My odometer reads nearly 1,000km as tiny raindrops fall on my visor. I glance up and don’t see many rain clouds. The droplets get bigger, until I make out little wings and red splatters. Within a few minutes, my windscreen is covered in a mash of insects.
I’m somewhere in southern New South Wales, Australia, on my KL250 Super Sherpa on clean country gravel roads, the soil to the sides a bright burnt orange-red. A strong contrast between the fields of green and yellow crops I see on either side. Canola oil plants, a vast sea of green below with yellow flowers above. Fields and fields of living sunlight.
I’m on my way to the tiny town of Cavendish in Victoria, just south of Grampians National Park and a couple of hours northwest of Melbourne. Horizons Unlimited, a popular website for adventure motorcyclists, is hosting an event this weekend. I’m taking the opportunity to explore the region for a few weeks, while working through a bit of an existential crisis.
I’ve wanted to take a year off to travel for a long time, so was surprised to start feeling a little off just a few months in. I eventually pinpointed the problem: something to do with quitting my career, moving out of the country, leaving friends and family, seeing everyone getting married and having kids, and the big kicker, turning thirty in February. I started wondering what path I’d find myself on next year, and where I’d be in another ten years, at forty. It’s a scary thought and requires some deep consideration. Hitting the road has definitely helped clear my mind, and reminds me just how lucky I am to be out here, free to explore and take time to myself before ‘settling down’, if that’s in my future in any conventional way.
As I enter a paved road, I look again at all those poor bugs smooshed against the windscreen, momentarily going cross-eyed as I focus in on my own dirty visor. Through the mash, my eye catches sight of a five foot stick on the right side of the road. As a truck approaches it from the opposite direction, the stick slithers into my left lane, its long brown body making quick work of the distance. I swerve just in time to miss its tiny head and beady little eyes, tucking my right leg up as high as I can while screaming in my helmet, “AAAHHHH!!! SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!!!”
I’m being silly, getting my knee up as high as I can like that, I think. What was it going to do, rear up and bite a motorcyclist travelling 75km/h? Then again, I’ve been told the brown snake is in the top five of the deadliest snakes in the world. As it turns out, they have been known to bite when being run over, and the best course of action really is to tuck your legs up.
I’ve been riding for hours, and as evening approaches I’m more cautious about the possibility of hitting kangaroos. I keep my eyes open, scanning the sides of the roads and fields for roos. I haven’t seen or smelled any dead ones in miles, which is a good sign. You always smell them before seeing them around here. Then I see it- a pair of ears poking through the grass, a face visible below. It looks almost like a giant bunny standing on its hind legs scouting for predators, its little T-rex arms just visible before its body is hidden by the sandy colored grass. I decide to call it a day and slow down, turning off at a small camp sign.
I’m scared to camp alone, but want to do it anyway. I wind down another country road, bumping along the less than maintained dirt road, still learning how to manoeuvre a motorcycle on loose rocks, especially with so much gear and extra fuel in a jerry can. The road takes me to the Murrumbidgee River near the town of Wagga Wagga. I see one other vehicle to the left along the river, so I continue down to the right a ways to find my own spot. Unexpectedly hitting deep sand, my little bike slips and slides right, left, right left, fishtailing through the deep sand of a river beach. My right foot shoots to the ground, sending the bike to the left, then the left foot shoots out, sending the bike to the right. I manage to straighten out and hit the dirt again without dumping the bike, wondering how I didn’t slow-mo crash in the sand. I remember this is the reason I bought a little bike in the first place- easy to manoeuvrer, and easy to pick up. I also make a mental note to buy some proper motorcycle boots with ankle protection.
Finding a patch of grass near the water, I set up camp, eat a cold dinner, and crawl in bed to start reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a true motorcycle classic. The Kookaburra birds, cousins of the Kingfishers, are making an absolute racket in the trees. They’re laughing at my fear of solitary camping. They’re also in direct competition with the big white Cockatoos, which line the trees in troves. They have one of the ugliest bird calls I’ve ever heard, and I swear they use human words. It’s an uncanny sound, like most of the creatures I encounter in Australia.
As it gets dark and the birds quiet down, I’m surprised to find I’m not scared at all. My sheathed knife is somewhere in my debris of stuff, but I don’t sleep with it like I’ve done in the past. It’s a peaceful evening, and a quickly fall asleep.