It’s hard to explain how refreshing it is to wake up under a cloudless sky with a peripheral packed-full of leafy green, and that beautiful early morning sunshine that casts a certain warmth upon the land. I could certainly get used to this! Brogan is up and ready to ride well before Rah and I, though he waits unwearyingly while we fumble with camping gear and the like.
We get about ten minutes into the morning ride before the road turns from a fairly even (albeit sandy) hard-packed surface to an intense sea of corrugations and hidden ruts! And I thought yesterday was tough-going! The corrugations stretch from one side of the road to the other just to make sure there’s no way to dodge them, and to make matters worse waiting on either side of the road is a build-up of deep, unforgiving bulldust camouflaged in the tall grass.
I go against everything my instincts are telling me to do and feed in handfuls of wide-open throttle to try and keep us on top of the corrugations, and for the most-part this works a treat. It’s extremely tiring, but it works. Steering with the handlebars is out of the question. Instead, I apply calculated twists of throttle and simply shift my weight ever-so-slightly from side-to-side in order to move the motorbike around the road. One of the worst things that you can do over the corrugations is lean without applying throttle, which I discover the hard way after crossing a cattle grid a little too fast.
Sitting on 80 km/h feels like we’re actually sitting on 180 km/h, mainly due to the rate in which I’m trying to mentally process aspects of my environment that directly influence our safety; equal parts exhilarating and terrifying! As I pass over the cattle grid this equilibrium shifts to favour the latter. It’s near-impossible to see, though I notice the road after the grid is sloping down to the left. While this wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to how we’re travelling were the ground nice and even, over corrugations and with so much weight so high up on the motorbike this equates to certain death. The tyres give way, following the slope, and although I try my hardest to correct this sticky situation, no amount of throttle and weight distribution makes any difference as we veer off the road into the bulldust at speed.
The combination of this speed, bulldust, and pendulum-like momentum is absolutely manic. I franticly mash the rear brake and counter-steer as the backend swings one way and, perhaps even more unnerving, the frontend swings the other way! I open my eyes and realise that we’re no longer moving, completely engulfed in a cloud of thick dust, and somehow still upright; a miracle if I’ve ever witnessed one!
By the time we arrive at Musgrave Roadhouse Brogan has demolished breakfast and is looking quite content. A group of adventure riders are leaving as we arrive. We chat briefly before they head north in a convoy; all riding Suzuki DR-Z400s kitted out with loud pipes and Safari fuel tanks, with their huge 4x4 off-road support vehicle trailing at a distance behind them. We order some bacon and eggs and sip on a coffee while we wait. The roadhouse is full of old farming and household equipment that looks to be from the late 1800s, as well as an array of preserved spiders and snakes that I can’t stop thinking about whilst I eat breakfast.
I fill the mighty 33 litre fuel tank, 1800-reverse call home (yes, it still works!), and then we head north for Coen on the Peninsular Development Road. I’m unsure whether the surface has improved or whether I’ve become comfortable taming it, but the mid-morning ride to Coen is substantially less scary than the early-morning dash to Musgrave.
Not wanting to increase our speed, we inevitably fall behind and Brogan disappears in a cloud of bulldust. The surface switches to freshly laid tarmac, rising with a steep incline and a succession of hairpin bends, as we climb what looks to be the Great Dividing Range – a 3500 kilometre-long inland mountain range that runs from Victoria all the way up to Far North Queensland, shadowing the eastern coastline along the way. At the highest point we watch the range wrap around to the east as it completely separates two endless plains with the greatest of ease. Hard-packed, confidence-inspiring rock and clay replace the tarmac as we ride an unremarkably mild decline that takes us all the way down to Coen.
We roll into town and, spotting Brogan’s XR amongst a sea of DR-Zs we pull up outside a pub called the Sexchange Hotel. Rah and I order a beer and then join the other riders sitting outside. They’ve been waiting patiently while their purpose-built off-road support trailer is welded back together; undoubtedly a victim of the unrelenting corrugations!
Not knowing where the next fuel station might be we fill up on the way out of town at a service station that doubles as the town’s grocery store. The tarmac ends abruptly and is replaced by the best surface yet. We up the speed and devour the 70 kilometre stretch of road between Coen and Archer Point Roadhouse, arriving with plenty of daylight remaining.
It’s an easy decision to fork out the $10 each in exchange for a hot shower and a patch of perfectly groomed grass, especially when everywhere else around us is dusty, bare and barren. We have the entire place to ourselves, surrounded only by tall Gums and a complete silence that is synonymous with the outback. That is until an army convoy appears out of nowhere and rolls in at a walking-pace, setting up camp around the back of the property. The convoy is closely followed by the DR-Z crew and their support vehicle who fill the void just across from our camp. I take my time unpacking the motorbike – checking over the mechanical components as the bags come off – and enjoy the fact that we haven’t a worry in the world.
There’s a flood water mark painted on that building in the background about 25m above the river water level. Cyclone Nina in ‘92 hit hard!
Once we’re settled in Rah and I take a walk around the perimeter of the property via an intricate network of pig tracks that are trampled into the tall, dense grasslands. The area is a haven for wild animals; kangaroos and wallabies dart every-which-way as we approach, cattle stare at us as we walk-by, and birds flock from tree-to-tree keeping a watchful eye on our every move. We follow a dry riverbed until we reach a cement causeway where we lay and watch the sun setting over the most perfect naturally blueprinted landscape before us. As the light pales the first star shines bright. It’s a full moon tonight which makes the walk back through the dense bushland a very pleasant experience in the clear night light.
We arrive back at camp to find Brogan chatting to the other riders; busily jotting down potential destinations to visit over the coming weeks, and then marking them on the map so as to ensure they aren’t missed. I boil some water for a cuppa and settle into an evening of reading and writing until I can no longer stay awake. I retreat to the swag and fall asleep within minutes to the faint rustle of the tall gums around me.