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.
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.
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
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.