Funny I have been asked this question a few times lately and it always makes me smile. The same kind of people were asking the same kind of question 17 years ago when I decided to pack up my city life, change career and start fresh in the country. The same people also used the same language about five years ago when I left my safe, good paying office job and headed out into the world of principle driven self-employment. But this most recent one is my favourite, the cliché 40 something motorbike purchase. It's an easy target that we can have some fun with.
On the outside, it’s easy to look at someone making changes in their life and label it with a descriptive name to categorise the individual’s approach to life, a target for anyone doing anything deemed out of the ordinary, with some chit chat along the lines of “that’s a bit strange” or “they need to just grow up”. Good luck with that.
Change has been very much part of my life since I stepped out of those innocent late teen shoes. I was very naïve about so many factors in life for such a long time, but a few let downs, fuck ups, bad decisions and a suspended sentence for jail time all woke me up abruptly. I’ve been on the change and life learning ride ever since. I refuse to go quietly, I refuse to follow the expectations and norms, instead I prefer to do what makes me happy and what gives me the experiences I’m interested in. Take growing your own food for example, I could tell you that the food you will grow will be the best tasting in the world, is super healthy, and is environmental perfection but you’ll never know that until you’ve experienced the process yourself. Experience is everything, and with it comes perspective, relativity and understanding.
Many years ago (1990’s) I fell hard for this show called ‘A River Somewhere’. Two comedian TV writers fly fishing rivers around the world, observing nature, human beauty and appreciating all the simple pleasures in life, i.e. smoked trout and red wine around a campfire. I was hooked. I was already a trout fishermen but now wanted to try fly fishing. I eventually taught myself the technique and have enjoyed many experiences in wild mountain streams hunting the most beautiful trout. But I wouldn’t be able to share this with you if I didn’t take the risk of a new adventure in life. I had to buy some gear, practice, read books, ask questions and then look and feel like an idiot trying to fly fish on a river. But that day when I caught my first trout on a fly rod and sank into the muddy bank of the Leigh River and drowned a $1000 iPhone, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. A bitter sweet victory, an experience I’ll never forget (especially the joyful pre-teen high pitched scream I let out repeatedly for at least five minutes). Thankfully it was an isolated stretch of the river.
Anyway, back to bikes.
Yesterday I rode my motorbike from Braidwood NSW back home to our shack in Yandoit Victoria. A round trip close to 1,600km. The weekend at the inaugural Machine Show was amazing. The vintage bikes, the people, the participation, all of it just made the weekend so phenomenal (Thanks Matt and Sophie for putting on a cracker show). I’m stoked to have been an active participant, not just an observer, that aside it wasn’t just the motorbike show that made this weekend great. It was so much more. There’s been a long process to get to this weekend, a back story I’ll share if you allow me to.
The last few years have been a bit tough. And before that person emails me to complain about me bitching about how hard my life has been in the last few posts, I’ll give out the warning for the non-empathetic…go away and stop reading. Yes, sometimes life can be a real bitch, and some people get so beaten it takes time to repair, there is a process needed For me, for a few too many years I tried hard at doing something I believed in, and it just didn’t work. Big things, like making pilots for TV shows that never happened, writing books that never got published, starting NFP that never got the funding. By the end of last year, I had a melt-down, breakdown, flip out, burn-out, hissy-fit, I don’t care what you call it, I was well fucked. I felt let down, used up, miss understood and out of fuel. My amazing partner told me to make some big changes, one of them was to just live again. She strongly suggested that I get a ‘normal’ job, to stop trying at certain things and just focus on breathing and living. I listened to her. She’s often right, she has a wisdom that comes from a life of many shitty experiences, yet another amazing personal trait and one of many reasons why I’m her personal man slave for the remainder of my life.
So, I got a design job again, I gave less shit about trying to change the world, I gave up trying to tell a story that I felt mattered. Instead I began to focus on doing some things that made me happy, something that I have not done for a long time. For a guy that is totally in love with Fly Fishing, I haven’t been on that water properly for almost two years. I worked so hard at other projects that I forgot to do the things that I love. This is changing.
I recently sold my old 77’ F-100 and bought a bike, a 25-year-old Honda V-Twin 600. I nervously booked in for my first license training and test and I passed, then passed the second test. I have one more test to go then I’ll be on a full probationary license. I’ve been riding heaps, up mountains, down valleys, into small towns and on straight country roads flanked by golden crops and dusty sheep. Every time I’m on that bike my confidence grows a little, and it’s not a confidence based around riding a motorbike, it’s life confidence. You see, I had become so obsessed with what I was working on over the last few years that I somehow became selfishly insular. When I realised I needed to get a ‘real job’ I was a shaking nervous mess going for a front of house job at the local pub. I had all this life experience, qualifications etc. and I here I was a 40-year-old man shit scared nervous about going for a job that involved picking up stranger's dirty dishes and serving steaks, fried chicken and chips. But I got the job on the spot and it ended up part of a major life healing process.
In 1987, my parents bought my brother and I a brand new Honda XR100, white, red and blue. I thought it was beautiful. It kick started every time, went up hills, down dusty gravel roads and through millions of muddy puddles. In my childhood summers, we’d kit up in full safety gear of stubbies shorts, a tee-shirt, a pair of gumboots and a Laser Helmet. No gloves, pads, leathers, just balls. We rode in the bush and around paddocks for hours, going nowhere in particular but for the purpose of exploring, and we felt all the things you can only feel on a bike. Riding again after a 20-year hiatus has woken something in me that makes me smile again, and if that makes a person happy, who can criticise that. No decent human can.
Now every time I ride that bike I experience something new. I’ve been meaning to write it down and get it out, all the little things I’ve noticed that are something you’ll know if you’ve had this kind of life experience. These are some of the things I’ve noticed riding a bike again.
On a bike I feel and sense again.
The smell of pine from a passing logging truck, it’s a beautiful aromatic, one I want to bottle and wear.
Every bump, channel, ridge, edge, crack, hole on the road, you hit them and they hit you back with a mirror response.
The unmistakable scent of death, the road kill aromatic every biker knows, it works its way into your small head space, stays for a while to remind you of your futile existence, then leaves as silently as it arrived.
The pull, spit, vortex and push of an 18-wheeler doing 110kmph, when you pass it you sense the invisible power as it toys with your now tiny bike, you're shadowed by the expanse of a fully loaded semi-trailer, hundreds of tonnes of physical material flying parallel alongside you. It's humbling.
The anxious feeling of not knowing if your bike will make it to the next fuel stop, just you and the bike alone on the highway, a long way from anywhere.
The split-second scene of a butterfly, locust or any bug spotted in line of sight, the hurdle towards it, the poor fella ending up on your visor with a tiny thud.
The goose bump inducing patch of warm air and sunlight as you descend into a warm valley after riding through the cold air of a mountain pass.
The reverse frigid temperature change as you round a corner into deathly dark shadow, your eyes hurriedly adjusting to compensate for lack of light.
The blinding light of riding west at sunset, or east at dawn. You’re temporarily blinded by the ferocious glow of low sun, the reason and source of everything alive on this planet, and you’re heading straight towards it.
The pull of antigravity as you work through the gears to top speed, the smile on your face and the fast beat of your heart.
The warming feeling when you pull into your temporary home after a full day ride, the relief of getting somewhere you’ve never been before. The oncoming peace of the silence of evening with your back on the firm ground.
Experiencing every rural scene ever captured on film, and you're out there right in it as you ride past. The open golden paddocks of summer. The whiff of roadside eucalyptus released in the warming sunlight, and the rolling grazing paddocks of tiny sheep and dark coloured cows dotted with massive granite or volcanic boulders, the paddocks of mono-crops of singular colours of green, yellow and white. Broken down fences and farm houses once grand but now tired like rusted cars. You’re in it, out there amongst it.
The smell of a passing stock truck or horse float on its way to somewhere depositing the putrid smell of mammal shit and urine.
The smell of an engine running rich up ahead, or an oil leak burning on some passing engine nearby.
The push of air on your helmet at you head down a highway, where your neck braces to hold it in place.
The vibration of the engine between your legs.
The feeling of warmth from the hot muffler.
Of hard rain on the face, drenching your pants and jacket, chilling your bones, shrinking your parts.
Hitting a patch of something slippery and feeling a wheel move somewhere you don’t want it to.
There are plenty of more bike related experiences in the works and I look forward to all of them. I also like that life isn’t just about one thing. Sure, it’s fun to grow food, hunt and cook, and as much as I love to do all these things, there are also other things to do. And it’s nice to meet people that in some way run a similar game plan.
When I leave home and ride down our steep gravel driveway I have this weird feeling that I need to put on my seatbelt. But there is no seatbelt. There is nothing but you, a metal frame with a powerful engine and a few round rubber things, and the road. I wonder how long it will take me to stop wanting to put on my seat belt?
So, in short, my mid-life crisis is going great, thank you for asking. I’m having a ball.