Pre-Run - Shimla - Himachal Pradesh
Im not too sure what was running through my head when I signed up for the Adventurists Pioneer Edition for the Rickshaw Run Himalayas. In hindsight, im guessing I didn’t really think at all about the task at hand, at about the enormity of the situation and the grand scale of the challenge which lay ahead. As it turns out, that’s usually how my decision making skills roll, make the decision spontaneously and then think about it when the time comes.
Funnily enough, the time to put the decision into action came around quite quickly and soon I found myself sitting on a flight to India with a newly recruited member of the ‘Bums of Anarchy’, a team created a few years earlier doing a similarly mad adventure. Im pretty sure Don was, like myself, bright eyed and bushy tailed and a little blasé about what we were about to undertake. Following a good 17 odd hours of travel, we were at our destination, Shimla which is the capital of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, in the Himalayan foothills. This was to be our start line for the newest Adventurist challenge to make the world a little less boring, and no sooner had we dropped our bags in the hotel foyer, we were off to obtain our inner line permits to allow us into some of the Indian/China disputed area. As usual with the Indian bureaucratic system, a seemingly 5 minute process turned into a 4 hour ordeal but low and behold, we had all the documents we needed to set us on our merry way.
With a day up our sleeves, we familiarised ourselves with the town, met our fellow teams and had acclimatised ourselves to the 7500ft (2280m) altitude which Shimla was sitting at. Soon it was time to meet our Rickshaws and we were not to be disappointed. As veterans and pioneers, we were expected to come up with some great designs and this time our Bums mascot the ‘grim pooper’ had again not failed to stand out. With a few tweaks done to our faithful steed (a giant inflatable poo emoji strapped to the rear), we were nearly ready for launch day, but not before the pre-launch briefing, feast and celebrations!
Now before the briefing, I was still walking around oblivious to what we were about to stumble on into. After half an hour of sipping gins and listening to the organisers briefing us on what was to come, I was worried. I wasn’t worried about what I had to do, but was more so worried about the look of stress and angst on their faces. It was like they were sending their little sheep out into the pastures to be met by a pack of wolves, the fear was real and I felt the whole vibe of the room change and wash over everyone, which in turn made the room suddenly feel quiet and vulnerable. Being veterans though, we all knew that all we needed was a good dose of gin to numb the thought processes and with that, the morning had dawned and we had no choice but to get on with it.
Day 1 : Shimla - Recong Peo and Day 2: Recong Peo to Kaza
For some of us, the night had been a heavy one with some missing the launch but fortunately, most hadn’t burnt the candle at both ends and with a lot of hooting and jibing, of we set into the open pastures, ready for the wolves to strike. Driving out into the mountainous green hills we were soon in awe of the beauty which the place had to offer. Now accustomed once again to the Indian roads and in tune with the rickshaws, we were on a mission to hit the day’s target of Recong Peo where most teams had set their sights for. The Bums prospect Don handled the rickshaw like a pro and we took turns thrashing out the kilometers, grinding our way through the first day with somewhat ease but knowing the challenges were to come. Funnily enough, we had also somehow magnetised ourselves to the brilliant team ‘Hello Kiwi’, consisting of long time rickshaw veterans Ed and Lisa, a team which we would convoy with to the end. After a successful first day, we had a beer and a feed with 5 other teams before crashing out to conclude our first full day of the run. Bonds were being formed between teams and we had the privilege of meeting the likes of many past veterans and coming to the realisation that we were with the best of company with some of the greatest adventure pioneers from around the globe.
After a decent night rest we were keen to crunch out as many kilometers as we could with our nose pointed toward Kaza. We knew that the roads after Kaza were the most challenging so we were keen to give ourselves as much time as needed in the difficult section in order to give ourselves the best opportunity at reaching the finish line on time. Today the roads were amazing. Well I guess more to the point, pant shittingly amazing. We headed through the valley following the Sutlej River past Jorkanden, Reo Purgyil and the Manirang mountains, all making up parts of the Himalayan Ranges.
The roads along this valley were something else, not only were their numerous rock slides (which we were forced to wait to be cleared), the sheers drops off the cliffs were thousands of meters high with no safety barriers to stop vehicles from toppling. With unsealed roads, the rickshaw jumping around from the rocks and contending with one eyed Indian bus and truck drivers, shit had started to get real. Had it of not been for the sheer beauty of the place, I could have been forgiven for leaving the rickshaw and walking away. We had succumbed to the beast and could now only drive its lines and play the game as well as we could, I was fearful. Donovans health was deteriorating rapidly with a mixture of cold symptoms, fever and altitude gripping him and turning the run into a spin, and this was only day 2. With blind love for that feeling of adrenaline, we soldiered on and with many precarious moments, we had reached the end of day 2, staying in Kaza for the night.
With the kiwis having a recommendation for a hotel from the ‘Devils on Wheels’, we tracked down the nights accommodation and were soon in the realisation that Don was really not too well. Well, if im going to be honest, I thought that he just had a bit of a cold and should man up a bit and not ruin my adventure. I offered to go for a wander into the town with Ed and there we picked up some cold and flu tablets, some cough medicine as well as the obligatory rickshaw snacks for the next day. By the time we returned, it was apparent that Dons health had again slithered to a new low. We gave Don everything we could to keep him warm but still he was shivering and in an obvious state of delirium and fever. We were under the assumption that it was a mixture of altitude and a cold, so with that, ‘Hello Kiwis’ resident nurse Lisa ploughed on her motherly instincts and set to dose Don up with altitude tablets as well as the previously purchased pharmaceuticals. With a great dinner under our belt and a cold beer down the hatch, off we went to bed. Later Don was to reveal to me that he was scared to go to sleep as he feared he might not make it until the morning.
Day 3 : Kaza to Keylong
Waking up at 1.30am, it was soon apparent I was also suffering from some mild effects of altitude sickness and quickly popped a quick Diamox (altitude sickness tablets). I then proceeded to have 3 hours of intense nightmares about altitude sickness which woke me with a startle and head straight to see if Don was okay. I realised his health was the most important thing and asked if he would like to stay an extra day in order to rest and see a doctor. His response was somewhat different to what I expected and he said he would carry on whether he was unconscious or not. He also said we could ‘float me down a river and set me alight if it comes down to it’. Hell yeah, this boy had just about earned his patch into the Bums of Anarchy, he had the heart for adventure and the will to see through these minor death bed moments! Don was alive, and although not 100%, his condition had improved somewhat from the night before. Today was going to be a test.
Today we were going deep into the Spiti Valley and this was going to be the test of all tests for our trusty steeds and us, their drivers! With an early start, we headed out of the town before it woke (as we had heard stories of officials not allowing vehicles through if they deemed it too dangerous) and pushed on through some of the wildest roads in the world. The magnificence of this Himalayan mountain range is absolutely mind blowing. The vastness of the panoramic views is unmatched and to feel so insignificant while being towered over in this cool desert mountain valley isn’t something to be sniffed at. Whenever you turn a corner you feel your breathe taken away by its raw beauty, by the feeling that the land has been untouched and that every snapshot in your mind becomes more significant than any postcard that you have ever laid eyes on. Every single mile of vision should have its own TV show called Natural Pornographic… nothing I have ever experienced remotely comes close to how in awe I felt at the expansive beauty. The colours of the place keep slapping you about with the earthy tones which somehow feel quite lunar in its landscape. Well to be completely honest, I’ve never traveled out of the earth’s atmosphere, but the Himalayan range would be what I would imagine it to look like in places.
The ride down deep into the valley wasn’t exactly plain sailing. With Don in the back slipping in and out of consciousness, it was left to me to negotiate the rough terrain of the roads. Unfortunately I wasn’t listening in the briefing when they told us to tackle the lower part in the early morning due to the rivers and snow melt off rising from the afternoon sun. By the time we had reached the ice melts, the rickshaws were knee deep traversing through water along so called roads, better known as river beds. The river rock left us stranded in fast flowing water on many occasions but with every kilometer passing, Don seemed to be coming out of his coma and with our kiwi mates, we mate it out of the valley unscathed, albeit a little cold and wet. The next challenge was to reach our highest pass of Kunzum La, sitting at 14930ft (4550 meters) above sea level. The views and the altitude made this drive absolutely breathtaking but without much hassle, our rickshaws survived the punishment and coughed their way over the pass. With around 10 hours of bump bucking roads under our belt, Don got strength to take the wheel and spent the next couple of hours getting us to the night’s destination just after dark, Keylong (3080 meters above sea level). The day had proved to be a tough one – we had not only been crushed by a bus against a cliff face (popping our poo emoji), we had also lost many items from our bouncing rickshaw into the river – some thongs, some shoes, some slippers and god knows what else along the way – but apparently now the hard part was done!
Pulling into our Hotel (Tashi Deleg), we were greeted with wonderment from the hotels owners and given an array of rooms to choose from in the bustling abode. We were all feeling elated with the days efforts and treated ourselves to some amazing food and drinks in celebration of such a fatiguing day. To concentrate on everything around you takes stamina. Not only are you dealing with the overwhelming scenery, you are also trying to pick the best lines through the rocky terrain to give the smoothest ride, bracing yourself for the inevitable hits, pushing the rickshaws in knee deep water, hoping for no oncoming traffic and enjoying every moment at the same time. These long days ensure for heavy eyelids every night and along with the copious amounts of dust and a beer to top it off, the night draws in to a heavy sleep.
Day 4 : Keylong to Sarchu
Fortunately, we now knew we had time on our side and realised that we could take the hand off the throttle for a while. We had a brilliantly relaxing morning and had a wander around the town to do the touristy thing. Whilst we were away, Lisa was busy being interviewed by the hotel owner for the local newspaper about the madness we were undertaking. As we returned, we were all humbly the recipients of a Khata, a scarf which is given upon arrival or departure of guests. The Khata is a traditional scarf and is given with a clear conscience and have no negative thoughts or motives when given as an offering. Feeling very taken aback by the gesture, we all posed for a barrage of pictures and toddled off for another day on the road.
Being a pioneer run, we are the guinea pigs for such an adventure. I haven’t mentioned the fact that the kind folk at the adventurists had gifted us with not only brand new rickshaws, but 4 stroke rickshaws. We didn’t need to succumb to rigorous fuel mixing rituals, we even had a 12 volt charger AND a fuel gauge, unlike other runs. Was this machine still totally unsuitable for the job though? The clear answer is yes, what the hell were these things doing at altitude? They had no right being in these sort of climates, in this thin air, being brutalised on these roads. I couldn’t count how many people told us we wouldn’t make it, that these ‘autos’ wouldn’t get us to where we needed to get to. Driving past a bus, an elderly aussie guy randomly popped his head out of a bus window and said, ‘you guys have got to be joking don’t you? That’s ridiculous.’ We could only laugh and hoot like possessed madmen giving him the thumbs up and sending the throttle to full! When people would doubt, it would give us more drive, I was absolutely fucking proud of these rattling beer cans on wheels.
As we ascended through the day’s first climb, it was clear that we weren’t getting enough air into our fuel and unsure of how to fix this, we stopped for a tinker into the rear engine bay and Don toyed around with adjusting a couple of screw to rectify the situation. It was soon apparent that we didn’t have a bloody clue what we were doing and just ripped the air filter off to see how that went. This not only increased the power by up to about 15%, it also turned our whining tin can into beast mode, we were sounding more like a Royal Enfield and the machine grew a solid pair of balls… the grim pooper was in tune and the drive got a whole lot more comfortable. As I toyed around in the back cleaning the filter and playing around with the cover, I soon discovered a grommet in the drain and with a quick modification, we slapped the filter back on and still had power to boot. Life was good.
Midway through the day we had made it up to the Zing-zing bar. If nothing else, it has an awesome name and with Don ridding himself of his Bum of Anarchy, we settled in for a warm drink and a bite to eat. At 4270 meters (14010ft), it was really starting to get cold. As we had a late start, it was apparent that we needed to give it another push to gain some more ground and with that, we headed up across the Baralacha La Pass, a mega 5030 meters (16500ft) above sea level and the highest any of us had ever been on land. Fortunately, it takes a while to get to these heights so acclimatisation isn’t such a problem, and when at the top, we headed down to about 4300 meters which makes things a whole lot more bearable. Just before the night’s destination (Sarchu), we saw a couple more rickshaws parked up and flagging us in to a permanent tent campground, we stopped for a chat.
Fortunately the saffas, Brock and Carl along with the poms Ben and Charlie, had managed to set up a suitable deal with the owners and negotiated some awesome digs for the night along with a fire to boot. With 4 rickshaws in this incredible land, it was impossible to not be overwhelmed and excited, it was time to party! Not long after we had arrived, we saw another 2 rickshaws which we hadn’t seen since opening day turn up. The amazing teams of the Kenyan/Bulgarian adventurists (Jessie, Tania and Mila) in the ‘Stealth Snail’ along with Kye and Don of King Tut Tuk drove on in and 8 people turned into 13 and the booze started to pour. With an amazing backdrop, a fire and a bunch of some of the world’s best people in tow, life couldn’t get much better. The Bums pulled out their 2 liters of duty free rum, others pulled out the copious amounts of wild whacky weed the area had to offer and with that, everyone was lit up and rocked the night away. The special person award for the night definitely went to the kiwis Ed the Stayer for his Stephen Hawkins antics, and everyone went to bed with a smile on their face and memories of a lifetime imprinted in their minds.
Day 5 : Sarchu to Tso Kar Lake
Seeing as it only takes a few drinks to feel a buzz at altitude, waking up hungover isn’t such a problem, either it’s that or you can’t ascertain between a hangover and altitude sickness. It’s far easier to blame the latter. Today, after another hot tip from a seasoned bike rider, we were headed to the inland lake of Tso Kar. First we would need to climb to new heights through the Gata Loops a series of 22 hairpin bends stretching forever onward and upwards. We passed our air intake tips onto the other teams and had amazing feedback as today wasn’t the day to cough and sputter up a 500 meter elevation rise. From the picturesque Gata Loops we headed over the Nakee La pass (4739m) and eventually onto another loftier height of Lachulung La pass at 5065meters (16616 ft).
Spending most of the day with 3 other teams makes the time pass by quite quickly with impromptu races, gags and smiles and laughs a plenty. Taking many photo and tea stops along the way, the day seemed to buzz by which was somewhat causing turmoil to the mind. As mentally and physically exhausting as the trip had been, we were nearing the end of the maiden pioneer run and it felt as if we were just finding our groove. Don was getting better, the rickshaw was performing wonders and we were creating everlasting friendships – I didn’t want it to end! As the day turned to late afternoon we had found a goat track leading toward Lake Tso Kar. The roads leading towards the lake reminded me a lot of the Mongolian Steppe with many winding dirt tracks heading in the same general direction with you choosing your path at your own risk. Unfortunately, we seemed to be heading on the wrong path so Don tried to cut through and make his own track which led us to being heavily bogged, fortunately Ben and Charlie saw our predicament and helped us out with a push – and then we turned around and got bogged again but luckily got ourselves out for the second time.
Tso Kar lies at about 4660 meters (15280ft) and is known as the ‘White Lake’ due to it being salt and having salt deposits lying around its shores. The lake is towered by mountains all around its edges making for again, breathtaking scenery. With another gem of a camp being found (largely due to a Kiwi recce mission and some helpful 2 way radio action), we found ourselves spoiled with a restaurant with walls and warmth. A celebratory bottle of port was shared and we enjoyed the last night in the wild with the same 5 other teams as the night before.
Day 6 : Tso Kar Lake to Leh - The finish Line!
The kiwis’ Lisa had been a bit crook the same night (after a large bump to the head from the rickshaws roof on the ever bouncy roads) and in the morning she was ready to take off as soon as we had woken. Leaving the other teams behind to eat breakfast, we forged on with our convoy and headed towards our finish line Leh, but not before rising upward to our highest pinnacle of the trip at 5,328 meters (17,480 ft) elevation, the Tanglang La Pass. Things were starting the get extremely cold at this altitude and the elevation was on par with the Everest Base Camp. With myself dressed in a Turkey suit and Don in a reindeer suit, we were quite ill prepared for the weather but having no option, we streamed on uphill. Reaching the summit was a brilliant feeling and a previously fabricated Bums of Anarchy flag was planted as a mark of our achievements.
As with most of the trip, we were held up with getting our pictures taken with complete strangers and at the top we met up with a couple of other teams consisting of the charming pommies Caroline and Stew along with the Canadian Kids, Lee and Mardy. Being elated with our reunification with these stellar characters, we were given the word that Alan, Lee, Fiona and Emily of the Scottie Hotties were ahead. This didn’t sit well with the kiwis whom were looking to pip them at the finish post and as we said our goodbyes, we vowed we would drive like the wind. Coming down from 5300 meters we were greeted with not only snowfall and icicle bearing freezing weather, we were also met with some of the best driving conditions imaginable. Long winding tarmacked roads stretching downhill through valleys of purple and brown rock formations along the Indus river valley made for one of the most fascinating drives of my life. This along with some hair raising driving kept us in good pace and as we swept along, we saw the Scotties on the roadside eating breakfast. We hooted and waved them goodbye enthusiastically and pumped on toward the finish line. Later we were to find out that Alan of the Scotties had finished first in his last 2 Rickshaw runs but this time it wasn’t to be the case as we coasted on through to Leh with the kiwis in tow. It had never been our aim to make it into a race, but coming into the last day, it was more the banter and fun that saw us take on the challenge. Pulling into the Ladakh Residency Hotel it was to be the kiwis and ourselves who would fittingly cross the line together, I guess being the first people in the world to have ever driven a rickshaw from Shimla to Leh through the unforgiving but beautiful Spiti Valley.
I cannot thank the Adventurists enough for allowing us the privilege of participating in the Himalayan Pioneer Rickshaw Run. To the amazing teams that were also afforded the opportunity, you all made it more than was ever imaginable. There were times in the days where I seriously thought of rolling the rickshaw off a cliff and walking home. There were times that tested the bond of me and my team mate, the newly badged enforcer Donovan. We found some new charter associates and lifelong friends in the form of the Kiwis Lisa and Ed. Looking back now, I can only laugh and smile to myself about the times we had and the predicaments we found ourselves in. Would I do it again? Asking me the same question during the run I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you to piss right off, but on reflection, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Hell yes!!
Again, a huge thank you to the Adventurists, especially Aneurin and Mr Matt Dickens, much respect to you both on what is sure to be another successful adventure for years to come. To the teams we worked with and even the ones we didn’t run with along the road, I would happily adventure with you all again, you made it what it was! Much respect to our prospect turned Enforcer Donovan, I couldn’t have done it without all your help. Most importantly we raised our target for our charities Cool Earth and The Indigenous Literacy Foundation with a massive help from Don and his local Darwin community. Thank you to Green Cane who donated the funds to help with our graphics created by the talented Matty Taylor but most importantly thank you to you, the readers for showing us support and affording us the opportunity to help this wonderful planet out with your donations and time.
Cheers from the bottom of my heart, Alan Morgan, El Presidente of the Bums of Anarchy!
Its with highly anticipated excitement, I would like to reveal a little about the next Bums Of Anarchy adventure which is happening in a little more than a week! First of all, in case you don't know, lets ask who are the Bums of Anarchy and how did we come about?
Around Christmas 2013, I decided to do a trip through India on a rickshaw, an offshoot of the Adventurists famous Mongol Rally. Ringing up the craziest nutters I know, we shortly had a team consisting of Matty and Jimmy, 2 Gold Coast lads and great friends. After alot of brainstorming, we came up with many a team name but the one that stood out was 'The Bums Of Anarchy', a spin off of the famous outlaw bikie TV show, 'Sons Of Anarchy'. With this team name in tow and the idea launched, we exploded into action getting a team logo (with the famous Grim Pooper coming into his own) and formed our very own outlaw rickshaw adventure gang.
Soon we were headed into the sunset on a 3,500 km pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower. The Rickshaw Run was easily the least sensible thing to do with two weeks as we battled on at top speeds of 50 kilometers an hour (at a push) for 14 hours a day for 2 weeks of mayhem. The boys soon realised we weren't there for a holiday, it was a mission, an all round bloody great adventure. There was absolutely no set route, no back-up, no way of knowing if we were going to make it and the only certainty was that we would get lost, we would get stuck and we would break down. But that's a whole other story, for now we are here for this next epic adventure - The Himalayan Pioneer Rickshaw Run.
Fast forward to June this year and an email pops into my inbox with an invite to be the first do doddle up through the Himalayan Range in India, again in the most inappropriate vehicle imaginable for the task. Without much thought (as per usual), I paid the money and hoped someone would like to jump in for the ride. Knowing our Sergeant at Arms (Jimmy) was flat out working and the Vice President (Matty) was migrating to the US, it became apparent that the Bums needed a new Prospect to prove himself and join the Bums in adventure dominance - and without much of a doubt, we had found the man for the job.
Let me introduce to you Donovan Fantasia (aka - Fantasia, Donny, Donboy, The Don, Fanny) who has been a long time friend of 20 odd years. Don fit the persona well and without much persuasion threw himself selflessly into the life of a Bum. With that decision made, we talked about all things adventure including new designs, club cuts, charities and sponsorship.
When we are signing up for these adventures, we know its come at an incredible financial cost to us (this one at about $4500 each), but the positives we can create and the adventure we can have far outweighs any monetary costs. It was time for Don and I to discuss which charity we would like to support during our campaign. This isn't something the Bums like to take lightly and after much discussion, we chose Cool Earth which is the Adventurists default charity as well as the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, both of which do amazing things for the world. Donovan pounded the streets and soon came up with an amazing fundraiser at Darwins Mayfair Gallery and with much organisation and dedication, our new prospect was making awesome things happen! He even managed to get in Darwins local rag and promote the Bums even more!
Watching Don do so much from the sidelines was a bit hard to swallow but also a bit of a relief after many continuous fundraising campaigns by myself. I had to get a little creative and sent many emails away to businesses in the hope of some form of donation or sponsorship. It was with much delight that we were given a response from the legends at Green Cane who have taken great interest in our trip and kindly donated us some cash to pay for the graphics, rickshaw design and a few promotional stickers. Green Cane are actually partnered with the legends at Cool Earth and could see that by helping us with the best exposure and image possible, we could hopefully raise some awareness for the awesome work both they and Cool Earth are doing.
Aside from the gig and help from Green Cane, we have also been begging on social media platforms for donations and we sincerely thank the people who have taken their hard earned and valuable dollars and help some great causes!
Whats the actual plan you may ask?
Well with all the admin stuff out of the way (flights, fundraising, area permits, visas), we now get to actually think about what the bloody hell we are up to. We will head from Perth to Delhi via Bangkok, wait 4 odd hours and then take another internal flight onto Shimla, our start line. We will arrive, meet the crew from Adventurists to test drive and pimp our rickshaws, have a bloody great party and then head off into the hills. We will have no support, we wont have any set route, we wont have a map... What we do know is that we need to make it to Leh in a week to get to our closing party! Thats the plan and it sounds grand. Who knows if there is anywhere to sleep at night, where we will get fuel and food or if the roads are in tact after the snow melt.. thats all part of the fun and we cannot wait!
It would have to be around this time last year when I was aimlessly scrolling in cyberspace and found an advert for the postie bike run held on the famous and daunting Gibb River Road in North West, Western Australia. Like many other adventures I have taken on, I paid the required amount without a thought and left it in the back of my mind for another 6 months. As the ride was for charity, the participants are required to raise a minimum of $4000 for the Bright Blue Organisation (www.brightblue.org). Fundraising is a daunting task and raising money is definitely no walk in the park but with hundreds of boxes of chocolate sold to the hungry masses at work and desperate pleas on social media platforms, somehow the target was raised.
Without much thought, the day had come to leave and with a duffel bag in tow and some motorbike gear, I headed through the doors at Perth domestic airport where it was quite hard not to recognise my fellow postie riders. I was greeted with smiling faces and looks of excitement and trepidation from people all holding helmets and wearing moto gear. With some quick meet and greets and growing excitement, we eventually got onto the plane without too much hassle. Flying into Broome we were met with views of aqua blue beaches, white sand stretching endlessly and a good dose of sunshine as well as a mini bus which trundled us all off to a local hotel. This is where we met the vehicles which were supposed to take us down one of Australia's most notorious outback tracks for the next 10 days.
We were all met with 30 bright red gleaming postie bikes - Hondas' CT110cc machines of mass destruction! There is probably no more inappropriate way to transport yourself down the path we were about to travel, unless if you did it on a motorised esky i guess? We met with the 2 ride leaders who would both front and tail the packs, had a short briefing, met the wonderful support crew and off we trundled towards Derby for our first ride on our faithful steeds.
The ride was mostly highway and we made up good ground and got acquainted with not only our fellow postmen and women, but also the bikes. We were on a mission to crack a good 220km this first day and without much incident we smashed the kilometers in quick succession. The first part of the highway was quite mundane and what you'd expect, but as the kilometers ticked along, the thought dawned on me that we were in 'gods country'. For whatever that term means, I dont know, but we were upon the gates and were about to arrived. As the wet season left bright green foliage contrasting with deep red earth, we were left with a landscape which blew the mind. Termite mounds were jutting from the earth in the thousands nestled in between the native Boab trees which looked like lazy Russian Babas, while the birds sang new foreign songs to delight the ears. Things were getting interesting and this was only the first day.
From the highway, we hit the turn off just before Derby and at last hit the Gibb River Road. We were off the safe tarmac road and now onto the unforgiving track which would lead us onto our target, Kununurra. Hitting the gravel, it was easy to see people second guessing their bike skills, none so more than myself. The corrugations in the road could range anywhere between mild discomforting jolts that thrash through your body to 'im coming off over the handlebars soon, this is like trying to hang onto a bull thrashing around a rodeo ring'. It does get easier though, but when you think you're safe, there will be some soft sand veering you straight off the road, into oncoming traffic, or even into the path of your fellow riders. I guess it makes you feel alive, its bloody exhilarating and by god, do i miss it already!
Getting to Birdswood Downs campground before dark, we all setup our tents, blew up our mattresses and were treated to an amazing meal from the selfless volunteers and support crew. After such an early morning, everyone retired early and like that, day one was over.
Being told we were leaving at 9.30am, we were chomping at the bit, all packed and ready like excited children by 8am. Today we were headed on a 130 kilometer mission to Windjana Gorge where we would spend the next 2 nights. During the first hour of riding, we must of covered a good half of the days goal with the road mainly sealed. Riding through this wild west countryside would be a place you'd most likely find Sir Davey Attenborough coming to talk in his TV voice about the monstorous wild storks setting sail from the thriving floodplains or the powerful Brahm Bulls hurtling through the shrub away from neanderthal postie tribe screaming in delight! Again, we were now through the front doorway and travelling up the hallway in gods country!
As for the next 70 odd kilometers, we were again set to test our wills with gravel, corrugations and sand a plenty. Reflecting back on the gravel, we were all stunned by the ferocity it beheld. Once the bike started bucking like the wild bull it was, it always felt safest to move all of the riders weight to the back of the bike and accelerate out of trouble. I guess you could say (to quote a few of the fellow riders) we had to SEND IT!! We learnt if you hold it flat, you usually skip over the mess of the road a bit easier, and send it we did. By the end of the first day, I felt quietly confident with the riding style I adopted, but as with every day, once you get sky high confidence, there will be a sketchy wobble or someone else will have an accident, and it always makes you think twice about how mortal you actually are. We arrived by lunchtime at the stunning Windjana Gorge (pictures below) where we setup camp, had some lunch and spent the rest of the day exploring the ancient walls around the gorge along with an abundance of fresh water crocodiles who were lazing about in the fresh water of the Lennard River. The water mass that has carved the gorge is up to 100 metres wide and has walls up to 30 metres high which provided some great views and welcome shade from the biting Kimberley sun.
We finished off the second day with an epic bonfire along with a few beers and the birth of the famous Back Bar- this was an impromptu bar on the back of a Landcruiser set up to appease the thirsty riders at the end of the day when the allotted beers from Bright Blue weren't quite enough to wet the palette. The bar was born and nurtured to life by the hugely popular Henry, who was following his good mate and fellow postie rider Crabby along the trail to Kununurra with us.
Waking the next morning, we were off on a day trip to Tunnel Creek which was a round trip of 70km. Again, the bikes and riders were posed with many challenges, namely in the form of loose gravel, rogue rocks and bulldust. Fortunately, we all made it to Tunnel Creek, a creek which cut its way through an ancient barrier reef creating a cave system over 750 meters long. Hiking the sharp rocks with no shoes made for an interesting walk but the air was cool and the environment spectacular. Sharing the sometimes waist deep water with baby crocs made for a few rapid scurrys and eventually we hit the other end which opened up to a refreshing freshwater pool which was beyond cold. Not to let that deter anyone, we all hopped in for a swim and then retreated back to camp for a few more beverages and another stellar campfire to round off day 3.
The previous night, I had made a pact with Pauline, one of the ladies in our group, to hang back and be her escort which would allow her some confidence and a solid line to follow throughout the day. As we hurtled off, we were making good pace and were travelling through the most picturesque country with the King Leopold Ranges soaring high with its majestic red cliffs and many eagles above hunting for their next prey. The road was quite forgiving and we went through many of the highly anticipated creek crossings which managed to get us all wet but were nevertheless fairly safe. As with the other days, we had many rest breaks to re-energise and refuel. It was at these stops we would always find out who had last crashed, fallen off or had a close call. Today it was Deanos turn to come a cropper and when he arrived for a break we learnt he had crashed at in excess of 70km/hour but luckily came off unscathed, thankfully from wearing all his protective gear. Deano wasn't the only one to hit the dirt though, but more so than often, it was bruised egos rather than bodies that took the crunch.
Today had also promised stories of a deep muddy crossing as well as the crossing of our deepest creek crossing yet. This had everyone absolutely pumped, and when we hit the turnoff to Bells gorge which was the nights destination, we were all as ready as we could be to take on these challenges. The bikes and the riders hadn't had too much of an issue with the smaller creeks as yet, but as we approached these new challenges, we realised it was time to get a bit serious with the riding where the crossings were 2 to 3 ft deep and ranged from rocky riverbed crossings to muddy and slippery holes. Apart from a slightly serious fall from the viking of the group 'Tommy Chicken Crackle', who seemed to have cracked some ribs sliding off at the muddy exit, everyone had a great time, laughing at each other and dripping from head to toe with mud and water. Overall we did 7 crossings for the day and the excitement and vibe painted a picture. The mood was so upbeat that even when we wanted to laugh at others, we soon realised it was our turn to cross. My childlike excitement turned into full adrenaline and nerves and I felt I went from Mr Confident to a virgin rider within seconds of entering the water but there's not much to do except hold on and give it throttle to stay balanced in the water... overall a bloody awesome experience.
By lunchtime, we had hit camp and setup for the night and had a quick feed. The great thing about the group we had is that everyone pitches in, we all know what needs to be done and no one needs to be mothered or wrapped in cotton wool. We can all sit around, chat to whoever is about and as the days were flowing by, we were all bonding and getting a close knit team.
Following lunch we again jumped on the bikes and headed to Bells Gorge, where after a half hour hike from the carpark, we feasted our eyes on the treat that was the Gorge. I'll let the pictures do the talking though but as you can imagine, the place was a playground and we swam, lazed like lizards on the hot rocks and marvelled once again at what the stunning Kimberly Region had to offer us. This topped off a brilliant day and again, we were all safe and somewhat mobile.
After the standard cooked breakfast which we had all become thankful for as it kept the energy levels at optimum, back we drove toward the Gibb River Road. Being accustomed to the water crossings now, we were all on top of covering the spark plugs with WD40 and all made it through the mud holes fairly unscathed. Today I went back into mentalist mode and held the throttle flat at the front of the pack for another solid 130km day. Lunchtime was spent at Galvins Gorge which was again another oasis in the middle of nowhere. We spent hours jumping off rocks, swinging off the rope swing and enjoying the sun. Most of us enjoyed a rock jump of about 3 meters high but Jarrad decided to step it up with a jump from the highest point - 15 meters up.... This made for some mad cheering and just before we left, the loose unit Jacob decided a back flip was in order much to our delight and the organisers disbelief!!
After a short ride from Galvins Gorge, we found our way to the nights campsite - Manning Gorge. This for me was one of my favorite campsites with towering Boab Trees scattered throughout. Next to the camping ground was a creek with crystal clear waters and a silty beach providing an awesome place to chill out. The creek is an obstacle to get over before a hike to the gorge and has a boat with a pulley system to allow you to get across without getting wet. Well, after a couple of drinks, old Stocko decided it would be epic if we could get one of the tour leaders bikes and strand it in the middle of the creek on a rock as a prank. With that idea, someone said that he had gone for a drive and that was all the encouragement I needed to run up to camp and commandeer his bike down to the creek. With all the crew up for it, we lifted the bike onto the boat and swam/steadied the bike into the middle and lifted it out onto the rock. The perfect crime! After a few more beverages, Rick had returned and was told to cover his eyes and make his way to the creek for a surprise for being such a legend. Yeah, well you can probably imagine his reaction and with a few laughs and hi-fives, we retrieved his bike and settled in after a long day of riding.
Today was to be a huge day having to cover nearly 200km through some intense road. First we stopped at our first fuel station which was quite close to camp. As we all indulged in some luxuries from the shop, a school class came wandering past and were excited by all our bikes and stopped for a chat. We all let the kids jump on the bikes, put the helmets on and we talked about family, bike and school. It really was a heart warming experience seeing these kids living in the outback without all the modern luxuries we are afforded and having those million dollar smiles and appreciation for what they have. They were also a little cheeky with Benny being called a little man and Big Ben being told he was big, 'like a bully'.
The next 8 odd hours on the road were brutal. I feared dearly that I was going to fall off but when I didn't, I then feared for the others. I even went as far as to come up with a scenario in my head where Ben had a serious crash and how I was going to tell his wife and kids.... This is how bad I thought the roads to be. I can only explain the roads as deeply rutted and slippery, and if you went too fast and started losing control, slowing down didn't help. It was dangerous for you and anyone behind to slow down but somehow, we all made it again unscathed and grinning from ear to ear. We had reached Ellenbrae, a remote station with camping facilities where we ate a hearty stew, got stuck into homemade scones with jam and cream and many had a few too many beverages.
With a few sore heads after a wine session from the night before, we were all keen to ride on hard as it was one of the groups favorites birthdays, Mr Crabby! Today was his 40th and we were all keen to make it a special day so after packing up, off we hurtled an easy 110km toward Home Valley station. When I say it was easy, I mean the road conditions had become somewhat better, this didn't mean there was time for complacency. Again the Chicken Crackle extraordinaire and viking Tommy came unstuck in the mud and done some crazy damage to his leg leaving it black and blue. Then came Kano's reckoning. There were a few shallow creek crossings along the way and we were all getting far to confident. Unfortunately for Kane, he went through one at full pace but couldn't see the pothole of death which lied beneath. Somehow he went straight over the bars and into the road, sliding along, when Clint, who was following too closely T-boned into his bike and managed to be entwined in the mess also. Benny was the first on scene followed closely by myself. We managed to get the bikes off the boys and off the road and Kane was left hobbling a bit while both the boys were a bit shaken. The bikes were pretty knackered also with smashed parts scattered and bent handlebars, forks and suspension but with some bush mechanics, both boys were back on the road pretty soon.
Later on at Home Valley, it became apparent that Kane had severely damaged his knee with it swelling up to an over sized softball but he was still in good spirits and now it was time to party with Crabby for his birthday. This place had a bar and restaurant which everyone made the most of, along with some wonderful food. As we had arrived early, it was an early start on the drinks and Benny and I came up with the idea of writing a little song for the festivities. It was rushed, it was simple, but it was effective. After saffa acquired a guitar from a fellow camper, we were in business and set the night on fire with or Bright Blue Gibb River Riders 2017 Rendition.
Waking FAR too early we did the usual packing up ritual of getting the truck in order, putting the tents away and preparing the bikes. Benny was in a hell of a state and along with a hangover he had the shits, which was probably an after effect of kissing the frog everyone had been pissing on the night before, but that's another story. Our first river crossing for the day was the one we had all been waiting for, this being the mighty Pentecost River and we weren't disappointed. I'm guessing it was about 60 meters wide and in parts 3 foot deep with the extra threat of saltwater crocodiles lurking in its depths. We had quite a large crowd from Home Valley Station who were keen to not only give us a send off, but to also laugh and see the spectacle we were about to put on. With (the 2 tour leaders) Matt in the middle to give us some guidance, and Rick on the opposing shore to make sure we didn't get into too much trouble, off we went. I cant say much except it was all we were expecting and much more. Bloody wet, bloody fun and it definitely got the adrenaline pumping! Especially when everyone had reached the other side and we saw a huge saltwater croc on the opposing shore where we had just rode from!
Following the crossing we rode another 60km through the amazing Cockburn Ranges which towered over us at the foot of the Pentecost. The track wound upward through some magnificent and majestic earthy red cliffs which in turn took us onto the days destination El Questro Station. From being completely soaked from the river, to bone dry from the ride, we reached the turnoff and again were hit with another deep river crossing, but by now we were all in expert mode!A short distance later, but before we got to the stations accommodation, we had the luxury to visit the amazing and well know Zebedee Springs. I was completely blown away by this oasis of a hot spring sewn into the base of the sharp, red, rugged cliff faces. The springs are a brilliant temperature and range between 28-32 degrees celsius and the natural formation of rock pools and palm trees look as if this miracle of nature has been hand made. We took our time soaking the weary bones before heading on to camp. (Of course there was another river crossing right before the camp, and i think it was by far the deepest and gnarliest. We all love it by now though and apart from a few stalled and flooded bikes (Tommy thinking his bike was a submarine), we made it to camp, and of course the bar! A slight night of relaxation turned into a huge session and after our final meal and last bbq as a crew, we were all back up to enjoy El Questro's live music hitting the dance floor and enjoying our final night on the Gibb River Road together.
Day 9 - The final day
This morning it was my turn to have to pull my head out of my arse after a few too many the night before... I guess I just got a little excited to have nearly made it! Waking up it was apparent I wasn't the only one who had a big night. Our other group leader Mat had also been pranked with his bike now hanging out of a tree. This plan had been in the pipeline for a few days but finally it was executed, a job well done by the usual suspects and their ringleader Bush Chook.
Bright Blue had organised a cruise down the Chamberlain river which is a tributary of the Pentecost for our last hurrah before the ride to Kununurra. Fortunately for me, my head was pulled firmly from my arse when we got onto the river as we got to marvel at the magical scenery which entranced us all. Travelling up and down the river through a passageway carved through the ancient rocks us all spellbound and the Crocodiles, Barramundi, Catfish and Archer fish all added to the captivation we held. A few bottles celebratory champagne were handed around for mimosas and soon we were back on the bikes for our final ride.
Leaving the camp beheld us the opportunity for our last 2 river crossings for the trip. As I had taken most of the footage and photos from previous crossings, I asked Benny to head across the river to get some footage of me. Well, didn't that turn out to be a mistake! Being the hero I am, I held it flat and gave the bike all I had. This probably wasn't the best angle to approach it as when I was 3 quarters of the way through, I hit a massive underwater rock and it nearly sent me over the handlebars and into the drink. Fortunately I managed to somehow save myself but was left fishing the fully submerged bike out of the river and pushing it out to the many cheers and jeers of the crew. Of course, the bike kicked over straight away and with the number plate and chain guard bent back into place, off we went again. (The footage of my spill couldn't be put on here luckily as the file was on an iphone)
Travelling down the final stretch of the now sealed Gibb River Road flooded a whole range of emotions through me. I couldnt believe the journey was over, was it really time to call it a day? The journey had been mind blowing and far more than I can really describe. It had been a physical challenge and also a mental challenge that not only required a lot of holding on but also a whole lot of concentration which both take their toll in their own different ways. Having done a lot of previous adventures, this was right up in the top three challenges and very eye opening as I was able to explore and rediscover the beauty of Australia's own backyard and appreciate it for the magical place that it is.
I had met some of the best people going around, a broad cross section of a community who all had one goal in common, to have the best bloody time we could whilst raising money for the incredible charity www.brightblue.org.au/ . Strong bonds and friendships were forged and an unspoken respect was among everyone. We had completed the Gibb River Road Postie Bike Challenge of 2017, and along with the return group, had all managed to raise in excess of $250,000 in the process