31 August 2008

Looking for the wizard, Part 2

The day after our evening of shooting cans dawned very cloudy. The cloud at least meant it had been warmer the preceding evening. I photographed a tree full of parakeets looking cold and puffed while the guys made breakfast and packed up. More great riding in the morning before we stopped for lunch. An interesting river crossing through a gorge (well 1 m deep) and some soft sand interspersed with hard ground covered in gravel.

We stopped about 11 for a planned detour. While chatting around the fire I had mentioned confluence points, where you visit the intersection of integer lines of latitude and longitude (eg 128S and 14E) then take photos of the point and post them on a website. Jen had heard of this and the others could, somewhat bizarrely, see the merits of visiting and photographing random points on the earth surface. So after a few false starts, a quick look at the map suggested that 29S/125E lay “just” 20 km of the track. How hard could it be?

Justin opted to stay at cars and let the bikes go cross country. Jen climbed on the back of Ben’s bike. There are a lot of thing you can say about KTM’s but they were defiantly not built for pillions. They don’t even have rear foot pegs. This was going to be interesting.

We plugged the details into the GPS and headed cross country. In the wrong direction. So we checked the GPS after a km and corrected our course and headed off again. In the wrong direction! It is amazingly difficult to keep a bearing while weaving through brush, bouncing over grass tuffs and dodging trees. After much diversion we eventually found some vehicle tracks which was a bit disheartening. Maybe somebody had been there before, out here? Twenty km from the track, surely not? We followed the tracks for a bit but they seemed to go in the wrong direction was we were encouraged again. Visiting a CP is obviously much better if you are the first!

After an hour or so we met a large vegetated sand dune about 25 m high. The bikes climbed it in good fashion although at this point Jen had to walk. While Ben was doing a sterling job of carrying her he didn’t think he could manage the climb up the loose sand two-up. From the top we had a fantastic view. The region is amazingly flat and gaining a bit of elevation really demonstrates how vast, expansive and empty it is. Dropping off the other side of the dune Ben said the immortal words to the camera “here we go” as he promptly dropped the bike and Jen – fortunately they were doing about 2km/h and it was soft sand – but it was very funny.

We crossed another dune and then into the final interdune corridor. The GPS said we were only 500 m away so we rode 1000 in the wrong direction before being corrected. We then dispatched Jen on foot and she quickly spotted a large orange bollard sticking out the sand. It was pretty unequivocal, someone had been there 4 years ago. We were a bit put out by such an aggressive mark, it somewhat detracted from the situation, but we took our photos and laughed about someone carrying all that crap, all the way out here.

We then headed back on the bikes, opting to go around rather than over the dunes. Most of the time we were riding through tufts of spinefex – a hard, spinny grass. It looks nice to drive through from a distance but the reality is pretty horrible, impossible to avoid and bone rattling bouncy. We pushed on, each suffering in our own private misery. It was much better for Gareth and I, we could at least maneuver the bikes and stand up. Ben and Jen were stuck sitting and had to endure the full pounding. It was very obvious why the aboriginals don’t use dirt bikes for transport!

Towards the end we got into a more forested area and rather than bouncy over spinefex we got to dodgy trees. That was easier, especially in areas were it was burnt. The only hazard was fallen logs, Ben and Jen did an impressive hop over one of those with a flying wheelie. The circus was calling.

Back at the car we had tea and snacks before heading off again. That eveing we stopped early as we had planned a treat for the bikes. They were going to get an oil change. KTM’s are so high maintenance that they are supposed to have their 3 (yes 3!) oil filters changed ever 500 km. We found a nice camp site and did the mechanics. It all went pretty much without a hitch and we were treated to an amazing sunset just as we finished.

Next day we started fairly late and refueled the bikes. The bikes were filled with petrol from a large tank in the trailer via jerrys every day. Gareth and I were notoriously bad at doing this job. In almost very case we managed to cover the bike with fuel and at one point later one I ended up with an eye full of fuel. Much to Ben’s continuing disbelief at our uselessness.

Another morning of great riding on fast, sandy tracks through forest. Just after lunch we arrived at sign in the road that said school crossing. This is 200 km from any children! Heading up a side track we came to a corrugated iron shack which announced itself as the “7 mmillers bar and grill”. Justin explained that it was built by some red necks who come out to hang out and cull camels. The name comes from the fact that they use 7mm rifles, of which they are obviously very proud, in an “I have a big gun” type way.

The view of the shack was stunning. It sits in a glade of trees overlooking a huge salt pan. To the guys who built it, the hut is obviously a passion. They must have figured they couldn’t stop people breaking in and staying there so they opened it up to any guests to use anytime – nice gesture. It was pretty easy to see the growth of the place as a series of construction projects. These are the kind of guys who like “making stuff”. There latest addition was a wood fired pizza over that had been fashioned out of a couple of oil barrels, some rocks and a lot of cement.

The hut is rough and ready, practical in a very masculine way. Stickers and juvenile graffiti adorn the corrugated iron walls, while bullet shells and car and porn mags are piled on the homemade, beer crate shelves. Recipes hacked from magazines are stuck to the walls and testify that these guys, who probably never lift a finger at home are actually, secretly domesticated. At least in their own space.

So we decided to stay there and hang out. We played the golf hole and Jen got the kite out. I took some photos of Ben pulling wheelies on the salt flat and we opted to go explore. Riding on the salt was strange, with speed the bikes glided across it but with no sideways slipping. It was like being on an awesome road bike on sticky tarmac.. If you want to far away from the edge of the lake you would start to sink and yo could feel the power being sucked out of it. Had a few unnerving moments were I though I wasn’t going t make it out. That would have been messy!

The edge of the lake was very indented and it was really easy to lose your sense of direction. We rode in and out of embayments for about an hour and a half with an unspoken plan to go around the whole thing. Then we rounded a headland and both stopped dead. The salt flat stretched further than the eye could see. It was fuckin huge. We admired the view for a bit and headed back to the shack.

Back at the shack the guys were shooting stuff again - when in Rome... We used the last of Justin’s shells and Jen started cooking up Pizza. I went off to take some photos as the sunset. Then when my bike wouldn’t start (battery flat – alternator trouble) I sat down to wait for rescue which came after about an hour in the form of Ben with a bottle of fuel. He assumed I must have run out. We bumped the bike and headed back for pizza.

Gareth, having lived in Oman for several years warned strongly of the effects of salt on the bike so we got busy cleaning. He said his friends chain had fallen to bits after going on a salt pan, so we spent about an hour on each of the bikes while Gareth watched, laughing in a knowing fashion. Jen cooked a set of great pizzas and we drank beer and spent our first night under a roof in a week. It was also our first warm night in a week – maybe there is a connection

Next morning we breakfasted and then headed back on the road. Within about 3 km Gareth pulled to a halt, indicating all was not well. A quick check of his bike revealed a broken chain! He immediately got a ribbing for not cleaning his bike and not going on the salt flat. The chain had actually stuck in the sprocket so it took a while to un-jam. Two hours later all was fixed and we were back on the road. Maybe this was part of Gareth’s plan to use up all the spares.

Another day of good riding and we came across some real hills. Mid afternoon we arrived at a strange rocky alcove. It was a hollow with vertical walls on three sides and a water hole at the back. The place was like a war zone with various animal bones strewn across the ground, it was really rather spooky. The wild dogs were obviously hunting there, a lot. Not wanting to camp in a grave yard we headed back down the track and found a good sheltered spot and climbed a nearby hill to watch the sunset.

Next day we headed into town and supplies. Justin and be building Laverton up to be somewhat less than desirable, with tales of drunken aborigines hiding children in the bushes so they could get more drunk etc. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It was clean and pretty quite. The locals were friendly (and sober) and the police didn’t hassle us for having no tax or number plates on the bikes. We were in and out in a couple of hours, fully stocked and fueled up and heading out for the second half of our adventure.

No comments: