A Man's World: Touring Australia

The land that feminism forgot

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Country highways in NSW are optimized for big trailies moving slow or open-class 'tards ridden solo. The GT's sit-up handlebar and neo-standard balance made our front tire skip like a dirtbike skimming whoops, and broasting our chicken strips came at the cost of yet more sadistic pillion punishment. Although Pretty Wife's behind held up better than our turn signals, perhaps we'll get two bikes for our next anniversary getaway.

A solid riding day included kangaroo- gawking stops, lunch in a Uralla chicken-and-fish shop and full-body fever shakes. Despite the warm winter sun, I'd been shivering and spitting like a Chinaman at every stop. Gassing up the bike in Coffs Harbour, Pretty Wife took one look at my blood-spidered eyes and insisted we stop.

"You're tired."

"I'm fine."

"Okay, then I'm tired."

We took Gold Wing Bob up on his offer of a bright, clean room at the Town Centre Hotel and parked 3 feet from our door. Shucking my jacket for stevedoring duties, I grabbed our baggage and promptly fell backward, swiping my bare forearm down the bricks like an eraser cleaning a blackboard.

"My God," said Pretty Wife as I stumbled in with our bag, blood rolling onto the grip. "What happened to your arm?"

"I hit the wall."

We had a whale-watching trip scheduled in the morning, but Pretty Wife woke up feeling dutiful.

"C'mon, it's your turn. Let's go see the whales like we said."

"What about more roads for your story?"

"We've been 1500 clicks at high speed," I said. "I promised you a couple of slow days. Besides, you know you're wiped out."

Her eyes snapped blue blazes. "I'm fine!"

"Well, I'm whipped." I blew my nose, picked up my Arai and shuffled toward the bike.

"And I've got the keys."

Doffing gear at the boatman's office, we joined Captain Steve on The Spirit of Coffs Harbour. Two pods of whales with calves disported themselves around the sun-soaked boat, breaching and rolling and flipping their tails. Whales, like thunderstorms and mountain ranges, remind us why the word "awesome" should really only be applied to nature. Headed back to port with squadrons of dolphins roistering in our bow wave, I took Pretty Wife's hand and tried to clear my sinuses enough for a kiss.

"Doing all right?" I asked her. I don't think she knew she was bouncing up and down, just a little.

"Whales! We saw whales!"

I blinked crusty eyes. "But is this okay for our..."

"Whales!" Nothing can cure what ails me like a smile that sparkles like wave tops in the sun.

Over a fish lunch to express our solidarity with marine mammals, we penciled in an extra road loop recommended by our skipper. When he's not driving the boat, Steve and his hottie English Breakfast Wife (both in their mid-50s) charge down two-lane roads on their Ducati 1098S. They insisted we sample Lower Bucca Road through forested Nana Glen, then north to Grafton where we hairpinned left onto Armidale Road. Thinking ahead to our pie-shop plans later, Pretty Wife skipped lunch. It was only a couple of inches on the map.

Racing improves the steed, and great roads are the titans that spawn godlike tracks. Kenny Roberts' American racing advantage was dirt-track experience. Troy Bayliss and Casey Stoner cut their teeth on roads like Armidale, and that's why Steve and I get to ride bikes like the 1098S and GT1000.

Pitting to gas, peruse the pleasantly gossipy Dundurrabin newspaper and wash down ibuprofen with Bundaberg ginger beer, we chatted with the general store's proprietress and caravaner Kevin outside Tyringham Store.

"How did you get all the way out here?" The lady of the store stared at Pretty Wife. "Are you all right, luv?"

"Ah, we git a lot of bikes heah since the road was pived," Kevin said, squinting through a half-century of crusted red Northern Territory sun damage. "Those Ameerican things-whad'ye call those?-they come through heah tin at a toim."

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