On a road

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Ready to rip.

Finally we were leaving Darwin, N.T.. Our bags were back on the bikes, water was filled, food was bought, and gas was topped off. The plan was to make for The Gibb River Road, a notorious but touristy 4×4 high way that runs for about 700km through the Kimberly. Our first day out was pretty mellow yet super efficient. We cruised down bitchumen (paved highway) making great time. We stopped every 100km or so to refuel my bike and its measly eight liter tank, but also just to have a break and chat.

Axel and Mia were greatly enjoying watching me get the hang of riding, let alone riding with a weighted down bike. According to them I was swerving, and rock and back and forth constantly. The best however is when I would start from a total stop, I’d almost hit the deck every-time. So with everyone in good moods and the landscape flying past we arrived at our first camp just outside of Nitmiluk National Park.

The original plan had been to camp inside the park but after realizing that would not be free we quickly turned around and started searching for a new home for the night. With in a few kilometers of leaving the park we found a dirt track that split off from the park road and wound out into the bush. Of course we only followed the dirt track for a few moments before we took off into the brush itself, seeking out a hilltop for our evening camp.

Through the brush we went, Axel and Mia paving a their own paths with me teetering along behind, unsure of how to negotiate non-flat/smooth surfaces. Coming up and over the crest of a final hill we discovered the high point we had been searching for. As we unpacked we noticed the fenced-off area and what appeared to be dump, that was not more than half of kilometer away. Choosing to ignore it and just stay there any way, we went about setting up camp. Distracted by the flora of our new surroundings we were all busy admiring a very white tree when from behind us came a voice.

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Axel captivated by the very white tree

The voice belonged to a young aboriginal man who was dressed in naught but a loin cloth or maybe a very small pair of shorts, I’m not entirely sure. He caught all of us off gaurd as we were all distracted by other things. He was quite slight in build, but of average hight. He carried a machete as well as fishing gear. He walked bear foot from somewhere beyond the dump. He told us a loud, but not angry voice that we were not allowed to camp there, but that he would permit it for the night. He also gave a warning not to head east towards his community least we encounter cheeky dogs. He also advised us to stay away from an area about 100 meters south west of the dump, he said, “And don’t go over there, thats were we bury our dead people.” We had no contestations or arguments to make and before any of us could really wrap our heads around his appearance he was gone.

That first night Axel and I were jammed into his two person tent, a mistake we would make only once. We slept well, but hot. It was still maybe 90 degrees after the sun went down. We all lost a few liters of water to the night air and our sleeping pads felt more like slip-n-slides than the comfortable beds we wanted. But I will admit it made getting out of bed at 4am at first light all the easier. Because Australia’s populations centers are often times so far spread out states like Western Australia have to make certain sacrifices in terms of how the states time zones are set up. Because the country is so large, the sixth largest in the world, the further north in W.A. you go the more absurd the zoning seems. And so to help us deal with the ridiculousness and ease us into a spectacular sunrise I played the 1980’s hit by Sheana Easton, Morning Train.

The first leg out our day was simple, we had to head down towards Kathrine. There we stocked up on food and water and picked up the gear that we would need for the rest of the trip. This included extra water bladders, a new tent for me, and a 20L jerry can to help us make it across the Gibb River Road. Apart from a pretty spectacular near crash in the early part of my day our ride was uneventful, that is until we got to camp that night.

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I took this photo of Axel while we were stopped at a small little coffee shop called The Black Russian Caravan Bar. The coffee truck was parked right outside of Kathrine’s visitor center and made for a great central location from which to gather information and prep for out next 500km stretch.

Pushing on from Katherine and headed down towards Kununurra, we made great time flying down the unbelievably straight roads. As night fell we found ourselves somewhere in the middle between the two cities and very much so ready for sleep. After a hearty meal of spaghetti, our only cooked meal while camping of the entire trip, we were ready to pass out.

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Our exhaustion was however not due to the road traveled that day, but more the offloading once we had reached camp. We had found and heavily used site not far off the road surrounded by a sandy creek bed. A dirt-bikers play ground. Axel and Mia were quick to ditch the gear set up camp and hop back on the bikes to go for a rip. This would be the first of my many crashes due to the sand. Instead of trying to recall the event in totality, I’ll just copy my entree from my journal that night.

Time: 0548HR
Weather: Clear/humid/hot 31°C
Elevation: 436.35ft
Coordinates: 15.8457° South
129. 9082° East
Roadside having ridden 400km from Kathrine, headed to Gibb River Road. Bikes are running great. Took them into a sandy creek bed which was hard as hell, crashed and ripped right sd mirror off. Crashed again on a 2ft drop got thrown from the bike entirely. Big fire, easy sleep, spicy sour cream burritos.

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I think that says enough.

 

 

 

Jungle Bums Biker Bunker

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From left to right: James (me) Dave, Mia, Axel. Also from left to right: Honda xr650L xr650R, xr650R        

 

I’d had my face glued to the window. Coming down in a broad arc the Timor Sea spread out in front of us and to the west. Darwin from the air looked as rural as Wyoming. The think dense patches of tropical forest were broken only by rich brown soil and the metal roofs of buildings. I’d been warned about the heat, told to brace for it, but sitting on the air conditioned plane I couldn’t prepare mentally for the humidity. Darwin is the kind of place that even on a cooler day still racks up to nearly 100% humidity.

Collecting my bags and heading outside I was met by a blast of sticky warm air and sights and sounds that were altogether foreign. The thing about the Northern Territory is that everything is so remote, even the biggest city, Darwin, is considered remote. Because of this people have to be self sufficient. And thus if there are cars in Darwin they look more like Americas pimped out off-road rigs. Bull bars, snorkels, and beefy tires were not just commonplace, I’m fairly certain they were on almost every vehicle. Paired with two 20L jerry cans for extra fuel and one 20L container for water the message was clear. Be self sufficient, and don’t get caught with your pants down. But by what remained the question.

Dave caught me with my pants down thats for sure. After being over whelmed by all the off road get ups around me a Toyota Carola roles up and out jump Axel and Mia Anderson. Separated by 10 years and two other siblings, these two might as well be my family. But the man who stepped out of the right side drivers door and slapped me on the shoulder exclaiming loudly, “Nice to meet you ya good cunt!” was not quite yet like family.

Dave is loud, boisterous and smokes like a god damn chimney. He is an engineer and is very mechanically oriented. But more than that, Dave like many in the motorcycle community, is a genuinely great person. With no knowledge of who we were, before any of us had arrived in Darwin; Dave had rushed around the Northern Territory finding three Honda XR 650’s for Axel, Mia, and me. Not only did he manage to find three, two 650Rs and one 650L, but he also used his own money to place deposit on them so we could pick them up when we arrived a week later. Dave housed us, drank with us, ate with us, and even came out for our first lap down to Litchefield National Park which lies just south of Darwin.

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More than that though Dave didn’t just do this for us, he does it for every wayward motorcyclist who might think the Northern Territory is for them. While we were there a young woman named Agnes, who was traveling alone across the country was also calling Dave’s Biker Bunker home. At 22 years old Agnes had just ridden up from southern Western Australia and on her way up had run into some tough luck! Yet Agnes was in high spirits and treating her time at Dave’s more like a retreat and time to heal than being sidelined from her trek. As it turns out, she is also a very accomplished group chef.

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Time at Dave’s was primarily spent working on the bikes and getting them ready to hit the road. Oil changes, new chains and sprockets, fresh rubber, rack building, tank adjustments, and new jets in the carburetor in my bike. This dominated our first week but during all of this I kind of stood by with an all to confused look on my face. You see, I’d come to ride 7,000km across Australia with about 10 hours of previous riding experience. I’ll reiterate, I’d been on a bike long enough to know how to shift and not stall every other time. And so this week also meant learning as much about motorcycles in as short-amount of time as possible. A week was not long enough.