SS2000M Newcastle to Tennant Creek

Day 1: Newcastle to Glendambo SA

I was heading up to Darwin on my Harley-Davidson® for the NT HOG® Rally, time was short for the trip so an IBA SaddleSore 2000 (miles) on the way there seemed in order. Translation, I needed to ride 2000 miles or 3220 kilometres in 48 hours with documentation to prove it.

This morning Newcastle was still being lashed by the tail end of a “weather event” that had caused havoc in Victoria and Eastern NSW.  To be honest, I wasn’t that keen to go out in it. However I woke my wife and son to sign the ride start witness forms and at 4am I was at the local 24 hour servo filling up with fuel while chatting with a FarRider of note, OX-34, who’d braved the hour and the elements to see me off and wish me good luck. I was disconcerted by the weather and fumbled around trying to get everything on, earlpugs in and the start entry of the ride log done but managed to head off into the dark and rain.

I rode up through Hexham and Maitland to join the early morning procession of vehicles heading to the mines, happy that while the ride planned was big I knew this traffic wouldn’t stop me from making it in the absence of any other “issues”.  Soon enough I was through Branxton and turned left heading towards Mt Thorley, right to Jerry’s plains (where surprisingly there was a service station open) and then to Merriwa. I was still dark by the time I’d reached Merriwa, the rain had thankfully cleared but it started to get cold.

I had in the back of my head that I might be lucky enough to get fuel at Dunnedoo as I passed through there in daylight, but OX was right, none to be had. So I turned right towards Gilgandra, wondering if I would make it there without running out, not too concerned though, the top box that is usually on my Road King® had been replaced by a quick release rack holding a 20 litre jerry can full of Premium 98. I hadn’t been this way before, the road was nice, it was cold, there was some fog about, but I was liucky enough to witness the first of a number of lovely sunrises for the trip.  391k’s from the start by the odometer with about 1k to go to fuel at Gilgandra, the Harley’s tank ran dry. The engine just stopped without any notice at all and strangely I just laughed. I took a couple of pics and refilled my Harley-Davidson for the first time with the jerry can, now with enough on board to keep pushing on to Nyngan.

The 110k zone started soon after Gilgandra and a right turn at Nevertire presented an open road all the way to Broken Hill.  A quick fuel up (tank and jerry at Nyngan), doco’s done, receipts secured saw me ride again until the fuel tank almost ran out and I refilled from the jerry can in a rest stop. I discovered this time that I needed to let the tank run more dry before refilling, it didn’t take the full 20 litres and because of that I managed to spill fuel all over the tank and motor as it overflowed. Lesson learnt.

This part of the ride was relatively uneventful except for passing a rather disturbing accident which saw a 4WD on it’s roof still attached to the lower frame of a caravan that had otherwise been destroyed.  I caught up with some Police that were clearly returning to Wilcannia after the collision and wasn’t really prepared to take the risk they’d be in a good enough mood to see me pass them and head off into the distance.

589kms from Nyngan and over 1000 for the day I fuelled up quickly at the Shell at Broken Hill that I rode in to on fumes, another hint at why I needed to run the tank more dry before refilling it.  After a drink and a scratch I was soon on my way to the Cockburn on the South Australian border for a quick photo and then further west towards Yunta. Somewhere along this flat, open, quickly cooling stretch the sun went down. It was an amazing experience riding pretty much due west chasing the sunset, I stopped and took a couple of snaps.

At Yunta I topped up with more fuel and had a large coffee to warm up, it was dark and cold.  Then I rode west through Peterborough and Wilmington. Just after Wilmington I had my first opportunity to ride the revered Horocks Pass for the first time. This piece of road is special to FarRiders and I was very glad of the opportunity to leave some footpan on the bends.  It was a short ride then to Port Augusta, all up just short of 1600kms from home.

By the time I arrived at Port Augusta I was cold but not yet done.  I’d been speaking to my wife on the phone who had rung ahead to the motel at Glendambo S.A. and had booked and paid for a room there. She SMS’s me the room number and the location of the key so I could walk in and walk out. While filling up at Port Augusta I spoke to a couple of locals who considered it madness to take on that stretch of the Stuart Highway at night with lots of warning about cow carnage, big ‘roos and uncaring Road Trains. I was no less determined, but determined to be very alert.

Fortunately I saw no cattle on the road, lots of foxes, some bunnies and only on big ‘roo that was standing to the right of me as I rode by.  It turned its head and looked me straight in the eye as I passed it. Clearly I was more frightened of what it could do to me than it was of me. Again I was really impressed by the performance of my new LED Auxilliary Lights, an absolutely recommended upgrade to any Harley-Davidson rider who tackles this sort of ride.

I arrived in Glendambo at midnight, 1850ks done and 20 hours in the saddle (taking into account the timezone I crossed.  Glendambo was completely shut, I had a brief conversation with a guy who was outside his motel room having a drink and a smoke who was kind enough to sign a witness form to confirm I had been there and the odometer reading.  If the wheels fell off tomorrow at least I had an SS1600k under the belt. I quickly unpacked the bike, ate some oats, cleaned up and hit the hay with the alarm set for 5am already thinking about tomorrow’s ride to Tennant Creek.

Day 2: Glendambo to Tennant Creek

Feeling a little worse for wear (but better than expected) this morning I woke up to the alarm, ate, and began packing my Harley-Davidson® in the dark,  happy that I’d brought along my new Katmandu head torch. It took me longer than anticipated to get going and I didn’t get away until about 6.45am. I made a note that I needed to be more efficient either side of my breaks. Part of the delay was that  I decided to refuel my Harley-Davidson® in the dark from the 20 litre jerry can I was carrying with me before setting off. It didn’t take all the fuel in the jerry but this time I managed not to spill any.

Riding out of Glendambo I noticed that one of the service stations there were open and kicked myself for not checking before spending the time with the jerry can. I still rode past because I’d previoulsy calculated I would have enough to get me to my first stop for the day, Coober Pedy using the last of the fuel in the jerry.  Monitoring fuel usage is part of the routine of long distance riding and about 5k’s out of Glendambo I saw the distance to empty dropping faster than I would have liked. I’d noticed a similar drop in fuel economy in the cold on a recent FarRide to Lightning Ridge. I became unsure if I would make it to Coober Pedy and decided to play it safe, waste some time and turn back to get a full fuel load and a docket. To be honest I’m not sure at that point if my head was working well, it seemed a morning of false starts and bad decisions. However I knew because I put in a big day yesterday I only had 1440k’s or so to do today so didn’t feel too pressured by time.

That done, I was off into the sunrise, got a couple of snaps but noticed that it was getting very, very cold.  By the time I reached Coober Pedy I was shaking.  I’d seen the interesting “ant hill” landscape that was evidence of the opal mining going on in the area, but I wasn’t in any condition to stop and take snaps.  I pulled into the Caltex Roadhouse and filled the tank.  The nice lady in the service station assisted by putting my card into the eftpos machine and I managed with some difficulty to get the PIN number in.  I needed warmth and walked into the cafe next door ordered coffee with B&E Rolls and was happy to sit a while and refocus, get my core temp back in hand and get ready to head out again.

After about 30 minutes I was on my way north, still not keen to stop and take photos of the quite pretty opal hills.   The next stop was Marla for fuel, frankly other than having the fuel receipt I don’t even remember stopping there.  However by the time I got to the Northern Territory Border I was warm enough to enjoy the moment and take a snap of the bike.  I rode past the turn off to Uluru wondering what it looked like and pushed on to Alice Spings arriving shortly before dusk.  I had a quick servo pie, filled the tanks and headed out into the sunset feeling ready again to tackle whatever wildlife came my way, but not actually ready for everything that came my way.

I decided to stop for fuel at Ti Tree rather than refill from the jerry can in the dark, I thought it would save some time.  It didn’t.  When I saw the Police van in the driveway I should have kept going, but fuel was on my mind.  I pulled up next to a pump and quickly realised things weren’t right.  There were a large number of people milling about, shouting profanities, abusing each other and the Police.  Not a pleasant environment at all.  I managed to get fuel into the bike and walk inside keeping a very careful watch over it.  There was a service counter, an all but empty fridge, a bar full of intoxicated people and a big smell of trouble.

For reasons of their own the Police left the chaos while the staff were trying to eject a troublesome female patron with others objecting to it. I stood at the counter, thankfully largely ignored by the locals other than one of them proudly recounting having told the “cops to ^^ck off”.  Sadly though I was also ignored by the staff.  I finally caught the attention of one of them and said “Mate, if you don’t take my money for the fuel right now I’m leaving” He said, “Can’t you see I’m busy”  I said “I don’t really give a sh$$, I want to get out of here right now, if you want to get paid for the fuel take it now”. He let me pay and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

My focus had been upset at that point and no too long after I had a close encounter of the bovine kind.  Not a cranky one with big horns, I think it was a girl, but it was in my lane and moving slowly. We became aware of each others presence about the same time and I was happy to see it lurch to my right out of my way as I made good use of the Road King’s ABS. I still managed to take some evasive action under brakes and was glad I did. The cow bucked and kicked it’s back legs at me as I rode past.  It was way to close for comfort.

With my head back in the game and alert levels high I arrived at Tennant Creek about 11pm thankfully much warmer than the night before.  Other than the Police Station the only light on was the 24 hour BP where I got $10 worth of ordinary unleaded fuel.  All the other pumps were locked up and the presence of quite a number of teenage locals was disconcerting. I needed the fuel for the finishing docket for the IBA documentation but decided to use the Premium unleaded in the jerry to fill it in the morning.  I also remain happy that the service station attendant, who’s job I’d never want was willing to sign my IBA witness form for the end of the SS2000M ride while I kept a very good eye on the Harley.

Once that was done it was time to settle down in the Desert Sands Motel, eat some Sultanas and think about the short 990k ride tomorrow to finish the trip to Darwin. I also spent some time privately celebrating the fact that I’d ridden 3290kms (2044 miles) in well under 48 hours and the SS2000M was mine, assuming the documentation I kept was good enough for the Iron Butt Association.

I was really really pleased at how well my Road King® performed and how comfortable it was.  The 130kph speed limits in the Northern Territory made it even more fun.

The following day I made it to Darwin by 4pm so the whole trip was under 60 hours. Gotta be happy with that.