We started out two, then three and then in the days before we
left, there were four. If we had waited, maybe there’d have been
John McKinnon mentioned the 2014 Off Centre Rally to Drysdale Station late in 2013. I needed to seriously improve my off-road skills, but hey, why not? I had eight months and a great teacher. So the training began and we rode often and in many different conditions. We talked Bob Boyes into joining us and all went well with the preparations. We’d resolved to send our riding buddy, Cesco Zovi an email when we reached Drysdale, but when his family holiday plans changed Cesco was our number four.
Cesco (F800 GS) and I (F650 twin) met John Mc (F800 GS) and Bob (R1200 GS) in Albany and we were off to our first overnight stop at Southern Cross Motel.
Chris: “Oh Bob, this is so exciting!” Bob: “Don’t go getting excited just yet”. The riding was cold with a crosswind but there were canola fields, gum trees and road trains to keep us interested.
The second day was spent riding the dirt roads to Sandstone Pub via Lake Barlee; open country, cold crisp air, loads of wildlife, some sand and the beginning of the dust. We encountered our first road train in the dirt and the dust cloud was insane. I truly prefer to ride when I can see something.
Kumarina Roadhouse was our next overnight camping stop and in getting there, we’d ridden 750km in the dirt. My ‘capability feeling’ was growing; I loved the intense concentration, being in the moment, just the stretch of track in front that mattered. My smile was wide and I started to wonder if Bob would consider it ‘time to get excited’.
After a four degree morning Marble Bar was the destination via Roy Hill and Nullagine. Wonderful scenery, amazing hills and rocky outcrops, white gums, ochre red dirt and blue cloudless sky. Great riding, I think I feel asleep getting into my sleeping bag that night.
The next morning we rode through Shay Gap up to the highway and then on to Eighty Mile beach. More awesome scenery and a ‘heart in the mouth moment’ for me, courtesy of a sandy section. It took me more than a few minutes to regroup in my helmet and I completely understood the uncharacteristic ‘bear style’ hug John Mc gave me at our next stop. What that poor man’s nerves have been through!
We made early camp at Eighty Mile Beach, resting and going over the bikes. Then onto Broome, where we stayed at Cable Beach Caravan Park. Our tiny tents in amongst the palatial caravans and Winnebagos looked comical.
We rode down to watch the sunset at Cable Beach, John Mc leading the way straight onto the beach and into the deep 4x4 ruts. Blindly following my mentor and full of confidence from my days in the dirt I found myself stuck, my sump guard on the sand. Not to worry, John Mc rode my bike out onto harder ground. It was me this time with the frayed nerves as John skilfully wove my factory lowered F650 through the rocky shore line. My fears were for my sump as he was used to riding a bike with significantly more ground clearance than mine. We enjoyed a cold beer and a great meal at Matso’s that night while we made plans for the coming days.
Cesco and I left John Mc and Bob in Broome to wait for their past OCR buddies, Pete and Jess McGrath, and took off for Derby.
I remember chuckling to myself as we started the Gibb River Road riding behind a school bus. My chuckling only lasting until the school bus turned off a kilometre down the track and we met a road train. Cesco used a total avoidance technique which worked well as a way of not being wiped out, while I sat precariously by a roadside marker.
The road into Windjana Gorge was beautiful; wildlife, yellow flowering trees, boabs, corrugations combined with grapefruit sized boondies and sand. I had the advantage of riding behind Cesco when he found a massive sand section and a little extra excitement. Nothing like your buddy's tail light swaying side to side to give you early warning of a hazard.
We camped at Windjana overnight; walking through the gorge at sunset I saw my first fresh water crocodile. We enjoyed great coffee the next morning thanks to Cesco’s Italian coffee charms and the coffee making skills of potential AVCMC members, Richard and Irene (look out for them). We were all lucky enough to encounter Richard and Irene a few times along the Gibb River Road. With coffee, cheese and bacon pancakes, damper and laughs, they made their way into my heart.
Off to Lennard Gorge that morning via a few rocky water crossings. I found there’s nothing elegant about wobbling through a water crossing, unless you stay dry. After making camp at Silent Grove, Cesco and I enjoyed a swim at Bells Gorge while waiting for the others to come in from Broome.
We spent the following day at Bells Gorge, swimming and exploring the area. John Mc lost himself in photo opportunities and while Bob and Pete initially joined us in our adventurous exploration of the gorge, they soon retreated to more civil pursuits. I love water and thought swimming in fresh cool water while being surrounded by massive rock walls was wonderful.
Dinner that night was comical as each of us ‘cooked up’ our dinner on our own tiny stoves. The ‘Best Stove’ competition was fiercely contested by all, my vote went to Bob’s ‘Whisper Quiet’ petrol stove, over John Mc’s ‘can you say that again, I can’t hear you over the sound of my petrol stove’ version. Jess’s handy right angle adaptor to use on the readily available butane cans and Cesco’s Trangia outdid my gas burner. I don’t recall Pete having a cooker, I think Jess must have been ‘looking after him’ in the cooking department.
Over the next few days we enjoyed the ride, the scenery, Galvan’s Gorge and Manning Gorge on our way to Drysdale Station. They say that’s been many, many years since anyone witnessed John Mc swimming but for the record, we were all witness to him swimming, “BMW cap” intact, at Galvan’s Gorge.
John Mc, Bob, Pete and Jess were keen to get to Drysdale early
and meet up with old friends from previous OCRs. Cesco and I
being ‘newbies’ thought doing the Manning Gorge walk was a good
idea beforehand and so it happened that the others got there
during the morning and we came in during the afternoon. The road
between Manning Gorge and Drysdale Station was variable; some
just like the highway and some not so like the highway at all.
The last section was challenging and the looks of relief and amazement as I rode into Drysdale Station confirmed that it was not just me that found it hard work. Hugs and ‘manly’ slaps on the back accompanied the cold beer celebrations.
That night we ate a wonderful meal and the OCR ‘meeting’ was held. There’s a ‘Big Sister Self Saucing Pudding’ aka “The Pudding” that’s auctioned off each year to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctors. The pudding has been on the road for 40 years apparently and is now entombed in resin and carried by the winner of the auction to the next rally in a kangaroo skin custom-made cover. Just a little quirky. Suggested destinations for the 2016 OCR were put forward and a vote taken. Looks like the next one will be at Mungeranie on the Birdsville Track east of Lake Eyre.
The stories of bikes and bodies coming back from Mitchell Falls in pieces put me off riding up there so I booked myself a two hour scenic flight over the Mitchell Plateau. The aerial perspective of the Kimberley coast being a highlight for me, easily measured by the multitude of photos I took on the camera John Mc lent me.
We made our way out of Drysdale and back onto the Gibb River
Road alongside bikes from all over the country. At Home Valley
we stopped for a delicious lunch before crossing the Pentecost
This crossing was intimidating for me as it was so long and the base was made up of loose rocks, some the size of watermelons.
I walked over it carefully picking out my route but still only managed to get three quarters of the way over before cooling off in the knee high water. I let a panicked ‘expletive’ out as I envisaged my foot jammed between bike and rock. My foot moved faster than my brain it seemed, as no harm was done other than to my pride.
On the way out to Kununurra through the Cockburn Ranges, we stopped at a massive rock cairn that I climbed to place my own small rock on top of it, all very pleased with our Gibb River experience.
We spent a day resting in Kununurra where ex-resident Bob showed us around. We found a few old bikes on display at the pub which was interesting. Both John Mc and I had problems during the trip with our bikes ‘cutting out’ when they were low on fuel. So John Mc took his bike to the bike mechanic to clean and check the fuel pump. All seemed in order but I know my bike is still prone to doing the same thing now. Avoidance is my fix; I just keep the fuel level above where it’s a problem, bit like keeping the drinks flowing for the rider.
Cesco and I had decided to ride the Duncan Road to Halls Creek rather than take the bitumen. Riding the Duncan Road down the east side of the Bungle Bungles was the highlight of the trip for me. The variety of scenery, long straights and tight turns over undulating spinifex covered hills, the quietness and an idyllic waterside camp site made the next two days very special. If you ever get the chance I’d really recommend it. If you can only do part of it, the Halls Creek end is great.
We met up with John Mc and Bob at Fitzroy Crossing. Nice camp site, cold beer and dinner only a short stroll away made for a happy girl. The next day took us back into Broome and to our little spot out the back of the Cable Beach Caravan Park. We needed to collect some wet weather gear we left with Jude, a friend of Bob’s and regroup before heading south. John Mc and Bob decided to ‘head straight home’ while Cesco and I, now in the swing of it, still reckoned we had two weeks of play-time left.
John Mc and Bob’s trip south included a couple of massive days on the bitumen but got them both home safe and sound. Cesco and I took the slower scenic option via Chichester Range, Millstream, Pannawonica, Coral Bay, Kennedy Ranges, Mount Augustus, Murchison, Jurien Bay and Dunsborough.
We travelled 8,976 km in all and had only minor problems with the bikes. Between us we had ‘cutting out’ and steering head bearing issues, a flat tyre (repaired on the side of the road), two blown headlights, a dented rim and had an escapee pannier. Pete McGrath was not so lucky having to truck his 1200 back home after doing a rear shock absorber and tyre in the last stages of the Gibb River Road. And the only other woman to attend the OCR lost her bike to fire on the way there. Now that’s a sobering thought.
I had a fantastic month away, the whole thing totally outdid my expectations. Thanks to all those that were part of our adventure. I’m excited now Bob, where are we going next?