As Beth mentioned, I had a little run-in with a queen-size a few years back in Austin, Texas. Long story — there are little green worms, a lost cell phone and a poorly secured mattress involved — but funny nonetheless … even though it ends with me having a crook back.
This motorcycle story isn’t as flash as a freeway accident, but everyone I tell it to has a good chuckle. I’ll begin with one weekend when I decided to take the old boy out for a trip down the coast to Byron Bay. To listen to most people talk about Byron is like listening to the stories of El Dorado, the City of Gold. “Ohh man, you’ll never want to leave …” Even Lonely Planet goes as far as to call it a paradise, though they at least allow the caveat of calling it overcrowded at times. Point is, I had some pretty high expectations as I rode down on Saturday morning.
I’m gonna break for a second to give you necessary backstory on the condition of the bike. You see, the previous owner had removed the pillion seat on the back of the bike and replaced it with some aftermarket turn signals and a couple fancy chromes plate that attached to and ran along the rear mudguard. Problem was, however, that the pillion seat and its associated braces/supports actually held the rear mudguard up, at a point just above the very top of the rear tire. Imagine sitting on the end of a diving board. All the weight of your body is being supported at the other end of the board, where it attaches to the side of the pool. Fortunately the board and its mounting points are strong enough to hold your weight, or else it would snap off and you’d end up in the water. The opposite was happening to the mudguard: without the additional support midway along the guard, the weight of the license plate, turn signals, brake light and the guard itself were breaking the mudguard off the brackets that attached it to the frame under the rider’s seat. Everyone understand? OK, back to the story.
The mudguard situation was so bad I had purchased a replacement off a wrecker and was having it painted to match the colour of my bike. I wasn’t gonna let a silly thing like the rear end of my bike falling off stop me from enjoying the beautiful weather, so I decided that as long as I stayed off rough roads, I’d be OK. And I was, the highway down to Byron was quite smooth. Nevertheless it was a worry that weighed constantly on my mind.
When I finally reached Byron, I readied myself to be dazzled by its surf-side splendor. But … well, it was … so plain. I mean, other than a ridiculous number of people crowding the sidewalks and stores, there wasn’t much separating Byron from your average beach town. I stopped at a Woolies and bought some lunch. After checking the map I headed out to one of the many beaches and ate my lunch on the sand, trying to plan the rest of the day. I don’t know what I expected to do in Byron. I guess in a way I envisioned being taken in by the beauty, originality and uniqueness of the town, convinced to stay for at least a night, and entertained long into the wee hours of the morning by friendly locals, crazy foreigners and spaced out hippies.
Byron was none of that, it seemed. And after lunch I sat at a picnic table contemplating my next move. It was still early in the afternoon and I certainly wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day in Byron. I texted my friend Jen who lived in Broadbeach, next door to the famous Surfers Paradise beach city and about an hour north. Her brother was in town and I didn’t want to impose, so that option was off the table. Over the previous couple months I had made tracks on the majority of the best Gold Coast roads, but there were still some roads that I hadn’t tackled, around the city of Lismore and up towards Nimbin. I figured I’d get some of those out of the way and spend the night in Nimbin.
Now I definitely need to pause for a moment and talk about Nimbin. Thirty-five years ago a group of University students and hippies staged the Aquarius festival and transformed a small, secluded dairy town into a marijuana commune. Some of those alternative lifestylers stayed behind and built Nimbin up into a bustling … village. Even though marijuana is illegal in New South Wales, it’s openly used and sold around the town, and the police usually turn a blind eye.
Despite its reputation, Nimbin is the center of some of the areas best riding roads, and most of them were of acceptable quality. Faced with the prospect of having to sit around Byron for the rest of the day or tour the area, I quickly decided to get back on the bike and keep going.
The ride west from Byron Bay to Lismore was great. Quiet farmland bordered the gentle hills and sweeping S-curves. It was a warm day and the wind felt good against my body. And there weren’t too mny other drivers on the road; the total combination proved to be a motorcyclist’s paradise. I was only about 10 km from Nimbin when I saw the police roadblock.
A few patrol cars had blocked the way past an intersection, and a large coach bus was parked off to the side. At first I thought the cops had pulled the bus over, or they were just checking cars for alcohol/escaped prisoners/donuts, but then I saw them directing cars down the road that turned off from the intersection.
In hindsight, I should have asked him why they blocked the road. Makes sense, right? To ask why they were closing down a road? If I had, my life for the rest of that day and the next would’ve turned out much different. But as I told the cop where I was headed and if the detour to the left would take me there, I cared more about getting moving than the reason for having been stopped.
The first thing I noticed was that the road was *considerably* worse than any the one that had brought me so far. There were a few other cars in front of me, which was interesting because we were in the middle of nowhere, and these areas are typically deserted. Then the road disappeared, and suddenly I was riding on gravel. To those of you who haven’t ridden a motorcycle before, riding on gravel is like driving your car on an ice rink. Even worse, the dirt kicked up by the cars in front of me made it virtually impossible to see any more than a few feet in front of me. I figured it couldn’t last much longer, so I didn’t turn back.
Ten minutes and several near falls later, I still didn’t want to turn back … I mean, it’s gotta end soon, right?
Finally I reached paved road and found I was only a couple kilometers outside town. The funny thing was that there were alot of cars full of young, seemingly intoxicated people. Strange…
As I rode into town, things only got weirder. Cars lined the sides of the streets and there were police cars everywhere. People were walking along the side of the road into town, many of them carrying alcoholic drinks. The town was supposed to have a population of only about 320, but there were at least 3 times that many. Every available New South Wales police officer was there, wandering around the throngs of hippies, alcoholics, stoners, drum circle enthusiasts and hacky-sack-athletes. This can’t be what the town is like …
I made it to the other end of town (a short 100m ride) and parked along the side of the main road next to a few other bikes. It occurred to me that the number of people in town didn’t bode well for available accommodation.
I walked into the information center and approached the counter. I looked around and finally asked the man and woman, ‘Listen, this is gonna be a stupid question … but what the hell is going on here??!’ They laughed loudly and in unison said, ‘IT’S MARDI GRASS!!!! The pro-marijuana festival held on the first weekend in May every year.’
Only me, I thought as I walked back onto the street, only I would inadvertently stumble onto Australia’s pro-marijuana legislation rally the one and only weekend it’s being held in search of accommodation. Of course, there weren’t any rooms available anywhere in town. There was plenty of camping space, but unless I wanted to whore myself out to the nearest hippie chick with a sleeping bag, it wouldn’t do.
I wandered through town and took in the merriment. It was weird. Ages ranged from late teens to early 70s, and there was a woman on a PA system talking about where certain events where going on, and how at 4:20 (yeah, that’s right, I got to Nimbin right around 4:20 … go figure) everyone was asked to smoke something. There were a lot of food stands to handle the collective munchies outbreak, as well as the expected bead, hemp clothing and art shops, and … more drum circles.
On a large showground down a short hill from the town centre was some large festival going on with a ridiculous name like the Weed-O-lympics, or something similar to that. It was around $10 to get in, and from what I could see the festival consisted of bad reggae music and alot of dirty people, so I decided to pass. Plus, with no accomodation available in town, I had to keep moving to find a bed. I decided to go back to Brisbane that night, disappointed at the day’s offerings. I would’ve loved to stick around Nimbin for the night, to see just how freaky things got — plus, how many times could you say that you accidentally arrived at an annual marijuana festival? — but it simply wasn’t going to work out.
I picked up a snack from the grocery store and ate it while sitting next to my bike. A tall, gaunt and unwashed man walked by, but unlike the others who passed me, he stopped briefly and mumbled something. I had to ask him to repeat himself, and even then I didn’t quite get it, but it was something along the lines of ‘D’ya need … ?’
I declined and thought to myself ‘I can’t believe I was at Mardi Grass for almost 45 minutes before someone offerred me some weed.’
I got back on the bike and set off from town. I was not more than a kilometre outside Nimbin when the bike suddenly slowed down and there was a grating sound coming from behind me. Oh no, for the love of God, not now …
I pulled over and confirmed what I feared: the mudguard had finally broken off the mounting points and was laying flush against the top of the rear tire. The bike had just slid off the diving board and into the deep end.
I stood on the side of the road going over my options. Plans A and B immediately formed: first, I took the seat off with the tools I was smart enough to keep in my backpack and examined the damage. There was no way to reconnect the guard to the bike frame. Plan A failed. Suddenly, I had a stroke of ingenuity and desperately channeled my inner MacGyver. And I’m not even kidding here — I took the shoelaces off my shoes and tried to string the mudguard up, at least enough that it wasn’t rubbing against the tire. Of course, Plan B failed.
There were only two options left: the first was to go back to Nimbin and try to organize a tow for my bike to the nearest town, Murwillumbah. This of course would be nearly impossible given the condition the town was in, so it would come to finding somewhere to stay until I could deal with it the next morning. My last option was to remove the mudguard completely, stuff it into my backpack and keep riding. I only had about an hour of daylight left (remember, the mudguard is also keeper of my rear brakelight), and driving all the way to Brisbane would be immensely dangerous in the dark. I had a chance to make it to Broadbeach and crash at Jen’s.
But here’s the kicker: my phone had run out of batteries (this is the part of the story where you would roll your eyes if you knew the other motorcycle story). So instead of texting Jen and explaining the situation to her, I’d have to tell her in person.
I quickly diassembled the mudguard and crammed it into my backpack, though the end with the license plate and brake light stuck out the top, right behind my head (see, at least I was displaying the license plate, right?). At around 4:45 I got back on the road and did not hold back on the throttle. Without a wobbly mudguard worrying me, I sailed over potholes and bumps with reckless abandon.
But despite my haste, the sun had set by the time I hit the M1, at least 30 minutes away from Broadbeach. Once it got dark, I played it very safe, stayed in the slow lane and stuck close to cars in front of me, parasitically using their rear lights.
I finally got to Jen’s place and awkwardly introduced myself to her brother over the front door intercom. Jen got back from work soon after I arrived and I apologized and asked if I could stay the night. We went out and had a nice dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant.
The next morning I set off early and made a speedy retreat back to Brisbane. I did pass one cop, though he was aiming his speed gun at the front of vehicles, thankfully ignoring the back of mine.
After such a chaotic day, I welcomed the slow pace of a Sunday in West End. I had made it back home safe without any damage to myself or the bike that I didn’t already expect, so I allowed myself a little laugh. I mean, in the end, at least I had a good story to tell.