I wake, rubbing my cool, damp face and find that complete darkness engulfs my surroundings. As my eyes adjust to the drab environment I notice a sea of glistening water droplets hanging from the mosquito screen above my face, like stalactites from the ceiling of a damp cave. Seconds later I realise it is actually raining and remember that my bags are strewn across the motorbike; uncovered and absorbing liquid like a fresh paper towel in a puddle of muddy water!
I manoeuvre out of the small opening of my swag – trying hard not to wake Rah – and cast my tarpaulin over all of my belongings. I slip back in still dazed and confused, and the next time I wake it is to the sweet smell of bacon and eggs wafting from the DR-Z crew’s hot plate. Compounding disappointment occurs as I realise I’ve over-slept again, and also that we aren’t having bacon and eggs for breakfast. I allow myself only a very hurried shower before packing the motorbike up for the day ahead.
As we head further north along the PDR I notice subtle changes in the flora around us. The harsh, resilient shrubbery is replaced with large, tropical pandanus palms which rise from the red dirt and fill the voids between towering gums. It is the first sign that we’re edging closer to the tropical warmth of the equator.
I use my surroundings to distract myself from the sharp decline in road quality, though this proves dangerous on many occasions. The most severe reminder to stay focused on the road ahead comes when I see a sign-posted ‘Dip’ ahead and do very little to prepare for it. I can tell you right now (as can Rah) that you don’t want to enter a dip at 105 km/h. At this speed the sudden fall in altitude is detrimental to the motorbike’s ability to sufficiently absorb inconsistencies in the rolling surface, though perhaps more detrimental – this time to our safety and wellbeing rather than our level of comfort – is the sudden rise in altitude that is sure to follow. My first instinct is to scrub-off as much speed as possible, though due to the short nature of this dip, the speed in which we’re travelling, and the delayed reaction time between my thoughts and my peripherals following-suit, I back-off the throttle just as we’re launching out of the dip at exactly the same speed as we entered it!
The front forks bottom-out and then release with immense mechanical ferocity. I feel the steering lighten as they reach the end of their travel and the front wheel lifts off the ground below. The effects of suddenly backing-off the throttle are extreme to say the least. The weight of both Rah and me, and all of our gear is hurled forward like a ball-bearing in a slingshot. I struggle to contain the forward motion as I ride higher and higher up the fuel tank. I push back using every ounce of muscle strength I can muster, though all this does is shift Rah’s trajectory from forward to upward, just as the rear suspension fully-compresses and then releases with the same ferocity as the front nonetheless. Her knees enter my field of view at eye level and I feel her boots alongside my arms – this isn’t good!
The rear of the motorbike does its best to over-take the front, and our airtime feels as though it will continue for an eternity. I find hidden sources of strength that only exist in manic times like this, and use it to brace for the inevitable chaos that is about to ensue. The front tyre hits first, and then the rear. For the second time in about 1/10th of a second the rear suspension reaches its limits and I feel every knob of the tyre aggressively swipe an area of the motorbike I know it shouldn’t.
We touchdown crooked, off-course and heading directly for the build-up of bulldust again! I manage to shed 20 km/h off our speed before we hit, though it is nowhere near enough! The ‘bars thrash violently and feel as though they might just tear my arms from my torso. My feet are thrown from the pegs leaving my legs dangling in front of the rear tyre just waiting to get pulled under, and for an incredibly scary couple of seconds we’re rendered useless; tossed around like ragdolls on a mechanical bull. As our speed drops I regain control of my hands and use them to feed-in as much throttle as fifth gear will allow me to. All mechanical sympathy goes out the window and I hold it open, dismissing the engine’s screams for a lower gear and more revs!
Miraculously we find ourselves back on the road where we ride in complete silence, the type of silence that says a hundred thousand words as we both internally process the near-death experience been and gone. For an hour and a half I look at nothing but the road ahead and the signs that govern its users. The adrenaline has given me superhuman levels of concentration and stamina, though it doesn’t last forever.
Rah’s happy face after almost dying on the back of a motorcycle
Thankfully the road improves drastically as we near Weipa and enter onto land which is leased by Rio Tinto. I believe this is in an effort to extend the life of their heavy machinery which rattles up and down these roads many times a day. As the road widens and the surface becomes smoother, its colour shifts from that deep red we’ve become so familiar with to a pale grey which seems to concentrate all of the sun’s rays and funnel them directly into my eyes.
With the effects of the glare wearing off I begin to take in my surroundings. We stop at an enormous intersection where machinery the size of apartment blocks crawls-by carrying copious amounts of earthy-looking substances. We wait a considerable amount of time before the boom gate rises and we’re allowed through. Back on tarmac and feeling extremely grateful to be alive we maintain a slow and steady speed in fear of losing another of our nine lives unnecessarily. We pass a busy shipping port on the left, which is totally bizarre as I’ve only ever experienced life on the east coast. We follow the road into town.
By the time we reach Weipa Brogan is absolutely nowhere to be seen. He’s arranged for us to stay at his cousin’s place whilst we’re here, though without reception, his cousin’s address, or a map or a payphone in sight we ride around aimlessly in search of a sign – any sign! Weipa is substantially larger than I had anticipated, and so our search efforts are in vain. Instead, famished and exhausted from the adrenaline come-down, we head to a park on the water’s edge to eat lunch and rest under a beautiful shady tree while we figure out the best way to contact Brogan.
Realising that our shady resting place – although incredibly peaceful and endlessly beautiful – probably isn’t one that Brogan might think to find us, we head back to the main road and park the motorbike up in clear view before heading into the shopping centre to grab a few things for dinner.
It isn’t long before an unladen XR pulls up next to The DR with a very relaxed and casual looking Brogan riding in a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of runners. He was alerted by a friend of his cousin that we were in town. I guess there aren’t many distinguishable DRs getting around town! We follow the crackle of his exhaust through a maze of suburban streets which seem to double-back on themselves many times over the course of the brief ride, yet somehow we ride deeper into the rabbit hole until we reach a cul-de-sac.
We ride through the open front gate, past two boats, and then park next to a 4x4 Ute in the driveway. We’re met with beers, outstretched arms and three grinning faces; Brendan (Brogs’ cousin), Shana (his wife), and Tayla (their heart-meltingly adorable baby daughter). I instantly feel at home here.
We unpack the bare essentials from the motorbike before settling in to an afternoon full of extreme adventure stories and more beers. Brendan and Shana are amazing hosts. They make us feel so welcome, which is then amplified by the nature of where we’ve spent the last couple of days. Both Brendan and Shana work for Rio Tinto, mining bauxite on the western Cape York Peninsular. Brendan manages the team of heavy machinery mechanics whilst Shana drives the enormous trucks – apparently better than all the males – that carry the materials from the pit to the surface. They’re both easy-going and just so present in every regard; the result of a life unimpeded by technologies that tend to remove us from the ‘now’.
It’s incredibly refreshing to spend time with this lovely couple and their daughter. Tayla, whose innocent smile and unfiltered positivity gives us perspective on what is truly important in life, spends her time stumbling from leg to leg as she gets to know the strangers in her domain, whilst their three dogs find a comfortable patch of grass each and doze off in the intense humidity that is rolling in with the afternoon.
As Shana whips up an extra-large batch of spaghetti bolognese, I use the time to check-off a few lingering errands and string paragraphs together for the blog. We eat too much pasta, enjoy the luxury of a hot shower, and then curl up and nod-off to sleep – all before 11PM.