Oct 5 2009

This week’s Tweets: 2009-10-05

  • gearing up for another 600km ride today. Home in a few days! #fb #
  • just had my can of coke stolen and finished off by the cocky at the Barringen Tatts Hotel. #fb #
  • stopped in Cobar for lunch #fb #
  • just rode into a dust storm outside Hillston NSW. Pulled over before it could blow me off. #fb #
  • In Griffith, NSW. Heading home today! #fb #
  • Google Maps:
    Driving directions to Mt Evelyn VIC 3796
    493 km – about 7 hours 7 mins #fb #
  • coffee and cake in Alexandra. Almost home! #fb #
  • Amanda’s bird stole part of my earring… Grrrr! #fb #

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Oct 3 2009

Day 26


Mt Isa to Augathella
I’d been a little suspicious about my back tyre pressure since changing it over yesterday. I’d pumped it up, but hadn’t checked the pressure with a gauge. I gave it a kick before bed, and it seemed to be the same pressure as earlier, so I assumed it was OK. Naturally that was a bad idea that was bound to come back to bite me.

We rode into town this morning for fuel, and I noticed that the tyre pressure was not what it should have been – 2PSI, to be exact. I pumped it up, but it was a reasonable bet that it was not going to hold pressure for all that long. I picked up a can of Slime from Repco, hoping that that might at least see me out the day. While I was in the store, a guy outside started talking to Marco and looking at the bikes. He had a KLR of his own, and he also had a mechanic’s workshop across the road, and offered me the use of his facilities. If you’re ever in Mt Isa and need to hire a 4WD, make sure you talk to Graeme Drew at Sargent Four Wheel Drive Hire. Top guy.

We stopped for fuel in Blackall, about 240km down the road, and a few kays out of town the back tyre gave way. I’m not sure where the original leak was, but by the time we stopped, the valve had torn loose from the tube. Within about 15 minutes we had the tools out, had the wheel off, and had a new tube in place. It seems that you shouldn’t leve the valve nut on the inside of the rim, even though that nut had been there for the past 8000km. Lesson learned.

We’d hoped to get to Charleville tonight, but it was always going to be a stretch, and with the amount of wildlife appearing in the evening shadows, we decided to stop in Augathella. Mandy and Marco have got themselves a motel room for the night, much to the amusement of the rest of us.

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Oct 3 2009

Day 25


Mt Isa Work/Rest Day
Considering all that had gone on and gone wrong yesterday, we decided that we’d stay two nights in Mt Isa, and try to get a few things sorted out.

Andy sourced a new axle, and spent much of the day fitting that to the trailer, as well as doing some work on things like trailer wiring and the like. He worked all day, but looked as though he was in his element.

Marco headed to the hospital for an x-ray on his foot, and took his bike in for service and repairs. As of tonight we haven’t heard back from the doc, so it looks as though things are all clear there. The local Honda/Kawasaki/Suzuki dealer serviced the bike and organised for the radiator mounts to be welded back on. Marco was very impressed with the service and the price, and was happy to have his bike back. Rather than fix the ignition key, he bought a simple switch and installed that. Fortunately you still need the key to make it run.

I replaced the tyres on my bike with the original road tyres, since the trek home will be all bitumen (did I mention that we’re skipping the Birdsville Track now, for the sake of the vehicles and trailers?), and the nobby on the back is completely shot. I also changed the oil and cleaned the air filter.

Tonight I cooked the long-awaited Pumpkin Marsala. It seemed that every night we tried or planned to make this, something would happen that would make us late to camp. But tonight it was going to work. We hadn’t been anywhere, so we couldn’t be late, and we had a well decked out campers’ kitchen. It was a little spicier than I expected, but (if I do say so myself) it was delicious!

After tea we headed to Cold Rock, which we all conceded was a complete gimmick, but which we all seemed happy to part with our money for!

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Oct 3 2009

Day 24


?? to Mt Isa
As usual, Dad got up at some ungodly hour. Only this time he’d woken even earlier than usual (and changing from NT to QLD time didn’t help matters), and decided that rather than roll over and sleep for another half an hour he might as well get up. Others in our party heard him moving about, and before long most of us were up.

We packed in record time, and the roads turned out to be narrow tracks through beautiful country, and the guys on the bikes had a great time. I did what I could to surpress my jealousy. To our own surprise we got to Lawn Hill on time!

The canoe ride up through the gorge was just beautiful. We had an odd number of paddlers, so I went in a 3-person canoe with Mandy and Marco. I was able to paddle (good exercise for the shoulder), but didn’t have to all the time, thankfully. This also meant I got the opportunity to take photos and video along the way (though I’ll save photos for a gallery page now, I think). The gorge is fed by a small but fast-flowing stream which cascades into the deeper, wider waters of the gorge, where it slows down. Some other paddlers were swimming at the falls, and the water looked lovely. Some of our party also saw a croc (at last). Not sure if the swimmers saw the croc, though.

After lunch we pressed on, along more of the same narrow tracks. Not long after, we met another Discovery with a blown-out back left tyre. This one was stuck with a security nut with a failed key. Andy was able to help him out fairly quickly, and we were on our way again. Not gaining greaat respect for the Discovery as a 4WD.

As we got on to more major roads, the surface got worse, particularly for the bikes. They kept a good distance ahead, but there were patches of sand and thick gravel which didn’t help them much. Occasionally we hit patches of bitumen, and soon we got to the start of THE bitumen.

Andy, who’s really had enough of riding, gave me back the reigns almost as soon as we hit the tarmac. Jane jumped on the back of Nick’s bike, and we took off. 500m later the gravel returned, and my heart sank. I’m ready for hard surfaces, but the way my shoulder reacts when I flinch or tense up, gravel is still out of the question. It turned out to be a short stretch, and a few minutes later we were on a sealed, if somewhat patchy road.

It was so good to be riding again. Before long we came to the Barkly Hwy, heading toward Mt Isa. I was in front, but I could see Nick’s headlight behind me. A couple of times I passed road trains going the other way. Sometimes the turbulence from a road train can almost knock you off the bike, so I made a point of slowing down and pulling to the side. Shortly after passing one road train I realised that Nick’s headlight was no longer following. I slowed, and eventually pulled over. When I still saw no sign of him, I turned back.

I found Nick and Jane on the side of the road, safe and well, but not going anywhere. Marco’s bike had started coughing, and shortly after had stopped altogether. After a bit of fiddling we found that the ignition would turn on and off at seemingly random intervals. We tracked it down to something connected to the handlebars, as we could trigger the fault by shaking them from side to side. Unfortunately we also managed to make the problem worse by doing that, as the ignition would no longer start even intermittently. It tuned out that the wires had come off the back of the key switch, and by holding them together it was possible to start (read hotwire) the bike. While we were hunting we also found that the radiator was falling off, with all three of its mounting points apparently broken.

As always, cable ties and gaffer tape would be our savour. I radio’d the convoy to see how far back they were, so I could get the bits we needed to get Nick and Jane back on the road. Marco answered. He said that they were on the highway not far behind us, and that they weren’t going anywhere. He said that the wheel had fallen off the bike trailer, and that everyone was out looking for it!

I rode back to the convoy. The passenger-side wheel of the trailer had fallen off, hub and all, when the bearing had collapsed. The axle had hit the ground at about 80km/h, and Marco had wrestled the car and trailer to the side of the road.

Sparks from the axle had started a grass fire, though that was out by the time I’d got there. Dad had organised a line search, which had to that point found nothing (and was no longer in a line of any sort, much to dad’s frustration). I helped with the search for a few minutes, then started gathering the bits I needed to get Nick and Jane mobile.

Once the bike was patched up, Nick, Jane and I returned. Brad had found the wheel and hub in a paddock to the side of the road, and Andy was in the process of removing the remains of the old bearings from both axle and hub. Jane started working her way back up the highway in search of the axle nut.

Andy got the wheel back on the axle, despite the fact that it had been ground to the shape of a javelin on one end. The axle nut was never found, and wouldn’t have had much to screw on to anyway. Andy used a battery terminal clamp and a large washer on the end of the axle instead, and this did a remarkable job.

Once again, light was failing as we headed off again. The highway had random cattle, roos and emus wandering across it, making it treacherous for bikes in particular. Nick and I went on ahead in the direction of Mt Isa, still 90km away, to look for a caravan park, while the others nursed the trailer in to town. A few minutes later Nick signalled that he was out of fuel, and would have to wait for the convoy, so I headed in to town alone.

At some point I was struck by the irony that at one point today the only one of us on the move was me… on a motorbike, of all things.

I found a town map and located a few options. I radio’d the others and decided I’d wait for them to get to town. One car went to look for supplies (read alcohol) while the other followed me to the caravan park. When we arrived we found the office closed, and a sign saying that no new bookings would be taken after 6:00pm… which was some time earlier. Marco started to turn the car around, when the other wheel fell off the trailer!

So we were stuck, with the car and trailer blocking the main entrance of a caravan park that refused to take us, unable to move, enter or leave. I called the manager on his mobile and started to explain the situation (not easy to do, as you can appreciate) and he soon came out. He was fine, and let us make camp and sort things out in the morning. Andy replaced the bearings in the other wheel and limped the trailer into the park.

Jordy and Katy took orders for KFC and headed back into town. They returned a while later with news and random chicken. It turned out that KFC closed at 9:00pm, a few minutes before they arrived. Jordy (being Jordy) knocked on the door, and managed to get every piece of chicken they had left, and at a very good rate. It wasn’t the best meal of the trip, but none of us really cared.

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Oct 3 2009

Day 23 (by the new count)


Maria Lagoon to…
There doesn’t seem to be many days that we get to where we intend to, or get there at the time we expect. Today was no different, but it was rewarding in its own way.

After our normal 2 hour pack-up we hit the road. The roads were variable, and none of them were particularly interesting or quick, particularly for the bikes. The landscape was less interesting than it has been, too. We stopped for lunch, and managed to start a grass fire, though I’ve been asked to leave the details out by the persons involved. Ask me about it, though… it’s a good story.

We pressed on after lunch, but realised we weren’t going to make Adele’s Grove at any reasonable hour, so we started looking for alternatives. Kingfisher Camp (signposted in red and white as “KFC”) was closer, so we started heading for that.

Shortly before dusk we came across two young German tourists who had a flat tyre. They’d purchased their second hand Land Rover Discovery in Brisbane (from a Dutch used car salesman, who clearly saw them coming), and two days later the left rear wheel fell off. Naturally they’d lost the wheel nuts, and they’d also managed to damage the alloy wheel, which in turn flattened the tyre. The spare wheel was held on to the back door of the car with random nuts, which didn’t match the rest for size, and weren’t even wheel nuts at all. They’d somehow fitted the spare and had continued on their way.

When we found them, the spare had blown out, and they had no other spare and no way of getting the wheel off. Andy, mobile mechanic and good samaritan that he is, got the tyre off the original wheel and repaired the damaged rim, then added a tube and inflated it. He had a shifter large enough to get the odd nuts off, so he got the tourists to remove the wheel, and take one nut each from the other wheels to use on that corner instead.

By the time all that was done, it was all but dark. We made camp on the side of the road, and invited the tourists (Manual and Philip) to join us. Marco chatted to them in German for a while, and one of them picked up Andy’s guitar.

After tea, we talked about the plans for tomorrow. We still have some distance to cover to Adele’s Grove, and the roads today have shown us that we can’t rely on an average speed much over 65km/h. We’ve decided we’ll get up at first light and break camp, and try to make it to Adele’s Grove (well, Lawn Hill, technically) as early as we can. If the roads are bad and we’re making poor time, one car will skip the canoe trip up the gorge and press on to Mt Isa. If the roads are good, we can decide on the spot whether we all stay and paddle.

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Oct 3 2009

Lost Days and Catching Up


It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog. Sorry about that. I’ve been back on the bike (more on that to come), which has left me pretty tired at the end of the day, and there’s also been some late stops and early starts, which hasn’t helped. I’m determined to get at least some of the story done before I get home, though, so stay tuned.

Also, I’ve realised that my day-count got screwed up somewhere, courtesy of NT-time. I should have just used dates instead… oh well.

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Sep 28 2009

This week’s Tweets: 2009-09-28

  • leaving Lake Evella. Will miss the place, and our friends Daniel and Silke and Zoe #
  • dinner at the Borrolloola Pub. Long time between drinks, but soon fixing that #fb #
  • loves his holiday and his friends, but misses his girl. #fb #
  • after a week with no alcohol, beer is remarkably effective. #fb #
  • back on the bike for nearly 200km today. Feels like there’s a golf ball in my shoulder, but mending well. #fb #
  • http://twitpic.com/jeknd – slowly waking up in Mt Isa #

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Sep 26 2009

Day 20


Maria Lagoon to Borolloola

We woke this morning to find that the cows had wandered through the middle of the camp during the night. They’d browsed through the rubbish, scratched themselves on the trailer, and (to Marco’s surprise) refrained from knocking over the Aprilia that they seemed so fond of the night before.

Those of us that didn’t find or brave the showers last night checked them out this morning. Cold showers have never felt so good as they did this morning. The shower I used was a salmon pink corrugated iron shed with a single shower head and no door, and no hot tap. the plug-hole was blocked, so the water simply ran out the door. Compared to the past few days, it was heaven.

We packed up, and a few minutes before we left, I ducked back into the shower for another go. Just as we were leaving I thought I might try my luck again, but the generator that had been running all night had finally stopped, as had the water pressure.

Today’s drive was a breeze compared to what we’d experienced over the past few days. We kept the speed down, and most of the time the bikes ran between the two four-wheel-drives. There wasn’t much breeze, and the dust from the vehicles hung in the air, making our little convoy about 3km long at times.

We stopped at the Southern Lost City, a beautiful rock formation with huge and improbable columns of rock which looked ready to topple over if the breeze ever picked up. We wandered, marvelled and photographed, then returned to the vehicles for some lunch.

I travelled in the front vehicle today (Bingo is his name-o), with Brad at the wheel. at About 4:00pm we had a series of events which were a little more exciting that any of us wanted. First, we had a couple of brumbies come out of the bush, one behind and the other in front of us. The one in front crossed the road within about six feet of our bullbar, and galloped off into the bush. Beautiful and exhilarating, but potentially disastrous. Thankfully Brad steered us through without any trouble. About a kilometre later, we hit a bulldust patch which looked about the same as any other sand or dust patch we’d seen. We’d approached it, reducing speed, hoping that we could cruise through it on the momentum we had. We soon found that it was rougher than we had expected. Brad slowed us down, but we hit a large bump and were thrown sideways. Despite leaning heavily to the passenger side, we came t rest without rolling, and without hitting any trees.

We were concerned that in the cloud of dust we’s created we were invisible to the other vehicles, We radio’d back a warning, and started to get out of the car, partly for our own safety, and partly to flag down the rest of the team.

At that point we found out that the left tyre on the bike trailer (now carrying food and fuel) had blown out… we estimate about 3 or more kilometres back. The tyre was all but gone, and the rim was almost square. Not good.

Soon we had everyone together, Jordy taking the other vehicle through a safe side-track (which we’d missed) right around the bulldust patch. It wan’t long before we had the wheel changed and the tyre pressure sorted, and we could be on our way.

This is as good a time as any to praise Andy for all the things he does in the group. He’s been riding my bike for the past couple of days, plus he’s the leader of the entire trip in every practical sense. He keeps the group together and informed of what’s going on, deals with group dynamics and politics where he has to, works like a trooper to set up and pack up, and keeps a smile and a cool head throughout. Today he had the tyre changed and ready to go in no time, with no fuss or panic.

We stopped in Borolloola, about 30km down the road, for fuel and iced coffee. We were meant to make Robonson River tonight, but the thought of a caravan park with showers and washing machines, not to mention a pub meal, was too much for us all, and we decided to stay.

As I write this, the rest of the crew are asleep, content after a good meal and a few beers. It’s been a good day, and we’re grateful to be clean, fed, safe and alive all at the same time. Tomorrow we’ll pass through Robinson River and head for Adele’s Grove, where we hope to spend the following morning paddling canoes though the gorge, before pressing on to Mt Isa.

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Sep 26 2009

Day 17, 18 and 19 (I think)


We took our time a little packing up this morning. We needed fuel, and the local store (known as the “Take Away” though it’s doubles as a general store) that sells the fuel cards wouldn’t be open til around 9:30am, so we had some time. We’ve been granted permission from Bundi Bundi, the custodian of the land surrounding  Numblwar, for the bikes to travel through the land south of the Central Arnhem Road toward Roper Bar, but they still were not entitled to ride the 30km from Gapuwiyak back to the Central Arnhem Road itself. We refuelled the bikes from the jerry cans, so that they wouldn’t need to join us in town to refuel. We’d been advised to keep as low a profile with the bikes as possible, out of respect to the locals.

We worked out how to reload everything into just two vehicles, and remarkably, everything fit. We moved the main food tubs to the floor of the bike trailer, as well as the jerry cans for diesel and unleaded. The luggage was packed onto the roof racks, and into the free space in the food trailer. Even my djembe (a space-wasting luxury, in hind-sight) managed to fit.

We headed to Daniel and Silke’s, posed for some photos in front of the much-loved troopie, and headed to the Take Away. The fuel station is unmanned, and fuel cards of different values are available for sale at the store. We refilled the cars and the jerry cans, and left the remaining fuel credit with Daniel, since we couldn’t use it anyway. From there we collected the bikes and the other travellers, said our sad goodbyes, and headed off on our way.

The road south from Gapuwiyak crosses the Central Arnhem Road, and that was our route. The road was OK, though progress was not all that fast. Once past the “Balma Turnoff” (cunningly signposted as the “Balma Turnoff”) the tracks thinned out, suggesting less traffic passed that way. Later in the day we worked out that we’d strayed from the GPS directions, afnd were headed east to Jalma Bay rather than south. Andy took one car on ahead to find the bikes, while we turned our car around and waited for him to return.

An hour later Andy returned on Marco’s bike, with his car not far behind. While riding back, Marco had collected a tree stump with his foot, and the pain was too much for him to continue. Jordy again administered excellent first aid, though the bruising in Marco’s foot was pretty severe. It’s still difficult to tell if anything is broken, but he could wiggle his toes and put a little weight on it.

It was getting late, so Andy rode on ahead to find a camp site, By the time we’d caught up, he had a fire going. We were still on the wrong road, but we were back-tracking OK. We made camp, Lyn baked bread in the camp oven (yum!), I cooked chops and sausages, and soon dinner was served. It was a long, hot day, and a warm night, and no one went to bed late that night. One highlight of an otherwise bleak, burnt-out camp site was the play of three kites in the sky overhead, floating and swooping in the light of the setting sun.

The next day we back-tracked to where the GPS said our track should be. It was faint, but it was there. For the next 2 days we followed the course the GPS plotted for us, and slowly realised that the route we were on was not a vehicular track at all, but a buffalo track, probably picked up in a satellite photograph and mistaken for a road. For two days the bikes scouted, while Jordy and Jane navigated the vehicles between and over termite mounds, trees, shrubs and river crossings. We camped in a beautiful stand of strangely deciduous eucalypts the first night, and eventually found the real track in the afternoon of the next day. In three days, we travelled around 300km, if that.

Once we found the track we made camp in another stand of trees, this time surrounded by a graveyard of termite mounds. We felt reassured to be on a clear track again, but again we were all very tired.

The following day we made our way past Numblwar and on to better roads, headed for Roper Bar crossing. The bikes enjoyed the firmer, wider roads, and we made good time for the first time all week.

When we finally reached Roper Bar, the first 4WD, the two bikes, then the vehicle I was driving made their way across. It’s a 50+m causeway with water flowing over it, and it’s slippery. The 4WDs made it with no trouble, and the riders made it look easy. By the time I crossed, the riders were queued up to do it again! When they returned, I donned the helmet and rode across in my t-shirt and board-shorts. It was so good to be back on the bike again, even for just that short stretch of concrete!

We lunched on the far side, refuelled at the Roper Store, and continued on. I little indecision saw us arrive at the Maria Lagoon at around 7:00pm, where we set up cam in the dark. It was only after we were set up that we started to see cows wandering past in the dark, at alarmingly close range. They seemed to take a liking to Marco’s bike, which unsurprisingly didn’t please Marco all that much!

The showers and toilets were rough to say the least, but they were showers and toilets, which gave them an edge over the accommodations of the past few nights. Some of us showered, and others waited til morning.

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Sep 26 2009

Days in Arnhem Land


It’s been interesting, listening to the stories and seeing the sights of the past few days. Silke in particular has a good grasp on what is going on in Gapuwiyak, and articulates is beautifully.

Gapuwiyak is a township which, like everything in Arnhem Land, sits on family owned land. The trouble is, the inhabitants of the town come from nine different family groups from around the area. They’re there because that’s where schooling, supplies and income happen to be. And it seems that this is the way the Government (both Federal and Territory) would prefer things to be.

The trouble is this doesn’t work, particularly for people so connected to their land. The best parallel I can draw is to an exiled population, like the Jews in the Old Testament, stuck in Babylon or some other land against their will. There’s an inertia to a place like Gapuwiyak that seems to be there simply because everyone is out of place. They’s sitting around waiting for something, cutting time til life can begin again.

Family land, or “homelands” are vitally important to the Yolngu people, but the tyranny of distance, bad roads, the wet season and government ignorance (or apathy, or perhaps intervention) make it very hard to for them to occupy their homelands in any significant way.

It has been encouraging to see MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) actively supporting homelands in their work in Arnhem Land. A two hour drive between communities can be replaced by a flight of as little as 10 minutes, and MAF offers flights at bare-bones rates so that family groups can occupy their own lands without suffering total isolation. They also go over and above, driving passengers into Nhulunbuy from the airport to do their shopping (as the taxi fare would be nearly as much as the flight). When the plane is at it’s weight limit with just the returning passengers, MAF will store passengers’ groceries and other items, and ferry them back to the communities on subsequent flights as space allows, at no additional charge.

As a Christian, the other exciting thing to see is that as a missionary organisation, MAF is not spreading neo-colonialism or white-man solutions, but actively supporting the richest parts of Yolngu culture, even when that puts them in opposition to Government strategies. They work with the local people, they fly planes owned by Yolngu organisations, and they take the time to care for and support the locals in practical ways, and in many respects they let the gospel speak for itself in that.

Eleven months ago MAF lost a young pilot up here, named Hadley Smith, He was 23, and died serving the Yolngu communities. MAF is a close-knit family, and his death was a blow to everyone up here, and a reminder of the dangers of flying small, single-engine planes for a living.

On Saturday, MAF opened a new hangar, a two year labour of love, donations and volunteer time. It will serve as a maintenance and engineering facility for Arnhem Land operations. The attached conference room will bear Hadley Smith’s name.

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