On the Loose (updated)

Posted in: Featured, Moore Thoughts | By: | January 24, 2010

There is not language that I know to describe what it feels like to ride a motorcycle through a countryside you have never seen and every sight is new. The world feels specially made and customized for your personal enjoyment. In King’s Park, up above Perth, you look down across the broad Swann River and onto a glistening skyline of a city that feels urban and sophisticated while also remote and closely connected to the Outback. I wonder who these people are and how they came to make a life here or how their families arrived in Western Australia.

Parrot on a wire, Serpentine River, Western Australia

Parrot on a wire, Serpentine River, Western Australia

After we load the bikes with our gear, Jack and I roll southeasterly into the face of a rising sun, squinting as we make our way on the left side of the road toward a pub parking lot where we meet Graeme and Mike. They love motorcycles, too, and even as husbands, fathers, and successful businessmen, they are still thrilled by the twisty roads, a rising hill, and the push of the wind against your leaning frame. Both wanted to ride us out on the first day of our continental crossing. Mike, who might be mistaken for a dispassionate accountant or a man more interested in watching his grandchildren learn to walk, rolls on the throttle and guides us through the golden, rolling hills south of Perth. Graeme is a former motorcycle cop from New Zealand and has probably spent more time on 2 wheels than 4.

There is a good feel to this country, fresh and new and I have the sense I am getting a glimpse of northern California before 32 million people overpopulated the golden state. The vegetation is semi tropical but it is cool enough for grapes and wine and vineyards wheel past us every half hour, the vines growing off through the hills in orderly lines. Along a long flat where the tree canopy hangs out and shades the road a half dozen wild emu cross the tarmac and scramble into the bush. Mike is riding too fast and I can barely keep his bike in sight, a 1986 Motoguzzi with over 200 kilometers. When he twists up the power, Graeme matches his speed and their bikes make a smooth rumble as they lean into turn after turn, accelerating as I do a two-finger touch on my front brake. I am still learning the feel of the big 1200 cc BMW and would never attempt to hold the lines they are marking with ease. Jack stays closer because he has been riding at the track lately but neither of us is willing to ride fast; the country is too pleasing to race through without notice.

Hard Riders - Mike and Graeme

Hard Riders - Mike and Graeme

Our initial stop is at a dam along the Serpentine River and a parrot settles on a wire along the riverbank and seemingly poses for my camera. I still manage to not get focus with an autofocus lens. The cool air of Western Australia on this fine morning is filled with birdsong. Dark magpies with their white-trimmed wings squawk in the trees and kookaburras laugh at us from across the water. Back on the bikes, we motor on through the rural roads, climbing, turning, and zipping along the straights. Another early stop is at a pub outside of Jarrahdale called “Ye Olde English Inne,” where we had a “cold, cleansing ale,” and took snaps of the establishment, which looked as out of place on this roadside as a couple of Yanks on motorbikes. Mike and Graeme cannot be convinced of the joy of a more sedate pace and pull out fast again toward the Shire of Donnybrook.

These hills in front of me are California in the summer, yellow waves of soft color adorned with stands of trees I cannot name nor have ever seen. I am reminded of photos I have seen of the African Serengeti. There are few houses out here and when our guides decide to stop for another ale at a roadhouse in Mumby they talk about the land on either side of the road as if it belonged to the public. On the maps and charts, there does not appear to be a stretch of highway too long without a national park or a preserve. Camping, I am told, is a national past time. The tarmac is still coursing left and right and up and down when we come upon Busselton, a town comparable to a vacation spot along the Pacific Coast Highway near Carmel or Big Sur. Shops and cafes line the streets as we putter through roundabouts toward the coastline. I already feel the cooler air and with a few simple turns we are dropping the kickstands in a parking lot next to the Indian Ocean. I have never seen this ocean but I have the same sense of wonder that I feel every time I stand beside any great water.

Mumby Pub, Shire of Donnybrook, W.A.

Mumby Pub, Shire of Donnybrook, W.A.

“That jetty’s the longest in the world, mate,” Graeme says as he points toward the water. “You Texans are always talking about the biggest, so there you are. We got one, too.”

We make one more stop to thank Mike and Graeme for their hospitality and then Jack and I point the Beemers down Caves Road toward Cape Leeuwin, a long spit of rock that separates the Southern and Indian Oceans. In Augusta, just above the cape, we find a “caravan park” (in the US it’s referred to as an RV park or a commercial campground) just before nightfall. As we had been pressing south I kept thinking of the warnings everyone gave us about riding at dusk and dawn. Kangaroos begin to move about frequently cross the roads in front of vehicles. This part of Western Australia is home to the biggest trees on the continent and when we approached the forest of giant Karri trees I became worried because I thought we had been overcome by nightfall almost without warning. The high canopy overhead, however, was so well woven together that the long light from late in the day was kept out of the woods and I was surprised to see the indicator lights come up on the instruments. Karri trees are tall and straight and white with trunks as broad as ponderosa pines in the American West. The look like birch without the peeling bark. The environment is as eerie as a story from a children’s book and I would not have been surprised to see a hobbit toddle out in front of us. Instead, Jack saw his first kangaroo by the roadside, which I did not see. He said it appeared poised to jump in the road but hesitated as I passed.

“Guys, this is a bad, bad time to be riding your bikes.” The voice with the slightly effeminate lilt belonged to Gary, who was the owner of the caravan park. “We have more insurance claims filed for ‘roo accidents in this part of Australia than any other part of the country.”

“Yeah, we were worried,” I said.

2 mile pier, Busselton

2 mile pier, Busselton

Gary elaborately showed us a spot to pitch our tents next to a dry creek, drawing out on the map what he said was a complicated route. The information flyer on Gary’s park mentioned that he played the bagpipes and some times, of a morning, campers could hear him as he played the pipes and strolled the banks of the Blackwood River where it runs to the Southern Ocean. I reminded myself to go easy on any cold, cleansing ales that evening.

The caravan park was filled with families that had hauled boats and tents and supplies for long stays. Tents were elaborate, as if they were lonely Bedouins making their way across the Persian deserts. There were supply trailers with racks for storing fishing poles, kayaks, lanterns, cots, stools, and anything else they might think of for a long stay next to the ocean. As we finished pitching our tents, there was no loud music or obnoxious voices in argument and fires flickered in stone circles. The grounds were quiet by 10 and the last sounds I heard before fading to sleep were the voices of laughing children.

5 Comments for this entry

  • Trina

    Sounds like a little slice of heaven, Stephen and I never made it past the vineyards! See you soon, Bondi is awaiting!

  • Nick

    Minor typo/repeat in first paragraph.

  • Tony

    Welcome to Australia mate! You could not have had a better guide than Graeme. Most of us cant keep up with him either. Safe travels, and please, please stick to the hour after sun up, hour before sun down rule. I have crossed “The Paddock” (Nullabor) many times on a bike. Heaps of nasties at dusk and dawn.

  • Jim

    Tony – thanks for the note. Graeme was awesome and so was Mike. I wish i were riding with them every week. I love your country and am ready to immigrate. Do you take washed up Yanks? I made it to Sydney. Lovely city but I do love the Outback. – Jim

  • Pat (TOURA)

    G’day “washed up Yanks”. Welcome to the place we call home. I live in Sydney and have travelled those roads – but I have never heard them explained so elloquently. I felt I was “there” riding along side of you. Such memories – a lifetime of highlights.

    Enjoy your visit guys – and as we say elsewhere – keep posting up your reports – and plenty of photos.

    Ride safe and enjoy. Pat

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