Camp fire in a parking lot

As I approached the big left corner the smell of acrid smoke got stronger and the engine began to sputter. I was definitely running out of gas, but what could the smoke be? I had no idea. I kept calm as the engine died, pulling off to the side of the road 100 yards to the corner I’d been staring at. Swinging my left leg up and off the bike and through a cloud of dark gray smoke it became apparent very quickly what was wrong.

Dave, Lucas, Mia, Axel and I had set off from Holtze Rd, Dave’s house, that morning just shy of noon. The plan was for the five of us to ride from Holtze to Litchfield National Park do some sight seeing than part ways. But with all good days, it didn’t go to plan. Starting off our day was more of a joke than anything else, as I was still learning how to pack my bike and flat out ride it. Not only that but I didn’t even have boots. We spent a solid 45min of our morning zipping around the out skirts of Darwin looking for boots.

Finally right around lunch time we were on the road. Cruising down bitchumen at 110kmh. With in the first 5 minutes on the road I had more than three cars desperately try to tell me that my left blinker was on. (I still can’t figure out why they were all freaking out so much over a blinker.) We left Darwin heading south taking a more indirect route, more reminiscent of Dave’s childhood rides in the area. Corrugated dirt track and mellow highways. The road was open and we flew.

Flew, that is until I started breathing in gray smoke. Clambering off the bike, it quickly became apparent that the smoke was coming from the exhaust. A giant hole had appeared in the side wall of the exhaust pipe, which was supposedly carbon fiber, but clearly was not. The smoke however, was in fact steam. I had placed panniers over the rear plastics on my bike which had pinned the plastics onto the exhaust pipe cause it to melt the pipe, the plastics, and through my pannier bag and then melt the water bladder contained inside. The pipe was destroyed, the plastic melted but still usable, the pannier was also destroyed.

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The melted exhaust pipe and damaged plastic siding on the 650L

Half of what I thought was smoke, was actually steam and most of the truly acrid smoke was coming from the water bladder. Lucas was the first to notice I had fallen behind and in short order he was helping me to get the bike back into riding condition. Axel happened up on us moments later and between the three of us had my bike refueled, from a fuel bladder I’d been carrying; we also managed to rearrange the damaged bits to make the bike rideable for at least the rest of the afternoon.

Which of course we did, we rode another 75kms at least into Litchfield National Park and did that same distance again before we happened onto another bit of a mess. We had just finished exploring the beautiful Wangi Falls, which honestly felt a little to touristy for us.

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Me (left) Axel (right) looking out over Wangi Falls very happy to not be Swedish tourist infested waters that might also have salt water crocs.

Leaving Wangi we rode for about 30km down the road before I realized that Axel was no longer behind me. Catching up to Mia, I quickly without much speaking, relaid that Axel was no longer with us. Mia taking little time to evaluate the situation turned around and ripped down the road and out of sight. We had stopped at left hand turn to head towards another few waterfalls and watering holes, Dave and Lucas had continued down and around and were out of sight. After 15 minutes of waiting impatiently I decided to ride after Mia to see what the hold up could be. Two minutes down the road I saw Axel off the right side of the road gear off, tools out.

When he saw me coming he ran to the top of the ditch he was nestled in, waving me down. He explained Mia had blown right by him taking no notice of his attempts to get her attention. I’d later have it explained to me by Mia that, “If you’re not where you’re supposed to be, you’re dead or dying. I can’t just leave Axel while he’s dead or dying.” Hence the urgency in her initial reaction, however ineffective it was. A few moments with Axel it became clear is bike was unrideable without cause significant damage to the rear arm, part of the frame. On this rear arm is a small piece of black rubber about a quarter inch thick shaped like a very deep U. the U is about six inches long on each side with two little eyelets on the tips of the U for it to be screwed to frame. This had totally been eaten away by Axel’s chain and had fallen off somewhere further back down the road. At higher rates of speed, the chain would grind on to the swing arm and grind into the soft metal. Any significant distance and Axel would be looking at an expensive repair or maybe just a new bike.

When Mia finally turned around and the three of us were able to rendezvous with Dave and Lucas it was clear the day of riding for Axel was over. And considering the poor fuel economy my bike was experiencing due to over sized jets in the carburetor and not to mention the destroyed exhaust pipe, it was decided it was best if Axel and I parked the bikes at one of the near by water holes and waited while Lucas drove back 150km to get his ute to haul us out of this particular situation. It was our shake out run. And shake out problems we did. Lucas and Dave immediately began to slab it back to Darwin taking a more direct route while Axel, Mia, and I embraced our inner tourist and decided to go for a dip.

The water falls we found ourselves at were a little further off the beaten path but still very much so in the park. The thing was had going for us however is that tourist season was long since over, and the sun was slowly but surely setting. It gave us enough time to take a dip and even for Axel to do a bit of climbing about.

We were pretty exhausted after our first day of riding and exploring but not so tired we didn’t want to keep exploring the area. So after an hour or so of swimming about we started to venture back towards the bikes taking a different path. Getting back to the bikes we realized we still had at least an hour and half before Lucas would be back with the truck so in order to kill time we decided a fire was in order. Finding some benches in the parking lot was no problem, nor was finding wood to burn, and kindling to get it started. mdbyirvmq0+wwjvh6chokg

Within moments we had a roaring fire, just enough to keep the bugs at bay. We really didn’t need to keep us warm considering it was still 90 degrees after the sun went down. Lucas finally made it back to us and we got the bikes loaded up in his ute (utility vehicle), pick-up-truck. The drive back to Dave’s house on Holtze road was largely uneventful, however I did learn that Axel, like many others, myself included, is a sucker for falling asleep in car that is just a little to warm and a little to cozy. wzhuxtglt%2oz0aabdaktgMia rode behind us, keeping close, but not too close to the rear of the truck. She later admitted she was worried about us hitting a kangaroo and spitting it under the truck back at her. Back at Dave’s house, repairs were made over the next two days and many beers were drunk. All in preparation for our real departure. The shake down run had been a success, we had shook ourselves proper and knew we were about to have our asses kicked.

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.