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