Topic: Trail Blazer by Margaret Fearn

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

“Here she comes,” the cry would go out as I neared the Hau Hau sawmill situated near the main road.  One of the men would race to the hose and turn it on me.  They did this every morning.  There was no way of avoiding them as this was the only route into town from the valley.  Even if it wasn’t raining, I would arrive at work wet through, so I always carried a change of clothing in my saddle bag.

 

‘The Red Terror’ was my nickname.  I had a red motorbike, wore a red corduroy jacket and a matching helmet.  Eventually I brought a tin of black enamel paint and gave my bike a facelift.

Riding down Revell Street in Hokitika was an event.  Customers and shopkeepers would crowd the doorways to see this phenomenon – a women riding a motorbike! My grandmother was horrified when she visited from Christchurch.

“Oh, Margaret,” she warned me in her plummy voice.” You’ll never be able to have children.”

An old neighbouring farmer used to point at the dredge tailings of piled up boulders which snaked in high rows behind the valley houses.

“See those piles of rock’ girl?” One day you’ll be buried under them with your bike on top for a tombstone.” (A warning to other foolhardy females, perhaps?)  Then he would go away muttering and shaking his head.

 

I didn’t care. I loved my James 125cc. Not a large bike but fast enough to warrant my father installing a governor to curb me a little.  I had written to a Christchurch dealer as there were no motorbike shops on the Coast back then.   After receiving a reply telling me they had several small bikes suitable for a girl to ride, I caught a train to the city.  I had set my heart on a Vesolette but signed up for “James”. Weather it was the colour that hooked me or a persuasive salesman, I don’t know.  I returned to the Coast and my bike was despatched by rail a few days later.  Now, I had to learn to ride it.

My first attempt was interesting.  I started it, put it into gear, forgot the clutch, didn’t know where the brakes were and shot down the long drive, over the road and down a steep bank into a large patch of blackberries.  Of course, this was into front of an audience so I gave them a great show!

 

James and I soon became mates, although he was temperamental especially after refuelling. Oil had to be mixed with the petrol, and if it wasn’t the right ratio, he either refused to go or smoked like a blocked flue.   From then on I was never home.  He was my passport to freedom.  No more push biking over miles of corrugated, unsealed road to get anywhere.  We just flew over them.

By this time the boy I was going out with decided to buy a bike as well. His was a larger beast, a BSA 350 twin.  I rode it a couple of times, but was more content to be pillion passenger, hugging him tighter than I really needed to.  He lived at Kowhitirangi and lived up the Arahura Valley, but distance was nothing with the combined horse power of our two machines.  A crowd of us would gather at Boot’s milk bar in Hokitika and hang about drinking soda and shake, talking and listening to the latest tunes on the jukebox. Lined up outside would be a row of big powerful bikes, Norton, Triumph, AJS, Matchless, BSA and James. No scooters were welcome.  We called them “kerosene cowboys”.

Over the next few years, my faithful companion and I had all sorts of adventures, with two major ones standing out.

I was running late for work, as usual. I tried to beat the dredge bus which was approaching from the other side of the one-way wooden bridge, and, skidding on the ice hit the bridge, giving myself a shiner.  The bus was full of Dad’s shift-mates, so of course he knew about the incident long before I arrived back home.

Another time I was travelling to Kowhitirangi, and as I rounded the corner in front of the hotel, I spun out on loose gravel, unaware that the grader had spread it earlier in the day.  I provided a wonderful demonstration of fling as the patrons rushed from the bar.  I shot over the embankment still hanging onto the handlebars, and landed inches away from the creek below.  I was helped up while someone else found my show which had shot off my foot.  I received only a few cuts and bruised but no other injuries – except to my pride.

James and I sadly parted was prior to my wedding and BSA was also sold to purchase a car. It was something we had thought neither of us would ever do.  I’ll never forget James though.

My first love.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/MC3E-U4CX

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