Bikes! Motorcycles! Everyone has their own interpretation of what they represent. Their own feelings and beliefs about them. Awed by many. An experience most people think about but are too afraid to try. To most they represent vulnerability to the elements and the environment. Danger to others, discomfort and antisocial behaviour get a big tick. As, too, do the riders. Especially those wearing colours on their backs. Colours representing the groups they belong to. Colours worn with pride and determination to let everybody know who they are!
Some people like one sort of bike, others like another — commuters, cruisers, long distance travellers, road racers — depending on what sort of riding they do. Some like convenience and economy, some like prestige, and some just the thrill of riding. To others, it's a journey to Nirvana. Becoming one with the bike and shutting out the world. It's a surreal experience; a disease that gets into your blood and won't let go. There's no cure. With your girl on the back, there's no-one else in existence and the ride will go on forever. If you're riding with a bunch of other bikes then that feeling is compounded. You are the world.
I caught the disease in 1954 when someone rode a bike into the little village where I lived in England. It was the first bike I remember seeing. The noise was freedom and I wanted one. I threw my leg over my first bike in 1968, after I left school in 1967, and saved every penny to buy it. I traded that in on a bigger bike the week before I turned eighteen years old, in August 1969, and the next day I met some guys in a motorcycle club. It didn't take me long to become a member, and today I'm still a fully active member of that club, which for many years has been part of an international group. These days I ride a 1990 model 1340 cc Harley Davidson FXR. I've been riding bikes for over 40 years and the feeling has never diminished. If anything, it increases with time and age.
A bike's a bike. No matter what sort, size or anything else and, if you're a rider, no matter what you ride, you're part of something that the rest of the world doesn't comprehend. I'll ride with anyone who wants to ride with me. I don't care what they're riding. There's no such thing as a 'shit' bike except the one that you're riding that has just broken down. Especially if you're in the middle of nowhere. Like the desert.
When you're on the bike, you know that everyone is looking at you. You're the centre of attraction, the celebrity, and you know that everyone wants to be you. It's human nature to want to be recognised by fame or infamy. To most people, which one doesn't really make much difference. A lot of people would like to experience the 'bad boy' image, even if only for a little while. When you're on the bike, that's the way you feel other people relate to you.
Bikes are great. Riding bikes is great.CHAPTER 2
ANTS IN MY PANTS
I was in Melbourne and had just done a deal for a bike. Unregistered. The only way to get it back to Sydney was to ride it. I had a borrowed numberplate that hadn't been on a registered bike for years.
I decided to leave Melbourne at about 1 a.m. I figured I'd get over the border by 4 a.m. Halfway home by seven.
Hit Sydney at lunchtime.
With any luck, I'd miss the cops, all the way.
It was 1971, August and freezing. I hadn't even thought of the cold. I was only wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a vinyl jacket with no lining that was ripped open all up the front. I had sneakers, no gloves, no helmet. There were no helmet laws then.
I stopped at the first petrol station that was open, few and far between in those days, the pre-freeways era. The old, old, old Hume Highway days when you still went through every little town, over the rickety bridge at Gundagai and over Razorback Mountain at Picton, south of Sydney.
I bought a cup of coffee and a newspaper. After I'd drunk the coffee and warmed myself by the open fire, I tried to prepare for the coming cold. I stuffed the newspaper inside my T-shirt and hoped that it would protect me, to some extent, from the wind. And it did for about 15 kilometres. I gritted my teeth and hit it as hard as I could. I kept the speed up to around 130 kilometres per hour. Sometimes I touched 150 kph but couldn't keep it up.
The wind got inside my jacket and ripped the newspaper to pieces. It disintegrated in a matter of minutes and by that time I was freezing anyway. The rag that I had found in the garbage at the diner and wrapped around my face lasted about the same amount of time. It was ripped to shreds and gone.
I stopped for petrol a couple of times but didn't try warming myself up again. I knew if I stopped for coffee I'd never be able to drag myself back out into the cold. And I had to keep going. Stick to the plan.
It was so cold sometimes I slowed to about 70 kilometres an hour. My brain didn't want to think. It was difficult to concentrate. I stayed as single-minded as I could: Keep the speed up. Keep the speed up and don't pass out. Don't go to sleep. Don't start shivering. Don't let the cold win. Get out of this cold.
It was as if I thought that I would suddenly ride out of the darkness and the sun would be shining and everything would be okay. What a stupid idea this seemed to be. Fuck it. Why didn't I think of the cold? Why didn't I borrow a decent jacket? Why didn't I wait till daylight? I didn't know and it was too late to think of that shit anyway. Keep going. Keep the speed up.
All of a sudden daylight started to break. Although it seemed like I'd been cold for a million years, somehow the sight of daylight gave me some hope.
Next town, Gundagai. Over halfway. I must have made good time. It couldn't be more than 6.30. I thought to myself, I'll just make it into Gundagai and I'll find somewhere to rest up, maybe have a snooze for a bit. I was exhausted. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I realised I hadn't slept for a while. It was now Saturday morning. I'd driven down to Melbourne with a few mates on Thursday night. I'd been riding all night Friday. Fuck it, I hadn't slept since Wednesday night. And the last five or six hours I had been pushing real hard.
There was nowhere to pull over in town. Nowhere to sleep anyway. I decided to get through town. There would be somewhere on the side of the road. I was sticking to the speed limit here. I didn't want to attract any attention from the local cops. On the north side of town, the 10-kilometre-anhour wooden bridge, where the boards were sometimes 15 centimetres different in depth, rattled me like a pair of dice in a cup. Just get over the bridge, I told myself, and then find somewhere to sleep.
I couldn't think, my bones ached, my brain screamed.
On the other side of the bridge the road widened to two lanes each way. I must have fallen asleep for a second or two because suddenly I realised I was in the gravel on the wrong side of the road, doing about 2 kilometres an hour and wobbling all over the place. I bounced the front wheel back onto the bitumen and gunned it. Unfortunately I was in too high a gear and had no power. I pulled straight across the two lanes of oncoming traffic and that's the last thing I remember.
I woke up and I was burning.
I tried to analyse what had happened. Maybe the oncoming cars had hit me and the bike had burst into flames and I was burning in hell.
I was lying on my back with my head hanging slightly backwards. What the fuck?
Don't panic, I thought. Without moving, I mentally checked out my whole body. From my toes, ankles, legs, up my body and so on. No pain.
But I was burning like fuck. I had never felt anything like this before, even the worst sunburn I'd ever had was nothing compared to this, and my body seemed to be humming with a really high-pitched ringing. Tinnitus to the max. I could feel it. I could hear it. And my head was still hanging slightly backwards. That bothered me.
I ventured to open my eyes a bit to see whatever my fate was. I was dreading that burning, flaming pit that you see in the movies when someone wakes up in hell and meets the devil.
Instead it was a brighter than bright light blinding my eyes. I thought I had woken up on the operating table. That had happened once before.
No. It was actually the sun. It was right above me. It must have been about noon. The brightest winter day I could ever remember. I decided it was sunburn causing the all-over burning feeling. But that didn't account for the high-pitched humming sound.
I could see the front wheel of the bike right behind my head like I was hanging upside down. I braved lifting my head slightly to see if my neck was broken and this was all nerve damage. My neck was alright but my body, that's another story.
My body was covered in fucking ants! Millions of fucking ants! Shit! I yelled at the top of my voice and jumped to my feet in panic. Fuck any broken bones, and luckily I had none. But ants? Zillions of fucking ants. Crawling all over me! Those big, red-headed, meat-eating fucking ants. The ones that build the giant mounds. That's why my head was hanging backwards. I had been lying directly on top of their fucking mound and I must have been there for about four or five fucking hours. It was a miracle that I wasn't completely eaten.
It does make me wonder: Why didn't they eat me? I remember, as a kid, finding dead birds and throwing them onto one of these ants' nests. The meat was gone in a few hours. Maybe people are right when they say I've got no taste. I wonder what the ants thought.
I figured out that after I'd bounced back onto the bitumen and gone straight across the road, missing all of the cars — luckily — I must have slid sideways, in an upright position, about 3 metres, straight down an embankment. The front of the bike had hit a large tree and I had somersaulted over the handlebars and landed on top of the ant mound. That's why my head was hanging backwards and I could see the front wheel of the bike. The bike was still standing up, leaning against the tree, still in top gear with the ignition on. Amazingly, it looked alright. Unlike me, who was covered in a black mass of swarming ants.
I yelled, I screamed, I jumped up and down. I ran all over the place like a madman. Ripping my clothes off as I went. Talk about don't panic. (Actually, when I think of it now, I reckon I handled it pretty well, really.) When I'd finished frantically stripping and brushing the ants off, and caught my breath, I checked my body for damage. None! Not a scratch, not a bruise and, the best bit, not a single ant sting. Pussy fucking ants.
And it was just about then I realised that, with all of my running and jumping about, I was now about a hundred metres from the bike and the ants' nest. I was standing on the side of the highway in the middle of the day completely naked, on display for all passersby to see.
A man's in a desperate life or death situation and all the pervy bastards can do is stare. I was a victim. The victim! I was in shock. And here I was being treated like a criminal, an escaped lunatic, a perpetrator of lewd and inappropriate actions. Every single one of them went straight past. Some staring at me and continuing. Some of them, their children, almost hanging out of the car windows to get a better look. Some of them, I'm sure, even sped up a little. Fucking citizens. Fucking self-righteous bastards. And fuck the ones that honked their horns! Haven't they ever seen a naked man on the side of the highway before? Not one of them stopped to see if I was alright or if I needed any help, let alone any pants.
I suppose some of this lack of humanity could have been caused by the fact that I was waving my arms and screaming abuse at them for not stopping and helping me, while still naked. Well, so much for not attracting too much attention.
I found all my clothes, one by one, and got dressed. Somehow or other the bike battery hadn't gone flat even though the ignition had been left on without the motor running. The ants seemed to have forgotten about me already and gone back to their normal, but not very exciting, daily rituals.
I started the bike and got going. Well, why not? The weather was fine. I'd slept soundly. I was clear-headed. The ants had looked after me quite well, considering that I'd dropped in on them unannounced.
I got home well before dark. And I didn't see any cops the whole way.CHAPTER 3
THE BIG YELLOW BUTTERFLY
January. Really early 70s. There was this girl that turned up at our pub one Friday night. She was a bit strange. After she'd been talking to some of the guys for a little while, she started telling them what a cruel and uncaring bastard her husband was. She was 22 years old. He was a few years older than her. She wished he was dead. She wanted someone to kill him. Would we do it for her?
Was she for real? Was it a set-up? Or was she just a loony?
And what was in it for us, the guys asked her.
She would pay any price we asked. But she didn't have any money. She would do anything that we asked. She would have sex with every one of us if we promised to do it.
Okay, well, we couldn't make any promises, we said, but she would have to start tonight, just to show goodwill, and it could take a few weeks or more to arrange everything. Someone told her that we would have to import some special pygmy poison from Africa that wouldn't leave any traces, and that could take some time.
No-one intended to kill her husband and she can sue for breach of contract if she wants. Nobody ever found out if she was actually married. She never wore a wedding ring and nobody bothered to ask her why. Nobody cared.
The guys who'd been talking to her invited me over to their table, filling me in on what was going on. I thought, I've gotta have a listen to this.
After a while I told her that we were going away for a run the next weekend, if she wanted to come. A 'run' is what we call going for a ride.
She asked if she should wear trackies and runners and what we do for the weekend. When I told her that we just have a ball, she asked if she should bring a ballgown.
Sure, I said, bring whatever you want.
We went on the run to a picturesque valley south of Sydney. We turned off the southern highway and rode about 12 kilometres west. Then the road started winding back and forth, continuous 'S' bends downhill, for 60 kilometres to the bottom of the valley where we camped.
A crystal-clear river ran through the middle of the valley. The river was about a metre and a half or so deep in the middle and 50 metres wide, with smooth, round stones on the bottom. Tall trees and grass lined the banks. The walls of the valley sloped up to the sky on both sides. It was just like a scene from a postcard or fairytale. Beautiful.
The main group, about twenty bikes and two or three carloads of guys and broads, arrived there about four in the afternoon on Friday. The rest, another ten or so, straggled in throughout the evening.
We set up a keg of beer and a fire under a spit. On the way there, some of the guys had found a lamb in a paddock full of sheep, and it was now happily roasting away.
We had a good long night of drinking, swimming and generally clowning around. There was a full moon and the sky was clear and full of stars. Who could ask for anything more?
I woke on Saturday morning somewhere in the grass.
What a night! And what adventures and amusements would the day bring? I made my way to the keg for breakfast. The sun was shining brightly. What a beautiful day!
I saw the girl. I think we should give her a name, and that name shall be The Nutter. She was wearing a black dress. It looked like something that would be worn at a cocktail party in a cheap movie. I had agreed to that cocktail dress, though. My fault.
Apparently, she'd been telling people that when she was younger she was going to be a ballerina, but she'd been run over by a motorbike and broken both of her ankles. She looked a bit chubby to be a ballerina but who knows what she had been like then. Someone was asking her if she would dance for us. She agreed and started twirling around the keg like one of the ballerinas out of Disney's Fantasia. One of the hippos.
There was a guy with a bullwhip who told her to keep on dancing while he tried to whip her dress off just like they did in the circus. She agreed to that too and kept on twirling, emitting a few shrieks and yells here and there when the whip stung a bit. After a few minutes she fell over dizzy and that was the end of that performance.
One of the guys was asking who wanted some acid. I'd never taken it before so I thought, what the fuck, I'm in!
I swallowed it and after about fifteen minutes everything started changing colour, then changing shape, then changing every which way.
I had one of those out-of-body experiences and was watching myself lying in the grass from about 10 metres up. This was followed by all sorts of experiences — I visited other planets and talked to alien creatures. Wow.
Across the grass was a giant yellow butterfly. It was fluttering from person to person. I saw it hovering over some of the other guys who were lying around. Some of them tried weakly to brush it away. They, too, were obviously experiencing this wonder drug. What the fuck was the butterfly doing? Was it even real? I wondered if it had followed me back from outer space while I was astro-travelling.