My BMX had white tires. It was a cheap knock-off brand from K-Mart, but I rode the life out of it. I had initially wanted something cooler like a Mongoose, but I knew I this was a pipe dream fuelled by watching the movie BMX bandits. My family had little money for such indulgences. In those childhood years I took what I could get, and what I got one birthday year was a functional yet basic BMX. Despite its lowly status, my BMX did everything I needed it too and I was thankful.
I made custom modifications to my BMX, as boys often like to do with their machinery. The trend in the early 90s was to use Spokey Dokeys. Spokey Dokeys were coloured plastic beads that you would clip on the wheels. As you pedalled they would move up and down, making a pleasing clickety-clack sound. I used to pretend that it sounded like an actual motorbike, until the day my friend Shane showed me an even cooler modification: using a clothes peg, you attached a little piece of cardboard to the wheel so that it would flutter in between the spokes as you pedalled. This was advanced BMX modifications 101. It sounded a lot more like a motor than the Spokey Dokeys.
Part of the thrill of riding a BMX is to ride as part of a gang. My own BMX gang roamed the streets of rural Warragul in a spirit of adventure which had no clear goal in mind. A motley gathering of about five misfits, after school we would grab our bikes and head off to different locations around town in search of intrigue. Favourite destinations were the Kiah Park nature reserve, the so-called snake-pit off Edinburgh St and the creepy cult house up towards the local cemetery. This house has remained the same in the decades since- a two-story wooden building which one can barely glimpse due to the dense foliage and trees blocking passing views. To be fair, it was not verified fact that the occupants (who no-one ever saw) were part of a cult, but it sure seemed that way. Either that or they were serial killers.
My own true love, however, was to get away on my own.
On the occasional weekend, I would take my BMX out for little road trips. With my trusty backpack, I would take my snacks (mostly a cheese and Vegemite sandwich and piece of fruit) and head out into the countryside to see what I could find. Most of the time these were uneventful, but I found them therapeutic. I loved the feeling of endless open space. As I built up my confidence I would travel a little further each time, gradually pushing the geographical boundaries of what I and my BMX were capable of. This all took place in the days before everyone was paranoid about everyone else being a dangerous criminal, and so my parents were relatively carefree about my pilgrimages to various outposts surrounding Warragul.
A favourite trip was to ride through a local park where the town council kept an old steam locomotive as a testament to a bygone industrial era. Once there I would crawl all over the locomotive and examine every square inch of this strange beast. I travelled to this site just last year and the locomotive has since been removed. I felt a sadness wash over me looking at the bland strip of grass where the locomotive used to sit. Must everything be a war on history?
There was this one time I got real adventurous: I decided to ride my BMX along Brandy Creek Road for as far as I could before I got scared. I was headed nowhere in particular, but I harboured a secret ambition to one day ride as far as Rokeby- a tiny farming town about fifteen minutes drive down the road. At Rokeby I could have parked my BMX
alongside the lake and skimmed some rocks. But it wasn’t to be. On this day I only got as far as the driveway to Mary Seabrook’s house, which was only a kilometre or so outside Warragul. I got increasingly worried that I was going too far and that I might be kidnapped or run over. The noise of the cars as they approached behind me was mildly terrifying. I didn’t trust drivers.
It was near the letterbox to the Seabrook’s that I decided to park my BMX. I sat and watched the wheels turn as they slowed down to their resting position. I glanced over toward the Seabrook’s house, which stood at the end of a long driveway. It was a solitary, melancholy house that sat perched on a hill overlooking the countryside. Mary’s husband shot himself in the chest with a shotgun some years before, and I wondered if this gruesome act took place on the property. Perhaps it was haunted. What would it be like to explore this location at night time?
I ate my sandwich as I observed the mountains surrounding the town. In the distance, I could see the towering pinnacle of Mount Worth. I noticed that it was covered in trees. In fact, the whole panorama before me was so very green- the depth of which I have not seen since. It had been a sunny day but there was a crisp, fresh breeze building by the late afternoon. As I sat I closed my eyes and felt the wind blowing across my face. I imagined I was the captain of a ship and was on a daring sea voyage. It was a nice feeling.
After some time I gathered my backpack and prepared myself for the return journey. The shadows were growing long in the late afternoon sun. I loved this time of day precisely because it frightened me. The shadows signalled danger, and my mission now was to keep myself moving ahead of the encroaching darkness before anything bad happened to me. It was a manufactured sense of impending doom of course, but the strange tingling sensation felt good throughout my body.
As the darkness grew, the headlights of the cars behind me shone ominously over my BMX as they overtook me furiously pedalling along the side of the road. I felt like I was in the spotlight of some interrogation, except I couldn’t defend myself because I couldn’t see exactly who was advancing on me. All I knew is that I had to pedal faster and faster. Eventually I caught sight of the lights of the local Milk Bar around the corner ahead. I knew once I got there I would be safe. From there it was not too far to my house, and the streets from that point on were all lined with homes with their lights on.
I made it home safely and rejoined the noise and clamour of my family. My BMX was stored safely in the empty space under our house, where it would endure the stuffy darkness until the next afternoon’s adventure. Despite walking into a flurry of family activity, I was still imagining myself out by the Seabrook’s letterbox, planning future trips to the faraway vistas I had observed that afternoon. I had done well to make it as far as I had, but I promised myself that next time I would go even further.