Day 5: Esperance to Albany - The BROWN PANTS DETOUR
Distance: 550km including a 60km detour
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. 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.
As I let the sun come up over a delicious coffee, my plan was to stroll through the 490km to Albany and enjoy the scenery slow and relaxed. Thanks to what we now know as Murphys law, some higher force decided it was not yet time for me to rest. "Joke's on you!" It says.
I did notice a sign saying there would be a detour going to Albany, and someone told me yesterday that there would be, but I could not even begin the picture the actual process of a detour under any circumstances.
It all started with a closed road and a couple of yellow signs pointing to a wide dirt road. I made the 10km detour on dirt with no dramas, and happily continued on my way to the next fuel stop. An older couple stopped to ask how I did and I said it was fine, just a bit mentally exhausting. The man said that there would be more of it... so with that in mind, I went 10km into the next leg to find another detour. It pointed opposite to the direction of Albany so I turned around and followed a Dutch couple in a 4WD who was also headed to the same town. 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. It was complete with deep ridges made by ATVS and 4WDs - in fact, the sign at the beginning urged "4WD ONLY". Having driven ATVs before, I had an inkling of what might come and promptly chose to ignore it.
The mud was hardened and covered in golf ball sized rocks and coarse sand - the worst possible ingredients for a sport bike wearing track tyres. The first 5km was fine, but shit got real... fast. The stones got bigger and the dirt looser. Before I knew it, I was going through floodways and hard ridges while Sheba became a bucking bronco. The handlebars tankslapped hard for up to 15 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. I didn't even recognize my own voice. This was definitely about to be one of the bravest moments to date.
A couple lessons I learned from past life experiences.
When I lived in Canada, I'd often ride my motorbike through snow to get to uni. Gravel is as unpredictable as snow, and while you can't fuck with nature, but you can use physics to your advantage. So long as a two wheeled vehicle has momentum, it wants to stay upright. I knew this from snow. 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.
I also used to paddle competitively. 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 legs 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 thunder thighs like I was crushing a watermelon. If I splayed my legs, I would lose control instantly.
Last thing, I spent my undergrad studying biomechanics and anatomy. 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. If I put pressure over the forks or tried to use biceps, 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. That "relax the arms and let the back wheel straighten the front wheel out" idea DOES NOT work in this situation.
t was 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 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.
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 are people singing Korean songs on the guitar outside. It's an odd yet relieving comfort knowing that Sheba is a sturdy little beast and that all I needed was not a helicopter ambulance, but simply a change in underpants. Love your bike, and she will love you right back.