A Motorcycling Guide to Sightseeing With Peripheral Vision

It started with a lie. Well, not an intentional one, but it turned out that that’s what it was. And it’s not like it was a lie designed to hurt or mislead; it was a factual recommendation that turned out to be incorrect. Rather like in the words of one Winston Churchill, a terminological inexactitude. But in a good way. Let me explain.

I am a nutcase. I love being alone, and I love to travel. So a motorcycling holiday is perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I love people as well. But there are times when all I crave is my own company, and on a motorcycle, that’s the best place to be. Now the last thing I want is for this to become a diary of the “Freedom of the Open Road” or any crap like that. These are mere stories, reflections, and an attempt to put something in writing that only occurs within the stark but boundless confines of the mind.

The mind is a wonderful thing. It has a mind of its own: wistful, energetic, distracted, depressing, uplifting.. These are all things that your mind can do to you when you least expect it.  And while this is essentially a diary of a journey, it’s also hopefully a reflection of me, where I have been, where I am going and who bloody lied to me!!

For years, I have had a theory. That everything in the world comes into two characteristics. And so far, I have yet to be proven wrong. Now these characteristics, traits, call them what you will are diametric opposites: the yin and yang, black and white, Lennon and McCartney, good and evil, John Smith and Pocahontas.. You get the idea. One characteristic is Science: clinical, exact, educational, quantifiable in every way. The other is Art, emotional, expressive, beautiful, appreciative. And here is my dilemma: I experienced beauty, appreciated life and fought emotions, all things falling under the Art banner. And now I am trying to quantify and describe them using words, grammar and facts under the Science banner. You see my problem. Never the twain shall meet, and yet writers, musicians and artists the world over throughout time have been trying to do the same. Using only words to describe beauty that makes your heart sing, or trying to use mere words to describe the passion and heart stirring feeling that is love. Sure, there are astounding adjectives for all seasons, but you will never be able to write and accurately describe an emotion. The reason it can’t be done is simple: feelings and love is Art, and words are Science. Never the twain shall meet. So in essence, this is going to be a pathetic attempt to evoke emotions that only I felt, by using the very public forum of the majesty of words. And if that doesn’t make any sense, I really don’t care!

And at the risk of sounding Arty, I didn’t experience this over days. They were eras.


Era 1, Monday, May 16

I’d never been on this ferry before. Sure I’d seen it, but had never ventured into its mysterious orange underbelly. Not that it worried me at all, but it was the beginning of my journey and I wanted to know what to do. It all seemed straightforward enough: book ticket, get there when you are told to get there, follow all instructions and enjoy yourself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be that simple. Now, this isn’t the lie: that comes much later. This was just an aberration of failed instruction. I wanted to enjoy everything for the longest amount of time, so figured, somewhat erroneously as it turned out, that I would get there at the earliest recommended time to board, and then enjoy the facilities that I’m sure were going to be vast and pleasurable. Anticipation greeted me with the passion reserved for an old dog, as I made my way proudly along the dock to be first in line. I was already hearing in my head the muted cries of awe about to be uttered by others as they arrived only to realise that I had beaten them to the punch. I was already practising my condescending look that I would give these failed holiday makers when they queued up behind me.

I was 117th in line.

The sigh inside my helmet was as deafening as expelled air could be. However, the advantages of being on a motorcycle were already beginning to show. Delicately (and I use the term “delicately” in the same way that a heavyweight prize fighter is said to dance delicately around the ring: a cumbersome uncoordinated flailing of overweight limbs and slow proportions) I manoevered my machine through the throngs of pajama’d small people and managed to navigate my way to a respectable 40th or so in the queue. Unfortunately, my delicate weaving was brought gracelessly unstuck by the presence of an immovable bin, flanked by twin four wheel drives. There was no escape. I was doomed. Looking up to the front, I could have sworn I saw a knowing look of disdain on the face of the tyrant at the head of the queue. I killed the bike, removed my helmet, and so proudly, in that supercilious manner seemingly reserved for the British, turned my back on him! I was ready.

It was only then that I realised how insignificant I really felt. I appeared to have journeyed to another planet. Somewhere along the dock front, I had entered the twilight zone, time warped through one of those Star Gate thingys, and ended up on the planet RV. Caravans, campervans, mobile homes, and roof racks were the order of the day here, and it appeared I had failed my membership. For a start, I only had half the minimum required wheels, did not have the foresight to attach an extra vehicle to my rear, and had pathetically failed in my capacity to strap something to my roof! Bugger the fact that I didn’t have a roof; that logic won’t wash here with these holiday making interstellar families. However, I was fortunately saved from the sure lynching that I would have received by the presence of that tiny item that indicates I have an urge to pack. I could feel the mob gathering, torches at the ready, planning their imminent hanging when they spied it. My ocky strap! I felt the sighs reverberate through the throng as they deemed me safe to travel with them. I had strapped something to my machine and was therefore deemed to be one of them A tourist! I had been accepted.

Some time later, the mob began to move. We were ushered one by one into the vast orange belly, seemingly to be consumed at will by this creature, only to be regurgitated later. I was beginning to feel like those fish that get eaten whole then vomited up by penguins for later consumption. I made a mental note to stop thinking.

Dutifully, we proceeded snake-like into our doom, when the chief penguin in stunning orange overalls spied me in the food chain. I was waved over and instructed to go somewhere else. Somewhere reserved for creatures WITHOUT white rear appendages, roof racks or more than four wheels, and somewhere special for me. It’s hard to swagger when you’re riding. But I’m sure I pulled it off. I parked in my allotted zone, removed all my bags and proceeded to discover that I had no idea how to carry them all as well as my bike gear at the same time. I was about to ask if I could ride the bike into the lift, through the corridors to my cabin, but the orange overall guy looked like he’d had a bad day. Maybe he’d just eaten a small child that didn’t agree with him, but the look I found winging it’s way towards me suggested that I might be well encouraged to pursue an alternate avenue of thought.

Safely locking the bike up, I staggered to the lift. Earlier detective work on my part had revealed the fact that I was on the 8th deck, so that was where I aimed. Bingo! Target acquired. And after much searching, swearing, and remarking how much every deck looks the same, my room revealed itself to me in much the same way that taxis don’t when you really really need one. So I sighed angrily at my door and opened it. Here it was: my Nirvana. My cabin. My home. My God. It’s tiny. Four beds? How the hell did they expect to fit four people in here? The entire room was about the same size as the toilet you find in aeroplanes, and unfortunately, was also the same awesome off white plastic colour. I started looking for all those really groovy compartments that they manage to fit tissues and towels in, and the hidden bins, but alas, all I found was a cupboard that passed for a shower. I now thanked my foresight in booking a room on my own. Sure, it was expensive, but I now had the pleasure of defiantly throwing one bag on each bed, tucking them all in, pouring myself a strong drink and buggering off to explore what was to be my new home for the next few hours.

It was an amazing discovery. Bars. Restaurants. Bottle shops. Tourist shops that sell useless things carved out of Tasmanian pine, wooden ashtrays (think about that!), tea towels, spoons and small brown bottles containing everything from eucalyptus oil to suntan lotion, and everywhere, ushers, staff and people pointing other people in many and varied directions. Now, either the usher on my floor had several twins on board, or I was doing laps. Knowingly, I bumped into him again and head down, pretended I had forgotten something in my toilet… I mean cabin. Next time I saw him, I was met with that superior look that only someone who knows someone else is lost and is too proud to ask directions has, and I scurried off down some corridor. Rounding a bend, I saw life. No.. it’s that bloody tourist shop again. I was determined to find my way around when I realised I was still holding my ticket, wrapped safely in a map of the boat! It was a matter of moments before I found myself giving directions to other lost families. I started to get good at swaggering.

The on board PA system was going on about something. I dismounted my high horse and, purely because there were no more families I could send off in separate directions, I listened. They were asking for the owner of…. I switched off. Some poor stupid holiday person had left his lights on, or locked his wife in the car or something just as ignorant  “black Honda motorcycle, please return to your vehicle immediately.” How could anyone be so stupid as to leave.. Holy shit, that was my rego they announced. I started coolly to walk to the deck containing my apparently offensive vehicle. I passed my usher again who knowingly pointed me in some direction completely irrelevant to my task at hand. Dreading the imminent confrontation with the orange overalled child eater, I peered cautiously into the car park. Safe. Wandering with a purpose I aimed for my bike, only to see it surrounded by an angry mob of disinterested ferry car moving people. Orange overalls were in abundance and obviously the fashion of choice. My lack of anything of or pertaining to be orange immediately marked me as the culprit and I was asked to unlock my bike. Apparently, locking it and wanting it to be safe is frowned upon here. I marvelled at this for a millisecond when I realised that they needed my front wheel to be straight so they could strap it down. Job done, I found myself once more scurrying away.

That bloody usher is there again. Directing nobody in particular, I wondered if he did that when he got home. Perhaps he moonlighted as a traffic cop. Or had failed traffic cops 101 and this was the best he could get. Stopping people as the lift door opened so an old lady could walk past, I imagined the evil grin pulling at the twisted corners of his lips as he sent the lift full of people to floors they didn’t want to be on. Revenge is his.

Now I started to look around. I suddenly realised just how many pairs of pajamas there were in the world. And they all seemed to be here. Around every corner I ran into or over a small human in sky blue flannel clutching a soft thing. Doesn’t anybody walk anymore? Kids of all ages seemed to make a job out of bouncing off everything they passed. I found myself praying that a (collective noun for kids in pj’s) of kids would descend on my usher and bounce him the hell out of my life. I could see the headlines now. “Usher killed by marauding sleepwear mob.” The rap and hip-hop world would be in mourning for minutes.

I began to get the layout now. Various outer decks for us smokers banished helplessly into the cold, restaurants, bars, TV rooms. One room even had four TV’s all next to each other, each one on a separate channel. The logic in this still escapes me. Well underway, I watched the night lights of Melbourne retreat from me. I began to think.. never a good sign, so I decided to eat. Having wandered aimlessly for a couple of hours, run over a number of small children, watched the world as I knew it get smaller, I began to think of my belly. My usher had long since disappeared. I imagined he was getting some well-earned rest from his furious day of directing and pointing. I found the restaurant first go (the swagger returned briefly) and sat down. The menu looked enticing, and I was about to order when I heard a familiar chilling voice behind me. “This way please.” It sent deep chills to my feet and my toes curled, anxious to escape this demon of direction. My usher had returned. And with a feeling of pure dread, I realised that for the next few hours I had absolutely no escape. He was my waiter! And I, his prisoner to be directed at will. I envisioned being sent to separate tables for each course while he sat on his chair and acted out some bizarre game of 3D chess with the patrons as pawns, sacrificing them at will. I was prepared to fight back. I looked around and saw that we, the customers, posed a sizable threat to this man. In my mind, we mustered in the galley, refusing to be directed to any more useless locations, we armed ourselves with ladles and tongs and prepared for war. But they gave a war and no one came. The battles never eventuated. This warlord of direction had changed hats and was now here to help me eat, as opposed to get me lost. It turns out he was quite skilled. He steered me through the menu, and after a stunning leek and potato soup, my steak was perfection. I felt both astounded and sheepish that someone could be so militant in one role and yet so helpful in the next. I guess it surprised me that he had two jobs.

During dinner, I had the pleasure of talking books with another of the waitresses. We discussed several books, and she recommended one to me that I have absolutely no recollection of. I also recommended a couple to her, and I’m sure her memory of the titles is as good as mine. Satisfied, we parted company, both destined to wonder “What the hell was that book I’m supposed to go and enjoy?”

Sated, I wandered. And when I had finally decided that the vessel had no more surprises, I retired to my toilet, still looking for those bloody tissues.

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  • Era 7, May 22

    With no PA to help me out of bed, I had a little lie in. Gently rolling with the swell of the boat, I allowed my brain to join me. We arose together, grabbed a quick shower and went outside for a look.

  • Era 6, May 21

    I awoke with a mission. Maybe it was the environment, or maybe I was just cold, but I had a mission. All I needed to do today was to be in Devonport to re-greet the orange overalled brigade and be ushered places by around 2pm and it was only 30km away.

  • Era 5, May 20

    I was becoming used to my grudging acceptance of all things morning. Morning, I’m sure, was mildly tolerating my existence also, and we met again. I had a quick wander through town, buying film and other necessities, and continued on my way.

  • Era 4, May 19

    Today, I wasn’t going to travel as far, so I allowed myself the luxury of a short sightseeing jaunt. This was a good call. Battling my morning dilemma, my fast was broken so I got the hell out of Hobart and headed South.

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