Western Australia - 5200km in 10days to the Pilbara, CSR, and Rudall NP

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Wilmo, Sep 16, 2011.

  1. Wilmo

    Wilmo Orange Fever

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    A trip from Perth, Western Australia to the Pilbara region to ride the Canning Stock Route and Rudall River National Park.

    I've wanted to explore the Pilbara region of WA for a long while, ever since meeting Greg (Dusty_Kiwi) at the 2009 Australian Safari, who always espoused the virtues of the pristine riding areas around his home town Newman. Greg works for BHP at one of the biggest Iron Ore Mines in the country and is a long term Newman resident.

    When Alex (WAAlex) posted his intention to take a ride up this way, the opportunity was too good to miss. I was first introduced to Alex when he asked me some questions about the Yamaha Tenere XT660Z he eventually purchased (I already had one), and he sounded like a reliable sort of character at the time I remember thinking. An ex Navy Diver, and now studying to be a Doctor - he's well disciplined!

    I'd met Jon (J_B), our other companion for this ride, on the way home from the Neale Junction Desert Raid earlier this year and knew instantly he was hard core! You don't ride from Coober Pedy in South Australia, to Laverton in WA on a fully loaded DRZ with 55L of fuel and 20L of water without some measure of toughness!

    Its always difficult to find people of similar ability and mindset to ride with (we've all had experiences we'd choose to forget I'm sure), so riding with guys you don’t know can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. However, without really knowing each other, we all kind of knew the dynamic of this group was going to be something special, something that would see us through the taxing schedule we would set ourselves to cover not only 270km of the Canning Stock Route, but to visit Carawine Gorge and get in and out of Desert Queen Baths at the centre of the Rudall River National Park, in 4.5 days!

    Here begins this epic tale.....

    I’ve been on Sabbatical from work for the past three months (one may ask why I haven’t found the time to put pen to paper for this ride report until now as we’ve been back a couple of weeks!) , taking a ‘mid career break’ and spending some time with my young family and doing some riding. Time flies when you are having fun.

    I had the time to extend our organised ‘team’ ride in the Pilbara to take a few days either side to explore the Goldfields on the way up to Newman and more of the Pilbara, and the Gascoyne on the way back. Jon and Alex couldn’t afford the extra time off so made a beeline straight to Newman where we would meet at Greg’s to stay overnight before heading off.

    So the route I took was from Perth, North East via Goomalling, Dowerin, Paynes Find, Sandstone, Wiluna and Kumarina to Newman, and then home via Wittenoom, Karijini National Park, Tom Price, Ashburton Downs, Mt Augustus, Murchison, and Mullewa.

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    These legs I rode and camped out alone, which I must say was a liberating and at some times concerning (scary) experience. I’d definitely recommend to anyone to do some real self supported riding (ie by yourself), at some point in the ADV careers!

    I’d assembled the appropriate safety gear before I left, on board I had an Inmarsat Sat Phone (which worked excellently I might add – who needs Iridium), PLB, and SPOT Tracker so my wife could follow my progress. We had a pact that if I stopped in one spot for more than a couple of hours without sending an OK message, then she should start ringing the local constabulary for assistance. I was diligent with the OK’s, but found I was moving almost constantly throughout the day.

    I was riding my trusty 2010 XT660Z Tenere, and Alex would later be riding the same. Jon chose his well travelled DRZ400. We had zero issues mechanically with the bikes save for Jon that noticed a half-off chain clip at our first night camp which was quickly fixed and me with a flat front tyre (running too low pressure).

    The good thing about riding in late August in WA is that the weather is starting to improve – particularly up North. I had blue skies for the whole 10 days I was on the bike, making for excellent riding conditions. Temperatures ranged from 0 to 35 degrees C .

    Heading out from home after the rush hour traffic was relaxing and I enjoyed the scenic cruise through the wheatbelt east of Perth as the wild flowers were starting to come out (WA is known for its majestic display of wild flowers this time of year) .

    Goomalling - the first stop of the trip.

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    It wasn’t long before the road turned to the red dirt and my smile widened. This stuff mixed with water is what flows in our veins!

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    After 400 or so km for the day I arrived in Payne’s find to refuel, here it takes 10mins to put 10L of fuel into the Tenere. When I quiz the lady behind the counter about it she tells me I should have used the other pump – as the one I used is broken! I tell her a sign on the pump would be nice.....it doesn’t seem to register......she tells me she’s been meaning to get it fixed for a while, perhaps this is how Western Australia attracted its moniker of ‘Wait Awhile’ I think to myself.

    Payne’s Find.

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    Heading North East in the late afternoon sun.

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    I set up camp around 4.30pm leaving plenty of time to collect some firewood. This is the first night I’ve EVER camped alone in the bush and I do it in a pretty matter of fact fashion - without too much of a care or concern.

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    I’m enjoying the serenity and have a couple of glasses of red and a good meal, and am tucked up in the tent by 8.30pm nodding off. Then it starts.....like the sounds of zulu warrior drums in the distance, a low frequency thud, thud, thud, I think I’m dreaming but then realise I’m camped pretty close to a male Emu that is nesting – as this is the sound they make! The male Emu sits on the 12 or so eggs laid by the female until they hatch and then stays with the chicks whilst they mature. So much for equal opportunity!

    I wonder about the aggressive tendencies (or not) of Emus, my mind races, is a marauding Emu going to tear through my tent with its rather large claws any second whilst defending its chicks from what it thinks is a predator? Defence plans are drawn up in my mind, run to the bike, ignition on, clutch in, start, then rev! The sound from open exhaust on the Tenere should scare it off pretty quickly!

    Needless to say, my concerns were unwarranted, I didn’t get attacked. But old man Emu was sounding a warning all night, so as to let me know he knew I was there. I couldn’t see him the next morning, but he was certainly within 50m of my camp site, perhaps closer.

    I recall now whilst scanning the area in the early morning light, four huge Red Kangaroos towering over 7 feet each jumped through and around where I was camped, like a freight train – all in single file. An amazing sight up close. It was like one of those scenes out of the movie Jurassic Park, almost like an animation they were in such perfect formation.

    Leaving camp around 8am (why rush?) I head NE again to the small town of Sandstone, which is basically an outpost for the mining camps in the area. Here I catch up with my parents who are touring the Goldfields with their caravan taking in the sights and the new season’s wild flowers.

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    After a hearty lunch (thanks Mum), I head off towards Wiluna.

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    Wiluna seems like a friendly place, its pretty dead (it was a Sunday) and I don’t stop as have enough fuel on board to get me to Kumarina Roadhouse – 160km from Newman.

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    Just north of Wiluna I pass the start (well 1) of the Canning Stock Route, (more on it here.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canning_Stock_Route), we would later ride from well 30 to 23, only, in a southerly direction.

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    To be continued.....
    #1
  2. TonyRDR

    TonyRDR Been here awhile

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    #2
  3. evildingo

    evildingo On a road to no-where

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    :norton Excellent
    #3
  4. LC8TY

    LC8TY must......find.......fuel

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    This looks good, bring it on Wilmo. :clap
    #4
  5. neilaction

    neilaction Slightly Less Adventurous

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    :lurk
    #5
  6. waalex

    waalex Been here awhile

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    I was wondering why this ride report is taking so long. Nice work so far...
    #6
  7. rj72

    rj72 Adventurer

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    Nice rr. The sand is so red there. Looks like a good trip.
    #7
  8. 59DEN

    59DEN Long timer

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    :lurk
    #8
  9. Glenn C

    Glenn C Adventurer

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    I'm currently suffering post trip blues after a 2 week trip through the Flinder Ranges. So you RR may help sooth the red dirt cravings!

    Although I do notice a sense of extreme jealousy rising :lol3

    Love the photos. Keep 'em coming. They are helping!

    Cheers
    #9
  10. markwrich1

    markwrich1 Going South

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    Nice RR Wilmo, didn't know you had such well developed literary tendencies. What tyres did you run on that blue monster and how did they handle it :clap:clap:clap:clap
    #10
  11. Silky

    Silky Awaiting Baby...

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    :lurk:lurk:lurk
    #11
  12. Muddler

    Muddler Been here awhile

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    Dardanup, Western Australia
    Great start
    I sympathize with the strange sounds at night. I've had a similar experience, camping alone does make you a bit twitchy....
    #12
  13. jtb

    jtb Long timer

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    Farken, farken! I sat down thinking "Great, the ride was done weeks ago this will be the whole report in one sitting. Nothing better on a Sunday morning."

    S'pose I'll wait, but at least I know it will be worth it. Love your work, more so 'cause I too love the red dirt :bow:bow:bow

    Wilmo looking forward to more (soonish would be good Sir :D.) :clap:clap
    #13
  14. Wilmo

    Wilmo Orange Fever

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    A detour off the Wiluna North Road, into North Pool saw me get to a waterhole that was obviously well utilised by the stock and wild animals that roam these parts. I saw wild horses, some cattle and the prints of dogs (Dingos most likely) in the river sand track I rode in on.

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    From the waterhole I took a track that was marke on my GPS that indicated it would join back up to the Wiluna North Road, but found myself at a dead-end fenceline after about 10km, which turned east and went straight up a rock/boulder strewn incline.

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    To turn around I had to do some bush bashing, and while stuck in a small creek bed there an eerie scream filled the air! At first I thought it was my radiator fan, as it was hot and the bike was working bogged down in the sand. I turned the bike off and there it was again, this time louder. I did a quick scan of the surrounding bush but couldn’t see anything. Then I heard it again, this time louder, (I’m now getting a little freaked out), so hurriedly turn the bike around and get out of there. I can’t explain the strange noise, its as though a dream time spirit is warning me away from the area. There is no logical explanation.

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    Safely back on the main track I blast through the creek beds and over the track chopped up by the hooves of the many animals living around the waterhole. I decide this probably isn’t the best place to camp given the potential for several visitors during the night coming down for a drink, so press on back to the Wiluna North road. I get another 50km or so on, past the many cattle I see dotted along the road edge. There are some large Brahman bulls, they seem to stand their ground on the road when you approach longer than the others, but eventually turn and run as you ride closer – I still wouldn’t like to meet one up close without being on the bike for a speedy exit.

    I choose a spot to camp 100m off the road, nestled in amongst some small trees which I think will give me some protection on one side if any cattle wander through during the night. Its now 5.00pm and starting to get dark, so I quickly collect some firewood and set up camp.

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    Another restless night ensues, as the cattle (one in particular) vocally announce their presence. I’m not sure what was going on but it sure sounded like one of them wasn’t enjoying it!

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    The road starts to open up the closer I get to the Great Northern Highway, past Ned’s Creek station. I had originally thought of detouring throught the station, as the owners advertise that they are fine with people coming through as long as you let them know. I emailed Raelene one of the owners, but unfortunately was now running out of time to get into Newman so by passed the station on this trip.

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    I spot 6 water bottles that have ‘fallen off the back of a truck’ and are lying scattered on the road. 4 of them are intact so I think why waste the water and fill up my 4 bottles carried in the Andy’s panniers, saving myself $12 in the process as water is expensive out here.

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    I get to the Great Northern Highway and then have a mundane 160km on the tar to reach Newman, but not before stopping in at Kumarina Roadhouse and grabbing an excellent burger with the lot for lunch.

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    I catch up with Greg in Newman and do a bit of washing and repacking whilst waiting for the boys to arrive later that evening. We spend the night with Greg, his wife and his in-laws and have a great meal and talk about Greg’s adventures on the APC Rally and check out his heavily farkled F800GS. Greg and Megan’s hospitality was fantastic and my wife and I will certainly repay the favour when they are next in Perth! The guys arrive without any problems and we ready ourselves for our next adventure tomorrow before hitting the sack.

    To be continued.....
    #14
  15. Wilmo

    Wilmo Orange Fever

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    To answer a few questions before I go on:

    Tyres – Pirelli MT21 on my bike. Rear can last anywhere between 2000km and 4000km, I totally shagged a brand new one I put on in Newman for the trip home in 2000km but I did do 1142km in under 12 hours to get home which = lots of wheel spin on hard dirt and stony roads up north. The one I had on for the first part of the ride did 3000km and still looks like it has another 500km in it.

    Bike - The Tenere went well, I&#8217;ve done the suspension on mine, and it bottomed out a lot less than Alex&#8217;s one with stock suspension. It was 100% reliable and they are tough bikes. We had to tweak the forks back into alignment a couple of times after crashes in the sand on the CSR but that was it. We were getting a comfortable 450km to a tank if you keep the revs around 4000rpm (100km/h) in 5<SUP>th</SUP>on open dirt roads. In the CSR section I got 347km out of the tank, but was gunning it up the dunes.

    Back to the report.....we head out from Newman around 9am after doing a bit of shopping and take the main drag north to Nullagine. The first 100km is bitumen, then turns to a dusty road well used by road trains.

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    We sit sucking one&#8217;s dust for a while as the road is too twisty to pass on as it weaves its way through the ranges.

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    The country up here is spectacular, and we are enjoying the ride even though its starting to heat up. I left my jacket in Newman and road in a MX jersey over my armour which was perfect for this time of year.

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    We arrive in Nullagine, where just the week before a copper got stabbed by a local whilst trying to break up a fight (it was in the news). After refuelling we head up to the look out and snap some pics before heading out on Skull Springs road which starts just out of town.

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    To be continued.....
    #15
  16. GoneAgain

    GoneAgain Huh?

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    :clap



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    #16
  17. What's his Face

    What's his Face lost as

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    great report and a great bike :clap:clap

    nice work
    #17
  18. Wilmo

    Wilmo Orange Fever

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    Skull Springs Road which runs from Nullagine out to Carawine Gorge and hooks onto the Telfer mine road is a reasonably easy ride, with a few washouts across the road, though no water running this time of year. We enjoy the ride in cruise mode, stopping to take lots of pictures as you can see below. There was not much shade and we took advantage of some gum trees growing in a riverbed to have a quick break.

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    There was not much shade and we took advantage of some gum trees growing in a riverbed to have a quick break. The group dynamic is great and we are all really enjoying the riding and the relaxed pace as we knew we didn&#8217;t have a long day&#8217;s ride today.

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    We decide to camp at a place called &#8216;Running Waters&#8217; sometimes marked on the map as &#8216;Eel Pool&#8217; as well, after having been given this recommendation by Greg, who&#8217;s mate Kelvin (Pilbara) passed onto him. Greg told us Kelvin reckons it was better than Carawine Gorge, where we originally planned to stop. I wouldn&#8217;t say better, but it was great in its own way, and we are all glad we stopped there. We had the place to ourselves, and there was a great little swimming hole and plenty of shade to shelter under.

    Whilst checking over the bikes, Jon notices that the clip chain link on his DRZ is half off. This could have been disastrous if the chain had come apart, as Jon was already riding with a case that was being held together with JB Weld (which held up fine I might add for the whole trip) from a similar incident on the Neale Junction ride. Jon doesn&#8217;t believe in spending money on bikes unnecessarily....Alex and I have a somewhat different approach to riding, enjoying the farkling as much as the riding in comparison! Its all about the journey for Jon, he&#8217;s not into vanity, nor it seems to much body protection. I sweat out the trip in armour and kneeguards, and Jon enjoys the cool breeze through his cotton shirt and pants.

    We have a good yarn around the camp fire that night, Alex (32yo) teases Jon and I that he told some bloke back in Nullagine that he was riding with his Dad (me at 42), and Grandad (Jon at 52)! Bloody cheeky young whippersnapper! If we hadn&#8217;t known that Alex was an ex Navy Seal (practically), we might have been tempted to put him in his place. It&#8217;s a bit creepy camping out with someone that reminded Jon and I that he could probably kill us both and they&#8217;d never find our bodies out here. I still preferred his company to taking my chances with rogue Emus and Bulls though.

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    To be continued....
    #18
  19. Wilmo

    Wilmo Orange Fever

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    We&#8217;re up early as we have a long day today, our plan includes stopping into Carawine Gorge, and heading out the Telfer mine road to Punmu &#8211; and aboriginal community, where we will hook up with Maddy (Stormsearcher) for a yarn. Maddy works out there, and is a fellow ADVer, and we are looking forward to meeting him. Before we left we arrange with him to do a fuel drop for us at the southern end of the track into Desert Queen Baths from the Tallawana track &#8211; this would make it easier than having to carrying a lot of extra fuel on the bikes, although we still carried 5-10 litres each just for insurance.

    Alex tells us he has two rules for riding, both which he has broken and had to live with the consequences. One is to not ride at night &#8211; we find we do this on this trip just because its cooler late in the afternoon, and the wild life is very sparse out in the desert so no problems there. The other is that he doesn&#8217;t ride terrain twice for the camera &#8211; as he always comes to grief the second time! I take up the challenge and ride the hill below and Jon videos it.

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    Carawine Gorge is spectacular, although we ride in past the really nice camping spots and only notice them on our way out. It would be a good place to spend a couple of days, paddling around the gorge on your airbed. There are some campers out on the water in their inflatable boat and canoe &#8211; you might spot them in the pic below out near the Gorge wall.

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    The road out to Punmu is a straight long blast through varying terrain and colours. Limestone rises to the surface through the red dirt and the track changes colour often. Its well maintained however, with few corrugations. The middle of the day is quite warm out this way, and we take shelter under what shade we can find when we stop for a break.

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    We ride past a massive salt lake, and Jon takes the DRZ for a spin on it, finding out its softer than it looks.

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    Punmu approaches on the horizon, our plan is to have a chat with Maddy, refuel, then head on out to Kunawaritji and the start of the Canning Stock Route that evening. We want to get down the CSR from well 30 to 23 in under two days, and hopefully into Desert Queen Baths on the evening of the second day. We spend an hour with Maddy, then head over to get some fuel and a couple of things from the Punmu shop which has basic essentials only. I stock up on flour as the damper I made the night before went down well with the lads.

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    To be continued.....
    #19
  20. Wilmo

    Wilmo Orange Fever

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    We leave Punmu fully fuelled with 6-8 litres extra as well, albeit later than we would have liked to, and the shadows are getting long. We want to hit the CSR before stopping for the night so we have some good riding time on what we envisage is a more difficult track than the road out to Kunawarritji . The last half hour of the track to Kunawarritji we ride in darkness, the Tenere&#8217;s headlights allow reasonably good progress and Jon rides next to me to take advantage of it whilst Alex is a couple of kilometres in front. We see no Kangaroos out here, only a couple of owls that nearly smack me in the helmet as I ride standing up so as to get a good look at the ruts in the road.


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    We bypass Kunawarritji as its after hours and we can&#8217;t get fuel. Ideally we should have fuelled up here, but decide to chance it down the CSR with the fuel we have (full tanks for this section after tipping in the extra we carried), which should get us down the 270km we plan to ride and into Cotton Creek (hopefully) on the other end. We know Greg has half a drum of fuel at the dump at well 23, left over from his ride east to the APC Rally in July as insurance. If we need a couple of litres to get us into cotton creek we are sure he won&#8217;t mind!

    We get 17km down the CSR and stop as soon as we find a clearing big enough to pitch a tent (or three). That 17km would have to have the biggest corrugations I&#8217;ve ever ridden, and the ground is not hard &#8211; they are sand corrugations &#8211; so you battle with the front digging in too if you slow down. At around 60km/h they are reasonably comfortable on a bike &#8211; I&#8217;d hate to be in a 4wd as there is no way you could sit on that speed without being shaken to death.

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    We are up very early the next morning, to take advantage of the cool riding conditions. You would probably not want to ride the CSR much past the end of July ideally, as it turns warm mid August as we were told. The sunrise was spectacular. We quickly pack up, then drop our tyre pressures, and the Alex hits the road about 10minutes before Jon as he is the least experienced riding sand, and I follow a few minutes later.

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    Not two hundred metres down the road I get a flat front tyre after racing to catch up with Jon and Alex. I&#8217;m fanging down the track jumping the centre ridge and ride straight over some bushes and I think at the time &#8216;I hope there are no thorns on those&#8217;. Sure enough the 15psi in the front isn&#8217;t enough to stop one penetrating and the front is flat within 10m. The bead has broken luckily and I pull off the road and pull the tools out to change it. Alex and Jon ride on unaware, and get about 15km down the track, before Jon turns around and rides back to find me almost finished repairing it. I put a patch on the hole, as it was a heavy duty tube, and I didn&#8217;t want to risk running the emergency light weight one I was carrying. This was to be my undoing 300km later however when the hole opens up and I have to throw in the spare anyway! Incidentally, the spare then lasts the next 2500km back home without being changed running 25psi. Who says you need ultra heavy duty tubes!


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    The terrain is varied - whilst a lot of the track is sand, there are rocky sections and lots of slappy sticks that smack your bars and try to spear you off the track. The worst of these seems to pass after a while and the dunes appear. This was the most enjoyable riding for me, I loved attacking the dune face whilst up on the pegs, slowing at the peak, then kicking the bike down to 1<SUP>st</SUP> and opening the throttle to roost down the other side like Cyril Despres&#8217;!

    Alex preferred the more modest &#8216;outrigger approach&#8217;, after a while we worked out that the three tracks in the sand behind his bike were his wheel track with one each side where his boots were dragging. I tried to keep ahead of Jon as without a steering damper on his bike, his tracks were like a snake ready to bite your front wheel and spear you of course. It was much easier to ride in &#8216;fresh tracks&#8217; &#8211; ie where a 4wd had been before with a nice wide flat sand rut.


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    We all took our share of spills in the sand however, I speared off the track into a tree and got stuck &#8211; I couldn&#8217;t go forward as had dug myself into a hole trying, and couldn&#8217;t go back as was flat out trying to keep the bike upright. Jon came to the rescue and helped me out backwards.


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    By 12.30pm we were all getting pretty weary, and it was getting hot &#8211; so to conserve our water we spent the next three hours sitting under a tree cooling off and recharging the bodies. We fall off the bikes sweating profusely, and Jon and Alex strip off and sit there in their Reg Grundies (underwear). Modesty gets the better of them and they put on their shorts, and we joke what a sight it would be for a 4WD to come over the dunes and find three blokes sitting under a tree nearly naked.

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    I was a bit dehydrated, as had lost a bit of fluid changing the tyre first thing which put me in deficit before the hard riding had begun. I was perhaps being too mindful of conserving water as well &#8211; its important to stay hydrated out here if you want to enjoy it. I was pretty red in the face, and Jon was a bit concerned, but I always turn red and sweat a lot with exercise. I felt tired, but not exhausted, and certainly wasn&#8217;t anywhere near bad enough to have to stop riding. I made an effort to slurp down more water during that afternoon from my camelback, in an attempt to rehydrate myself. It works and by the time we reached well 26 I was feeling much better.


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    We get going again around 3.30pm and all enjoy the riding in the afternoon until we reach well 26. We&#8217;ve made good progress and our idea of getting into Desert Queen Baths by the next evening looks doable and we are all excited by the prospect, as this will be the feted &#8216;meeting point&#8217; for the Desert Raid 2013. It will be good to check it out and see what&#8217;s there, then report back for all of the ADVers planning to ride in for the event we think.

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    Well 26 is restored and we use the water to have a wash and for cooking that evening to conserve our freshwater supplies. We know we can get more good quality water from Georgia Bore which is not far from Well 23 at the end of this section where we will exit and head up the Talwana track to Cotton Creek.


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    We are all feeling great in the cool of the early morning, and attacking the dunes with energy. It is rare that we stop on a dune or fall off on this day.


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    To be continued.....
    #20