. “A fat lot of good that would have done them though”, and then in response to my quizzical look he slapped the table and roared with laughter. “Because they took my licence 15 years ago when the doctors said I was legally blind! “
I joined him in his laughter, and instinctively seized his hand in another handshake. “That……is outstanding”. This had gone well past the surreal, and yet here I was, chatting to a blind 89 year old with a walking stick and a motorcycle, destination indeterminant and on a pre-ordained one-way ride. He regained his composure and finished his drink. I asked if he’d like some food, but he declined. “Nay, nay, I don’t eat a lot these days. It repeats on me a bit. I’ll get on my way and have a bite at lunch, perhaps.”
“How far do you think you’ll go today?” I was curious and strangely reluctant to bring this to an end.
Jock studied his old map and prodded it with a finger. “Kiama maybe. Its been a long time since I was there.” I mentally pictured the coastline, estimating that it was only a few hours ride away. Jock may have read my mind, because he added “I can’t do too many hours on the bike anymore”. And then there was that smile again. “Besides, there’s no real hurry”.
I agreed, and went inside to settle the bill for both of us despite Jock’s protestations. I pretended not to notice his slow progression back to his bike, and found some invented things to check and fuss over on my own luggage as he laboriously struggled back into his jacket and helmet. The walking stick was tucked into a small, purposely made frame hanging off the left-hand engine mounts. He rocked the Virago off its stand and proffered a gloved hand in farewell. I clasped it warmly and met his steady gaze, the smiling eyes framed by the same innumerable crows’ feet. “Good luck, Jock.” I felt a vague sense of sadness that surprised me when I looked back on it. He nodded. “Always enjoy yourself, lad.” He raised an admonishing finger. “We get just the one life. So ride well”. And that was that. Two engines burbled into life and we progressed to the roadside.
A final wave, and I turned slowly to the left, southward bound towards home, family and girlfriend. Jock turned right, to go whither I knew not where and meet the unknown in all its meanings. I trickled along at walking pace, fighting an urge to turn the Suzuki around, watching the figure dwindle and grow ever smaller in the mirror until the road curved around to take him to the bridge. And then he was gone, vanished from sight and removed from all but my memory.
I considered the matter for a moment, dropped the visor and snicked the gearbox into second. It was time to get home, and the next stop was a long way away. But as the bike accelerated hard under a lovely winter sun and the roadside started to flash by, I determined I would enjoy every moment of it. Even the freezing, challenging dark ones. After all, there was a blind, ninety-year-old motorcycle adventurer out there, somewhere, patrolling the endless roads and berating me if I didn’t.