We get up reasonably early after a joint-decision to head north today, so as to not over-stay our welcome here at Herb and Marie’s place. In theory our plan is bulletproof, though as I begin repacking my bags I notice a strange smell coming from my main camp/food bag. Not again! It’s sweet and vibrant, though showing definite signs of rancidity. Again, I try to think what on earth it could be? Then I remember: the grenade! I should have listened to the stern eastern-European’s not-so-subtle words of warning!
I spend the better part of my morning cleaning the thick, spicy sauce from everything that lay within reach of the ticking time bomb. Whilst my gear dries in the heat of the sun Rah and I head into town to grab some supplies; new riding pants (necessary) and a pillow (how luxurious) for Rah, a camel-pack for both of us in preparation for the soaring temperatures as we head north, and a cupcake for Herb in light of his birthday today.
Have you ever seen a big burley sailor eating a pink iced cupcake? I didn’t think so. Luckily I have, and I can tell you it is strangely satisfying. Together we all sit down to one last cup of tea – potentially ever – as Herb devours the sweet treat whole. It’s strange to think that we may never see Herb and Marie again, and that each of our lives will be ever-so-slightly different as a result of this encounter. Life on the road is funny like that; a bit of a whirlwind of people, places and experiences which, when blended together on a tight time frame create something extremely special and very hard to replicate. It is this sensation that pushes people to challenge themselves mentally and physically by means of travel, and I feel the resulting satisfaction is almost solely accountable for the addictive nature of this madness.
I finish loading the motorbike up and we exchange details before hitting the road. I don’t feel comfortable passing my number on, and by the looks of Rah’s body language neither does she, though being the type of person who likes to give strangers a chance she hands her digits over anyway.
Unsurprisingly it’s 2pm already and we’re only just leaving Cooktown. Having one last milkshake and lamington before leaving certainly didn’t do us any favours. The afternoon sunlight ahead pierces through my sunglasses doing its best to blind me. We reach the end of the tarmac and hit what is sure to become familiar ground at-speed. The looming bushfires on the horizon cast an unnatural haze over the land that is already far too stimulating, mainly due to the vibrant oranges and reds whizzing-by. This coupled with the change in surface throws me off – very-nearly literally – as I struggle to contain the violent thrashing of my handlebars!
I pull over for a breather and to gather myself after a few more close encounters with the loose surface. It’s quite deceptive in that it looks to be compact dirt and gravel – especially from a distance and at speed – but once we get too close to dodge it the corrugations and bulldust make themselves known. These patches of deep bulldust occur every couple of hundred metres or so, though the corrugations are endless only varying in depth and frequency.
We head towards Hope Vale – an indigenous community north-west of Cooktown – managing a steady 60 km/h over the rough surface, before turning off onto Endeavour-Battlecamp Road about five kilometres from town. The road transitions from rugged crushed rock and clay to a deep, dark, earthy red dust-bowl. It feels more forgiving, though in the back of my mind I know it is not. We pass over Isabella Creek which is equally as dry, and then pick up the pace a little as I get a feel for the way the motorbike is reacting to the vaguely familiar surface.
Unexpectedly the surface transitions into tarmac once again – presumably for the last time in a long time – and as we begin to climb it becomes apparent why. We blast along the roads with the crackle of the over-run bouncing off the trees around us. The road narrows and I adjust my speed accordingly. As fast as it appeared the tarmac disappears, leaving us skimming across a surface comprised mostly of deep ball bearing-like gravel that is just as hard to ride on as it sounds. I focus on my balance and keep my wits about me.
We wind up and over a mountain range which treats us to the most magnificent view I have experienced in quite some time. We’re surrounded by a seemingly endless vista of light green tree tops that rise and fall with the land they reach up from. The only way I can think to describe this magnificence that which we’re presented with is that it is as though an undulating sea of green clouds, wind-swept by oceanic gusts and influenced by the currents below, is engulfing us atop this mountain range. We take some time out to truly appreciate the mind-bending landscape in front of us.
As the afternoon sets-in we begin to contemplate where we might pull-over to setup for the night. Battlecamp Road flattens out and we jump on the opportunity to lap up the woodlands at a greater pace to get some kilometres behind us. The road dips as we cross Normanby River, where it’s rumoured a saltwater crocodile of great length and age resides, and then cross Battlecamp Creek; both of which are barely flowing which I’m quietly thankful for.
Eventually we arrive at Old Laura; a disused cattle station that is a beautifully preserved slice of Australian history, surrounded by towering Mango trees and bone-dry dams – the latter of which I feel has a lot to do with why it is now disused. We pull up in the shade of a small gumtree and remove our riding gear to take a look around. Brogan really digs the place and snaps a few pictures whilst Rah and I walk from one dilapidated structure to the next.
From Old Laura we take a right to ride north towards New Laura. Left would take us down to the town of Laura and onto the Peninsular Development Road. As you can see the people of Laura have moved around quite a lot over the years, likely in search of idyllic cattle pastures and a suitable supply of water.
We pass New Laura and then stop in at Lakefield which consists solely of a single building that houses the park ranger of Rinyirru National Park and a very small airstrip. We contemplate purchasing a National Parks Camping Pass but decide against it when we find that no one is around. Instead we continue north until we reach Hann Crossing. The decision is made to pass-up the opportunity to ride out to Princess Charlotte Bay on the coast, after calculating that our remaining fuel combined would very likely get us out there and only halfway back.
Here is as good-a-place as any to camp for the night, and so we find a clearing that is out of sight and set-back from the North Kennedy River before killing the engines for the last time today. Although we’ve only travelled a touch over 200 km’s over the afternoon, this is certainly the most isolated place I’ve visited to-date, or at least it feels that way at the moment. I couldn’t be happier to be back on the road, free from Cooktown’s callused grip and now deeply submerged in the infinite beauty of this land!