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