I was out riding the other day, trying to beat a cold front home. We’ve all been there. A wall of cloud, bruised black, blue and purple surges across the sky and seems to be taking the quickest possible route to cut you off and soak you before you make it to shelter. The wind gusts and kicks, carrying with it a smattering of hard, stinging hits. Rain or hail? Hard to tell. Either way it’s not going to be fun when it really gets started.
I had my head down and my determination turned up to ten as I swept through one of three big roundabouts on the road towards home, the last stretch. And there, on the exit, I spotted it. A tool handle of some sort, brightly painted, lying in the concrete gutter, perhaps the victim of one too many bumps thumped by a tradie’s ute driven in a hurry. Chisel handle? File handle?
I could use a file handle, I mused, falling victim to distraction. I have about 23 files and only three or so have proper handles. And then the conversation started up inside my head.
“We could use a file handle.”
“You just said that.”
“We could, anyway. And its just back there. Free.”
“It’s about to rain, idiot. And hard.”
“Hey, I’ll get a bit wet for a file handle!”
“What? It was probably only a chisel handle anyway.”
“So? File, chisel, I’ll take it.”
“You’re kidding. Actually, I reckon it might have been the wooden handle from the end of a kid’s skipping rope. Painted orange.”
“I’ll take that. I can bodge it a bit and use it as a file handle. It’ll have character.”
“Forget it, it’s starting to rain properly now and whatever it was, that was kays back.”
“Maybe, but we’re turning around and getting that handle, right now!”
“What? Not really?”
Really. I turned the bike around and by the time I got back to the roundabout it was hailing, hard. And it wasn’t a file handle. It was a carrot.
I have always been a scavenger when I’m out on the bike. I seem to be blessed with an amplified sense of situational awareness, mingled with the instincts of a bower bird and the memory of a goldfish. The confluence of these virtues has often led to my wife running to the laundry in alarm, only to find that the infernal clanking noise was being caused by a trailer shackle, salvaged from a distant roadside, pocketed, forgotten and thus delivered into the gaping maw of the Electrolux top loading washer.
Like all habits that go on to become deeply ingrained, my scavenging started early, as a kid growing up in the country, riding a bicycle to school and regularly finding tools lying by the roadside. Another common conversation, this time between me and my dad, rather than my own argumentative brain:
“Dad, I found a half inch drive Sidchrome ratchet by the road! It’s perfect!”
“Hey yeah. It really is perfect.”
“That’d have to be worth, what, sixty dollars? Seventy?”
“Yeah, good try, kid!”
Before I was old enough to have a toolbox of my own, my dad’s benefited greatly from my keen eye and trusty schoolbag.
Years later I found that getting on a motorcycle brings mixed blessings for the dedicated scavenger. You cover a lot more ground, but because you cover it at speed, you potentially miss more worthwhile pickups as the roadside blurs past. And there’s no future in hauling your bike down from highway speeds to check out a promising glimmer in the roadside grass if there’s a B-double up your clacker. Also, it pays to curb your scavenging enthusiasm on group rides unless you spot a gold-plated dinosaur or something, because your riding mates will quickly take you off the invitation list if you’re forever pulling over to investigate roadside treasures. I have long since learned that the only three valid excuses for pulling over on a group ride are mechanical emergencies, desperately needing a leak, or spotting the fabled (and I suspect mythical) leggy Scandinavian backpacker who has a penchant for pathetic hairy middle aged motorcyclists.
Steadily-paced solo rides are where it’s at. Time to enjoy the sunshine, savour the road and vacuum the verge. Of course now that I’ve graduated to true Connoisseur Scavenger status, I rarely stop for the common stuff anymore. What’s common? Roadside staples are magnetic ‘L’ and ‘P’ plates (not very magnetic, after all) and trailer shackles. I stopped picking up the L-plates long ago, my collection swelling alarmingly after all my younger relatives graduated to full drivers licences. Shackles? I still stop for those every now and then because it’s not uncommon to speak to mates who are after a new one because there’s came undone…and fell off. Ah, the circle of strife.
Other common stuff includes screwdrivers and small spanners, in fact any tool small and light enough to gravity-eject from a ute, trailer or truck when the vehicle hits a decent bump. You sharpen up your searching on the bumpy sections, although of course the tired old joke holds true. “How do you avoid bumps in Australia? Stay off the roads!”
Of course there are real treasures, too. Expensive tools that somehow tuck-and-roll to the roadside without so much as a scratch. I have a ¼” Snap-On ratchet that’s unmarked. A digital vernier caliper that was still in its factory box. Perhaps best of all, a seemingly brand new set of high quality sockets that I didn’t even spot from the bike, but rather eyeballed just in time to avoid peeing all over it during a random roadside pit stop. With no other option to tote the newfound booty, I shoved the heavyweight box down the front of my jacket. I hit a bump on the way home and the box slid awkwardly and heavily down, squishing one of my spuds so hard that it made me feel genuinely nauseous. Totally worth it, though.
It pains me that scavenging today is no longer popular and, it seems, even frowned upon. Stopping by the roadside to pick up random stuff? Eww. How’s that gonna look on your Instagram feed? But perhaps there’s hope nonetheless. One of the kids on my street, a young up-and-coming hooligan who gets around on a ratty Ninja 300, drops in for a chat now and then, coincidentally when something on his bike needs fixing. He knows I’m a shed dweller and a bit fond of decent tools. I was out on the driveway sorting out the tyre pressures on my Tuono the other night when he pulled up on the green bike, all fanging exhaust and scuffed fairings. After the standard howyergoings he shrugged off his backpack, reached inside and raised an enquiring eyebrow as he dragged out an industrial-sized shifter with a bad case of gravel rash. “I found this on the edge of the roundabout just up the road from the shops. Not bad, eh? It’s gotta worth, what, forty bucks?”
Yeah. Nice try, kid…