February 2015
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Month February 2015

to Alice Springs

The track. Nothing showing there at all for 300 miles, a long ride for a hot day
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As you approach Alice Springs the terrain becomes hilly

And more vegetation, although it’s no cooler

Abrupt crags

A truck asleep in the shade

The Finke River. It’s one of the oldest rivers in the world and possibly, with the sister rivers here, the oldest, formed 350 million years ago, long before Australia broke off and formed a new continent. This is where you can look at the river banks here and imagine aquatic life make million generation millimetre-by-millimeter progress onto land for the first time, unless you’re a punctuated equilibria theorist, an incredible thought. A short article on the big-picture geology here

Late, beside the road, we passed camels under a shed, in the shade

So, some instruction before take-off. ATGATT

Into Alice Springs

Alice Springs (pop 28,000) somehow lodged itself in my mind as early as any city names, like New York, or Paris way back at an early single digit age. There was something about the image of this beautifully, almost perfectly named town in a vast outback that grabbed me as maybe the most fascinating place I’d heard of to date. Maybe everyone has that memory.

The facts are the same as the memory but the details have changed and it’s not what I imagined as a child but just as interesting. Crime is a serious problem here. The 18% aboriginal population is largely blamed. The town is a mess but a 1st world mess. Nothing like the shitholes (in rider-speak) we’ve seen elsewhere.

Alice Springs and the main street from Anzac Hill. The gap between the hills is the road we rode in on

The steam that runs through town. This is run off only from the surrounding hills and there’s some water in it from a storm a couple of days ago. Rain is infrequent here

We went to the Alice Springs Reptile Center. It’s awesome we hear because it has 10 of Australia’s most venomous snakes, the 5 biggest pythons, a croc and some lizards

A list of the reptiles there for the curious

There was like a school show-and-tell. A python

A skink

This small group of buildings, built in 1872, was the reason Alice Springs exists and why it’s one of the most famous towns in Australia. It was the telegraph station between Adelaide and Darwin and the result of an epic engineering feat of stringing a 3000K telegraph line ultimately to connect Australia with the outside world

Kangaroo in the shade with a bird on its back

There are many incredible stories about this accomplishment and a few specially interesting ones. For instance Alice Springs was named after the wife, Alice, of the main engineer/adventurer/mastermind Charles Todd, who pulled the project off. Nice. But the awkward part is that he didn’t name it that. One of his men William Whitfield Mills did.

Anyway here’s some of the original equipment. You can reach right over the guard rail and tap the morse tapper

The original telegraph station managers. Just a wild guess but that might be Todd second from left and Mills on the right, lol

And outside a crow-sized bird

to Uluru

It’s about 1000 miles/1500K from Adelaide to Uluru in the heart of the outback, more or less the center of Australia. Uluru FullSizeRender

We’ve been told we’ll be nearly alone as it’s mid summer and not the best place to be at that time, with temperatures going as high as 45C. But we’ve done our homework and have a plan, lol. It’s been awhile since we had to think, since before Karumba, where we time-crashed for lack of anything satisfying on the horizon. Here’s the Delorme track from Melbourne FullSizeRender

First day, Adelaide to Port Augusta Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 3.09.50 PM

An uneventful ride. That’s Lucinda hiding in the shade with a fruit sign. Temperature low-to-mid 30’s DSC09725

Then Port Augusta to Glendambo Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.48.41 PM

The change is dramatic beyond Port Augusta. The red sand is back, the trees are thinning DSC09729

Then nothing but increasing heat DSC09735

A rest stop with no shelter DSC09749

We’re riding into one of the most isolated places on the planet. I guess there are springs everywhere, or this is the remains of an evaporating lake DSC09751

We walk down to the water. It’s toxic DSC09754

It continues, never boring because it’s so empty. A wonderful feeling. There’s the occasional road train and maybe one car headed down from Alice Springs per hour DSC09761

And our destination for the day, the Glendambo (pop 20) roadhouse. When we stop we’re attacked by noisy flies. They head straight for the eyes and ears and are about as annoying and crazy-inducing as you can imagine, and there are millions of them. More on this in a minute. We’ll have to put up with them for the central 2000K section of the Stuart DSC09767

Glendambo to Coober Pedy Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 2.29.54 PM

A few trees as we leave Glendambo. It’s so beautiful… DSC09787

And about every 75 miles, we guess later, mini solar power stations, should power ever be needed by crews on the road in the outback maybe. Lucinda’s in the shade for scale DSC09792

Then nothing. It’s over 40C and way hotter oven-blasts of air cross the road from some local effect every few minutes. Hours of riding towards the road’s vanishing point, for hours sometimes, unchanging DSC09807

From a rise we get this view into the far distance DSC09800 - Version 2

At one point it’s so flat and straight they have a full size emergency landing strip painted onto the road here for jets. The ‘flying doctor’ doesn’t need this, apparently they land nearly anywhere DSC09797

We see one spot of green all day, a spring we guess DSC09810

Off we go to check it out, hoping to see some wildlife under it DSC09818

But nothing. We poke around gently with a stick hoping for a snake, breaking RTW Rule #1: Don’t do anything stupid. But we’re all geared up and a snake will probably just hit the leg armour DSC09821

Then into Coober Pedy. The only real town we’re going to see other than Alice Springs for a long time, then Katherine, then Darwin DSC09827

The town sign. An opal mining truck. It vacuums up dirt excavated from below the surface. That can on the back is the filter. It’s pumped from the front. All the gear here has this super-primitive look, there’s a gold rush mentality to everything. But worse, opals, hardened silica gel, are a utility scam. But how we had that confirmed here is another story DSC09840

In 1915 they discovered the opals here in the outback and a town was born P1090098

It’s famous for the underground houses they call dugouts. And Coober Pedy is home to an isolated population of the world’s most venomous snake, the otherwise rare Inland Taipan (wiki link). It’s so hot, and the flies so fierce, the miners dug homes into the hillsides. The flies almost define life and dominate conversation in the central outback in the same way as crocs do in the smaller northern riverside towns. In summer, away from the comfy and dull east and southeast coast, this is not an easy country. This is a facade in front of a full-sized windowless underground home. Between the flies, the snakes and the extreme heat (42C today and still climbing) they had no choice P1090088

It was legitimately called the opal capital of the world, but the supply is running out so the town has been in decline P1090102

Strange signs and objects from previous days P1090100

We went for a tour of an abandoned mine, guideless but with a map. Very cool and quite bold. You just wandered around down there, following small signs. At one point a sign pointed to a small squeeze as the way forward and laughed: this was like the Fremantle prison tunnel system, Aussies are obviously into this. Not a country for claustrophobes P1090045

A museum that was part of someone’s house in the 70’s, which gives you an idea of living space underground. Not bad at all P1090076

They had jars of snakes in formaldehyde P1090080

It was all so interesting we spent a day here. So the plan has been to make a dash from roadhouse to roadhouse in the mornings and be off the road by some time after lunch. So when we wake to a cloudy day and only 33C, and a mid-afternoon high of 38C due to a storm over Alice Springs, we ride a less defensive stretch to Erldunda, 500K north, past the previously idea of the Marla roadhouse. Coober Pedy to Erldunda. Unfortunately our OSM map doesn’t have the few buildings of Erldunda at this resolution but it’s there Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.50.04 PM

We start the days with 3 X 680ml’s Powerades and/or water and a Camelback with 3 liters. Every water-stop we find we soak our t-shirt and stock up DSC09864

At one point there was this plant fruiting in the grass shade. About the size of an orange DSC09871

A low ridge beside us for a while, the only feature we’ve seen for hours DSC09882

Through our worst-case stop, Marla. Water, gas, shade and an Aussie pie DSC09889

A mini-mesa DSC09892

Back to the nothing DSC09893

Just outside our stop at the Erlunda roadhouse, low granite crags. There was a shower here last night and the grass is lushly green. The red of the ground is getting more intense. It’s stunning. They call this area the ‘red center’ DSC09902

We rode off to the rocks and took a Lucinda pose shot DSC09904

Outback fried granite DSC09908

The big event: the 160 miles west off the Stuart to Uluru Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 5.36.08 PM

Off again from Erlunda DSC09920

Red, green and blue. And some black DSC09924

The landscape DSC09921

A small hill has attracted 4X4’s. There’s a left lane and a right lane. I guess they race up it DSC00127

A nice pose on topDSC09936

Then, not on the map, is a little gas station and cafe at Carvin Springs. The spring must be very productive: it’s an oasis of green DSC09966

Baby birds on branch DSC09949

Mom appears and they scream for lunch DSC09942

The final 100 miles or so looked like this. Beautiful DSC09967

Then, finally, Uluru. It’s massive. 1100 feet high and 5 miles around. Of course the feeling you get seeing it after 1000 miles of flat nothing stops you DSC09987

The final ride in DSC09991

Some close-ups on the less steep side DSC09996DSC00007

The most massive of the buttresses DSC00009

For more, the uluru wiki Then after a while, back to the little town 5 or 6 miles back. The two-day GPS track around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, about 30 miles further west. The black line road below has been closed in an agreement with the aboriginals but we rode all we could Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 12.11.37 PM

We’d set the alarm for 5:00 to ride out for sunrise. A bit early and worse, when we arrived at a good spot we were attacked, as we always are, by the flies. I took these pictures later and cropped in hard so we could see what the bastards looked like. I guess they’ve evolved to drink the moisture from animals eyes, nose and ears, but the favorite target are eyes. They’re noisy, aggressive and have no fear of being swatted and there’s anywhere from 10 to 50 in a cloud around and on your face. It’s no small deal at all. About 3 or 4mm’s long DSC00080

Nasty DSC00077

Back to the rock. A bit of light. The sun will rise behind us, hopefully giving us a nice effect on the rock, as we’ve all seen in photographs DSC00026

Then, turning around, action DSC00024

But it takes a little longer, until it’s like this DSC00030

And the result is perfect DSC00045

Then the ride out to Kata Tjuta. Not too hot yet DSC00054

It was similarly impressive but the pics didn’t turn out as the sun was behind them, and there was no way around without a big hike, and we don’t do big hikes in full gear DSC00091

Uluru is as special as anything we’ve seen and attempting to describe it won’t do it justice. It’s definitely worth a special trip to see, no matter how far away. Some birds that day DSC00058

three days to Adelaide

The morning after Lucinda is finally ready we take her for a shakedown to Phillip Island and back. Plenty has been achieved and we’ll post a few pics later. The work has been done at BM Motorcycles in Melbourne who we were told earlier in the ride were one of the best shops in Australia. Here are James and ChrisP1080981

I learned a lot from James as he walked me through areas and processes to add to my slowly growing knowledge inventory. He has the blog address so I won’t be too effusive, but working with him was an excellent and fun experience. He was patient and generous with his knowledge. This is the shop you want to apprentice in.

But not short. Parts took a while to arrive. Plus that particular Aussie thing of no long distance rider first-in-first-out privilege. So when you’re here, book your appointment well in advance, as we did, or you could be waiting a couple of weeks. We booked a month in advance but still our hours were allocated into a schedule.

Back to the track
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One of the most famous rides in Australia is the Great Ocean Road. It starts almost immediately SW out of Melbourne and lasts about 100 miles before turning inland.

You ride a cut above the water through hills like this

It’s a good twisty road looking out over the deceptively blue Southern Ocean.

But we’ve picked the wrong day. The road is thick with traffic, mostly tourists, and it’s a Sunday. It’s a bit hazardous as once in a while a car will cross the center line or pull out of one of the many view spots too quick into traffic or two slow.

The beaches are covered in people

The road occasionally goes inland like this

The land behind the ocean

Most of the coastline is beach. Difficult access means no people and a better view

The is one of the Twelve Apostles, sea stacks just off the coastline. There’s a parking lot to the right of the road and a short walk to a viewpoint where you can see them all, but today it’s overflowing with cars and people and so one Apostle will have to do. I’ve heard that there are only 10 anyway, however that works

The next day the hills are gone and we ride a few hundred yards to a mile or so parallel to the ocean. It’s a pretty ride nonetheless


We stop a few times and ride to the ocean. This is the site of Victoria’s (a state name) population of 600 Hooded Plovers, one of the world’s nearly extinct birds

And the beach looking east. Thankfully not a soul

Looking west. Time to slow down, sit down, listen, plugging in to the bigger thing that offers easy access at times like this

Later crossing more vegetation like this

To an estuary

Later, a 2800′ pier

The next morning gassing up, guess what, yet another DR650, nicely sorted, with a 30-ish litre tank. As we’ve said before Aussies love this bike and since they’re both motorheads and good riders we should take that as a solid endorsement

We take the Princes Highway the third day to Adelaide. Actually this is a little road, what we call a highway is further inland

And take a short road to the beach after a while


Later we pass flats of what appears to evaporated shallow ponds

Dominated by this tough and interesting plant

We ride out onto a huge flat, careful to ride between the plants. It’s soft but only packs below Lucinda to a cm or two

A quiet and good ride

Later this harsher environment

To another estuary. What the pictures don’t show is the feeling of remote wildness to this stretch of road. It’s memorable

And into Adelaide.

Melbourne 2

We’re due some catch-up posts but first, after sending more stuff back to Vancouver we’re well below the 100 litre gear target.

So we’re doing some of the last photos for the gear page in the menu bar above. But check out the place-holder there anyway.

The below two groups of stuff go in these Cascade Designs 5 liter stuff sacks. I have a dozen or more of these in my panniers and 2 in my duffle. Lightweight, durable and the perfect size for most stuff. Fantastic little bags. Next time I would have color coded them. Bic lighter for scaleP1080925

So in the first bag, tools. No-one makes a nice set of composite or fiber tools yet that we can find, so we have this heavy pile. Most riders are going to say it’s critically short. There are glaring ommissions. But we’ll accept the risk and have thought about potential consequences and solutions.

Nothing really notable here. I wish I’d bought the big T-handle torx 2 years ago though. And the big 17mm wrench is annoying because I don’t trust the crescent wrench not to damage the soft metal axle nut remover. The funny looking screwdriver at the left is a home-made socket/driver for the rear Ohlins pre-load, which we fiddle with to level the bike after gear carrying changes, which is probably OCD, but anyway

The parts bag. We’ve ditched all our back-up parts except one. From the left, top row: Replacement pre-filter. Patches for when holes appear in the duffle, Goriila tape (found a new roll down here in Oz). Middle row: Inserter, reamer, plugs and adhesive, superglue, seam sealer for tank bag, spare oil filler cap, handfull of zip ties, whipping twine, baling wire, electrical tape. If you’re wondering where everything else is, we don’t carry it until we need it and then we won’t have it

Webbing, including an old MEC belt that seems to come in handyP1080941

Bike cover, extra 20 liter stuff sack, towel, TP, hand pump, Packsafe, 1st aid kit, compressor. Lighter for scale – it’s all mini

Tech. iPad mini, Mac Pro, Delorme, Garmin 650T, Contour

Documents pouch (passport, registration, insurance, duplicate licences, title, extra plate, etc), Carnet, maps

Clothing. Anything not warm weather has been sent home. Two pairs pants, three socks (surf socks bought in desperation recently), light poly sweater, 3 t’s, 3 underpants, trunks, crisp white shirt (essential) work shirt

Runners (Salomon, always) flip-flops, Patagonia water moccasins

Rain gear. 3-layer Gore jacket and pant (in stuff sack). The jacket packs up as small as the pant. Lighter for scale. These are now 2 1/2 years old and no signs of wear. Arc’teryx because we like to support a local company

Klim suit. As time goes on, the more disappointed we are with this suit. It has a quality: durability. We’ll do a review at some point. but next stop: Rukka

Winter and summer gloves (not sure where I’l find warm gloves when I might need them, so the only piece of cold weather gear I’m carrying), BMW branded enduro helmet (probably the worst quality helmet I’ve owned in my adult life but the weight is so featherlight I can’t believe it’s legal, great to wear, 2nd), The incomparable Sidi adventure boots (2nd pair), sunglasses

There’s a couple more gear pics to do, then they’ll disappear to the menu bar.

So, Melbourne
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