04 September 2008

Looking for the Wizard, Part 3

(Gareth requested more photos of himself - hows that?)

From Laverton and our brief brush with “civilization” we headed back into the Bush, stopping to take photos by signs that said outback highway and Alice Springs 1600km. The first few 10s km were on a graded road. Big, wide, fast and not a whole lot of fun to ride on. We knocked off about 30 km and found a spot to camp. Next day we dispatched another chunk of graded road before things got more interesting. Justin proposed we took a road that he had seen on the map but never tried. We found it and got on to it. The track was a vast improvement on the large highway we had just left. After about 20 km of riding the track split. The main route bent around to the right while the route straight on seemed far less travelled. We parked the bikes and waited for the Cruisers with the maps and GPS.

The map told us to go straight ahead, and the main drag to the right wasn’t marked. The riding got even better as the track degraded quickly, it soon had lots of bushes growing up through it and fallen trees across the way. There were no other vehicle tracks, just camel and emu footprints. The track deteriorated further until we got to some low scrub and could not find it at all. Ben was “using the force” to trace the remnants of route but eventually even he lost his powers. We waited for Obi Wan Justin with his magic map. They arrived and we split up. While the bikes zigzgagged back and for through the bush looking for tracks Justin went ahead in the cruiser with the “moving map”. We regrouped again and Ben and Justin headed off again, Garth and I refueled the bikes and with our usual ineptitude and I ended up with an eye full of petrol, which hurt like hell.

Ben and Justin returned with word of the way, so we headed into a clump of bushes. Almost immediately, Gareth’s bike broke down, some would suggest sabotage, others dirty fuel but me, I prefer to think of it as karmic justice for my eye! Either may it was 4 pm so we opted to camp while we fixed it. Gareth and Ben pulled the carbs apart while we made camp and they soon had it going again, but since the fire was roaring we opted to stay put for the night. We camped and Ben the animal slayer slept on a small lizard, just so he could be extra comfy.

Next morning we set off bush whacking with absolutely no sign of a trail. The next 3 km took about 2 hours but we were at least heading in the right direction. Eventually we picked up the remnants of the track again and were underway. It was great riding, trying to spot the track and making good time through the trees. As the track improved once more so did our speed. After a couple of hours, whilst canning it, trying to catch the boys I glanced down and spotted a termite mound just at my right foot. Next thing I knew I was flying through the air and loosing contact with the bike. I landed on my shoulder and the bike landed in a heap 10 m way. Ow and Fuck! Fortunately, apart from a dirt sandwich all was ok and I climbed back on board and gingerly headed back along the track. I found the guys waiting and exploded in a continuous stream of gibberish while I spewed out my tale. Gareth noticed that the front of the Alpinstar boot I had borrowed from Rich was smashed to pieces. That could have been my shin! Scary, but they pointed out that that is what the gear is for and it had obviously done its job – rather well.

Eventually we were back on graded roads. Jen and Justin had been on the Anne Biddel highway several years back and had been keen to retrace their steps. Unfortunately someone had come along with a grader and what had been a cool bush track was now a wide graded road. We even meet a car coming the other way! That evening we camped at Pulpit rock, an odd shaped granite monolith, looking more like it belonged in Utah’s monument valley than the outback. We hiked up to the top and Jen found a strange “snake tail” sticking out of a crack. It was black and looked very odd. A later inspection revealed that it was actually the tail of two lizards that had buried themselves deep in to a fissure and were pretty sleepy with the cold. They certainly weren’t doing a very job of hiding, but nobody could quite pluck up the courage to pull them out for a better look.

That night we listened to a recording of an interview with Len Biddel. Biddel was the surveyor who armed with a landrover and a bulldozer had put in many of the tracks and routes we were following. That was back in the 1950’s when the interior of Aus was basically still blank on the map and various western governemnst were keen to have wide open place to play with their nuclear toys. Whatever the political reasons beyond it all, Biddel was clearly quite a character and extremely dry and funny. No matter how remote it all seemed to us, it must have been a different world to those guys. They were out there for months at a time and totally self sufficient.
Next day we decided that however cool Len Biddel was, we needed to get off his track. We stopped for water at a shack in a nature reserve and then headed out. That afternoon saw us tick another confluence point (124E/28S). This one was much closer to the road and we dispatched it in two hours. This time there was no obnoxious orange bollard but we knew that this close to a recently improved road meant that it was probably already visited (which it was).
More good riding following some old and massively washed out tracks. Incredible ravines and drops in the road and alternating between hard packed clay, loose sand and very loose gravel. There was more terrain here than in the previous week and we were having fun as the bikes came into their own. One time as we waited for the cars to catch up, Ben suggested that he could improve the set up on my bike, I was keen for anything that we get rid of the pain in my bike from stooping over while standing on the pegs.

That night we found a good camp site as we maneuvered the cars, Justin staked a tyre on the trailer – apparently just to make Jen feel better about her efforts. Once again the tyre was fixed in less than two 2 minutes – these guys are good.

Next day the scenery improved even more, beautiful glades and nice sandy tracks. At morning tea Ben changed the set up on my bike and as soon as we got going I promptly fell off – twice. In fairness to him I am sure it had more to do with my riding than what he did to the bike, but we blamed him anyway. The riding was on very loose sand that had recently been carved up by a mining company drilling bore holes. Gareth the sand master was in his element while I was trying to keep up – and failing.

We then stopped at a water hole by some low granite hills. While the others went for a walk I started practicing my jumps. Ben was quick to give me some useful tips and it was getting better, but it was only really ever going to have one outcome. The inevitable came after about 20 minutes, following the “keep the power on through the jump” piece of advice and I came down at an angle, ending up on my arse. It was a good day for the gravity monster and a bad day for me! Good job the bike is so tough.

That afternoon we came into some more granite terrain. It was really beautiful, this old red granite, weathered into weird shapes in low outcrops. There was a grave dated 9-7-94 which was actually 1894! Ruter was one of the old explorers and a guide book suggested he either got sick and died or blew himself up! You would think it would have been easy to tell what the cause of death was!
From Ruter’s grave, Justin took us to another granite outcrop that was covered with carvings of the old explorers names. Really cool to see and a great view from the top. More good riding on gravel tracks before we rode past a water hole with dozens of camels. Jen got some great photos.

We pulled up to camp and that was the end of the riding. We opted to quit there and while we began to sort the gear Ben was off, like a small child who refused to come in from playing at the end of the day! Eventually we hauled him in, the bikes got loaded and we got stripped off the riding gear for the last time and put on some cleanish clothes. It was all rather emotionally.
The ridding was done but the fun was not all over just yet. We had a great day visiting the ghost town and excellent mining museum at Leonora before spending our last night under cover. Gareth was keen to show his Oz tent which we had carted around on the roof of the cruiser and he claimed he could erect in 30 seconds. The challenge was set. He actually managed it in 45, which was still pretty impressive and “the love nest” as our sleeping arrangement had become known moved under cover.
That night we had a final big meal, drank the last of the beer and turned in. The tent was amazingly warm and when I got up at 6am for a piss there was a lunar eclipse. Fantastic end to the trip.
Next day we drove back to Perth. The transition from the outback, through the gold fields, into the wheat belt and then over the coastal escarpment was really striking. It was a long drive but we made it back in time for tea.
Spent a couple of days in Perth, spent so time with Sue and the girls, did washing, cleaned the bikes, visited Ben at his boat building work shop – awesome hand built RIBS that do 58 knots; and had a final meal with the guys before heading back to Norway.
It was an amazing trip, saw some awesome scenery, learned to ride a dirt bike, got to camp in the middle of absolute nowhere and best of all got to meet some fantastic people. I have known Gareth for years but it was cool to actually spend a couple of weeks with him after so long. It was also brilliant to meet Ben and Jen and Justin. They made me feel really welcome I just hope they got to Norway someday so I can repay their hospitality and companionship.

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