Baton Pass: Game Time
The second half of the Darwin to Longreach expedition was to have a decidedly… different tone.
We would be picking up the ‘significant others’ of our riders, who would be crossing the Simpson with us in the truck.
That means no more potty mouth, sexist jokes or peeing in the middle of the road.
Now, I’m not licensed to drive a vehicle with paying passengers in this country. So it also means that I get to swap a steering wheel for handlebars, and my Billu Barber playlist for the the screech of a 400cc thumper.
Remember how we had to rebuild the guide bike in the woods?
When the boys put it back together, they had the good sense to ditch the stock piston for a high-compression Wiesco affair that eats fuel and shits power like an NFL player on a dialysis machine.
I masterfully backed the truck into its space at the caravan park we were staying and handed Magnus the keys… he was already shaking his head for any one of a million reasons.
The next day was go time.
Before we took off Magnus looked at the souped-up DR-Z, then to me; “It’s perfectly straight. No dents, no dings.”
“I aim to keep it that way, sir” I replied, folding my arms and straightening my back.
He looked bike at the bike, and with half a laugh; “You won’t.”
We powered out of town and headed toward Finke, following the route of the race we had spectated about two months prior. The race track is right next to the main road. I mean, right next to it. They criss-cross at a handful of points, and there’s not much more than a few scruffs of camel grass between road and rack for the rest of the time.
Carl and Bruce were into it straight away. Carl had completed the actual race years prior, and came into his element as soon as his wheels hit the bumps. I heard the crack of his exhaust, then barely had time to yield as a blur of blue riding gear and black plastic flew past me and into the horizon. There was no question he was on familiar territory.
With my pledge to keep the motorcycle intact at the front of my mind, I approached the course with a bit more caution.
Hunched over the bars going just fast enough to clear the whoops, I picked my way down the course at peewee pace.
Sweating and scrambling to stay straight, I heard a familiar voice come through the helmet comm.
buzzbuzz “How you goin’ mate? You don’t have to respond, but let me tell you something- straighten up and drop a gear. It’ll get a whole lot easier.”
It was Magnus- I was so wrapped up in staying upright I hadn’t even noticed the truck running parallel to me on the main road.
I heeded the tip and indeed, picked up another ten KPH easily.
buzz “That’s the way, you’ll catch Grabbo [2011 Finke Champion] in no time.”
Here I was, riding a superenduro bike on the Finke Desert Race track, getting tips in my helmet radio from a motorcycling guru in a support truck. Bloody. Brilliant.
The truck steamed ahead and crossed the track to head for a campsite near Finke river, the other riders and I following over a few deep dunes.
By the time we pulled up I had an all new level of respect for the Finke competitors… I had ridden a quarter of the track at a fifth of race speed and I was knackered. I can no longer deny the size of kahunas necessary to complete the race.
The river we camped near was bone dry; a wide stream of sand cutting through the desert gully.
We tried to tow some firewood out, but the power-to-weight ratio just wasn’t there.
But since the bike was already in the sand, Magnus took the opportunity to put on a clinic.
He had me hop on the bike in the middle of the river to see how far I could get. But after all the revving and pushing I could muster, the only movement I got out of the rear wheel was down into the sand.
The captain took the reigns and showed us how the pros do it.
“Start in second, and rev the piss out of it.”
Words that would ring true in my head for the rest of the trip.
He released the clutch and took off down the river, made an easy 180 and was next to me again facing the other way before I was finished shaking my head.
I mirrored the technique, and sure enough the tire bit and propelled me down the river. Using about four times the space Mags had to make the turn, I slowly gained steering control of the bike by shifting my weigh on the pegs rather than turning the bars.
“Aaand that’s sand riding.”
Returning to the camp site I felt like I was getting the hang of this… and was happy to have kept the bike intact as promised so far.