VP Outback Trip 2021
There and back again -A covid border dash in short order.
As a younger bloke, I had always dreamed about jumping on my motorbike and heading north to Cameron’s Corner. I wanted to go via Broken Hill and through Innamincka, then south to Flinders Ranges and back home via Renmark. But seeing as no one was willing to attempt it on a bike with me, I eventually compromised and chose a comfortable 4wd version of the trip and loved it. Now fast forward a number of years to the formation of the Madcat Adventure Motorcycling club. I suddenly found myself surrounded by some like minded people who had a similar dream, but who, like me, also had no clue as to how to make it happen.
A plan was hatched and I posted a vague trip itinerary up on the Madcat chat channels, hoping to get maybe 4 or 6 people interested. Would you believe I ended up with 15 excited riders locked in and paid up? I didn’t, but I can tell you I was pretty happy!
And thus, the VP Outback Trip committee was formed. It is worth noting that not one of us planning the trip were born here!
Wayne R (Amazing Author) – In charge of accommodation, meals and beers; clueless with tech.
Rolf – Route Creator and all-round tech guru
Christian – Route Creator and all-round tech guru
And here we are, what could possibly go wrong with such great looking and smart blokes in charge?
The Committee What could go wrong
The Planning Stage
With the joys of Covid lockdowns making in person organisation meetings impossible, and trip attendees living all across Melbourne, it was decided to hold regular Zoom meetings. After some to-ing and fro-ing, the date was locked in: June 5th 2021 for 2 weeks. Since we knew how long we were going for, the routes were discussed, then confirmed and finally locked in. Now everyone knew where we were going, next thing was sorting out the required equipment list. This was confirmed and locked in. FInally, since we knew ALL the stuff we had to bring along with us, we decided perhaps a support vehicle was in order. Finally, and possibly slightly confusingly, a support vehicle and trailer were categorically refused by the group as “We want to stand alone and carry all our own equipment”.
Departure Date approaches
One of the group, Peter, calls me up one day and pulls the pin due to an injury. Was he possibly the first man down before we even started? No, he reckons he is still in but now with that 4wd and a trailer which nobody wanted! Whilst there was disappointment that Pete would not be on his bike, there was lots of noise and excitement that a trailer was now coming and everyone agreed to help cover fuel costs in exchange for the extra support.
It’s now May 2021, and NSW starts to record delta covid cases. In a fast reaction, SA decides that it’s going to shut borders to anyone coming from NSW. Not long after that Victoria follows suit and closes its borders from people coming from NSW as well. So the group had some Serious Discussions about whether we should do our trip in reverse and perhaps even leave NSW out entirely. Finally, it was decided to reschedule the trip to Saturday 17th July and to not go into NSW at all, instead going further into SA. Coober Pedy was now locked in.
New departure date approaches
Due to the extra 6 weeks between start dates, Peter has now recovered from his injury and is going to ride!!! YEAH!! Oh wait… what about that trailer and support vehicle nobody wanted? Micky steps up and offers to take the trailer and carry spares with his trusty sidekick Cameron.
The Illustrious Madcat El Presidente, Ian, now says that he will be a non-starter due to work commitments, and Miguel also has to pull the pin. Now we are down to 14 Riders and the support vehicle crew. But still, that’s heaps more than the none I had for years and years. The trip is still a goer!! There are some spectacular upgrades and farkles added to bikes to allow for all the extra petrol, water and gear needed to survive the trip. There are homemade pannier racks, bunnings boxes and tubes attached with cable ties or actual bolts in some cases. The group has spent hours and hours on their bikes upgrading and fine tuning, and testing out all the gear they will need to survive.
One Week Out
We are all set to go, everyone is pumped. Calls on the Madcat chat for photos and daily updates from those who are living vicariously through the ride. 7 of us have decided to leave a day earlier on the Friday, with the rest of us leaving 9 am the next day from the Calder Park BP, north of Melbourne.
T minus 1 – Wednesday 14th July
So somewhere around this time, 3 removalists from NSW decide to take a job moving stuff from Sydney to Melbourne. It seems they stopped at every take away joint on the way south. Oh yeah, and they were covid delta positive and knew it. They then infected a bunch of people in Melbourne in an apartment block then took Delta with them to South Australia.
NO WAY, Delta Covid Cases in Melbourne!!! Will SA lock out Victorians? Of course they will, in fact, they will do it in 2 days time.
We all got on the phone and started messaging each other immediately, and it was decided that whoever could get out of Victoria and cross the SA border prior to Midnight Friday 16th July, when the SA border SHUT, would be doing the trip. Unfortunately that meant 4 of the group were unable to leave early and missed the window of opportunity to get out. Because, you guessed it, Victoria goes into a “snap” lockdown on Thursday 15th at 11:59 pm.
Masoud, Matus, Colin, David and of course El Presidente you were missed and we will make it up to you guys.
The Actual Trip
The trip finally took off in earnest on Thursday 15th July, despite both Vic, NSW and SA doing their level best to keep us out.
Day 1 – Thursday 14
Group 1 – Steve “The voice of reason”, Rolf “The Flying Dutchman”, Julian and myself agree to meet at Shell on Alexander Parade at 9am.
Group 1A – Mickey and Cam, in the vehicle, were to catch us up along the way. Mickey had to wait 30 minutes for Cameron as Cam could not find his border passes that were safely stashed on his email on his phone. Apparently they were so safe, he couldn’t find them.
Our first incident was yours truly; stuck in traffic at the end of the eastern freeway with (ashamedly) heated seat and heated grips on full and not being able to lane split due to panniers. I embarrassingly stalled my Tiger and the battery decided it did not have enough charge to start the bike with all the creature comforts turned up full blast. After many expletives, my only choice was to push the very overloaded bike down the hill. When I reached an uphill bit my expletives changed to hail marys because I turned the key hoping I wouldn’t have to push up hill. Whew, my bike started! Crisis averted!! I met Steve not much further up on the side of the road as well, only for him to say his battery was also no good. We sort out the batteries of the two bikes, Julian and Rolf arrive and we head up the boring highways to get to Bordertown as fast as we can. After a swift check in at the border, our covid border passes, we believe, all in order and we are through.
Alexanrdra Parade Collingwood
South Australia Border Check
Meanwhile, the rest of the group had been making their own ways to Bordertown:
“Covid Marshall” Rob decided to hightail it on his own direct to Mount Gambier, spent the night there and joined us the following morning (Friday) in Bordertown.
Peter had to finish a couple of jobs at his work in Kew and headed up the highway on his lonesome to meet us in Bordertown.
“Flat Cap” Chris landed in Melbourne from Tasmania at 7.30am, shot home and then jumped on the big KTM and hit Bordertown to meet us at the pub.
“Danggali” Dan made his own way and met us at the caravan park where we were staying.
Once nearly everyone was reunited, we decided on the Bordertown Hotel for dinner and refreshments and perhaps a few sighs of relief that we actually made it in time! The bar staff started handing out our massive meals and when the last meal arrived, the staff member was asking “Who ordered the fish?”. The only one left without a meal was Micky. We all looked at Micky, Micky was saying nothing. Then to our dismay, when prompted, his response was “No, I ordered the Barramundi!!” Not the brightest spark in the pub that night was Micky.
After “Last Drinks” were called (mind you it was only 8.30pm), we were wandering home when Rolf thought it would be a good idea to drop into another pub we had passed for “Just one beer!”. Myself and Cameron decided that just one beer sounded great.
Christian – had started his trip over later than the rest seeing as it was his 34th birthday and met us for “Just one beer” at the pub, closely followed up with some Jager Bombs.
Cameron & Christian
Rolf and “Just one beer!”
Rolf seems shocked he organized it!
Day2 – Fri 15
We hit the local café for some breakfast and met up with Rob. As rain was forecast, we put on our rain gear and headed off to Pinnaroo to get our mandatory Covid Test.
Peter, Rolf, Chris, Micky, Julian & Cam
WTF Julian ?
Covid Test Pinnaroo
After having our brains scraped again in Pinnaroo, we head across to Renmark to buy supplies to take out to our campsite at Danggali. Steve and Peter were given the task of food and Julian and I were tasked with liquid refreshments. We all agreed that 45 minutes was plenty of time to achieve our goals.
Myself and Julian buy 4 slabs of stubbies and 6 bottles of wine only to find out the esky is full of food and there is no room for the beer!! We were loading the slabs of stubbies into the trailer, sadly accepting there would be some casualties and “thems the costs”, when some bright spark asks “Why dincha buy cans?” Seeing as this was such a good idea, we went back to the shop, tail between legs, and exchanged stubbies for cans.
We all head to the petrol station to fill up bikes and bladders. Feeling pumped and mono-ing to go, we were about to leave when we realised the 2 jerry cans on the roof of the support vehicle were still empty. Whew, that was a close one.
We finally leave the township and it dawned on me that nobody got the ice! So we have 4 slabs, and an esky full of meat and no ice and no idea. I pulled over to the side of the road and everyone riding past was kind enough to toot or give me the thumbs up and disappear off down the road. I manage to flag down Mickey and we turn back, grab some ice and get going again. Mickey and I can confirm that the rest of the group think the corner man system is optional and apparently not required.
Yes we were asked by the copper if we had been tested and that we were to be wearing masks
Peter – Chef 1
We hit dirt road!!!! It is getting late in the day now and Rolf insists it is only 80km to camp and we can make it. Steve, “The voice of reason”, hoses the enthusiasm down somewhat by waxing lyrical about the dangers of trying to find a camp in the dark while dodging kangaroos, yada, yada, yada!
The first camp we found was so wet you could probably get more traction on a slip’n’slide, so we headed for higher ground. And there it was like a soggy beacon in the night; next to the main road, our first actual bush camp of the trip was realised. We rapidly learnt the perils of putting up our tents in the dark, in the rain and with gale force winds. But we got there and everyone was pretty pleased with themselves.
Steve and Pete became the camp chefs and cooked up some lovely bush camp fare of which our aspiring Madcat chef Dr Tim would have been proud.
Cooking in the rain
The most unhygienic shovel handle in SA
Day 3 – Sat 16
Today was our first proper outback riding of the trip and it was straight into the sand for us like kids at the beach. Dan had pushed so hard to do this particular sand section during the zoom meetings prior to route selection…. And it turned out to be complete and utter chaos!!!
After what seemed like all of 5 minutes riding in Daggali sand, we all stopped, regrouped and a phrase from the past came back to haunt some of the riders. Everyone who had been chanting the mantra “I want to carry all my own equipment” was now realising what a loaded bike in sand can actually NOT do particularly well; that being the inability to float across the top of the sand like an elf named Legolas on snow. This is clearly what had previously been envisioned despite the laws of physics clearly being against them.
So, the support vehicle which nobody wanted is now getting over loaded with riders unloading their “’I want to carry all my own equipment” gear off their bikes.
It is worth mentioning that two of the gentlemen unloading their bikes were boasting about their sand riding abilities in social media and around the fire the night before. Just ask Robbo and Chris if you ever run into them out on the tracks some time.
That said, there were a few true hardcore sand riders who refused to unload their bikes myself, Rolf and Dan. Seeing as Danggali Dan put us here in the first place, I am pretty sure he would have some serious explaining to do if he did unload!
Let’s unload I’m scared !!!
Prior to the shame of unloading
A series of unintentional dismounts
First man down for the day was Pete with a gentle fall. The next off was not seen however Micky and Cam turned the corner to see Steve having a bit of a lie down. Steve was not in the sand at all but on what everyone thought was an easy bit. Steve had decided to see what was on the other side of his handlebars by way of a flip over the top of them. He was quickly patched up.
Next big off for the day was Robbo who ended up a bit shaken up, and probably came out of it with fractured ribs, in hindsight. I think Rolf, Chris and Christian were the only ones not to fall at this stage.
Expected when carrying full load on bike (not scared), Hardcore that rider!
Rambo – First Blood on the trip!
“Most experienced sand rider on the trip” Robbo’s regret
Steve – The Voice of Reason
We made it camp and set up with time up our sleeve. The keener Rolf, Christian and Dan took off on a 60km loop while the rest of us chilled and had few beers.
Upon return Dan had changed the colour of his bike and pants to a nice shade of mud after having a loosing wrestle with a puddle.
Danggali – Camp 2
The most used item on the trip !!
Hard work driving !
Day 4 – Sun 17
The road to Yunta
I woke to discussions as to who wanted to do the 60km sand loop on the way to Yunta and who did not. With four wanting to do the loop and the rest not wanting to, Steve “The voice of reason” made the call that we should all stick together. Thus it was settled that we were to take the easier, more direct route.
The road was fantastic, with smatterings of light sand and gravel and the odd deep bit to ensure your freckle was still in working order.
Road to Yunta
We hit Yunta and found it was a town with 2 petrol stations and a pub. We must have been maturing, or just eager to finally be out on the road, as not one foot was set in the pub. We opted for the much faster option of servo coffee, pies and sandwiches so we could hit the outback roads in earnest.
Next stop – Wilpena Pound …….
The roads finally magically changed into the much anticipated gravel outback roads we had been dreaming about. There were glimpses of the famous Flinders ranges around every corner, not that everyone got to enjoy those views. Rolf “The Flying Dutchman”, together with Chris and Christian, had decided they were doing a Dakar run at Toby Price speed.
We came across some old ruins that of course cannot be considered truly Australian without previous dickheads spraying graffiti and smashing stubbies.
Waiting for Micky & Cameron
With the Dakar participants taking the lead, the more foolish amongst us thought to pick up their own pace and… well… sometimes the brain and heart are way ahead of skill level.
Yep, I found mud in the outback.
The look of shame.
After picking myself up off the ground, and wondering how on earth I ended up facing the wrong way, I found Steve standing around laughing and taking photos of my disgrace. Thanks for all the moral support, buddy, it will be returned in kind some day. I and my bike were now sporting a lovely camouflage outfit of mud, top to tyre. Seeing as we were delayed by my nap, Rolf had turned around to come look for us, but the news was a bit dire. Julian had crashed and was hurt quite badly. The infamous outback bulldust had taken its first victim.
The sandpit that Julian had the disagreement with.
Still full of adrenalin and smiling
The face says it all!! Bulldust No.2, Victim No. 2 Peter
When I arrived, it was pretty clear that Julian was quite severely injured by his tangle with the bulldust. Julian’s bike was pushed to the side of the track to be picked up at a later date and we headed off toward Wilpena Pound which seemed to be getting further away and the call was made to divert to Hawker which entailed the lead riders dodging the kangaroos in the dark.
When we hit town the hospital sign was a great relief and we all rocked up tired and cold to the hospital car park in the dark.
Steve and Chris decided to head off to find some accommodation. After visiting the full caravan park the owner called up the empty motel owner who was more than happy to do a deal for “Cash Only”. Well, we were stuck and it was dark and cold and only a short stroll to cold refreshments.
Currently for sale also $850K
After the magnificent feeling of hot showers and clean jocks, and the directions given, it was off to the pub we went to await the outcome of Julian’s spill.
We were expecting Julian to spend the night at the hospital but due to Covid rules and the hospital having an aged care facility, they advised Julian that he would stay on a stretcher bed in the hall.
Julian decided that with a broken collar bone and broken ribs that the pub surely would be more appropriate and possibly more comfortable.
As I said my job was beers and food
Guess who is full of pain relief?
The champion publican said that we could leave Julian’s bike in his garage at the pub and Julian could get it at a later date. All that was required now was to head back out the following morning to where the bike was left and to try and get Julian home to Melbourne. Like good, mature grown-ups we all ensured we had full accident cover and full RACV roadside assist before we began our trip… fat lot of good that did us! None of the insurances would help get Julian or his bike home. To ensure TAC cover to repair Julian, a police report was required.
Next up – Port Augusta police
Day 5 – Mon 18
Splitting the Party
After breakfast and a beautiful sunny morning, Rob, Chris, Dan & Peter headed on to Wilpena Pound only 60km away. Micky and Cam would drive Rolf out to get Julian’s bike and the rest of us would try and sort getting Julian home.
We don’t need a support vehicle!!!
This is where “Voice of reason” was in his element. Steve went for a walk to the mechanics and asked the gent out the front if he worked there.
“No, I am retired, I just help out now and again”, the gent replied.
“Do you want to drive someone to Adelaide Airport for $400 cash?”, questioned the voice of reason.
Thereupon, a deal was struck, flights were booked, Julian’s bike was returned by the support vehicle we were sure we didn’t need and put into the pub garage. We left Julian set up in his room, ready to be picked up in the morning by a total stranger who may or may not be the Hawker version of Ivan Milat!!
The rest of us headed off in the late afternoon to Wilpena Pound to catch up with the forward scouting crew. We set up camp in the sunshine while the temperature dropped drastically.
The calm before the storm
Christian not ready to set up camp yet
Christian and Rolf arrived after us as they had been scouting around checking their routes. Rolf set up camp straight away but Christian decided to have a beer first!
Well, we had made it to the Flinders Ranges, sorted out Julian and did not have to pack our tents up in the morning because we were camping at Wilpena Pound for two whole nights!!! It was time for a couple of beers, cook some grub and, yep, in true Madcat style, full of piss and bad manners.
We were first joined by a husband and wife team that were travelling two-up and were happy to see some fellow riders. Some of us were embarrassed as they had less gear on their bikes for two people!
Then, next up a mum and daughter away for a quiet weekend approached with the words “If we can’t beat them, we’ll join them”. She was hoping for a quiet night at camp until we arrived.
With the more senior, experienced campers advising Christian perhaps he should set up his camp whilst it was still light and he was sober-ish, Christian in his infinite wisdom decided to not take on this advice! later that night, it was very funny watching the drunken Bavarian trying to set up camp.
The talk was getting louder, the wine and beers were emptying faster, there were tears of laughter, apologies for bad language, old wife’s tales such as “Half plus Eight” and then…… Pete brings out the Italian homemade grappa.
Christian, the tent erection expert, moved onto Grappa and let’s just say he provided many a laugh and at times we had tears streaming down our faces.
That night every person at some point seemed to be doubled over in fits of laughter. It truly was one of the funniest nights I have ever experienced.
Day 6 – Tue 19
It was a slow start to the morning and our somewhat hungover selves were in no hurry. There must have been more than one dodgy sausage on the bbq the night before as there were a few rough looking faces that morning.
We checked in with Julian and he had been picked up and was on the way to Adelaide airport. It turned out the retired mechanic was not Hawker Milat and had been renamed “Richard the Great” by Julian.
Everything was set! Rolf and Christian confirmed that we could ride Skytrek at Willows Spring Station.
Willows Springs Station is a 70,000-acre property that has a 80 km scenic loop which you can access for a small fee. They advised it would take the best part of a day to complete. Rolf explained that meant we would of course probably do it in an hour or so!!! EASY!
It was an amazing day. Skytrek was tiring. There were a number of bikes dropped, many of which were not owned up to at the time and not divulged to the group until cans of truth serum were imbibed later that evening.
And it did not take an hour or so.
The photos do not do justice to how magnificent this place is, and we have a few and a few videos on the madcat site as well.
Waiting for Micky and Cam
One of these guys dropped their bike? Both said they never!!!
The last part of the 80 km Skytrek loop is the 4wd section and you have a key for the locked gate. They advise if you have had difficulty before then then there is a short cut back to the homestead.
Pete had had a few tumbles and one of them involved Chris and a KTM footpeg colliding with his helmet. Chris was trying to avoid Pete whilst he was having a rest in some more bulldust.
Pete decided he had made it pretty far and while his injured back was still in one piece, he was going to head back to the homestead and meet us there.
Goin through the gate, it was indeed a 4wd track, not a “soft” adventure bike track. Some of us were pushed to our limits and some of our bikes definitely were. The terrain was rocky with a smattering of rocks and boulders with loose gravel amongst it as gravy.
We were continually on the rise and at some points, all you could do was hold on and see where you bounced to. Without slighting anyone, everyone attempting this section dropped their bike and they were getting heavier and heavier to pick up. At one point Christian’s 1250 demanded a lie down after all the effort of the day and the two of us could not pick it up without a third hand.
This was the best and most challenging riding I had done on my Tiger. Everyone was pumped and having a ball. This was truly the beginning of the best trip ever.
We do the last rock hop up to the highest point of Skytrek, ready to take in the famous views very few get to see, when everyone’s phones started going off like frogs in socks. Wait, what? South Australia is going into lockdown for 14 days? No!!! We need to hustle!
We pick up Pete back at the station and pound it back to Wilpena Pound only to find that our tents are the only ones left in what was a busy site last night.
We are met by the couple in the caravan (the only others still there) who had a tipple with us the night before and had left a nice bottle of red at Steve’s camp as a thank you while they were packing up. They said that the shower blocks were closing and we could not camp there anymore.
Some of us were close to tears, mostly me, at the thought of packing up our tents immediately and riding anywhere after such an amazing and exhausting day. Every part of me was kaput after Skytrek. I dragged myself to the local IGA to see what the go was. I was informed that camping was no longer allowed and to go immediately to see the main reception. Thinking we were going to have to take off and bush camp, the supply party was filling trolleys with meat, beer and wine. Victorians know how to panic buy!
The staff at Wilpena were awesome and organised some rooms for us for the night and advised that the restaurant was doing room service. Sorry boys, unpack the food but keep the booze.
No need to panic!
After pub dinners were delivered in take away containers, a few beers, some wines an escape plan was hatched.
We decided that the Victorian border near Yamba was 5.5 hrs away, around 500 km. We could cross the border there and yet again beat the border lockdown! We would camp at Murrey Sunset.
Day 7 – Wed 20
So, 6 hours to the border equals a sleep in and no panic ride, right? Well for most, yes, but Robbo and Pete decide that early start and 800 km sounds like a hell of a lot more fun.
The riding was as uneventful and unexciting as you would expect from a highway drone. The most exciting thing was watching Rolf, Christian and Dan take off into the sunset while the rest of us chilled out the back. We approached the Vic border around 5.30pm and were greeted by one police car in the distance pulling over a caravan. Pretty much no border control whatsoever!
We turned off the highway in the dark and headed to camp, all the while dodging kangaroos and riding through slop and more slop. We pulled up to check in on everyone and “The voice of reason” was a little bit tired and grumpy me thinks, and calls it,
“This is effing crazy and someone is gunna die! Let’s get back to the highway and find a camp.”
Can’t argue with the Voice of Reason, so we headed back through the slop. It was so sloppy and I was tired, and it was dark, so the tiger needed to be horizontal for a bit to show my support of Steve’s decision.
We hit the highway and not long after, Chris found a wooded area on the other side that we should check out. The camp looked great in the dark, we thought we were hidden from the road, and it had dead wood everywhere. The Madcat Pyromaniacs were soon burning every log in sight and draining the trailer of every last beer and wine. Rolf was taught how to put petrol in stubbies and create jet flames in the fire and for each drink he had, he enjoyed it more and more. It was Rolf’s night to be Christian!!
Sadly, this was our last night and it was Rolf who insisted that we camped the last night and not finish the trip in a hotel separated by Covid. It was another great night of laughs and camping camaraderie and was a great end to the trip. Unfortunately, Robbo and Pete missed it, but were having their own special night after 800 kms at Nhill.
Day 8 – Thur 21
Not much to day about this day, other than everyone made it home safe and sound. Julian was safely delivered to hospital in Melbourne via the car trip with “Richard the Great” and then a plane ride from Adelaide and had some magnificent carpentry to fix his shoulder.
Things I learnt
Texts: Wayne Rose
Editing: Gail Miller, Jonathan Alvarez
Photos: The outback crew