Lee Atkinson braves helmet hair and heavy rain on a motorbike from Adelaide to Sydney.
My boyfriend's a bikie. Not your big-bellied, long-haired, scruffy-bearded, tatts-and-black-leather type of bikie; more your built-for-comfort-not-for-speed type of bikie who likes to spend Sundays on his old Ducati visiting wineries and seaside restaurants, although he does wear black leather, and did, I'm told, have a flowing mane of long hair in his more rebellious youth.
I, on the other hand, am more your Audi TT convertible type of girl and, while I don't mind a nice two-hour ride and a long lunch, the idea of spending a week in the pillion seat riding across the country is not high on my let's-do-this-on-our-next-holiday list.
But bikerboy has other ideas and when given the chance to borrow a new Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic for a week, he comes up with the idea of meeting me in Adelaide after a business trip. Rather than a quick two-hour flight home to Sydney, he suggests taking five days and riding back. "You'll love it," he grins. "It's an armchair on two wheels. It'll be the ultimate road trip."
Day one: The grape escape, Adelaide to Coonawarra
I'm sitting on the floor of our room, surrounded by a mountain of clothes and business papers. Forty minutes later, after much huffing and puffing by BB, who's muttering about what it will do to the suspension, we've squished the essentials, including my laptop, into the panniers and we hit the road in a storm of chrome and leather.
Up and over the Adelaide Hills and east through a series of forgettable towns we go before turning off at Keith, where we stop for a truly awful sausage roll at a roadhouse, and head south to the Coonawarra.
Unable to chat as we travel (possibly BB's ulterior motive), I spend the next hour wondering who Keith was and what you have to do to get a town like Keith named after you – and counting the number of dead bugs that have collected on my visor.
Dusty, dry paddocks full of hungry-looking sheep give way to endless fields of green grapes slithering in long, straight lines over the horizon. By the time we hit the too-cute town of Penola, I'm more than ready for a long lunch and some wine tasting. Shame about the helmet hair.
Day two: Follow the rain to Bendigo
It's raining. The weather gods have sick senses of humour. The country's been in drought for too long to remember, but as soon as we decide to take a road trip on a bike, it pours.
It's cold, my helmet's leaking and even my underwear is wet. I decide that being a little bit miserable is like being a little bit pregnant, or a little bit dead – it's all or nothing.
We spear through the Wimmera, rendered monochromatic by the blanket of torrential rain, lonely gum trees appearing and disappearing in the grey mist as we ride past.
I amuse myself by counting the number of brownie points bikerboy has lost by dragging me on this trip and wonder about Donald and whether the town planners were really serious when they proclaimed their town as the "capital of duck country". Bet the annual "Donald duck shoot" gives the local kids nightmares.
We make a joint decision to abandon our original travel plans and steer towards a gap in the clouds on the horizon. We end up in Bendigo – and it's still raining.
Home to one of the finest collections of Victorian buildings of any inland city in Australia, a legacy of the 1850s gold rush, the wide streets are lined with majestic, richly decorated buildings, but we have no desire to do anything that means getting wet again. We hole up instead at the Golden Dragon Museum, checking out the world's longest, and oldest, Chinese imperial dragons.
Day three: High on the hog to Cootamundra
Sunshine. We head off before the line of black clouds on the southern horizon can catch up with us. BB begins to re-accrue brownie points when he adjusts the bike's CD speakers so I can hear music in the back and I discover that the acoustics inside my helmet do wonders for my singing voice.
We stop to peer at the ute up a pole at Deniliquin (home to the annual ute muster), have a beer at the famous Conargo Pub (every ute in Australia seems to sport a sticker from this pub), check out the old post office at Jerilderie, where Ned Kelly penned his now-famous Jerilderie letter, take a stroll down the beautiful main street of Junee with its verandas, grand old-style buildings and hitching rings, visit the house where Donald Bradman was born (now a museum) in Cootamundra and eat the biggest steak you've ever seen at the Cootamundra Central Hotel.
Day four: A vine romance in Orange
The weather holds (which is just as well, as we lost the wet-weather gear yesterday when our pannier burst open somewhere between the Conargo Pub and Jerilderie) and it's a lovely ride across the country heartland of NSW, all rolling hills, happy-looking sheep and green wheat fields. I'm getting bike-weary, though, so we call it a day in Orange and spend the afternoon wine tasting and lingering over a long lunch at a winery overlooking Lake Canobolas.
Day five: Across the Great Divide to Sydney
We decide to avoid the Sunday drivers dawdling through the Blue Mountains by taking the Bells Line of Road, a less-trafficked, more scenic route but ultimately more bumpy, although BB says the suspension's stuffed because I packed too much. Whatever – it's a nice day to be on the back of a bike as we wind through mountain villages ablaze with deciduous trees glowing red, gold and orange in the autumn sun. By lunchtime we're in Sydney, pulling off our boots for the last time. The ultimate road trip? It was lots of fun, and a great way to see the countryside, but not so good when riding past last night's roadkill or when stuck behind an aromatic cattle truck, and we'll not mention the rain. An armchair on two wheels? Let's just say I'm not quite ready to give up the dream of crossing the country in a TT convertible just yet.