The Abyss

Sitting astride my bike, its motor humming and rumbling apprehensively, me admonishing myself: What were you thinking?! Ahead of me a bridge lies submerged in water deep enough to bring this journey to an unceremonious end. Behind, a few thousand kilometres of hard-earned road, the last five hundred or so unforgiving for its hardened corrugated dirt surface. I wonder wryly when the North Queensland Peninsula Developmental Road might reach completion.

It’s hard to know exactly how deep the water goes; and I’ve never actually ridden through water before. If I’d considered every possible manifestation of seemingly insurmountable challenge, I’d not have left the house, I tell myself. I suddenly feel that familiar feeling of impending doom; like I’ve just been caught smoking or expelled from school; that feeling of climbing a mountain's edge, caught frozen with the realisation that I’ve climbed too high to safely descend and psychologically unable to go any further; like my life is about to end.

Moments from the last three years course through my mind: my father’s falls becoming more frequent; my frustration at his stubborn willfulness; the joy brought to him by his grand kids presence; the satisfaction I experienced by being there with him; my feeling of having failed him; his stoic and calm resignation as he neared the end. Suddenly adrift in the world, untethered by parental responsibilities, my response was to augment my state of uncertainty. I craved open space and solitude. I needed to be stretched, to make room — for what I wasn’t sure.

With this seemingly insurmountable abyss in my sights, time slows to a protracted pulse. I dismount and remove my helmet to take a moment to consider my next move. I am captured by my surrounds. The road is a magnificent rumpled red, a reflection of the corrugated cloud sunset above. I smile at its rugged beauty and how it betrays the mental and physical torture it delivers. Trees tower and surround, mocking with their dry indifference to my plight. The air is still and warm, the only movement being the river’s flow descending through the valley on the left of the road. It’s so clear and fresh and corporeal — I want to dive in and be held. I notice, for the first time since leaving Brisbane a few weeks ago, I feel completely alone.

I estimate that the water, at its deepest, is about as high as the base of my fuel tank, and just below the air intake box...I hope. If it takes in water, the bike will be rendered useless and require significant repairs. I think to myself, I can turn around now and avoid this ominous pass, forfeiting the Cape York leg of my trip. I also know instinctively that I will invariably arrive at this rite of passage again and again if I am to continue.

It’s time to decide.

I mount my bike and secure my helmet while considering the potential traps that lurk ahead: I could lose balance, dropping my bike, due to the pressure of the water’s flow; the water’s higher than anticipated and the bike dies midstream; but worse still are the myriad unknown possibilities that I can’t even anticipate. A cacophony of possibilities engulfs my head, entangling with a lifetime of experiences that both exacerbate and challenge my visceral dread.

I’m reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that seems to have reified in my psyche: ‘Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen’. I decide to ride ahead.


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