We are eating ice creams from the servo in the car park of the Coca Cola Cafe, Toodyay, instead of sitting in the cafe with cold drinks, because it has just closed. In the UK my special blessing is the bringing of rain. Here in Australia it seems to be the closing of cafes. None of the ones we have been to on today’s ride-out have been open – not this one; nor the York Cafe, nor the one in Northam at the head of the Avon Descent.
I was expecting hot. I brought my summer jacket and my thinnest gloves. The very polite Blue Knights, with whom I am riding today, raised an eyebrow. They are mostly riding in leather waistcoats and t-shirts. Zeke has some nifty removable sleeves, more to keep the sun off than to protect against gravel rash. But expecting hot and experiencing it are two very different things.
One day in January I rode from Kenilworth to Ely when the temperature was minus 2, not counting the windchill. The only thought my brain gave house room to was “Fuck me, it’s freezing.” Over and over again. Today is the exact opposite. It is is incredibly hot. The heat is bearing down on my brain and scattering my focus. I don’t feel terribly safe on the bike. I have been to Las Vegas and to Syria and to Cuba and none of those places were as hot as the wheat and sheep country around Northam. By the time we sit down in the cool, dark dining room of the Northam Tavern I have a matching set: red t-shirt, red hair, red face.
In Britain it is a terrible crime to hog the fire. I assume the same may be true of the large chrome pedestal fan stirring the air in one corner of the dining room. I take my 2-litre jug of ice and lemon squash and sit at a polite distance. A shout goes up. “Put the fan on the tourist!” I accept the gift with gratitude.
The Blue Knights are a police motorcycle club. If you have power of arrest, you can apply for membership. They have the same dry coppers’ humour as the police riders in the UK I’ve got to know through working on safety campaigns, government lobbies and advanced training. They have a good laugh at my pasty skin and my ungainly deportment on the Ducati. I’m all knees and elbows on it, because it’s tiny, and I’m always in the wrong bloody gear for a corner, because it’s temperamental and Italian and needs to be ridden with a great big handful of attitude. “Don’t worry,” they tell me. “If we aren’t ribbing you we don’t like you.”
I am learning from the Knights. The most important thing is that the drink that I have learnt to call an Americano should be ordered as a “long black.” If I stop for a drink or for lunch, I should park in the shade, because it is unnecessarily unpleasant to come back to a scorching seat. The toasting of crown jewels, while not a problem I expect to suffer, can be avoided with the use of a sheepskin seat cover. Pannier essentials include big bottles of water and roll-on sun block. I have no panniers. Being Italian, the Ducati is about glamour not practicality. I scavenge sun-block and water from Adrian and Woody.
The ride is a long one: we cover just over 200 miles in about 8 hours. And it is amazing, to be riding in convoy on the beautiful black stuff, through forests and farmland and bush, and, in the late afternoon, back through the city to my brother’s house near Fremantle. There will be time enough to ride alone later. Today I am enjoying the luxury of being part of a convoy, being shown the best roads by new friends.