Saturday, May 9, 2015

Simpson Desert Crossing.

July 31 Simpson Desert Crossing Day 1. 248 km
We woke up with the sun just like the past week. Its hard to sleep in when you are on the ground or in a tent. You are bundled from the night before and you will be in a pool of sweat if you deiced to be lazy. I decided to take a shower. I knew it could possibly be the last chance I have to shower until Alice Springs. Alice could be a week or more away. While I was in the bathroom I filled both my 10 liter bladders with water. These bladders were not meant to be reused. They were taken from a box of water and were basically the same as a boxed wine bladder. Just as strong and just as classy. The top could be pried off with a knife or teeth for refill.

A typical camp for me in Oz. 

Craig had his pannier frame welded and I grabbed a few last minute things. By 11:00 we were headed into the Simpson. It was 45 km of crap road but it went by quickly. We stopped just below big red under a tree. I could tell Craig was nervous. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous also. I had been teasing Craig about the weight of his bike for the past few days. I always thought he if anyone would be able to ride through it. Get Craig on a 690 or the like and he would ride through anything.

Needed when your Ute or BMW 1200GS is to heavy for the Simpson desert.


Big Red

Craig about to give it a go. 

We rode out into the dry lake bed and looked at big red. Motors off, we discussed what track, speed and gear to attack the monstrous red dune. Rock paper scissor. I threw rock, he threw paper. He started his bike. I filmed from the bottom as he pulled away. I heard 1st, 2nd, 3rd gear... he went up the dune quite quickly with little effort. Then I heard the rev bike rev and saw him loosing control. I saw a puff of sand as he fell over. I started my bike and rode up in 2nd gear standing on the pegs. Not a bad dune to climb. There would be worse. Craig was ok. He had his bike up and wasn't hurt. He had hit a hole made by a Ute that probably didn't let the air out of their tires. These were the same assholes who chopped up the next 350 km of dunes from spinning their tires and bouncing their trucks up and down. If they were skiers or boarders.. we would call them gapers.

We tried to get Craig started again at the top of big red. We could not get him moving with out him tank slapping horribly. After a few tries we rested and talked. He said he was very tired and he felt like he just spent 1/2 his energy... on the first dune. He said "lets try again tomorrow". I replied, "I'm not trying to be an asshole, but what will change? Will you bike loose 40 kilo?"

Reluctantly he agreed it was not a good idea for him to continue. He said said he was pissed at him self for not being able to continue with me. We discussed the ramifications if I continued alone. I didn't have a radio, cell phones had been useless since we were 2 hours out of Sydney, but I did have a spot tracker. I had enough water for 3 or 4 days and enough fuel to cover the distance and then some. I took a few more supplies from his bags. Candy bars, oatmeal, cheese, canned meat and some wraps. When we packed earlier in the day, we divided up our rations to spread out the weight. Now I was taking on more. But it was not to much to carry. We said our good bye and he went back east. I went west. Down big red. Into the Simpson. Solo.

I knew there was a group of 4 ozzies in front of me on 2 KTMs and 2 DR650s. My plan was to ride until I caught up with them then tag along. I figured I would ride until nearly dark then find them when they were setting up camp. I rode over the next 6 dunes in relative ease. I was starting to get my rhythm. At the most it was 15 minutes. I caught up to the 4 Ozzie riders. They had left Birdsville an hour before Craig and I. I was surprised to see them so soon until I started talking with them. They were all spent. They said there was only 1 dune of the past 7 that then made it over as a group without falling. At least 1 of them fell on every single other dune. The tone was defeated. They were all turning back.

Now what do I do. I feel comfortable. I'm riding good. I have supplies. Fuck it. I'm going ahead. At least till tonight. I will camp in the Simpson and turn back in the morning if its a bad idea to go on. So I said good bye to the group and continued on. Over the next dune I dropped the bike. I was so embarrassed that they might have seen me but I was already out of site. The next thought in my head was maybe this wasn't a good idea.

I was going East to West. Most people went West to East. The dunes are gradual on the west side and steep on the west side. Since most people were driving east, the gradual west side was torn up bad. Very bumpy and rutted. I was climbing the smooth steep side, and coming down the rutted, bumpy side. I thought it wasn't a bad choice. I didn't really have a choice in my direction of travel though. My general direction of travel in Oz at the time was east to west.

The dunes were soft. It was getting toward the end of winter. The weather was hot. I had to keep drinking loads of water. It hit me mid afternoon that Craig had the Gatorade powder in one of his bags. I was drinking so much water but I knew I was loosing my electrolytes. I would have to make some very salty food that night.

I fallowed the QAA line from from big red to the Queensland/Northern Territory border. Then the track ran south for about 15 km along a dry lake bed. Then turned west again at Poeppal corner. The plan was to take the french line all the way to Dalhousie Springs. This was the shortest distance but it would be the most chopped up. The dunes basically run north/south in long ribbons of sand. Some times you cross dry lake beds in between. Other times you just have flat sand in between. The lake beds were hard and rutted but I could get a chance to sit down and rest. I would shift into 3rd and let the motor idle along. I didn't want to speed up to much, then my rest time was over before the next dune. Sitting down in the sand would make my bike uncontrollable at any speed it seamed. 1st gear was to slow. 3rd gear was to fast because of the woops. I would beat the crap out of my bike with all the extra weight. 2nd gear was perfect. I would start out in 1st gear and stand up as quick as possible popping it into 2nd. I would let the torque of the thumper take over and propel me along.

Its not snow, It just looks like it.

I met some bikers at Poeppal corner. It looked like they had done the Simpson as a day trip or they had a support truck. They had minimal gear and most of them had light bikes. They were surprised to see me by myself and asked me if I needed anything. They said they didn't have any Gatorade but one of them had a fizzy drink thing called Barocca. Its chocked full of vitamin B and apparently works decent for hangovers. I figured a cup of that in the evening with dinner would be a welcome change over water.

The sun was getting low. It was after 4:00 pm when I was getting past Poeppal corner. I was very tired. I had gone further than I thought I would that day. The dunes on the start of the french line were very torn up and soft. It was better to stop and get rest than risk getting hurt. I set up camp on a dune overlooking a dry lake and ate dinner watching the shadows get long as the sun set over the Simpson. Typically in the desert I only set up my tent if there is going to be rain. In Oz I would put down my ground tarp, then my sleep pad, then bag, and use my tent as an extra blanket. This night was an exception. There were holes in the dunes that were made by some sort of insect and I didn't want to find out what they were. I fell asleep before I could even zip my sleeping bag all the way up. It was no later than 6:30.

August 1. Simpson Desert Crossing Day 2. 261 km

I woke up 1/2 hour before sunrise. I wanted to get an early start when the dunes were cool and holding any moisture they picked up from dew. I knew there wasn't going to be much. My sleeping bag had no signs of moisture on the outside. I watched the sunrise while I ate my oatmeal and drank instant coffee. The sun was still low when I started to ride. Down the dune and across the lake bed that looked like snow. My good feeling fell as I dropped the bike on the first dune. What the hell was I doing? Did I make the right decision to go on? A sobering mood hit me. The struggles of the day before came back to reality. It would be a long day.

The sun is hot but the wind blows new sand to cover old tracks.

I soon got my rhythm back and was having a good time. I would see a few cars going the same direction. I would pass them and say hi. I'd say "pick me up if the bike is tipped over when you pass me". I was traveling at a higher speed so after the next dune, I would never see these cars again.

I think I can.. I think I can.. I think I can.. Crap.

You are here.

In the early afternoon I came over a dune and saw a truck below. When I pulled in the clutch the bike died. No big deal, it was probably just running hot. I hit the thumb switch and heard a sound I didn't like... "clackity clackity clackity"... The bike didn't fire. It didn't start. The starter wasn't engaging the motor as it should. This was bad. Just down the dune there was a hard patch of dried clay that I was able to pop the clutch in 2nd gear and get her fired. It just got real. I have at least 45 km of hard dunes left if I kill the bike in the dunes, I'll have to get very creative to restart it. My only choice was to continue. If I had to stop, it would have to be in a place with hard ground and a slight hill. This was the first time I have owned a KTM 690 that I wished there was a kick start.

The day before, I realized how liberating it was riding alone in the dunes. I would only have to worry about myself. I would never have to turn around to help someone else. I could just concentrate on riding and never look back. Had I been with someone else, We might both still be out there. Now with the bike not able to restart, I knew I was truly on my own. I would have to get myself out of this mess I got myself into. It was stupid. I hated it. And I loved it.

Over the next 45 km I would ride 3 or 4 dunes at a time then get sloppy and have to take a deep breath and regain my composure. I had to concentrate so hard on my line and riding in order to keep my momentum going further. My brain was being an asshole. It would start to wander and thing about what was wrong with the bike. The bike did not need to be fixed right now. It was running. It was driving. It was getting me out of the dunes. I just needed to keep concentrating on riding. 40 km left. 35 km left. 35 km left. I played games in my head where I would keep riding as long as I could before I looked at my GPS again. 25 km left. I tipped over my bike but pulled in the clutch and revved it before the shutoff switch could kill the bike. Adrenalin picked up the bike. It was not me. I was to tired. I would drop the bike 3 more times. With 11 km left of dunes I dropped the bike. I got thrown from it and I knew I could not get to it before the motor shut off. I sat and watched as the bike died. The desert got quite. The only sound was the wind and the ticking of a exhaust cooling. There was no way I would be able to roll start it here. There was no way I could push it out. I shut off the key and put the bike up. I drank some water and ate a snickers. I was tired. Now I could think about what to do. What was wrong with the bike? I'll try to start it one last time. Turn on the key. Pull in the clutch. Pop it into neutral. Check the throttle. Hit the thumb switch.... Clackity clackity POP thump thump thump. FUCK YES! I shouted at the top of my lungs. Something, someone, somewhere was looking out for me. God, Karma, Allah, the Universe, ghosts of relatives past, maybe it was dumb blind luck. I don't know. I don't care. Some how the bike started. And it was time to go. I made it out of the big dunes and onto the more tame part of the french line. There were long stretches of rocky gravel. I could stop the bike anytime now and restart it with ease by pushing it in 1st gear and popping the clutch. I had enough weight on the back that I didn't even need to sit on her to get her to fire.

Out of the big dunes. Time for lunch

Back into a traveled area

This guy was walking across the Simpson. 

I rolled into Dalhousie springs just before sunset. I was so tired I but excited. The campground director told me they were happy I made it. He said "you should go get a soak in the hot springs and we will settle up later".

The hot springs were nice. The little fish that nibble on your dead skin had a feast on me. I watched the sunset and soaked for 2 hours. I had made it through the Simpson desert. I felt more elation now then after the BAM. This had been the riding I was missing. But why do I need to push myself to the absolute edge... past my comfort zone.. past the point of safety.. way past the point of common enjoy it?

And finally. A video I put together.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Getting to the Simpson

July 25. Blue Mountain to outside Lithgow. 106 km
We had a few things to sort in the morning but we finally got on the road. It didn't matter if we only got a 100 km in the afternoon, we were finally leaving the Sidney area. Heading toward the middle. Heading toward the Simpson. Just past Lithgow it started to rain some so we found a place to camp where a forest met an ex-forest. We had plenty of dry wood to burn and even some shelter. We had a good hot meal and some hot ginger tea with Wild Turkey Honey Whiskey. Quite a fine combination I must say. Later on in the night I got my first taste of Australian stars when the weather cleared. I finally figured out how to take pictures of the stars. Open the aperture as wide as possible and set your timer. If you touch the camera to take the picture, it will move enough to blur the picture. It was cold that night but I slept well.

Binary forest. Forest-on. Forest-off.

Open up that aperture!

July 26. Near Lithgow to Trangie 331 km
It had not occurred to me that my health insurance was about to expire in a few days. The outback was not a place I wanted to be without insurance. Luckily the Library in Bathurst had internet. 30 minutes and about $800 later, I had insurance for another year. We kept riding west. At this point we were still close to civilization. In Oz, this means the coasts. That evening we camped at a RV park/camp ground. It was almost full but we were the only travelers as much as I could tell. The rest were rail road workers.

Outside the library

Cooking a concoction

Ready to scarf down. 

July 27. Trangie to Wilcannia 518 km
After breakfast we had to take a few pictures of the owners huge puppy. I was listening to music because it was boring riding. Straight and flat for the most part. I would get excited when we would make a turn after 30 km of straight. You had to stay alert because of the danger of hitting an Emu or Kangaroo. The road was littered with carcasses. About 50 km from Cobar, we met an older guy on the side of the road tearing into a NX650 Dominator. We offered help but he said we wouldn't be able to fix it. I remember thinking "This is Craig and Noah you are talking to. We have traveled very far with much greater problems than you electrical issue." But he insisted that we go on because he had a trailer. Once in Cobar, we found the other 3 people in his group. We told them he had a trailer coming and they shouldn't wait. The other guys deiced to head out with us. Now we were a Triumph, 2x KTM 690s, Xt660 and a BMW Xchalange 650. Ian on the 690 had done quite a bit of custom work to his bike for adv travel. I was most impressed by the custom rally exhaust. In his words, "its a lot of wasted space if where they decided to put it". They were all heading to the "Off Center Rally" which I planned to ride to after Craig went back to work. For the next few days we would cross paths many times. We would ride together, take different paths and get separated, and we always seemed to camp in the same camp ground. That night we had a great camp fire under the stars. The bottle of honey wisky didn't make it through the night. I think as a group we killed 3 bottles. Or at least partial bottles. We talked about bikes, woman and life. They told us about growing up and we told them how we didn't want to. They agreed it was best not to.

Big puppy. 

Horsey. Unfortunately, a few months ago, I got an email that Horsey hit an Emu on this same bike and died shortly after. He was an amazing man and I feel lucky to have met him. He will be missed by many. 

I have to admire his ingenuity. 

July 28. Wilcannia to Cameron Corner
We finally hit gravel. Finally I didn't have to rely on music or day dreaming. Now I had to pay attention. Now we were getting into the sun burnt land. A harsh place where rocks were varnished dark and shiny from the sun. A place that sees temperatures of over 50 degrees C in summer. A crazy place to live. We explored a small mining town called White Cliffs where people dig their houses underground to try to escape the heat. As crazy as it would be for me to live in a place like this, I can understand the isolation they enjoy from the rest of the world.
In Tiboorurra we got groceries and fuel. We decided to make burritos that night so a can of 4 bean mix was the closed we could find to kidney or black beans. I asked about a can of an Australian brand chili but Craig said he would rather eat kangaroo poo. The other guys took forever to get their food so we took off early. The road to Cameron corner was relatively good for the first bit. It turned to washboard just as the sun was in the perfect spot to blind us. The last 20 minutes of riding were not very fun. We made it to Cameron corner before Sundown. We had a beer and waited for the others. We waited till it was dark then decided to go find a place to camp when they didn't show up. We bush camped because we are cheap. Near a dry creek bed with lots of dead fuel for a fire. The burritos were pretty epic. Sauteed onion, garlic and pepper with beans and cheddar in soft tortillas. All wrapped up in tin foil and set on the coals for a handful of minutes. We had one more wrap left after dinner so we spread peanut butter on it and put a snickers bar in side. This went into foil and on to the coals. The tortilla wrap was slightly crunchy, the chocolate and stuff in the snickers melted and slightly mixed with the peanut butter. It was an amazing desert. I often wonder if it would taste as good if you made it in your own house. But in the wild, you don't ask questions. You eat because you are hungry, and if it is tasty, that's a bonus.

We found a headlight from an old truck.

Ready for battle. 

Only part of the house that is above ground. 

Door into a hill. Someone's house.

Cheburashka is loving the desert.

Tuna can carrier


July 29 Cameron Corner to Innaminka

We got fuel at Cameron Corner store before heading west. The old guys were there. They said they got in after dark. We thought for sure they would have stopped when it got dark. The call of the beer was strong I guess. Not soon after we left, I was able to say "I told you so" to Craig. Though I didn't say it, he know what I was thinking. Before we left home, he had his racks welded. For some reason the guys who welded it put the cross brace in a position that was in danger of contacting the rear tire if the suspension was being worked. Craig hit a deep soft bull-dust hole and the tire hit the cross brace hard. The brush that grows in the desert is a very hard wood, but when it dies, it gets very brittle. Almost from dry rot or something. We finally found a piece of wood and carved the ends to brace the pannier frames. The wood even had a correct bend to keep it away from the tire. Its hard to describe the flies in the outback. They don't bite. They go for liquid. They go for your eyes, your mouth, your nose. They are everywhere it seems. We decided to take the Old Strzelecki track north to Innaminka. It was a fast track. Pretty solid except a few places where sand blew into the road. We could have gotten off the small track about 45 km from Innaminka. The other guys took the bigger road parallel and said was 45 km of washboard. Its ironic how many times I've found the smaller track to be smoother. We all drank red wine from a box and Craig cooked pasta. I took the time in the evening to change out my tires. They were past due. In fact, a cop in Olive Downs pointed out how bald they were. I said "I'm trying to get my money's worth out of them". He replied "I think you got your money worth." Noted. I get the hint. I'll change out for the new ones ASAP. Its interesting though, bald tires track pretty well in soft sand if you let some pressure out. I guess it helps to have a nice light bike.

The point where New South Wales, Southern Australia and Queensland meet. If you celebrate new years here, you get 3 different time zones to kiss your girl. 

Dingo fence between NSW and South Australia.

Flies. There is a reason he is wearing his helmet. I was also. 


New Mitus E09 ready for the desert.

July 30. Innaminka to Birdsville.

Craig and I went west from Innaminka on the Walkers Crossing track. I had aired up my tires the night before when it was cool. Now in the hot of the day, they were way to hard. The bike felt so squirly and pretty much un-rideable in the soft stuff. So we stopped and I reduced the pressure to about 23 psi. This was a night and day difference. I could hit the soft stuff and the bike wouldn't even wiggle. Strait as an arrow. The front end didn't want to push in corners. The ass end only wanted to come out a little bit. It was perfect. Later I would drop the pressure to below 20 when I went into the Simpson for extra stability. For the moment, I didn't want to pinch a tube or bend a rim on the random rocks. At the end of the day we were riding through a rock field. The rocks were black and shiny from the sun. It seemed like the surface of another planet. We ate a good meal at a bar in Birdsville with another group of guys on bikes. They were planning on going across the Simpson in the morning. We also spoke with a guy who tried it and turned back the day before. He was on an unloaded BMW 1200. He had a support vehicle carrying his fuel. He said it was to soft for the big bike. I felt like saying "what did you expect". But to tell you the truth, I was a bit worried about just how soft it had gotten. I have friends in Sidney who crossed the Simpson in May on 690s and they had a ball. Since then, it has been hot and dry. The track had been beat to crap. It would be a challenge. We went to sleep with a nervous expectation of what was to come.

Very Very interesting motor. 

Someone got a flat. I did some napping when he was fixing it. 

The Magic Hour.