Y2K Off Centre Run Part 3
Monday 7th August, and today we will start our trek cross-country for Mornington Station. We first do a little bike maintenance and then go for a ride out to Sawtooth Gorge which is out past old Halls Creek ruins. There were some long sections of bulldust but were easily seen in advance, or were my eyes just becoming used to this? Sawtooth Gorge is a beautiful swimming hole and camping area, but we were just taking a look, so back to Halls creek to top up with fuel and get our last lot of provisions for the next 4 days.
The previous day I had filled up with what I thought was Super petrol, but this cannot be purchased in WA anymore. What I actually bought was LRP (lead replacement petrol) and the bike was running like a pig. It was as if there was a race cam in the engine, the bike would not idle and was backfiring badly. I topped up with unleaded and filled the 5litre fuel can and the bike started to run correctly again. Other WA riders have since warned us about this poor quality fuel, and even many of the roadhouses want to drain their tanks and put in premium unleaded instead. Seems this is a very unpopular move by the government.
We knew we had an arduous trek before us, and it was essential to preserve all resources especially fuel, so everything was filled to the brim. My rear rack had cracked in two places on the Tanami as I had tied my fuel can to it, and the weight of the gearsack just aided this process. Of course, the corrugations didn't help either. I rearranged the tying down of the gear and used some great Aussie ingenuity (hose clamps) for extra strength which worked beautifully.
We made a call to Mornington station to confirm it was OK to come in the way we planned. The station owners wife admitted she had not been this way, but assured us that this used to be the main road in and should be OK. After about 55km North East from Halls Creek, we turned left for Springvale homestead, where we again stopped to confirm our directions. After a few property gates, we ran across a bloke whose truck had its brakes locked on, and he was walking back to the Springvale property.
Kevin was able to relieve the problem, and the bloke gave us directions of a great campsite, which turned out to be on the Ord River. We dumped our clothes and had a relaxing swim in our own private oasis. The funny thing was, that even though this was just off the main track, it would have not been noticed unless we had some local knowledge. After our swim, we headed around to the river crossing which we would have to contemplate first thing the next morning, then settled down to a good meal and the opportunity to take in the vast star population in this big sky country. You've got to get out here to see so many stars!
Tuesday 8th August – After a beautifully mild night, we had a leisurely breakfast and packed up. After crossing the Ord river, our next stop was Bedford Downs, another large property where we were offered tea, good fresh water and the chance to once again confirm directions. We were to look for a turnoff to the right after which there was "a bit of a bog". After travelling about 60km we came to the Gold River and Kevin & Rob both buried their R80GS's.
I made it through but it was up to my knees. After getting the bikes out we had some lunch and worked on getting the bikes started. Kevin's bike was OK, but Rob's had no compression – it seems the exhaust valve had closed probably due to being submerged. Kevin got it adjusted and she started like a new one. We were concerned we had missed the turnoff and I went ahead a further 10km to confirm this fact. Deciding to turn back, we had to find another way across the Gold River, which required going cross-country to find a shallower crossing.
This took some time and plenty of energy, and clutch plates smelled more like BBQ plates! After 40km of retracing we found a sign to Elgie Springs bore which had been partly knocked over and covered by long grass – no wonder we had missed it; the track was hardly discernible anyway! After 3-4 km, I came across the first bog. I stopped, checked it out, and then took a shot at it. Nearly made it through when I bottomed out leaving me stranded. The others managed to skirt around the bog, then helped drag me out.
Turned out this was just the beginning – the next bogs were much worse. While we walked ahead a few kms to recon the area we heard a bike coming in the distance. It was Kenny Gawenda from Perth on his R100GS/PD so he was lucky to catch up with us at this point as I believe it would have been almost impossible to get through on your own.
As it turned out though, Kenny had a GPS which was to save our arses in the ensuing days, so we were lucky also. A good chance meeting, or fate? Anyway we ended up taking 2 hours getting the 5 bikes through about 2km, then the country eased up thank goodness. We had to get around a few more creek crossings and finally stopped at what we believed was the Fitzroy River by 5:45. We were all stuffed and relaxed by a great fire. We all hoped tomorrow would be a little easier although the challenge was great fun. All of us had been wading knee deep in our leathers and boots and were trying hard to get things dry for the next onslaught.
Wednesday 9th August - Up before 6am, breakfast and left camp by 8. The first river crossing was fine followed by a few kms of track with grass at least handlebar high, making the going a little slow. Rob Popplewell saw a track turning left, but we decided to continue straight on even though we were heading due east, not north. Soon after the track did turn north and headed for the Tiranus Gorge which started out very rocky with boab trees all over the place including the sides of the cliffs.
We struggled through a few creek crossings until we decided to do a recon to see what lay ahead. We walked about 4km then I headed for the top of a tall hill to see if there were any landmarks. From the GPS positioning and my observations, it appeared we were one valley too far north, and anyway the final creek crossing was far too deep (over a metre) with no alternative available. We traversed our previous path, had lunch at 11:10 (3 hours for 11km!) and discussed options. I was a little concerned about my fuel consumption as we were using a lot of fuel going nowhere fast over the sand dunes etc. All of us had dropped the bikes at least once and were a little tired.
Kevin and Kenny G decided to recon the track Rob P had seen earlier, so we gave them half an hour start for their run. I was not confident at this stage, and given the amount of fuel wasted on wrong roads, the best option may be to retrace our steps and either attempt the track afresh, or go around through Fitzroy Crossing. The road we are on now makes the Tanami seem like a 4 lane sealed highway! We met up at the rendezvous point at 12:40 and waited for news. Kevin turned up on Kenny's bike at 1:15 and reckoned this was the right track by checking with the GPS - he also reckoned the track condition was much improved, so off we went again!
There were a few creek crossings but the going was certainly better. The property we were heading for was called Tableland, and as the name suggests we had to climb from the plains, and what a climb it was! This goat track which was lucky to be one car width climbed in ever increasing angles, with a cliff rising to your right, and another falling away to the left. The "track" may have been passable by vehicles at some stage, but years of erosion down this steep slope and no maintenance meant you were rock (or boulder) hopping to the top.
Half way up we saw Kenny G had hit a rock, turned hard left and had landed with the bike resting on the bashplate and the front wheel dangling over the cliff, white knuckles on the bars. Rob and I managed to get him back on track, then attempted the final assault to the top. I nearly made it through the worst section when I lost grip and momentum and dropped the beast to the right. After some assistance, I got going again but realised that I had nowhere to put my right foot. Upon reaching the top, further inspection revealed that I had broken both rider and pillion footpegs on the RHS, and of course the rear brake as well! This was going to make the going a little tough especially without the brake, but we fashioned a wooden footpeg and jammed it in the gearbox drain hole.
At least I was able to gather up the pieces for possible further repair. The going from here on was slow as once again there were 2 narrow wheel tracks with grass about handlebar high disguising deep ruts, sand and rocks. Occasionally we hit sections that looked like scoria or small red ore which was worse than sand and I bogged the beast up to the rear axle in this stuff. I got it out but the clutch was smelling worse for wear. We finally came to a junction about 4:40 and sent Kenny G for a recon - the decision was to head on the northern path which eventually turned west, seemingly guided by the huge boab trees. You become strangely excited when you see a fence - sign of life! Around 5:30 we arrived at a gate which looked promising. Failing light forced us to look for wood and set up camp.
Kevin took off through the gate looking for water (or so I thought) but came back 20 minutes later in the dark with the news that we were 3km from the homestead, and the Aboriginal station hands said we were welcome to stay on the verandah, but they had no diesel for the gen-set, nor water except for the creek. By this stage the fire was going and we had set up camp, so we weren't moving.
Kenny G and Kevin decided to go onto the homestead, Rob, Ken & I stayed put. A little while later we noticed a roaring fire from the direction of the homestead, and we wondered whether the station hands had torched one of the bikes, but it later turned out to be an incendiary creating a firebreak. After dinner and cups of tea, we were in bed by 8pm, and slept well under a half moon and a starry sky. It's hard to imagine we have spent 3 days travelling only 316km, with over 90km being wrong roads (this would be a telling factor). I hope we can get some more at Mornington Station.