Lake Eyre in South Australia is the lowest point in Australia and Charlotte Pass NSW on Mount Kosciuszko is the highest point accessible by road on the highest mountain in Australia. The Iron Butt Association in the USA has a ride called the “Heaven to Hell” from Pikes Peak to Death Valley and it was about time someone did the Aussie version! 1855kms touching three states in less than 24 hours that includes some local difficulties that make this a very challenging ride. Three previous attempts (one of them mine) have failed for various reasons.
During a recent phone call to Karl I discovered that he had some leave while I had some availability and talk got around to a ride and somehow our attention was turned to the Australian H2H (Heaven to Hell). In the US the ride can be ridden either way and we decided to ride from Lake Eyre South to Charlotte Pass. It made sense to finish in heaven and the shorter transport leg at the end was attractive. A date was set and some others who had tried or had expressed interest in the ride were contacted. No other takers.
Our weapons of choice for the ride were our matching 2010 Yamaha XT1200Z Super Teneres.
The transport on day 1 was an 11.30am leave Newcastle, team up with Karl in Dubbo and overnight in Cobar NSW, an afternoon jaunt made more interesting by a severe thunderstorm as we got to Nyngan. Just 671kms for the day. Here’s a pick of the S10’s near the old mine at Cobar.
The transport leg on day 2 was Cobar to Marree SA, slightly longer at 1150kms. We were away from Cobar at 6am and had breakfast with the backpackers at Emmdale Roadhouse.
It was decidedly cool and we were under prepared, so a detour to Target at Broken Hill was required to stock up on fleece (all on special because they don’t have many warm clothes at the Hill in summer) then on to Cockburn for a border shot. Karl certainly puts some effort into his photos!
We picked up some Lions Club Fruit Cake at the servo at Peterborough before making our way to Marree for a night at the pub. The cake is great to eat on the road with 2 major food groups covered, fruit and cake! We made a quick stop at Hawker for fuel and lunch to break up the ride. We had expected to get fuel from Lyndhurst on the way through but it was shut early, oops. We hoped the sign on the door setting out a 7.30am opening time in the morning was accurate. Fortunately we still had time to make it to Marree before the roadhouse shut or there’d have been a real issue for us to solve just to get tomorrow’s ride started. Then a quick double check that the roads were open.
One logistical issue to consider is needing to travel 97kms in the dark from Marree to the Lake Eyre South Lookout just to start the “official” part of the ride. We agreed to wake at 4am, help ourselves to the continental breakfast provided at the pub and head off by 4.50am. We were a late leaving because we were chatting about Christmas plans, no rush, the ride would start when it started and there was no point arriving in Lyndhurst for fuel before it opened (if it did!).
Riding on the Oodnadatta Track in darkness and the predawn glow is amazing. There were a few roos, rabbits and foxes about and I had a small pucker moment with an indecisive cow on the road but no dramas. Soon enough were at the start and took some time to take a few photos. Here’s Karl with the Lake behind him!
Sightseeing done it was time to start the ride. Clearly witnesses and electronic receipts were hard to come by out there so with the IBA’s approval we used a combination of photographs with time and GPS co-ordinates in them (thanks iPhones!) and fired off a message with our SPOT trackers to prove the start time and location of the ride.
Riding into the morning sun didn’t take the shine off the gravel fun back to the Marree Hotel (92.5kms from start), the first opportunity to get the required electronic receipts and a witness forms. Karl plugged his card into the ATM and got a processing error. I had a go with my card with the same result. A moment of panic wondering where else me might get a receipt because the EFTPOS in the hotel was down and on the third go the ATM began to function. Phew! A photo out the front of the hotel and with witness forms sorted we were on our way.
We made good time to Lyndhurst (171kms from start), picking up some of the time on the plan lost during our long breakfast chat. Thankfully it was open. The next leg to Peterborough was the longest planned between fuel stops (337kms). Lyndhurst only has 91 Unleaded and while we were carrying four litres each for emergencies it is more efficient to reduce speed and consumption than to stop and blow 5-8 minutes on a jerry stop or an extra fuel stop. So we were riding by the average consumption reading, keeping it to 6.4l per 100km arriving in Peterborough on fumes. I wonder what it says about us that we get excited by stuff like that? We restocked the Lions Club Fruit Cake in addition to fuelling up. I’d need the cake later and my favourite post ride Cherry Ripes can be hard to come by on the top of a mountain.
From Peterborough it was back onto the Barrier Highway towards Burra then the Goyder Highway to Renmark (793kms). It was perfect riding weather, sunny with a bit of a breeze to keep the temperatures very comfortable. It was a very scenic trip along the Murray River, the grape vines and orchards were lush and green and the river levels up. I finally managed to get a picture at the Dunlop Bridge as we neared the border with Victoria. Along here I saw areas I’d last ridden through on the Super Tenere during this year’s Tenere Tragics River to Ranges Run. There’s so much off road fun not too far from these highways!
Mildura (932kms) and surrounds are pretty this time of year so there were things to look at while rolling along with the cruise set about the speed limit. Once again I wished there was a decent bypass of Mildura, the 80’s, 60’s and 50’s are great for business and the revenue collectors but are a pain when you just want to pass through. It’s frustrating to watch your OA drop as you ride.
The next section to Balranald saw us pass the halfway mark for the day. We caught a few few glimpses of the river in the early part but this part of the ride was mostly about settling in, relaxing, keeping the head clear and minimising fatigue. It was warming up a bit but still quite comfortable. By the time we reached Balranald (1095kms) we’d made up the time we’d lost starting late and then some. We took a while to have a drink to top up the electrolytes, munch on some fruit cake and reset the brain through distraction. I called Mrs Wom who was making her way up to Jindabyne to sort accommodation etc to smooth out our late arrival, all good there.
After Balranald we couldn’t resist taking a pic at a location popular with LD Riders and with some passing relevance to the current ride.
The Hay Plains aren’t very exciting. There were a few mounds of dirt by the side of the road that weren’t there when I last rode this way to enjoy and some road kill to dodge. We just kicked back with me in the lead relying on the cruise control to keep us going at a decent pace without coming under notice and without having to think too much. We passed through Hay South (1225kms) at 7:10pm bang on the ride plan time. It’s great when you can ride the plan, it gives you focus.
The next stop was Gillenbah NSW (1394kms) only a few minutes after dark. I was surprised the sunlight lasted so long and was very happy to get there without having to stop and do the dark time reset (take the sunnies off etc). We’d picked up a few minutes on that leg but agreed it was time to properly prepare for the dark and cold that would come later in the ride. Time wasn’t an issue now, so plain burgers, coffee, a catch-up on the day on facebook and a chat about life were in order and more beneficial than rushing to keep to the plan.
I kept the lead through to Wagga Wagga, giving the Baja Designs ONX Light Bar and Squadron Pros a good old workout. Karl followed with his aux lights ablaze. It’s our practice during night rides that everyone uses high beam and aux’s, the more light the better. Fortunately traffic was light and the wildlife was quiet. We rolled through Wagga Wagga then turned left onto the Hume Highway. Fuel availability, or the lack of fuel availability in that area of the mountains after dark, required us to add a few k’s to the ride to top up at Gundagai South (1574kms) or we might have been in trouble. It was also much of a muchness going a few extra k’s on a freeway vs riding Adelong – Tumut in the dark in terms of time and safety. I wolfed down an 80c coffee at the Coles Express as I topped up the tank. There was nothing between here and the end of the ride which was still 287kms away.
It was close to midnight and we were a bit behind the planned time but we weren’t under any pressure. Karl is very familiar with this road, in particular the high wildlife risk areas and took the lead through Tumut. The Talbingo mountain was infested with kangaroos and in parts we rode through dozens of them on both sides of the road and looking down at us from cutaways. There was some dodging a weaving to miss them on occasion but in the clearer areas there was no shine taken off the twisties going up the hill and the Snowy Mountains Highway. It was great to have the opportunity to even the wear up on the K60 Scouts after the long straights.
In one of the roo pockets Karl managed to clip a one that made a bad decision. If a bike can be good for this, the S10 crash barred up certainly is. The bike barely shuddered as the roo executed a mid air pirouette, fishtailed and disappeared into the bush. A quick stop and check revealed little more than a cracked fenda extenda. Karl was unphased and ready to continue in the lead heading into wombat territory.
It became quite foggy and eery in parts, in particular on the Middlingbank Rd between Adaminiby and Berridale. Just through Berridale Mrs Wom appeared in her car. She’d decided rather than sitting and waiting for us in Jindabyne she’d drive down the hill and find us. She’d been watching the SPOT and knew pretty much where where she’d pick us up. After a quick chat she followed us back to Jindabyne with me in the lead which was uneventful except for the obligatory final roo making a concerted effort to enforce Murphy’s Law close to the end of the ride. Thankfully it missed its mark.
We found an ATM in Jindabyne and got our electronic receipts and Mrs Wom signed the required IBA documentation. Now all that was left to do was to make our way up to Charlotte Pass to finish the ride. The slalom up the hill was great fun in the dark, even Mrs Wom enjoyed the drive up. The carpark at the top of the hill was busy with parked cars and people sleeping in them. It turned out that it was the finish for a mad 240km ultra-marathon from the coast (sea level) to Charlotte Pass. The race officials were waiting for the last finisher who eventually came through in 45 hours. These runners are mad! Who’d do something like that?
So we got a photo of the bikes at the top
And one of us
We fired off the SPOT to confirm the time and location to the stars along with odo photos etc. The Australian H2H was finally conquered. As you can see we were pretty happy about it.
If you like the numbers –
Total distance by GPS: 1855kms (Google Maps 1861.7)
Moving time: 17 hrs 38 mins (better than expected)
Stopped time: 2 hrs 6 mins (more than expected)
Total time: 19 hrs 44 mins
Moving Average: 105kph
Overall Average: 94kph (strangely exactly what was expected)
We made our way back down the 39ks to Jindabyne and it the sack at the Rydges Resort. Mrs Wom picks her accommodation well! The view from the room in the morning was beautiful
We enjoyed a buffet breakfast and debrief in the morning with Karl looking at options for his ride home and me fairly keen to take the path of least resistance and tagging along with Mrs Wom making plenty of stops along the way.
Including the transport legs we’d ridden 1987kms for the H2H day. For me the round trip was a little over 4,400kms for the 3.5 days total riding and STEN has now passed 93,000kms.
Logistically this ride is tough to plan with fuel availability, accommodation and factoring in the transport legs to the start and from the finish. Physically it’s tough too. With a couple of hundred k’s of gravel at one end and a couple of hundred ks of mountain twisties at the other there’s certainly some work to do either side of the long hauls in between. Weather at either end can also put an end to a ride attempt at any point. We were very lucky with that, there had been rain out west earlier in the week that saw some of the roads closed north and east of Marree.
Timing is also an issue. We opted to ride to the body clock, 4am to midnight+ but that entails riding the more technical stuff in darkness. The other option, which puts the technical riding in daylight, is to leave mid morning/early afternoon. That’s OK if you train for a 30 hour sleep cycle but the distance equation leaves little time for sleep if you need to put your head down for a few hours during the ride. That’s conundrum anyone who attempts this ride needs to solve for themselves.
It was great to ride with Karl again. We’ve knocked off some fun rides together in the past and this was a great one to add to our list. He’s still on holidays and I’ve blocked his phone number for the next week or so just in case comes up with something else!
And the bikes? Faultless – go the Super Teneres!
Here’s the SPOT track.