Join me on another ride..
Following some sand tracks...
To remote and lonely places...
Seeking out Australian Legends...
Where honours are rare and hard earned...
And tragedies are common....
To a place of ghosts....
And hidden treasures...
So if you're ready, Let's Ride!
It's early evening, dark and the rain is starting to build from light to pounding as I pull off the road to change gloves and put the raincover over the tank bag. What a miserable start to the ride. A mild amount of traffic whizes by. It the usual Saturday city exodus headed for their country retreats in the hills east of Adelaide city.
For me, the misery started earlier that day. I finally rode out of home just after lunch. The new Steel Pony tank panniers readjusted 300 metres down the road so I could actually sit down properly. I'd ordered them a long time prior to fitting the crash bars but never used them prior. With some cursing, I get them retied on the side of the road so I've actually got a couple of inches clearance off my knees. All good, onwards we go, into the weekend traffic. I get about twenty kilometres from home when I decide to fire the Garmin 60 GPS into life, to start navigating a course towards the South-East of the State. But no detailed maps come up. :huh What the hell? So I pull over again and fiddle with the menu and setup pages. Still nothing, I fear I've wiped out all the loaded maps with something I did to it the night before while loading a route system and clearing the track memory. Knowing this is vital gear for the trip, I turn for home.
Four hours later, I've reloaded the GPS memory card with Shonky Maps data for the whole of Australia, scrapping the OzTopo files previously loaded. While waiting for this download to finish, I also fiddled with the bike and noticed a flat spot on the rear tyre's centre tread. It brings it down close to the minimum legal tread depth but I'm certain from the tread wear rate so far that it'll last 2000 kms with luck. Just in case I head into the remote north of South Australia after the first part of the trip is done, I lash a spare Bridgestone DeathWing onto the load. It makes the bike look heavy but my basic gear is light and compact enough. The spare tyre stuffs up the way I want it loaded but I haven't got the budget or choices to do anything else.
I leave home again, with the sun going down as I climb the ranges again.
I have no idea how long I'm going for or where I'll end up. I've got 10 days of food, some empty water bladders, a metal detector and some old mining maps stashed into my usual camping kit. I know I've got to catch up with mates in about 16 hours time 400 kilometres away at a little Mallee town called Keith. Theres only miles of roo infested Mallee scrub and a sand dune desert zone between us. And a lot of rain.
Pushing through the night, winter gloves now working with the heated grips, I finally ditch the idiots surrounding me with their crowding 4WD's and blazing fog lights dazzling me every chance they get. The rain stops when I reach the Murray River at Mannum. Onto the ferry and across into the dirt roads that take me towards Lameroo township, my reflexes tuned to cut speed the moment a shadow becomes a kangaroo blinded by my HID lights.
Around 10pm I find a little country meeting hall and disused tennis courts at a place called Smithville, just above the desert section. I find a bit of firewood and set up camp in the chilly air under some huge pine trees. It's warm under the trees, so I forego wrestling with the tent and settle for my camp stretcher, inflatable matress and bivvy bag. I make a good feed from the first of my canned food and reheat rice packets then hit the sack. The full moon keeps me company during the silent, freezing night.
Next morning I wake just before dawn.
I don't even bother with breakfast. I've got to get moving.
To be continued....:evil
Count me in!
Waiting for the next instalment! Great pictures and story:clap
Gees I thought I had a nice afternoon of reading with the rain coming down. Great RR so far.
The starter whirls, twisting the crank into life. After thirty seconds of hearing it turn without firing, I suspect I'm in trouble. It normally fires first go or floods the engine trying. I've done just short of 280 kilometres in a tank that usually gives me a 400 km range, so I should still be working off the main fuel taps no where near reserve. I can smell a waft of fuel coming from the exhaust, but it's seems a normal to slightly rich smell. I can't of flooded the engine but as the next ten minutes of repeated attempts at manipulating the choke in every known position and playing with the throttle to try to clear the motor into life, I can hear the battery dying. It failed me totally only a few days earlier - apparently strained by the freezing late winter nights and short rides use recently. It recharged okay but I knew it wouldn't take much more cranking to kill it.
Only one choice. Pull the plugs and see what was going on internally. So off with the spare tyre and tucker cooler to get to the Ogio tool belt, out with the tools and on with the job. Fairing side panels loosened and dislodged, radiator dismounted and pushed forward, the left hand plug comes out looking fine but bone dry. :uhoh Not what I expected at all. I replaced this plug with my brand new spare then checked the second plug. The same. Bone dry. Somehow the fuel has drained or evaporated from the downdraught carbies overnight and the vacuum pump isn't now replenishing them. Nothing for it but to try a push start to conserve the battery for CDI power, so I bolt it all back together. By now it's a bit past 8am. I've got 2 hours to do the hundred kilometres of desert park between here and Keith. With everything strapped back on, both fuel taps set to Reserve, I find the high corner of the three disussed side by side bitumen tennis courts and roll gently down to bump it just before the final edge. Nothing. Not enough speed. A total waste of time. So with a thumb of the starter, I'm praying she'll fire. It cranks but except for a slight pop, nothing. :bluduh The battery's almost dead - the engine's not turning very fast at all. Giving it 60 seconds rest and thinking of that brilliant scene in "Flight Of The Phoenix" where they're down to the last starting cartridge, I thumb it again with full choke AND IT FIRES :happay so without worrying about gloves or doing up the helmet strap, I warm it at 3500 rpm for a couple of minutes before being brave enough to engage a gear and hit the road, gently building speed to warm everything up half properly. I head straight to Lameroo some 20 kilometres south-west instead of hitting my route due south. If I'm somehow down to reserve level, I can't risk running out of fuel in the heavy going the sands ahead will cause.
It's 9am, I've got 10 litres of fresh Premium mixed with what remains of the fortnight old regular unleaded and I'm motoring hard out of Lameroo towards the desert park.
Strangest thing, I keep passing "No Through Road" signs for the direction I'm going. I keep checking the GPS, which confirms I'm on the road into the park. Ahead of me is a vehicle raising dust, so I chase it down and once alongside the dual cab Landrover Defender at 110 km/hr, wave him down. He's a local and confirms it's the right road for sure, but goes on to say it's a waste of my time, as it's a proper, tough 4WD track that's torn up from recent rains and covered in flooded claypans, it possibly does but maybe doesn't go through to Keith, nobody goes out there, you'll die and be eaten by rabid emus, etc. After his "There Be Dragons" talk, I smile and tell him I'll see him in an hour or so if I've made a mistake but doubt that'll happen. Bidding him a good day, I launch ahead at speed until the good gravel road ends and I finally enter the Ngarkat Conservation Park.
The Ngarkat (pronounced Naarcat) is a massive wilderness of white coastal sand dunes trapped by the gradual raising of the land and receeding of a shallow ocean area as Australia advanced north from Gondwanaland many millions of years ago. Now the stunning white sands are formed into gentle rolling dunes about 5 metres high, covered in thick, low native shrubs and heat tolerant plants. The first section of track only a few hundred metres in from the northern boundry is torn to pieces, like dozens of crazed 4WDers have gone wild in the soft sand. Up on the pegs and following the straightest tracks, I get to solid ground very relieved not to fall, stopping to make some adjustments to the bike. The tyres get dropped to 14psi front and 16psi rear then I untie the tank bags so they can ride up when the bike inevitably hits the ground, instead of being torn off. The sand is much better here.
The only signs of recent activity a dingo's tracks and the bounding footprints of a roo going across the track. The only recent vehicle tracks are from a single narrow tyred 4WD.
(Note the kangaroo tracks from lower left to mid right)
(About 5 inches long and made by a medium sized roo - probably a Southern Grey Kangaroo - hop over to here for more info on roos.
After a few more short, soft sandy sections, the track changes briefly to a harder red base sandstone .....
Which gives me more confidence about continuing south into this wilderness alone and without any beacon or Spot unit.
Out here, the silence and isolation from the modern world really hits you. It clears the unneeded thoughts from your mind. One of the few places I've ever struck where you're moving into an unknown area surrounded by a world where you're the complete and solitary intruder.
No place to go but onwards...
Some travelling music until the next installment.
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Feel ya pain on the starter mate. Had exactly that happen to me on the S10. They are pretty hard to push start too.
Only get one good go at starting them, they either flood or start.
Your keen with a suspect battery to keep going but hey, it kept me reading.
Interesting reading, Continue please.......
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The sand starts to get softer and deeper the further I head south. I spend most of my time carefully following the narrow path of one or other side of the two wheel ruts that forms this road across the dunescape. Low bushes form an almost constant barrier either side of the track. They keep brushing against the tank panniers, knocking them backwards against my knees.
On softer sections, I chose a cautious path, standing on the footpegs, second gear, working the throttle to maintain a constant moderate pace. Firmer sections I rest by sitting. The tank panniers keep getting swiped backwards, banging against my knee and I'm forced to reach down and lift them forwards again. They're basically staying in place by the two rubber backed straps that cross over the tank under the tank bag. Running the left wheel rut, in a moment of lapsed concentration, I look down to lift the left bag forwards again and look up in time to find I've moved into a section where the sand's slightly deeper. The bike moves off balance slightly and I try correcting however the front wheel scrambles up against the steep edge of the rut and I can't correct. Down I go.
It looks a harder fall than it really was, except I get my right leg jammed under the hot muffler, my leg swept back about level with the peg as the bike capsized. Laying there, I struggle to drag it clear. I can smell the fuel running out of the carby overflows and feel the heat building against my calf. Worried I'm trapped, I drag my leg forcefully free while kicking the bike away with my left leg. Just a moment of mild panic, soon gone.
The bike won't come upright easily, so after a few attempts to drag it towards the centre of the track more and digging out sand beneath the wheels, I'm forced to unlash the load to right the beast. I can feel the clock ticking the whole time. I know this is going to put me later into Keith than is comfortable to make the appointed time. But there's nothing I can do. There's no help out here and none likely for weeks. It's not a popular place to visit.
I get the job done and lash everything back in place with the Andy Strapz tie downs. After about half an hour, I'm mobile again. Knowing I need to make up for lost time, I pick up the pace, standing on the pegs working between second and third gear. I'm loving the ride and this endless scenery. Just brilliant.
Cresting a slightly steeper dune, I suddenly find the track arcing to the right, with the sand softer and the front scrubbing against a deep rut wall again. Once more I crash but with enough speed to fly over the bars and screen. Landing with a bone grinding crunch hard on my left shoulder, I expect to find my collarbone or upper arm socket broken. It must be all the milk I used to steal as a kid but other than a general pain, everything works.
Great spot for it though. Gotta love a decent landing site.
I'm lucky enough that she comes upright again without unloading, simply because the wheels drop down into the ruts, helping with the dead lift angle. This time I check the radiator for damage as it's half full of sand. All good, I'm on the way again. This time a bit slower again. I can't afford to keep pushing as it's costing me valueable time with the falls.
I'm finally within sight of the southern entry information shelter and again the sand turns to soup, cut up by 4WDer's charging the first section. In this mess I spot a fist sized rock sitting in the middle of a wheel rut and with the best target fixation I can muster, I centre punch it hard with the rear tyre.
A hundred metres later, on firm ground, I can feel the rear give a wobble.
I take the chance to have a pee and take a decent draw on the camelbak while the little Slime pump comes out of the tank pannier to do it's job. Fifteen or so minutes later, I'm mobile again with a tube that seems to be holding okay.
To the end of the track for a couple of quick photos.
Then onwards the final 20 kilometres to Keith township.
To be continued.... :rayof
In the twenty minutes it takes to reach Keith township, the tyre deflates again and I'm rolling on a dead flat tyre as I reach the park where an unveiling ceremony for the memorial to Dakar rider and local, Andy Caldecott, was held at 11.30am. It's a bit past 1pm, so all those delays really conspired against me. I'm really disappointed that I've missed this event. It was the best I could do to get here though, short of simply riding down the mind-numbing Western Highway. I catch up briefly with fellow Adelaide ADVrider, Kevs69, and his lovely partner before they disappear back west on a tidy BMW R1150GS. Another ADVrider riding mate, GoneAgain, disappeared back homewards only five minutes before I arrived. But there's some friendly locals and guests who've come to the event to honour Andy and family still enjoying a barbeque and beers in the park. After dragging the bike up onto its centre stand and chatting for ages with a local rider, I grab a sausage sandwich and wander over to view the freshly unveiled monument. It's a beauty. A truly fine way for Andy to be remembered by locals and travellers alike.
After this, I spend the next couple of hours chatting with dozens of locals and fellow riders as I peel the rear tyre off the rim and patch the tube. What should be a short job is made quite lengthy - it's never a quick job when you've got a hundred bike riders all keen to say G'day and chat about the old Tenere and their own adventures.
By about 4.30pm, I'm mobile again after refueling. I wish I could head to the pub for a beer with some of Andy's mates, but I need to keep moving east. It'd be very easy to end the day in the pub, but it was never my plan to remain in Keith after the memorial service.
Sorry, Andy, but I know you'd understand.
after all this falling laying and flying you should put cushions under your gear :clap
Keep on riding and posting, I'll be there for the reading!
subscribed for your adventure :D
Love the desolation of the Australian bush. We get some of it here in the U.S., but you have to really, really try to be completely isolated.
As I roll east out of Keith, I notice an early pioneer dwelling that seems to be available to view. I love my early Australian History, as it's possible to find bits and pieces everywhere still, so I have to check it out.
With an adjoining implement shed with an excellent range of horse drawn farm machinery.
And a well tortured long-drop dunny (waterless outside toilet)
All up, a beautiful old homestead.
But it's time to move. I've got less than an hour of daylight left and I need to find a campsite before the roos come out and make travel risky. As I'm travelling down the road at a nice 100km/hr compared to the slower pace of earlier in the day, I feel a squirm from the back end. Pulling over, I'm hit by the waft of hot rubber and this sight....
Blast! This's thrown a spanner in the works. I move off the bitumen road onto a dirt track running parallel, but this is just a roadside trailbike track with no real camping areas away from the road. I keep going a couple hundred metres further, into a farm driveway and meet a farmer refueling near a shearing shed. The farmer is friendly and suggests I make use of the shearing shed, but warns they're having a problem with plagues of mice. It's been a wet summer and a mild, mainly dry winter, which has kept mouse numbers high across all wheat/barley growing land of the State. I explain I'd prefer a campsite where I can have a cooking fire and she suggests a track I've passed about 500 metres earlier. It sounds perfect and on wobbling back down there, proves to be better than I could ever want. The track cuts across a corner of the main road, leading to the drive of an abandoned farm house. It's hidden from traffic going past by thick scrub and there's plenty of firewood, a couple of old, small fire sites and good, firm flat land.
Getting a fire going and pitching the tent, I can then tear the rear wheel out and deal with what could be a torn tube (with no spare). At least the bead's broken on one side now.
I'm actually amazed that the tube hadn't torn considering the distance ridden, repeatedly, on a fully deflated tire. The old patch has let go, probably from the heat of riding it flat travelling from the park into Keith earlier in the day. The new patch looks fine still, so I patch it and throw it in the tent to dry overnight. The Mitas is actually as tough as old boots, not showing any issues from the roasting it underwent.
The full moon rises by the time I've sorted the tube.
For dinner, I dig two cans of stew and a packet rice out as I'm starving. The evening's spent listening to music and sipping Port wine while enjoying the peace of the bush and the flicker of the campfire. Life is good.
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