I leave Alice Springs in the morning after getting a new tire. the shop gives me a good deal as a returning customer. right out of town the dirt road to Finke beginns. this is the same road that gets raced once a year in the famous Alice/Finke/Alice race. there were winner cups and front pages of newspapers on the wall of the bike shop. it does not invite me to race, quite the opposite. I find it hard to keep the bike in a straight line in the deep sand. I clamp the handlebar and sit back hard against the luggage, it’s hard work. there’s hardly any traffic and a little way in I wonder if it was a good choice to do this road. there are holes in the road like this one and I see it just in time to stop.
Two guys on two big KTMs like mine stop and we talk. the track further south is ok they say. they are having fun, more than I do. the track changes to some sandy bits mixed with firmer bits. I make it to Finke, 250 km south of Alice. the local service girl tells me the road is gonna be better further south. thank god.
there’s a storm coming in from the east. cold air is the first thing I feel. than lightning, a few raindrops and then hail starts to fall on the ground and on me, hail the size of small marbles. it scares me a bit, there’s no shelter and I don’t know if the hail’s gonna grow in size or if it stops. it stops and I carry on.
occasionally there’s a detour around soft, muddy and deeply rutted sections of the road. mostly the detours are the better choice and here it definitely would have been the better choice but I take the straight road. it only looks muddy in the centre and I ride on the dry side until at the end of it the muddy bit widens out and the side bit gets trenched by deep, hard ruts. I attempt to throttle over the deep rut on an angle, the front wheel falls into it and the bike and I go down in an instant. I take a deep breath while laying on the ground and scan my body for injuries. all good. next I take a shot while I’m down here.
only damage: one broken off indicator.
the storm is still there, just a bit on the side so I stay dry. later I meet a guy I overtook before and he’ll tell me he almost didn’t make it cause there was so much rain that in some parts the water created ponds. knee deep water he had to get through where I rode on dry land only one hour earlier.
I cross the border to South Australia and check my bags for chainsaws and pets. Phew, none of those illegal substances in my luggage.
I make it to Mt. Dare roadhouse and get a campsite in the old meat room. a roof to pitch my tent up under and I’m glad for this roof. this night’s gonna be a wet one.
the couple who runs the roadhouse came with their kids from Adelaide and settled for the quiet life. a tasteful decorated oasis of good food, drinks and conversation in the middle of a desert track. both I find very helpful and easy going. thank you guys. there’s a sleeping beauty from gone days at the camp site:
those huge green beetles like to camp under the tent. dozens flee the light in panic when I take the tent down the next morning.
time to leave this warm place but not before every kid gets his mam or dad to take a picture of him/her on the bike. they love it.
‘looks like snow’ I think driving past those salty flats.
next stop Dalhouse Springs, the famous start of the French Line, the track through the Simpson Desert that crosses over 1000 dunes and needs fuel and water for 700 km.
and a lighter bike. I’m not even tempted to think about doing it alone. people have died here. its on the list though. Dalhouse Springs has a spring that produces 3 million year old water at 38 C and leaves it sitting nicely in a pond for visitors to enjoy. so I do.
I really should get going but this spa I enjoy a lot. tiny fish nibble on my skin. bio-dermabrasion beauty treatment a la oz outback. thank you mother nature. I get going. next stop Oodnadatta. the road to there is pretty good and there’s more traffic coming the opposite way. there’s really not much there, mining probably, but the roadhouse is something special.
pink for a start and run on an almost complete self service system. I as everyone else make my own plunger coffe, get the milk from the fridge and get my cup from the shelve. ‘we’re working on a system to have the customer cook their own meal’ the lovely lady says with a smile. this place has character like not many in australia.
I have an Oodna-burger with the lots. tastes great.
Coward Springs got recommended as a nice camp site. I make it there and stayed almost dry. there was a little rain just a few kms back and I mention that because this is a region that doesn’t get much rain. sometimes none at all for years and then 2 days in a row when I’m here. today and tomorrow. and I didn’t dance for it, honestly. this is the camp info place with honesty box, something unimaginable further north in NT:
three dads and their sons are on an outback adventure and invite me over for a beer. they are very hospitable and Tony offers a range of beautiful australian whites and reds. thank you very much for your hospitality Tony, Craig and Warren. it was a pleasure to meet you. I made it to bed alright. next morning was pretty slow, only the drizzling rain kept me packing and going.
the toilet and shower block was built from railway sleepers.
I come past this artists site:
and have a rest in Marree. a strategic place for me cause here I need to make a decision between going north east to Sydney via the Streczinsky track or going south east via bitumen. rain and very bad track conditions convince me to go bitumen. in Marree I have late breakfast, eggs on toast and a latte, since they’ve got a real coffe machine. ‘I’ll make you a coffe to die for and you’ll love it sweetheart but it won’t be a latte,’ the lady owner says. well alright then and surprise surprise, it was good coffe. I move on and in Leigh Creek the road turns bitumen for the rest of the trip. from here on its pretty much straight ahead 1700 or so km east to Sydney. I stay the night in Olary hotel, a really friendly place, basic and cheap and the first place I’ve ever been in that has a remote control for the lights and the fan. wow, that’s the last thing I expected here!
the next day I leave early and set myself Orange, the town, as a goal. 1037 km to go and my first over 1000 km a day trip. its basically little steps of 150 kms to the next tank stop and then on to the next. further down the road I don’t take one tank stop, too early and promptly run out of fuel. I stop at a rest area and ask other travelers. no one got any. I wave at an oncoming grey vw van, the driver looks at me and refuses to stop. the next car does stop and has some spare fuel. thank you guys and you even refused payment once you learnt I’m a visitor to your country. thanks mate. at the next service station I refuel and see the guy who passed me without stopping having lunch with his girl and his kid. when he goes outside I follow and tell him: ‘ you just drove past me when I asked you to help. I ran out of fuel, hope you never need help.’ he replies: ‘I’m from Sydney mate, I don’t do help.’ I leave it at that and think he’ll fry over his own answer.
I made it to Orange that night and even got a bed at a pub. so lucky cause the Bathurst car race is on and that’s only 50 kms away and 180,000 visitors come to see the show. must’ve been the last bed in town. I get very tired and fall to bed, sleep like a rock.
the next day I do my final ride in australia, from Orange to Sydney, ca. 250 km that take ca. 4 hours. lots of traffic and lots of speeding checks. no ticket for me, actually no ticket the whole trip, thank you australia. I get to Go! Logistics depot, clean the bike, crate it and pack the luggage that goes with the bike.
a feeling of accomplishment arises in me and now I look forward to new adventures back home. Australia, you’ve been a great host. you showed me your treasures of nature, your beautiful warm, helpful and hospitable people, well mainly, your warm climate, your incredible huge and empty spaces, your amazing dirt roads and, most of all, you gave me a new perspective of how I see the world, you gave me new eyes. thank you Australia!
and Australia would reply: ‘No worries mate, no worries at all.’
so I leave Alice Springs friday afternoon, head south for an hour and then west towards the Kings Canyon, 100 km of dirt road. it takes me a while to find the rhythm of the road, lots of floodways like this one:
and dips that are quite short and sharp. after a while I think I found the roads soul and settle at 120 km/h cruise speed. those new michelin desert tyres are a champ. just as much grip as the dunlops if not more but hey, all that following of ruts is gone. the bike goes where I want it to go. wow! love’em! which leads to more confidence which brings me to this dip. short and deep, from the distance it looks like all the others before but it isn’t. it’s much deeper. much! too late, I open the throttle full to try to power over it but the rear wheel sinks deep and hits the opposite face full on. the suspension bottoms out, bounces back and the back end comes high up, back wheel almost over front wheel. I thought the bike and I are going for a front flip but somehow she landed alright and didn’t even wobble, just carried on. must be all that weight that kept the bike moving straight ahead. thank god, that was close. at bottoming out the rear tire looses 1/4 of its centre knobs. after 2 hours on this new tire.
I carry on, camp an hour later and sleep well that night. next morning I pack and am on my way to Ayers Rock. bitumen from here on, I have breakfast at Curtin Springs roadhouse:
and see mount conner on the way. this really sticks out of an otherwise pretty flat landscape.
a little further and I arrive at Uluru car park.
lots of busses and campers coming in and out, highly touristy as one would expect. I’m getting slightly edgy already but I do want to walk along that big rock a little and take some shots.
without any knowledge about this rock I am quite free to perceive its energy and man does it have a presence. plus it looks a bit like I imagine alien skin, nothing my eyes have seen before. I feel a deep respect for the sacredness the indigenous people connect with this rock. Its not my sacredness but for sure it is something special. enough. I’m all filled up with rockology and hungry to ride again. it’s been two hours. while heading back east on the highway I weigh the pros and cons of going back and getting a new tire or carrying on and safe some time. I decide for a new tire. I drive past ‘watch out for camels’ sign but only come across a few that were fenced in at the service station.
I got to Alice ok and booked a bunk at Annie’s backpackers. this place took me by surprise. 80′ies soft grunge punk decor and music, 3 different movie projectors playing Tom and Jerry, Superman comic, and another comic, a live band, not matching color schemes everywhere and yet the whole was bigger than its parts. i was part of a living piece of art. incredible. if you ever get a chance…
today I cleaned the airfilter and wind screen, that’s 2 kg’s less, phew. tomorrow first thing I get the tire mounted, hopefully, and then out of Alice and south on dirt! Finke, Oodnadatta to Marree past Lake Eyre. then onwards on dirt as long as possible to Sydney, yes.
ciao for now, Helly
the chain arrived next morning and Jim put it on straight away, needed a grinder to cut it off since it was the original first chain. he also fitted the front sprocket I carried around since Sydney. rear sprocket is waiting together with tyres in Alice Springs. thank you Phil and Jim for your support and great service.
I left Broome at 11 am, heading for halls creek, some 700 km east. had to get there tonight to make sure I’ll make it to Alice Springs by friday arvo to get my tyres fitted. the rear one is pretty low on profile already, I hope it’ll make it through the Tanami desert. when filling up at a service station 250 km later I noticed the clock is still on nt time, 2 hours ahead but the thermometer reading is correct. 43 C. it was so hot that when riding I had to keep the visor shut to keep the hot air off my face. it was actually cooler riding with the thing shut.
the landscape doesn’t change much but every now and so often a dead car lies beside the road, dismantled of all its usable goods, windows smashed and rusting away. it seems that its not worth towing or the pirates got to it before the tow truck.
Its getting late in the day, the shadows grow and wildlife and cattle move around again:
I stayed the night in Halls Creek, had breakfast at the roadhouse and a chat with this guy over a cup of coffe. he told me about his plans to mine some land close by for gold, copper, and two more things I can’t remember. I like your openness, all the best for you, now I’m sorry we didn’t introduce ourselves.
I’m carrying 30 lt of extra fuel and will put them in the tanks as soon as they allow for it just to get that weight off the back. off I am. 1000 km of desert road ahead and hopefully a good one.
hundert or so km into the tanami I stop to check the chain and tire pressure. should’ve done it this morning but I forgot. chain is good, I expected it to have lengthened a bit since Broome but it didn’t. tire pressure is at 26 psi front and 28 psi rear. I’ll bring it up to 32/36 psi since the road is more rocky in this part plus that should make the rear last better too.
some more ‘road art’
150 km into the track is the first service station at Bililuna village. at the turnoff a sign says entry only with permit so I don’t bother and carry on to Rabbit Flat, another 290 km away. I have enough fuel with me.
I see a road train coming towards me and stop to let him pass:
the road is fun to ride on those firm parts only when it gets sandy the front wheel wants to go sideways and I slow down and clamp that handlebar. mounting a steering stabilizer would have been a good choice I think. next time. I arrive safe at Rabbits Flat.
the owner tells me he’s closing the fuel service end of the year, too much trouble with the locals, ‘ they make such a mess on my land, I just have enough and want some quiet time’, he says. that’ll make it a 750 km stretch from Halls Creek to Yuendumu without fuel, or 600 km from Bililuna. couldn’t do that on my bike easily. this photo is just out his drive:
well, now I’m off to Yuendumu and hope I get some fuel there. 310 km. deep ruts start to show up in the middle of the road but there’s enough smooth space to the left and right to ride. It’s a mix of longer smooth firm sand parts and deeper sand that slows me down and always makes me feel not in control, a bit like skiing when the edges loose their grip on ice, always a bit scary. plus the front wheel wants to follow every rut. this will change for the better once I change tire brand in Alice Spring but until now I’m very happy with the performance of the 908 rr dunlop at the front.
the Tanami Desert had a lot of rain last month and turned out to be a green desert now:
I see locusts flying really low, and millions of them. the swarm was crossing the road so I rode the width of it for a few minutes but wouldn’t have a clue how long it is.
later in the afternoon the light changes to a beautiful orange, softens everything for a little while.
time to look for a campsite soon but first I need some fuel. in Yuendumu the mine service is closed. open tomorrow. I leave the village and find a spot to camp 5 km south. the sound of the bike chases some wild horses across the road right in front of me. when I set up camp
those guys were watching me for the whole time:
there were seven of them and once I went to bed one of them comes closer and checks me out. he moves very slowly and quietly and blows his nostrils occasionally to let me know he’s there. when I thought he was going for the food that’s stored in the saddle bags I get up and chase him away. he wasn’t touching the bags. I point the torch at the bush and see his two white eyes reflecting back. he’s hiding behind the bush and keeps looking at me. ‘little menace’ i think and go to bed again. I hear another one coming closer and the first one stays behind the bush. I can hear exactly where they are and how close they are, the hooves make a distinct sound in the sand. I know they’re just curious and want to check me out. I don’t have any fear and sleep well after a few hours. I wake up a few times during the night and hear them walking around really close. I fall asleep again. in the morning I can see their hove prints everywhere and some are hard against the tent but no sign of the horses.
sunrise in the Tanami desert:
and time for a cup of tea:
I pack up and head into Yuendumu to get fuel. I’m an hour early, the shop opens at 9 am. I look around, not a nice place. dirt on the street and in every backyard I can see. looks like a poor african village. concrete block houses and tin shelters half fallen in, rubbish laying around and the only sign of life are dogs sifting through it. plus there was a feud 2 weeks ago with people getting injured and killed and fleeing the place. the lady from the shop comes early and smiles. I fill up the bike and tell her about the horses and she knows them, ‘ I’m surprised they came close’ she says,’we’d been mustering them for a while but can’t get at them’.
I’m glad to leave this place. why does it exist? mining.
then another 150 km bitumen to Alice Springs. by 11.30 am I arrive. the bike shop is great, the service too. they mount the tyres, new tubes and the slightly bigger 45 teeth sprocket straight away and I’m off to Ayers Rock at 2pm. some dirt road, some sealed road and unfortunately it’s going to be a round trip back to Alice Springs for a new tire again tomorrow. but that’s another story.
ciao for now, Helly
Chris and I find a nice backpackers in Darwin and share a room there. here we will part, I will go on to Broome, Chris will ship him and his bike to East Timor, the easiest way to enter indonesia. but first we need a few new parts. he a new set of spokes and some other little bits and I new tyres. knobbies cause there’s a lot of dirt road where I’m going. the shop, a big KTM dealer, has none. I’m slightly disappointed, thought I just bang on a new set and off we are. not so, instead this becomes a perfect exercise in patience. sure the arrogant unknowledgeable parts and service staff add to the disharmony but the main issue is that it takes at least 5 days to get tyres into Darwin. 5 days! breath! I still got so much to learn about australia. so for 5 days I explore Darwin a bit and have to say I’m totally impressed by their art gallery. never would have expected an exhibition of modern aboriginal art that is so catching and touches me on a deep level. there’s one painting in particular that’s on one hand only a black background with thousands of tiny white spots on it but from a distance looks like a cloud moved by wind. it’s called ‘desert plum flower’ and although I’ve never seen a desert plum flower I do get the feeling of it through the painting. that does happen to me only very seldom. Darwin has a popular night market with lots of unusual food stalls. I’ll have skewers with crock, roo, buffalo and camel. interesting but nothing I’ll get addicted to.
Roadkill Cafe, you kill it – we grill it:
also plenty of time to clean the bike and do some maintenance. got a couple of new fuel cans and mounted them on the passenger pegs. best spot for weight distribution, worst spot for safety as I will learn soon. so I get my tyres on friday and the guy who mounts them really knows his job. ah, they are Dunlop 908RR’s same ones I used to go up Cape York. I pack, say good buy to Chris and head off north to Kakadoo National Park. fuel stop after 260 km. I pay, walk towards the bike and this guy asks me: what have you done to your tyres? wtf? what? what? naah!
every centre knob was totally gone. I was cruising on bitumen, allowing the new tyres to run in. wobble wobble, break in the side walls. smooth ride, gentle on the throttle, and then this! after 5 days of waiting! un-be-f..ing-lievable. I am pissed off. solidly. better no one from dunlop shows up right now. not that they would. I’m considering buying a new tyre and ship this one to my lawyer, let him have a ball. after the steam settled I make my 260 km way back to Darwin at 80km/h, to be safe. checked tyre temperature every half hour and it was ok. what was not ok was the jerry can mount. it pressed too hard against the exhaust header pipe and melted a hole in it. only noticed it cause I could smell the fuel.
this guy must have had fuel problems too:
next morning the shop was very helpful and banged on a new pirelli scorpion tyre and dealt with the dunlop guys who knew there’s a bad batch of tyres out there. anything I thought, anything, I just gotta get out of here. I left Darwin after lunch and made it to Kununurra, 700 km away and just over the NT/WA border. here’s a road train on its way to WA:
the landscape didn’t change much but the feel of the land changed big time. everything became a little softer, gentler, easier, nicer. slightly warmer. and funny enough I noticed the same change in people. they were a lot friendlier, warmer, easier to approach and a lot more helpful here in WA. only thing: speed limit is back to 110 km/h and gets checked on it too. NT had a bit more cowboyness to it regarding speed limits. anyway, time to behave on the bitumen. and then those funny looking trees started to appear, Boab Trees.
and right beside it a tree with flowers and fruit at the same time and no leaves:
from Kunanarra its only 50 km’s to the eastern start of the famous Gibb River Road. it runs through the Kimberleys, a hilly national park that advertises itself as the true last adventure in australia.
I find a smooth dirt road that invites to push the personal speed limit a bit higher. so I do. on a perfect straight bit with no loose stuff and a red surface hard as concrete, not many would call it a true dirt road, I open her up and she settles in at 172 km/h in 5th gear. she should go faster, it’s full throttle but something’s not quite right. feels like dirty fuel filters again. I fill her up and have a delicious burger at the fuel station and decide there to camp the night up in bell gorge. 40 km’s north of the gibb river road, 40 km’s north of the middle of nowhere she dies on me. same as in cairns, loss of power and then death by starvation. for a few minutes I try to talk myself into a dirty air filter symptom but deep down I know Its the fuel filter. not good. I set up camp, walk to the gorge and have a swim in the river in the middle of a stunning gorge scenery that shows its beauty in the late daylight.
I wake up at 4.30 and hear the first bird songs of the day. I will start taking the bike apart soon to avoid the heat of the sun. the blowflies are understanding and leave me alone once I applied some fuel to my skin.
I pull off the left tank, drop it and break the quick link fuel connection. I just doubled my McGiver-things-to-do.
I catch the fuel so I have enough to get out. it goes straight into the right tank. I need every drop of it.
the tank has got the fuel pump inside. out it comes. top of the pre-filter is visible and very dirty. I cut it open, that’s the best I can come up with.
the pump goes back in and I hacksaw the fuel quick release so it will hold together with two zip ties.
everything goes back in its place, no left overs is always a good sign, I push the start button, she purrs. thank you god of motorcycles. this fix gets me to Broome without trouble and I still ride around like this while I wait for the parts to arrive.
Beach at Broome:
a very kind and helpful suzuki/honda dealer goes out of his way to get my parts in time. 2 sets of fuel filters, oil filter, a new chain and sprockets. filters arrived saturday but chain will hopefully be here on tuesday. the old one is dead. I pulled the fuel pump again and cleaned the tanks, not that they were dirty. put her back together and she run terrible. after some research on http://www.advrider.com I’m sure it’s the fuel pump. I put her back together wrong. so, tomorrow I fix the pump, change the fuel filters, change oil and filter and put the new chain on when it arrives. new sprockets are waiting for me in Alice Springs at the end of the Tanami Track. 1000 km of rough dirt. need to call police tomorrow to check if it is drive-able. heard it had a lot of rain and is not passable. need clean information on this one since it has hardly any traffic and I’ll be on my own.
so much for now, ciao, Helly
yesterday I cut out the front fender to allow more airflow to the radiator and I cut down the windshield to allow more airflow to the operator. I was just getting to hot behind that tall screen.
today I fixed the fuel pump and changed the fuel filters. I changed the oil and oil filter and put her back together again. she purrs as smooth as a tiger cub. ready to go once the new chain arrives. I ordered that chain and other bits last thursday here in Broome. today, tuesday I learnt that postal overnight delivery in australia means 8-10 days if it doesn’t get lost. no tracking available. Phil ordered another one today with real overnight delivery and it might show up tomorrow or a few days later. the time and money for accommodation I waste because someone doesn’t understand overnight delivery is immense. I know I am frustrated but what can I do? honestly, if I ever do australia again I will have all possible parts and tyres pre-bought sitting at the right places. I will not rely on anyone who assures me over the phone that they have the part in stock. service is 3rd world country at best. and why tyres can’t go on a plane I do not understand. here’s a niche market australia: ‘customer service’, let me correct that: ‘CUSTOMER SERVICE’. of course there were exceptions. exceptional good service from the tire guy in Brisbane, the welders in Cairns and the welders in Darwin, Steve at the parts at Cairns motorcycles, Craig and Warren in Borolloola. and Phil from the honda/suzuki shop here in Broome, just his suppliers are a shocker. overall I’d give it a 20/80 good/bad service experience so far. I’ll have a coffe now, ciao.
thanks for allowing me to let off some steam. Broome, sunset at Cable Beach. spectacular. hundreds of cars drive onto the beach, park and their passengers watch the sunset. its a huge beach, I was there at low tide, maybe 500 m wide and endless in both directions. had to do a shoot with the beast:
and then there were signs in the sand, clearly camel toe was here, size 14:
thank you Broome for showing me your true beauty. good night.
I’m back from bali and finally find the time to update this blog. Chrissie and I have a week in cairns before she flies back to nz. we do day trips on the ktm. cairns is a great place for day trips. we decide to go up the winding road to the table lands and visit a crater lake for a swim. after about 45 min of riding and half way through the tight turning mountain road the bike dies on us. I couldn’t get her going again, assumed dirty fuel filters. called the bike shop and they organized a tow truck.
waiting for the tow truck:
that was friday. we wanted to go up north to daintree national park over the weekend. the guys at the shop fixed it on saturday morning and we were off north. ferry over the daintree river and a slow and curvy road through rainforest. quite a bit cooler in between the trees. after a latte and cake we, speak I, wanted to have a ride on the beach and Chrissie was assigned as camera woman.
everything went smooth on the firmer sand closer to the shore but once I decided to turn I got into the soft sand and the front wheel started to dig in. she was still moving forward but slowing down. open throttle and a gentle push from the hand of luck and we made it. I think only I realized how close to an embarrassing ‘stalled on the beach’ we were. I kept that insight to myself.
Chrissie left the next day and so did I. heading towards Darwin with Chris. he’s a young dude and on the road with his bike since 3 years. he’s got a huge technical knowledge and an amazing talent to connect with people. I’ve learnt so much from you Chris, thank you. we met at the bike shop in cairns both waiting for parts to arrive. now we’re on a mission to go west.
I want to go on as much dirt as possible. we will. the next 800 km are bitumen though and there we came across this guy:
We stay the night in Croydon, share a cabin and a few beers at the pub. we buy some lottery tickets to support the local clinic and when I ask the lottery-lady if she knows anyone who changes tyres she makes a phone call and tells me the guy at the bp station in Normanton is the man for the job. thank you.
we arrive in Normanton next morning and I ask the guy at the tire work shop if he could change my tyres cause I wanted the knobbies on for the coming dirt road. I brought the tyres with me. after inspecting my road tyres he states: ‘you’ll be alright mate with your road tyres. I don’t do motorbike tyres, too hard!’ – ‘Hello, you own a f…ing tire change shop and the last one before the big dirt road and is this how you f…ing run your business?’ I thought and said: ‘ Ah, ok, see ya.’
Tire workshop in Normanton, spot the owner:
in Normanton was also a replica of the biggest crock ever shot:
so here is the beginning of the ‘Gulf Track’ the dirt road that winds its way west at the bottom of the gulf of carpenteria. we refuel and pack water and off we are towards Burketown, 220 km of dirt but pretty well maintained. we ride through some amazing scenery and are lucky to cross the rivers at low levels.
there I asked a guy at an engineer shop if he could change my tyres. ‘no problem, no problem at all’. thank you Craig and Warren. one might ask why I don’t change them myself since I’ve got everything with me. the thing is, I’ve never changed a motorbike tire and from what I’ve learnt about the KTM is that it’s a real pita so I won’t go there unless I have to. and a hard job it is for Warren, even with extra long tire irons and all the workshop gear plus the help of Craig. I’m glad I didn’t try it myself.
we stay the night in a camp ground cabin, clean and tidy. Chris and I share the room which makes it cheap enough. next morning I noticed guys looking at us twice when we came out of the cabin so I thought to spice it up a bit and said to Chris in the mens shower room: ‘could you please pass me the shaving gel honey?’ multiple reactions on multiple faces including Chris’. nice one!
we’re off, next fuel stop ‘Hells Gate’ some 220 km’s away. the tires stick on the dirt like glue. great. Chris and I found a good rhythm of traveling together. I go ahead and play the way I like to play with this beast, fast. on the edge and sometimes out of control. sometimes I overshoot a turn and find myself lucky not to crash. I’m aware of the risk but also aware of my edge for fun. it all works out ok. every 50 or so km’s I stop and wait a little for Chris. it never takes long. this way we check on each other and still have the freedom to go our own pace. some of the crossings we do together, and I’m sure Chris appreciated that I went first on this one:
a concrete ford like so many before, not even worth mentioning except this one was special. it had a thick, brown algae overgrowth. that sort of algae that simulates soap surfaces for reasons unknown to mankind. I didn’t notice this fact until the beast and I started slipping sideways in super slow motion. I just stayed on the bike in a seated position until we hit the ground and stopped sliding. 10 minutes later Chris finally managed to stop laughing and he made it through like nothing. you wait my friend!
next stop ‘Hells Gate’. refuel bike and rider:
Chris had an engaging conversation with the lady owner of ‘hell’s gate’ and it turns out she and her husband own the cattle ranch here as well. I wish I had a better memory cause her story was interesting but all I remember is that only one third of the ranch is fenced and this fence measures 200 km in length. australia.
off we are. next stop Borroloola. 320 km of top fun dirt road. winding, with fast bits in between and no bulldust. yesss! we cross the border to Northern Territory and meet a guy right at the border sign who’s on his bicycle. doing the 570 km gulf track in the frying sun on his own. and I thought Chris and I are doing something out of the ordinary!
and the appropriate warning sign after 300 km on this gravel road:
off we are again and my confidence is back after the little slip and I enjoy going faster. Chris is also a great scout cause every time I miss a turn or drift off the ideal line he notices and tells me. he’s a good observer. anyway, time for me to stop and wait for him. I choose a shady spot and turn around to get there. soft sand in the turn and the front end slides out. I jump of and we’re both on the ground. crash at 5 km/h. I take off the luggage and lift her up. only just cause she’s heavy and tall.
everything’s ok, no damage to bike or rider except a little scratch on the pride. two drops in one day and my first one’s too here in australia. not counting the parked fall in the garden in Byron bay. off we go, we got rivers to cross, the famous Robinson River everybody warned us about cause it’s deep and got ruts that zig zag across. it’s low when we get there and I decided to have a swim while waiting for Chris. crossing is easy, river is very low. I still manage to stall her, see if you notice:
we made it to Borroloola that day and even got premium fuel here. I filled up my spare 10 lt canister just to learn tomorrow that it won’t be enough. here we also bought food and got cash out at the local super market. there was a rush of aboriginals buying booz and a guy who looked after them (?) told me they are only allowed one carton of light beer per person and can buy that only between 2pm and 4pm. its a self restricting order by their elders as well as a law. I saw many drunken aboriginals and felt sorry for them. my understanding is that they are part of a bigger group of peoples like american indian, inuit and some asian who lack an alcohol processing enzyme in their system and so can’t handle it at all.
Roper Bar is ca. 450 km away and the end of the the gulf track. and the next fuel station without taking a detour. for some reason I didn’t check the map and we just left Borroloola. great riding, no bulldust or deep sand. I emptied the 10 lt spare fuel into the tank and that was when I wondered where the next fuel station will be. I checked the map, too far. Chris arrived and we discussed the situation. there was a campground on the coast about 30 km north of the track and they had fuel according to the map. when we got there I was relieved to see a big fuel tank with a pump attached. the guy started up a generator and we both filled the tanks and spare up to the rim.
there’s a little stretch of deep sand, 1 or 2 km’s but its hard work with the big bike. she wants to go left and right and I rather straight ahead. we find a compromise and agree to not crash. back at the gulf track we’r heading towards cape crawfort and i wonder if we should call in at Cindy’s for a cuppa.
we decided against it and had a road side spa instead. a couple of 4wds stopped and the boys joined us. Roper bar is only 30 minutes away, and so is the end of the gulf track.
when we stopped at the Roper Bar service station I noticed my spare fuel canister hanging over to one side. closer inspection showed the exhaust melted into the can and exhausted its hot gasses right into it and the remaining 2 litres of fuel. just shows how safe fuel really is. nothing to worry unless you’re a spark plug.
buy buy gulf track and hello bitumen. we won’t make it to darwin today, no way, but will get a room at Mataranka hot spring resort backpackers. at 50 bucks for two bunks its horrendously over priced for what it is. a hole. worst ever building/room/bed I’ve ever been in and have ever seen. definitely worth bombing, its just that they don’t have any oil there. avoiding it is the next best weapon. can someone please do mankind a favour and erase it from the map?
good morning bitumen, you look good today and hot already this early morning. take us to Darwin my friend. find us a nice place to stay and a good motorbike shop. I need new tyres. and so it does with no worries at all.
I left the bike at the bike shop in cairns and most of my luggage at the ‘tropic days’ backpackers I shall return to. the bike will get its 15,000 km service at 18,000 km. the shop couldn’t fit me in any earlier and since i’d done an extra oil change at 12,000 km I didn’t worry much. also I get them to do some alterations on the rack that supports the saddle bags. it needs an extra bar welded on to keep the bags away from the exhausts, I had the bags re-sowen and patched up at the cobbler in cairns. I also got him to add 4 webbing loops so a bungy can hook into the bags and support them across the seat. plus the rack will get a few loops welded on so I can strap the bags to it. am off to Denpassar with a stop over in Darwin. I walk the sunday evening markets and get a didgeridoo as a gift for a friends wedding and have it shipped to her in Austria. I turn around and see a couple of stilt walkers dressed up as emu riders and realize I know them from years back in Karamea. what a surprise! I’ll catch up with you when I’m back, grab their website from their van and then leave for Bali. It’s only a 2.5 hours flight, I stay the night in Kuta, pick Chrissie up the next day and we’re heading north to Ubud. looking for rooms I meet Ketut who still works in the same hotel. Ubud seems booked out and we’re happy to get a room for the night at his place. we move the next day for one more night before we find a B&B in the rice fields to stay longer. I hired a scooter and noticed the bike bug is still there. I want to bike around Bali following its coastline. tomorrow we leave Ubud going north-west. we pack super light. everything in one small back pack.
Ciao for now, Helly
Thank you mr Tupper. you saved my fork seals and my return to civilization. I found your KTM fork protectors at the Seisia supermarket. also I got there my cheapest shoes ever. $ 3.84 for a pair of flip flops size 14. the gods are with me.
with the help of a hacksaw and a camping cooker those containers turn into this:
mr Tupper uses very sturdy plastic that responds well to heat bending procedures:
and the slim fender design will last almost all the way back to cairns. almost spells out: I still get plenty of mud splashes all over me.
here at the beach front camp ground in Seisia I meet two young guys from austria who came up from cooktown on their mountain bikes. 1000 km of dirt roads they mastered in 9 days. they’ll hop on the container ship back to cairns in a few of days. a couple starts talking to me about the bike and the trip, actually many people, ok men, come up to me and start talking to me about their bikes and my bike, usually goes like this: ‘wow, that’s the biggest dirt bike I’ve ever seen, what make is it?’ ‘its a KTM.’ ‘yeah sure but who’s the manufacturer? Japanese?’ so I share the little I know about KTM and Austria in Europe. and then there is the other kind of guy and there was quite a few of them: ‘I have/had a 300ex/450/520/640 KTM and I love/loved it. how’s this huge bike in the dirt?’ ‘I love it’ I say, ‘the bike feels so solid and controllable, only problem is the bike is so much better than the rider.’
so this couple, she starts telling me how she walked the beach this afternoon and saw this saltwater croc swimming along the shore line. but its ok she says, the locals know the cave it sleeps in. ah, ok then I think, it won’t eat humans since it’s got an address. I wish I had a car roof just for this night. actually I wish I had a sound proof cabin for this night cause the the guy who arrived and parked his roof bed right next to me and who offered some help when I was fixing the fork protectors, he cranks up his stereo to the max at 10 pm and sings along to the complete collection of ‘australian country songs’. I tame my nerves for an hour and then ask him semi-politely to turn it off. he does. I thank him. 5 minutes later he yells at the stars: ‘ this is australia and a good man can sing a good song whenever he likes and I’m not playing any heavy metal.’ ok, my ‘I’d rather listen to AC/DC than this country …’ wasn’t helpful. this is me laying in my sleeping bag like everyone else at the camp ground except one. he cranks his stereo and voice box up again. I change my language and volume and peaceful tranquility blankets the northern part of australia.
next morning a car pulls up and the inhabitants wave at me. I wave back. they are so friendly up here I think. the window goes down: ‘Helly, mogsd midfahn?’ a truly austrian tongue uncovers the nature of the friendliness. my mountain bike neighbors. ‘sure’ I reply, grab my camera and hop in the rental. we go and see the airport. apart from being a very small airport with one multi use building, lets call it a shed, it must be the only airport on this planet which has a memorial right at the main building entrance. the memorial remembers the death of the passengers who’s plane was on a flight towards this airport 5 years ago. crashed far, far away. I can’t help but think this is negative advertisement. we drive on and visit planes in the bush that didn’t quite make it in WW2. today I learn that my history knowledge is on par with my space craft design knowledge.
also the fuel didn’t quite make it to the airport:
and some engine ingenuity from gone days:
standing in the middle of all this wreckage gives me a sense of how much machinery and goods and fuel to run the whole show have been produced in those days just for war. just for destruction. a fight over dirt and ideas. my way is better than yours. in the end everything got destroyed. for what? same today I think, just replace dirt with oil and ideas with democracy. who’s your daddy? enough of this now.
next morning I pack and leave. I just feel like riding. I’ll go and see Weipa. south from now on. I stop at the Fruit Bat Falls. this is like an oasis in the middle of a desert. I feel hot and dusty and thirsty and here’s a croc-free water hole. perfect. I take a swim and ask a guy to take a photo of me. he notices something I didn’t know I had: a red mohawk. and even more amazing he knows why: must be the sand coming through your air vents on your helmet.
thanks for taking those photos mate. and no, not once did it feel unsafe to leave stuff laying around or unlocked. this is a safe place!
I had a swim and a shower in the falls. water temperature: perfect.
I brought a 1/4 grilled chicken for lunch from the Seisia supermarket and had it right there. back on the bike and off to Weipa. Weipa is a town on the west coast and a 250 km detour off the main road. there’s a 40 km short cut through some farm land. cattle along the road makes me ride a bit careful. on my way south just before the shortcut turnoff I noticed quite a bit of traffic going the same direction. this is not my preferred road condition. I like it empty. I close up on a car in front of me and sit in the dust cloud for a few minutes until I get a glimpse of the road ahead and overtake. this is a very dusty undertaking. I use my goggles to keep the sand out of my eyes. there’s two cars ahed sitting at 100 km/h. I overtake the first, the other one speeds up to 110. I sit behind in the dust cloud for a while, indicator on. he speeds up to 120 won’t let me pass. I go 120 ok but don’t want to over take at this speed and stay ahead of this guy at 130. I stop. let the other guy pass. he stops and asks if I’m ok. ‘yes’ I say, ‘this guy just keeps speeding up so I let him go. can’t overtake.’ I notice an open esky between the young driver and his passengers. both holding a can of VB. ‘ah’ I think, ‘youth plus horsepower plus beer’, gotta take this into account up here. I start my ride again and something’s wrong. she’s got no power between 6500 and 9500 rpm. hardly gets up there. not enough fuel or air! I hope I’ll make it to Weipa. I do. set up camp and ask at the reception what I should see here. ‘well’ she says ‘there’s not that much to do here. you could go on a tour through the mine.’ I decided to clean the air filter instead. bit of a mission to get to it but when I got it out I knew this is the culprit of the power loss.
steve, the ex bike tour guide told me to blow out the air filter when I’m up here. I hook up my little compressor and know instantly: this is not gonna remove a single dust speck from the filter. air filter, air filter, back in the old days when my sons were racing moto cross we washed them out in fuel and oiled them. here’s a plan. I’m gonna use a toothbrush and fuel to get into those tight spots. so I fill up my cooking pot with fuel, grab the air filter and sit down. just when the tooth brush is about to soak up some fuel from the pot a voice that knows what its talking about coming from an experienced and calm looking man stated: ‘I wouldn’t do that, son. the fuel’s gonna dissolve your rubber seals and then you’re shot. I take you to the mechanic and you can blow it out there.’ that was close. I don’t even wanna think about what I would do here without an air filter. he takes me to the garage, I blow it out with a real compressor, get back, put her back together again, pack and head south. thank you god of flow. and thank you mr helper. jeez, it would have been so easy for him just to stay in his seat and watch me doing my thing. no he saw what I was up to, got up and talked to me. every one is so helpful up here. heading south. I’m gonna miss Weipa’s sunset over the beach.
once back out on the dirt highway I just keep going. the road is in good shape and I’m pushing myself to go a bit faster. the bike sits solid at 120 and even a little gravel doesn’t shake her. I bring her up to 130 and sit there for a while. all good. 135, 140. ok, this is pretty fast for me, I should throttle off but the road is perfectly smooth right now. the right hand takes over the thinking. 145, 150, 155. the left hand reaches for the zip on the right side of the tank bag. opens it, gets the camera, switches it on and takes a shot. puts it back and zips it up again. I look at the speedo, its down to 140. I slow down to 120 and sit at that as my cruising speed on this smooth part of the trip. corrugations I dont’ feel at that speed.
I stop at a termite hill, some of them look like a piece of art. sharp edges melt together into a home for millions.
I make it to ‘Hitlers Nest’ at 6.30 pm. a group of bikers on trail bikes are on their way up north.
‘up or down?’ one of them asks me. ‘down’ I say and I feel a sense of achievement for the first time on this trip. I’m almost out. Mark’s there and telling me his story of crashing the dominator at the OTR. I take a room, am too tired to set up camp. Hitler leaves me alone, takes on the 15 bikers from Darwin instead. they are experienced drinkers and won’t step into Hitler’s trap. they leave the pub early. Franzi tells me the three other german girls left in a hurry the day after they arrived. the next morning I too leave early and safe my breakfast money for a place that appreciates customers. this place is lakeland roadhouse. they make a good latte and a great bacon and eggs brecky. I fuel up the bike, refill the drink bladder that sits in my tank bag and hit the bitumen.
I go east towards the coast to make my way back to Cairns through the Daintree national park. the same way I came up. a beautiful ride through rainforest. this time its both, forest and rain. today this is not good. today I lost my Tupper-fender. the front tyre picks up water, or mud when I’m on dirt road and throws it high up in the air. I find it very easy to catch those drops of dirt with my goggles, helmet, gloves, jacket, pants and boots. I wipe a lot. the goggles, the visor, both will be scratched to blindness by the end of the day. this makes the riding a pain. only after the rain stops and the road dries up can I enjoy again riding a motorbike. I change to a cruising style. bitumen. 70% attention will do. dirt is different. 100% focus on those 15 -20 meters in front of the bike. I look for the best line, watch for rocks, holes, branches. I search for the fun bits, whoops, berms, a bit of loose stuff out of a turn to get the back wheel drifting. after this the black road is boring. after this trip with a bare minimum of stuff and not missing anything, after this I promise I will search for more dirt roads to get us somewhere.