SYDNEY --- BYLONG VALLEY --- MUDGEE --- WARRUMBUNGLES --- TAMWORTH --- DORRIGO --- BELLINGEN --- SYDNEY
The road stretches out before me; before I have even lifted my feet and kicked the kickstand. The road is long and rough, undulated and unforgiving.
‘The road is just a road’ I tell myself
I often lie to myself in this way. The cracks and bumps hurt less when you ignore them. The road is the ribbon bound around my aching heart. This trip is the unwinding of that ribbon. The loss of my dad, a friend more than a parent, takes its time to heal. By the end of the road the ribbon lays draped on the floor like a bloodied bandage.
‘The heart is just a muscle’, there I go lying to myself again.
The heart’s rhythm is a rhythm of its own; I’m only renting it. Like a cheap studio apartment I cared not for the marks or the scuffs on the wall, I figured I’d be moving on soon. By the time I knew it I was alone with its rhythm. The thump, after thump, after thump, after thump, reminding me of my self-neglect. The clear night sky reflected the empty space in which my heart beat.
‘Its only a week’, I hear the echo of my own voice.
How long a minute is when you give yourself time. The thump, the thump, the thump. I’ve started the bike. The road, the ribbon, the heart, the void. Tick after tick of the odometer tugs at each knot in the ribbon around my heart. I never thought I’d be wrapped up so tight.
This reflection is from a solo motorcycle adventure I took in January 2018. It was not a long journey in its number of days, but it was for the hours of reflection I afforded myself. As a motorcyclist I ride to find space in my city - space between cars, between meetings, and between my thoughts. Sliding on my helmet is the initiation of my mediation where the actions of the moment outweigh the actions of the past or future. However, on the long stretches of NSW roads I had time to explore my thoughts and myself more deeply than on the busy Sydney streets. In a journey that took only five days I was reminded of the depth of grief and importance of self-care.
It was no surprise to me that the journey only began when the bike agreed it was ready. I hadn’t ridden the last three weeks over Christmas and New Years, and the battery didn’t have enough cranking amps to turn over the engine. So all the neat packing of my gear was undone to remove and recharge the battery. That patience, the one of waiting in limbo, it was the foreshadowing of my journey. For between the much-acclaimed series of twisted roads there would be long straights, and lonesome campsites between.
Do you think there is anyone left who doesn’t know there are 7 billion others on this plant? - Diary Note Day 1
The first part of the trip took me north through the sweeping bends of Putty Rd. Leaving on a Thursday meant the traffic was light, much lighter than any sunny Sunday. In contrast, the cloud cover on this day blanketed the sky. It occurred to me that no matter how far I was going I would never be far from another person, another journey. To my delight I spotted a father and his son swimming free and bare in the empty river. Even though it is 5 years since my own father passed away, I find moments such as these inspiring. They typify the beauty of shared experiences with loved ones. In watching them play back and forth with one another I was reminded of the joys I was afforded growing up with my dad. I snapped a picture and hopped back to my bike. Only halfway to the Belong Valley, and I was on the hunt for twisting roads.
There is always a battle, while riding, between the inspiration to stop and enthusiasm to move. When new vistas unfold over a hill, or a sweeping curve, the urge to stop fails against the inertia of the bike. The fun I was having on day one was bundled with nerves, excitement, and anxiety. Like the camping gear strapped to the bike, these emotions surrounded me. One moment inspiring me to stop for a photo, another to calculate the fuel left in the tank, another to figure out where to camp. Short cuts, or missed turn offs, turned into dirt roads or suburban streets. Venturing further into unknown territory dragged up nerves and conversations I didn’t think I needed to have with myself.
The sunset exploded with red over the low cloud. The beauty interrupted as my mind would fret – am I lost, lonely or otherwise in danger of ghosts from the nearby church cemetery? I had to practice calming myself. Telling myself that there is no difference between sitting here in a campsite alone, or being alone in my tiny share house bedroom. I can only imagine what life would be like for others who have no home, or loved one, or freedom. What then do they hold on to?
The next morning I was tucked into the shadow of the motorbike. Coffee brewed and pen scribbled on paper… just like any other day at home. I bought what I needed from the quiet general store and hit the road and the hot winds heat on. Almost every stop of the way I thought of my girlfriend and how much “she’d love this”. I realised then that I gain so much joy from her joy. I stopped myself, inhaled, took a step back, and then began moving forward again.
Is this travel particularly difficult when compared to all my other solo travel? In the biggest way I am my own entertainment. Stuck inside the helmet. Minutes and hours monitoring maps, fuel, and thirst. Wherever I land I am the visitor, the stranger, the other mammal visiting the campsite. Watching out for road kill so I don’t become it myself. Watching sunburnt plains roll over and over each hill. Watching the purple and yellow flowers flash by. I’m just another passing motorist in mother nature’s stillness.
That evening I settled into an empty campsite in the Warrumbungle National Park. This was furthest most westerly point of my expedition and Australia’s only Dark Sky Park. After setting up my swag and watching the sun set I was hit with a wave of loneliness. After hours of the dull roar of the wind, and the rumbling of the engine, there is only silence. I was reminded, in that instant, of a child-like fear of the unknown, of strange noises in the bush, of the dark. The motorbike had taken me further from the lights of the city as was possible. I repeated to myself “I am bigger, stronger, and scarier than anything I may find”. However, the fact is that the scariest things are our thoughts – First of the ever-threatening Boogie Man, and secondly of anxiety. I have been fortunate in the passing of my dad to be given great psychological care in the acute phase post-mortem and in the years after when events like a break-up or when work would spark the sadness. I cried in the silence ‘but there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer (Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning).
Day three rose quickly with heat and the threat of bushfires. I rocketed out of the National Park. I wanted to escape the silence, the heat, and find the inner peace of riding. From Coonabarabran I made a beeline for the coast 474kms away. In that time, I watched the towns pass one by one between long stretches of dry country. I wished for a swim in the ocean. The disturbed sleep from the previous two nights lingered. As I pushed on, I stopped only for petrol and lunch. That is, until I found myself in the lush green hills of Dirrigo. As the heat surrendered to the light rain so too did my thoughts. I descended into the valley of Bellingen and found the showground open with long grass and plenty of room.
A swim in the river and another beautiful sunset helped to ground me in a new place. A cold beer in the local pub led to meeting a few locals. Graham and Mary were two of those kind and fun people. A little older than me, but with a passion for motorcycles cut from the same cloth. There invitation for a Sunday ride took no hesitation in accepting. With an unloaded bike and an unloaded mind we took to the mountain to find the limits of our bikes and ourselves.
Two days of rest in Bellingen recharged my body. To have my thoughts, feelings, and passions shared with others was inspiring. Every time I travel, I am reminded of the happiness that is most commonly found in all humanity; that of shared feelings, of love, of a smile. I packed up my bike, my friend, for the final time excited to have one long drive home left. Travelling along the coast I reflected on the twists and turns of the road and my thoughts. I had travelled further than I’d imagined. I rode more in one day, in one week, than ever before. I carried the frustrations of missed roads, missed views, or missed opportunities but also the ability to carry myself.
The freeway and the flow of traffic carried me home. While getting lost may have unravelled the bind of the city, being found amongst new friends and new landscapes helped to continue the repair of my healing heart.