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DAY 176: Hitting the Hey Man wall with a quad bike

23 Feb

Here’s a picture of a riderless quad bike. I refused to pose on my one.

THE downside of trying something new every day is that whatever you try you’re going to be shit at it. So basically, every day, you’re shit.

This ignites an impotent rage after a while; the sort of rage serial killers develop when women laugh at them in bed.

For four days now I’ve been doing the most ace, fun missions in ridiculously good-looking company, but I’ve been floundering about like a panda trying to play a ukulele while wearing water wings. You can only laugh gamely for so long.

Throughout my trip to the Otways I’ve been raring to have a go on the quad bike on the property I’m staying at, and there’s a good hilly terrain to take it out on. I’m told how to start it up, brake, change gear, yada yada yada… but somehow the bit about reversing fails to sink in.

I believe we only have so much space in our heads for instructions. The rest is taken up with thinking about amusing comebacks, rooting, what to eat next, and admiring scenery.

Over the past few days I’ve been taught how to operate a manual, a four-wheel drive, a bulldozer, a milking machine and a chainsaw, but rerouting my neural pathways has produced more of a series of pissling streams than a mighty Shenandoah. I’m starting to lose confidence in myself before I even crank up the quad bike.

I manage to fang around the property with a few near misses (have you tried steering one of these things?), before I wedge one wheel into a bush and then can’t figure out how to reverse back out again. I’ll be buggered if I’m going to trek off for half an hour to ask for help; I’m all out of sheepish grins.

Getting off the bike, I try to manually heave it free, but it won’t budge and just deposits a few more leeches on my legs. There comes an ominous thunderclap – that’s me officially cracking the shits.

I won’t describe in full the following scene, as it is a scene, but needless to say it involves leaving the quad bike in the bush for someone else to deal with and stomping off back to the house – which is quite a long stomp, as I’ve crashed it right at the top of a hill.

Keeper? I’ll be back. Just as soon as I find my smokes.

DAY 172: Getting my chops with a chainsaw

19 Feb

It wasn't like this.

BY rights, this should be an incredibly hot scenario. This should be me straddling a tree root, brandishing a chainsaw and spraying chips until a trunk comes screaming down in supplication. In the middle of a goddamn forest!

Unfortch, my chainsaw has all the traction of a butter knife with my technique and weighs a sodding ton. And then there’s the hard hat and chaps I’m being forced to wear. And not Xtina Aguilera-style chaps, either.

I keep hacking away at my tree, trying to get the angle right, but the saw’s so heavy that I can’t hold my spindly wrist straight. By the time I step back and survey my handiwork, it just looks like the tree’s been self-harming.

Don't hold it like this.

The lumberjack (I notice HE’S not wearing hard hat and chaps) steps in to make a wedge for me so that I can finish it off with a deft slice to the back, but my blade seems to only tickle the trunk, and whenever I pull it out in a huff it stalls. Jeez, it’s always awkward cracking the shits in front of someone you don’t know very well yet, isn’t it? Still, can’t be helped…

In the end we leave the big trees be and I fell a mighty sapling.

No worries.

“Some assignments are an A, some are a B-minus,” the lumberjack says generously as I order a latte in the logger’s pub. And that’s a D-minus for the availability of the latte.

Keeper? Well, I’m supposed to be going for my licence, so I’d better persevere.

DAY 171: The night of the shooting

18 Feb

“I’LL just let the boys know you’re not comfortable shooting roos,” the bush pirate says, as I try and tell him an actual hunting trip’s out of the question without sounding like a big wuss. “I’m sure they’ll compromise with some foxes and rabbits or something.” Eep.

By the time we get to the campsite it’s around 11pm and the rum is in full flow. I can’t understand any of the conversations around me as they’ve become 90% more vowelly than the usual country talk, thanks to Sir Bundy. Nod, smile. Nod, smile.

One bloke keeps spraying a can of Aerogard into the fire for an interesting pyro effect, while another, upon seeing us, grabs a giant surf-style fishing rod and takes us yomping off down to the black river to set it up, tripping over various dogs as we go. The second his back’s turned he gets a bite and reels in an eel, which gets chucked back in after a bit of yahooing.

We’re here to fire his rifle though, so we all pile on the quad bike and take off to a bit of paddock away from sleeping children and cows. I’ve fired guns before, but this one’s got a sniper’s sight, for that extra “holy shit!” factor. It’s the heaviest I’ve held, as well. It lets off a mighty kaboom, and I let off a shriek, and then we’re hurtling back to the camp again for a Bundy update.

Keeper? If I find myself in this situation again, sure.

DAY 170: The Day of a Thousand Fucks

17 Feb

Screaming next to the abyss.

“YOU get used to that,” the bush pirate says, every time I nearly break my neck, impale myself on a tree or have to grip on to some death-ute or other. “That’s what we do in the country.”

Today we’re doing some rainforest regeneration. This gully used to be a scramble of blackberry bushes, but now it’s home to tree ferns, ground ferns, myrtle beeches and satin boxes, with eucalypts on the ridges and spurs. And it’s ringing with urgent profanities.

“You start digging some holes down there,” the bush pirate points to a sheer drop with a stream audible somewhere at the bottom. I head off down it with my spade, and my boots send rocks tumbling endlessly down to the water, where there’s a distant splash. There are no discernable footholds and I keep sliding down the ravine, reaching out to grab handfuls of handy nettles and thistles. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

This must be some kind of rookie-nobbling joke, surely?

I manage to anchor myself long enough to plant six saplings, sit down to have a fag and spot the bloodthirsty leech sitting atop my fly. Nice.

My first leech.

Keeper? I’ll think about it.

DAY 161: Pulling a complex trapeze move

8 Feb


THE bad news is that Mum and I haven’t spoken since our snarky email exchange about whether or not I have a legitimate fear of heights (if you were me, would you have blurted out that someone who has a Condition Red panic attack at the sight of a slightly enclosed space ought to be less scathing? I think you would); the good news is I’ve mastered a new twisty move on the trapeze.

After piking on the last two lessons, I turn up to today’s class with dragging feet and a face like a smacked arse.

Always keen to cash in on my own misfortune, last week I interviewed a specialist about the best and worst way to tackle phobias for a newspaper article. The worst, he said, is ‘flooding’ – essentially throwing yourself in at the deep end, like taking a trapeze course. Armed with this knowledge, I just know today’s going to be a shocker.

“Only focus on the clips,” the instructor says when I explain I’m liable to faceplant the floor if I have to look down and fit the harness. His permanently benign expression helps a bit.

Weirdly, this time around atop the platform I’m not sweaty and dizzy, and can concentrate on what I’m doing, even though there’s always a death grip involved. I pull off the usual swings and then decide to go for a new one, launching off with crossed arms, spinning around, swapping hands and trying to avoid smacking back into the platform. There’s a bit of a shriek when I let go at the wrong time and go swimming across the crash pad, but the next time I land on my feet, and the next. Wahoo!

Whatever it was I had, I’m hoping it’s peaked.

Keeper? Seeing that I was hanging onto a pole at the top of the platform at the time, I’m not sure if the instructor’s advice to wee on your hands to heal blisters was a joke or not. Better safe than sorry.

DAY 153: Getting my motherfuggin’ ute

31 Jan

Got mah ute.

I’M about as excited as you can possibly get when I bag this handsome ute on eBay. I can’t afford to get it roadworthy for at least three months, but hell – that’s not my drive it’s parked in.

Everyone in my country town has a ute. I’ve gone for regulation white, so I’ll have to fit it with some bumper stickers so that I can distinguish it from those of my brethren.

The owner wheezes the Falcon over from Williamstown, hands over the paperwork and runs. I ease myself onto the furry seat cover to start pulling and pushing things, most of which fall off. The glove compartment’s been fitted with a garden gate bolt, which is a nice touch, but in my opinion the selling point is the cabin – which magically transforms the ute into a shaggin’ wagon.

Overnight, Emerson – who’ll be getting it roadworthy – has turned into the harbinger of doom, forecasting bits that need replacing, fast ones the previous owner has pulled, and the long list of costs to come. I’m not implying he’s pissing on my parade, but I do feel a fine mist in the air when he surveys the handbrake.

I’ve got great plans to pimp the ute up with working tyres and wing mirrors, but in the meantime we give it a bit of a test spin.

“Don’t draw any attention to yourself,” Emmo warns, fatefully.

I start it up and am immediately rattled by the column shift, the operation of which sets off the windscreen wipers, which seems like a pretty major design fault. As we bounce and squeak off down the road, I’m coursing with sweat. The maiden voyage of one’s first vehicle is one of those moments in life you want to go really well, but I can tell this ute has zero respect for me right now; I’m driving it like a stammering apology, like Smeagol with an overbite. Unlike Ralph, the ute fails to learn who is boss.

Despite this less than auspicious start, the next morning there are no weird leaks under the ute, which is a good sign.

Keeper? Yeahargh! Can’t wait to go for a donut-run.

DAY 135: Becoming a psycho Chiko chick

13 Jan

I’M going for my citizenship test soon, so I’m keen to immerse myself in as much Australian culture as possible – particularly since a question on this national delicacy is bound to come up in the test.

“A cheeko roll please,” I toothily bid the good man at Wanna Pizza Me on Elizabeth Street.

He scrapes a saturated cylinder off the bain marie, puts it in a little paper jacket and hands it over. I peruse it sombrely, weighing its sinister, leaden mass in my hand. The best thing to come out of Wagga Wagga since the Sturt Highway, this is, and already it reeks like yesterday’s regrets.

Together with two giant coffees, the Chiko Roll is to make up today’s breakfast… but five minutes in I’m like a kid amped up on orange squash. I make a few regrettable phone calls that should have gone well, before realising I’m so flushed with adrenalin-pumping food-rage I actually want to punch on. Cor – that’s after just three inches, imagine what the full seven would do.

I back away from my inbox and telephone for a bit, and instead have a quick Google of the snack. On eBay there’s a Chiko Roll chick sticker going for $76.

There have been some surfy, Roxy-style updates, but you can't really top this ad. The angles are poetic.

Keeper? If I’m planning on making an emphatic point I might snort one of these down first.

DAY 133: Putting my life in the hands of weak-wristed amateurs

11 Jan

I’M determined to thrash my vertigo into submission, so I’ve signed myself up for a load of trapeze and aerial rope tomfoolery over the next few months.

Instead of hoisting us atop a platform and screaming GO! like the last place, this school coaches you in everything from working out, to throwing shapes, to take offs, to landing. Seems sensible.

On the static trapeze we work through pikes, hocks, hangs and beats, in what’s supposed to be a fluid motion – and probably would be if you were cursed with short, stumpy legs. For the lithe-limbed, it’s quite difficult not to entirely flip oneself over when asked merely to hover upside down in the air.

At the last school there were hoards of acrospunks coaching a big class, but this time there are five girls and one acrodude, whose arms aren’t quite built up enough for my liking. We’re not doing catches this week though, so I won’t worry about it now.

Last time, we swung about over a big rig, but this time it’s a ‘Petit Volant’, which basically means you’re trying to land on your feet on a crash pad instead of on your arse on a net. More worryingly, the girls in the class are expected to hold each other’s weight atop the platform and trust each other to let go/not wobble at pertinent times. Between us there are two cases of vertigo, two of myopia, and one of unbelievable stupidity, but these kinks are presumably hammered out over time.

Keeper: Yep, working on those developing those calluses before I attempt moves like “rear-mount”, “suicide” and “reverse suicide”.

DAY 131: A spot of Sunday afternoon circle work

9 Jan

It's even more dangerous with a black bar over your eyes.

“CIRCLE work” is as integral a part of country life as harassing rabbits and hanging around outside the one fast-food franchise in town, so it’s next on my agenda as a wet-behind-the-ears bush cookie. At first I assumed it to be some kind of embroidery stitch, but no – it involves a 120 degree fishtail, preferably of a “utility vehicle”.

I enlist the help of a friend from the hoon capital of Australia to run me through the motions. “I think it’s really important a learner knows how to do donuts,” Emerson hypothesises. “It’s a national pastime.”

The first time we met, my grease-monking guide pronounced, “I like to just go outside, spit, and then drive till my ears hurt,” in a peculiar, vowelly timbre. Despite having no clue what he was on about, I readily accept most things people tell me, and this seemed a reasonable enough statement. But when I was introduced to his ute, it all made sense for real. A 6.5-litre V8 engine in a modified 1979 Ford makes a mighty ear-hurtin’ racket indeed. Get the wind behind you (hence the explorative spitting), and it makes a mighty fast ear-hurtin’ racket.

My first challenge, however, is getting the old bastard to start (the ute, that is). After tooling away at the ignition and jiggling the wheel for five minutes, we’re off. “If the throttle sticks when you’re going down the freeway, punch it hard,” comes the next instruction, followed by a stream of technical jargon that makes no sense whatsoever and thus is entirely superfluous, in my opinion.

The stonking engine’s so restless that whenever I take off at a green light I perform a screeching burnout without even intending to, to the admiration of teenage boys all over Victoria.

After a pie stop, we find an idyllic lane (on Emerson’s private estate) and it’s time for my stylish manoeuvre. It’s a bit intimidating with Emmo in the passenger seat – a bit like a grade two guitarist trying to impress Brian May. Still, I stick the shonkbox in second, hit the accelerator and pull a hard right. Hellzapoppin! And hard left. Argh!!

It’s hard to stop at one, isn’t it? I stall the thing three times by getting cold feet and then taking one of those feet off the throttle. Funny – my tootsies had not long before been aflame from the oddly placed exhaust. I’m not saying it’s deliberate that I later smack said exhaust into a speed hump at 70km/h… but I’m not saying it isn’t, either.

Keeper? Tackling Mount Tarrengower as navigator next! If one can navigate with one’s eyeballs burrowed into one’s knees.

DAY 118: Squalling in the surf

27 Dec

WELL, I guess I can kiss my eyelash extensions goodbye. Any hopes of not getting too pounded in the 8am surf are quickly thwarted by the first pulverising double waves here at Lorne Bay.

Our instructor, Sam, has a zinced nose and bouncy blond curls, like he’s just walked straight off the set of Home and Away. He runs us through the art of getting to one’s feet. Easy.

On the 9ft board I slide straight off the deck in kneeling position. These are slippery little buggers, aren’t they? On the 10ft board I get to my feet but the beast swings sideways in a rip and I fall off. Repeat x 100.

The pie and giant coffee I’ve just downed aren’t sitting too good, what with all this gasping and gulping. In an hour and 20 minutes I manage to stagger to my feet for all of three seconds; and that’s debatable. At best I’m stepping on and stepping off, really.

This leaves plenty of time to: get tangled in leg rope, get smashed repeatedly in the face, get slam dunked into my board. FUCK THIS SHIT.

Forty minutes early, I wade back to shore on ice block feet and throw in the towel. Wower, wowser, wowser.

“You English are useless at everything,” Sam quips as I wrestle myself out of my wetsuit, adding darkly: “Except cricket.”

Yeah, evs. Seriously, when it’s his time of month he can tell me that. And he can try and stay upright on his board with severely diminished motor skills, too. See, not so easy is it?

Keeper? I’ll be back. Not here; too embarrassing.

I KNOW you want to see how cold my foot was.