Our second trip across Australia (eastbound) was unusually slick, easy, and relatively disaster free.
No, I’m serious!
We had a group of six riders from all over the world that all knew how to handle a bike, got on well and loved every minute of the trip.
I cooked up my famous chili twice, and had a few more cracks at damper in the camp oven. Magnus’ signature curry went down brilliantly as well… something I reckon I’ll miss between seasons.
The only major disappointment- and it was a big one- was the fact that one of our DR-Z’s dropped a big end bearing on the first day. That’s one thing we just can’t fix in the bush… so I had to give up the guide bike I was riding and once again was relegated to the passenger seat of the support truck for the entire six thousand kilometer punt across the world’s biggest island.
But…. at least I wasn’t in searing pain this time.
It was Magnus’ turn for that. The poor bastard was still nursing a sore abdomen and hip from his crash at Safari, having broken multiple ribs just ten days before driving over the Simpson desert.
True to his living legend status he toughed it out and muscled the truck, broke chains, and changed tires like an absolute animal without complaining. Too much.
The desert had a much different look to it this time around. More time had passed since the unusually wet rain season, and bush fires had ripped through a lot of the spindly camel grass that had covered nearly all of the Simpson when I rode it in August.
“Now that’s what I expected this place to look like.”
On the second to last day we came to the spot where I hit the kangaroo that put me in the Barcaldine hospital months earlier. Sure enough the carcass was still there, although it had almost completely returned to the Earth. I took a photo with him but resisted the temptation to grab a bike and do a burnout on his body… wouldn’t want the tire to stink for the rest of the ride.
When we arrived at Airlie Beach two days later, we hit the Mexican restaurant for one last team dinner and a celebration- it was the first year in OAT history for a Perfect 100% Season. Every client who started a trip, finished. The only people who bought nights in the hospital all year were Magnus and myself.
You know you’re in an exciting industry when every member of your staff gets hospitalized on the job.
That night we partied hard… apparently, because I have no clue how I got back into my hotel downtown when I woke up there the next day.
It was hard to believe the season was over. With literally tens of thousands of kilometers in trucks, bikes, and ambulances behind me since April, cruising around this giant country seems like just another day in the office.
Which, I guess, it is.
Now I’m off for one more assault on Cape York- hoping to have a go at the Starcke Track, Frenchman’s Track and the Old Telegraph Line…. Solo. Before the rain season starts and the entire region becomes inaccessible.
Gregory River National Park, Northern Territory. Check out the photo album here.
The track through is described as “easy with some rough sections” by the guide… but I pity the fool who braves it in an X-Trail or Forrester.
Sure, some of the ride was fairly flat. But sharp rock gardens, a few slippery water crossings and one major hill climb would separate the boys from the men in short order.
The “road” all but disappeared a few times and the Isuzu had trees for breakfast. But we knew we were in the wildlands when we had to break out the axe to make room for our vehicles.
I caught up with a dingo further along down the track. I tried to get him to “fetch”, but he wasn’t having it:
Magnus’ guide bike had been running like a squirrel caught in a sewing machine since somebody took it for a bath in one of Cape York’s many bog holes.
But after just one day trying to stay ahead of Carl and Bruce, the clamor from the engine was so connotative of catastrophe that we had no choice but to pull the thing apart the first night of the tour.
So the tools came out, the lights came on, and the spanners started to swing.
The top end of the engine came apart piece by piece as Magnus and Bruce dived deeper into the project, and we all dived into a third bottle of Kahlua.
I was admittedly nervous from the get-go, but when the clutch was exposed and the cam chain was being held up with a string my sentiments were shared by the whole team. It was getting to the point where more of the motorcycle was on the table than on the frame, and BAC levels were creeping past the legal limit.
The boys had the bike nearly back together by midnight, but when nobody could remember which point the cam gears were meant to line up at we wrapped it up for the night and finished in the morning.
The next day the remaining ironmongery came together beautifully, and after a few tedious minutes of making sure the machine started we had officially transformed the poorest running bike in the fleet to a high-compression, power-pumping monster.
Share the elation of the moment in this clip of the first fireup:
I’ve been out of WiFi range for weeks and have racked up quite a few adventures since I was last able to post.
Now I have a few days off-duty before Magnus and I head south to play the longest golf course in the world (yep) and compete in the 2011 Australian Safari, so I have a chance to catch up.
But I made the mistake of checking in to a hostel with a bar opens at 10AM… so I wouldn’t get my hopes up regarding productivity this weekend.
So as a preview of what’s to come I whipped up a trailer of our last trip, an epic ride from Darwin to Longreach through some great terrain. Most notably, the Simpson Desert.
While I’m sure Magnus would have wanted a few more riders on our third and fourth Cape York expeditions, I was pretty pleased with the idea of a two-man team. All my duties would be so much easier- from the inglorious making of sandwiches to the really inglorious washing of dishes. While the glorious part, the driving, would be the same.
On top of that I was starting to get a good handle the Isuzu.
Hell, I might hardly cause any calamity at all in the next two weeks.
Of course I was put into check within ten minutes of my first drive as I eased into an intersection against a red arrow with Magnus in the passenger seat.
“Mate it’s- red,”
“Ah, right. Thought that was- different in Australia.”
The boss was not amused with that asinine excuse, but once we were stocked up on fuel and liquor we were on our way without incident.
Aside from the minor mistakes of briefly getting lost and nearly running someone over at a fuel station, I was doing as well as I could have hoped by the end of Day 1.
Next day I decided to forgo my morning coffee in lieu of a cappuccino at the Lakeland fuel station- man’s last hope for a proper coffee before the jungle begins. But much to my dismay, a forty-foot Mercedes had just unloaded as many old people- there was a line curly white hair and fedoras out the door.
So I dropped the clutch and laid a power-over drift across the parking lot, staining forty polo shirts with red dirt and diesel soot.
Juuust kidding, I could never be that much of a dick. But I did scoot outta there before anyone could ask me what size my tires were.
Why do old people always ask about the tires?
Later on I was pleased to learn we were taking a different route than we had a few months ago, and I’d get to see some new scenery.
We crossed Nifold Plains on Day 3, and if I ignored the kangaroos bouncing off the bumper every few minutes I could have sworn I was in Africa. It’s amazing how just a few hundred kilometers of driving brings you from jungle to savanna and back again.
After the plains I was hailed by a Land Cruiser on the UHF.
“Ehiateowzetrek?” crackled the radio.
While I was trying to work out what language I had just heard, Magnus’ familiar voice chimed in- “You’ll have to speak slower, he’s American.”
Ah, so somebody was talking to me.
The voice came back, this time dialed a few notches back from True Australian; “Ehi mate, eis is the Land Crusza. Ow’s e tryck goin?”
I wasn’t sure if that last word had been ‘truck’ or ‘track,’ so I went for a vauge response and hoped he would drop out of comm range before I made myself look like a complete idiot.
“Uh, it’s going good man!”
Another batch of incomprehensible words flew from the radio like socks in a dryer opened mid-cycle. Unfortunately this conversation would remain lost in translation.
By the end of the week I was setting up camp at Loyalty Beach and cracking a victory beer. While I was still famous in the neighborhood for my blunders of previous expeditions (I was addressed with; “last time I saw you here, those wheels were about ‘alf a meter in the mud” more than a few times) I had in fact driven all the way up the Cape without breaking anything, and without engaging 4WD.
Of course, that would be more impressive if all the water crossings hadn’t dried up, but I was still pleased with the result.
In the last 48 hours I’ve covered over 5,000 kilometers by motorcycle, Land Rover, bus, another bus, jet, another jet, and finally our faithful Isuzu NPS 250. Now, I’m lying in my swag trying to ration my MacBook’s battery life between emailing my grandma and checking the weather on Cape York- where I’m heading tomorrow morning.
And yet here I am, dicking around on my website…
After a nice four weeks “off duty” riding solo in Western Australia, I’m excited to be back on tour. Returning to Cairns felt so familiar- after rolling through here for the fourth time this massive country is starting to feel like my neighborhood. Just with, you know, thousands of miles of sand, dirt, jungle and wild animals between neighbors.
Timing worked out well enough that we’ve got a South-to-North expedition leaving the same day the North-to-South ends, so we won’t have to write off the drive back down as a “transport stage” and I’ll get to spend more quality alone time with my beloved Isuzu.
As an added bonus, each trip is just a three man team- including the boss and myself. That should leave plenty of time for shenanigans and a big-ass margin for error. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, I usually spill into pretty quickly.
In addition to off-road antics, this next trip has another component as well. You guessed it, it’s also a rescue mission.
Remember the BMW X-Challenge we had to hide in the bushes and leave behind somewhere around Heathlands Nature Reserve?
In case you don’t; I was riding it on our first tour this season when the rear bearing decided it didn’t want to play anymore… suddenly wobbling like a rickshaw and threatening to seize.
Naturally I was blamed for the incident, but I had only ridden the thing 50 k’s after another guy had it for 500 so I reckon the jury’s still out.
Alright, that’s my whining allocation for the week.
If we can find it, recover it, and fix it, I’m sure all will be forgiven. Its last known whereabouts are logged in the truck’s primary GPS, s0 if nobody’s touched it since we parked it… two months ago… we should be all good.
Of course, then I’ve got to load it onto the carrier. Which is about half a meter off the ground.
Better have a big breakfast that morning.
Before we could head back home our trailer needed some serious repairs. It was cracked in about 20 places and was hardly fit to carry its own weight, let alone the five brand new Suzukis we were due to pick up en route back to Airlie Beach.
The local fabricator was brilliantly generous and let us use his gear and facility free of charge, while our camp neighbor Joe welded the trailer back into one piece. Another great example of motorsport camaraderie in action.
In another context, I had heard Mags say “there’s nothing civilized about the coast, man” and I think he might be on to something. I couldn’t imagine getting that kind of help in Sydney, and most certainly not for nothing.
On the way home we stopped at the Parkes satellite dish/telescope. You know that movie “The Dish” with the guy who plays Elaine’s boyfriend in Seinfeld? Yeah, that dish. Ma I know you’ll remember.
After an unusually arduous search for a camping site, Mags treated us to a beautiful dinner of roadside roast meal of beef and vegetables. The virtues of carrying a kitchen once again made themselves apparent.
In another step toward cultural integration I swung the tea-billy myself, and miraculously managed to avoid wearing it.
On April 27th we finally arrive back at base camp in Airlie, but not before stopping at Sunstate Motorcycles to pick up Mags’ latest order: Black Suzuki DR-Z (x5).
We pull up to the dealership and see five fresh enduro bikes with our name on them (literally).
Mags deals with the paperwork while Joe and I walk around and admire Sunstate’s inventory. They may have had a lazy sales staff, but their stock was nothing short of impressive. Dirt, road, sport, cruiser, they had everything. A Max Biaggi-signature Aprilia was on offer, and a flat-black Moto Guzzi I would have sold my soul for. I even spotted an MV Agusta hiding in the corner… another Italian lovely capable of over 200 MPH.
From there it was a long ride home, I fall asleep in the back of the truck a few times.
We got back early (early) morning, and I stole a power hour of sleep before skulling a coffee- we had five bikes to build.
• April 19-28
• Airlie Beach to Condobolin, a 750 K race, and back
• About 4,800 Km Covered
In a stopping bay on the side of the highway, Mags is furiously swinging a metal pot full of boiling water and tea leaves.
This, I learned, was the proper way to make “billy tea”… an Australian outback tradition. Though generally not a tea drinker I rather liked the stuff, once you get used to straining tea leaves with your teeth.
As we proceeded south the roads were still bumpy, and now with the added feature of “wet.”
Despite the traditional wet season being over, flooding was rampant and cost us about 500 kilometers.
On the upside, I finally got to drive the Isuzu. And yeah, it felt pretty effin’ cool. Aside from a heavy countershaft requiring slow shifts and tires trying to bounce themselves off the road every few meters, the truck wasn’t much different from a normal five-speed car.
But steering eight tons of offroad awesomeness had me psyched up, and I could see why Mags rarely took a break from driving himself.
We made a stop at a “town” called “The Gums.” Mags naps while I head to the gas station/grocery store/post office/pub to take in another slice of Australian life. As small towns get smaller, it’s not uncommon to have every commercial establishment in the same building. Convenient if you need a beer while you’re in line to mail your Christmas Cards, not so much if you’re looking for an item the 40 square-foot store doesn’t stock.
They seemed to have some kind of Native American type show on TV and…
Wait, no… it couldn’t be…
But it was. Walker, Texas Ranger was on in The Gums, Australia and two guys in paint-covered jeans were watching it.
I had to get out of there before I became engrossed myself, so I made a stop at the porcelain pooping chair on my way out to take a piss. When I pulled the flush-chain from the ceiling (yeah, Victorian-Era style) a giant frog leapt out of the bottom and swam against the rushing water and my pre-digested water.
I had been told to expect spiders under toilet seats but this was something else… I wanted to wash the poor bastard off in the sink or something but… frogs are gross enough to begin with. And based on the sausage rolls I saw for sale in the store, I’m guessing he’s dealt with much worse.
Baaack to the truck.
• April 19-28
• Airlie Beach to Condobolin, a 750 K race, and back
• About 4,800 Km Covered
Early AM I help Magnus tidy the 2007 KTM 525 EXE he’ll be racing for transport. Mags asks me to pull a wheel sensor bracket off an X-Challenge and three bolts later I can finally say I’ve wrenched on a BMW.
The KTM was missing a few bits, but Mags was confident it would be ready for competition by the weekend. Then he mentioned it hadn’t been started in four years.
Shit man, my GSXR puts up a fight if it sits for a week…
He starts loading the bike onto the trailer, and I ask if he might want to give it a try before lugging it 2,000 kilometers to a serious endurance race.
“Nah mate, she’ll be a’right.”
Hah, wait… he wasn’t kidding. The bike got strapped down and off we went.
No headlight, a bad haircut of wiring protruding from the front, and no running time in the last 48 months.
I really admired his confidence in the little pumpkin. And hell, he was the experienced racer, not me. Maybe the barn dust was good luck.
The highways were straight, but hardly flat. The massive tires of the truck bounded across waves of bitumen for miles and miles. And miles.
At one point Magnus described a trip from Timor to Europe, “Long Way Round” style.
“If I were in my 20’s, and had the time, that’s the ride I would do.”
Hmm, I know somebody with a lot of time… I made a note to ask about that one again before my term ended.
We made camp somewhere between a place called Emerald and East Fuck-All. The truck, which I learned from its badges is an Isuzu PSN 250 Crew SiTEC Series II 155 Euro IV (“the truck” for short), opened its bosom to reveal a stove and grille, on which Magnus whipped up some of the best chicken curry I had eaten in Australia.
I got a brief lesson in how to operate a “swag,” and after wrestling with the tent/sleeping bag hybrid for a bit I got familiar with my new bed. As I unfolded the stretcher Magnus offered an extra piece of advice; “You know, we’ve got a lot of bush out here mate… you don’t need to sleep right next to me.”
Embarrassed by my breach of camping etiquette I towed my setup to the far side of the truck.
The swag had been named Jennifer Hawkins by it’s last occupant… I liked the idea of sleeping with Miss Universe 2004 as well as the last guy, but knowing he had grown attached enough to name it was a bit like meeting your girlfriend’s ex. You know you weren’t the first one there, but you don’t like to be reminded.
Hoping nobody had become too friendly with Jennifer I feel asleep pretty quickly. The creatures were kept at bay by the thick net around me, and my pillow was refreshingly spider-free. Early start tomorrow.