Under an overcast afternoon sky, I crossed the Gateway Bridge, the city’s logistical solution on the eastern portion of the Brisbane River. I was less than an hour away from home, and an influx of thoughts flooded my brain.
“Don’t get complacent now. You’re just as likely to stack it on this stretch than any other”, I had to remind myself.
I was still a couple of kilometres away from home when I must’ve bit into a chilli that miraculously manifested in my mouth. Because my body reacted to one: the waterworks started. Few times in my life have I been this overwhelmed with emotion. Tears of joy. I was laughing hysterically. Or was I crying? A bit of both, maybe. I don’t know. Nor did it matter.
Dad had been waiting in the driveway for half an hour. Mum and sis were in the garage. I wanted to have dad and mum switch off the bike and GPS tracker respectively, the same way they switched them on when I departed. But I was way too deep in the moment to recall that. I rode up the driveway, hit the killswitch, got the bike on the sidestand, and took off my helmet. They didn’t expect to see tears, spittle and snot. Bloody chillies…
I hugged them and didn’t let go for what felt like forever. The family embrace. Ecstatic.
Pointing northwards (and out the obvious), I told dad “I headed out that way…”, then turning around “… and came back from that way!”
“I still don’t know why you did that”
“Oh I think you know”
I knew dad knew. Of course he knew. He knew exactly how far the apple fell from the tree. He’s undertaken arduous trips in his youth, for his own host of reasons that might seem irrational or pointless to most. He was a part of this one too, eagerly looking at the two daily text messages telling him when and where I’m checking in and out of. He watched me get further until I reached Exmouth, and then nearer until I got home, as the Spot Gen 3 pinged a satellite somewhere over our heads every ten minutes.
I’ve been back home for two weeks now. Christmas, birthdays, the new year, and associated family and friend gatherings have come and gone. There have been constant well wishes, laughs, reflections and anecdotes from strangers now become faraway friends. The period has seen adequate rest and recovery of my body, copious amounts of food and drink, celebrations, happiness and joy. There’s also been sorrow and tragedy over the passings of my grandmother and an aunt in another corner of the world.
Every time I look at the shape of the Australian landmass -on a map or elsewhere- a momentary smile flashes across my face. Some vague memory of the 85 days spent around it springs to mind, clear as day. It’s everything between deeply profound, and remarkably unexceptional. A person, place, sound, smell … something suddenly rises up to the surface of my psyche. It says “G’day mate” in a servo attendant’s voice -often the only one I heard for days on end- and then gently drifts back.
Over here in Brisbane, I’ve looked at some street names, and recognised what person or ship they were named after.
That creek a short drive away from home? Yeah, there’s another with the same name just outside Broome, it’s water voraciously making its way to the Indian Ocean this time of year.
Some Aboriginal words, and parts of words, make sense; patterns in the many native languages now seem less hazy.
“These mangoes are from Cooktown? Great!” I ate them for free because they were lying on the side of the road there. But I’ll pay for two because some farmer, a few backpackers, and some truckies sweated to get them here. Worth every cent.
Names of wineries printed on bottles from a few thousand kilometers away are now oddly familiar; I pulled over for a coffee on Caves Rd outside Margaret River, and in the Adelaide Hills.
I’ve always loved that smell of mud, freshly moistened by the rain; it’s now associated with vivid sights and sounds from Atherton.
I’ll be running in the park, and a Sulphur-crested cockatoo will call out to its mate; another one just like it did the same and woke me up from a nap under a tree in Jabiru.
Roadside kangaroo hazard signs make me think of that wallaby I hit somewhere between Borroloola and Daly Waters.
Off the road outside Dayboro, I saw a straight, endless gravel driveway sandwiched by paddocks leading to a farmhouse. Probably no dustholes on it. But it reminded me of a similarly textured road 30 kilometres north of Coen, and that moment I had to ask myself if the lights were turned out after seeing sky-dirt-sky-dirt-sky… dirt.
Man, what a journey… and there are people that don’t even realise they’ve been an integral part of it, whether they gave me a couple of minutes, or a couple of days of their time.
To some, I’ve been a fascinating character; to others, the background noise of a passerby; and to a hopefully small number, some annoying prick they quickly got sick of. I’ve met beautiful people that have knowingly or otherwise imparted a pearl of wisdom I’ll carry with me while I’m alive; and which I might in turn pass on to someone to keep or share, before they’re gone.
“You can travel with your eyes closed”, one of them said to me. And a lot of people do, ignoring the journey, ticking boxes, knocking items off wishlists, forgetting even the destination, save for that perfect instagram photo they worked so hard for. I think I kept mine open, because I’m convinced the Lincoln that headed north is not the same as the one that returned from the south.
This ancient and sacred land is rich in beauty, history, cultures, languages, art, stories, perspectives and lifestyles… It’s abundant and transformative. It has everything to offer, in every way you can imagine, and ways you can’t.
Australia is a big country, but a small place. It’s easy to make friends here, and those friends in turn will be friends with your new friends elsewhere across the land. I’ve traveled a fair bit, but this is the first place to convince me that save for a few, all people generally mean well. It makes sense to me that everyone wants a version of the world that they consider good, and they act accordingly. Respectful engagement and genuine curiosity are excellent starting points to see that; fear and hostility, not so much. Despite glaring differences, any two people will have way more in common than they don’t; I acknowledged this over pints and fireplaces everywhere. So now I’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
For those that call this place home, have a wander around your backyard; it’s pretty big, so you’ll find some new part of yourself every time you do. For those that don’t, come here; you might just want to call it home for the same reason. And in fact, many of us do.
I’ve stripped my bike down, given it a clean, run the necessary maintenance, and put it back together. I’ve been on a couple of rides; it handles differently without being loaded up. Sometimes I’ll walk into the garage just to look at it. I swear it winks back at me. It knows what I know.
I was expecting to be sick of riding for a while; maybe I’d adopt a more closed agenda approach towards travel; that perhaps I might suddenly long for a sense of order in my life. But I think I’m hungrier than when I started. There’s too much to learn, too much to do. Too much to seek, find, eat, drink, see, hear, smell and feel. Still too many places to be, too many people to meet, bond and share life with.
There are still more roads to be traversed, be they paved or unpaved; some of them don’t even exist yet, and that excites me. There are still miles to go, on motorcycle and otherwise, real and metaphorical, everywhere, all around the world. And one lifetime isn’t enough to do it all… but perhaps the point isn’t to do it all. Right now, I couldn’t care less even if there wasn’t a point at all. But I feel fulfilled from what I did. I feel energised and refreshed, and vehemently look forward to more.