By David Pidcock
Cordillo Downs, 2011
It hadn’t rained properly for close to 2 years and the roads sure showed it. What an introduction to the desert! The ride to Thargomindah had been uneventful and the first day on the dirt to Innamincka on my first desert ride was a good introduction. Lots of moments but had kept it together and was feeling good. We were heading for Birdsville and the Cordillo Downs Road continued the pattern of atrocious conditions – dust, deep sand, bulldust, flies, heat, creeks and rocks. Lots and lots of rocks.
My first off was just before smoko in the morning – some bruising, a cracked cylinder head and a bit of a reality check. However, by afternoon, I was well back in the groove – prophetic words! It was a long, long sandy sweeper with a nasty creek in the middle. Was on the pegs, but inexperience was going to dictate the outcome and taking the wrong line, with the sand really starting to bite, led to more speed and then more and more. The side of the track was drawing inexorably closer, but I was just about through. Then the front wheel crossed over the lip of the berm and ……… highside! My mates later joked that my ‘fifth’ off of the day was my best.
Who was I to argue – the concussion, broken ribs and the near written off R1200GS certainly suggested as much. Am sure it was only ‘two’ though! The next few days were a blur of pain, not helped by an air mattress that went flat every few hours – blowing that up 3 or 4 times every night was probably the worst part of the experience, other than getting on and off the bike. I limped back into Toowoomba 3 or 4 days later, battered, bruised, very sore but a lot wiser for the experience. Incorrect tyre pressures, a 19 inch front wheel, less than ideal packing and weigh distribution, not enough preparation and, most significantly …… over confidence. Yup, it was always going to end one way!
There is some iconic riding in Australia and over the next 3 or 4 years (after a bit of a hiatus) I saw a fair bit of it. Once it’s in your blood, adventure riding starts to consume you. I rode a lot of dirt, experimented with a number of bikes, listened to my mates but, more importantly, got out and did it. It took a while to get my confidence back, but as I clocked up the miles, it got a whole lot easier. The experiences, good and bad, made me a very different rider.
The idea of a bike that could handle the miles held a lot of attraction, but more important, was something that could handle the dirt (make that sand) and unexpected conditions that are invariably thrown up on any long distance ride.
Weight is such an issue, particularly where and how it’s distributed. Add maneuverability, power when it’s needed, a stable platform, decent fuel capacity and some comfort and you’ll get the idea of what I was looking for. Of course, it also had to look good too!
Enter the 2015 KTM 1190 Adventure R.
While I’d learned a lot since my Cordillo Downs experience, I still had a nagging disquiet, a sense of unfinished business. I looked back on my first and last trip to the desert and knew I needed to have another crack. With a new, purpose manufactured off road bike and roads getting better (or worse, depending on your outlook) I wanted to put a big trip together soon. Having heard a lot about Cameron Corner and knowing I’d probably tackle it my own, central Australia in August / September 2015 seemed a really good option. I had a couple of weeks available to me and I was keen to meet a bunch of mates at the Moredon Ponds Adventure Riders Rally in central New South Wales later in the month. I posted my route on Facebook, suggesting I was going to take a ‘bit of detour’. Lucky beggar (or words to that effect) was the common response.
The plan was to ride out to ‘the Corner’, down the Strzelecki Track and into and around the Flinders Ranges from the east. From Hawker I’d head across to Broken Hill on as much dirt as possible.
I had on old college mate that owned the Tilpa Hotel, so detouring down to Wilcannia before following the Darling River to Bourke fit into the route perfectly. Another friend had a transport business in Dubbo and was keen to shout me a few beers after which I’d have the opportunity to get into the mountains heading into Armidale, the jumping off point for Moredun Ponds.
As always, the preparation was critical and took some time. The bike, a broad route, fuel, meals, keeping the weight down, accommodation, camping gear, tyres, tools, communications, my own fitness, ‘riding’ music and on and on it went.
The most difficult thing, in my mind, was navigation. Without knowing the country and expecting it to be pretty difficult and isolated in places, I was keen to make sure I had this well covered. Tracks for Australia seemed pretty detailed and showed roads and routes that the OEM software on my Zumo 590 didn’t. In addition, I had very detailed 1:250,000 paper maps for the more remote country prepared by the Australian Surveying & Land Information Group – they even showed the direction the sand dunes ran! Both were really handy.
The ride out to Thargomindah is generally considered a pain but it did prove a good way of easing into the trip. It became a bit of a shakedown, allowing time to test packing, iron out inefficiencies, get a feel for the gear, make some adjustments and work into the bike and its rhythm.
With a bit of internet reception still available, it was also a great chance to post a few photos highlighting the fact that “I’m on the road for 2 weeks – how’s work going boys!”
I left Toowoomba mid-afternoon on Thursday the 03 September 2015 with some ominous clouds in front of me, feeling both nervous and confident at the same time, but very, very keenly anticipating what was in store for me. Travelling through Leyburn and down the Mosquito Creek Road (a bit of dirt close to home) to Inglewood, the first night was spent in Gundy with friends.
I then had a cruisy 700 km run out to Thargo the next day. Not too hot, plenty of goats, perfectly straight roads and an overzealous policeman who booked me doing 117 km per hour on the straightest bit of bitumen that could be found 200 km west of Cunnamulla. I mean, seriously! He wondered why I didn’t want to talk about my bike and the trip.
I arrived in Thargomindah mid afternoon, enjoyed a good pub feed and a coldie with Surly Shirley at the Bulloo River Hotel and was early to bed with the adventure to start properly in the morning!
The iconic Cameron Corner was my destination for the night. The road southwest from Noccundra was a wide, white, graveled mine road, as so many were destined to be. Within a couple of hours, the desert started to appear though and, soon enough, the colors turned to red, the road narrowed and the sand began.
With the bike moving around a little, tyre pressures were reduced to the early 20’s and off I went.
I have to admit that the heart rate did increase a little and, even though the sand was pretty light and the road base firm, it took a couple of hours before I really started to relax. Lunch by the road, a yarn to some graziers (quite a few bikes had been travelling through) make sure I’m on the right track and I was into the swing of things.
I’d been looking forward to the desert scenery and it didn’t disappoint. Miles and miles of sand, light vegetation and a stillness that added to the beauty. The grip of the drought was very strong, cattle were poor and even the kangaroo and emu numbers were very light.
One of the reasons I like periods of riding alone is the freedom this allows. The ability to take your time, pull up on a whim, check out what’s over a dune, or spend an hour in one spot getting that photo exactly right is a big part of it for me.
The bike had been running perfectly to this point. The long days in the saddle were fine, the power was proving very handy in the soft stuff and it made for a lot of fun on the many grids.
At a bit over 200 kg dry, the 1190 is far from a light bike (although it does look a lot heavier than that), but its low center of gravity, the big front wheel and having packed lightly with all the weight as far down and central as possible, meant it handled like a dream. No moments and no issues of any description!
One significant weak point I have is my lack of mechanical ability, so I was very conscious of trying to preempt any issues. I’d spent a fair bit of time with Craig Hartley at Dalby Moto servicing and prepping the bike plus a lot of time at home loctiting bolts, checking over the bike, making sure nothing moved and planning for fuel & water.
I had a full set of tools, a few spares, a pair of extra heavy-duty tubes (those suckers take up a lot of room) tyre changing gear and a Cycle Pump. After a good walk around the bike the next morning – I tweaked the chain and found no loose bolts. The loctite was doing its job and everything was in its place.
I’d have to carry extra fuel for the next stage and with the extra weight, wanted to be sure I left nothing to fate. I’d enjoyed a last night of luxury, a tiny but very comfortable single bed in a donger, with a meal, beers and plenty of yarns at the store.
There was lots of memorabilia there, including info on ‘The Longest Day Ride’. This is a time trial from Camooweal to Cameron Corner. It has to be completed without stopping, other than for 5 refueling stops (maximum) that can be no longer than 15 minutes. It seemed that the record is held by Paul Wright in 2012 – 1,662 km in 13 hours and 12 minutes on a …….. KTM 690 Enduro, of course.
It was pretty quiet at the Corner, but that would change as the Birdsville Races finished that day and the punters all started returning home in the morning. I was planning on heading south so, with luck, I wouldn’t be contending with too many 4WD’s and caravans. With a bush camp at Montecollina Bore about 450 km away being the next stop, I filled my spare bladder and, with 34 litres of fuel, 6 litres of water and 4 days worth of food, I hit the road heading west.
The road across to the Strzelecki Track from Cameron Corner is another pretty famous one. Endless sand dunes – up, down and then all over again, with the big yellow bus supposedly part way along.
I was into it big time and having a blast – I either somehow managed to miss the bus or its finally disintegrated or been dragged away. It wasn’t until days later that it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen it!
The riding was great fun, a fast easy 100 km ride with a few blowouts on the tops of the dunes that had to be considered, as well as traffic coming the other way. I kept an eye out for ‘the Shortcut’ across to Strzelecki Creek, but it had been closed, as was the ‘Old Bore Track’ to Innamincka. I knew this already, but was disappointed to see it was true.
Temperatures were still a comfortable 20 to 25 degrees – winter and early spring are by far the best time to be riding in this country. The season had improved significantly too and I was surprised at just how green the desert could be and the bugs that came with it.
Cattle were fat and it was interesting to imagine how I would have handled things without transport – those explorers hundreds of years ago …… brave, crazy or mad. I’m not sure which! I found wild melons and thought about trying to make water with a clear plastic sheet – just to see if it could do it!
The track did loosen up a bit when the Old Track crossed over the Strzelecki ‘proper’, getting a bit sandy, twisting through a lot of creeks. The perennial tyre decision had been a hard one, but after lots of research I had decided on a Dunlop Rally Raid on the rear and a Michelin Star Cross 5 (Hard) for the front.
I love my TKC 80’s but needed tyres that would handle the original bitumen transport, the slip the 150 horses would ‘undoubtedly’ transfer into the rear tyre in the dirt and tyres that would get me through an anticipated 6,000 km in 2 weeks. I wasn’t too worried about the rear of the bike moving around, but I did want stability in the front. The Star Cross 5 was recommended to me as a fair dinkum desert tyre and, while as ugly as sin, it proved its worth and did a fantastic job.
All roads lead to Innamincka out this way and I had the opportunity to fuel up and buy a bottle of red (always room in the Andy Straps bags for one of them) after competing with the Birdsville revelers for a bowser. It was then a long run through the gibbers back south to Montecollina via the Moomba oil fields.
I hit Montecollina Bore just on dusk having ridden since about 7.00 am that morning – a long day of about 600 km. I was looking forward to setting up camp and a long luxuriant soak in the hot artesian bore. Expecting a few caravans and grey nomads, I was pleased and surprised to find it basically deserted except for half a dozen other bikers, including 3 brothers on
They’d come down from Birdsville via the Walkers Crossing Track having quite a few offs along the way in fairly heavy sand. This was a route that I’d looked at trying to fit in, but fuel was a problem without some significant logistics. The boys had 2 vehicles which solved this – it also meant eskies, which meant …… you know what! They had their priorities very well sorted.
After setting up camp, I headed off down to the bore. It was, in a word, awesome. Coming directly out of a huge pipe, in ran through a couple of settling pools before emptying into a big dam. I got my gear off and splashed into the lowest pool (which was ‘just’ cool enough) and lay back into the steaming water, letting the fatigue, dirt and sweat of the last few days wash away.
It’s said that the Flinders Ranges (which were just to the south) has one of the clearest, unrestricted views of the night sky in the world. Staring up into the solar system with warm water lapping around me confirmed it – cathartic and soothing, bringing to mind all the good things and the people in my life. I could have stayed there all night.
But . . . beer was beckoning (soothing in its own way) as was dinner and some company, something I was looking forward to after 4 days largely on my own.
I had a lot of food with me – I’ve learned the hard way what its like to be hungry and thirsty. It’s not that difficult to eat well in the bush – noodles, a premade pasta sauce, an onion, fresh garlic, carrot and cryovaced salami bought from Toowoomba. It all travelled well, was quick and and tasted great.
My new companions, who had made me unbelievably welcome, also had a camp oven and the ‘skittles’ damper cooked up by Hamo plus the port was, while unexpected, very, very good!
We were all heading for the Flinders and decided to ride together for a few days. Breakfast was oats, sultanas and raisins, mixed with a little orange hydrolyte and water (instead of juice) left overnight in a bowl. Bush Bircher muesli – good stuff and sticks to your ribs!
Everyone was pretty keen to get on the road and we did leave in a bit of a flurry of sand, rocks and dust. So much for poking along at my own pace! We continued down the Strzelecki for about 40 km before turning off at Mount Hopeless and heading south where we got our first look at the Flinders Ranges low on the horizon.
Leading up to this, the track was very skatey with a lot of loose gravel and gibbers in deep wheel tracks, coupled with some interesting creek crossings. The road opened out significantly, but still threw up plenty of unexpected surprises. You couldn’t let your guard down or lose concentration for a second, so we pulled up a couple of times just to take it all in. This, of course, involved lots of photos of the bikes – I mean, you can’t ever get enough of those ….. can you?
The countryside was wide open with the horizon curving off into the distance – you could see forever. I’d had mates who had ridden through through this country some years back (ralley’d through it were the words they used) and they had described it as looking like the moon.
It couldn’t have been more different now – green, with vegetation and plenty of fat cattle. It had been close to cold when we kicked off in the morning and with the temperature peaking at about 20 degrees, the conditions were perfect.
Despite this (or as a result) fuel was starting to get a bit low for everyone, so a fast direct run into Arkaroola was decided. The Kato’s took a bit of a lead and, as the boys still had some reserves in the truck, we didn’t really need to worry about fuel conservation. It was time for some fun and I arrived with about a 1 litre in the tank – the tyres paid a bit of a price though.
Everyone was keen for a bit of a blow by this stage, so we set up camp mid afternoon and all had a lazy end to the day. Some maintenance, dinner prep, firewood collection, a bit of a ride around as the sun was setting to take a few photos and a night by the campfire with good food and company. It doesn’t get much better.
I’d decided to spend another night at Arkaroola and the boys needed to get moving. While we were broadly heading in the same direction, I was going to spend 3 or 4 nights in the Flinders exploring and riding some gorges, while they were on the tail end of their trip and heading for home.
The camaraderie and mateship that comes with riding bikes in these conditions is one of the best aspects of what we do. It’s great making new friends and, while you know that you’ll ride with them again, it’s always sad to see them off.
However, I knew I had lots to look forward to. New roads, people to meet, old friends to catch up with, lots of riding and plenty of adventures in front of me.
The race is long.
To be continued ……..