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Kawasaki kz400 1975

Troubled Touring

(Travels with Guido series #316a, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Mar 2021)


Our hot touring tip? Never pick up a hitchhiker

Okay, there were extenuating circumstances. For a start, it was 1980, so we were all a bit younger then. And things really were different.

Let me give you an example, the Hume Highway south of Sydney was not a freeway. It was (Jeezuz H Kerrist, I’m sounding like my grandfather) a normal two-lane road that pretty much followed the terrain, for better or worse. Mostly the latter. It was narrow, rough, and friggin dangerous at night – particularly if you were on a motorcycle.

With that scene vaguely drawn, let’s set off on the story.

I’m working as a cook at The Waterfront restaurant on the Rocks in Sydney, just opposite the number 1 passenger ship terminal – the place where thousands of post WWII immigrants first landed.

Having hooked up with the divine Ms M snr, who lived in Canberra at the time, I was regularly commuting between the two cities by motorcycle. Often at night, which meant I racked up a significant road kill tally over the 300km each-way trip with my trusty Z400 Kawasaki. Lots of rabbits, a couple of foxes, you get the drift.

Anyway, I get away early one day and, late-afternoon somewhere south of Goulburn I spot a hitchhiker. For reasons I still can’t explain, I pull up. I did have a spare helmet on board, so maybe I figured I could give him a lift to the nearest town.

Now I did notice, as I pulled up, the old-fashioned Gladstone bag at his feet. No problem, we can probably strap that to the rear guard. What I didn’t see at first was the puppy – a little bull terrier.

Right, so we have a chat and work out he wants to get to Canberra (which is a long way from the nearest town), and quickly, and no-one’s picking him up, which is why he was hiding the dog.

Then I have to quickly explain I live just north of the city, near Bungendore, so the plan is to ride home, load everyone into a car and drop them off.

It’s not until we heave everything onto the bike you realise how bloody stupid the plan is. Both of us are big blokes and a Kawasaki Z400 is not a GoldWIng. We strap his bag over the tail-light, and he squeezes the dog between us.

The first 50-ish kay, I can feel the poor pup struggling and then finally accept its lot and settle down.

Then we confront the bridge, at dusk. It’s a narrow timber item, we’re doing about 130km/h (as fast as the Zed could manage with the load) and are committed – we don’t have the brakes or handling or grip to slow down. And there’s a semi coming the other way.

I squeeze as close to the timber side rails as I dare and we get buffeted around in a cyclone of noise, but somehow shoot out the other side unscathed.

From there, it just an hour home, but it’s not over. As I turn off north of Canberra and head up an unmarked dirt road, I can feel my passenger tense, particularly as we tackle the steep and rocky driveway some 20 minutes later.

He’s very quiet, and the puppy is still with us. It’s only later, as we’re settled in the Renault 12 sedan and we hit Canberra city lights at Northbourne Avenue that he confesses he was scared witless. Not by the truck incident, which got his attention, but by the thought that he was being taken by a stranger into places he’d never seen before and maybe he was to meet a fate that hitchhikers read about but think will never happen to them.

So I asked, why did you get on the bike? He said, “I just thought you were pulling up for a chat – I never thought you’d offer.”

To which my response was, “I just pulled up for a chat, I never thought you’d get on.”

And to this day, I’ve not worked out which of us most needed counseling…

See more Travels with Guido


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