In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert PM Pirsig writes:
You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realise that through the car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.
I couldn’t explain my love for motorcycle riding in words that capture it better than Pirsig’s. That’s probably why his book is one of my favourites.
This weekend I had to travel to Washpool National Park, 450km from my home. I was going there to volunteer as an aid station attendant at the Washpool World Heritage Trail run. But rather than just make the trip about transport, I decided to enjoy the journey.
Instead of racing down the Cunningham / New England Highway ‘inland route’ or the Pacific Highway ‘coastal route’, I took the less-traveled Mt Lindsay Highway to Washpool. It took me eight hours to cover the 450km because I kept stopping to find geocaches and take photos. Taking the scenic route made me slow down and focus on the journey, rather than the destination. It’s a good reminder to slow down in a world that is spinning too quickly.
The scenic route also led to a spot of adventure. The Mt Lindsay Highway still has about 30km of unsealed road. Goodness only knows why but for some reason no-one’s connected the northern and southern ends of the highway yet. While the northern end of the highway was perfect for road riding, the unsealed sections on the southern end were hard going because the sand was as deep as beach sand.
My GS500 doesn’t handle anywhere near as well on sand as my old CBF250 did. It’s got a higher centre of gravity and is heavier to hold up once it starts to flip on its side. I tried desperately to stay upright but lost concentration for a micro-second and lost control of the bike in the sand. I wasn’t hurt and the bike was fine, other than a few scratches. Fortunately, a farmer was driving by so he could help me lift my bike, rather than me having to unload it before I lifted it.
It was late afternoon by the time I joined the New England Highway in Tenterfield. With 140km left to ride and the sun starting to sink into the western sky, I set my speedometre to 100kph and zoomed down the highway to Dundee where I took the shortcut south-east to join the Gwydr Highway back east into the mountains.
There’s something foolhardy about riding in the late afternoon and evening in Australia. Kangaroos and wallabies graze along the road at this time of day, posing a huge risk to a motorcyclist’s safety. While they might seem like cute animals, kangaroos and wallabies aren’t very bright. They will jump out on the road in front of passing vehicles rather than turning to hop away. They’re muscular animals and even a small wallaby can take a motorcycle out if it hits. But I find this time of day magical for riding because the colours are brighter and vibrant.
Washpool National Park is a World Heritage listed area. It’s a stunning series of mountains ranging averaging about 1,000m high. They include areas of rain forest, dry granite fields, clear flowing creeks and hanging swamps. It’s worth the long ride to travel there for a few days.
After the trail run event I rode home on Sunday night. I rode straight back up the Gwydr and New England Highways before turning east on the Cunningham Highway back to Brisbane. It was dark for much of my ride home and I had to contend with unlit highways (the word ‘highway’ in Australia does not mean the road is well-maintained, lit or signed), rain and a scary lightning storm. But it was worth it because the hardships are all part of motorcycle touring.