Alpine Rally '12: A tale of bogs, logs and applied civil engineering.

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Jdeks, Jul 1, 2012.

  1. Jdeks

    Jdeks Accepting and supportive of everyones feelings.

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    I originally posted this up in a small local forum, about a trip I did recently to the 2012 Alpine Rally in Australia that didn't quite go as planned. A few folks encouraged/asked me to put it up here, so here it is. By ride report standards it's very long winded, reads more like a story really, so if reading isn't your thing then you can just scroll down and look at the pictures. Feel free to laugh at my ineptitude, or offer pointer for future trips. Enjoy :)

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    Why do I keep doing this to myself?

    For those of you who've read my other ride reports you'll know that a) I tend to waffle a little and b) they all have a central theme of 'unsupported and under-prepared'. Last Queens Birthday I found myself stuck in the snow, in the dark, with a bike on its side in the water which wouldn't start. This year wasn't much different.

    The Alpine Rally this year was held in the heart of the Brindabellas, on a property at the end of the aptly named Brindabella Valley Road (it's in Brindabella Valley, you see). It was scheduled to span both Saturday and Sunday night, so I planned to use the whole of Saturday to get up, and all of Monday to return, courtesy of Liz. There was something of a complication however - with the flooding in East Vic that had occurred over the last week, *all* the traditional sealed highways were blocked, along with many of the low-lying back roads. In fact by Friday night, the only way through the Snowies seemed to be using the dirt back roads in the high country, well above the flooded lowlands. So with the VicRoads road closure map as my guide, I plugged a moderately adventurous route into my navigational oracle-in-a-box. For those of you who just got your maps out (be they Google or the peeled tree variety), I planned to take the Freestone Creek road to Dargo, then the Birregun Road to Omeo. Both of these roads are well-used 'dirt-highways' that I've traveled many times, and I expected no trouble from them. From there, I planned to take the Benambra-Corryong Road to Corryong (oddly enough), then the Tooma Road (tarmac, snore) to the Snowy Mountains Highway, at which point I'd get back on the dirt at Long Plain Road (near the Yarrangobilly caves), and cruise on north to the rally. My mental calculations put me at the campsite at around 4 in the afternoon, and Garmin the Geography Genie concurred.

    Hah.

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    The plan went out the window at S13 37.25 E147 22.54, which is where this photo was taken. Trees like this just ruin your day - if it had been flat on the road, a bit of a run-up and maybe a few small logs and you're on your merry way. But no, not this one. The only part that was on the ground was up the banks on either side. The problem there was the lack of room to position your approach to hit the log at right angles - a mandatory requirement if you wish to remain vertical, especially in the wet. A more skilled rider than myself may have solved this problem with quick mono and a bit of throttle, but for me to attempt that would only increase the velocity of my resultant launch over the handlebars. I had to get over it though, and whilst I lacked riding talent, I did have something else - mad engineering skills. And so...

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    My engineering skills weren't what let me down, but rather my line selection. Too shallow an entry angle on a wet log led to predictable front end washout. But with nothing broken, and the bike over the log (one way or another), I picked it up and continued on my merry way, happy that I'd passed my little adventure for this trip.

    Hah.

    What I hadn't realized was that all the water that had decided to #occupymybackyard had in fact come from a week of storms up in the hills, which uproot trees like nobodys business. That was just Log 1... of 9. Here's Log 2:

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    Log 3:

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    I got bored at log 4 and 5. Log 4 involved lengthy detours into the low-lying bogs that flanked the road. Log 5 involved getting beached on the bash-plate (again), with my front wheel stuck firmly against Log 5.3 . Nothing for it but to tip on its side and drag it over, much like I had done with log 3. Not very graceful, but I had no other options. For some, this sort of stuff is a breeze, and I'm sure a few might read this and wonder what all the fuss is about. If so, please get in touch with me - I'd like to learn to ride like you. I'm not a skilled off road rider. The 950 is the only 'dirt-bike' (to use the term loosely) I've ever had, and riding it over consecutive 8" logs a foot off the ground, in the wet, with nothing but a few meters of muddy verge for a run-up....it's something I just cannot do yet. Much like my last long weekend, riding skill was once again letting me down.

    Log 6, however, warranted a picture:

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    Truth be told, 'log' isn't quite appropriate for this. Looked more like an attempt by the forest to reclaim the road by blitzkrieg. By far the most concerning thing was that the only possible way around lay perilously close to the edge of the embankment on the right. The previous logs had been so slippery with rain and occasionally snow that the slightest angle on entry and your front wheel slid whichever way gravity told it to. In this case, that would have unrecoverable results. It was while pondering this that I realized something else. Everyone I'm sure is familiar with that nagging feeling you've forgotten something, which invariably sets in as soon as you're just too far from home to be bothered turning around. Sometimes it's your toothbrush, sometimes it's your favorite frilly knickers. This time, it was my EPIRB. With no phone reception in these mountains, and UHF range down to a few hundred meters at best, no EPRIB meant the only person getting me out of here now was me. With that cheery thought, I set to work.

    You'd be surprised what you can achieve in 15 minutes when properly motivated. The first flakes of snow, in this case, provided that motivation.

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    The logs I cleared went into making this

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    Crude, but I hoped effective. Expecting the mossy wet logs to offer as much traction as....wet moss, I planned to walk it over under power, hoping that the pile of logs on the downhill side would 'channel' the front if it slipped, and stop the whole bike from sliding downhill if it fell. It worked. I got it far enough to get the front over, but without any rolling momentum, the bashplate beached and I once again had no choice but to tip the bike on its side and drag it over. But it was over. It was about 3:30pm and getting overcast, so I wasted no time getting on the bike and getting some k's under the wheels, praying that was the last tree

    I got 200m. Just around the next corner was Log 7. I have no pictures of this one, because it was almost the end of my trip. A combination of a high embankment on one side of the road and a narrow slippery verge on the other meant that the one narrow section where the log met the ground was literally next to a steep downhill drop. There was a big chewed rut in front of the log that told me men on lighter bikes had previously struggled here as well. Thinking of my previous failed attempts at mounted crossings, I got off and slowly crept the front wheel up under power, then scrambled desperately to grab something, *anything* as the front let go and slid down the wood like a railway line, and off the edge of the embankment, taking the rest of the bike with it.
    #1
  2. Jdeks

    Jdeks Accepting and supportive of everyones feelings.

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    There's no pictures of what followed, so as far as the internet is concerned, it didn't happen. But in my mind, what I remember is hauling on the rear rim, desperately trying to stop the bike going over the edge and down the bank. A fair feat - it was still mostly full of fuel and food and frilly knickers, so it probably tipped the scale at about 230kg. I somehow managed to get it to a point where it stopped sliding, back wheel still more or less at road level, at which point I sat down and realized I was literally in the same predicament I had been exactly one year ago. A too-heavy bike on roads beyond my riding ability, in a seemingly unrecoverable situation, on my own, with bad weather on the way and night not far behind. It's funny, but it has a strangely numbing effect on you. You eventually realize you've really only got two options, so there's nothing for it but to pick the one you'd prefer and get to work.

    I was lucky. Another foot and it'd be unrecoverable without aid. As it was, I was seriously wishing I had a block-and-tackle with me. But I didn't, so instead I stood uphill of the front wheel and I heaved, dragging it up on its side half a foot. Then the back. Then the front again. Exhausting work, but half an hour or so and I had it back in a position where I could get it upright. I then re appraised the situation. I knew that my (literal) downfall had been due to loitering a knobby tire on a smooth wet surface for too long. I knew that with speed and confidence, the bike could be ridden over a log that size, even when wet. But I also knew I had neither the skill no the confidence to do that. So I turned to the other side of the road, and got out my toolkit. 10 minutes later, a KTM with no mirrors or windscreen and a lot of mud on its left side stood on the other side of the log, having been walked across under the highest point between the road and the log. I left the bits off and tied them on the back seat, and hit the road.

    Logs 8 and 9 were the only two I rode across. No wheelies, no jumps, nothing spectacular. I was cold, hungry and exhausted. Hit at 90 degrees, bounce the front, weight back, a little power, weight forward as the back comes over. 20 minutes later, I stood at the Omeo end of the Birregun Road

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    I lamented the fact that the authorities had failed to put up such a sign at the Dargo end of the road, or update their online road closures list. 5:00pm rolled through as I filled up at the local servo, and I decided that continuing any further tonight was a bad idea. I'd skipped lunch, exhausted myself and wasn't game to assume the next dirt road was going to be open either. I figured I'd stay the night in Omeo and make for the Rally on Sunday. The Hilltop Hotel was my chalet for the night, and for $47 including hot breakfast, it wasn't really technically a chalet, but it was warm and good value, and the publican was very amicable. I was asleep by 8 pm, despite the drunken hunters in the bar below. Just as well too.

    Tomorrow was much worse.

    TBC...
    #2
  3. Jdeks

    Jdeks Accepting and supportive of everyones feelings.

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    Out and rolling by a lazy 10am, owing to the hotel owners closing up after breakfast, leaving me with no idea where to drop off my room key. The locals verified the Benambra-Corryong road was open, and the miles rolled by with a suspicious lack of delays. I started having hopes of an early arrival, so I put the hammer down and made for the Tooma Road, pausing only for fuel, and a shot of some katabatic wind that the meteorologist in me just couldn't pass up.

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    My run of good luck was shortlived, however. The Tooma Rd was closed, so the best available detour was the Elliot Way, was regrettably spectacular. I say regrettable, because it was one of those rare roads with scenery that invites you to stop, sit, and simply soak in the views, and corners that beg you to stay as far from stopped as your throttle and tires will allow. The corners won. So, flanked by views of the Talbingo Reservoir, I wound my way down over the Tumut River and Tumut-2 hydroelectric station, and back up the other side of the valley. I sadly took no photos, instead fixated on the road ahead and the 4WDs that occupied it, using the whole 1.5 lanes to tow their boats up from the lake. Despite a few close calls, one of which left a big aluminum graze on my right pannier, I found myself back on the Snowy Mountains highway, and shortly after 2pm spearing off into the mud that was Long Plain Road.

    My maps and GPS told me that Long Plain road ran almost due north along the western side of the Goodradigbee River, right past the rally site on the opposite bank, and then on to the bridge on the Brindabella Valley road, allowing you to cross to the eastern side and head back south a short distance to the campsite. Being a well-used road, Long Plain was a bit chewed up in a few places but otherwise actually very pleasant, winding down valleys and along ridgelines, before plunging back into tight roads that snaked through forested gullies. I would have actually enjoyed it, were it not for this inexplicable feeling I had that something was about to go wrong. Sure enough, it wasn't long before I passed a sign proclaiming that Long Plain Rd became a 'No Through Road' which entered private property, and that a 40km detour down the ominous-sounding "Broken Cart Track" was the only alternative. But this rally was being held on private property, just a few hundred meters from the road, and I vaguely remember reading something about having to pass through gates that would normally be locked. I took my chances with Long Plain and sped on. In hindsight, a bad move.

    The private property 17km later was not my destination, and the 'gate' was not from your average cattle fence, but rather something reminiscent of the tank traps one would have found atop the Maginot Line in 1936. Despite my bike's Austrian heritage, it's no panzer division, and the chewed up little path nearby which I hoped would be my Belgium turned out to be a dead end. I even tried tipping the bike over and dragging it under, to no avail. I was angrier than Kurt Knispel in 1945. I could see the smoke and hear the voices from the rally just over the river, not 300m away. With no other option and the late afternoon light fading, I turned south and went back the way I came.

    A campsite where I hoped to find a river crossing was only a few minutes back the way I came, but I had no joy there either - the recent rains had turn the riverbanks into eroded cliffs. A friendly camper broke the bad news to me: there's nothing for it but to go back the way I came, and then take the detour I'd seen earlier. I wasted no time, and now familiar with the road I pushed hard, trying to make up lost time. I actually found myself settled into an almost comfortable state of semi-anxious resignation, simply wanting to get it done as quickly as possible. And strangely enough, I rode better than I ever have before in my life. For some reason (perhaps perpective from yesterdays escapades) I no longer cared if I fell, and so I found myself riding with abandon, jumping clear over spoon-drains, sliding around wet corners and solving all my mud-related problems with peg weight, speed and liberal application of throttle. I actually began to enjoy myself, confidence begetting further confidence, and when I made it to Broken Cart Track and turned down the muddy hill, I thought maybe this afternoon would end well after all.

    It was not to be. Broken Cart track lived up to its namesake. The friendly campers remarks that it 'gets soft in a few spots' was easily the understatement of the weekend. When it wasn't a washed-out double-track lined with loose rock, it descended into alpine marshes and became a clay qaugmire of churned, criss-crossed 4WD tracks, with mud up to a foot deep in places (Yes, I measured). The bogs were often hundreds of meters long, far further than you could see with a mud-spattered headlight, and flooded with water. Almost immediately upon entering them, your front and rear wheel would each promptly choose a different rut, leaving you try and stomp on the pegs and paddle with your feet to get yourself straight before you spun and ended up on your side. It was slow going, 40kph at best, but I thoroughly surprised myself and stayed upright, steering with the footpegs and choosing good lines. Then, one corner I found myself carrying a little too much speed into a flooded pothole the width of a car, which became very deep, very suddenly. I lost sight of the front wheel under the water, but held it together until the climb out at the other end. It was there that my poor choice of line left my front stuck in a rut, and wheelspin took care of the rest. Deja-vu struck again - a year and a day had passed, and here I was again, with wet socks, a bike on its side, bad roads behind me and goodness knows what ahead. But at least I didn't have dud battery this time, right?

    *WhirrRRRrrrRRRrrRRRRnnn-klik......WhirrRRRrrrrRRRRrrrRRRnnn - klik....*

    TBC
    #3
  4. Jdeks

    Jdeks Accepting and supportive of everyones feelings.

    Joined:
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    The sound of a cranking engine echoed through the sodden valley, mingled with occasional curses and the odd muddy splash.

    How could this have be happening? I had a brand new lithium battery in, and it had only been on its side for barely a minute. The water was knee deep, had I flooded it? If so, that was game over for me, draining a 950 is a 2-person job, minimum. But it still sounded fine when it turned... I started splashing about in the water, trying to check that all hoses and pipes were connected properly. Everything felt like it was where it should be. I tried again- it cranked, and cranked, and cranked...then a pop, a cough and glorious roar! Steam billowing around me, I pushed it out of the hole under power and mounted again, anxious to get going before my now wet clothes chilled me any further. Cold, however, soon became the least of my worries. My fuel reserve light was on.

    'No....that's not true. That's impossible!' I was only 180km from my last fill, over 100km short of my usual reserve mark. I shook the bike under me, desperately hoping that in the fall I'd somehow drained the fuel into the tank without the sensor. A futile action, I soon realized - I'd dropped it on the side with the sensor down. I found a good patch of road and stopped. This was serious. My GPS showed I was a full 50km from the rally site ( a maybe for fuel resup, at best). The furthest I'd ever taken the bike on reserve was 40km. But that was being optimistic. I did some quick math in my head and realized if I kept burning fuel at the same rate, I'd only make it a little over 20 km - not even to the main road. Long Plain road and the majority of its tributaries close for winter after the Queens Birthday Sunday. This being that Sunday, if I ran out of fuel here, there would be no passers-by to pick me up, not until spring at least. With a predictable absence of phone reception, my only hope was that my throttle-happy run down the Elliot Way was real culprit for my reduced mileage, and that if I rode conservatively, I could at least eke out 30km, and camp on the side of the road, hoping to flag down the departing Rallyists the next morning. Of course, if I was wrong, and it was the 1-st gear mud-slogging that burned all my fuel....I put my goggles on and headed off into the darkness.

    Mercifully, the road improved. First, the mud became shallower and less frequent. Then the road widened, and suddenly 3rd gear became useful again. I coasted down hills, avoided braking (engine and conventional) and held as much speed around corners as I could, trying to avoid twisting that right wrist unless absolutely essential. In my tired, wet and now very cold state, with fog setting in, I don't mind saying it was pretty nerve-wracking. But after a few minutes I settled back into that same state of resigned misery, and started to take a sick pleasure out of seeking out the smoothest lines I could to save momentum. I had another epiphany there on that frozen muddy road - smooth is fast. It wasn't long before I found myself breathing a sigh of relief as I pulled onto Brindabella Valley Road, and headed east, hoping that with my speed up and my gears down I could eke out the last of my fuel and make it to a campfire of some sort.

    I did. At around quarter-past 8 with 47.9 km showing on my reserve gauge, I rolled into the Alpine Rally campsite , mud-caked, a little tired and rather hungry. Parking in what I though was a spare tent site (but was actually the main thoroughfare), I asked the nearest campers where to find the rally organizer, so I could pay my fee and go pass out somewhere quiet. They pointed at the largest campfire circle, so I wandered over and introduced myself to what turned out to be the most generous motorcyclists in history. Within 5 minutes, I had been seated, served a plate of kangaroo stew and plum pudding, and was being quizzed from left, right and center, mostly about where I'd come from, and why I looked like 'Swamp Thing'.
    "So where'd you start out??", asked the fellow with the sidecar.
    "Sale, down on the Vic Coast"
    "How long did that take you?"
    "Two days"
    "Wow, why'd it take so long?"
    "....trees."
    "What road did you take to get here?", the cheery old lady who gave me my plate of roo stew queried.
    "Long Plain Road"
    "Oh, really? I thought it was closed"
    "It is."
    "How'd you get around it then"
    "Broken cart track"
    Surprised murmurs echoed around the fire. Apparently, Broken Cart track had something of a reputation, and a few there had been under the impression it was more or less no-go for 2 wheeled vehicles. Considering myself a rather amateur rider (especially compared to my usual riding partners down in VIC), I found it unusual to be heaped with such congratulations, so I withdrew to pitch my tent.

    When I returned the conversation had shifted, and so I picked a spot next to the fire to dry out my sodden riding gear. The night was whittled away talking about all things motorbikes, and the company was as varied as it was pleasant. The exception was one drunken pony-tailed individual who in the late satges of the evening, wandered in from another fire and promptly commenced bragging about the size of his annual salary, and how the road by which he had arrived on his sports-bike was THE WORST DIRT ROAD HE HAD EVER SEEN. At one point in his diatribe, such was his passion for the topic (and his home-brew) that he inadvertently kicked my gloves into the fire. Not content with this, as I scrambled extract them and check for damage, he then proceeded to relieve himself not 6 feet from the campfire, all over the neat stack of logs we had been using at a kitchen area, narrowly missing my jacket in the process. When I pointed this out to him, he was disappointingly unapologetic, but mercifully his drink caught up with him shortly thereafter and he moved to retire for the evening. Ah well, there's one at every rally, I suppose.

    I woke the next morning well rested. But as I crawled out of my tent, my heart froze. In my exhausted stupor last night, I had failed to realize something of terrible consequence, and with a sudden jolt I found myself face to face with the biggest disaster of the trip.

    I was surrounded by BMWs.

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    Remembering the generosity of the night before (and trying to forget that my left glove now sported an extra 'air-vent'), I put my prejudices aside and indulged in some photography.

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    Breakfast passed, with the smells of bacon and porridge and horse poop. It was strangely relaxing, to sit there amidst the carnival-like atmosphere, watching the guy next to me flip a pan-sized omelet mid air as I completely failed at making pancakes on my camp stove. A few very generous souls gave me just enough fuel to get back to Tumut, and as I refilled, I looked over the warhorse for damage.

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    Aside from a few scratches and a lot of mud, I looked to be in good shape to show up all the BMW-ists on their jibes about the infamous KTM reliability. After a few cranks to wake up a cold battery (which failed more than a few bikes that morning), the twin spat fire and steam and sprung to life. I said my thanks and my farewells, exchanged a few emails and took off up the grassy hill back to the road (which claimed a few bikes as well). The ride home was mundane, by intention. Despite taking some small pleasure at blasting past other bikes on the gravel road out, I stuck to the tarmac for the trip home...well, mostly. I got a bit bored around half way. Having skipped lunch the two previous days, I was determined to find a scenic spot and indulge myself in a banquet, which I did at the top on an embankment by the road, somewhere near Tumbarumba. As I spread my Laughing cow cheese on my thoroughly squished loaf of bread, I felt like I should probably learn something from this trip. But instead, I decided to just enjoy my sandwich, and the view, and leave the learning to the comments on the ride report.

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    The end (?)
    #4
  5. choccoloco

    choccoloco Cabin Fever....

    Joined:
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    CBR, AUS
    That was an enjoyable read. A great story and with the pics to match.

    I went for a ride to the rally site on Sunday, took a detour via Mt Coree I came off twice, once in the thick mud that was once snow covered the other on an ice patch.

    Well at least now you won't be short of a few stories at your next rally, the Kato came out well too.

    :clap
    #5
  6. tehdutchie

    tehdutchie Long timer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Amsterdam or on Twitter @antal
    Great RR!!
    #6