28 December, 2009

The Great Aussie Outback Tour – November 2009

5,500km (3,500 miles) of the best that Australia can offer, over 11 days.

Day 1 – 600km, Melbourne to Tathra

With an invitation to attend the Suzuki 1400 annual MCR (Magic Carpet Ride) meeting in Bathurst it was time to schedule a ride a little farther afield and see a little more of this fair country. Birdsville was one place I had always wanted to visit, and although it was starting to get a little hot in that neck of the woods I figured it was nothing the Burgie couldn’t handle. So the plan was Bathurst, Broken Hill, Birdsville, Marree, Melbourne – and with 11 days in which to do it, why not.

On Thursday the 29th of October I caught up with the 1400 boys in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne before making our way out east along the Princes Highway as far as Sale. We then took a few meandering detours along some of the lesser user backroads before reaching Orbost for lunch at the local bakery. All had been fine to date except for a minor mechanical gremlin to one of the 14s, which was easily fixed.

At this point there were 9 of us, 7 1400s, a lone Fireblade (Honda) and lone Burgman (B1). From Orbost it was North East to Delegate along a fine stretch of over 100kms of twisty road.

This was the Burgie’s heartland, where it was able to come into its own by comparison with larger heavier 1400s. Its nimbleness allowed me regularly touch down the stands on each side whilst overtaking the bigger bikes on the inside of turns. At this point the group was running perfectly on schedule to meet up with Pete in Bombala at 2.30 … until we hit the dirt just before the NSW border.

Along with a few unexpected roadworks the delays added up to around 25 minutes but fortunately Pete was waiting valiantly to escort us the remainder of the way to Tathra and he’d brought with him this…..

… my new airbag jacket which I’d bought on sale marked down by 87.5%, or a whopping $700 discount.

After strapping it to the back of the Burgie we continued on for the final 100+km journey along the back roads of the NSW south coast before crossing the Princes Highway for the final leg to Tathra. This stretch of countryside is beautiful and would be a wonderful place to retire to. Warm balmy weather, lots of greenery and roads that twist around the waters of lakes and inlets sparkling in the sun before arriving at our hotel for the evening set high on a cliff top above the ocean with magnificent views.

Day 2 – 600km, Tathra to Bathurst

The day started off as clear and bright as the day before with most of us clearheaded after a fairly relaxing evening enjoying a few ales whilst engaging in the local pool and table tennis competitions.

First stop was a local beachside café before zooming through the hills out of Tathra and up through the cheese country of Bega, Tilba and Bodalla, past the beautiful Wagonga inlet and Narooma to Bateman’s bay where we collected another member of the 1400 group before heading inland for a fast twisty run up to Goulburn for lunch.

Leaving Goulburn we said our goodbyes to Pete (who headed back to Sydney) and it was then cross country through Taralga for the last leg of the journey to Oberon and Bathurst.

Along this route we kept our speeds down and played tag with each other, gently overtaking one or the other and enjoying the afternoon’s ride. The group had split up into 3-4 subgroups dependent

Around 10km before Oberon there were 4 of us riding together and we came up behind a long cattle truck. Two of the 14s overtook and one held back, I moved out slightly to see if I could still overtake before we crested a slight blind hill, decided that I could and went past leaving Fraser riding the 3rd 14 remaining behind the truck.

I passed the truck moved back in to my lane and as I crested the hill I saw a utility pull out of a driveway on my right and thought to myself that I hope the other 14 isn’t going to try and pass as it will be a tight squeeze between the cattle truck and the ute.

I thought nothing further though, and when we reached the turnoff at Oberon waited with the other riders for the remainder to catch up and make sure they took the right turn. 15 minutes later the others still had not arrived. I called one of the riders Mike and was surprised to hear him answer as he should have been riding.

Fraser had waited for the ute to pass before trying to overtake the cattle truck but hadn’t realised there was Mitsubishi sedan right behind it.

We headed back to find the road closed, ambulance and police in attendance, the air ambulance (helicopter) enroute and a group of motorists attending both him and the Car driver (who was jammed in his vehicle).

Fraser had hit the Mitsubishi head-on at a closing speed of 200kmh, sailed through the air for 10 metres before sliding face first down the road for another 50 metres. Although he was conscious we were quite sure he must have had severe brain and internal injuries but to our surprise he regained consciousness and even telephoned his wife to tell her what happened. Fraser was subsequently airlifted to a Sydney hospital and was allowed to leave 2 days later with nothing more than bruising to his right leg… surprisingly he fared far better than the car driver – most unusual for a car / bike impact.

.... and far, far better than his previously immaculate bike.....

On a subdued note we rode the final 50km leg in to Bathurst to meet our fellow 1400 riders who had ridden in from different parts of Queensland, SA and NSW. Whilst Fraser’s accident certainly put a damper on proceedings it didn’t entirely destroy the camaraderie and festivities we were able to enjoy over the weekend.

Day 3 – 200km, Bathurst and environs

Saturday was a day of relaxing and cruising around Bathurst. The day started with a cruise to the local Suzuki dealer, followed by a ride out the Mt Panorama circuit and a number of fastish laps – our lap speeds being tempered by the fact that Mt Panorama is a public road at all times outside of race days and has a posted 60kmh limit. The local constabulary were quite fair in ignoring reasonable breaches of the limit but 200kmh+ down Conrod Straight certainly would attract their eye.

Before leaving the circuit, judging took place for the best and cleanest bikes – taken out by two OCD members who are reputed to have shares in the Meguiars company.

We ended up sharing the circuit with the HONDA CBX (1000cc/6) riders annual convoy and a number of other solo riders.

For lunch we rode to O’Connell and then spent a lazy afternoon exploring the town before re-convening at the Vic hotel on Saturday night for our group dinner and goodbyes as individual groups headed off home in different direction the next morning.

Day 4 – Bathurst to Broken Hill – 1,000km

Today was going to be one of my longest days in the saddle and I was off to a good start leaving bright and early at 7am before the heat of the day could really hit.

Heading west through the rolling hills to Orange and Wellington before stopping for fuel in Dubbo and Nyngan. By Nyngan you definitely know you are on the edge of the outback and vegetation is starting to look pretty sparse.

Reached Cobar for lunch and the temperatures were starting to soar. It was then a leisurely – but very hot and dry ride out along the plains of the Barrier Highway to Wilcannia, with nothing more to entertain oneself than watch the fairly common willy-willies (mini tornadoes) build up speed and start to move across the road. There were a couple I got caught in, apart from the sheer dust and wind force they are not too bad though – it just pays to hold your breath to keep the dust out of your lungs whilst you are passing through one. Fuelled up again in Noona and briefly stopped just as you enter Wilcannia to take a photo of the Burgie atop the old bridge over the Darling river (which was looking like it was also suffering the effects of the heat).

Wilcannia is one of the few towns in Australia that is not a pleasant place to visit. The downtown looks like something out of a Mad Max movie with a lot of damage, vandalism and graffiti. Even the service station has an air of foreboding with mesh grilles around the cashier’s area. As a result I chose not to stop in town and continued west.

I knew that if I didn’t refuel in Wicannia I wasn’t going to make it to Broken Hill but my GPS told me their was a refueling point about halfway between the two and the owner in Noona had corroborated this.

I kept up a reasonable pace of around 110kmh until I got to the point where the GPS told me the servo should be, only to find ……… nothing.

Hmm, bit of a worry, better reduce the rate of knots and see whether I can eke out a bit better fuel consumption … according to my calculations I was going to end up around 50km short of The Yabba (Broken Hill) but with around a litre left in the Burgie tank a fuel stop /motel appeared like an oasis in the desert on my right.

After a brief stop I hit the road again as I was determined that there would be no riding at dusk in this neck of the woods as I knew the risk of unintended contact with large mammals would be pretty high once they started to come out for a feed.

Arriving in Broken Hill just before 6pm I went to my usual campsite only to have them recommend the other campground at the opposite end of town (Adelaide road). Checking in, I had the camping lawn all to myself and set up tent before heading into town to stock up on groceries for that night, and the next few days in the desert.

Day 5 – Broken Hill to Cameron Corner – 450km

Today was the day the real adventure started and my plan was to make Innamincka that night – a distance of around 800km.

It was with la ittle trepidation that I headed North up the Silver City Highway to Tibooburra. The first indication that all may not be what it seems is when I left the caravan park. I got chatting with one of the park attendants who told me that the road to Tibooburra was 50/50 bitumen and gravel - NOT fully bitumen as I had expected. Hmm, maybe I need to revise my travel schedule a little bit.

I fuelled up and headed North 175k to my first stop Packsaddle, which is the only refueling stop before Tibooburra. Around 15kms out of Broken Hill I hit the first short section of dirt at Stephens Creek and this was followed by further sections of bitumen and dirt each of equal length of 10-25kms, providing some initial relief.

Temperatures were starting to soar, however, and the Packsaddle stop was a welcoming sight.

As I rode in to the stop I spotted two Suzuki DL1000 V-stroms owned by two guys from Melbourne who had been to an annual ADVrider event in Pooncarie (Mungo National Park just west of the Mildura- Broken Hill road. There were many ADVers on the road heading home after the rally, and they all passed me at a fair rate of knots as I took it easy on the dirt. The DL riders looked stuffed and were vacillating about continuing North as they felt there 19” front wheels were too small for the soft sand that they were told constituted the road to Cameron Corner (they were right). I looked down at my 15”front wheel and thought what the heck!

A cool drink later and it was time to fuel up – not as easy as one imagined. The majority of vehicle sin this neck of the woods use diesel and the petrol pump only gets used once a day on average. This means the pump has plenty of time to drain back in to the underground tank and the fuel has to be drawn back up – this meant around 15 minutes of stopping and starting the pump, all in the blazing heat. Finally, just when I was ready to give up, the fuel started to flow and I filled the tank, said goodbye to the DL riders and continued North. Hitting the next stretch of gravel the corrugations became worse and I realised my bar mounted speakers were shaking loose – I had no option but to cut the wires and unbolt them before proceeding further at an average speed of around 35kmh to keep the shaking to a minimum. The DLs soon passed me as did a group of 5 offroad 250s, as I struggled in the sand and the heat.

The heat increased to the mid 40s and I was sweating buckets in my textile bike jacket, helmet and jeans. At one point I stopped for a quick breather and drink. I pulled off my gloves and to my amazement watched as a stream of my sweat flowed - NOT dripped – from my cuff to the ground. I realised that dehydration could be a big risk out here and continued on to Tibooburra with thoughts of staying the night.

The last 25kms to Tibooburra was smooth bitumen again and on arrival in the mid afternoon I stopped and drank a litre of milk and 600ml of Gatorade, as well as my usual quota of mineral water,  to replenish my fluids and cool down somewhat. By this point I realised any hopes of making Innamincka were gone and I asked a couple of locals what the Cameron Corner road was like – well these guys all drive 4WDs and driving conditions for them can be very different to a bike. However, they gave me sufficient confidence I could make the 140kms to the corner that evening providing I left it till it cooled down a little.

I did and left around 6pm but wearing only a tee-shirt and no jacket. I figured I would be going so slow that a high speed off, or hitting an animal was an impossibility and it may actually cool a little once the sun started to go down.

Around 6pm I headed off directly into the West and the setting sun – visibility couldn’t have been worse and I needed all the visibility I could get to try and work out what the surface of the road was like – needless to say I averaged only 20kms per hour, saw lots and lots of roos and other wildlife, got stuck in deep sand a number of times (where I had to unload everything to push the bike out) and finally stopped for the evening close to midnight at Fort Grey, 20km shy of Cameron Corner. Given that I was going to move on early in the morning, it was clear cloudless sky, still warm and there was only one other vehicle in the camping area, I elected to forego the tent and stretch my sleeping bag/air mat out on the concrete floor of a tourist notice board. As my hot and weary head hit the floor it was not long before I was off to sleep and in what seemed like even less time, woken by the screech of cockies and other wildlife.

Day 6 - Cameron Corner to Innamincka – 250km

I hit the road bright and early but it still took me a good hour or so to reach the dog fence at SA border, a few hundred metres shy of the Cameron Corner store where I could enjoy a hot mug of tea. Today was Melbourne Cup day and the owners were looking forward to hosting a large crowd suitably sartorially attired for probably the biggest day on the local social calendar.

I went to fill up the Burgie and quickly realised a couple of things.

First it was hot and getting hotter, and I was getting parched. Refilling my two now empty 1.25 litre bottles of water were not going to be sufficient for the next leg to Innamincka.

Second, due to the soft sand and low speeds my fuel consumption was way up and it was unlikely I could make it all the way to Innamincka without additional capacity.

Fortunately the generosity of a fellow traveller in a 4WD solved both these issues for me. I was given an empty 10 litre plastic oil can which added a further 66% to my regular 15 litre capacity, and 5 litres of refrigerated (but not for long) spring water.

As I’m getting ready to leave I look out over the verandah of the pub and lo and behold what do I see – another of the ADVriders on a Honda Africa Twin. He had also camped the previous night on the road from Tibooburra but was traveling much, much faster than me as his 21”wheel gave him the necessary steering control in the sand that my Burgie was sadly missing.

Hodges (as he is affectionately known) was heading North to Noccundra before riding back to Brisbane via Thargomindah. We said our farewells and I hit the road.

This area is know as the Dunes Country and it is aptly named with the road slowly rising and falling every 300-400 metres giving you the false expectation, and vain hope, that the road may be getting better over the next dune.

In the sections between dunes it would be very corrugated but at the top of each dune there would be sand blown across the road and big bulldust holes which it was very easy to get bogged in. I got stuck a dozen or so times along this section of road but was usually able to power (with the engine) and paddle (with my feet) my way out. This was one of the great benefits of the Burgie – not having a clutch meant I could very finely feather the throttle between low walking pace speeds and just the amount to keep moving without digging a hole for myself.

Finally the surface started to firm up and the road became curvy, I was able to increase my speeds to between 70 and 100km/h for half an hour or so – this was fun – but before long the surface deteriorated again and it was back to the usual hard slog.

During the day a southerly wind had sprung and now gaining speed. Whilst I had been travelling west it was blowing side-on, however, as soon as I hit the old Strzelecki track and started to head North at Merty Merty it caused real havoc causing the sky to darken and blowing the sand in front of me, restricting my vision, further obscuring the track and making it harder to ride on, but worse it was backwinding the radiator. In effect, I was riding forward at 20-30kmh but the wind was blowing behind me at 60kmh meaning that there was no airflow through the radiator and the water temperature rose to the 5th bar (hottest) and wouldn’t come down again.

All this time my own water temperature had been rising too and I was regularly gulping down the spring water. Alas, because I had lost so many body salts the day before, the more water I drank the thirstier I became. This is a real danger in the heat of the desert – fluids alone are insufficient, you must replace the lost electrolytes so your body can use the fluids effectively to rehydrate itself.

I had hoped to reach Innamincka that night and was within striking distance but I realized it was going to be impossible with an overheating engine so I pulled off the road – not easy on the and surface – parked the Burgie side on to the wind and determined how best to erect my tent on the leeward side. First thing was to take all my heavy luggage and put it inside the tent on the windward side so as to keep it on the ground. The wind was really blowing a gale by this time and I was being pelted with sand so I had to keep my helmet whilst I busied myself. Eventually I had the rods in and the tent was up but it was too windy to put the fly up and I figured I would be ok for the night. I settled in to a meal of baked beans and sausages heated on my humble stove before an early night. There were no other vehicles along the track and it was quite a magical experience – lighting flashing across the sky, and the ongoing wail and howl of a high wind pushing low altitude sand, and high altitude clouds, to zoom past at a great rate of knots.

All tempered by the fact that the wind was trying to push my windbreak Burgie towards me and potentially cause its 250+ kgs to land on me during my sleep.

Day 7 – Innamincka – 100km

Arising early the next morning the wind had died down and all was tranquil. The floor of the tent was covered in a thick layer of sand and I wondered how the Burgie had fared. I replenished the tank from the oil container which had perched on my pillion seat and headed North. After 30km I arrived at a T intersection which was neither marked on my map nor showing on my GPS. No other vehicles around and which way do I go? I chose East and was rewarded with a vastly improved and wide road surface (built by the SANTOS engineers for the Moomba oil field project) and was able to smoothly hit 80+kmh again. Farther down this route there was a left hand turn pointing to Innamincka. I took the turn heading North, noticed considerable deterioration in the surface and dropped down to an average 40kmh over the corrugations before reaching Innamincka after passing the aborted experimental Hot Rocks Thermal Energy project which was supposed to provide free electricity into Innanmincka.

Arriving in Innamincka the first step was to have a hot shower in the centre of town – apart from the shower block there are only 3 buildings in Innamincka, the trading post/general store, the hotel and the restored inland mission which is used a local interpretive centre. I checked with the locals about continuing on to Birdsville but there recommendation was that there were very few vehicles on the road at this time of year (tourist season had finished a month earlier) and that I shouldn’t risk being out there alone – given that I was uncertain of the road conditions and was not sure if my extended 25 litre range would get me the 450kms between fuel stops.

After that it was off to the Town Common on the banks of Coopers Creek. What was really surprising was that in the 42C heat the creek was still full of water and was a beacon to all the local birdlife. The flocks of corellas, lorikeets, pelicans and assorted ducks was magnificent, particularly at dusk when they all wheeled around for over an hour, screeching and flying from tree to tree.

I cooked up a meal of sardines and with 4 cold tinnies settled in to enjoy the display, ending a relaxing day where I had been able to recharge my batteries after the hard slog through the sand.

Day 8 – Innamincka to Cunnamulla – 550km

The next morning it was up bright and early ready for the last stretch of sand before I hit the bitumen again. Filling up the oil container with spare fuel I was confident I would make the 350-400km stretch to Thargomindah with ease.

The first 40 odd km to the Qld border was rough going but then things got better as the Queensland road crews were working on bitumenising the road and there were intermittent stretches of new bitumen until around 150km later the bitumen became sold and I was back on the tarmac North of Noccundra.

I skimmed across the smooth road into Thargomindah, filled up with fuel, had a good hot meal and headed out of town only to find the Bulloo river was way up. Now this was a shock, here I was roasting in the desert heat and the road was blocked by fast running water. There were 3 stretches of causeway – the first only around 30 metres long and I gently rode through only to realise that shortly up ahead was a 100 metre section, considerably deeper. I kept the sped up a little higher this time to try and keep water out of my CVT as well as to counteract the current pulling me sideways, and ended up with a 3 metre tall rooster tail of water shooting over my windscreen and drenching me through, the next section was more of the same as it was now 400 metres long and really fast flowing.

I got through ok, followed by a small offroader who offered to follow me the 120km into Eulo in case the Paroo river was up there too (it was but not over the road). Continuing on I arrived a further hour later in Cunnamulla where I checked into the same camping ground I had stopped at 27 years earlier when riding a GPZ1100 from Melbourne to Mt Isa and Cairns. At the camping ground I met Rick Roser, a well known indigenous artist who was giving cultural study classes to schools in the neighbourhood. It was Rick’s last night on the road, after a month of travelling through the back blocks of Queensland, before returning to Brisbane. We had a good chat and I left him early the next morning to head South East to Lightning Ridge.

Day 9 - Cunnamulla to Lightning Ridge – 600km

Another day of smooth roads, beautiful scenery and interesting weather with the threat of rain and huge lightning bolts across the sky. A lot of wildlife by the road especially this bunch of emus, and I had to be ever alert to them galloping across the road in front of me. This was another relaxing day and by mid afternoon I had arrived at Lightning Ridge, put up the tent in one of the many camping grounds and was busy exploring the town, including a ride out to the local thermal springs which were signed in many languages including Russian!

I also found an interesting mix of products in the stores – Croatian mineral water sold by mixed Filipino – Indian shopkeepers. Lightning Ridge is by one of the most fascinating cultural mélanges I have visited for quite some time and I really felt at home.

Day 10 – Lightning Ridge to Dubbo – 400km

I spent the morning visiting the mines and doing a self-guided tour of Lightning Ridge – met a lovely lady in the local visitor centre who had had a galah walk into the office, perch on her desk and refuse to leave. It was clearly tame and allowed people to pat and stroke its plumage without concern.

The day was very hot and the Ridge is certainly dry and arid. Come afternoon it was a pleasant ride down to Walgett and on to Dubbo where I spent my last night camped by the banks of the Macquarie river.

Day 11 – Dubbo to Melbourne – 900km

My last day on the road, and a road I had ridden many times before. The day went without incident, temperatures were a little cooler but still relatively hot for this time of year. Crossing the Murray I was back in Victoria and the long straight stretch down the Goulburn Valley and Hume Highways. As always, arriving home is a mixture of sweetness and sadness. Good to be back and see my family again, yet sad to know the time on the road has ended once more….

So what next? Well I’m determined to ride to Birdsville on the Burgie and plan my next attempt over the Easter Break 2010 going up to the Flinders Ranges and tackling the route North from Marree along the Birdsville track. First, I have to find a 21” front wheel, knobby and forks and graft them to the Burgie though. A car rear tyre should improve tractive forces at the rear end and I reckon Birdsville should be a push over.

In the meantime though, Kimie and I are off on Mountain Madness 2010 on the 1st of January with the rest of the motley crew – more about that soon.

07 October, 2009

It's been a long time coming....

Well, it's been around 6 months since I last made any postings here and I do have lots to tell - including, most importantly, the acquisition of a second Burgie into the bike stable at chez Farqhuar.

Yes, my original Burgie is looking a little forlorn as she hasn't been the unanimous recipient of my motorcycle care and attention - however, she is getting plenty of attention again right now as she is in a multitude of pieces whilst I rebuild the CVT. :(

Yes, it's a long story and one which I will soon be telling.

In summary, though, here is a brief rundown of what's been happening in my life, riding wise.

Early March 2009 - Kimie and I headed down South to Tasmania on the Burgie for a very enjoyable week of riding, trekking, visiting tourist sights and sounds, and taking it easy. One key problem we had was Kimie's propensity to fall asleep on the back of the Burgie - it's obviously a wee bit too comfortable.

Mid- March 2009 - Attended the annual HUBB (Horizons Unlimited) rally at Mitta Mitta, where I gave a short talk on last year's journey on the Burgman.

There were various daytrips including a run up to the top of Mt Benambra along some very rough, steep and narrow tracks - below is a view looking down from the fire look-out tower, then heading back downhill.

The ride home was great fun too, chasing cattle across the top of Falls Creek ski resort.,

April 2009 - Easter - 4 days in the Flinder's ranges camping at Rawnsley Park just outside of Wilpena Pound

Mid April - acquired a late model Burgie for John who generously hosted me in Daegu - and stored her in my garage awaiting his arrival in August

Late April - spent a week in the Philippines on business and rode down to Lake Taal from Tagaytay on the back of a Honda cub ridden by a local rider

Then went on to Malysia where I caught the bloody swine flu before coming home to spend a week in bed, lose another 5 kilos and take a further 2 months to shake-off the opportunistic asthma I contracted.

May - decided to add another big bike to the stable, in this instance a Honda ST1100 but alas, she won't be staying.

June - on the day before my birthday I found a bargain basement late model Burgie for sale which I could not say no to. Yes, there was a reason it was bargain basement which I will go into later.

July / August - tearing down and rebuilding the new Burgie and testing using parts from the original Burgie, with some unfortunate consequences for the original Burgie.

August - John came and collected his new Burgie before his marathon ride back to the Gold Coast

September - the new Burgie is on the road and time for a bit of fun - helmet wise. Yes, that is my Honda CT110 postie bike on the right of the picture.

October - rebuilding the original Burgie in preparation for the end of the month ride to Bathurst and then on to the Birdsville track for a little more bush bashing.

.....full details to come later....