Coalface Region TTR Touring
With a few days off on my hands after returning from Cape York, I seized the opportunity to get away from the daily grind and load up a motorcycle for a ride.
I wouldn’t have thought there would be much off-roading to be had close to Airlie Beach, but I’m glad to say I was quite mistaken.
Magnus had been kind enough to map out a route for me, so after the arduous process of packing I was northbound on the Bruce Highway, heading for Collinsville.
In an effort to keep weight down, I had a most rudimentary loadout.; tools, tent, food, fuel and water.
I still struggled to comfortably mount cargo on the bike, and encountered my first obstacle at the Bowen petrol station.
Hungry but determined to save my beef jerky stash for later, I braved a sausage roll that looked like it had been tanning on the shelf since 1990.
Like a fine whiskey, meat gets better with age. Right?
Naturally the decision proved regrettable as soon I as I powered up and pushed off. The extra kilo now in my gullet had thrown off the precarious weight balance I was running, and as I tried to bring myself about I slooowly felt the fuel tank give in to gravity and head for the pavement.
I landed with a thud and the engine sputtered to a stop.
After inspecting my bike and ego for damage, I brought the machine back to life and sped off before anyone could comment.
The road toward Collinsville was all paved, but after passing a few dirt roads shooting off towards small mountains I found a premium camp spot and started working on dinner- plain rice mixed with beef jerky.
This would also be my breakfast and lunch for the weekend. At least I can make a decent fire these days.
The next day I passed through Collinsville and felt obligated to have a look in town.
I strode into the “Town & Country” and walked into a sea of Hi-Vis shirts- the apparel of choice for hard-working Australian miners.
Could this be the Town & Country that Slim Dusty sings about?
All eyes were on me before I could finish walking through the door… something I’m still trying to get used to.
I had the feeling I’d get my ass kicked if I ordered the wrong beer so I played it safe and asked to have my water bottle filled. The cute Irish chick behind the bar smiled and obliged me while I tried to think of something clever to say to her.
But when she came back I was still coming up empty on pickup lines. A trend I resolved to buck sooner rather than later.
So I sped off toward the Bowen River and started scanning for dirt roads.
The route Magnus had shown me ran all the way to the south side of the river on bitumen roads, but my impatience got the best of me when I saw a skinny dirt track disappearing into the savannah.
After ten or so kilometers the dirt road devolved into two wheel ruts, which soon became single-track, and finally a southbound cow path.
This was true adventure riding- no destination, no changes of clothes and enough fuel to spend all weekend in the bush. I thought.
The track finally led me to the Bowen river. Wide as four busses are long, surrounded by boggy sand and beastly sinkholes.
The water was flowing quickly but the bridge was miles away… I had to have a go at crossing.
I stripped down to my jocks and waded in. Two meters out the water was still shy of my bollocks and I was starting to feel confident that this crossing was possible. But another step and the river floor disappeared. Tripping on a rock I fell face-first into the water and 500 horsepower of river started carrying me away from my equipment. Clambering through the fallen trees and scrub and lifted myself out of the water and sauntered back to the bike.
Great, now I could go another week without a shower.
The river proving impassible, I had no choice but to follow it west toward the bridge.
The terrain options were deep sand, loamy dirt, or hard packed savannah based on how far I wanted to get from the river.
Naturally I reckoned I was man enough to ride the sand all the way, so I tightened my cargo straps and grabbed a fistful of throttle for a running charge into the grains.
Half an hour later I was knackered.
The sand was much deeper than I had anticipated, and I was much suckier at riding in it than I had hoped.
Worst of all, I could still see the point I had left from thirty minutes ago.
I reluctantly conceded and gave the dirt a shot. I labored to get the bike up to the next level, but after another hour’s work of lifting, pushing and digging I was heartbroken to discover the sinkholes in the dirt were so deep and numerous that I could barely walk between them, let alone ride.
At this point I was famished and there wasn’t much sunlight left. I had no choice but to make camp and give it another go in the morning.
Waking up early the next day to a clamoring of gossiping birds, I packed up quickly and slowly picked my way toward the savannah.
I finally reached it, only to have my hopes of escape sliced in two by a razor wire cattle fence between my objective and me.
I threw my head back and allowed myself a dramatic howl.
The task ahead of me now was getting back through the holes, the dirt, the sand, the spot I tried to cross the river, and back to the cow path so I could run on the savannah side of the fence.
It was lunchtime before I made it, but I was pleased to be making progress again. Now I was running fast and furious over the open savannah land, throwing dirt and cow shit all over the place with the closest thing to a powerslide that an overladen TTR will allow.
I blew past the spot I stopped yesterday within seconds and charged west like a man on a mission.
After a few kilometers I came to a fork in the path I was following- left back into the sandy riverbed or right into the open plains. Based on my poor effort the day before, I had no choice but to head away from the river into open country.
Now I was heading into wildlands with no sense of direction and no clue how far I was from the road.
The odometer on the bike was broken and when stopping to check my GPS for an idea of how much fuel I had left, I was disappointed to learn I had left it on last night and depleted the battery.
I nervously shook the fuel tank and was answered with a frighteningly faint slosh. All that open-throttle sand riding, backtracking and bushwacking had devoured most of the TTR’s diminutive eight-point-five liter petrol capacity. And of course I had used my five liter emergency tank yesterday when I was too cheap to fill the main tank in Collinsville.
I looked around at the vast expanse of nothingness I was square in the middle of and half expected a vulture to land on my shoulder.
I had to make Collinsville my next objective- it was the only option for a refuel I’d have a prayer of making it to. But as a silver lining, I’d have the entire ride over there to think of something to say to that bartender chick when I got my water filled again.
Now the only question was; do I head back the way I came on the path, or keep heading north through the bush?
I decided to roll the dice- I saw some power lines in the distance and I was confident I could follow them back toward the main road.
The telegraph track was tough, but negotiable. I passed through a few gates I reckoned the power company wouldn’t want me opening, but it was piss off Queensland Telecom or die of thirst.
It was late afternoon when I heard a sound I never thought I’d enjoy- the unmistakable drone of tires on a paved bitumen road. Safety was close.
In and out of one last gully had me back in civilization and spared from a lonely evening of asking cows for directions.
I rode northbound to Collinsville with just enough weight on the throttle to propel myself forward.
Very, very slowly.
After a long day of nerve-wracking bush bashing I was elated to roll into sleepy Collinsville. Forget fuel, I was parched of thirst and busting for a poop from wolfing three bags of beef jerky the night before.
I marched back into the Town & Country with water bottle in hand, ready to drop some game on the backpacker bartender.
But there was no way I could have anything resembling a conversation with this kind of dump on deck. I had to hit the bathroom and lose some weight immediately.
I kicked the stall door down like a SWAT officer and let loose, reverberating the walls with a 5 megaton fart.
Ah, sweet relief.
But when the dust settled I had a most awkward realization- I could hear the television and conversations from the bar. In fact, quite clearly.
I peered out of the Men’s and met the same greeting of astonishment from the other patrons that I had experienced walking through the front door the previous day.
Don’t think James Bond could have pulled after a performance like that… let alone my unshaved and unshowered self.
I with a double headshake I got the hell out of there, fueled up and headed back to base.