Just in case anyone’s planning a camping trip of their own I thought I’d grace the internet with my culinary genius in this semi-instructional video.
Drop me a line if you improve on my recipe, I’ll try anything twice.
Everyone said to go north from Fremantle this time of year. That makes sense, because here in upside-down America north is where the warm this. I know, I still haven’t gotten used to it.
But the 4×4 book I had requisitioned tempted me with a “circuit designed for off-roading and great places to camp” near the town of Waroona, about 150 kilometers south of Perth.
That’s less than 100 miles. How different could the climate be?
If that sounds like another ironically foreshadowing lead-in… it is one.
Waking up at the crack of noon on whatever day it was, I saddled up and headed south. I was no more than five minutes on the road before I started bitching to myself in my head.
My shoulder ached from the Camelbak full of tools I was wearing. My payload of camping gear and food was taking up some prime seat real estate, and consequentially my man gear was being vice-gripped between the fuel tank and myself. Since I couldn’t fit my jeans and MX pants in a bag, I had them both on at once which was not helping the scrotal suffocation situation one bit.
By the time I got over that I had forgotten which highway I was looking for to get to Waroona. Luckily that situation resolved itself when I realized there was indeed only one option, and down it I went.
After about 60 kilometers I had to get off the highway. It was noisy, wobbly and boring. Not to mention the tires I had fitted were heavily off-road biased and did not wear well on pavement.
So I hit an exit and ticked “Avoid Highways” on my GPS, hoping there’d be a more colorful route to this supposed 4×4 circuit I was heading for. I wasn’t disappointed as the bitumen quickly gave way to dirt. Even better, after about 20 minutes I was on a sandy little farm track that was somehow declared a road by my basic Garmin map set.
My first real solo off-roading, how exciting! Where will this track go? What would I find? How long would it be until I did serious damage to my body or equipment?
I came up on a water crossing and stopped the bike for a butcher’s. What I guessed was usually a bee’s dick brook had turned into a full-blown pond on the track due to all the recent rain. I figured it was well worth walking before attempting to cross with the bike.
I took a few steps and sank two feet down into a sticky, poopy, mud pit.
“Godamit,” I grumbled as my boot took on water. I was less than pleased with the additional discomfort.
“Well… that’s why we walk obstacles first,” I said to the cows enjoying the show from behind a fence. I decided to stuff it and find another way around. There was at least another 15 meters of water to negotiate beyond where I walked. Plus the triumph of a successful crossing would pale in insignificance compared to the inconvenience of dumping the bike in the cow poop creek, and with an attitude like that I knew I had better take a step back.
Can always give it a go on the way home if I feel so inclined, I thought as I showering frogs with sand in an aggressive retreat 180.
It wasn’t hard to find a bigger track heading my direction, and I arrived in Waroona mid-afternoon.
Stopped for a fuel up I was approached by an old guy on some massive road-touring bike. The thing was ugly as sin and sounded like it was powered by an electric razor, but I’ll always entertain a yarn with another rider.
“You’ve come a long way, mate,” he said “and on those tires!”
Who was this, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of motorcycling? How did he know where I was coming from? Fortunately my idiocy was trumped by deductive reasoning before I opened my mouth. Of course; the DR-Z was wearing a Queensland license plate which was indeed a very long way away.
I thought about talking about my job and how I had gotten there, but my tank was almost full and I really didn’t feel like yapping.
Nah, let him think I just crossed the country with a 17 liter fuel tank and a gym bag.
“Aye, it’s been a bit of a ride,”
He just shook his head and laughed as he pushed off like a sea barge with the wrenching of his throttle, which caused me to have the same reaction.
I buzzed over to a billboard-sized map of the area that was conveniently located across the street from the Caltex.
There was a maze of turns from “You Are Here” to where the roads became dotted lines, which I interpreted to mean dirt tracks.
Okay take a left there, straight for a bit, a few bends… I am never going to remember this.
From the looks of the map, the dirt roads were as plentiful as promised by the book that had lead me here. Memorizing directions would be boring, and getting my own map out would take time so I decided just to head east, where the dirt roads were, and worry about specific roads or routes later. If at all.
I started looking for a camp spot as soon I was out of shouting distance from Waroona. I knew it would take donkey’s years for me to get set up and I wanted to minimize post-sunset firewood collection- cause we all know dark forests are scary.
I found a nice dry, rocky spot about 50 meters off the road and shut the bike down. Seemed good a place as any. Setting to break out my payload, I discovered my bag had melted where it was resting on the taillight. Guess that little globe retained a bit more heat than I would have expected… and my waterproof bag no longer was.
No matter, I bought a roll of 100 MPH tape just for this purpose.
Zip, rip, slap, done. Sorted.
I unrolled my tent in all its K-Mart blue-and-red glory, had it up and loaded my gear in within seconds. Climbing in, I was dismayed to realize it taken all of 90 seconds for the tent to stink of foot and ass… as if it wasn’t hard enough to bring a chick home when you live in a tent. But, such is life on the road.
Firewood collected, cooking gear splayed out and noodles ready to boil, I had just one last thing on the agenda for the day- lighting a fire.
Which, of course, took hours.
My thumb was getting charred from flicking my lighter so many times when I considered giving up. But I had only brought heat-dependent food on purpose. I was going to cook out here, godamit.
I finally got the right combination of wind, leaves, and noodle packet wrappers going to make a wee blaze.
With my tin billy boiling, I triumphantly wolfed two packets of the hardest-earned $0.69 noodles I’d ever eaten.
I woke up the next day and got a proper fire going much more easily than I had the night before. I relaxed, cooked, ate, cooked some more. I was so pleased with myself that I had slept on rocks and made my own coffee in the bush that I hardly wanted to leave.
I made an early lunch of curried-spam with basmati rice, a recommendation from my boss that went off brilliantly.
But I was there to ride, so after a lengthy re-pack I was on my way down the track again, searching for some engaging off-roading.
A truck-sized path veering away from the main track that engaged my interest, so down it I went.
It got tighter and steeper, as paths do, and soon I was into an easy-but-stimulating ride, perfect start to the day.
As I mentioned earlier, the area is littered with similar trails. I explored the network for hours seeing great climbs, dips, ruts and even a few kangaroos (which I managed not to kill).
Just as I started hunting for the night’s campsite I passed a picture of a tent with an X through it, below the text; “Camp Only In Designated Areas”. Fair enough… I figured I must have been coming up on a campground.
I was, but not before the track opened up to a huge dry riverbed. A “5 Knots” speed limit sign looked strange in the middle of the dirt- the river was a kilometer wide at some points but there was hardly enough water to fill a jerry can.
It was a strange and beautiful sight, and made for an easy crossing. I hardly compressed the suspension as I bumped over the trickle of water flow at the river’s center.
On the other side of the river I found campfire pits, grilles and even a toilet. As far as campsites go, this was as “designated” as it gets. The place was empty as Chernobyl, so I figured I might as well take advantage.
A sign told me I was at Lake Navarino, and that the Waroona Dam was responsible for the lack of water. I didn’t investigate further, but I imagine they re-route the water in summertime for boat use.
There was no firewood to be seen near where I pitched my tent, so I grabbed some from the trail. Riding was sketchy at best holding down a pile of sticks on the back of the seat with a bungee cord and balancing a log on my knee, so I kept it in first gear but managed to retain almost all of the wood I had harvested.
With firewood collected and the tent set up, I took the opportunity to ditch my gear and go for a cruise down the 4×4 tracks unencumbered.
I had almost forgotten how much better the bike was to ride without gear on it. Almost.
I buzzed all over the place with a Joker-sized smile under my helmet, kicking up dirt and chasing kangaroos. The tracks near the camp were the perfect size for the DR-Z and I was really enjoying getting a feel for the dirt again.
In the evening I managed to get another proper fire going, boiled up some soup and went to sleep.
But the night was only just about to get interesting.
The wind, which had been a kitten’s sneeze when I went to bed, started hollowing like an Everglades fan boat.
And then even harder.
The tiny tent quivered, rattled, clung to the Earth for dear life.
I prayed that the slave children who sewed my tent had mastered their craft, because this evening would be a true test of the little nylon dome’s robustness.
I woke up again around six and noticed it was quiet.
Yes, too quiet.
I peered out of tent to look for the motorcycle- thank god, it was still upright.
But overhead thick, dark clouds cloaked the stars I had sought constellations in before bed.
No sooner had I decided that rain was inevitable when a crack of lightening ripped across the sky, followed waaay too closely by a gunshot thunderclap.
Like a thousand ball bearings dropping on an airplane wing, rain came down harder than I thought possible.
Wwwwwwow. That’s loud.
Should I bail now or wait it out?
In a few minutes the decision was made for me- those tent seams I had prayed for just a few hours earlier had had enough, and water was pouring into the tent at an alarming rate. Stay or go, I was going to be soaked in less than ten minutes.
I started packing my gear up as quick as I could. The rain showed no signs of subsiding and I seriously considered ditching the tent and making a run for it.
But leaving equipment behind would be both wasteful and pussyish; neither sort of behavior would be authorized on one of my expeditions.
Using the toilet as a staging-area I sprinted one piece of gear at a time into the handicapped-accessible dunny.
Next I pushed in the bike, tail-first so I could stay dry while loading my gear.
I had originally planned on staying one more night, but I had no way of cooking in this kind of rain and I was getting hungry.
Stuff it, I’ll head back to town.
Blasting out of the bathroom on a motorcycle like some kind of low-budget superhero I braced for wetness and snuck a peek at my GPS… only to be greeted by the “Acquiring Satellites” message.
The river I had crossed to get to the campground would be impassible in this much wet; the whole area would be sloppy and I’d never make it fully laden.
I had to find another way, so I struck into the forest in the direction I thought Waroona and the highway must have been in.
After three turns I started getting nervous. There were so many forks! I had almost forgotten which I had taken since leaving the campground, let alone how to get back. I looked to the GPS again, safely wrapped in a Zip-lock bag.
No go; still “Acquiring Satellites.”
I cursed into my helmet. My outermost level of gear was saturated with water, my fleece jacket was next to go.
Alright, time to relax. I need more experience riding in the rain anyway. This is what adventure riding’s all about, isn’t it?
I decided to turn around and retrace my steps… the trail was getting too skinny to be nearer to town.
I thought about giving the riverbed crossing a go after all. Worst case, I could take off the gear and walk it across. But mercifully, a sign I had missed earlier made itself apparent and I saw my way out on a nice, wide dirt track.
Creeping to the highway I emerged from the forest sopping wet to see my first waypoint; “Perth: 110.”
Alright. Let’s do it.
No cute little dirt roads this time, I just wanted this ride to be over as soon as possible.
Before I even made it to Route 2 my visor lens was impossibly fogged, teeth were chattering and every single article of clothing I had on was waterlogged.
The next 110 kilometers were every kind of miserable. But I’m glad for the experience, at least now I know I can ride in the wet.
It seemed like an eternity before I made it back to the hostel I had left from but make it I did, shaking off like a wet dog as I stormed reception.
“Please god tell me you’ve got a bed open,”
The guy behind the desk laughed; “Ya ya man, go get a shower and warm up I’ll check you in later.” Now that’s customer service.
Back in my room I inspected the gear, discovering the tape I had patched my bag with hadn’t been the most effective repair.
My clothes, x-rays and other documents were soaked. Luckily my computer was wrapped in a case wrapped in a waterproof bag wrapped in another waterproof bag and was okay.
I treated myself to laundry and a $4 coffee, leaving gear strewn all over the hostel to dry.
My next hospital appointment was the day after tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll be approved for further riding, in which case the next trip will definitely be north.
My first tour with OAT kicked off beautifully. Not only was I driving a massive vehicle I could never afford, but I got to dress like Steve Irwin and say cool things into a CB radio like “proceeding to rendezvous point.”
I still couldn’t believe my good fortune for getting this opportunity.
For the first few hundred kilometers I drove like a grandma. Slow, cautious, peering over the moon-sized steering wheel with trepidation.
But as I became comfortable with the truck, as one does, I started getting careless. Slow and controlled was NOT how these trucks looked on those YouTube clips I watched instead of doing my homework in college.
Wasn’t I supposed to be powersliding through sand and throwing up tsunamis of mud by now?
At the end of the third day there was one last creek crossing I had to negotiate before setting up camp for the night.
I was just four kilometers from the rally point, and I had passed through this creek twice already scouting the road for the bikes.
The previous times I had crossed in first gear, tiptoeing through like Magnus had taught me. But it was getting toward the end of the day and the guys would be wanting their beer. Surely going through in second with just a little more revs would be fine, right?
I came down the gully and dropped from third to second.
“This’ll be slow enough.”
The path I had taken the last two times was looking knackered and the creek was too stirred up to see the bottom. But I saw some rocks off to the side, and decided to use them to gain traction.
I scooted down the gully, into the creek, and started sliding away from the road up the river.
The gully was pretty steep on the other side- I thought I would need some power to climb out. So I squeezed the throttle even harder.
The truck’s momentum carried it a few meters up the hill, but with the tires humming and traction rapidly dwindling the vehicles own weight sucked it back into the creek.
“No no no no no!”
But it was too late, I was bogged and each revolution of the tires sucked them a few millimeters further into the mud. The engine revving/mud squishing sound could have come from a Saw IV soundboard.
In a full-on panic I grabbed the comm. and yelled/stuttered like Andy Kaufmann into the mic;
“Ah, M- Mags I’m, I’m, I’m stuck”
crrrk “Worse than last time?” crrk
Yeah, the day before I had buried the truck up to its axels in mud. Trying to park.
“Um, a lot worse”
The squadron of motorcycles came roaring back, each rider shaking his head with the same expression behind their goggles.
These guys had been searching for a way to give the American a hard time since we left the city, and this little incident opened the floodgates of abrasive Australian humor on me.
Magnus was more understanding than I would have expected anyone to be, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like a proper asshole.
I had overridden my instructions with my own methods and now I was costing everyone time because of it. Thank god the water didn’t make it up to the cargo bay where everyone’s bags, cameras, and iPods were staying dry.
Once we assessed the situation Magnus and I dug the wheels out as best we could and set up the recovery straps. Now we just needed someone to pull us out.
Hours went by and not a single car, truck or horse-&-buggy passed us.
Finally a chick in a Land Cruiser pickup rolled up, crossed the river easily and rolled down her window
“G’day fellas. Why’d ya park there?”
We lashed the straps from her truck to ours but alas, when she hit the accelerator all the Cruiser could do was spin its wheels while both vehicles remained stationary.
She disconnected the cables and started to head off, but not before telling us she worked at the station we had planned on camping at that night.
She promised to return with a machine that could pull us out.
Minutes felt like hours as we waited, and for me those minutes were practically eternities of feeling like the biggest dumbass on the road.
Finally the shelia from the station came back. With a machine.
We heard the rumble of a massive diesel engine and a twinkling orange light was rising over the crest of the gully.
The vehicle slowly revealed itself from the other side of the hill, as she crawled over the rise in a Case 950.
The “machine” she had referred to was a full sized construction loader with tires tall as me and more horsepower than our entire fleet of vehicle combined.
It was like watching the sunrise after ten years in a jail cell. That thing would pull us out.
She hitched a cable to our recovery point, pulled a lever and with a blip of the machine’s throttle we were out in seconds.
Uh, marry me?
The show was over and the boys rode off. I climbed back in the driver seat and headed forward dead slow. There was a puddle up the road Magnus’ voice crackled in over the radio
crkk “You alright on this one mate?”
Christ. This blunder would not be lived down anytime soon.
We finally got to the camp and I parked far away from the bikes. Shut the comm off, took a deep breath, and sauntering over to the team already bellied up at the bar.
In one fell swoop I had completed a trifecta of getting hopelessly stuck, held up the entire expedition and been rescued by a woman.
The Aussies had a good laugh or ten at my idiocy, which I completely deserved, but had the good heart to put a beer in my hand while I was razzed.
An Australian won’t soon let you live down a gaffe, but they insult endearingly and don’t hold a grudge.
The next day was easy driving to each rally point. I was firmly locked back in caution mode and determined to remain that way for the rest of my time behind this wheel.
At the last rendezvous with the bikes, I was to follow Magnus just four kilometers north to the camp site.
But the sandy, deserty track I had been driving on all day became increasingly difficult to negotiate as ruts sprang up and trees closed in.
This day’s drive would end up consisting of 300 trouble-free kilometers sand followed by four kilometers of the swampiest, tightest, most technical off-roading I had done in years. And I was in a godam 5-ton cargo truck.
Off-roading from the luxury box perspective is awkward and cumbersome. Where a Land Rover or Jeep keeps you near the center of the truck with a little slit of a windshield, the Isuzu placed you square on top of the front bumper with a movie-theatre sized windshield 20 centimeters from your nose.
At the point where the ruts on the track became craters I caught up to Magnus, perched on the BMW X-Challenge with his hand on his comm.
I had already learned that this was rarely a good sign.
crrk “Just keep it slow and take this bypass”crrk
He gestured to a pathetic turkey path not fit for a PowerWheels car.
I squeezed the mic on my comm; “Through there?”
I put the truck in first, leaned over the steering wheel and dropped a feather on the throttle, creeping around trees and onto the bypass.
Right turn, ok, straight, left tu-
ck “STOP!” ck
Mags was waving furiously.
“You’ve got to wait until the rear wheels are completely passed an obstacle before you turn”
What the hell was he talking about?
A quick glance in the mirror revealed that I had planted a sapling squarely into the side of the cargo bay.
I shook my head, backed up and tried it again.
This time I made it through, suspension creaking and tires making cacophonous love to the wheel wells- an annoying side effect of hard cornering with oversized tires under factory ride-height shocks.
I negotiated the next few turns trouble free and thought I was getting the hang of it. Then, Scrrrunnnch
Mag’s voice reverberated the comm; “You’ve GOT to stop doing that, man. WATCH those back wheels!”
Sorry, sorry! Jeezus this is a steep learning curve.
I executed about a 30-point turn and had myself on track again- pointed at a long, deep, soggy, bumpy, all-kinds-of-shitty stretch of swamp.
“All right mate, this is pretty soft stuff. You’ve got to power on, keep momentum and push through this”
I could not. Would not. Get stuck again. I had already whiffed two strikes and another pathetic display of dumbness would get me fired for sure.
Clutch in. Engage low range, engage 4WD, lock differential.
I pulled into first gear and hammered it.
The comm crackled “Go Go Go!” and Magnus jumped clear of the trucks path.
I was a wild rhino of half-controlled fury. Ruts tossing tires in the air, axels plowing through mud and my ass getting a brutal birthday spanking from the truck’s seat.
One more splash- and-
I was through. Praise the mud gods, I was hitting the long track to redemption. Couldn’t help but crack a smile; that was some Land Rover promotional DVD-style stuntin’.
ck “Nice. Don’t hit so many trees next time. Haha just kidding, nice work. But seriously watch my paint. See you at camp.” ck
I came up on the Suzukis next to Cockatoo Creek and parked to make camp. The riders even took a short pause from reminding me of yesterday’s rescue to congratulate me on bringing their beer in a timely fashion for once.
But before I had time to feel any shred of self-satisfaction I was overcome with by the repugnant smell of wet dog ass.
Now if you’re off-roading and you didn’t bring Fido, that can only mean one terrible thing.
I dared a glance under the truck’s engine and my fears were confirmed: a steady piss of coolant was erupting from a badly scarred radiator.
The drip eclipsed Magnus’ shaking head, already on the other side of the engine bay… the outback veteran had recognized the smell as well. In seconds one of our riders, a mechanic by trade, appeared also.
We looked at the drip, each other, back at the drip… and collectively uttered a four-letter assertion.
“It’s gonna be a long night,” Mags added despondently.
The fan was fractured, shroud was in tatters, and the radiator had received American History X treatment. We were 50 kilometers from anything resembling a road and there ain’t no OnStar service on Cape York.
So we set to removing the crippled components. We took the radiator to the creek and washed it like a couple Laura Ingals Wilder characters, ignoring the “No Swimming: Crocodiles” sign for the sake of the Isuzu.
We marked off the leaks (where it bubbled when held under water) and Mags patched it with QuickSteel after setting it by the fire to dry.
Drying precision engine components with a campfire- now we were on an adventure.
We crawled all over pulling, patching, and twisting to set things right by headlamp light. By the time we got to bed we had about three hours of sleep to enjoy until the next morning when we re-installed our bush-patched radiator, the trashed fan and what was left of the housing.
Poured in some water, said a few prayers, aaand fired it up.
But it was still leaking like Polish submarine.
That is, until we got some insight from another rider on the trip.
“Crack a few eggs in there,”
At this point we had nothing to lose, and plenty of eggs in the food storage cases.
Mags got a couple and cracked them into the radiator, hoping to give it some Sylvester Stallone strength.
We waited, the truck ran, and the drip… actually slowed down.
There was no time to argue with this coup of logic. We had to get the truck on the main road before it burned off the Rocky sprit now frying in its cooling system.
Mags took the helm of the truck and I followed on the BMW.
Truck roared out of the campsite… and got bogged.
Despite the situation being decidedly shitty, I couldn’t help but feel just a touch better about my own crashes after seeing the Master of All Things Off-Road stuck 50 meters into his drive.
We threw rocks under the wheels and shoveled dirt away as I lost about 10 pounds from doing all this in full motocross gear.
The truck got free, powered through the swamp and got bogged again. This time I stripped down but still managed to work up a solid tropical sweat fighting the death-grip of mud on the Isuzu’s massive tires.
Once the wheels stop moving forward, the start moving down. Quickly. It’s scary stuff when you’ve got a quarter-million dollar truck sitting on them.
After the second recovery it was smooth sailing, apart from having to stop the truck every ten minutes to add water to the radiator.
The egg trick had reduced the bleeding, but we were off-roading in the jungle for christsake- the only way to make the engine hotter would be to drive back to Boston through the center of the Earth.
The jungle track gave way to sand again, and Mags and I could pick up some more speed.
I was getting comfortable with the Bimmer and sprinted ahead of the truck. As we got further from the tree the sand got deeper. I had negotiated it easily in the then-undamaged Isuzu the previous day, but on a two-wheeler it was a whole different ballgame.
I was sliding all over the place, anxiously resisting the urge to tense up. A X-Challenge 650 is not a light motorcycle, and with the boss man right behind me I was NOT keen on making an ass of myself by putting the handlebars in the sand.
The lack of a rear-view mirror meant I had to turn my head around every minute or so to make sure I hadn’t left the truck in the dust.
After a nice long turn I slowed down and glanced back, expecting to see the truck a kilometer or so behind me. But instead of a sandy vista I saw the Isuzu’s chrome bullbar about a meter off my taillight, ripped fan roaring and driver laughing manically (I think).
I panicked and wrenched the throttle. The torquey Bimmer rewarded me with a satisfied grunt and surge of power, pulling my wheels straight and frame upright as if to say “Why didn’t you do this five kilometers ago?”
Indeed. The note from the Remus exhaust was so intoxicating I found myself forgetting that Magnus had mentioned the bike’s rear wheel bearing was near the end of it’s life. High speed is the secret to stability in the sand, and I allowed myself to indulge in this concept for a few hundred meters.
Still hoping to stay in visual range of the truck, I backed off the throttle to enjoy the sounds of the wind, birds …and my rear wheel bearing about to frag itself.
Like, any second.
I reeled the bike in and pulled over. A few minutes later Mags stopped and hopped out, concerned look on his face and WD-40 in hand. He already knew what was up.
I held up the rear wheel and gave it a boot- it was about as stable as one of those wagon-wheel chandeliers in a wild-west saloon fight.
“You had maybe… another kilometer before this wheel seized and threw you into the scrub.”
Great. I had incapacitated our first and second most expensive vehicles on my first tour.
We weren’t carrying any BMW wheel bearings and the truck wasn’t set up to carry another bike at the time.
The only option was to hide the bike in the bushes, mark down the GPS coordinates and recover it on another trip up here. Next month.
I started to protest… were we seriously going to leave this sweet BMW in the weeds? What if it got cold? Or lonely?
But Mags knew what he was doing and said reassuringly, “Happened to me a couple years ago, had to leave a Honda XR in the bush”
“Came back to get it a week later, fire had gone through and melted everything by the frame. Let’s hope for better luck this time, eh?”