A couple of years ago, over a beer while interstate, a mate from work and I were talking about a fella he knew from his RAAF days who rode an XR600 from Melbourne to Darwin. We were discussing all manner of tips and tricks he had employed to keep weight low, including taking no clothes with him, screwing spare nuts and bolts through his plastics, wrapping lockwire around his frame and putting strips of gaffa tape on his front mud guard to save taking a full roll... As often happens when amber liquid is involved, we said we should do something similar and made a deal to do it before we hit 40. Fortunately the next morning, we both remembers and continued to share the enthusiasm and vowed to make it happen. Well, last night I got home after we rode from Byron Bay to Steep Point traveling through some of the most breathtaking locations the world has to offer and ticking off a large number of bucket list items along the way. Day 1 started at Byron Bay at sunrise before we headed out on tarmac to go as far west as we could. Coincidentally, there was a large group of riders leaving that same morning, heading the same way, known as The Great Australian Ride. We were a little concerned at first by their motley crew and being semi-supported, even including a Suzuki Boulevard... that one had us worried for them until we met its rider who seemed a real nice guy and only had an expectation of going as far as he could... Knowing he would pull the pin if needed gave us some comfort. Anyway, we left those guys to their barbie at the lighthouse and headed out through Ballina and into the twisties before giving the bikes a drink at Tenterfield then heading south west through Inverell and Warialda before topping off the tanks again, with a servo pie, at Moree heading further west. With the roos starting to pop out and the temperature plummeting, we stopped off in Walgett for the night, a little distressed that the whole town was boarded up and we got locked inside the hotel... We ventured to the RSL for a decent feed and the cheapest beer in NSW. Walking back to the gated and locked up motel, we noticed the old bank vault where the bank used to be... I thought robbing the bank went the other way around??? Day 2 saw us on the road before the sun, with the -2 being felt acutely. Unfortunately Gav on the GSA had to leave at this point to return, so we pushed onto Bourke for bacon and eggs, and more boarded up shop fronts. On noticing one of the small screws holding my solstice LED light on had vibrated out, and out of the myriad of spares, we had nothing so small, the waitress kindly offered her husbands shed to rummage through. We headed out, after topping off the tanks, and met her husband and the local copper, who were lovely fellas and could not help enough and had my little screw problem sorted in no time - the last mechanical issue for my little Tenere for the whole trip! On leaving Bourke, we turned left onto the Bourke-Hawker Gate South road, headed through Wanaaring and onto Tibooburra. Being day 2 and having the early ride confidence, we breezed through Wanaaring without topping off confident we could make Tibooburra on the fuel in the tanks... Mr Garmin started to play up for us and as we hit reserve fuel, which by experience is around 120km left, our trusty Zumo 660s indicated Tibooburra was 190km down the road... Left with the prospect of both of us being marooned on day 2, we siphoned all the fuel into one tank for a dash to the servo. After this task, we rounded a bend with a signpost indicating Tibooburra was not quite as far as Mr Garmin advised, only 53km away, giving us some confidence in our map reading as we had been scratching our heads wondering how we got it so wrong - the answer is, we didnt! Anyway, with my bike adequately fueled and Links a bit dubious now that we had drained it, we rode as far as we could. Not having enough time to re-siphon the fuel as the servo would be closed, I did the dash for fuel, much to the amusement and confusion of those at home watching our spot trackers. From this point on, we always over estimated our fuel requirements, which was no drama and left no distraction of do I have enough?. After no fuss at all, we were both back on the road and into the Family Inn at Tibooburra where we had a great meal, clean facilities and cold beer. Infact, it took us 2 hours to get our bags off the seats at the front of the pub. Day 3 started with Bacon and eggs, which became a morning staple, as we headed through the Sturt National Park and into Cameron Corner for morning tea and top off the tanks. With the APC having been just ahead of us, the publican was a little over motorbikers as some of the APC guys had rubbed him the wrong way. After assuring him we were just two mates on our own, he warmed up and was hard to leave. We did the obligatory money on the roof toss and played a hole of golf before heading off into SA and the awesome rollercoaster road to the yellow bus. The dirt roads were in awesome condition and was an absolute hoot to ride. Not long behind us, only a day or two by now, one of the TGAR guys had a fall and required the RFDS to evacuate him. I was glad that any fundraising we did was for such a worthy cause, we raised over three grand for them! Anyway, we headed north up the old Strzelecki as the Bore track was closed, which again was not as expected... it was a very easy road. Into Innaminka for lunch, we stocked up on a bottle or two of red and on the advice of the shopkeeper, took the scenic north route to the Dig Tree campsite. What a wonderful campsite by the river, full of pelicans. We set up camp for the night and drained both bottles of wine under a trillion stars. Day 4 had us rising to a beautiful campsite, and surprisingly no red wine hangover and we had a look around the Dig Tree site. I was surprised at how little I actually knew of Burke and Wills and that the image I had of hero explorers was a little skewed as all the literature had them pegged as having the arrogance and ineptitude of European explorers with no appreciation or respect for the harshness of the land. I guess, however, they did contribute to the eventual total exploration of this great land, and for that they deserve credit, as they gave their lives for it. More reading to do for me! We slipped up the very well graded Adventurers Way, up the QLD side of the border to Arrabury where, against the advice of a fella who had just come down in his Kombi, we took the Cordillo Downs road north. Not long into it, we came across the Cordillo Downs homestead and old Wool Shed where many shearing records were established - hard men in those days. Continuing north through the gibber plains, the road was very rough... very rough. Net result of the Cordillo Downs road is that its very long so you cant go too slow but its very rough, so if you go at a pace to get anywhere, you will have dramas... We were running the Mitas E09 Dakar tires and they were superb... the stories about stock Tenere rims being a little soft, however became evident when we stopped. I am pretty sure you are not meant to be able to see the bead while the tyre is on the rim... As we motored along with a decent dust gap between us, we were surprised to be overtaken out of the blue by an APC rider all alone... Once we exited the Cordillo Downs road and onto the Birdsville Develpmental road, we were home and hosed. This road may have well had a toll booth on it, it was wide, flat and fast... Made for easy entry to Birdsville. We got to Birdsville and had the obligatory photo out the front and a Birdsville Lager, before sorting accommodation. After seeing a group of fellas who were starting out in the morning on a Simpson crossing on quads (complete with filming ultra lights...) we decided to pop out for a look at the infamous Big Red. It was getting on a little late and riding into the sun was a pain, but we got our first real taste of Sand on the detour road to Big Red. Once there, we decided we needed a photo from the top, but old mate with me was having a minor clutch issue so I decided to tackle it myself... After reaching the top with my feet on the pegs, I was wondering what the fuss was about. We took some pictures and rode back in the dark, elated that we had entered the Simpson. With family who know the area watching on Spotwalla, my phone rang as soon as my helmet came off. The conversation went like this: Brother: What are you doing? Me: I just got back from riding up Big Red! Brother: When? Me: Jut now. Brother: (laughing)No you didnt Me: Yeah I did, kept my feet on the pegs too! Brother: No, you rode up little red, Big red is another kilometer to the left after you ride over that little hill... Me: Shit - oh well, not going back now... So there you have it, I am proud to say I rode up the little hill before you get to Big Red! After having a shower and walking up to the pub, we ordered a beer each - wow, $2 change from a $20 - a little different to the 3 for 12 at Walget the night before... As the kitchen was overwhelmed, we had to wait 45 minutes before they would accept an order so we chose the T-bone... no T-bone left, well have the rump thanks! Atmosphere was great and we forked out for another beer (or 2) before heading back to catch some zzzzzs. Bucket list item - Tick. Day 5 had us up and ready early and, embarrassingly, trying to top off the tanks at the servo that was still closed... Off to the other servo, we topped off the tanks and our jerry cans (I carried 2x 10lt jerry cans, Link had 2x 7lt Rotopax) for our journey down the Birdsville Track. After a pie and coffee at the Bakery, as you NEED to do, we set off for pictures at the racetrack then down the track. Like the developmental road, the Birdsville Track is well maintained and more of a highway than a track - a hint of disappointment... Nothing much happened on the track, plenty of LARGE Eagles and the odd Dingo and lots of gibber stones. We stopped off just before Mungerannie as, in the middle of nowhere there was a pristine RFDS aircraft. As any support we were receiving was going straight to the RFDS (hopefully not as a down payment for services to be rendered...) we stopped for a looksee... There, conducting an interview of opportunity with the pilot were two characters filming a TV show about gourmet cooking in the outback - Gourmet Greg. They were going to reproduce the famous Mungerannie burger using local ingredients, and to be poached in a local hot spring. When told they were using goat, they volunteered that they catch said goat on their motorbikes. I asked how you catch a goat on a motorcycle, expecting a tale of high speed pursuit and a flying tackle, followed by some first aid... the actual description went a little more like this nah, ya just chase them till they get tired and sit down, then throw them over the tank. Not very exciting. Into Mungerannie and a look at the Kruse trucks, we were salivating over a burger. Unfortunately, and what was becoming a tendency, was you with that rally? - again with a little friction. When we told our story, the guards were dropped and the laughs flowed. Unfortunately for us, the APC crews had eaten them out of all their rolls, and they were not expecting more for 2 days... I will tell you though, the burger on bread was awesome! After applying our sticker next to the OBT one, we topped off the tanks and said our farewells, heading further south. Upon coming into the lake territory, the first lake we could see with the sun in the right position was Lake Harry. Next to Lake Harry was a spring mound that we suggested would be a great viewing platform, it was about 70 feet high - and had a trail up it! We should go op for a picture was quickly decided and with zero reconnoissance we decided it would be a cake walk. It was quickly established that nothing good follows this phrase Ill go first Link, you film this? Well, without going into details the road was steeper, rutted and rougher than anticipated and exceeded both of our talent levels... My last words over the Scala were NO LINK, DONT FOLLOW ME!. Fast forward 30 seconds, I was staggering up and realising after taking a fall 10 foot down onto a rocky ledge, I was uninjured. If anyone ever tells you to take the armour out of your Badlands jacket, disregard them, I reckon the chest protector saved me. Link, who followed me... peeled off to the righ and had a soft injury to his leg but, without crash bars - and I will have more to say about bike and equipment set up later - had a rock push the side plastic into his radiator overflow (cracking it) and pulling the fitting out of the radiator (and bending the radiator). Some selleys need it and we were back on track, passing through Maree and stopping for a luke warm bath at Coward Springs. Two blokes in the 6 foot by 4 foot spring there is a little cosy... Very windy that night... more on that... Day 6 I awoke with a bit of a sore throat and a cough... upon surveying the interior of my tent, I could not ascertain why everything in there was brown. The strong wind all night had blown the sandy bulldust under my fly and my inner tent acted like a sieve and sifted a very fine powder all over me and everything else in the tent, my lungs and nose included. None the less, it was a cracker of a sunrise so I brewed up a cup of tea (quick and easy to do and no cleanup unlike old mate who had fancy cappuccino packets...) which was becoming my cold morning staple. Packing up as the sun rose over lake Eyre, we were on the road for a big of a lazy day, but looking forward to a big breakfast at William Creek. During the packup, the sun glinted on our bikes and we observed the carnage that one particular cattle grid had given old mates bike. Rims are meant to be round? Anyway, no flats or wobbles, so good to go. We got to William Creek and organised a joy flight for 10am over Lake Eyre and the Painted Hills then headed over to the roadhouse for our brekkie. On entering the pub, salivating, we were greeted with an abrupt kitchens shut from the old fella. Politely asking if there was anything to eat and eyeing a mouthwatering menu, he advised again in his gruff manner, kitchen shut at 9am. It was now 0908. We were later to find out that from the price of fuel and bottled water, they were not in need of the $40 or so we would have spent there - reckon he had a Rolls out the back. Off to the flight centre for a breakfast of redbull and a cherry ripe. Our pilot arrived promptly and given her body mass could have been the equivalent of my left leg - below the knee - old mate and I were happy that that meant one thing... leg room. Having been in aviation for 20 years, both of us were only too happy to give the spare front seat to another passenger and we had the next row to ourselves. Our pilot proved to be skillful, informative and quite funny as she guided us over Anna Creek Station - the largest in the world and owned by the Kidmans - to the Painted Hills. I did not know anything about them, but they are this oasis of richly colored hills with zero access, apart from by air, and we were treated to a birds eye view. Moving back over Anna Creek, the Dingo Fence and the Old Ghan railroad, we moved toward the lake proper. It is a massive sea, running around 30% surface area. It only needs to rise a couple of inches and that figure can change dramatically the land is so flat. We had a near miss with a Hawk, saw Sir Donald Campbells track (well, the area of it anyway) and some anecdotes about how they tested for crust hardness then moved to the North where waters were still entering the lake. Certainly is a big sucker. After our flight, and checking out the rocket memorabilia in the front yard, we tried the pub again, making sure to not upset anyone by entering only during kitchen open hours. I can say that the steak sandwich was good, old mates toasted sandwich was not and god help you if you ask how much a coke is when you scrutinise the bill... almost got run out of town for that one. We topped off the tanks, at $2.30 a liter and bought some more bottled water (ironically cost $10 a liter...) and headed up the Oodnadatta track. Again, the surface was good for speed running, but a little uneventful until about 30km south of Oodnatta, on a simple straight and graded road, I felt it was getting difficult to steer... Flat front tyre. For some reason, the valve had pulled out of the tube... no evidence of slippage and the rim lock was in tact, just a shit happens moment. Anyway, new tube in and away we went for some cheaper water at the Pink Roadhouse before we rode into the fading light. Giving ourselves enough time to set up camp in the light, we pulled off the road some 500m (to avoid any errant road trains) and set up camp near a riverbank. We had to dodge rabbit warrens on the way in and I freaked old mate out a little when I confirmed I had seen a brown snake on the roadside earlier that day and that they were nocturnal - and ate rabbits... He was zipped up that night. It was a perfect starry night - again. Day 7 saw us up before the sun, which presented a great opportunity to photograph the silhouettes of our bikes to the sunrise backdrop before we broke camp and continued up the Oodnadatta track. We took a turn at Hamilton to head out to Dalhousie Springs. The road from Hamilton to Dalhousie was the worst of the trip and made Cordillo seem like a tollway. It transitioned from hard pack to rock to hard pack with rocks to sandy river beds. The sand was quite course however which gave it great draining abilities, but also meant it was not very nice to negotiate. After getting quite a bit of practice on sand, I was spending a little time day dreaming about the virtues of a steering damper vs not having one and happily came to the conclusion that I had figured sand out and was pretty lucky to have saved 6 or 7 hundred bucks... Seriously within 10 minutes of this mind segway, I came into a river bed that had a decent right hander in it. It started off as pretty firm, however at the bend it got real tight, real soft, real quick. I had a good body position on the pegs and powered through, however my front caught the middle rise and, in an effort to break the traction I gassed it up more. It should have worked - unfortunately, the result was I just went into a tank slapper faster. Once again I found myself lying on the ground, this time a good 10 feet in front of my bike, doing that slow pat down that most of us know... wondering where the nearest emergency airstrip is... before I realised I was actually unhurt - again, although the shoulder I landed on was a little tender and as I cartwheeled over I smacked my foot on the ground. So, relatively unhurt was a surprise as those that know me will appreciate that this is not often the case. So, pick the bike up, unscathed as well, and ride on. My point on the steering damper, which I again reflected on a little later when doing 140km of soft sand along the Fink track, was that if I could speak to myself back before the trip, I would be ordering myself to fit a damper. Now that this ride is under my belt, I probably wont bother but I now understand their virtue and appreciate the recommendation of others to put on on the Tenere. Up the road we came across the Old Peak telegraph station, an 1870 settlement surrounded by springs. Well worth the visit. There, we ran into two fellas (one on a DR the other a Tenere) and one of them had a limp... seems that the same river bank had caught the Tenere rider out not 20 minutes before I cam hurtling through, he was a little worse off than I, but still walking so he too had a successful off. After leaving the Peak, we headed to our goal destination for the morning, Dalhousie Springs. As my mate said, sometimes mother nature bites you, other times she soothes you. Dalhousie springs is simply awesome. If Coward Springs was a little intimate and a little cool, Dalhousie was hard to coprehend for other reasons. The camp ground looked great, but the spring is a fairly significant lake which has steps into it and a bunch of swimming pool noodles for you to float around on. The water is a glorious 42 and it has little fish that nibble away at you. Floating around was the group of quad riders we had seen in Birdsville who had just completed their Simpson crossing and were recuperating before their return the following day. Old mate on the Tenere and DR turned up for some therapeutic healing in the 2 million year old water - thats a pretty inefficient water heater and it had me wondering if we were actually swimming in dinosaur piss - and we all had a good catch up in the pond. Dragging ourselves out, we were keen to get to Mount Dare as we had skipped brekkie and were famished. The road from Dalhousie to Mt Dare was much better than the other side, so it was a pretty easy ride. Unfortunately Mt Dare close their kitchen during the day, so another microwave pie was the breakfast and lunch of choice. We topped off the tanks again and headed over the border to NT, turning left just short of Fink to head to Lamberts post, the geographical centre of Australia. We had a 14km soft sand and pretty technical road into Lamberts centre which had me puckered up for the ride in after my dalliance earlier in the day. Apart from some slow paddling sections, the ride in was uneventful and, while it was a little early in the day, we decided it was an apt place to camp for the night. We were not used to being first into a campsite and were pretty pleased to have the place to ourselves, being out of the way and all that, but as the afternoon rolled on, the 4wds kept coming. We decided to have our first camp fire that night, as mostly we get into camp, set up the tent, check over the bikes, oil the chain, boil some water, eat a dehydrated meal and collapse into bed. Having time, we skirted around and picked up some dead wood (twigs) for our camp fire. We were careful to only take what would not have any impact, even though it would burn out quickly. We were interested, however, to see the army of grey haired explorers in their fancy 4wds roll into camp. Their firewood collection consisted of driving over a still erect tree, tying a rope to it and dragging it to a clearing before setting the whole thing alight. Seemed a little wasteful to us and the irony was not lost on us that a single woman in a Disco rolled into the campsite as we were setting up and later admitted that when she saw us bikers in the camp ground, she was going to leave. Then when others started arriving she felt safe again, only to come to the realisation that the rowdy bunch were the whit haired tree burners. During the arvo a 990 and GS800 rolled into camp and we had a brew chatting to those fellas that night as our twigs flared nice and bright (warm) for a couple of minutes then faded... We should have gone over to the tree bonfire. Getting into bed, the 4wders cracked out the guitar and it actually was quite a nice way to go to sleep, being serenaded. Day 8 had us leaving Lamberts and heading into Finke for some water. We had plenty of fuel and didnt need any extra weight for what came next, the Fink track. We left fink, another microwave pie in belly, and headed to the finish line to start our way back up the track. To be clear, we rode the service road next to the track which used to be the service road for the Ghan rail line, which is now the service road for the race track - make sense? In any event, we rode at a fair clip for two reasons, one it was a long way to go to Alice Springs and two, it was mostly soft sand. It was time to get over soft sand finally. Point of advice, if you do not like soft sand, either learn to love it or dont do Finke. We set our feet on the pegs, weight over the back and went 140km in one stretch with the bikes waggling like a skateboader with the death wobbles, but we got used to it. Again, I told myself if I could go back in time, I would get the damper. When I could focus away from what I was doing, I would look 5m to my left and look at the race track. All I can say is those guys are insane/awesome/talented/crazy as they go twice as fast as us on a loopy track. Up the Fink service road, you have to dodge railway spikes the whole way as it seems when they pulled up the rail line, they left the spikes - I do regret now not souvernering one... I probably would not have been able to get going again. When we were in Alice that night, we spoke to a mate who was asking how Fink was... We told him the only reason we did not shit ourselves was that our ballon knots were puckered up so tight, nothing could escape. Glad to have done Fink, I didnt want to do it but would now do it again. We eventually rolled into Alice Springs to be greeted with the first familiar signs of civilsation again, and traffic. I know Alice Springs is not a big traffic blackspot, but after a week on the road, we had to second guess if we can make the gap or wait. We didnt like the traffic lights either. We splashed out that night on a serviced apartment - each - and cleaned up in a very hot and very long shower before donning our one outfit and hitting the town for a cold one and a steak. First beer went to our heads and before we knew it we were in front of a very large piece of beef each and a bottle or red wine - oh oh. Couple of night spots later we headed for the Casino where an accidental misstep our of the Taxi had me refused entry to the casino - I must stress I was far from inebriated (at this time) and it was a genuine slip on the gutter. Anyway, there was a second entrance around the corner and no such gutter issues. The place was pretty dead for a Saturday night, however after surveying the three people on the dance floor, the next door function ended - yep, the Drovers Ball! So, around 20 minutes after we go there, there were 500 people dressed up to the nines. The next part is a little hazy but I do recall I left the casino, walked across the Todd... silly... and woke up at 6am on my couch. That was a waste, I had a king size bed all to myself, so off there I toddled, head spinning and getting the bike wobbles. Day 9 was a rest day in Alice Springs (read eat KFC and recover from hangover...) and a trip to Wollies and the camp store for some more provisions. Day 10 we had organised for the local bike shop to order in a new set of E09 Dakar tyres. We had put new ones on when leaving Byron and they had performed flawlessly. These were to be my 4th set and I am a huge advocate. While we had the bikes in the shop at 9am, we were keen to be on the road by middday, should be doable as the wheels were off the bikes by 10 past. Anyway, for some reason the minutes rolled by, as did the hours and our bikes were still being balanced... we decided to go back and pack up our hotel room and bring our kit back to the bike shop but the bikes still were not ready. By 3pm, we had to call it quits - we would be riding at night if we left then so we had to fork out another $380 for the two rooms for the night - yep, accommodation is expensive out there. While we were waiting, the boys from The Great Australian Ride (who left Byron the same day as us) turned up and we had a good catch up. They had had some mechanical retirees, some RFDS retirees and Mark on the Boulevard had wisely pulled the pin after reaching Cameron Corner - a sterling effort indeed. As we were now staying, we could catch up for a beer that night, as the next day was only to Ayres rock, so no need for a sparrows departure.