August 03, 2006 GMT
Cracks and Gorges

After Emma had spotted a crack in the sub-frame, we were left with no choice but to limp back to Kununurra for steel surgery. The cracked pannier was a small matter in comparison. Upon closer inspection, the right hand lower sub-frame tube had cracked just below the footrest hanger, ala Claudio in the 'Long Way Round'. Fortunately the tube wasn't sheared completely, however it wouldn't remain that way for long if we were to continue along the Gibb River Road.

Upon our return to Kununurra, we headed for the local bike shop, where we were fortunate to bump into Chris, a local fabricator. After a quick look, he confirmed something could be done the following morning. I used the remainder of the day to prepare the bike - my initial intention being simply to remove the airbox, allowing sufficient access to weld the cracked frame. However, upon consulting the faithful Haynes manual: 'to remove airbox, first remove sub-frame', I was left with no choice but to remove the sub-frame completely. A little more work than I'd bargained for. Fortunately we had an understanding campsite manager whose workshop I used felt more like the parc ferme from a Dakar stage than a campsite tool shed; folks replacing broken springs on their 4WD's, changing tyres and the likes.

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By 8 o'clock the following morning Chris had not only welded the crack, but fabricated supporting braces for either side, ensuring the frame to be stronger than when it left Bavaria some 12 years ago. After a frustrating afternoon waiting for the paint to dry, I had the bike back together the following morning, complete with an oil change and a clean air filter, ready to tackle the Kimberley.

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Whilst (loosely) planning our Australian trip, the Kimberley region in the far North West corner was one which appealed a lot. Tales of the Gibb River Road, a 700km unsealed gravel road traversing the region through numerous river crossings,

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abounding with corrugations and bulldust, are legendary. So too are the spectacular gorges dotted along the way, offering cool respite after a hot and dusty day's ride. We were looking forward to getting started and to what laid ahead.

We left Kununarra at a leisurely pace and headed for Wyndam, some 100kms to the North. Our destination was Diggers Rest (second time lucky), a working station 40kms West of Wyndam, nestled beneath the dominating Cockburn Range. After pitching our tent in the garden,

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we joined owners Roderick and Alida along with staff and guests, to a tasty stew by the fire, a welcome break for chief cook Emma! The following day we entertained various guests in our tent; a hen, a dog and even the resident emu!

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However, the highlight of our visit was the sunset horseback ride. While the reins felt at home to Emma, I was struggling without a pair of handlebars and a throttle to turn!

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Always up for a challenge, we left the following morning via the Karunjie Track, a small 4WD track skirting around the North of the Cockburn Range, via vast mud flats

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and, as we found out to our dismay, a lot of sand. Not firm, tide just gone out kinda sand, but soft, riding on sugar sort of sand. Fun on a 250, not so much fun two-up on an 1100! Such conditions demanded alternative tactics, as Em was soon to realise when I instructed 'Hang on, we're going bush!'.

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Following narrow cattle tracks through the scrub provided more momentum, eventually rejoining the Gibb immediately before the Pentacost river crossing, the longest crossing along the length of the Gibb River Road.

I was somewhat apprehensive about the crossing, at a hundred or so metres wide, the scope for getting it wrong was high. Em somewhat reluctantly walked across. Reluctantly, not because she wanted to be on the bike, bucking its way over riverstones one or two feet below the surface, but because of the saltwater crocs that inhabited the river! Despite my apprehension, we made the crossing with no problems and continued on to our camp for the night, a homestead promising cold beer and hot showers. Only there was no beer, cold or otherwise.

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This lead me to spawn a breakthrough in camp cuisine, The revelation came to me whilst bush camping by the Gibb River the following evening: Powdered beer - just add water! If only...

Despite not having sufficient luggage space to carry the 'sociable brew', I would have to say that many an Aussie camper has taken pity on us and offered us a cold one (or two!), such is their warm genorosity. ( I will have to add here that these offers are usually in response to Hamish wandering over to their camp and drooling over their cans! - Em)

Continuing on down the track, we met up with three other bikers travelling in the opposite direction; 2 Germans and an Israeli, the only other bikers we would meet along the Gibb. The track had taken its toll on their tyres, necessitating a stop to repair a puncture. As is the norm whlist travelling in opposing directions, we swapped information on road conditions, corrugations being the predominant theme.

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Now, during our time in Australia, I've made it a bit of a quest to find out what causes these bike and back jarring corrugations to form. Because if it's the result of one person, I'd like ten minutes in a boxing ring with him! I've asked as many different people as I've received different answers: road foundations, grader blade height / angle, vehicle suspension, the list goes on. However, what I tend to believe is what someone told me whilst in Kununarra, 'there is no answer to what causes corrugations'. Apparently an extensive scientific study conducted recently was inconclusive. So there we go, who knows?

We continued on down the track towards Mt. Barnett Roadhouse, the only petrol stop along the 700km stretch. Despite the low fuel warning light shining brightly for quite some time, I was confident we had suffice to reach the roadhouse. However, when the 31ltr tank swallowed 30.5ltrs, it didn't leave a lot of room for error! We camped the next few nights some 7kms behinfd the roadhouse at Manning Gorge, a tranquil oasis which turned out to be one of Em's top spots. We decided to stay an extra day to chill out by the falls, soaking it all in whilst attempting Spanish lesson No.2, being somewhat behind schedule in our fluency preparations for South America.

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The following morning we stopped off for a mid-morning dip at Galvan's Gorge, its perfect plunge pool being fed by a waterfall running beneath a large boab tree, a common sight around the Kimberley.

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These fantastic stubby trunked trees bare few leaves and would appear right at home in a Tolkein epic. Together with rusty red rock formations, cobalt blue skies and crystal clear watering holes, they are how I will remember the Kimberley.

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Lennard Gorge the following day was quite different, with little vegetation and steep sided rock, it was for me more rugged and dramatic. We spent a fantastic few hours with the pool all to ourselves, before some other visitors came along, reminding us it was time to move on.

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Our all too brief journey through the Kimberley was coming to a close, however not before checking out the freshies (freshwater crocs) at Windjana Gorge.

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The gorge itself is quite amazing, originally an underwater reef and therefore full of ancient fossilzed sea life. Needless to say, Em was in her element. I just can't comprehend how long ago all of this happened, so instead just classify it all as 'millions of years', which has become a bit of a joke between us. Em will read out each piece of geological info the respective national park has to offer with great interest, to which I reply, 'Aye, millions!'.

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Although we had a fantastic time along the Gibb River Road, it was somewhat of a relief to hit the bitumen some 70kms or so East of Derby (pronounced DErby, as opposed to DArby incidentally) for the remaining stretch.

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We both felt a sense of achievement at making it through in one piece, although no big deal by Australian standards, there's not so many folks daft enough to ride it two-up on a motorbike!

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We arrived in Broome with images of fish and chips and cold beer and were not to disappointed. The tyres I'd ordered whilst in Darwin had arrived, so I replaced the Heidenaus after an impressive 14,000kms with the same again, ready to tackle the next leg of our Australian adventure, South via the Pilbara, before hooking up with the Great Central Road to Alice Springs.

(Hamish)

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(This is Hame's cheerful morning face - Em)

Posted by Hamish Oag at August 03, 2006 10:20 AM GMT
 
 

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