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We didn't 'Planet'! One camper van. Two blokes. Four weeks. What could go wrong?

Folly

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 12 April 2007 | Views [2441] | Comments [5]

If ever there was a time when I was in way over my depth, then this was it. Among the two thousand plus entrants, there was several million dollars worth of the latest equipment. I, on the other hand, had a borrowed shirt and jeans, a pair of hiking boots and camel pack that contained bacteria not yet known to modern science.

A few months ago I happened to be in Vietnam, and found myself on the adventure of a lifetime riding an old Russian motorcycle through the northern mountains. Considering my motorbike experience extends to stealing my mothers scooter when she was away (I was only about fourteen), and that Vietnamese roads are about as safe as Baghdad, it was a foolish venture in the extreme. However, not only did I survive, it became one of the greatest experiences of my life. What’s more, I was now a biker and there was nothing I couldn’t handle – or so I thought.

This is how I came to agree to ride in a two day 120km trail bike ride in Queensland. Matt and his two brothers are devoted riders and always attend the annual event. It is a huge sport in Australia, and I figured in would provide something different to write about.

During the preceding days, the boys begged, borrowed and stole to gather the necessary equipment, namely a bike and a helmet. I opted for a little practise, and out of the three bikes available to me, Matt’s seemed the least scary looking – and my feet could just touch the ground. Apart from the fact it has two wheels, there wasn’t much in comparison with the old Russian Minsk. Just like a horse that wants to go, this bike I felt could take off with or without me at any moment. I suggested to Matt that I would be happy to just record the event and hang around camp consuming beer, but he was having none of that, he would find a bike to suit me.

It came in the form of a DT175, and though it is a bit of a girls bike, it was indeed perfect for a complete amateur like me. With Chris’s jeans, Matt’s shirt and someone else’s helmet, I was ready.

In a convoy of two utes and the TAB Ambassador van, we made the 100km trip to Killarney, a small country town on the edge of the Great Dividing Range. At the venue, the scale of this event, and the absolute folly of me taking part in it became glaringly obvious. I was about as excited as a patient in Doctor Shipman’s waiting room.

With a well practised routine, the four bikes were unloaded and the camp was set up. Bottles of “V” were consumed as if our lives depended on it, and for all I know it might, camel packs filled and brightly coloured protective clothing was put on. Or in my case, a pair of ripped jeans, an old work shirt and hiking boots. We had arrived a little later than the majority, and in my favour we would be starting the loop after the really fanatical guys had taken off. All that remained was to register and part with seventy bucks.

On the way, I should admit a little part of me was hoping the office might be closed, or maybe they had reached a number limit and there was only room for three more. In my helmet, already quite a sweaty environment, I practised at looking thoroughly disappointed. None of this came to fruition, so I filled out the disclaimer form and paid up. I was issued with a sticker, number 2189, which is used to identify my mangled carcass when they fly me out in a box.

Chris rode most of the 2km tarmac to the start on his back wheel. Meanwhile, I was feeling comfortable and confident; this little tarmac rode seems easier than anything I did in Vietnam, at this rate I’ll be home in time for tea. My, I even considered changing up to second gear. At the start, the marshals admired my DT and waved me through a gap in the gate scarcely wide enough to fit a skateboard. This would not be a good point to fall off, less than one metre into a 60km loop. We were on the trail, and as agreed Chris and Daniel sped off to have their fun, while Matt hung back to pick up the various parts of my body.

I followed the narrow track through rolling grassland, steadily gathering pace with confidence, until a mob of riders overtook me on both sides at breakneck speed, kicking dust and grit in my face. One stone hit me so hard in the chest; I actually thought I had been shot. I wobbled along, like a pensioner on a buggy being harassed by a gang of hoons in their fast cars. Further on, I settled a bit more and had yet to find anything that was more testing than the Vietnamese jungle, but the crucial difference was that I was supposed to be going quickly. This ride is not only about getting from A to B; it is about doing it as quickly and stylishly as possible.

The hills became steeper, and I had to quickly master the technique for going downhill, a kind of controlled slide using the rear brake. The last time I felt like this, I was on a horse following the Foxhounds for the first time; there is no opt out, unless I want to squander what little street-cred I have. Personally, I quite like it this way. I prefer things to move at a pace that does not allow you to think too much; otherwise I simply might not do them.

The afternoon wore on, and by now I had tackled slopes that I would have never thought possible on two wheels, and certainly would not have ridden up if it wasn’t for the fact that I had no choice. On one tough undulating section in dense bush, I discovered that my DT had something the bigger bikes lacked – the ability to climb almost anything due to its light weight. Engine size is not everything, and though I no doubt looked quite ridiculous, I could get it anywhere they could go. The first and possibly most important part of my body to suffer was the testicles, left and right, when I descended a short slope almost vertical in nature. As I landed on the gas tank, I am quite sure the squeal was heard in Brisbane. I powered up the exit slope, and then had to take a substantial break until the dizziness subsided. For a while at least, there is no danger of a mini-me roaming the planet.

About a quarter the way in, my visibility almost lost in a cloud of dust, I hit a slippery fallen tree running at an angle. At the time I was climbing a steep incline, so when I fell off it was not exactly a high speed crash. However, the bike hit the dirt hard, snapping the clutch leaver clean off. A helpful marshal taped it up for me, but I essentially had to learn to ride without using the clutch – just what an amateur biker does not need on his first trail bike ride.

In reasonable time, certainly not the first but by no means last, I triumphantly cruised down the paddock and back into camp. I had completed the first loop, and I was ready for a cool beer. The Saturday night camping at the event is as much a feature as the riding itself, and all around folk were scrubbing up, fixing broken bikes or limbs and cracking open beers. Our little camp got busy swapping stories, and all agreed the DT had done a fine job. I was the only one that day to suffer any damage, both me and bike, but nothing that could not be fixed; Daniel got busy fitting a replacement (clutch lever that is, not testicles).

The annual event is organised by Killarney State School P&C, to raise funds for the school. Their costs are very low, and from my calculations they could probably build a new one every year, send the kids on holiday and still have some change. But what a great idea! The local farmers allow use of their land, parents volunteer and everybody benefits from a fun weekend.

At night, most folk gather around the bar area to watch the day’s events on a big screen. Quite unknown to me, a professional camera crew had been on the prowl. I withdrew into the shadows, fearing that the DT & me might suddenly fill the screen. Thankfully, they had concentrated their mischievous efforts on an extra feature of the route – the hill climb. This is a ridiculously steep hill that few people actually managed to complete, but it is the trying that counts, and also makes for some great relaxed viewing and a good few laughs too. It is only now that I realised that I had actually driven straight past it – concentrating so hard on what I was doing. At the time, I had assumed the gathered crowd was waiting to see me and the DT.

Next day continued in a similar vain, on a new loop, but I was definitely getting faster. The course was much more technical, and some of the slopes up and down were so steep I would struggle to walk them. I was actually beginning to enjoy myself. I was still a long way off keeping up with the pro boys, but nonetheless I was getting around and tackling everything in my path.

The course, both Saturday and Sunday, had so far been a really good mixture of country. Open rolling grassland, creek crossings, rock strewn tracks, bush and forestry, fast sections and steep uphill or down hill. Half way through a particularly tiring rocky section (hard on the arms and legs), we ran into Daniel. This was unusual because he was normally and hour or so ahead. Dismounting the bikes, we soon saw the reason – Chris lay on the ground with his foot bandaged up. I knew yesterday had been too good to be true. He had hit his foot hard on a passing rock, and knowing Chris he would not have been going anything like slow. The gathered marshals were very professional, taking good care of the patient but cracking plenty of jokes with it. They inquired into the state of his swollen hand, Chris replying that he had broken it three days ago. “Did you go to the hospital”? He smirked, “nah, they would have put a cast on it and I wouldn’t have been able to ride ay”. Cue looks of disbelief.

Luckily, we were near a clearing that enabled a 4WD ambulance to get close. Unusually for Chris, he was in a lot of pain, and the paramedic had to administer some dope. The bad news is that while the injury is not too serious, the ambulance man did not want to take him out in the truck. It was an hour long drive over very rough ground, and so negotiations were made over the radio to medivac by helicopter. This is quite a tough decision, as the whirlybirds don’t come cheap. According to the officials, today had been busy with injuries, and the chopper had been working flat out. I did want to hang around to get some great footage of the airlift for the movie – but Chris was in good hands and we had to finish the ride, or we would be sleeping out here. Every cloud has a silver lining; Chris was thrilled to get his first helicopter ride, and I could now use his gloves.

The final ten kilometres were tough in every respect. A couple of hills that I could barely ascend were very unwelcome as by now every single muscle in my body ached. I would never have believed that trail bike riding could be so physically demanding. In the helmet, my head sweated so much it trickled down into my eyes, obscuring my vision. It is hard on the back and legs, but the arms and shoulders really get a workout – by the time we had packed up camp and hit the road, I had stiffened up so much it was difficult to drive the van.

Once we had claimed Chris’s bike from the compound, it was time to head home. Daniel went straight to Toowoomba hospital, to where he had been flown, while Matt and I took the gear home and unloaded. It had been a long, but ultimately exciting and fun weekend. Personally I am not really a petrol head or racer of any kind, and I did initially feel out of place. With my lack of skills and equipment, I expected to be the butt of all jokes all weekend. Nothing could be further from the truth – everyone at the event was there to enjoy the challenge and the company of likeminded people. It was not about competition, and everybody I came into contact with showed that genuine Aussie attitude: “Good on ya mate, fair go”.

It is all about giving it a go, mate.

I want to express my thanks here and now to Matt, Daniel and Chris for obtaining the bike and equipment, the advice and encouragement. To Matt, so stubborn, despite me telling him to go on ahead, stuck with me throughout the weekend in case I tried to kill myself.

Back at home, Chris is now laid up with a cast on his foot. The damage is not serious or permanent, and he has now reverted to his usual annoying self. If he issues any more orders from his sofa, I may well break the other foot for him.

Tags: ambassador van, misadventures

Comments

1

still crying with laughter, very funny rendition of the events! what an awsome experience, your whole trip has been in the VAN!

  whanau Apr 13, 2007 8:39 AM

2

i expect to see some video of you leading the pack at next year's Dakar Rally!

  crustyadventures Apr 13, 2007 1:20 PM

3

Haha... thanks guys! The thing is, so much more actually happened, but I just couldn't record it. Each time I wanted to use my camera I had to stop, find somewhere to prop up the bike, take of helmet/goggles, take off bag, take pic, then reverse. Thus, with me being slower than the rest, I had to keep moving otherwise they would have been sending out a search party. Shame - could have made a heaps better movie.

I'd love to do the Paris Dakar - do you reckon TAB will give us a van?

See you Monday! (I have the phone etc - can you call? I imagine you'll be wanting it morning time to pass on to the new gang)!

  wanderyears Apr 14, 2007 8:34 PM

4

Hey Timo! Did you really do that thing? The movie was great - the blog even better! Really got me giggling.

Did you get my message on your wanderyears message board? I'm over in NZ soon, would be cool to meet up. Email me!

Cheers
J

  Jess Apr 16, 2007 5:12 PM

5

Well done dick! When you're back over in blighty i will register you down to do an enduro with me!!

  Martin May 10, 2007 6:04 AM

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