As someone who have lived in Vancouver and Melbourne, it was a confusing feeling to be able to Google Map any location in central Cairns and find out everything is under 10 minutes from each other.
Coastal city dwellers know that waterfront property comes at a premium and bridges and esplanades create traffic jams and bottlenecks. Try going over Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge at peak hour. If there's an accident on the bridge, tell your wife you may not come home that night. Melbourne's bridges get stuffed up under normal traffic conditions but the CBD (downtown) was gridlocked for 4 hours when an accident happened on the Westgate.
Cairns is a tiny city with many locals choosing to live away from the CBD. The CBD is mostly left to the tourists while the residents enjoy their quiet jungle life with the better scenery. You can't blame them, crocodiles inhabit the waters here and the greenery in the surrounds are to die for. Not literally, of course, unless you have a chain that hangs like sleeve of wizard.
Oh shit, my chain!
I happened to arrive in Cairns on the hottest day they had in several years (for that time of year). The cape is also home to the world's oldest rainforest - The Daintree - and boasts humidity levels of 90%. As a result, it's really, really green and really, really wet. It's also damn hot. I couldn't even get on Sheba until 3pm because she sat baking in the sun. I tried cooling her down with a bubblebath but the water absorbed as soon as it came out of the sponge. Oh the streaks! Then I tried covering her handlebars with my kevlar jeans and the seat with a hoodie. My once black Kevlar jeans are now 50 shades of grey - the sun changed the pigment of the dye as it sat out there.
As I waited for Sheba to be rideable, I called 8 shops including MotoHeaven in Melbourne. Nobody had a rear sprocket for Sheba. When you change out a chain, you should change the metal discs that guide the chain so that the whole thing is new and healthy. Otherwise, they just degrade each other prematurely. Nobody had Suzuki parts and most had to order it in, which of course was now delayed by the cyclone.
Finally, Wayne Leonard Motorcycles had a rear sprocket that was 2 teeth bigger and a front that was 1 tooth bigger. It's not perfect gearing but it will work just fine. After hopping on my bike and riding her down the block (with all her cargo off) it seemed like it would be fine to ride her 6 minutes down the road. I turned onto the main road and then the lurching reappeared. Basically, it's anything faster than 20kph. It was like being on a horse that was hallucinating wildly. My jaw got sore from clenching my teeth all the way down the street. 6 long minutes later, I made it to the shop 4 minutes before closing.
Thankfully, one of my Perth hosts is the founder of a women's group and asked her Western Australian members if they know anyone who can help fit a chain since the bike shops were closing. Amazingly enough, Robyn (a member of the WA riding group) swiftly contacted their friend in Cairns who then texted me his address. Holy shit... we were connected in the 4th degree. That's bikelife for you, riding communities show their true colours when a rider is in trouble.
Ash was only 13 minutes from the CBD so I started to make my way there. It turns out he's located out of the city and into the hills. 40 minutes of tight-sphincter riding and I was there at the front of his house. The heat hadn't let up at all and it was now 6pm. I rolled in and slowly tried to relax each muscle one by one. His gorgeous wife Kate came out with a big smile.
"Take your clothes off and get in the pool! It's hot! I'll find you a suit."
I was shuffled into the house and I don't remember much but in an instant my gear was off and I was standing in their living room in my bra and underwear. Sheba was whisked away to the shed behind their self-built pool. Clutching my little parcel of chains and sprockets, warily holding it in front of my body like it somehow protected my dignity (which didn't exist at this point), I walked over to the shed barefoot and started apologising profusely to Ash. I'm a soppy, tangled mess with moto gear imprints all over my body, and this guy goes to give me a big hug.
"Get in the pool!" He exclaimed after reassuring me that being in my underwear is fine. Kate and their daughter, Willow, were also cheerfully enjoying the evening. It would be an understatement to say I was taken care of.
After we all cooled down substantially in both body and mind, the ladies shuffled away to prepare dinner while I went to the shed with Ash. He had suspended Sheba from the ceiling using some kind of hoist around the footpegs. It actually worked quite well. There was no trouble getting the rear tyre off but the front sprocket had welded itself into the bike. With some Aussie ingenuity (or maybe just Ash being inventive) he somehow got it off and we had to use a grinder to get the existing chain off. "Loose" was not exactly the term used to describe this damn chain. "Rekt" is probably a better term. Maybe "disastrous". Either way, when we held it laterally, it became a rainbow. A healthy chain should be completely straight like an arrow. This thing was fucked.
We had to take a couple links out of the new chain to fit my bike. Nothing a grinder can't fix. His son also came to help and I was really impressed at the mechanical knowledge he acquired even though he was a young dude. He was very mature and loved to help out, doing pretty much half the work of his dad and triple checking every bolt he worked with. Someone please hire him. His whole family restored my faith in humanity.
To make the chain a continuous loop, the final link has to be pinged on with a special tool that not many would have sitting in their garage. Ash used a pick and hammer to get the job done and it looked exactly like the job on my own chain. We spun the tyre around a few times and it was smooth as butter.
After enjoying a delicious tuna casserole with my new adoptive family for the night, I geared up and set off down the road. The feeling of a new chain after riding a bucking bronco for 250km? Smooth sailing stallion.
I put on my favourite song and we glided down the hill in complete darkness, just the two of us, making it 'cuz we tried. It was an 11 minute ride back to the Airbnb (unlike the 40 minutes it took to get there) and we even circled the city a couple times just for fun. Cairns goes to sleep early and there was almost nobody on the road that late.
I parked her right out in front and gave her a big hug on the tank. My belly was full of tuna and pasta (a fantastic combination in my opinion) and my mind was suddenly clear. Needless to say, I slept well that final night in Cairns.
This post is dedicated to Sandra, Robyn, Ash and his family. Thank you for saving my life.