Tom Foster and riding mate The Mac Attack often team up on their KLR 650 adventure bikes to head for remote corners of Australia.
It was time for another well-planned, well-executed KLR adventure… sort of. It was no worse-planned and executed than the last one, anyway.
“Let’s go to Menindee Lakes,” I blurted happily down the phone. “I busted my leg on the way out there in 2009 and never made it.”
“Okay,” said The Mac Attack in his usual happy-to-ride-anywhere-anytime way. “You’re the tour director again.”
The die was cast. Menindee-busted-leg-Lakes was to be the destination… until the Bureau Of Meteorology forecast a bit of a storm and the media went crazy with headlines claiming the world would probably end. As it turned out, the predicted Armageddon amounted to a bit of rain in western NSW and some of the roads I wanted to use were closed.
Not to be put off, a new destination was chosen – Texas in southern Queensland – a new route was planned – more or less– and on a chilly, sunny, winter morning The Mac Attack and I admired the view over the Mann River at Jackadgery in the Clarence region of NSW. As we adjusted multiple layers of apparel in an effort to bend our otherwise supple and muscular bodies into the shape needed to sit on the bikes Mac reminded me of my navigational responsibilities.
“You are the tour director,” he muffled through his balaclava, unnecessarily it seemed to me. Our last ride out to Longreach 40 had worked out okay in the end. There may have been a little uncertainty here and there, but surely that only added to the adventure? And in any case, after his radiator split I’d been alone for a substantial part of the ride and hadn’t got lost. I thought he was being a little touchy over a few missed turns, incorrect road names, wrong directions and a stretch or two of really shitty road.
After the ridicule of my navigation attempts last time I went all out and the result was a purple line on the GPS, which took us along one of my favourite NSW routes, Carnham Road.
It’s actually Cangai Road as it leaves Jackadgery and it changes its name a couple of times before ‘Carnham’ appears on the map, but it’s essentially the same dirt road the whole way. The route wanders through some incredible scenery following the Mann River and gives huge views of valleys and ridges as it swoops and winds through the gently rolling landscape. There’s a couple of bridges built very low over the river, and that often means the route’s closed during heavy rain, but on this occasion the majesty of the terrain was as good as it had ever been. The low temperature wasn’t too brutal – especially for a couple of tough ol’ leathernecks like Mac and
I dressed in six or seven layers of every shred of clothing we could squeeze into– and regular stops ensured we made the most of one of those days which fill adventure riders’ daydreams.
Stopped For A Leak
About 100km along the dirt loop we pulled up on one of the low bridges to grab a couple of pics. The sunshine beat down and warmed our shoulders as we watched the clear riverwater tumbling over the rocks and reeds not so very far below our feet. I looked over at the bikes, pointed, and said to Mac, “What’s that?”
A fluorescent green splash under his KLR was something we’d both seen before.
As my high spirits plummeted Mac squinted, looked closely and said, “Looks like it’s split the radiator again.”
Just like that.
No swearing. No threatening to push the bike off the bridge into the river, and no stomping around screaming at the unfair world.
I think I did some of those things, but Mac unfolded the route sheet I’d thoughtfully provided, scoped out the situation, filled the radiator from his water bottle and in an unhurried manner rode off into the distance.
It actually looked like he thought it was all a bit amusing.
At a roadside rest stop on Clarence Way Mac called his family and organised a recovery. The bike was running fine and hadn’t overheated, so the new plan was for me to continue on to Texas while Mac trailered his bike home – thanks to his family, who seemed to find the whole thing funny – fitted the spare radiator he had in his shed, then bolted out to Texas the next morning to resume the sightseeing.
My role was to push on to Texas, check in to the motel, which was already paid for, then await a text advising the radiator transplant had been successful. If that was the way things went I was to scoot back along the highway to Tenterfield the next morning to meet Mac and we’d head to Texas via the Glenlyon Dam, one of the tourist sights on our list.
’S NO JOKE
The temperature in Tenterfield when I arrived was savage.
I don’t know what the actual number was and my teeth were frozen together as I paid for fuel so I couldn’t ask. I stumbled into the first café I could find and ordered a litre of boiling-hot coffee and a toastie.
“Which way you goin’?” asked a cheerful bloke.
“T-T-T-Texas,” I tried to reply.
“Ah. That’s good,” said the bloke, who looked remarkably warm and comfortable sitting beside the slow-combustion stove, “because it’s snowing just to the south and it’ll be here soon. If you were planning on going that way I’d recommend you stay in town for the night.”
A look out the window showed a dark line across the sky which was clearly approaching. I trembled across to the counter, swallowed as much coffee as I could without sustaining third-degree burns to the oesophagus, stuffed the chicken-and-tomato toastie into a pocket and headed back into the unwelcoming, harsh world of the adventure rider.
Fortunately Tenterfield was at a higher altitude than Texas, and as the Touratech KLR effortlessly chugged along the Bruxner Highway, gobbling the distance, things became a little warmer. The cold front couldn’t keep pace with the bike, and swooping along the winding hilly sections became enjoyable.
Mingoola came and went.
It wasn’t as if anyone would notice a place as small as Mingoola, but in my capacity as tour director I’d marked it as the turn to get to the Glenlyon Dam lookout. However, although the temperature had eased to the point where the wedding tackle could almost reach past the zipper, it was still low enough that I wasn’t going to mess about looking at dams.
I thumped on, keeping within the speed limit, through Bonshaw and, finally, into Texas itself.
The NSW/Queensland border is never very far north of the Bruxner Highway once a rider leaves Tenterfield, and the crossing at Texas was in fact right next to the ‘Welcome To Texas’ sign. The motel, with its promise of a hot shower, reverse-cycle heating and electric blankets, was no more than about 1500m away, but I patiently dug out my border pass and licence and handed them over to a friendly Queensland rozzer who noted the details and sent me on through.
Once in the Sunshine State I checked in to the room, wrapped up warm and waited for the SMS which arrived shortly after.
The radiator was fitted and good to go.
After most of the frost had melted and the heavy fog burned off the next morning I decided to go for a quick look at the dam. A glance at the map showed it was about 130km via the Texas-Stanthorpe road around to the southern part of the waterway, which had the wall and viewing platform, but the northern edge didn’t seem too far along.
Off I thundered into the still chilly morning, past a sign just near the edge of town, which said the dam was only 4km further on.
On I rode. And on. And still further on.
Eventually I gave up and returned to Texas, only to have a grinning local in the coffee shop slap his thigh and guffaw at how many people had been caught by the altered sign. It seems it did say ‘40km’ until someone with a sense of humour got to it.
Short of time, I hit the highway and headed for Tenterfield to find the crossing back into NSW felt a bit of a snub.
Apparently anyone can go south. No-one cares what germs may be incubating in Queensland mucous membranes waiting to pounce on the friendly and carefree respiratory systems of hospitable New South Welshmen. The police and ADF staffing the border post didn’t even leave their chairs as the KLR puttered on through, and the ride back to Tenterfield was pleasant, right up until the KLR coughed, chugged and died.
I muttered unsavoury words through gritted teeth as I threw off gloves and helmet in preparation for some mechanical work.
I don’t know why, but I touched the starter button, just in case. To my surprise, the motor roared into life, the horrendously loud FMF muffler stunning nearby cattle and causing the grass within a 6m radius to wither and turn brown.
I pulled on helmet and gloves and set off again with no idea what had happened, but glad to be moving.
Mac was waiting at the bakery as promised. We drained the KLR float bowl thinking it was probably a contaminant in the fuel, devoured some snack treats and drinks and headed for Texas with everything back on track.
By the time the Bruxner Highway was once again under the wheels of the KLRs it was close to midday. The sun was shining and the temperature rose noticeably as we descended from Tenterfield.
At Mingoola we peeled off at the appropriate turn and headed for the dam, only to find the road closed. There was no reason displayed for the closure, but odds-on it was an unmanned border crossing. Concrete barriers blocked the road but were largely ineffective.
For starters the bridge that marked the crossing was over a dry riverbed, and the wheel ruts where people had been ignoring the barriers and driving across the riverbed were obvious. On top of that, someone had nudged one of the concrete barriers to one side and there was easily room for cars and small trucks to drive through.
KLR riders don’t embrace that kind of wild lawlessness, though. Hell, no. Apart from anything else we thought there might’ve been cameras hidden in the trees, so we turned tail and resumed our Texas-bound drone along the Bruxner.
After 100km or so of faultless running my KLR died and restarted a couple of times before finally calling it a day about 35km from Texas.
I gazed wistfully at Mac’s bike, hoping his radiator had split again so I wouldn’t feel so bad about everything, but it wasn’t to be. His KLR was running like a well-maintained example of high-performance machinery – much like Mac himself. “We’ll have to tow it in,” he said, his enjoyment in the whole situation clearly visible.
At least I had a tow strap.
As I ferreted through panniers and backpack for the missing lifeline – which was safe and sound in the shed at home, as it turned out – Mac produced some manky nylon rope, which was knotted together to form a suitable length and attached it to the left handlebar.
The first takeoff didn’t go well and after dusting myself off and getting the bike back on its wheels we tried a few different variations before settling on a stick tied to the end of the rope so I could hold onto it – a bit like a waterski set-up.
This innovation got us to the border post where I threw the stick high and wide so it wouldn’t tangle in Mac’s rear wheel as I rolled to a stop.
“What the hell was that?” asked the Queensland police officer, peering at the stick and coil of rope on the road.
“Tow rope,” said Mac, not even trying for any deception.
The officer levelled a steely gaze at us, thought for a second, then checked our passes and sent us through.
With the law looking studiously the other way we took up the tow again for the short run to the motel.
There’s a big median strip that runs up the main street of Texas – such as it is – and it meant we’d have to tow the full length of town, do a U-turn, and return to the start to make the motel driveway. With my arm feeling as if it was about to be wrenched clean out the socket I decided it would be clever to roll down one of the short pedestrian stairways. I chucked the tow and, with a loud clunk, dropped the bashplate of the KLR on to the top step… where it jammed. After much grunting and heaving – while Mac grabbed a couple of pics, rolled up the tow rope and had a look in a couple of shop windows – my ride partner wandered over and helped heave the whole thing forward and down.
But my total humiliation wasn’t over. Outside the motel room I thanked Mac for his patience and assistance and pointed out my own bike was ‘dead as a doornail’. By way of demonstration
I hit the starter. Of course the engine fired up immediately and settled into a gentle, happy idle.I was so happy (not).
Mac’s amusement at the situation increased as I rode laps around the motel on a bike that was going like a cut snake, muttering and cursing under my breath and trying to stop my stretched right arm from dragging on the ground.
The bike was running, but could it be trusted for the 400km or so of the straight run home?
Neither of us thought so.
Some possibilities were discussed.
I had to return to southern Queensland the following week. My thought was to leave the bike at the motel and come back with a trailer. We could go two-up on Mac’s radiator-splitter KLR.
We both looked at each other and imagined how frigging uncomfortable that would be.
The Touratech KLR is covered by NRMA Premium, and there was every likelihood I could use that service to get myself and the bike home… eventually. As Mac pointed out, we were in Queensland. Who knew what complications that may cause for a NSW-based outfit?
Mac put forward the idea we could remove tank and plastics and pull the carby apart, but I wasn’t overly keen. I thought the problem was electrical. We’d drained the carby float bowl a dozen times and run plenty of fuel through it, and the problem was still there.
After some discussion, Mac, with a glint of anticipation in his eye, phoned his family again and suggested another recovery was in order. The clearly audible gales of laughter from the phone showed his nearest-and-dearest enjoyed the scenario as much as he did, and when he explained he wasn’t the one with a problem, the hilarity seemed to increase.
But they’re a champion mob. Without any hesitation the Macs – wife Kerrie and son Alex – downloaded their Queensland border passes, hooked up the trailer again, loaded the vehicle with snack treats and headed for Texas.
Not So Bad
And that’s how it happened.
I sat in the opulence of a new HiLux, occasionally looking over my shoulder to check on the bike in the trailer. Sometimes, as I reached into the esky for a muesli bar, musk lolly or other toothsome titbit, I could see Mac shivering behind in the cold and wind and I thought, ‘What a top bloke’. He certainly had the full measure of adventure from our time away, especially when the jockey wheel fell off the trailer and went cartwheeling down the road like a 60cm ninja star, missing him by millimetres. It was probably very dramatic, but the passengers in the HiLux were busy discussing the ins and outs of the latest TV reality show and didn’t know anything about it until Mac rode up alongside waving the jockey wheel around and making rude gestures.
As the sun set and the temperature plummeted the heated seat on the HiLux was a heavenly luxury. The sunset was gorgeous as we rolled off the Gibraltar Range and I wondered if Mac, back there in the darkness, was enjoying it as much as we were.
‘Probably,’ I thought, nudging the heater up a notch or two.
It’s not easy to explain, but it was still a fantastic few days and a great ride. Virtually nothing went to plan, but the ride unexpectedly involved some great people, and while it’s frustrating to have a problem cause a DNF, for once it didn’t mean ambulance rides, pain and huge expense. It was that one-in-a-million chance where the unexpected things which make a ride an adventure all ended up with everyone smiling and having a good time.
After all the occasions where it’s gone the other way, I was happy to take this one with a smile.
As cold, dark and uncomfortable as the ride back must’ve been, Mac must’ve enjoyed it too, because he’s already nominated the next destination: Pooncarrie, NSW.
The only bummer from the whole trip was finding the toastie still in my pocket several days later.