The idea was simple - spend a week north of Adelaide, South Australia, in one of the world's oldest mountain ranges, with a $200 budget and my reliable 20 year old Yamaha Super Tenere.
Departure was 7.30 am for an 8.30 am meet-up with fellow local Super Tenere owner, 27Rich. We decide to catch up at the first Roadhouse out of the city. Home to a constant stream of north bound travellers, including 1000hp+ diesel Prime Movers with great names including "Rampaging Turtle" - difficult not to think of this as an appropriate name for my old beast
. It's heavier than it really looks. I've added an instant pop-up tent and dry bag around my swag due to likely rain in the week ahead - August is always a bit unstable as winter slowly dies.
Our bikes are similar 1990 models - great adventure bikes even though they're well past their glory days.
We roll north past the expansive market garden and glasshouse region, where hundreds of farms are measured in handfuls of acres, onto the wheat and sheep grazing areas around Malalla township, where scattered individual farms are measured in hundreds of hectares. Rich, dark soil country that usually produces more than 16 bags of wheat to the acre, on average. Malting and feed grade barley grain are just as common and successful. Canola flowers, grown for their food grade oil, become a popular rotation crop in the next 300 kilometres north.
This is a good year and the crops look stunning already.
After only 40 kilometres of fast bitumen, we reach the dirt and gravel roads that will hopefully be my chosen route for the next week. I spent the prior evening plotting a course avoiding all further decent sealed surfaces - the good journeys in Oz are usually off the beaten tracks so that's always a priority in my trip planning. Rich and I cruise along the fast dirt, enjoying the beauty of the gently rolling plains with signs of spring and new life everywhere. I get slightly worried that the route is a bit too boring for Rich, who is only along for a day ride. I should have taken that into account with the GPS plotting. I usually ride in explore mode, following any track that looks interesting but for today, it's travel mode. I've got 600 kilometres planned before reaching the evenings planned bush camp. We follow the dry sandy clay roads as they flow north through the grain crops, until we reach an area where the road colour suddenly changes to a more distinct damp red clay. We've done about 60 kilometres so far and making great time, so we decide to push forward through this small challenge, expecting a slightly slower pace at worst before the dry soil returns soon.
It doesn't take long before Rich and I discover the error of our way.
This stuff, this thick, slick, red grease has become a trap for the big bikes.
Two hundred metres down this road and we're both in trouble. Poor traction and with no way to turn around through the bog, my bike slides with little control.
Rich, seeing the muck I'm riding in, mounts the overgrown verge and rides past me on the wet grass alongside the roadway. Normally this would be the last option, but the clay is so bad and the bikes so close to falling, it becomes the best and only option. Before I can reach a place where the grader verge is low enough to do likewise with my heavier rig, my front wheel clogs solid and slides several metres on the slick surface.
I can barely get off the bike without falling and there's no way I can use the sidestand, so I hold the bike upright until Rich walks back to help. He finds some thick tree bark pieces to spread the load under the sidestand and we get to cleaning the mud from under the low front guard with thin gum tree branch pieces.
"I think I see the problem."
A short time later, I'm mobile again, up onto the grass and standing on the pegs. Riding in this axle high grass would normally be suicidal due to hidden rabbit burrows but for the last five years or so, the release of a biological control virus has almost wiped out this massive introduced pest species and their deep burrow entrances. Only large rocks, displaced by the road builders long ago pose any hazard but they're few and easy to avoid.
After half an hour of riding, Rich and I make it a further kilometre to the end of the worst of the mud section and a side road junction. Looking back here, I note a "Dry Weather Only" road sign for the route we'd just travelled. Someone must have stolen the similar sign at the beginning of the road, or it fell over and sank into the mud.
We continued on, following the slightly improved road down to a great little creekside campground.
There's a waterhole a bit further down the small gorge that contains deep but clean water. We circle the area looking for a road indicated on the GPS. A shallow creek crossing indicates a track continuing the other side of the waterway, so we cross after a quick wading check of the stream. My right boot comes out of this short walk dry, my left boot not so dry. Oh well. I ride into the creek, rear brake locked as I slide down into the slick entry bank, cross then wait for Rich to do likewise.
This track takes us over a small rise and through the remains of a fallen gumtree, partially chainsawed to clear the track, before turning sharply left and up a steep, rutted 4WD climb of maybe 10 metres. Rich goes first as he's lighter without any camping gear. I follow his line with a bit more throttle. Once up this rise, I overtake Rich as we idle along the narrow track. Gone are the dual wheel tracks. This has become a single trail with relatively fresh motorcycle knobbies tracks leading us forward along a grassed slope forming one side of the waterhole gorge cliffs.
We've suddenly reached another point of no return.
Yep, that's what the track suddenly became in the lower right corner of the above photo.
Apprehensively, I nudge the 200+ Kg Tenere up the track, climbing towards a ridge. Just as I begin to accelerate on the increasing slope, my rear wheel suddenly spins in the wet grass at the edge of the goat trail. Instantly my bike swings sideways and the rear begins to drop down the cliff slope. I hit the kill switch and prepare to bail out. But the bike has dug a small hole with the suddenly spinning rear wheel and it holds still under engine compression without further down slope travel. I step off gingerly and jamb a half-brick sized rock behind the rear tyre.
Rich comes to my aid once again. Confident I'm not about to see my bike plummet into the waterhole 80 metres below, Rich grabs my camera and hikes up to the top of the hill to reassess our situation. We decide this isn't the track we want to be on today with slippery, wet grass, so we grab the front end of my bike and lift it the 135 degrees back the way I'd come in small stages, re-chocking the rear wheel as the bike swings. The rear tyre stays in the small divot it made prior to shutting the engine off, so my direction to let the bike go and step away from the sliding vehicle doesn't come into play.
I seriously thought I'd be walking home but we did well. I would have been stuffed on my own.
Problem now is that Rich and my bike are facing each other on a single track in a greasy grass covered slope with only one way out, other than over the gorge edge. I convince Rich to travel across a narrow, steep gully section I'd previously traversed (By holding one foot up at tank level off the peg to avoid injury due to the slopes angle) so as to reach a fairly flattish area just in front of me. He's hesitant but gives it a go. Just as he passes the treacherously steep section, his rear wheel hits the slick grass and down he goes,
almost out of my sight....
To be continued......