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Australian Enduro Tour

Australian Enduro Tour

Coming from the UK I should have been to use riding in the rain. Still, I was more than a little dismayed when I pulled away from Lismore at the start of a 6 week tour of Cape York and the Outback. It was coming down in sheets, the sort of rain that instantly soaks you through and leaves you in no doubt that you should have stayed at home. To add to my amusement, I was on a strange bike, unused to the weight of the luggage and connected to the now greasy road by tyres designed for dirt and dust. I crawled along towards the coast, a steady stream of frustrated commuters in my wake. Not long before dark I pulled into a caravan park for the night. Lightning split the sky, and I spent nearly an hour under a shelter with a fellow camper, both of us amazed that so much rain could fall out of the sky. We talked about what we were doing, where we had been, that sort of thing. When the rain ended we went back to our tents, but my trip was only just beginning.

I was heading north up the Pacific Highway, sometimes a multi lane freeway, sometimes just two lanes through endless fields of sugar cane stretched out under scorching blue skies. The rain of the first 24 hours had passed and for a while I worried that I would be too hot as I got nearer Cape York. Now and again I'd pull off the main drag and follow minor roads through to the coast, or maybe inland through forest to the mountains, before heading back to Highway 1. I got used to the bike, worked out how to pack and start it without suffering heat exhaustion or cardiac seizure. Everywhere people were interested in what I was doing, where I was going, and before long I realised that soloing for 6 weeks wasn't just about where I went and what I saw, but about the people I met along the way. Not a day went by when I didn't meet someone to sit and blather with. Somehow being on a bike turns you from being just another tourist to someone worth spending the time of day with. And then doing it on your own too, "Christ, this guys gotta be crazy aint ya?"

Airlie Beach

At Airlie Beach I sailed for three days through the Whitsunday Islands on a charter yacht, a break from the bike and a rest for my bony arse. I met this crazy German guy Frank on the boat; he had just ridden from Perth to Cairns in 12 days. 5000 Kilometres straight across Australia, the mad mad bastard. He had so much luggage he couldn't manage it in the deep sand of the Gibson, and nearly ditched it before bumping into a 4x4 which offered to carry it for him. I nearly pissed myself when he pulled out his mask and snorkel on the boat. Yep, he'd brought that across the desert as well. We swapped stories and I began to wonder what the hell I'd let myself in for.

The kilometres passed and I reached the end of the bitumen at Cape Tribulation. I was deep in rainforest now; cicadas screeched through the night like an airborne Mexican wave, skinks and geckos rustled through the undergrowth outside my tent. I went out for a pee and bumped into a possum pillaging my luggage before scooting under the bike and freezing in my torch beam. He darted behind a tree then scratched his way up the trunk out of sight. In the morning I bumped down on to the dirt and said goodbye to tarmac for the next thousand kilometres. Although I'd been riding over ten years, I hadn't done much off roading, and none on big bikes with luggage. This was new to me and I couldn't wait. It was rough riding, corrugations in places violently shook the bike and killed power. Steep climbs were followed by steeper descents through bulldust and loose rocks, and I was forced back in the seat as I wound down in bottom gear. Breaks in the forest canopy gave views of the Coral Sea, and at the bottom of each valley clear water creeks tumbled out of the forest across the trail. After narrowly avoiding an early bath at the first one and wheelying out of control up the far bank of the second, I took the rest steady, walking the route first to check for potholes and slimy boulders. By the time I reached the James Cook memorial in Cooktown I was buzzing.

Australian Enduro

Refuelled, I pointed the bike west and gunned out along the Battle Camp Road, nearly 300 km through the stunning Lakefield National Park. It was just classic classic dirt riding - endless limestone pavement across the Nilabi plain, technical drops and climbs though dry creek beds and sand sections where the bike got bogged to the axles and the dust flew. Out of the forest, termite mounds stretched as far as I could see, and in the distance the Iron Range mountains caught the late sun. Towards dusk I left the track for a waterhole for the night, kangaroos eyeing me cautiously as I hit the kill switch and stepped off the bike.

Now everyone tells you to watch out for crocs in this part of Australia, although frankly, once you've been told once you don't really need telling again. Estuarine crocodiles are masters of disguise, so I knew I'd only get to see one was if it was hanging on the end of my leg, a scenario I was keen to avoid. The problem was I needed water, and that's where the buggers live. In a flash of ingenuity I tied a length of chain I found in the bush to a waterproof bag I carried the tent in, and for good measure added a bootlace to the chain. Ignoring the sign announcing the presence of crocs in waterholes on the Cape York Peninsula, I slithered down the bank and swung my device out into the water, the chain and bootlace allowing me to stand a modest but hopefully safe distance from the waters edge and crocodile entrée. So you can imagine my delight on retrieval, when the chain and bootlace parted and the bag settled slowly into the lilies. By this time I was convinced that the previously uninhabited waterhole was now choked with starving crocs, and I ran up the bank to think. I really needed the bag back, and I realised it meant getting wet...

Motorcycle Touring

On the fourth day after leaving Cairns, I crested a hill and finally saw what I'd come all this way for. In the distance the Torres Straights stretched into the horizon, to the west the Gulf of Carpentaria glistened in the early sun. Cape York and the top of Australia lay just out of sight to the north, and Papua New Guinea sat just over the horizon, only 120 kilometres away. I cruised onto Sesia wharf in time to see a local fella land a 6 foot shovel nosed shark with his fishing spear, grouper and mackerel flashing under the pier in the commotion. We started chatting and he asked me if I'd come all the way up on the bike. He was impressed when I told him I had, and my mind went back to the last couple of days on the Old Telegraph Road, the endless deep sand, swimming in crystal waterfalls, kangaroos and emus running alongside the bike before darting in front and scaring the pants off me. The night before, I'd literally fallen off the bike into a campsite by the Jardine River, completely and utterly rooted after 11 hours on the bike. All I had to eat was a tin of fish, some rice and an onion. I sat in the shower for 20 minutes until I could smile again, and returned to find a cold can of beer left by my tent in the dark. It was my birthday and I went to bed with my faith in human kindness restored.

Motorbike Touring

That evening the wharf filled up with more locals and travellers, and we all trailed our fishing lines into the fast moving straight. Queenfish, Giant Trevally, small sharks and mackerel got hoisted onto the dock, and children who had seen a motorbike in the village earlier chatted to me excitedly when they found out it was mine. "How big, how many cc?" they asked, before running off making loud 600 thumper noises.

If you do something crazy, you're sure to meet crazy people, and the northernmost point of Australia has more than most. Cruising in to the local store one morning, I noticed an XR650 and then its rider, Jamie, the mad biker from Perth. Just like me, he was on a mission. Only his was a slightly more elaborate affair that involved riding round Oz, on dirt and predominantly sideways. Pleasantries exchanged, we decided to ride to Somerset, the small but beautiful beach near the cape and site of some interesting ruins and local history. Within seconds I knew I was going to die if I rode with this guy. Everywhere was at 150k's, or 130 but on the back wheel. I kept up as best I could and figured if I kept in front, I could at least see where I was going. I have to admit it was bloody good, riding like a couple of hoons, powersliding, overtaking and taking jumps flat out (at one point I looked up to see the belly pan of an XR) but that sort of behaviour, with 1000km to the nearest hospital, is probably unwise. Near to Somerset the road becomes singletrack through the rainforest and we stopped to check directions. Jamie pulled out his digicam and plugged it in to the tiny lens he'd mounted in his chinguard! It was hilarious - I shot off with him following to get some footage for a DVD he was making. Idiot that I am, I cranked open the throttle and blasted my way through the dirt. It didn't take long before I'd misjudged a bend, slid into a berm and flew over the bars into the bush, the bike stopped dead and propped up in the sand. I was lucky, I landed on my head between two trees and rolled to a halt. Jamie was beside himself laughing, the best footage so far! It was definitely time to go..

Bike tours

I spent four days exploring the Cape and could easily have spent more had I had the time. I still had the Outback to ride though and I realised I was only half way through my trip. After the tropical north, the scenery as I headed west couldn't have been more different. I climbed the cool, lush Great Dividing Range, with its waterfalls and pastures, before heading downhill to the Gulf Savannah and Karumba on the Gulf coast. Distances here were immense - 200km was down the road, 100 was just round the corner. I began to think in terms of hours on the bike when measuring distance. I road nearly 300km just to get to a bitumen road, well, half a road really, a single strip of tarmac that you shared with oncoming traffic, one of you pulling on to the dirt at the side as you passed. It didn't happen often. The temperature rose steadily into the 40's as people thinned out, and some afternoons I just sat in the shade or swam in a fresh water creek, while kangaroos nibbled and sniffed around the camp. Now and again outback flies tickled and sucked on my skin, but they left at sunset, when the western sky turned yellow, then orange, then purple, until the following darkness was a mass of tiny white pinpricks, 100% star cover from north to south, east to west.

I had two rules in the bush, firstly never get onto reserve, and secondly, avoid tourist destinations like the plague. I broke them both in the end (rolling into a petrol station in the middle of nowhere and the bike spluttering to a halt is something I would recommend to anyone after a trouser stiffening experience) but not before I'd got to see places and meet people who'd hardly ever seen tourists. And you know what, it was just fabulous. Every night new people, interesting people who wanted to tell you as much about their lives as they wanted to hear about yours. Guys out fossicking for gold, enjoying a beer or two, a couple chasing wild pigs in their ute (I thought a gun might have been easier but didn't like to say). As ever, being on a bike opened the door to new friends and even the odd beer or two.

I didn't always camp in the bush, occasionally I stayed in an outback hotel, more out of curiosity than for comfort. For $15 dollars one room boasted a lino-covered floor, rust stained sink and a collection of broken and mismatched furniture. The door, complete with broken lock, featured a 1970's style air con unit that was wired directly into the light switch and was so loud it kept me awake. I'll not mention the bathroom, with the exception of the large cockroaches that rolled around in the shower. I cooked my dinner on the bedroom floor before going downstairs to the bar. I was delighted. The main decoration featured a large stuffed pig, complete with tusks and sporting a flopping sombrero. There was a selection of cold beers. In short it was the best 15 bucks I have ever spent, and like the rest of the trip, I shall remember it forever.

This story was kindly provided by Australian Motorcycle Tours website,

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