- Distance: 550km including a 60km detour
- Dep: 9am
- Arr: 4pm
- Temp: 16°C to 30°C
This morning had a sense of calm to it despite having only 5 hours of sleep. I stayed up a bit later than usual with the plan to sleep in, though I should know by now that my circadian rhythm has now reinvented itself to be a morning person. These are words I never thought would come out of my mouth. I guess passions give people a reason to wake up, and this was a prime example.
The sun came up while the first drops of caffeine hit my bloodstream. The plan was to stroll through the 490km to Albany and enjoy the scenery, slow and relaxed. What a short distance compared to the Nullarbor. "The hard part is over", says half my brain.
Thanks to what we now know as Murphy's Law, some higher force decided it was not yet time for me to rest. "Joke's on you!" it says.
Come to think of it, I did notice a sign saying there would be a detour going to Albany, and someone told me about it in passing yesterday, but I could not even begin the picture the actual process of a detour under any circumstances.
A detour in Melbourne means 15 minutes of inconvenience through some side streets. The ones where there's always a random cat on the footpath staring you down, and an elderly civilian planting herbs. Those are the detours I was familiar with.
The Brown Pants Detour.
It all started with a closed road and a couple of yellow traffic signs pointing to a wide dirt road. This meant going from clean, beautiful asphalt to some pebbly red road suitable for farm vehicles. No worries. I made the next 10km detour on packed dirt with no dramas, and happily continued on my way to the next fuel stop. Whoo hoo, asphalt again!
At the next petrol station, a caravan couple stopped to ask how I did in the last leg. I said it was fine, just a bit exhausting trying to keep my awkwardly heavy load balanced on my smooth sport tyres. The man said that there would be more of it, because they just came from the direction I was going. With that in mind, I went 10km into the next leg to find another detour. For some reason, the detour pointed opposite to the direction of Albany (my destination) so I pulled a U-turn and started following a Dutch couple in a 4WD. They were going in the general direction of Albany and didn't trust the detour signs. So began a saga I would never forget.
This detour was about double the length of the suggested detour, though it would end up closer to the final destination. Measuring it later, it turned out to be 60km. Now, this doesn't seem like very long at all considering I had come from Melbourne. But these 60km would end up being the most frightening experience of my motorcycle life.
The tiny little white sign "4WD ONLY" should have warned me - but there was no point in my life where I had ever gone on a 4WD track, nor have I ever been inside a 4WD vehicle period. Having driven ATVs before, I had an inkling of what might come and promptly chose to ignore it.
The further I went with this bastardised version of an adventure bike, the closer I got to my soul leaving my body. I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination - but I felt like the voice of God was telling me "turn back, turn back" - a message I also promptly ignored because it started misting down with a bit of rain and I was determined to get to Albany.
The dried mud was hardened into ruts that criss-crossed over and over again, and the whole track that was covered in golf ball sized rocks and coarse sand - the worst possible ingredients for a sport bike wearing track tyres.
Sheba's shoes were meant for a smooth circuit, not off-roading experiences. The first 5km was fine, but shit got real... fast. The stones got bigger and the dirt got looser. I didn't stop - I could not stop. If I stopped, I surely would have tossed myself off and Sheba would have ended up in one of the ditches.
The Brown Pants Middle.
Before I knew it, I was going through floodways and hard ridges while Sheba became a bucking bronco. The backend so badly wanted to kick me off for putting her through this. I have never seen my front forks compress and decompress so rapidly because I was hitting all of these ditches at a right angle.
The handlebars tankslapped hard for up to 15-20 seconds at a time, repeatedly, and each time causing my life to flash before my eyes. I let out numerous high pitched screams inside my helmet but tried to keep cool. My shoulders and pecs were burning with lactic acid trying to hold on. I didn't even recognise my own voice. This was definitely about to be one of the bravest moments to date. All the while, my GPS data was telling my followers that I am definitely going off the highway in an absurd direction, with no mobile reception.
The misty rain was now proper rain, along with dust caused by the Dutch 4WD travellers ahead. Visibility was close to none, and the hard rutty road was slowly transforming into a slippery, muddy rutty road - still covered in jagged rocks the size of muffins.
How I got through it
When I lived in Canada, I'd often ride my motorbike through snow to get to uni. Gravel seemed as unpredictable as snow, and while you can't fuck with nature, you can use physics to your advantage. As long as a two wheeled vehicle has momentum, it wants to stay upright. I held the throttle down and never let go. People think slow and careful is better. It's not. The moment I let go would be the moment I write off the bike... and myself. And there'd be no possible way to get this load back upright - the bike alone was 180kg, and the gear on top would have made it impossible. I was also in a remote location so I wouldn't have been able to ask for help.
When I was a paddler, I learned that when you're on water (an unstable surface), your legs should be together. It sounds counter-intuitive, but less shift in weight makes for better balance. While some people would have their feet out in case they topple, I kept my ankles against my rear sets and my knees locked to the tank. I death gripped Sheba's curves with my thighs like I was crushing a watermelon.
I didn't notice it at the time, but I had gripped the bike so hard that it left the stitching of my kevlar jeans imprinted on my inner thigh afterward. That, and I prayed to a higher power to let me live.
The body is more stable when the diaphragm is engaged from the internal air pressure. In order to brace against a 180kg machine moving at 100kph carrying 40kg of weight, I had to use my 60kg to the fullest. If I tried to muscle Sheba around, she would win. Metal always wins against muscle.
Winning biomechanically means bracing my butt against the seat and pushing the handlebars forward with a tight core, using bones and core instead of arm muscles. Throttle and push forward. If I put pressure over the forks or tried to use biceps to pull, the handlebars would continue to whip. By pushing forward, I was keeping the front tyre straight so not to high side against a mud ridge. By the way, "relax the arms and let the back wheel straighten the front wheel out" idea DOES NOT work in this situation.
At this point, I definitely lost my voice from the high pitched screaming going on in my helmet. I will not forget this road for the rest of my life.
This photo makes the ground look smooth and flat. This photo was taken during one of the only times I could stop. I can assure you that it was part of a solid 90 minutes of trying to prevent a 220kg mass from surrendering to gravity at speeds ranging from 60-100kph, through curves and hills and floodways. Every fibre of my being was getting fatigued but I was not about to go down without a damn fight. Sheba's been down before, and I wasn't about to hurt her again.
When we finally made it out of the detour, I turned around and saw a couple in an SUV who was apparently following me and watching the whole episode unfold. They rolled down the windows to cheer, and I smiled back, jokingly moaning the longest F-bomb I had ever laid out in my life. FUUUUAUAAAACCCCKKKKKK.
Fast forward 390 more kilometres of rainy, cold riding and I'm now here in Albany in a youth hostel. One of my roommates literally lives here. There were people singing Korean songs on the guitar outside. I am staying at a YMCA in a room full of people 2/3 my age. It looks like I stepped into the bedroom of a 13 year old though.
Sheba did well. She's a sturdy little beast, and thankfully I didn't end up needing a helicopter ambulance, just a change in underpants. After a long cry and a nice dinner with a new friend, I realised that if you love your bike, she will love you right back.
Day 6: Another possible brown pants adventure to the famous Margaret River pending road conditions. Look out!