“I’m binned,” said Mac Attack Eggins. The spray of fluorescent-green coolant across the engine of his trusty KLR was a graphic illustration of his predicament.
That left about 2700km of stinking-hot, kangaroo-infested western Queensland and northern NSW to negotiate alone. Goody.
Longreach in western Queensland is about 700km in from the Queensland coast. It’s roughly west of Rockhampton, and while it’s not technically on the edge of the civilised world, it’s a long, long way from the nearest toll road or $50-an-hour parking station. There’s not even a Starbucks.
Taken from another perspective, Longreach is a place where anyone can park pretty much wherever they want, where it’s free to go anywhere and everywhere, and where a hot beverage still costs considerably less than a gourmet pizza (and the barista will put in the sugar if you ask).
There’s a few big tourist drawcards in the town of around 3000 people as well. The Australian Stockman’s Hall Of Fame and the Qantas Founders Outback Museums are the two biggees, but then there’s… well, there’s not much else as far as man-made attractions go. But there’s lots and lots of Australia. Big, wide, untouched swathes of desert landscape and mallee scrub, and that alone makes the ride worthwhile. Plus, I’d promised the Bridgestone folks I’d give a pair of tyres a thrashing, and a run to Longreach and back would be a fair indication of how they performed on a typical adventure ride.
A quick call to The Mac Attack found he was, as always, available and keen to ride. A few sentences agreed the rendezvous, the KLRs were prepped, and on a hot-and-sticky Australia Day long-weekend Monday we punted forth from Grafton in northern NSW, heading northwest and looking for adventure.
With the round trip expected to be something like 3500km, time being short, and both riders being mature, experienced campaigners, a high level of preparedness was to be expected. Mac had sent a Facebook message saying something about how I could navigate this time, and although I knew he was joking, at the last second I scribbled some road and track names on a slip of paper. There aren’t too many ways to get to Longreach from Grafton, so I didn’t think we’d seriously need any navigational help. We’d ridden together as far as Roma about 15 months before, and Mac had gone on from there out to Stonehenge in Queensland’s west.
That went within an ace of the route I expected we’d cover on this trip, so we were right, I figured. Mac knew the way.
We belted off the first hour or so up over the Gibraltar Range and I snickered to myself as we turned onto Bald Nob Road.
‘Bald Nob’ Road!
We made our unhurried way along through the cool morning to arrive at the New England Highway and crossed onto a small backroad called Severn River Road.
All this was faithfully following the list of road names on my scrap of paper, now tucked into the clear, timecard pocket on the sleeve of my jacket.
Mac seemed to be hanging back a little, and I sensed he was actually serious about the whole concept of navigation being up to me.
‘Whatever,’ I thought. ‘I’ve got this.’ We kept the throttles pinned – in a safe and legal way – until we arrived at the next landmark on my list: Rangers Valley Road.
The thing about the junction of Rangers Valley Road and Severn River Road is it’s a T-junction… one of those T-junctions where a decision had to be made about which direction to turn.
My extremely comprehensive list of scribbled road and place names was a well-prepared document of which, showing true respect for Australia Day, Captain Cook himself could’ve been truly proud.
Except, while there were plenty of place and road names, there were no directions… nothing like: ‘TL onto Rangers Valley Road’, or ‘Follow signs to Emmaville’.
Some little time passed at the T-junction, Mac kind of humming to himself and looking around at the scenery as I wondered how long he’d keep up the charade.
Finally, he pointed to a sign indicating Inverell was in the distance.
“I’m pretty sure we don’t want to go to Inverell,” he offered.
I agreed, and, happy and confident, we blasted off in the opposite direction. Not for very long, though. After a kilometre, or maybe two, we were clearly in the middle of nowhere and heading for its outer extremities.
It was time for some quick thinking. “No way!” I shouted, pointing off into the distance. “A KLR with some kind big-bore kit!”
I was hoping Mac would be distracted while I quickly asked the phone where the hell we were and where we should be going.
It was toward Inverell we should’ve gone of course, but the road – faithfully following my list – forked and took us to places called Ashford, Wallangra and Yetman.
With our direction taken care of thanks to Google Maps, we hit a couple of sections of dirt where the dust flew thick and heavy. As I scooted along through the hot, parched morning I felt the first twinges of discomfort from the heat. The image in the mirrors made me chuckle. At least I wasn’t in the massive dust cloud my own bike was throwing up and which sat unmoving in the still, heated air.
Oh yes. Navigation was up to me, huh? I didn’t spend a great deal of time wondering how shithouse it must’ve been back there in the dust. Maybe just enough time to raise a smile or two.
From Yetman it was a long highway run through Boggabilla and in to Goondiwindi for lunch. We were looking forward to Goondiwindi because on our last ride together we’d stopped at the bakery and been rapt at the quality of the food and coffee. As we blatted down the deserted main street we were brought face-to-face with the reality of being away from the coast. It was a public holiday and the bloody bakery was closed.
Spewin’, or what!
With the steel and determination which define truly tough adventure riders, we crossed the street to the fish-and-chip shop and made do.
A quick survey of possible accomm-odation at Mitchell showed our options were limited… limited to swagging it.
No problem for a duo of intrepid KLRers. A slighty wider loop had us in Roma a couple of hundred kilometres later, and snacking down at a well-remembered fast-food place across from the motel we’d stayed at last time through. Cricket was on the TV at the moey, the pool and airconditioning made the heat bearable, and all was good. We were 90km further away from Longreach than we wanted to be, but 90km? To a couple of firm-buttocked adventure riders?
C’mon. That’s nothing
The weeping radiator which opened the story greeted us the next morning, so while Mac retired to the motel’s ariconditioning awaiting his family with a trailer – he had a very tough day according to the texts he sent. The pool water got a little warm, apparently – I fired up my own KLR and headed west, picking up the 90km to Mitchell and running on to Morven. From Morven the track went north through historic towns Augathella, Blackall, and Barcaldine before finally, after a run along the Capricorn Highway, Longreach appeared in all its soaking-wet glory.
Desert, my arse.
It’d been raining like crazy for a few days, and compared to the coast I’d left behind, the place was moist. Twice I had to grab the bike as the stand sunk into the wet ground.
Arrival was in the early afternoon, and the first two things to lurch into view on the approach to town were the Qantas museum and the Stockman’s Hall Of Fame.
‘Awesome,’ I thought as I propped the Kawasaki and prepared to go full-on rubberneck.
Except, it’s not as overwhelmingly interesting when you’re on your own and you’re not sure if your mate is okay, back there with the warm swimming pool and the cricket finished.
There were a few planes and some interesting stuff at the Qantas place, and lots of whips and leather at the Stockman’s Hall Of Fame – they use them for chasing cows. Who’d’ve thought? – but the time passed quickly. After a very pleasant look around, the bike and I were snugged down in a motel well before sunset.
At first light the following morning I pushed the fully loaded KLR out of the motel parking lot so the disgustingly loud exhaust wouldn’t shatter any windows, then headed back through the colourful towns and wide, open spaces which I’d covered on the way out. I was able to cut from Mitchell straight down to St George instead of looping around through Roma, and although it was tarmac, it was as rough as guts and the kangaroos on the road were as thick as fleas on a dog. They were everywhere. The poor things looked very scrawny and underfed, but I still didn’t want to hit one.
The overnighter on the way back was Goondiwindi, and of course, from there back to the NSW mid-north coast was a familiar, sunshiny pleasure, including a stop to catch up with a mate in Inverell. So all up, although it wasn’t truly a solo mission and nor was it the ride with a good mate I’d been looking forward to, it was still a solid few days on a great bike with no view of my desk or computer.
I’ll take that any time I can get it.