Having spent the whole summer convincing my father that our vintage Suzukis were capable of completing a 50+ mile trip, I was stoked when he finally agreed to ride up the coast with me from his house in the Boston burbs to Portsmouth, NH.
At less than 40 miles the long way, I covered more distance than this ride before tea time back in Oz. With awesome weather and nothing but paved roads to our destination, it should have been easy money.
And it was, until I got distracted by the only thing that would force me to pull over and shut down my bike- a shitty old Land Rover with a “for sale” sign on it.
I mean, wow- rollover damage, more surface rust than paint, and tires that looked like dehydrated licorice… this thing was as Instagram worthy as they come. And yes, that TR-6 you can see in the background hints at exactly what I was hoping; the guy’s whole lot was littered with British lovelies including a GT6 and an E-Type he was hocking for twelve grand.
Having pranced around this junkyard to my heart’s content, dad and I saddled up to make the final mile into Portsmouth and wedge our rice rockets between the Harleys and BMWs that generally populate the town’s streets. Even decided to try going helmetless (legal in New Hampshire) for the final stretch.
That was of course back when my bike would start.
Sure as it was running like a champ all the way up from Hamilton, my old Gixxer cranked and cranked with what seemed like no intention at all of powering up.
Could it have been the close proximity to all these English electrical gremlins that infected the fragile brain of my bike?
Dad took a photo for later analysis… I force a smile as he taunts me for having the less reliable machine of our pair. Jerk.
But my humiliation was not to cease there.
“How about we ride in to town, grab a coffee, and see if it starts when we come back,” dad suggested.
I looked at the pillion seat on his tiny 450 with great anxiety. Ride in? To where all the Harley guys hang out? Oi.
But the plan was otherwise sound, I really wanted coffee and hoped against logic that my bike would kick over after a rest, and so into the city we rode doubled-up like a couple slumdog suburbanites fresh out of Mumbai.
We got back to the GSXR ninety minutes later and the story hadn’t changed, so I made the call to abandon it and have it picked up by a truck ASAP the next day.
Of course, that call also meant I’d be getting home the hard way.
So there I was; full Demon armor, leather, Alpinestars riding shoes, mirror-visor helmet… on the back of my dad’s diminutive 450cc commuter bike. All the way down Route 1. Looking like a boss.
Nothing puts a hole in the old ego like spending an hour plus on a vibrating seat with another grown man. The bike wasn’t happy about it either- rear suspension maxed, engine near half efficiency… but somehow it mustered the balls to pull twice its usual payload and for that we were grateful. I guess I should be thankful for a free ride included in my week’s humility lesson anyway.
Now my repair… I hope that’s free too.
The seemingly endless saga of restoring my old GSXR brought my father and I to Drum Hill Cycles in Nashua, New Hampshire- a massive warehouse full old motorcycle parts, basically a Cave of Wonders to a couple retro-moto enthusiasts.
Aside from a small banner on the road-facing wall, there’s not much to tip you off about this treasure-trove unless you already know the address. But if you’re in the neighborhood, the railroad crossing right next to it is a good landmark to defer to.
Say what you will about ours being a “disposable” culture, but from what we saw Drum Hill had plenty of business keeping old bikes alive.
In the thirty or so minutes we were there, at least five other people showed up looking for various miscellanea for their motorcycle projects. It was encouraging to see that the restoration business is still running, and that I’m not the only one with a soft spot for “modern classics.”
Bikes and cars from the 80′s and 90′s used to get written-off by the collector and restoration community for being “too modern” or “bland”. But now that people like myself, who grew up dreaming about the vehicles from that era, are starting their own projects we’re seeing a renaissance of these machines we now call- modern classics.
The nostalgia of riding something I fantasized about while I was supposed to be learning my times-tables is without a doubt part of the appeal of the 80′s/90′s iron, but I also love the blend of modern-ish design with the primitive brutality and rudimentary interface of say, my ’91 GSXR.
While we didn’t end up buying anything this trip, it was a lot of fun to walk through the canyons of fairings, fuel tanks and every other motorcycle accessory you can imagine for bikes from bygone decades.
The proprietor was most agreeable, talking over the issues my bike was having with me and dumping out a few boxes of parts to sift through pounds of plastic to try and find what I was looking for. Unfortunate it appeared that the ignition control box I was seeking had been “sold yesterday”, and so continued my less-than-ideal luck with my project.
Drum Hill isn’t a completely unreasonable drive from Boston, but if you don’t feel like picking parts yourself they’re website has just about everything they stock in their expansive collection.
Be sure to check them out if you’re spinning spanners on a bike from the forgotten era of modern classics, and help them keep the old school spirit alive.
Location: 407 Manzanita Road, Mammoth Lakes CA.
Time: Dawn’s own ass crack, early January 2012.
I was laying in my tiny bed debating whether or not to snooze the next alarm when my housemate Dominic busted through the door.
“You gonna be ready to go in half an hour?”
I grunted in the affirmative and reached for my light. We were up before the sun to make an attempt at scaling Mount Dana today. Though not a particularly technical hike, the third pitcher of Tahoe water at The Tap the night before had me somewhat skeptical about our chances of a timely wake-up, let alone a successful ascent.
Yet there I was, chasing ibuprofen with coffee and putting on flannel-lined pants before the sparrow’s first fart of the day.
The winter drought may have made for weak skiing but we took a quantum of solace in the fact that Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park’s eastern access road, was open this deep into the usually snowy season.
We piled into a 1987 Suzuki Samurai and broke the morning silence with the long grind of a tired starter motor followed by the persistent cough of a leaky exhaust. Dom was in front, I sat in the cargo bay clutching a McDonald’s coffee and at the wheel was Chris, another adventurous resident of our apartment.
The 4×4 belonged to him, and was a surprisingly clean example of one of my all-time favorite off road machines. With no heat, no radio, and a top speed of around sixty miles an hour it required a bit of patience to operate, but the little Samurai packed its own weight in je ne sais quoi a hundred times over to make up for a lack of amenities. And with its straight, rust-free body the little rig project potential in spades.
“You might want to put your jacket on,” was the warning Chris issued as I squeezed behind the front seat in a sweater.
“It’s going to be pretty cold back there.”
These words rang true soon enough. The soft top flapped against the roll bar and the engine spat in protest as we raced the sun across Highway 395. I tugged my Spies Like Us hat a little lower and took another pull of coffee.
But before I could open my mouth to complain the sun hit full strength and the mountain’s majesty preemptively shut me up.
Day’s first light makes for the most dramatic views of the High Sierra Mountains we were passing through, and being squarely centered in one of the country’s most spectacular valleys made for a scene nothing short of extraordinary. Sunlight revealed rocks that crashed out of snow-dusted peaks like the gnarled fingers of an exiled god reaching desperately to the heavens. Each crag was accentuated by the low sun, which presented the mountains with the deep texture of an impasto painting.
The Samurai struggled through the Tioga Pass as we climbed a thousand feet in less than a mile, and nearly another thousand in as far again. Engine surging to redline, tiny carburetor gasping for air, Chris had to dive for second gear to punt the machine up the road as its geriatric suspension keeled us like an old ship around hairpin corners.
I couldn’t help but imagine the road on my sport bike… it had been far too long since I’d pulled face-rocking G’s on my GSXR, and these corners at this time of day would certainly have given the tires a workout. But the bike was locked away in dad’s garage on the other side of the country; I’d have to rely on skis for my adrenaline drip this season.
We arrived at the trailhead just before eight, and Dom pointed out the peak we would be attempting. It looked… far. This was to be the moment of the trip when I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.
Dom was an experienced woodsman, with seasons of work with the U.S. Forestry Service under his belt. His knowledge made itself apparent in his pre-departure advice; “If you have any candy or snacks in the car, I’d get rid of them. Because of the bears.”
The first kilometer or so of trail was on flat land, but I was already having trouble breathing. I had only been living at altitude for a few days, and we were ten thousand feet above sea level before even beginning the ascent.
Once the path headed upward, ecosystems flashed by us like a slideshow. The thick forest we began in gave way to rocky grasslands, and then steep stone steps through sparse vegetation. But by the time we were about a third of the way up the ascent angle and thin air was catching up to me, and our progress was slowed significantly.
Still, I had no qualms with frequent breath-and-water breaks as it allowed me the chance to turn around and take in majesty that is Yosemite National Park.
Peaks tore up the bottom of a brilliant blue sky, and the wind whispered ominously as it snaked through the trees. The little Suzuki, now nearly a mile away, was barely visible where we had left it.
It was easy to see why legends like Muir, Chouinard, and Bachar, called this place their favorite stomping ground. I reckoned Yosemite ranked among my top ten favorite places already… and I had only seen one percent of it.
As we continued to climb the flora features became more and more of a novelty, as the “path” and mountainside were pure rock at the halfway point.
At this point the peak was clearly visible, and I could taste victory. And beef jerky. Dom had brought a righteous three-quarter pound bag of the stuff, and we indulged ourselves in a few strips for a morale and calorie boost.
The last quarter of the climb was the steepest, rockiest, and biggest pain in the ass. I was taking giant steps and grasping footholds with my hands, to avoid putting one of these tippy boulders into my teeth.
All three of us were feeling the strain, and but with a few encouraging insults we inveigled each other to press on.
Dom had got a bit ahead as I scaled the last rock… which wasn’t. I made it to what I had thought was the last ridge to be greeted with a fantastic view of Mono Lake, and the actual peak of Mount Dana another hundred meters up.
I could hear laughter from the top, and Dom called down “thoughtcha were at the top didn’t ya? Just one more ridge!”
After a quick timer-photo I zipped my coat up all the way and reached deep into my energy reserve for one last scamper to the peak.
I made it, with Chris close behind, and was rewarded with a three-hundred sixty-degree view of the most unbelievable curves I’d seen since I left Hollywood three weeks prior.
I’m talking about the horizon, of course.
Huge lakes, valleys, peaks of all sizes and the biggest sky in California had my team and I completely speechless for nearly a whole second before I ravenously dived for the jerky bag to rescue myself from a calorie deficit.
Chris was still in disbelief at the fact that he had completed the climb as I gnawed on my second strip of beef. He had wanted to bail more than a few times, but I’m happy to say we talked him into sticking it out.
We allowed ourselves a few moments to revel in our accomplishment, but it wasn’t long before the howling wind coaxed us back toward the bottom.
The descent was a lot easier and less dramatic than the climb, but while easy on the lungs it was hell on the knees.
Finally back at the 4×4 and happy to discover it un-tampered with by bears we were ready to return to the apartment and right on schedule to arrive before 2:00. Hell, there was still enough daylight for another climb… almost.
Cape York Solo: Part II of V
The Starcke Track is one of the least-known routes on Cape York, and easily one of the hardest. OAT only takes groups this way when everyone on tour is an expert rider and we’re ahead of schedule.
With over three-hundred kilometers between fuel stops, endless ruts and bulldust that will toss you into the ground like a lineman it’s hard bloody work.
Naturally I had to give it a go, so I left early in the morning from Isabella Falls with a full fuel tank plus a ten-liter jerrycan I had hanging off my rear fender with a belt. I’d be trying it northbound, with hopes to arrive at Lakefield National Park by day’s end.
The first fifty kilometers of the track are easy money- pretty well just gravel roads. The first signs of deterioration come after the first “Y” fork, faintly marked by a discarded PFD with the word “STARCKE” inscribed on it with Sharpie. If you pass a long-dead Nissan Patrol sitting on its roof, you’re going the right way.
Big, rolling rocks start, and shortly after- the sand. Deep grain with pockets of really deep that require a full-commitment fistfull of throttle to make it thorough.
The sand lets up briefly, and the track passes through an abandoned outpost of some kind. A few Land Cruiser components still lying around and remnants of a sat-com setup suggest the place was vacated in a hurry… with a weakly-spinning windmill completing the eeriness.
There’s a short fast blast section out of the ruins, but the high speed action ends there. Pockets of bulldust like I’ve never seen are laying in wait between rough sand patches and tiny trees.
For those that haven’t experienced it- “bulldust” is an extremely soft and fine sand that can grab a tire with a sudden ferocity that’s almost impossible to prepare for… knocking you on your ass like, well, a bull.
It occurs in pockets on sandy trails and gravel roads alike. These pockets are very hard to see, and impossible to know the depth of.
If you don’t see bulldust in time, you’ll be wearing it.
After almost an hour of riding and at ten spills, I was starting to get fatigued and was seriously considering turning around. Finally I got railroaded into a half-meter deep rut and brought to an abrupt stop. The crash was minor… but the extraction process took no less than twenty minutes and I was relieved to calculate I hadn’t yet hit the Point of No Return.
Between all the gear I was carrying and lack of any communicative equipment, I talked myself into turning around and having a go at some of the other tracks further north. So I ripped a half-donut and fought back to the gravel road, turning northbound on Battle Camp Road- a much harder-packed (easier) route.
Like the Nissan and other wrecks I had passed, I had been defeated by the Starcke Track.
But my Cape York ride wasn’t over… and there were still plenty of opportunities to get myself stranded, lost or killed over the next week.
Next night’s camp even had entertainment- bulls, pigs, wallabies, there were creatures all over the place. I finally saw a pair of kangaroos boxing, but they weren’t keen on hosting spectators.
Cape York Solo: Part I of V
With the tour season over I had just one more goal to accomplish before I left Australia for the season: Cape York, solo.
And not just the development road.
Nah, I had done that in the support truck eight times already.
I needed to hit the Old Telegraph Line, Frenchman’s Track, and the little-known but exceptionally hazardous Starcke Track… runs I had been hearing about all year but never had the chance to attack. Finally, Magnus gave me the green-light to commandeer a motorcycle and the cogs were set in motion for a solo, unsupported assault on Cape York.
With the rain season looming ominously ahead, I would have to hustle. Because once the rain starts up there, it doesn’t stop until April. And it’s not just an inconvenient English drizzle; it’s relentlessly torrential and shuts down the road in mere hours.
So the morning after our end-of-season celebration dinner there I was, fitting a brand new billet cargo rack and Giant Loop tool bag to a DR-Z with the worst hangover I’d had since March 18th.
I was dragging my feet around the workshop all morning, but my spirits really sank when I saw the rack installation required drilling.
I looked at the yellow DeWalt on its charger with dread, knowing full well the vociferous screech it would inevitably generate as it tore a hole in the bike’s frame.
But, I manned up and we got it done.
Now it was time to get some K’s on the clock. First objective was to head inland so as to avoid making the entire six hundred kilometer cruise to Cairns on-road, and hopefully recover the swag that had fallen off the roof of the Isuzu two days prior. I rocked up to the Bowen River Hotel and was greeted by the usual crowd of mid-morning drunks I had become all-too-familiar with since making a habit of stopping at pubs for water. Luckily this lot was friendly, and they gave me advice on good places to camp along my northbound route.
As the sun went down the ‘roos came out in force and I cut my speed in half. I’m through messing around with those damn things.
Just around six o’clock I arrived at the Burkedin Dam- a magnificently imposing structure that looks straight out of GoldenEye. This is where I was hoping to camp as per the advice of the happy drinkers at Bowen River. But when I shined my light around, I couldn’t help but glint a large ‘NO CAMPING’ sign next to the shelter I was scouting for my tent.
But I looked at it again. And with a second interpretation it seemed like it actually said ‘nocam… ping’. Like, you know, somebody’s name. Yeah… a Canadian-Chinaman I’d say. This spot must be named after him.
Set up at old Mr. Ping’s place I got a fire going and boiled some pasta while I scribbled pictures of Mercedes W128s in my notebook. The view over the Stalingrad-esque dam wasn’t exactly romantic, but I was happy to be sleeping in the bush once again.
The next day’s ride brought me to the town of Ravenswood. Tucked deep in Queensland mining country, rolling through Ravenswood is like traveling fifty years back in time.
Granted, just using the internet in Australia is like traveling five years back in time so I guess it’s more like… forty-five…
are you following this logic?
Anyway I needed fuel, but with one look at the antique bowser I was sure I would break it if I touched it.
So I just starred at it until the woman working the till came out to render assistance.
Ravenswood was an experience, but the next “town” was even wackier- a place just a hundred or so clicks to the north called Mingela.
There were a few trailers scattered around, but the commercial buildings indicated the place had been abandoned quite some time ago. The fuel station had been partially dismantled, the store was boarded up and the pub was… run by a peacock?
He was a bit camera shy but look closely on the deck. See him?
He was the only resident I could find, and his customer service was shit. The beer I got was full of bird poop and smelled like a barnyard. Needless to say the Mingela Hotel will not be getting a favorable UrbanSpoon review.
I got back on the Bruce Highway briefly to make up some time. Then after a quick sausage roll break and lost key incident in Townsville I was ready to go off piste again.
I saw a sign for the Paluma National Forest and reckoned it was worth a look. I was rewarded with an amazing road up into the hills, wrought with hairpin corners and steep climbs for almost fifteen kilometers. Awesome.
Once the road straightened out it turned to gravel and lead me through some absolutely beautiful country. But when I reached a junction, I became a little confused. There was no such split on my map, and both roads seemed equally well used.
I went to the GPS… which said “right.”
Ok, here we go.
Two hours later I would remember I had left “off-road” mode activated, where it simply gives you a b-line to your destination, but the track I was on was crazy fun. A lot more technical than the previous road (because it wasn’t a road) and smack in the middle of nowhere.
I kept on for over an hour following cow paths before I started to get suspicious. I should have intersected with Mount Fox Road by now… and I was still in the middle of the woods.
I’m not talking a kilometer or two from the highway. I took a look around through the trees from a high point- trees stretched endlessly in all directions. Meanwhile the track I was on had pretty well deteriorated into just one set of bovine hoofprints. But I had been going north pretty much the whole time, I had to be pretty close to the road.
So I pressed on. Right over a giant log, right past a giant “Danger” sign, and right up the kiester of a big-ass bull.
I killed the engine and we stared at each other in silence. The track was only just wide enough for one of us; a vertical drop to the left and impenetrable jungle to the right. If I wanted to pass him I’d have to brush shoulders with the big bastard.
Hoping off the bike I approached the creature slowly. He had a mean expression on his face and a set of hangers the size of my long-range fuel tank.
A bull was the only thing I had ever seen my boss Magnus run from… if the jungle heat wasn’t enough to make me sweat, this beast starring me down was making me drown in my jacket.
I took one step closer and he jumped, with a big snort and a quick stamp.
Hhhoookay I’m outta here!
Backpedaling quickly I hustled to the bike, powered up and left him in a loud of grass clippings and exhaust. Well, looks like I’ll give the other way a go.
The other route, which I got back to rather quickly, had its own set of dangers. The woods all around the track were ablaze with bush fires, and my cam chain was starting to shake like a belly dancer.
Cruising down the other side of the range I had come up earlier that day, I could really listen to the engine, and it was not happy.
The rattle was reminiscent of the last bike we had to re-assemble deep in the Northern Territory two months earlier… a task I had neither the skills nor tools to accomplish alone.
By the time I made it back to the main road it sounded something fierce. I made camp and made a decision- I’d stop at the Suzuki dealer in the nearby town of Ingham and ask their opinion, then proceed or abort as advised.
The next day the boys at the shop confirmed my suspicions.
“Sounds like a cam chain mate. Or maybe big-end bearing.”
With a sigh, I turned around and limped south. Over three hundred kilometers of backtracking at 70 KPH. It was miserable in every sense of the word.
Pulling into the OAT base camp, I met a most surprised Magnus indeed.
“What are you doing here?”
I explained the situation… and he had a listen to the motor.
“Ah. Noisy, but it woulda made it.”
“Well what are you waiting for? Grab another bike and fuck off! You’re loosing daylight man.”
I could hardly believe my luck… just minutes ago I had rolled in with my tail between my legs, thinking I had forgone the adventure of the season… now I was back in business.
I swapped the cargo racks over to another DR-Z with some fuel in it, had a quick dinner, quick sleep, and kicked off again before the sparrow’s first fart the following day.
This time I made quick work of the journey to Cairns. No more mucking about on the side roads, I wanted two nights in my favorite sleaze bucket city and then a full-scale assault on Cape York.
After warming up on Black Mountain Road (see earlier post) I was officially in Far North Queensland and ready for the real challenges to start.
With Safari done and dusted, bossman Magnus and spanner-swinger extraordinaire Rodger hooked the bike trailer up to the Isuzu and prepared to make the commute back to Perth. The following day Rodger would catch a flight home and Magnus would spend some time with his mum.
I opted to stay in Kalgoorlie with one of the Suzukis. Magnus, ever being an enabler of adventure, had suggested I take the week off to hit the John Holland Track (JHT)- a fairly serious run between nearby Coolgardie and a town called Jerramungup. After a week of being around racing I was dead keen to get behind the handlebars, so I was all over it. Plus our friend and repeat-customer Carl lived near the southern end of the run and was willing to show me around, so I’d have a guide in the famous Fitzgerald River region of southern W.A.
Problems started later than usual on this one. About thirty seconds after the Isuzu disappeared down the highway I turned the key and hit the button on the DR-Z… but try as it might to turn over, the fucking thing would not start.
I looked around and tried to work it out. The bike had run like a dream half an hour ago. Hell, the thing had just completed a six-thousand kilometer endurance event. I thought about calling Magnus, but I knew as soon as I did I’d see the problem and look like an idiot. But if I waited too long, and it was something serious, it’d be a huge inconvenience for him to drive all the way back.
Bugger it. I’ll call him, and then I’ll see the problem. Look like an idiot but at least the bike will start.
He didn’t pick up. And thank god, because by the fourth ring I could see I had left the fuel cutoff in the “OFF” position.
The “problem” was rectified and I was on my way. After stocking up on food I headed down the highway for Coolgardie. It was less than two hundred clicks away, but it would be the most miserable stretch of the entire trip.
The rain started as soon as I left town and didn’t stop until I pulled into a fuel station a couple hours later.
Desperate for warmth and shelter I ducked in to the servo as soon as I saw it. I ordered a pizza and put my clothes on the pie warmer to dry them out. The old guy working the till said something like “nice day for a ride,” …typical.
The pizza was actually not bad, for gas station food. Better yet, by the time I was done with it the rain had stopped and I was ready to hit the track.
The north end of the JHT is well marked with Land Cruiser Club stickers and warnings; “Don’t set the forest on fire, don’t poop in the middle of the track,” all the standard stuff. Not planning to do either I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. This track isn’t exceptionally difficult, but it is long and there’s no fuel, water or medical service available at any point along the way.
No worries, I had a satellite phone I didn’t know how to use and a SPOT tracker… I didn’t have batteries for. Huh.
The track took me two days with a few crashes (one blackout) and minor damage to luggage… my sleeping bag became detached over a big bump and rammed itself between my rear wheel and chain. It was left a bit grimy but, miraculously, intact.
The track itself is quite flat. Mostly loose sand with lots of blind corners, a few rocky sections, and even fewer ruts. The sand’s not deep but requires a lot of standing and steering with your feet. It’s hard to get lost- there’s only one road. In the places there are forks, there’s a little “HT” sign with an arrow to guide you. But I do mean little… I came off a few times trying to find it at speed. Make the wise choice and bring your machine to a stop before you try and figure out the way.
‘Roos, weird birds and bobtail rock lizards are over the place… I think I made this one mad when I tried to powerslide around his favorite rock pile.
The JHT dumps you out (at the south end) near a town called Hyden where you can refuel and get kickass pastries.
My course had me heading further south to meet up with Carl later that night… or so I thought. I checked the oil on the DR-Z as the rain had brought a couple substantial water crossings to the track. Did I mention the torrential rain and lightning I slept through the previous night? Ah, you probably know how my luck goes by now.
Anyway the oil looked like a snotty milkshake- telltale sign of water contamination. I was not happy.
I couldn’t ride the machine any further without risking serious internal damage… and I had enough oil for one change. So I flushed the engine and tested it again… but there were still enough bubbles to cause me concern.
Now I could ride back to Hyden to buy more oil, but the shops would be closed by the time I got there. Meanwhile I was too far from phone signal to apprise Carl I’d be a day late… and him knowing my reputation, he’d probably send out a search party by the next morning.
I decided to camp out the night and do another oil change as early as possible the next day.
When I woke up I skipped breakfast and headed straight to the nearest place I thought might sell 4T engine oil… an agricultural supply depot in a place called Newdgate. A South African named Ashton was running the place, who most generously lent me the use of his workshop to perform a proper oil change. He looked for a new filter I might use, but he didn’t have anything for engines under eight liters.
The DR-Z looked pretty diminutive in the workspace usually occupied by Cat D90’s and twelve-wheeled John Deere’s, but I was grateful for the roof.
I tried getting in touch with Carl, his girlfriend Mel, or Magnus as soon as I got to a payphone… only Mags picked up, who had been pretty concerned I had met an ugly fate with a kangaroo the previous night.
Carl, who had indeed been out searching for me, rendezvoused with me in Newdgate and I followed him to his place. He gave me some great food and a place to stay the night, plus tips on where to ride further south the following day.
“There’s a lotta great tracks in the Fitzgerald River park, but if you don’t know you’re way it’s easy to get lost.”
Fitzgerald is an amazing place. Wide dirt roads, tight sand tracks, amazing beaches and salt flats make it a great place to enjoy the southern coast of Western Australia.
But those last five words of Carl’s were ringing true at about five o’clock the next day, by which time I had killed another kangaroo with my front tire, climbed the highest peak in the park (all three hundred meters) and gotten myself completely, utterly, and hopelessly lost.
The tracks in and around the southern end of the park are sandy, windy, and great bloody fun, but they sneak into the forest every-which-way and after tearing through ten intersections at eighty kilometers per hour you start to get… disoriented.
I had a huge crash on a deep-sand fast blast section and stopped to re-evaluate my situation.
I was coming out of another blackout low on fuel, low on water, tired, and very much alone. Summoning otherworldly strength to get the bike back on its wheels without puking I calculated my rough position based on the map, the sun’s position, and the wind turbine I could see a few kilometers away at the town of Bremer Bay.
Unfortunately, the “straight” route to the turbine and town was impassible, so I had to get creative and skirt the bike-swallowing sand through the trees.
I finally made it to town twenty minutes before the servo was closing. Refueled, and headed back to the main road. The next day I would make Bridgetown, where Magnus and the truck were waiting to reprovision for our next trip across Australia.
A lot of time’s gone by since the Australasian Safari… and a lot has happened since we said goodbye to our fellow racers and friends at the finish line in Kalgoorlie.
But you never trusted this site to be timely, anyway did you?
I could give you a stat sheet on who was there, who was riding what and who won, but if you wanted that information you would have found it somewhere else a long time ago.
So here’s a quick reflection on what transpired in the Team OAT camp.
We picked up our service crew at Perth International on September 20th. Okay, so it was one guy. Fresh off the jet from Albuquerque, New Mexico, our friend Rodger is a beer-swilling, spanner-swinging badass that we were confident could carry the team in the service department.
Magnus ran in to the terminal to find him while I was left in the truck to argue with the TSA officers about whether or not the massive Isuzu would fit in short-term parking.
Later that day we met the three other riders we would be supporting for the week, heavy-set Aussie blokes from Melbourne with enough body armor in their luggage to start a war with Sparta.
Our team assembled, we piled in the Isuzu and motored to the bike/car show and ceremonial start- followed by the KTM Kickoff Party at the Breakwater Club.
Most in attendance were rocking sport coats and heeled shoes… we rolled up covered in grease, but were allowed in with a quick flash of the team logos on our jackets.
While most other teams had spent the day polishing their helmets and signing autographs we had been flat-out for the last three days putting bikes together… and Magnus’ race bike didn’t even have tires on it yet. Rally racing legends Cyril Despres and Ben Grabham were there, among others, and Despres’ race bike was toted out for the admiration of onlookers. When Magnus saw the $130,000 work of art, he got inspired demanded his race bike look at least as cool by the end of the next day… so it was an early night for Rodger and I, leaving before last call for once in the hopes of starting another big day with just a mild hangover.
The actual start of the race was over a hundred kilometers north of where the party had taken place, so the day before the prologue (pre-race race that determines everybody’s starting position) we packed up and boogied to the town of Geraldton with motorcycles in tow. It was the first time I had seen the cab of the Isuzu full… and I hope the last. There may be enough seat belts for six men, but no cab is ventilated enough to support those oxygen consumption/fart expulsion ratios.
Once racing action got underway, Safari truly evolves from just an “event” to an experience. Helicopters sawing the air overhead, power tools wailing all through the night, radios going ballistic and engines roaring like dragons create a sensory-overland that rivals Japanese game shows combined with that first scene in “Saving Private Ryan”.
It’s enough to make any motorhead think he may very well have died and gone to heaven… I’d take a rally-spec Husaberg 570 over seventy two virgins any day.
But desert racing isn’t all money for nothing and chicks for free. This shit’s dangerous… which we learned all too well on Day 2 of the seven day event. While waiting at a checkpoint for our racer to show up, Roger and I heard some chatter on the radio that was most disconcerting indeed.
Bike 22, our rider in the field, had washed out and couldn’t finish the stage. And more, he was being evacuated by helicopter and rushed to Meekathara Hospital- five hundred kilometers away.
I had seen Magnus ride over, around, and through obstacles I couldn’t even look at without falling off. To hear about him coming off was disconcerting to say the least, but nothing could prepare us from what we saw at the hospital. After the six-hour punt across the desert, Rodger and I rocked up on the outpost medical center and rang the doorbell. The nurse knew who we wanted to see as soon as she spotted our truck, and we followed her to the bed our racer was lying on, looking worse than Gary Busey in a mug shot. We could barely hear his voice over the heart monitor, but he was conscious enough to greet us with his typical candor; “You’re a long way from tonight’s rally point.”
Mags told us to carry on supporting the rest of the riders, and to expect him at the event’s closing ceremony and afterparty in just under a week. Orders taken, we headed for the door and prepared for the massive drive ahead. As I hit the threshold Magnus summoned the strength for one more comment;
“Andrew. Be careful. With my truck.”
On the way out I chatted up the nurses a bit. They weren’t sold on the idea of motorcycle racing as a good way to spend your days and dollars…
“So you just, ride around the desert all day?”
“No, I mean, you have to follow a certain route, and go as fast as you can while navigating unknown territory.”
“And then fall off and get sent here?”
“Uh, well, ideally no…”
I could tell the conversation was drying up, and we had a long way to go to the next waypoint; a town called Sandstone.
The ride back was hell. The desert was pitch dark, the road was bumpy, and kangaroos were bouncing off the bumper like popcorn kernels in the microwave. We finally rolled into the bivouac around 9:00PM and recovered the race bike… which we saw Magnus had stubbornly tried to tape back together before calling in an evac. It was a valiant effort… but where there’s a will there ain’t always a way.
The day after the crash brought its own set of disasters. Rodger and I were now in charge of Team OAT, as acting face, hands and brains of the entire operation. We would have to clean up our act and start acting like real professionals and uphold the sterling standard Magnus would set if he were around… by using the Bear Grylls signature knife as much as possible, answering questions with riddles, and being the first team to open beers every day.
But first, we’d have to get out of the parking lot.
Rodger and I had been disagreeing on the necessity of locking the truck when leaving it… which lead to the incident of the doors being secured while the keys were in the ignition.
“No problem, there’s an extra set in the yellow Pelican case.”
“You mean that one on the back seat?”
We had to innovate. We considered picking the lock, removing the windshield, and using the angle-grinder to add a permanent sunroof… but none of those options really seemed viable.
Finally I spotted a crew with the same model of Isuzu. I approached and asked them if they had any insight. Naturally, they began by responding with sarcasm; “Got a brick?” but came over to help when they realized how distraught I was.
The driver of the other NPS showed me a battery access point in the rear of the cab’s underbelly. Too small to crawl through, but maybe big enough to get an arm…
I pushed through the panel and flailed my hand around while Rodger watched from the other side and guided me.
“Not even close.”
We didn’t have it yet… but we were on to something. I grabbed the longest screwdriver we had and made another attempt and knocking the lock mechanism, but the angle still wasn’t quite right.
After three more stages of evolution, genius struck. We could roll down the window much more easily than undo the lock, and so we set to contriving a new tool. We added a few inches to our extra-long screwdriver by taping a handlebar riser on he end, then proceeded to secure a large hose clamp to the end of that.
I wiggled the ridiculous contraption through the panel and moved it toward the window with Rodger’s audible guidance.
The window came down about four inches after forty minutes of laboring, with enough room for me to weasel my scrawny arm in and undo the lock on the left rear door.
Rodger and I cheered, slapped hands and bumped guts in a display worthy of a Superbowl touchtown.
Of course by this point everyone had cleared out… our truck was left alone in the middle of the desert. But it mattered little- we were victorious and would make it to the next bivouac with beers open before the first teams had the carburetors stripped.
If we step on it.
We rolled into the Leonora bivouac and night’s camp early, striding straight through the parking field and into a central location where we flung open the doors and proceeded to unload our cargo. Sun was hot, Jimmy Buffet was pouring out of the stereo and life was good. But it wasn’t long before the Fun Police arrived to curtail our moment of glory;
“Hey guys, did you get a map of tonight’s parking area?”
“Didja look at it?”
I could see where this was going… so I answered honestly.
We had parked in the caterer’s spot- a decision that would be most unpopular indeed when hungry racers showed up in a few hours.
So we piled everything on the trailer and dragged it ten meters forward to satisfy the race official… who threw his hands up in disbelief as another race team proceeded to occupy the space we had just left. I could hear the official repeating his comment as we re-installed our tents and tables.
Later that night we had a run in with the other Fun Police… this time, the guys with blue hats and guns.
Determined to uphold Team OAT’s “reputation”, Rodger and I convinced the mechanics from Team Husqvarna to come to the bar with us for a pint.
But once we got there, we learned we had shown up on a night when the barmaids were working the taps in lingerie. Apparently this is a Western Australia tradition, but in any case I had a hard time convincing the rest of the boys I not been apprised of it beforehand.
Photos were, let’s say “discouraged”, which is a damn shame- because the scene was something to behold.
Imagine a bar full of hard-faced and tattooed miners, being served by women in bikinis who were, let’s say “overweight”, and us standing in the middle wearing race gear and expressions of sheer astonishment. My bright white BMW jacket was pretty tough to miss between coal-stained work jerseys, and I estimated we had six-point-five seconds before I got my ass kicked. But we were determined to stick it out for a round, and whaddaya know, all was forgiven after a couple rounds of Jim Beam.
I folded my arms to avoid brushing the sleeves of my favorite jacket against the walls as my friends tried their hands at hitting on the strippers. Everyone was describing their jobs on the team until the barmaid, Kelisha or Kaylie or whatever, looked my way; “So what’s that make you, the pretty boy who does fuck all?”
At least she said I was pretty… I guess. Damn, are Australian chicks mean. A flood of retorts came to mind at various levels of offensiveness but not wanting spit in my next beverage I decided to take the high road;
“Hardly! I drive the truck.”
“Oh, I thought you were the guy who just stands around and looks good and doesn’t do anything.”
The boys were having a proper laugh at this point, and I had no clue if this chick was trying to flirt with me or make me cry. Rodger came to my rescue; “No, he figured out how to break in to the truck the other day!”
The conversation deteriorated from there as we convinced each other to buy more rounds. Finally a cowbell interrupted our babble and one of the barmaids yelled over the noise; “THAT’S IT BOYS, EVERYBODY GO HOME!”
I stumbled out into the street… I mean the one street in town… and into the arms of the local constable.
“Oy! Good-day, man. Any idea where the camp is?” I burbled in Australian/American hybrid vernacular.
One of the Husky guys helped me articulate; “Yeah, yeah we’re with the race cars! Is there a short cut back to the camp?”
The cops laughed and shook their heads.
“Yeah, mate we know yer with the race cars.”
The first officer looked at the second, and motioned to their vehicle- a Police spec Hilux with a big plastic holding cell on the back instead of a cargo tray.
We were all pretty rapt at the idea of getting a free ride home, especially if it was in the back of a paddy wagon.
We piled in the back and laughed like idiots as we got tossed from one side to another when the cop driving jerked the wheel. The cops parked in the middle of the bivouac and we spilled out of their vehicle. We thanked them for the ride and they left with a laugh and something like “good luck tomorrow.”
The boys from Team GHR Honda, hard at work on their CRF 450’s, glanced up and laughed like hyenas when they saw us stumble into our swags from the care of Mr. Plod.
Reputation: intact. If anything, I’d say improved.
A few days later we arrived in Kalgoorlie for the end of the race and the afterparty. Nearly everyone we knew who was competing had dropped out or sustained serious injury, and Magnus had since been transferred from Meekathara to the major hospital in Perth. But so determined was he to show up for the event’s closing ceremony that he hopped a bus from Perth Royal to the train station, and rode the rails for eight hours to meet up with us in Kal.
I parked the Isuzu, extra carefully, at the train station and Rodger and I headed to the platform to await our fearless leader. When his train showed up, they kicked him off about a hundred meters away from us.
For twenty minutes we watched him hobble toward us with broken ribs and a hematoma in his hip the size of a football. But he did look better than the last time we had seen him; prone and hooked up to a heart monitor.
We exchanged salutations and he snatched the keys as we headed for the truck.
“You sure you want to drive, man?” I said hopelessly, knowing full well my truck-commanding privileges had expired with the arrival of the boss.
“Yep. Gotta toughen up some time.”
He winced as he pulled himself into the driver’s seat, but was clearly pleased to be back in his “office”.
We updated him on what had transpired in his absence, and he was especially glad we hadn’t resorted to violence against the truck in our efforts to liberate the key.
Everyone at the bivouac was glad to see Magnus back in action, and congratulations were issued to the finishers over Coronas at the Kalgoorlie country club.
The Australasian Safari was a mind-blowing event that hooked me into racing that much more… if that was possible. I’m dead keen to give it go on two wheels next year, we’ll see if I can work it in to my compensation package next year.
Just returned from seven weeks on tour that had my team and I crossing Australia east-to-west, playing the longest golf course in the world, spelunking, competing in the Australasian Safari Desert Race, riding the infamous John Holland Track solo, then finally bringing a team of bikers across the country again west-to-east.
Tour season’s over, but I’m going to try and squeeze one more Cape York in before the wet season sets in.
When I get back, I’ll publish the last two months worth of triumph and tragedy.
Can’t wait for more moto-madness? Here’s a preview of what I’ve been up to…
The Simpson Desert. Vast, untamed expanse of sand in the middle of the world’s largest island. Taking three times as long to cross as the Sahara, the French Line across the Simpson is one of the most epic rides to be had in Australia.
It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer of my season with OAT.
And with the floods subsided and my shoulder healed, I was finally getting my shot.
Each morning on the track felt like Christmas… I woke up with a giddy anticipation I hadn’t known since I was a rugrat tearing through wrapping paper. And with each day I got a little bit better at managing the sand, the dunes, the Simpson.
I was determined to finish the track with my body and bike in as good condition as they had been when I began, keen to prove Mags wrong that I could in fact return one of his vehicles in usable condition.
So what’s so great about riding a motorcycle across the desert?
Imagine skiing the best run of your life; lots of speed, deep powder, sweeping turns. Now imagine that never ending until you release the throttle.
Thanks to the miracle of the internal combustion engine, a motorcycle can ski up the hills as well. Each kilometers is more fun than the last and after an hour or two in the saddle the balance, engine control and focus just clicks.
When we pulled up for the night, I collapsed into my chair at the fire with the kind of spent-satisfaction you have after a six-hour shag session.
We passed a few other groups of interest along the way. A group of blokes on Suzuki DR650’s, a big pack of camels, and a team of journalists reviewing 4x4s… including a four wheel drive Mini and a Chinese Great Wall SUV. Our riders reckoned they were wasting their time and ruining the track, but I was glad to see someone try something different.
The west-to-east crossing (which we took) is easier than the other way because the dunes aren’t as steep. Shaped by the prevailing wind, heading eastbound allows you to enjoy a long run-up up the dune, then a steep drop into the next gully. The dunes also get bigger as you head east, giving a nice and linear progression of difficulty.
Right up to the boss: Big Red.
Whether you’re on a motorcycle, 4×4, camel, or unicycle, Big Red is one of those “boxes to tick” if you’re off roading in Australia. Just about thirty kilometers from Birdsville, it’s fairly easy to get to but a proper monolith to behold.
The last time I had seen it was from the passenger seat of the Isuzu, chocking back winces as pain shot through my recently-destroyed AC joint.
Now I was back. On a bike. And I wanted revenge.
By the time we reached Big Red the hour was late, shadows were long, and everyone was dying for a beer.
I sensed that Carl and Bruce, having already surmounted Big Red years before, would be content to bypass it and head straight to the pub. But I knew I’d only be back here once, and I’d be driving the truck. There was no way I was going to get this close without having a go.
I stabbed the throttle ceremonially.
But I resisted a sandy burnout, and walked up to speed.
I heard Magnus’ voice in my head, like Obi-Wan Kenobi guiding Luke Skywalker out of the Hoth;
“…Up straight, steady application of power…”
I was getting closer and Big Red was growing.
It looked far bigger from the saddle of this bike than the cockpit of our truck.
Hands were starting to sweat as I picked up speed.
I strangled the horn to scatter the desert pigeons out of my path, the dune was towering over me like a tidal wave and I was experiencing genuine fear.
The front wheel hit the dune and I powered-on all the way, yelling into my helmet and leaning as hard as I could against the force of acceleration.
“GIVE IT HELL!”
It was all over in seconds… I was standing on the top, heart still racing at full throttle, stomach still at the bottom of the hill, and the bike idling calmly as though nothing had happened.
I allowed myself a fist pump and shut the bike down to avoid overheating.
After some photos it was time to hit the bar. An easy descent and a fun 30 kilometers later we were riding out of the sunset and pulling up once again at the famous Birdsville Pub, where people with names like “Wizard” tell you about the time they crossed the Simpson in a nitrogen-powered rickshaw.
But no matter how tall the tales get in that bar, I knew I had made it across and that’s all I needed.
In a couple months time I’ll be back… on twice as many wheels, which will be ten times as hard. I can only hope for as much success as the desert allows.
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:
And just in case you forgot how muy bonita an oil-cooled gixxer is, here’s one of the last photos I took of mine in the 2010 riding season.
I think about it every day, sitting in dad’s garage collecting dust, longing to scare the hell out of me with a 3-second blast to the speed limit.
Someday I’ll return for it…
bring it back to life…
Then, probably die when I forget to ride on the right side of the road.
But until then, rest will mi amor.
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.
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.
Got home from a ride to discover this lovely addition to my rear tire:
Typical- the tires were one of the few things I was NOT planning on replacing this season.
I thought about going on a tirade about how people should keep their godamn cars together so they don’t drop parts all over the street- but I’m guessing somebody in Vermont started a hardware store selling only pieces my Land Rover dropped in the four years I owned it. So I’ll accept this as the road’s revenge.
When the tire hadn’t lost any pressure in about four hours, I got the balls to “unscrew” the piece. Sure enough, it hadn’t even punched all the way through the Dunlop’s thick rubber.
I’ll be keeping an eye on it… but I think a couple burnouts and a 100 MPH run should heat up the tire and seal it up for good.
Another shakedown ride.
I’m getting ready to make tracks over the highway when the engine quits before I hit the on ramp.
It fires right back up, so I attribute it to driver error.
I hang on for dear life as I get up to… the speed limit… and cruise for about a mile when the bike starts bucking like a mechanical bull.
In a panic I squeeze the brakes and start dropping gears.
On the side of the highway the bike won’t start. But what the hell had happened? No leaks… no weird smells… plenty of power from the battery.
After about twenty minutes of scratching my ass the damn thing starts up and runs again like nothing happened.
Suspicious but desperate to get off the highway I motor toward the next exit. Halfway down the ramp; dead again.
Now I was in a really bad place to be stopped.
Despite the bike’s 550lb girth, I was able to push it very slowly to the road, and later a parking lot. Have you ever heard of a mother summoning inhuman strength to save her child?
I think my brain functions along similar lines, if the “person” in danger is my motorcycle. Pretty pathetic.
Anyway at this point I thought I could use a second opinion. Jeff was kind enough to drive over and help me diagnose, but he couldn’t shed much light on the problem.
And yet again, after about 30 minutes of sitting the bike sprang to life and was able to make it all the way home to the house.
Desperate to asses the problem and capitalize on the quickly waning motorcycle season, I took the gas tank off, inspected all the wires, hoses, fuel petcock, spark plugs, and filters.
I drained the carbs a bit to see if they were getting gas, and indeed they were- it didn’t even look chunk and shitty as I had feared. It’s likely that the bucking was just caused by some bad gas, or water getting inside the fuel as a result of not being used for a long time. Now it was just a matter of cleaning everything up and putting it back together to re-evaluate the situation.
After a nightmare run-around day between the dealer, DMV and insurance company, the bike is finally ready for the road. Jeff drives me to pick it up, and of course the cockbags at Cycles128 take 45 minutes getting my bike out of the warehouse.
At least one staff member was kind enough to show me how to check the oil and give me a few pointers on care and feeding of the bike. He stressed the importance of keeping the carbs clean.
And just like that… the moment arrived: I was perched on my GSXR with permission to legally enter the open road. I’m timid on the throttle getting out of the parking lot. Hit the friction zone, and the machine moves with a lot more force than you would expect from such a small engine.
But once I get a feel for the clutch and venture onto Brimbal Ave I waste no time giving the throttle a quick twist to see what kind of beast I had just bought myself.
My neck is literally snapped back and I find myself fighting off a wheelie. This thing is fucking fast.
With each meter I progress I get more comfortable with the bike, the seating position, and the throttle. I feel a kind of elation I literally have never thought possible. I bet this is how Anna felt about skydiving.
Jeff was kind enough to babysit my first ride from many car lengths back in his Porsche. He had already been very helpful in the purchase process… offering a great deal of insight and diagnostic before I made a bid.
I want to keep him in my mirror, in case some kind of disaster befalls me, mechanical or otherwise. But every thirty seconds or so I can’t resist a down shift and subsequent blast from 25-50 MPH. The bike and I were quickly becoming familiar.
But alas, I had a meeting to go to and the bike would have to be put away for a bit. So I was subject to the unreasonable torture of discussing something other than my motorcycle at great length, while I watched it sit listlessly in the parking lot.
A couple hours later I was balls deep in Excel trying to interpret a formula that calculated the amount of carbon was put into the air for every square foot of lawn you mowed using gasoline. But all I wanted to calculate was whether or not my twenty-year-old race horse was still up to the 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds it was capable of when new.
At about 5:00, I answered the call. I cruised around Wenham a bit, then found myself at a 128 onramp. And not just any onramp- the one at exit 16 with a runway-length merge lane. Sounds like the perfect place to test my stats.
I entered the onramp in third. Then figured fuck it, I’d be a pussy if I didn’t start in second. But wow… it’s still not even halfway up the tach at 30 MPH in second. Do I dare, shift to first at this speed?
7k something and I’m doing about thirty. Clear stretch of road in front of me, the usual assorted Volvos and minivans making their way northbound.
I get on the throttle- smooth and steady. I’ve already gotten to know this bike well enough not to fuck around.
But a little goes a long way with 116 HP pushing 700 lbs.
¾ throttle and power barfed from the pistons like Niagara Falls with a hangover.
The exhaust let out the sound a tyrannosaurus would make if he saw you banging his girlfriend.
And I became actively concerned that I might piss my pants.
60,70,80,90aaand time to relax.
I had no clue what gear I was in but from my perspective it looked like the moms in Mercedes SUVs sharing the highway with me were going about zero.
I reeled it in to 50 MPH and ducked into the loser lane to collect myself.
Once the brain-sucking insanity passes I have some time to assess the reality of my current situation. Predictably, the sport bike has its own set of pro’s and con’s. Let’s face it- it’s not that comfortable. My hands hurt from leaning so hard on them… or perhaps from the white-knuckle deathgrip I have going. The blaring exhaust noise is a bit inconvenient at the times when it’s not psyching me up- but since so far that’s “never”, I think I can manage. The fairings really do more for stability than I would have imagined. Even at highway speeds, this thing is planted. Nothing like dad’s GS which gets awful windy above 50 MPH.
It will take living with the thing to really get a feel for how it will last as a long-term bike.
After a long two months of great convertible weather passed, Nino finally relinquished dad’s FIAT Spider 2000.
While it still may not be perfect, it sure looks good.
We decided to immortalize it while we could, before some jackass in the Crosby’s parking lot opens the door of their QX56 too close and squashes it.
These photos were taken at Castle Hill in Ipswich, MA. If only my camera were a bit sharper…