November - 2009
Australia. A defining Moment.
The vast emptiness that is the
Australian outback is something bigger than words can do justice to. It’s breathtaking and isolated,
staggeringly beautiful and scary all at once.
What follows is a small account of some
of that experience, but if you’re reading this and haven't been to Birdsville or Innamincka or somewhere
similar, then go. Make a plan now, and make it happen. It is too special not to see.
But now it’s Saturday evening, somewhere
near Innamincka, it’s dark, The quadrupeds have been riding virtually non stop for 12 hours, and
fatigue is really setting in.
Hydration packs have been dry for a
couple of hours, petrol tanks are not much better, and they’ve been bogged about 6 times in the last 30km, so
the last few hours have taken their toll physically, and nerves are tense to breaking point.
They crest a small hill and round a bend
to see the small town of Innamincka lit up like a Christmas tree, and pull up on the banks of the Cooper
River, staring wide eyed at the pub in the distance.
The river is at about 0.8m deep and 50m
wide but unlike the countless road washouts they’ve already crossed — it’s running fast. They see this
and hesitate for a moment but in fatigued minds (with a cold beer within sight) the danger doesn't really
it, I'll have a go, come get me if I fall ok?
First gear and I’m
off, the river runs from left to right so I head off well on the left side of the crossing. The surface
is solid so I’m confident after making so many other crossings today where the bottom was a mess.
About 10 metres in
and the confidence vaporises as the current has pushed me towards the other side and a fall into the river
For an instant I
focus on the waters plunging off the crossing, into darkness, trees and rocks, and the fatigue falls away
instantly, brushed aside by the eminent danger of losing the bike, all my gear and possibly my
Every gram of
adrenalin stored in my body feels like it’s been set free, and I push my focus back on the centre of the
causeway where I want to be.
The waters pushing
against the panniers and tank have me right over on the edge, narrowly missing a series of depth markers
before I manage to get it straight again, now moving on what feels like a 30 degree angle into the current
but still only just going straight.
I’m praying the
front doesn't wash out, tyring to coax the thing back to the middle of the road now, gently,
It comes back to the
middle, and we push on, the motor is working hard, there’s spray in my face and the bike is on an impossible
angle but we stay on line. Another 30m and the force of the water eases as the causeway climbs a
little. After an eternity I’m out the other side.
exhilarated, terrified all at once.
I’m overwhelmed by
the near miss but then all I can think of is telling the Donkey not to try it. That was just too
close. I tear off my gloves and helmet, and am yelling—screaming with all I have left...
NO DON’T COME OVER STOP STOP STOP NO NO NO CURRENT TOO STRONG STOP NO NO DON’T DON’T NO!!!!”
But it’s too far and
the noise of the river drowns out my voice, so I run and grab the 2-Way, I’m waving it over my head like a
lunatic still yelling, turning it on and off desperately to get it to light up, but all the Donkey sees is me
waving and he thinks I'm saying
across it’s fine...”
He puts it in gear
and rolls towards the bank, I’m still screaming NO NO!!! In he goes, I start to run in to help if he falls,
then hesitate for fear of distracting him... I’m thinking - left left push it left, but he gets swept right
towards the depth markers too. As he gets it straight I'm riding right there with him again and
ON, YES! GO YOU GOOD THING!! THATS IT YES!! WOOHOO!!”
He makes it across and pulls up
next to me...
fuck fuck fuck—I’m fucking shaking”
We ride the last
200m to the pub in a trance like state, then we pull up speechless, and the reality of what might have
been sets in.
We need 3 things, do you have Rooms, Dinner and a Beer... preferably not in that order”
The pub is open. They have
beer. All of a sudden everything is ok. I hug my brother and wonder if maybe our Pa was watching
over us just then...
Day 1: Adelaide to
We rode out of Adelaide after work on
Wednesday and headed North, stopping in Pt Pirie, where the local hotel let us leave the bikes in the locked
drive-thru for the night.
cant leave them outside, they’ll be gone by morning!”
Day 2 : Port Pirie to
Mungerannie, 620km, (220 unsealed on the Birdsville track)
Aside from an eagle that seemed to think
he could fly off with the Donkey, the ride to Marree was uneventful. But shortly after the bitumen
stopped, the water crossings started.
We quickly learned to use first gear as
anything faster resulted in a face full of water and a complete inability to see where we were going.
Funny for whoever was watching but not very nice for the rider :p
12hrs and 2 punctures later we pulled up
at the Mungerannie hotel, tired but happy. Phil the proprietor took good care of us, fed us, showed us
DVD's of the pioneers of that part of the world and gave us a clean room to sleep in. Nice.
Phil's parting words -
“Ah get fucked...
Just don't come back”
Day 3 : Mungerannie
to Birdsville 303km
The Birdsville track was a bit of fun,
some challenging water crossings, some soft sandy sections and a whole lot of nothing.
We rolled into Birdsville completely
unaware that we were on fumes, until we filled up - the two bikes took 59.8lt of fuel. They only hold
60lt of fuel. Lucky.
We had just travelled 300km using 30lt
of fuel each. At that rate we’d want 60lt to cross the desert, but could only carry 48 with us.
That was a serious problem. That and our rear brakes were to metal, and sprockets showing heavy wear
from the mud fest of the previous 2 days.
So we made the difficult decision to
abandon the Simpson crossing, and next time come a little more prepared. But we ventured into the desert for
the rest of the day and got to see and cross big red, the largest sand dune in the Southern
We got into the Birdsville hotel and
were promptly greeted by James - a funny bloke who had just come the same way in a 4wd and he shouted us a
couple of beers.
Day 4 : Birdsville to
The guys at the Birdsville hotel warned
us against taking this road and suggested it was closed, but fortunately (?) the highways dept didn't agree
and signs said open so we thought we’d go for a look.
Leaving Birdsville we loaded up with
full tanks, and an extra 18lt of fuel each, (look at the video ’leaving Birdsville’ for a peek at our fuel
containers). The Bikes were HEAVY! We rode for 12 hours stopping only briefly to eat, and didn’t
see another soul the whole time.
We fell often and had to unload the
bikes a few times to push them out of a bog before reloading, once one even needed towing out with the other
The end of the day was pretty tough
going though, the last hour in the dark, no signposts to Innamincka for hours, low on fuel and our odometers
disagreeing with map distances by about 30km. Stress levels were really high. I think this led to
the poor decision to have a go at the Cooper crossing without wading in first, but again, lesson
learned. Next time we’ll do it a little differently.
Day 5 : Innamincka to
Lyndhurst —The Strzelecki Track 480km
After the previous days bog fest, this
road was like a highway and we belted down the track without incident at good speed all day. At
Lyndhurst we ran into James again and got to repay the beer debt, he’d tried to follow us to Innamincka but
almost got bogged a few times early on so turned around and came back down the Birdsville track!
Day 6: Lyndhurst to
Day 7 Pirie to
While we didn't cross the Simpson, we
did learn some invaluable lessons from this trip.
The dirt and mud is incredibly hard on
the final drive, so much so that we ended up nursing the things home for fear of jumping the
Off road, even on reasonably good
(albeit soft) surfaces, the bikes use a lot of fuel. When we head OS we had planned for a 38lt carrying
capacity, which would only give a range of 380km. We’re now looking into some short term lightweight
fuel cells for situations where that isn't enough.
Our boots are waterproof! So much
so that once they get full of water, they stay full of water—All day! After 3 days of this both of us
had pretty sore feet.
We now have a theme for our
“I’ll have a go at it if you’ll come get me when
We both feel like we have some
unfinished business with the Simpson desert crossing, so perhaps next year we’ll try again :p
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