Once upon a Distant Journey

by Hendrik Gout

Gladdest Moments

A 1,200 km day

Itís early in the morning, and two thousand stars outshine one sun whose glow to the east shows gold below the horizon. Thereís dew, the Guzziís loaded, and Iím layered in my warmest gear. Itís an hour before dawn, and itís chilly.

I ride one kilometre to Jim Ecclesí place and offer him a hipflask sip from the tankbag, but he goes to the kitchen and comes out with two shot glasses of single malt. We toast, and thatís the last time I feel toasty for a long time. The vapour from the streetlamps guides me out of town.

I ride south to Tailem Bend and turn into the glare. For now and for the next eighteen hours, Iíll be heading almost due east, riding around the curvature of the earth for a full ten degrees. My pupils are black dots - thereís nothing quite like riding east into a rising sun, unless you count riding west into a setting one.

I stop for petrol at Lameroo and then at Underbool I have a conversation with a man who could tell me (he said, as he did) about watching Moto Guzzis race at Mildura just after the war, and how they were the fastest, the best, the most desirable bike. Always.

"I havenít seen one of them in 40 years and now I see one here. Youíre blimminí lucky," he says to me.

He wanted confirmation that Moto Guzzis were everything he believed them for so long to be. I told him that indeed they were.

I offered him a ride. "Iíll always regret saying no," he said, shaking his head to say no.

I had a thermos coffee on the banks of the Mighty Murray near Piangil watching kids and their parents laugh as they fished the muddy river. A little splash of whisky went into the coffee cup and I took a sip neat from the hipflask, swirling the liquor around my mouth as I breathed in deep through my nostrils. A female Turquoise parrot (Neophema pulchella) emerged from her nest in the hollow limb of a Red Gum close by. I thought about taking the 35mm (I didnít pack the .22) out of the tankbag but mistakenly decided it wasnít worth the bother. I watch and watch. Itís rare to see these parrots - theyíre not endangered, but were once much more widely spread than they are today. They start their breeding in August, so this female would have laid four or five white eggs, and the hatchlings will be fledglings now. The male flew in and he and I said gíday to each other, and then he whispered something to his mate.

Balranald was a four minute petrol stop, and Goolgowi was no more. At dusk, in West Wyalong, I bought a can of VB and a dry pie that had been in the warmer all day. Dinner was on the footpath looking at my maps. An old bloke wandered up, sized me up, and said, "Youíre lucky."

Luck again? His grey watery eyes wanted confirmation that the road ahead was preferable to the road behind.

"You used to ride?" I ask.

"Long time ago."

"Still got your helmet and boots?"

"Oh sure."

"Come on, then," I invited as I pointed to empty the pillion seat.

At that he laughed, he guffawed, he shook. His whole body convulsed as he cackled at the idea. He laughed at himself and then at me, he looked up and down the main street of this dry old western New South Wales country town, and then laughed at it.

Suddenly he stopped. "Have a good trip," he said earnestly, and he walked down the bitumen footpath, to home.

At Grenfell I argued with a psychotic petrol station attendant and at Cowra I yarned with one who wasnít. I was 14 hours from this morningís first turn of the key. Eleven hundred completely uneventful kilometres is a contradiction, an unlikelihood so improbable that it itself becomes remarkable.

And then it was night. The V50ís left tappet cover had been leaking all day around the gasket. A fine spray of oil had settled on my left boot and the rear of the bike. I bought an aerosol can of degreaser, and cleaned the Guzz (and my boot) at the service station truck wash point. And I left the lights of Cowra for the bush of Wyangala Dam.

I arrived at 10 oíclock. It had been a 1200 kilometre day.

Chapter 2

In Human Life

The Ragged Fringe Rally

There were a few people sitting around a campfire as I rode up. They shouted a greeting. I could see their mouths move. My hearing was deaf in the wind-noise frequency, which is, curiously, the same frequency people use for verbal communication. I used sign language to reply in the affirmative to their pointing at a coffee cup, and bloody good coffee it was, too! Some people were impressed that Iíd ridden in one day from Adelaide, but it had seemed an effortless end rather than an endless effort to me. I confessed to one couple that it had really been easy and they were so suddenly unimpressed I didnít say that again to anyone else. In fact, over the weekend, I learned to say that Iíd ridden it in a day with the quiet hint of a boast. This was not easy, because the next morning Peter Roper would arrive in his car from Bungendore, just down the road, so the temptation for a lesser man than myself would have been to say it with a helluva hint of a boast. But with a V50, thereís no need to exaggerate.

I put up the tent and slept. In the morning I went for an early walk by the lake and as usual it was sunny and warm. Great! Towards the afternoon a crowd of Aigorites arrived from Canberra way. Peter Roper was supposed, by long-standing agreement, to be carting in a hogshead of Coopers Stout for me in his Four Wheel Drive, but apparently (or so his story went) the bottle shop at Wyangala wouldnít take his credit card so he hadnít got me anything, and this was not good news. All I had for the weekend was a hipflask of scotch. Good grief! I was going to sober to death at a rally!

I wandered around from fire to fire, as one does, while more and more Aigorites made themselves valuable by supplying a fire, a bloody delicious chicken curry, biscuits and chocolates, somebody compassionately gave me a beer, and Mr Roper offered me a sip or more of his Irish whiskey. It was really great to see John Yís family having a good time at the rally, and I admired Philís Triumph even when loaded on Peteís trailer en route home for want of a spare clutch cable.

I was carrying two spare clutch cables on this trip, and I was to use one. I also carried two condoms because of the condom throw. Which wasnít. Boo! Hiss! In previous Ragged Fringes thereís been both a slow race (last bike across the line wins, no touching feet on the ground or youíre out) and a condom throw, where a water-filled condom is thrown between two lines of partners over ever-increasing distances. Last couple with the condom still whole over the longest distance wins. Rhys and I have traditionally won the condom throw, though once a crowd got suspicious when our craftily triple-wrapped condom hit the dirt after a missed catch and just skidded intact to a halt with a cloud of dust.

And it was great to see Mark Glanfield again. Itís been a long long time since we last met, and since then heís been to Ireland, got a new and better job, and found the Love of his Life - and it isnít a motorcycle!

We swapped endless anecdotes about Moto Guzzis and the like, which is pretty easy here at a Moto Guzzi rally. We also talked about other makes of motorcycle, and we talked about a lot of things. And we talked a lot of crap, and nobody noticed except the kids.

There was more walking from campfire to campfire, and the best fireworks display Iíve seen at any rally, and then I crawled into my tent for sleep. It was still early but despite the bravado, the previous dayís marathon ride had left me a little weary. The last thing I heard as I went to sleep was a loud voice saying, "Bullshit! There never was a Le Mans Mark 1! It was only called a Mark I after the Mark II came out." Yep, I was at the Ragged Fringe.

Sunday morning, and the allocation of prizes. Some dude from the United States got the longest distance award, and the Victorians rigged the Largest Club Attendance which should rightly have gone to the Moto Guzzi Appreciation Fraternity of SA, which had one attendee, myself. And then one after the other, the bikes were loaded up, the Canberra crowd went back to Canberra, the Sydney crowd went back to Sydney, and I set off, to Armidale.

The road from The Quart Pot - where the Ragged Fringe rally is held on the shores of Wyangala Lake - to Woodstock is dirt, fords a creek ten times, and is best done in second or third gear, listening to the wind in the sheoaks, giving a bikerís nod to the willy wagtails, and contemplating the long ride and the many villages ahead.

There are regional accents in Australia, but more important are the regional differences in vocabulary. Travelling through South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland means one has to remember the vernacular for "beer". Is it a pint, a schooner, a pot, a middy, or a coldie?

I stopped in Bathurst, where I bought a Coke (in universal language), and then headed through familiar country to Wattle Flat, Sofala, and Ilford. This is stunning motorcycle country. The quiet road goes through valleys, climbs the ridge-lines, and then slips through mountain passes. Brilliant! But I didnít push it - the bike was quite heavily loaded with tent, sleeping bag, billy, and too many bike tools, as well as Sao biscuits, kippers, sardines, an onion, and some packet soup which stayed unopened until I arrived back in Adelaide two weeks later to an empty fridge.

At Ilford I turned north and passed through the spring-green vineyards of Mudgee, which after Bathurst is Australiaís oldest town west of the Blue Mountains, and which like Bathurst started as a tent shantytown of gold diggers. The absence of a post-Federation building boom in Mudgee preserved many of the National Trust-classified buildings. I kept the visor down because this is now a big honey producing area, and the buzziní of the bees is best enjoyed from several centimetres distance. I rode through fields of yellow canola and sunflowers to Gulgong, the town on the old $10 note, slowed as the Guzz slipped through Coolah, and saw the sign which marks the locality of Black Stump. There was a pub here once (burned to the ground in the 1900ís) called The Black Stump. The story goes that on original surveyorsí maps the grazing country further out was marked "Beyond".

Near dusk I pulled over for a rest at Mullaley, which is a shop, a pub, and a phone box at my junction with the Oxley Highway. After a sausage roll and a full tankfull of LRP I turned east, hit the New England Highway, and pointed the Guzz in the direction of the equator. A few hours later and I was having a glass of Morris wine in the kitchen of my motherís cottage outside Armidale.

I stayed at Eversleigh Cottage for two nights, finding out new things about my motherís childhood, seeing her in black and white photographs growing from a baby to a girl to a precocious teenager, and discovering that my father had courted her by pillioning her through western Java. The things you learn...

Two comfortable sleeps in Eversleigh Cottage later I packed up again and made a dozen kilometres north of town when the engine missed, stalled, and died. I pulled over onto the wide shoulder of the highway.

I took a plug lead off to check the spark and see which cylinder was giving the problem, but the starter wouldnít turn. The headlight glimmered like a candle. Ah-ha! Flat battery! Why?

I love working on the bike, but not now! Check fuses, wiring loom, front cover off, all wires there as they should be.

Fuck! Itís probably the rotor. Or the stator. Both have fried once. Had them rewired. Please, donít let it happen here.

Call the NRMA.

I waited an hour and a half. I unpacked the tankbag and made a thermos coffee. I rang my mum at her home and out she came.

Very finally a surly NRMA man arrived. I explained the situation and asked him to put his multimeter across the rotor and the stator, but he said he wouldnít touch it. He refused to do any more than charge the Guzzi battery for 10 minutes, pointed me in the direction of Armidale, and drove off. Great.

I ended up at Super Moto Armidale, which specialises in Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Husqvana. Obviously very specialised, ícos they also knew Guzzis.

The front office told me both mechanics were at lunch and would be back in an hour, so I took off the engine front cover again, and a very friendly bloke from the shop put the battery on charge, topped it up with water, and pointed me in the direction of the coffee-making facility. When the mechanic came back from lunch I explained the story and begged for the multimeter test.

He told me to take the battery off charge (it had been an hour) and put it back in the bike. I started the Guzz and he checked the charge across the battery and told me it wasnít charging.

"Yes," I agreed. I already knew that. Why wouldnít anybody check the fuckkiní rotor, like I asked?

"Does the ignition light come on?"

I looked. "No."

"Take out the bulb. Itís probably blown."

On the Guzzi, a blown ignition warning bulb will mean an infinite resistance across the charging circuit. In laymanís terms, this means the wire (as it were) from the alternator to the battery runs through ignition warning light. Blown bulb means the charge canít reach the battery. This had been explained to me by a knowledgable sparky some years ago. In 12 years the V50 had never blown a warning bulb. It had, however, fried both a stator and a rotor, as I reminded myself and him.

"Can you get the bulb out?" he asked.

"Itís a hassle. Itís difficult to get out, hard to put back. Can you just quickly check the front?"

He sighed and got on his knees to run the multimeter over the stator and rotor. I sighed and stood up to undo the front of the instrument binnacle.

"This is all ok," he said after a minute.

"This bulb is blown," I said a half-second later.

He carefully extracted the blown bulb, put another one in, charged me $10, and I was off.


Up the New England Highway. What a road! Of the 500 or something kilometres to Brisbane about half seems to have a speed limit of 80, one third is 60, and the rest has huge blue and white signs every 20 kilometres (fair dinkum) saying "Speed cameras used in this area." I crawled every mile.

My last petrol stop was on the outskirts of Warwick, and I jumped back on the Guzz and rode as fast as I dared, which was the speed limit in the 100 and 80 zone, for the final stretch. Cresting Cunninghamís Gap I touch both boots on the ground without slowing down.

Brisbaneís eerie light was reflected on the underside of the eastern atmosphere from 70 kilometres distant. I could smell the hydrocarbons from the capitalís smog and soot an hour before I slipped into the city air.

At Gailes Iíd reached the edge of the city. Time for one last stop. Through the suburbs. I follow Gillianís directions to Vale Street. Check for a house number. Shouts! Gillian! Up the driveway. Hugs.

Iíd arrived!

Chapter 3

Into Unknown Lands

Gillian made coffee; I had a beer. For the first time in her life, little Lodo-Bobo was host to her father in what really is a home of her own. I imagined myself at her age showing my visiting father and uncle my first flat in Albury, remembering how proud I was and how much I wanted to impress. I inwardly smiled as I watched Gillian. Sheíd bought my brand of coffee - a little jar which lasted the length of my stay and two weeks later I took the remnants for the ride home. She showed off the garden, her bathroom, the flowers in her garden, the study... sheís so happy Iím there she oozes pleasure.

Brisbane was really busy, and so was I. There were people to see about work and even two or three friends to see about pleasure. Of course I went to see Tom Newell, who owns and runs the Guzzi shop in Brisbane. We yarned, I bought stuff, and I helped look after the shop while he went off somewhere to pick up a bike. The shop was still there when he got back and so were all the tasty bikes on the showroom floor, but only because I couldnít find the ignition keys.

Tom and his family were talking about going to Adelaide for a holiday. My proposal was that Tom load up his van with kith, kin and tools, and drive down from Brisbane exploring the 2,500 kilometres between here and there. When they arrived Tom could unpack his tools, use my garage as a temporary workshop, and spend a week working on various SA Moto Guzzis to pay for the family holiday. He could also have a look around one of Australiaís most beautiful regions, and then they would all drive back with a few dozen SA wines in the boot. Tom thinks itís a great idea.

I tried to get a few members of the Queensland Guzzi Club together for Sundayís Aigor ride to Mapleton, but Queensland Guzzi Club riders are more fictional than factional and Iím not sure they actually get more people on rides than they do at club meetings. But I did get to ride there with Lyn Miles on her Ducati 750 and her friend Neil Morgan. Neil has a yellow Mille which I saw three times while it was parked and once while it flashed past me between Samford and Dayboro. I was WFO as he disappeared into the distance so I settled down to a more reasonable 140 kph, at which speed the V50 still cuts a fairly skittish swathe along rough tarmac, which this was.

We stopped in Dayboro for a good coffee (no Macdonalds here!) and to chat with Jim Mott, who together with Neil has formed a company called Hand Made Racers, but I suspect they use tools when they make racers. They look pretty good, though.

But as for the V50, I wasnít happy with the way it was running. I shouldnít really have gone on today's ride until Iíd sussed and cured the problem. The first symptom had been loss of power - never a good sign on a V50 - as I rode around Brisbane suburbs.

The second symptom was found trying to cure the first. At Gillian and Adamís Brisbane house after arriving from the Ragged Fringe Rally Iíd checked the points and timing (both ok) and then the tappets. The LHS inlet valve had practically no clearance. This wasnít good, but not as bad as zero clearance on the exhaust valve which is usually a sign that the valve head is going to fall off and dig a hole through the piston. Iíd never heard of an inlet valve doing that trick, so I just put the tappet back to the regulatory .15mm and thought it was fixed. I was wrong.

So, with Lyn and Neil enjoying the run and me enjoying the scenery but not the unwilling V50, we arrived at the Mapleton pub where we were joined by, among others, Bernie looking very much like a new daddy, Dave Freeman on a Honda 400/4, Sue on the SP, Brett Hardy and his LM3, and the best behaved of us all, the youngest Aigorite, the pillion son!

It was all good fun, sitting on pub verandah, when I should have been doing some work on the bike.

And as we inspected the line of Moto Guzziís outside the pub, I noticed the V50 looking a little tatty in comparison. But its battle scars were all earned honourably, and every scratch tells a story - the headlight now held on with tape (because Iíd been blown off a track by an unexpectedly ferocious gust of wind on an exposed ridge in the Australian Alps), the crack in the sidecover (ditto), and the crack in the mudguard (dropped the bike once while push-starting it!).

But the Guzz has looked good before, and it will again. Iíll get the new light, a bit of painting done, and it will be right for another 100,000 kilometres.

And I was just about to set off on a few thousand kilometres, back home.

I left Brisbane at 11 oíclock in the morning, climbed the Great Dividing Range at Cunninghamís Gap and looked around the rainforest while having a thermos coffee. I stopped for petrol a few times and almost suddenly it was dusk and I was in Coonabarabran. My mind, though, was still in Brisbane. The soul, itís said, can move only as fast as a galloping camel. This is why, when weíve travelled far and fast, our soul needs some time to catch up.

I bought a stubbie of Wheatsheaf Stout as I always do at the Coonabarabran pub, and drank it on the footpath as I always do outside the pub in Coonabarabran. (Itís a ritual.) I got the time from the clock in the clocktower which forms the Coonabarabran roundabout. I was looking at my maps and working out how far Iíd get when a group of six riders pulled up. They were looking for a place to stay the night.

Iíd already checked out the pub accommodation but at $25 a single room it was too expensive for me, and in any case I wanted to do a few hundred more kilometres before calling it a night. But the bikers all thought it good value and they introduced themselves and chatted about their trip.

It would have been easy to have stayed the night in the same pub talking dirty motorbikes, but I was in the mood for night riding.

"Be careful of roos," they said as I prepared to head off.


"Mate of ours hit one in Victoria at 140 klicks three days ago."

"How was the roo?" I asked.


"You didnít waste fresh road kill, did you?"

We all laughed at that as I rode away. But they didn't know I hadn't yet had dinner...

I wasnít long out of Coonabarabran before the road was wet and puddles caught the headlamp. To the south huge bright vertical lines incised the dark of the sky. Behind me the night was still glittering stars, but directly above was abyssal black and in front was the most active lightning storm I had ever seen. The lightning bolts flicked between earth and cloud with the intensity of camera flashes, and just as one canít see momentarily after a photoflash so I couldnít see the headlight beam - just black, then the earth lit by magnesium flares, inky blackness again the next second, and another "whoomp" as another lightning strike leapt a half-kilometre through the sky from negative to positive. What a show!

And because Iíd prudently stopped and donned the waterproofs I had no rain. There was one moment when at 120 kph I hit a deep pool of water in the middle of the road which reminded me of the time I went over a waterfall in a kayak, and another moment just outside Warren when a kangaroo looked at me from the verge and frightened me much more than lightning ever has, so at Warren I decided to stop.

I went to the pub.

"Youíd be the bloke who rang from Gilgandra about the room," said the publican to me as I walked in and sat down at the bar.


He gave me a key, took my $15, and pointed upstairs. He unlocked the back gate so I could put the bike away.

I ordered a NSW beer and looked around. The carpet was cruddy, the ceiling nicotine-brown, there was the 38 year-old cast of a huge Murray Cod hauled from the nearby Macquarie River mounted on the wall, a pool table in the dark, and a bunch of louts surrounding the pubís only attractive female patron, and she didnít seem to mind the rapt attention. There was a group of women drunk on the footpath outside and they didnít seem to mind anything, and there was a bloke who spoke to me a little strangely and whose motions suggested things werenít quite normal in the cranium department, and he didnít seem to mind that, either.

I had a beer and spoke to the Strange Man.

"Where youíd ride from," he asked.

"Brisbane today," I said.

"By what route?"

Now most people in country Australia wouldnít say ďBy what route?", but "Which wayíd you come?".

I looked at him more closely. I told him Ďby what routeí and he knew of all the places on the thousand-plus kilometres between Queenslandís capital and Warren.

The attractive girl came over to us and made some small talk to me.

"No offence," she asked, "but why do you want to ride a motorbike in a lightning storm?"

I took a tug of beer. "The Moto Guzziís got High Capacity Discharge Panels," I said. "It draws the electricity from the air and that means I can switch off the petrol."

"Is that true?" asked the friendly man.

"No," I said.

"You know you had me," he said after the attractive girl had walked back to her louts. "Iím not easily had but you had me." He laughed softly. There was something different about him in the same way that people whoíve been affected by a stroke can sometimes seem a bit different.

Then he spoke to me about his profession of breaking horses, how agricultural bikes had put him out of business, about chemicals used in cotton production, jackerooing in Central Queensland, gem fossicking near Sapphire and Rubyvale, and about his three year-old daughter.

"Iíve done a lot," he said, "and now Iím on a pension." He wasnít old enough to be on an aged pension so I assumed it was some sort of disability pension although I reckoned him of being very capable of doing a large variety of jobs very well.

"Iím rich," he said.

He didnít look as if he had many assets.

"You donít look as if you have many assets," I said.

"My daughter," he said. "Iím rich beyond money."

He bought me a beer and we talked about daughters - his one and my three.

"You know, people here donít know whatís going on," he said. He talked about wild pigs. "People wonít believe there were wild pigs around here. There was bush. Now all you see from end to end is cotton, fuckkin cotton. Thereís been so much bush cleared for cotton you wouldnít believe it. No one believes it if they hadnít seen it happen. If I was to take you up the road and stood you in the cotton and said there was bush here youíd say no, cos thereís no bush left and you just canít believe they took it all away. And all those birds and animals..." He pointed to the cod on the wall but I knew he was pointing over far the horizon. "The bush is full, ya see. A bird canít go to somewhere else just because their bush," he pointed around the bar and at the pool table in the dark to indicate the country hereabouts, "has been cleared." The cod looked down at his extended finger. "Thereís already a bird living over there. Birds are territorial. Thereís one here and a few miles away thereís another one. But you canít just have 50 birds of the same sort where there used to be 10. The birds whose bush is cleared just die. They havenít got anywhere to live."

He was right, of course.

One of the louts left the attractive girl and staggered over. "Can I have a ride of yer bike?"


"Ah címon!"


He went away to his friends and I could see him making up a long and fictitious story about why in this very instance on this particular night my bike could not be ridden by him.

I wandered outside and looked at the lightning. The knot of women sitting outside the pub introduced themselves by name and asked mine. They were happily smashed, asking about me and my trip and telling me their stories about living in Lightning Ridge, Walgett, and Gilgandra. Back inside, and my friend reluctantly informed me the pub is closing. We shook hands at the door.

"Some people say Iím a bit... funny," he said.

"Some people wouldnít know shit," I said.

"Iíll see you again, maybe," he said.

"I hope so," I said, and I meant it.

I found my room upstairs.

The bed was clean and the shower was hot. At $15, thatís all I need when Iím on the road.

In the morning I was up by five. I wheeled the Guzz out of the hotel yard. The storms of the previous night had gone. The moon was low in the western sky and the sun was low in the east. A double escort for my ride to Nyngan! There I got petrol, made a coffee, and almost bought a souvenir tea-towel which had a printed poem lauding the virtues of housework. You canít get one with those sentiments in the capital cities these days! By Cobar I could tell the bike was slowly getting worse. In Wilcannia I rested on the banks of the Darling River. I had another 200 kilometres to go to Broken Hill, and once beyond the South Australian border Iíd still have 550 kilometres of semi-desert between me and home. Would the bike make it?

I stopped at Little Topar Hotel and checked the bike over once again. The LHS air filter pod kept blowing off the inlet manifold, and I could hear it go "phutt phutt" on every exhaust stroke. Once more I checked the timing and tappets. Once more the inlet valve was overly tight. Also the engine made noises which I didnít like.

By Broken Hill a strong westerly sprang up, obviously from the west. This was a pity because west was where I was going. And as I kept going there, the escaping wind grew more determined to head east. The poor little V50, already down on compression, struggled against the onslaught. Every mile was a torture and by the time the tin roof of the Manna Hill pub emerged above the flat horizon I was glad to stop. Two elderly sisters, one from Peterborough and the other from Adelaide, had re-opened the pub just the previous week. Theyíd spent months doing it up so that it looked suitably old, with wool-bale hessian on the walls and corrugated iron decorating the interior. A welcoming fire roared in the grate and I ordered a glass of Ďclaretí while I wondered what to do. I could stay here, I figured, strip the engine (I had the tools), order parts and have them sent to Manna Hill, and rebuilt the engine in the pub lounge. Or I could try to nurse it home.

"Have you got accommodation?" I asked a sister.

"Yes, we have three rooms."

"How much?"

She told me.

"But not tonight," the other sister added. "Weíre booked."

So it was a nurse íer home jobbie. I saddled up, became the first person to have bought petrol from the re-opened pump, and set off into the wind and the cold and the sunset.

After a while the heavens ceased their spectrum display, and all I was left with was the wind and the cold.

At Terowie, 240 kilometres from home, the engine was only just managing forward progress. I stopped in a small pool of light at the Terowie service station. What now?

A woman came out. Did I need help? I hadnít realised the service station was actually open. Yes, she could help if she had a cup of tea, a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich, and a fire. She had all three. I rang the RAA, told them my engine was cactus, that wanted a room at their expense for the night, and a lift back to Adelaide for myself and the bike the next morning.

And so it was agreed. All at their expense, which was considerable. The motel room cost $35, and there was no heater, but, yes, the bed was clean and the water was hot. Outside the wind howled. Inside it merely whistled.

  Wind whistle wanton. Wonít you wonder
Why you wander when you wish you were abed?
Yet why not wander when you wish to
When to not do is be dead?

Life in a service station on the Barrier Highway. I am up early in the morning. The RAA tells me the man with the van will be here at eight oíclock. I have three hours.

I walk around in the early morning light through the sleepless village of Terowie. It is sleepless because only the living slumber, and Terowie now is almost spent. Most houses and almost all businesses have closed, permanently. Dusty shopfront windows hide broken rafters of an abandoned milliners. The paint advertising a Motor Engineer peels off brickwork to reveal even older lettering of a blacksmithís. A paddock in the middle of town is a not-so-secret car graveyard with sheep picking between the old Anglias.

Itís cold and itís misty.

The railway station has long ago seen its last train. The tracks now are rusty and weeds hide the sleepers. On the platform is a cairn and a plaque, "I came from Battan, and I will return." Here in 1942 General Douglas MacArthur held his first press conference in Australia since fleeing the Philippines, his hundred thousand troops now Japanese prisoners of war. Here, on this platform, General MacArthur said those now-famous words. Well, the general was nothing if not determined.

Not long after eight, an old Datsun sedan with a trailer arrived. We loaded the bike, tied it down, and I climbed into the passenger seat. The wind was still blowing but now it was blowing the bike, the trailer, and the car which, with its worn and sloppy steering, took a quarter of a turn of the wheel to respond to any driver input and keep on whatís normally regarded as the best side of the road. Then the driver caught up to a semi, which he tailgated all the way back to Adelaide. This was the most stressful part of my entire 6,000 kilometre trip.

The desert gave way to fields of canola yellow and Salvation Jane purple as we drove south, then green grapevines as we approached Clare. I could see only out of the side windows - the view through the windscreen was always of the same semi-trailer a metre from the front bumper.

And so we crossed the bridge over the little creek in front of my place. We unloaded the mighty V50 from the trailer and the sedan erratically steered off. I pushed the faithful little red bike into the garage.

Shit, Iíd made it back, I thought, as I opened up and checked out the flat. A fridge empty of perishables but holding a single stubbie of Cooperís welcomes me home. Shit, six thousand klicks on a V50 in less than three weeks. And it turned out that the trouble with the bike wasnít really the bikeís fault; last year Iíd had an engineering shop put in new valve seats and the LHS inlet valve seat theyíd installed had dropped. A minor drama, all fixed - for $50 and at a different shop - within the week.

I was back and I was unpacking. Was I glad to be home?

Well, as Sir Richard Francis Burton said in 1856, "One of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands."

Yeah, man!