Old Bike Australasia
The loneliness of the lockdown
Something weird happened during our weekend away at the start of Brisbane’s August 2021 lockdown. I probably won’t see the likes of it again. Or in these times, perhaps it will happen to someone else next week. Who can tell?
Homeless was on his 1967 Moto Guzzi V7, with me on my 1988 BMW R100 and Tall Phil on his 2003 BMW GS. It had been a blissful winter’s journeying through Queensland’s South Burnett and Darling Downs, adhering to our modus operandi of backroads and loops (no road twice), our meandering kilometres taking in hills and dales, forests and lakes, tight mountain passes and wide sweeping plains.
Brisbane was going into a COVID lockdown that Saturday afternoon, but we were already gone – cattle roads around Kilcoy, forestry tracks around Blackbutt, and rainforest wanderings on the top of the Bunya Mountains all beckoned. Saturday night was spent with old friends and old bikes at the welcoming and warm Cooyar Hotel, with a superb Sunday breakfast dished up by a smiling GP legend Garry McCoy, at McCoy’s Café in Munro Street, Cooyar. “This is the personal service you just don’t get from Wayne, Mick, or Casey,” Tall Phil said when handed a plate of bacon and eggs.
It was on Sunday afternoon’s homeward leg that the weirdness set in. The tree-canopied Perseverance Dam Road and the ridge-hugging Esk-Hampton Road came and went before we descended into southeast Queensland’s locked down areas. Everything became quieter and quieter. No other riders. Mid-afternoon saw us rummaging in panniers for luncheon scraps, with cafés shut and bolted. Rural roads were ribbons of lonely macadam. We stood on a low plain and looked up to Mt Glorious. On any other weekend our ears would be struck by a cacophony of mechanical noise. But this day, silence.
For readers unfamiliar, the Mt Glorious and Mt Nebo roads northwest of Brisbane present around 40km of, well, “glorious” paved switchbacks. They are a mecca for motorcyclists and car enthusiasts, but their closeness to suburbia and ever-increasing traffic has seen ever-decreasing speed limits and an ever-growing police presence. Nowadays a run through these ranges is more a parade than a ride. But not this day. Our exhausts ricocheted off escarpments as we wound our way to, through, and past the Mt Glorious and Mt Nebo townships. On that entire mountain ride, we encountered no other vehicles. The gods had given us a deserted track, a petrol-head’s playground. Our old bikes run stock, but they seemed…unleashed. What a joy to look through one corner to the next and see nothing but clear air. We rested midway, at the summit’s Mt Glorious
Café (shut of course) on benches outside. This was where, on any other weekend, you could admire scores of bikes, some quite rare, and strike up earnest conversations with other riders. But this day there was no one. Surely there’d be a mower sounding somewhere in the distance, but no, we were pressed on all sides by shadows and silence. “So, this is what it’s like when all the humans have gone,” said Homeless. On cue, a wind sprung up, rattling leaves down the centre line. My thoughts drifted to Charlton Heston, driving his Ford convertible through the deserted streets of Los Angeles in The Omega Man, as the three of us saddled up and rode off the mountains into the suburbs, waiting at traffic lights for no one, taking in the emptiness and the fading light.