SWITCHING 4 FOR 2
Since the dawn of time humans have been searching for ways to make life easier. It didn’t take long to realise that trying to punch a sabretooth tiger to death wasn’t really the ticket, so we invented the spear. Moving hundred kilogram boulders with our hands didn’t really do it either, so along with some trial and error (Read: maiming and death) we finally invented that weird circular thing that made life so much easier – the wheel. Once we had the functional aspect of the wheel sorted, we started realising “Hey, this whole ‘rolling’ thing is kinda fun!”
Flash forward about five thousand years, and there I am, sitting on my arse in a sandy creek bed, beside my downed two-wheeled contraption asking ‘Why the hell do I do this to myself?’ Fun – right. You see, the beaut thing about overland travel in Australia (or anywhere for that matter) is that no matter how many times you’ve been somewhere, subtracting a few wheels doesn’t just change the mode of transport, it changes everything about the experience. There’s something so special about traveling on a motorcycle. Everything is more vivid; the colours, the sounds, smells and above all the adventure. That ‘nothing’ dirt road in a 4WD can be the highlight of the year in the saddle of a bike – but hey, if you ride, you know that already and if you don’t ride, you should.
Now, I’ve pointed my dirty old Nissan Patrol around most corners of the country, and Jamie’s property in Howes Valley has seen a fair bit of me over the years, being about two hours from my driveway. I’ve driven the tracks, spent countless nights under the tall gums that line the creeks and all in all, if someone had asked me last week, I’d have said I’ve got a pretty good read on the joint. That of course, was until I tackled it on two wheels. Yes, everything is better on two wheels, just not always easier.
Here’s the thing about adventure bikes; they’re a jack of all trades but a master of none. They’ll pound out 1000km of bitumen, another 1000km of corrugated outback tracks, and finish it all with a maybe less than graceful, yet competent enough hill-climb into that stunning campsite. They won’t handle bitumen like a sports bike and they won’t hit the dirt like a WR250, but they’ll get you where you want to go, wherever that might be, and they’ll haul you and all your camping necessities along with them. Think ‘dirt donkey’ – or an ass if you ride like me.
Getting to the main campsites at TJ’s was no issue, besides the fact that in order to keep momentum through the rocky steep tracks and washouts I had to leave the convoy of 4WDs in my dust and push out ahead. Plus, sitting behind a TD42 Patrol means you’re not likely to want dinner, as you’re already full from soot and dust. Adventure bikes love this kind of terrain as long as you’re moving. They won’t do super slow and technical like a chook chaser or trials bike, but keep moving, keep looking ahead and you’re fine. About 20km of jumping washouts and power sliding corners later, I rolled into camp with enough time to kick off my gear and throw back a few litres of water before the rest of the convoy rolled in ready to set up for the night.
Camping just feels better on a bike. You’ve packed light enough to keep the bike somewhat agile, but you’ve got everything you need right there without resorting to borrowing a spoon, towel or underpants from your traveling mates. So it was a few hard earned beers later that I pitched my tent and dragged my chair over to the fire to discuss tomorrow’s plan. Having looked over the terrain on the ride in, it was clear that the only way to reach our goal was going to be via a series of dry, very sandy creek beds.
Great. Sand; the adventure bike’s nemesis.
MOTORBIKE CAMPING – THE ESSENTIALS
Camping on a bike means traveling light – your Big Daddy super swag just isn’t going to cut it. If bike camping is on your radar it means a re think on your gear list. Don’t shortcut this or you’re going to have a bad time.
Lightweight Tent – Allow $300-$600
Quality hiking tents cost more than a regular dome tents due to light yet robust materials and often weigh in less than 1kg. Don’t believe the hype about ultra-light gear? You will after your first ride fully loaded.
Compact Cooking gear – Allow $200
A good titanium stove and pot kit can be had for around $100. Factor in some lightweight cutlery and a collapsible mess kit and you should clear $200 with change.
A quality mat, sleeping bag and pillow – Allow $300-$500
No getting away from it; buy cheap gear here and you’ll count your minutes of sleep on one hand. Make sure your sleeping gear is small and light, yet is rated for the conditions you’re in – a summer weight bag in the High Country isn’t a fun night.
Quality luggage – Allow $500-$1500
You’re going to have your life packed in your panniers, so it pays to make sure they can take a beating. You’re going to drop the bike on them, drown them, and be out in the elements so make sure they’re going to survive and keep your essentials intact.
WILD AND WOOLLY AT TJ’S
Excitement and trepidation filled the air the next morning. Winches were checked, tyres deflated (Yes, even the bike) and we ran through our plan one final time. We truly had no idea what awaited us in the creek system. Jamie had told us we’d be one of maybe a half dozen people to reach this section of the 5000+ acre property in the last hundred years – exciting, terrifying and well, terrifying.
After a rocky and tight descent into the creek bed, it became clear that the nearly 200kg of top heavy DR650 was going to have problems in the soft sand – even getting moving was a challenge. Paddle footing with a fist full of revs got the bike moving and from then on it was a lean back and power on affair. It was a solid quarter mile of full throttle, sand roosting fishtail action to reach the first creek junction and I was working like a one-armed bricklayer just to keep the bike upright. This was hard work.
A few kilometres more of ruthless sand and I was shot. The physical energy needed to control the bike in the creek, with soaring temperatures and shin deep sand meant when I hit my physical wall, I hit it hard. The cameraman ran for his life as 190kg of screaming bike (and rider) speared into the ground beside him – I was done. Exhausted and flat on my back I had to make the call; the bike would go no further.
Sounds pretty awful huh? Well, let me provide my personal philosophy on adventure travel. Adventure isn’t the trip that went off without a hitch. It isn’t the 2pm arrival to a groomed campsite and it’s not the scenic drive through the hills. Adventure is tearing a brake lever off before a steep descent. It’s winching out of a creek bed at 2am in the pouring rain only to snap your last winch rope. It’s having to cut down a tree just to find an inch of space to lie down after a day of eating dirt on the tracks. I truly believe that adventure is the failure of all prior planning that gives way to experiences that you’d never have had otherwise.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this was adventure and I was loving every bloody second of it.
NEVER EVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…
No crash is minor on a motorbike, but more to the point, any crash, no matter how slow has the very good chance of injuring you. Seriously.
A good quality EPIRB, or personal locator beacon can, and might actually save your life one day. Make sure it works, that your subscription is current and most of all, you can reach it in the event of an emergency or crash. Small trackers like the SPOT can fit in the pocket of your riding jacket – perfect if you’re thrown from your bike and can’t get back to it.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
After the panicked camera man had checked I was alive, I had a good few minutes sitting beside the downed bike to collect my thoughts. The bike was intended to scout the tracks ahead, so without that, picking our way through the maze of creeks would’ve taken weeks at 4WD pace. Wait – what was that thing under the cover up at the main office… it couldn’t be. Could it?
“Jamie, you got a copy?” I croaked over Nick’s UHF. “The bike and I are done in the creek mate, um, have you got anything up there that can help me out?” Silence. “Yeah mate, be there in 5 minutes” came the reply. Five minutes? It’d taken us a bloody hour to get to this point.
"Well, this is pretty much how it felt to hear Jamie approaching in the distance; either he’d bought a pet dinosaur or whatever he was driving was hauling some serious arse."
Now, let me stop here and paint a picture. We all know the scene in Jurassic Park as the giant pissed off T-Rex is approaching, right? The ground shakes, trees part and all bird life evacuates. Well, this is pretty much how it felt to hear Jamie approaching in the distance; either he’d bought a pet dinosaur or whatever he was driving was hauling some serious arse. Just as I mouthed “What the…” the matte black Can Am, entered the creek about 100m north of us. Sideways, at full noise, the 200hp turbo Rotax sounded like a mix between a 747 on take-off and two possums fighting over an olive in an esky. This’ll do it I thought as I hurled some luggage from the bike into the side by side.
Four-wheel sliding at 100km/h in a creek bed really makes you take stock of your life – and mine was going pretty darn well. As we collectively dug, winched, and scraped our way through the maze of creeks, I realised that every single one of the vehicles on this trip served a unique purpose. The 4WDs did the heavy lifting, while the side-by-side and motorbike had been essential in scouting our way.
Well, if you’ve seen Episode 1 you know exactly what happened next, so I’ll end my ramble on this note; If I could only choose one of those vehicles, I love my bike, but I think Can Am is having a sale…
5 TIPS FOR NEW ADVRIDERS
Stand on the pegs, whether you like it or not
Don’t fill your long range tank unless you actually need to
In sand, stand up, lean back, and hold steady power on
Let the bike move under you
Every gram you carry matters, so plan your gear or head to the gym