Last weekend, on Sunday the 29th, I got really lucky and tagged along on the first NSW Black Dog Ride. Someone tweets to me about the BDR ages ago, and when they sent out emails announcing the run I, in turn, tweeted it to my followers… some of whom happen to be truly awesome people and amazing In Real Life mates of mine.
I’ve talked about the Bear and the Pixie before– they managed to pack and move pretty much my entire house full of stuff, on two weeks notice; and transported me, my kids and our dog to Paradise with minimal fuss, and minimal help from me. Let’s face it– helping someone move is a pain in the arse at the best of times. And at a time when I couldn’t even remember to shower every day, the Bear simply made things easy– hired a truck (and drove it), and rang me every few days to ensure I was on track and getting prepared.
The Bear happened to catch my tweet about the BDR, and, having a bike as big as his heart, he volunteered to have me ride pillion.
And, of course, Winston the black dog was coming too. (In case you’re wondering, all the info on Winston– the Black Dog Ride mascot– and the Ride itself is here. It’s not so much about raising funds– although that’s a lovely flow on effect– but more about raising awareness of depression and suicide prevention. The point is to get people talking… hundreds of bikes flowing past you, with or without a Winston stuck on their windscreen… that’ll do it.)
I managed to only be half an hour late to Pixie and Bear’s house in North Sydney. From there we geared up– helmet, gloves, pants and the hottest jacket, I’ve ever seen supplied by Pixie. Boots courtesy of Auntie Mickey. Various layers of thermal undergarments thanks to last year’s road trip to Melbourne.
And wow, did I need those thermals. Even on a perfectly cloudless morning it is freezing on a bike. And, having only slept about two ours the night before, I didn’t dare close my eyes with the warmth of the sun on my face for even a second… it’s quite likely I could have fallen asleep, and then off the back of the bike. Which really would have messed with the cool biker chick image I had going on.
Pulling into the carpark at Bateau Bay RSL was an experience in itself. Every person– and at least one real live dog (you’ll have to wait for the vlog on Monday to check him out, sorry)– was wearing leathers, and most of those leathers were black.
|Unashamedly stolen from Mr Hollingworth’s IG feed- a much better shot than I took.|
And, gleaming in the morning sunshine, were bikes. Hundreds upon hundreds of bikes. Chrome and polish and rubber and horsepower, the occasional gunning of an engine.
That gorgeous gleaming sunshine lasted ten whole more minutes before, ominously, great grey thunderheads begun to shuffle on over the mountains in the distance. People walked around calling “Wet weather gear on!” and debating their choices… heading off right now to beat the rain, miss the verbal rider briefing and be ahead of the pack; or chance fate with the clouds.
Because fate just absolutely adores me, we went with that option.
It only took another five minutes… those big stormclouds roll in amazingly fast when you’ve got your back turned. Instructions were called hastily to the faithful standing in the growing gloom.
And then every man, woman and- of course- dog rode out into spitting, cold rain; huge clouds chasing at their very tails.
I’m cold and uncomfortable for a bit, but those sensations barely even penetrate past the thrill. I’m having too much fun; I’m enjoying feeling excited- the actual physical symptoms of it, a rush and drop of my stomach- rather than the dry knowledge that I should be excited, attempting to emulate that through attitude- for the first time in months; I’m too fascinated in my surroundings; too immersed in this sub–culture with its own language and hand signals and ethics that I didn’t really know existed, and would be so lovely; until just now.
Besides… the clouds piling up like that, chasing you for everything you’ve got and threatening to overwhelm everything; riding on despite the cold drops of sharp rain being spat at your front, or back, or from the very road underneath you… that’s so beautifully fucking symbolic, how could I argue with it?
Firstly– Pixie, darling… really, between the cars and the bike and the fines and…. you are some kind of saint, and a far more tolerant women than I ever will be.
Seriously though, to the Bear and the Pixie– thank you, thank you, thank you. You can’t imagine how much this meant to me, for more reasons that I can write about right now– along with being just about the most fun you can have while clothed, it actually felt like doing something– something real. Something practical. A bit like donating blood felt when I was studying social work… there are only so many pats on the back you can hand out before you need to give people something of substance, something tangible, something valuable. This was real life, instead of the internet
… this was solid instead of shifting.
The route the Bear and I rode on Sunday, North Sydney to Singleton return, coming back down the gloriously eccentric Putty’s Road– more in Monday’s vlog about that place, too– took eight hours and over six hundred kilometers, which is about 370 miles (so they tell me). I remarked, not long after I almost fall asleep– that the Bear’s BlackBird is like a (very, very fast moving) comfortable lounge chair. And it is. And my hips, calves and thighs were still so sore I almost leapt into Pixie’s arms in relief when we pulled into the garage, and the next day I can barely walk. I feel drained, physically tired in a way I don’t think I’ve experienced since the last time I gave birth.
And, finally, after months of half–living and feeling numb almost all the time– bar those irrational peaks and troughs that I can’t seem to get a grip on– I feel alive again. The very word, alive, it pops and fizzles on my tongue like sorbet sherbet, lemon and lime and tangy citrus.
Was that a one-off, a byproduct of an adrenaline rush I haven’t had in years? I used to love riding pillion in my early twenties, dating boys for that reason, not exclusively but as a deciding factor; and I wasn’t sure if the rush I remembered from ten years ago was a real physical sensation or simply the result of heady defiance, of being dangerous back when life was safe?
I don’t know, and I put the question casually to the Bear on one of those leg–stretcher breaks that we take more frequently as the clouds roll back out to the coast and the scrubby surrounds are slowly licked with amber sunset light. It’s addictive, he says– a rush that’s relaxing. And he’s right– I’m reminded of that bizarre upside down inertia when I think of the closeted space your head is in, insulated from the noise and the wind by a thick helmet; in comparison to your kneecap being just inches from bitumen that’s moving… well… let’s say no faster than one hundred k’s an hour. Of course. That would be illegal.
|And more thanks to Pixie- this time for the photo.|
It’s impossible to be disconnected when you’re on a bike, says the Bear, and I’m not sure why, but he’s right. It forces your connect, being so fast and vulnerable and having to temper the feeling that you’re bullet proof. You connect with the air, the temperature, the road, the sway of the bike, your feet on the pegs, your eyes on the road. There is no other option if you want to stay alive and without bits of gravel embedded under flesh. The deep muscle ache that set in for the last half hour of the trip took me surprise- it hadn’t felt like hard work at all.
And, dammit, if that’s all it takes, a few hours on a bike navigating windy roads and feeling quick and free… if that’s all I need to feel alive again on a regular, reliable basis… then maybe it’s time to cross the last thing off that list. Before I draw up a new one.
I’m seriously thinking about it. And the Bear is unashamedly encouraging me.
I’ll keep you posted.
Video log of the Black Dog Ride coming Monday via this here blog and the RRSAHMYouTube channel… Stay tuned.