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.
Every travel article about urban Western Australia goes on about how underrated Fremantle is. It’s worth reiterating just once, since I had never heard of the place before landing here. It really is a cool place and I haven’t had a better cup of coffee Down Under than at Blink on High Street. Freo’s a very photogenic town thanks in part to legislation requiring original building facades be left intact. Take a look at some of what I’ve seen around town the last week or so.
Through some old fashioned research I found the Recreational Trailbike Riders’ Association of WAwebsite, which conveniently publishes locations and reviews of off road vehicle areas in Western Australia. The site has a decent list, but only one spot was less than an hour from Fremantle: Medina ORVA. It was described as “small;” only 20Ha in area. But since I couldn’t be bothered to look up, what an “Ha” was, I had no idea what to expect. I found the entrance after spotting a quad bike being loaded onto a pickup truck. Good thing, because there’s only a sandy parking lot and a well-worn sign demarcating the area as a sanctioned off-road course.
But once I pulled of the highway I could tell I was going to have some fun here. There were trails shooting off in ten directions from a huge sand pit, temperature was perfect, sky clear and somebody was ripping donuts on a quad. Awesome. I headed into the sand and rolled over the first bumps in first gear. Determined to take it slow I picked a trail at random and set off. Through fork after fork I picked arbitrary directions, the place just kept going. Apparently “20 Ha” is pretty big. After more than thirty minutes of exploration I hadn’t made a full 180 or seen anyone since the first sand pit. I had been pretty good about keeping my speed down. But as I made my way through one great turn after another, resisting the urge to power on became harder and harder. And finally, it became impossible. A washboard of whoops (think “wave-shaped” track) was on the horizon… I could feel some MX action coming on. I powered-on and loosened up as the bike charged toward the obstacle. The bike bucked and bounded like a puppy running home for dinner. My arms and legs absorbed what the suspension couldn’t as I vaulted over the bumps, my face full of wind and smile. This place was a bloody gem of a find- I could train in this sand and leave my tent at the hostel. And shit was this fun! Around the next corner was a deep, sandy bank.
I pictured myself throwing a plume of dirt as I kicked the tail of the bike around and went for it. Yeah. That would look awesome. Power on. But I was put in my place before I could master the turn. The sand put a kung-fu grip on my front wheel and threw the bike down on the low side. Luckily it was so thick that I was moving at walking speed before hitting the ground, and no damage was rendered to bike or body. Sand may be one of the most difficult surfaces to ride on but it wasn’t designed without mercy; it’s also one of the most forgiving to crash in. Carrying on thusly for the next few hours, I got some good practice in on deep sand, bumps and hard corners. But that perfect MX turn I was picturing; inside leg out with the rear tire throwing a massive rooster tail of dirt, remained elusive. It was a lot harder than it looked on TV… go figure. I headed home for a late lunch eager to return and get some more training in before going back on tour. If you find yourself around Freo and need a dirt fix, by all means hit up Medina.
It’s got great bumps, lots of challenging sand and more trails than you can do in an afternoon. But before you go there’s one caveat you should be aware of; there is trash. Everywhere. And I’m not just talking a little pile of garbage can overflow. It’s a full on wasteland, and there’s everything from tire shredding glass shards to fridges and engine blocks littering the course.
Unfortunately, this is all too common at off-road courses. People see a place that isn’t visible from the road and assume they can unload their unwanted appliances at will. I mean, a few burned out cars are cool- they make for good photos and add to the atmosphere of adventure. But nobody wants to go home early because a smashed Night Train bottle ripped their tire open and sent them careening into a discarded kitchen sink.
So before you hit the track, be prepared to dodge more than just capstone and dust holes. There are enough banana peels out there to make you think you’re playing Mario Kart.
Other than that, just keep your eyes up and be aware that sand gets deep quick. Don’t venture down the skinny tracks if you’re not willing to hold the power on all the way through, or you’ll be doing a lot of digging.
With our Pan-Australian riding team disbanded and Magnus heading back to base with most of his motorcycles in tow, I was left in Fremantle with four weeks of vacation in front of me.
Mags left me with one of the DR-Zs, which was ready to ride after a quick sprocket change and fluid top up.
Since my 9 to 5 has me riding motorcycles and camping every day, I thought I’d mix it up and spend the time riding a motorcycle and camping.
But since I had some in-town business to take care of before setting off, I checked in to a hostel and had to share a room with 7 other dudes for the first time since April.
Any cheap traveler will tell you the sub-$30/night accommodation market is pretty hit or miss, but in this case I lucked out. The aptly named “Old Firestation Backpackers” where I stayed was indeed a re-purposed firehouse, although I was disappointed to learn the pole had been removed “to discourage unsafe behavior.” The garage below that once housed the trucks was now a beautiful Indian restaurant, adding an olfactory ambiance of curry to most of the rooms. Upstairs in the common area the faint smell of marijuana mixed nicely with my coffee and reminded me of school. Perfect environment to relax and reset before the next expedition.
With my gear stowed in a locker I forced myself to a mall and bought my entire camping loadout from K-Mart. A $15 tent, tin billy, some 100MPH tape, and few bungee cords looked pretty silly strapped to the brand-new motorcycle I was lucky enough to be riding, but I reckoned I was ready for another assault on the outback.
I checked for three nights to get a proper impression of Fremantle, so when I was done shopping I hit the city for a butcher’s.
I made the most of it and did everything you can’t do in the bush. Almost got run over by a bus, paid $10 for a beer, stared at hot chicks in line for lattes.
What I should have been doing was seeing a doctor about my shoulder, and after saying that to myself enough times I finally sacked up and called a GP. Since I had squandered most of the day birdwatching it was now 3:00 on a Friday, and I would be lucky to get an appointment.
No stranger to relying on luck for most of my endeavors, I rocked up to the medical center I found on my GPS and got a fifteen minutes of the doctor’s attention for $70. That was enough time to get a referral for an x-ray next door, where another $120 bought some polaroids of my skeleton and another referral to a shoulder specialist. Yes, apparently those exist.
I made an appointment for later next week, giving me time to execute a short expedition before returning to the city and learning whether or not I was going to get some bolts in my body.
With a rain pissing down on the streets and my tarp-covered motorcycle I poured over the Western Australia 4WD Atlas I had been lent by a friend of Mags’ and made myself a route that looked safe enough on paper.
How much trouble could I get in anyway?