The (nearly) Gunbarrel Ride – PART 1

Well our ‘D’ day came. I rode and met up with my companions in cool Canberra weather. We are in high spirits at the prospect of our adventure. A few last-minute changes meant we were going to try and ride to the western most point of Australia and then head East across the outback ‘highways’. Our several days took us through Ivanho, Miniindee, and onto Broken Hill; but not without some hairy moments.

We had to cross minor dirt roads and in one place had thirty to forty kilometres of freshly drenched and graded slippery clay road which was hard to stand up on, let alone ride on! This was the most frightening part of the ride for me (though one of a couple) as the bike squirmed its way across the soft slippery clay threatening to ditch me into the 20cm (at least) of mud piled up on one side of the road. I did not have the benefit of knobbly tyres but the Continental TKC70s managed to see me through to the end of that bit of road. The value of the Stay Upright adventure course became obvious too. I did my best riding with shoulders back, looking where I wanted to go, legs straight and head up combined with careful powering through the trickiest bits and very carefully backing off where possible to regain a sensible speed (so I could power through again).

Hotels are always appreciated at the end of a ride so at Broken Hill we stayed at the very same hotel featured in ‘Princilla Queen of the Desert’. This is worth seeing. The artwork is amazing. Our next day saw us heading toward Port Augusta through bright yellow canola fields and other various agricultural pursuits. The views from the escarpments were quite spectacular. At one point though I saw a horse and rider in the distance galloping up a hill but a second look confirmed it was the biggest roo I have ever seen. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for those big roos from that point on. After several days of riding and stopping to take in scenery we headed west with heavy winds coming across and to the front of us. Fully loaded, with large fairings we would occasionally get blown across the road. It slowed us down and tired us all quite rapidly. Rough road saw a top box part company with the frame of the one of the BMWs. Road side panel beating saw it back in use.

At the head of the bite, we saw a lot of whales calving and by night of the 31st August we were camped on the cliffs having covered 500klms for the day. Late in the afternoon a rider on a KTM came in. He was on his way home having just completed his ride (supported) across the Gun barrel. They had a few tumbles and the deep sand made it tough going for them in places; something for us to look forward to. It was here on the cliffs we decided to break out some wine and rum which gave friends Steve and Clayton the idea to dangle their legs over the edge. My father is a geophysicist (I’ve mentioned this before I think) and I know the signs of unstable rocks and stayed well back, tempted as I was.

In the morning we could see another whale and calf at the base of the cliff along with several sea lions that made quite a racket with their bellowing. The road to Balladonia is sealed of course. However, rain water filled the deep grooves in the road caused by road trains. Often the water was several centre meters deep and it was a bit nerve racking riding between the grooves while maintaining cruising speeds along a very narrow strip of bitumen. I now know what it feels like to ‘aqua plane’ on a bike to the next bit of tangible ‘dry’ bitumen. I don’t think any of us were ready for this sort of riding. Rain is not fun and lightening didn’t make us feel any more comfortable out here on the open road. I was relieved when the others decided to take the hotel option at Balladonia. It was appreciated and we had a good feed.

We headed to Norseman and northwest from there to the most western point we could get to taking in scenery and stopping at country towns for coffee breaks. Past Geraldton and on the western point at a place called Hamilton, where we saw stromadalytes and crystal clear sea water so salty that only extremophiles can live in. Riding east the roads took us onto our famed red dirt roads. I lost a sleeping bag off the back of the bike! I never got it back! Not a good start to this part of the ride. Eventually we got to Wiluna but not without a few moments on roads best described as ‘squirrily’.

We had been given a warning about Wiluna to keep our bikes and gear in sight, so we took it in turns to mind the bikes when paying for fuel. We dropped into the police station to let them know where we were heading and our intentions. A quick check of our papers (the permits to cross indigenous land) proved we had done our homework properly and with everything in order headed to the camping ground out of town. The owners of the grounds were fantastic, hospitable and helpful. However, they have no liquor licence. They are not allowed to sell it or even give it away. This is ‘dry’ country. Booze in these parts is very carefully policed. Despite this we managed some wine and to this day I don’t know how we did that.

Trevor Allen

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