TWOWHEELS AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE
Twowheels Australia, September 2009 issue (Australia)
BORN TO LEAD
In enterprise of martial kind, when there was any fighting, Groff led his regiment from behind. He found it less exciting.
“—leadership sometimes requires difficult decisions. Doing nothing isn’t easy as it looks—“
I flunked the presidency of the SR500 Club for one year. I didn’t accept the nomination the following year to avoid the embarrassment of being voted out of the office. I wasn’t a particularly bad president but I am not a natural leader. I was replaced by a gruff truck-driver named Andy who clearly is no graduate of charm school. He’s so popular, though, he’s been the president two years running. I think the difference between us is he’s comfortable with responsibility.
Reclining on the upper deck of a Chinese junk in the middle of Halong Bay in Vietnam was a strange place to be thinking about this but an email from ex-Streetbike columnist, Ned Shaw, was pushing me into the spotlight of leadership again. As usual, it was my fault: I’d circulated an electronic postcard telling everyone what a great time I was having. The intention of this was to demonstrate that my life was better than theirs and to encourage jealousy and resentment, but Shaw read it as a suggestion that the Lemmings MC and friend organise a similar trip and share my pleasure.
Vietnam, at the moment, is a pretty amazing place. It didn’t really open itself up to tourism until the mid-’90s and it still has the natural freshness that Bali is said to have had in the 1960s. Outside of the city, the locals are genuinely pleased to see you and the relationships are uncorrupted by commerce. I discovered this on a motorcycle trip organised by Offroad Vietnam. There were just three of us with a guide. We loafed around the countryside on Honda trail bikes and stayed with families in small villages. This was in the north-eastern region which is heavily populated by ethnic minority tribes. The scenery was eye-watering and the cultures fascinating. There aren’t any straights in rural Vietnam – just a succession of corners joined by smaller bends.
Around 70 per cent of vehicles on the roads are motorcycles, the rest being giant trucks and buses driven by drug-crazed, sleep-deprived opium addicts who long ago lost the will to live. If overtaking on blind corners was an Olympics sport, Vietnam would be gold medalists.
It means you tend to ride slowly and great caution but this is good because it gives you the chance to enjoy the environment. A typical six-hours in the saddle might only take you 180 kilometres. Every roadside stall sells beer, there are no booze buses and the police ignore westerners anyway as hardly anyone outside Hanoi speaks English. Besides, the police have enough on their hands with the local population. Helmets became compulsory two years ago but not everyone has the message yet. The villages are poor but everyone is busy. The kids, in particular, look happy and healthy. It was a trip full of bliss.
I didn’t need to, of course, but I probably talked it up a little in the reports I dispatched, generating enough interest for a gang of others to desire a similar experience. Who would organise this? Who was the only one who had some direct knowledge? Why is everyone staring at me?
Anh from Offroad came up with a seven-day itinerary which included sections along the mountainous border with China. Outstanding. I circulated it along with the following note in an attempt to discourage participation.
“It’s important that everyone understands this is a motorcycle adventure in a developing country. The hire bikes are mechanically good but a long way from new condition. The accommodation will often be in stilt houses belonging to locals. This will involve in sleeping on mattresses (usually very hard) on a wooden floor in a shared environment. Think sleepover in a country church hall. Mostly, there will be no alternate accommodation, meaning if you’re uncomfortable, you just have to put up with it. The food is good and there’s plenty of it but, again, mostly, you won’t have any option to whatever is being served. As your parents probably used to say, “is it or go without”. The trip will be worthwhile but only if you’ve adapted your expectations to local conditions and you’re physically capable of some discomfort.”
It didn’t work. By the time I got back to Melbourne, Guy Allen had collected a list with around 25 names on it. I’d told Offroad maybe five or six. I contacted them again to find out what the limits were.
“We’ve only got 15 bikes left for January – 10 Honda 160 roadies and five XL125s – and I can’t guarantee they’ll be available unless you book quickly.”
I looked at the list again. Jesus – Snag wants to take his kids. Who are Sandy and Phil? Oh, the owners of the restaurant we go to in Little Vietnam every week. At least they speak Vietnamese. I couldn’t even find anyone I didn’t like and could cull on that basis. Allen wasn’t much help.
“How, exactly, are you going to decide who can’t come and how are you going to tell them?”
“What about Steve? He’s going to hate sleeping on the wooden floor.”
“So he can’t come because he’s too rich?”
“I’ve slept with half these women – there’s going to be trouble.”
“That would be an interesting line in the supplementary regs – trip only available to women Groff haven’t slept with yet.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Why didn’t you think about this in advance?”
I good leader would have done that, I suppose. It wouldn’t be a problem for Andy from the SR500 Club: he’d just tell the truth. That’s out of the question for me – I have a reputation to protect. The one glimmer of hope is that Blackbourn and Robin have already dropped out and natural attrition might get the numbers down to manageable level. It’s not until January.
Allen was scathing. “That’s your solution? You’re just going to do nothing and hope the problems go away?” It’s fine for him but he doesn’t understand that leadership sometimes requires difficult decisions. Doing nothing isn’t easy as it looks.
Blackbourn wrote a very gracious email explaining why they couldn’t come but the pleasure it gave me undermined somewhat by the post-script: “We’re both still very committed to loM for 2011.” Geeze, I’d forgotten about that—tw
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