I don’t like riding in the dark, but most of the epic adventure rides start that way. There’s something satisfying about not wasting any of the precious daylight and the gentle burble of the DR with only the lights from surrounding dairies for company as I headed through the cool crisp air for Bellingen.
Cain was a bit surprised at my early arrival, but 15 minutes later Candy, his beloved 990, was outside barking an early morning welcome to his entire neighbourhood. Within five minutes we were carving up the course, dust-free, through the bush on our way south.
Well…dust-free for one of us anyway.
We criss-crossed the highway for parcels of bush before popping out near the South West Rocks turn for a typical hard-core shortcut. This beauty had an unmarked entrance, was around five kilometres long and cut out around 10km of tar. As I looked behind and could just see Cain’s head among the tall grass.
After a few wired-up gates and lots of cattle it was starting to feel like we shouldn’t be there. What a perfect start to an adventure.
After struggling to see through the grass, the 15km of tar with nice sweeping corners into Hat Head was almost bearable. The soft undulating sand section into Crescent Heads had me primed. It was fun, deep sand through coastal bush.
Well…apparently Cain was.
The sand was more fun than I’d remembered. Lots of throttle in third as the mighty DR skipped over the soft stuff was a blast.
A sunny uphill section begged for a photo, so I quickly jumped off, whipped out my camera and waited, took off my helmet and gloves and waited, removed my camera bag and backpack, shed a layer of clothing and waited… Eventually the rumble of Candy signaled Cain was close.
I was really impressed with the way he was playing it up for the camera, swapping, roosting making the track look difficult. It was great! Feet off with the front ploughing added extra drama. I thought Cain getting off and pushing was a bit over the top but the camera whirred away snapping up the pretend struggle.
As I strolled up the loose, rutted hill I couldn’t help but notice Cain was glowing red. He pulled on his helmet looking less than enthused, and we continued. I would skip effortlessly past, stop and take photos while offering encouraging loud laughter to encourage him, then repeat.
After an uplifting fun 30 minutes of fun photo taking, a sandhill with a tight corner caught Cain out. He was doing well, working the off-camber bank on the side of the trail, when a nasty root spun the back sideways and unbalanced the whole show. The result was Cain and Candy rolling around upside-down in the sand.
I put my camera away – despite the great photo opportunity – partly out of respect and partly self-preservation. My laughter didn’t seem to be lifting Cain’s spirits as much as mine. Candy might be a pretty girl, but boy is she fat – maybe big-boned – but very heavy nonetheless.
Picking her up on the downside of a steep off-camber required the strength of both of us.
Cain shook off the loose sand. I offered up a bottle of water to replace his exhausted supply and after a while the red colour slowly drained from his face. But not before explaining in his 10 years experience, and having ridden and half the world, this was the first time Candy had the indignity of being upside-down in the dirt.
Telling him there was a first time for everything didn’t help. I mentioned I’d said there would be sand, but it didn’t soothe out the pain of the first fall. I mentioned he should’ve been suspicious when I fitted new tyres, including a sand tyre on the back, instead of my usual mostly worn-out attire.
Pointing out that this was the easier sand section of the two planned for the day opened up a lively discussion. A vote at one each to whether we skip the next fun, whooped-out sand section was a draw. Usually as ride leader I get the deciding vote, but we agreed to compromise: Cain would take his foot off my neck, put down the big rock, and all I had to do was bypass the next section.
It seemed fair at the time.
After throwing the big rock into the bush and out of reach we prepared to finish the section we were on. I thoughtfully lied, telling Cain there was only a few hundred metres left of this track, buying me time to plan my escape.
Then Candy chucked a wobbly. I’m not sure if it was because Cain dropped her or I called her fat, but she refused to start. I quickly scampered further up the hill to safety while offering emotional support and resumed taking photos. Broken-down KTMs are my favourite photo subject. Although it’s a common sight I never seem to tire of the opportunity. Long lenses are a blessing at times like this.
After checking fuses and trying a jumpstarter, a loose battery terminal was found to be the culprit. Cain flashed me the ‘I’m number one’ symbol in acknowledgement of my moral support…or at least that’s what I think it meant.
The few hundred metres out to firm ground were the longest this side of a National Park uphill hike and we eventually hit solid ground, cruised into Crescent Head and hightailed it to Port Mac on a very fast, loose road. As the DR gently shook its head at 110kph it brought back sweet memories of time spent on Macios. Nothing bad happens, but the bikes sure do move around a lot.
With all my cheek I’m glad I don’t believe in karma. Idling through Port Mac I offered to stop at the bike shop for KTM repairs or perhaps a trade-in. Cain had no comment.
After a nice lunch we fired up the bikes only to find mine sounded a little rattly. Swallowing a whole litre of oil certainly got my attention, but putting it down to a one-off we continued.
My road-closed bypass added an half dozen more U-turns.
We followed ridges through mostly dry forest with a few rocks. Occasionally a small patch of rainforest would break the monotony. I was starting to think I did too good a job staying in the forest when we popped out at Swans Crossing, a very well maintained camping ground on a nice little creek.
Dawson’s Crossing came and went, a little town I never knew existed, then we climbed up on to Middle Brother which had an outstanding view and a spot for loonies to jump off strapped to an oversized kite.
The sneaky way into Taree proved a little too sneaky with looked gates. A nice lady offered to unlock them, but wanting to respect private property we politely declined. Apparently this made 21 U-turns for the day, but Cain could’ve been exaggerating.
My plan to go further west over a little hill with a tower was thwarted by Cain. Despite his new lights he was reluctant to go exploring as it was after 4.00pm. Finding new riding wasn’t as appealing as a cold beer so we hightailed the 17km into Taree accommodation and into town for food, munchies and alcohol.
We still managed time for a swim in the pool before dark and a nice BBQ. Unfortunately the oil was disappearing faster somewhere in the DR than Cain’s 12% bourbons when he wasn’t looking. Where another litre of oil went to, along with Cain’s bourbon, remains a mystery. Strangely, I woke up with a sore throat and Cain woke with sore ears. Maybe I was a little excitable after the extra bourbons I…err…found.
Steady rain meant a slow start. Cain made good use of a hairdryer to dry his socks and heat his breakfast. Who says men can’t multi-task?
A nice little bush section right at the start was perfect, full of ruts and giant bog holes that made for a nice warm up.
Tractors seemed to be the only traffic as we headed for Toms Gully Creek Road. It’s brilliant views and mini switchbacks are always a highlight, and despite a few spits of rain we stayed dry even though the road was soaking wet until we crossed the Oxley Highway. It was bone dry on the other side.
Pipeclay Road gave the throttle cables a stretch. We fuelled up in Wauchope and dived back into the bush behind Telegraph Point. Fresh logging-road closures thwarted our progress, and usually road-closed signs were optional, but with a full crew in there felling trees retreat was the best option. We endeavoured to skirt around, only to be stopped by the new highway and huge blood-sucking mosquitoes in plague proportions.
Unfortunately if you can’t beat it, join it. After a 40km mind- and arse-numbing highway section we parted at Nambucca to find our own ways home.
After such an exciting ride it was a tame finish. Next time we’ll hit the sand from Wauchope, eh Cain? There’s a fun section calling our names.