SS3000M Darwin to Newcastle the long way

Day 1: Darwin to Alice Springs

Having abandoned the idea of trying for a BB2500k IBA ride today I was off for a sub 1500k ride on my Harley-Davidson® Road King® from Darwin to Alice Springs. So I was up at 3.30am, had the obligatory oats, sultanas and nuts for breakfast in my room and set about packing the bike.  Once done I rode from the carpark to the front of the Medina, checked out and was happy the night staff agreed to sign my witness forms.  Then a quick trip up the street to the United Service station to fill the tank and the jerry can with a start docket time of 5.02am.

So out of Darwin in the dark I rode and I soon enough found myself in the 130kph zone but going a little slower than that for two reasons, animals (cows) and fuel management. I needed to make sure I got to Katherine without having to waste time topping up out of the jerry. Less than three hours later I rode into Katherine, the 24 hour BP was still out of PULP, but the Shell was thankfully open.

After a quick stop I kept heading south planning to ride until empty, filling from the jerry and heading to Elliott to fill up. I made it to Daly Waters on fumes and pulled into the service centre that was packed with early morning grey nomads. I parked my Road King out of the way, used the facilities and filled from the jerry can anyway because the fuel in it was cheaper. Unfortunately my helmet took a dive here and landed square on my Sena SMH10 smashing the helmet clip, so I had to resign myself to completing the ride with a silent GPS, no hands free phone and no music. The latter not really anything more than a missed opportunity but the GPS was obviously the biggest loss, “Turn left in 2135 Kilometres”.


The next leg to Elliott was uneventful and I was making good time. Another quick refuel keeping an eye on the Harley-Davidson due to the number of locals that always seem to just hang around. I also needed an energy hit so I broke with tradition and grabbed a Cherry Ripe out of the fridge and wolfed it down with some warm water out of the pannier.

Riding further south through Three Ways I nearly stopped to take a photo at the road sign pointing the way to MT Isa but continued to Tennant Creek where I refueled. Never mind, I’ll get the photo next time.  Tennant Creek was much more sedate in the day time so I took 15 minutes to relax, have a rest and a chat to the staff in the servo.

I knew I needed one more fuel stop before Alice Springs and distance wise the obvious choice would be Ti Tree, however after my night time experience there last week there was no way I was pulling in there so I stopped in a rest area that put me within range of Alice Springs on a full tank and filled from the jerry.

Ti Tree was quiet and deserted on the way past, I left it that way.

I was still making really good time, it was still light so I took some snaps of the Devil’s Marbles

and some interesting hills near Barrow Creek.

I arrived in Alice Springs not long after dark, filled the Harley-Davidson and the jerry can and found the Desert Palms  resort that had been recommended to me by one of the local FarRiders, coldcomfort.  The accommodation was away from the chaos of the main streets and had a code access security gate at night, nice and safe parking for the Road King

I called coldcomfort who’d offered to share a beer or two and as it turned out had organised some dinner for me at his home.  I was grateful for the lift to his place, the food and the company, notebable because prior to tonight I’d never met him.  One of the marvelous things about sharing an interest in motorcycling. Coldy dropped me back at the Desert Palms and after lining things up for a quick exit in the morning I set my alarm and crashed.

Day 2: Alice Springs to Broken Hill

I woke up at 5.18am with a start.  I had forgotten to change the day on my iPhone’s alarm with the obvious result. I realised that any hope for a Centreline 36 was now gone, (insert minor profanity here).  With the standard breakfast taken, the Harley-Davidson packed I returned to the BP Alice City and got a docket stamped at 6.30am, at least and hour and a half behind schedule.

The first fuel stop was Kulgera 287ks down the road, still in Northern Territory.  I had enough range in the tank to get there at the speed limit and hoped that I could make up some time.  At Kulgera, it turned sour. To get fuel you had to go inside and hand over your card before they’d turn the pump on.  Any time I’d made up was lost. I should have stuck with the jerry. 2nd mistake for the day. Later I saw this, wish ‘d have taken a better photo of the plaque so I knew what it was.

My concerns about time were for later in the day, I didn’t really want to ride the Pimba – Port Augusta portion in the dark again. I was already resigned to the fact that the 400k’s between Port Augusta and Broken Hill were going to be in the dark.

The next leg was Coober Pedy, a touch over 400k’s away where I planned to eat.  I put as much into the tank at Kulgera a I could and crossed my fingers that I could make it to Coober on one tank.  Crossing into South Australia the speed limit droped back to 110, a very fuel efficient speed for the Road King.  Unfortunately I ran out about 10k’s short, had to top up out of the jerry and still had to stop at Coober Pedy. Another mistake.

I refilled the tank, topped up the jerry and walked into the roadhouse restaurant.  It was packed.  After wasting more time there standing behind indecisive grey nomads I left, gulped down some sultanas and nuts from the panniers, drank some water and rode off.  It hadn’t been a good start to the day and not surprisingly was starting to cool down.

The opal mine landscape in the area is fascinating.

The next stop was Pimba 366k’s away, calculating as I went I was a chance to at least complete a BunBurner 2500K/36 if I could arrive there before 5pm and I managed that with about an hour to spare.  Bitter sweet, because that confirmed that had I managed to get away as planned this morning the Centreline 36 would have been mine. I was happy about the BB at least, not my best time but a reasonable effort at any time.

I had a coffee and a brief chat with the locals at Pimba, again heard the warnings about cattle on the road and suggestions that I get off the Stuart Hwy before dark.

On the way to Darwin I had ridden this section in the dark and hadn’t seen a cow. In the light I saw plenty, all dead by the side of the road.  Now I properly understood the advice I’d been given. I also got to see some beautiful scenery here. Hart Lake, other dry lake beds, it was really pretty.

The sun set as I rode into Port Augusta and fuelled up with a docket at 5.58pm.  Oh well. Then off to the east in the night turning left towards Wilmington and again got to ride Horrocks Pass, uphill this time, and leave some Road King behind. Traffic was very sparse between Wilmington and Peterborough and the road seemed to go uphill forever.  As I rode that section and beyond I noticed the breeze increasing and by the time I arrived in Yunta it was gusty and blowing hard. There are two service stations in Yunta with gravel leading to each driveway.  Fast moving dust and dirt filled the street and the BP I stopped to refuel in and it was also quite cold.

I stopped for a coffee and a bite to eat and left for the last leg of the day to Broken Hill.  Not too far out of Yunta a car caught me and I moved over to let it past.  It was a young couple with a dog I’d seen at the servo and they seemed keen to get wherever they were going.  I was glad of the opportunity to follow them at a decent clip as far as the NSW Border where they pulled into the Cockburn Pub.

The last part of the ride into Broken Hill was still cool but manageable and I arrived at the Shell Service Station at 10.55pm, a touch over 1600k’s ridden on the day.  After filling and getting a docket I rode the short distance to the Comfort Inn Hilltop, retrieved the key from the breakfast order box as arranged, set the alarm and hit the sack.

Day 3: Broken Hill – Mildura – Newcastle

Not again! I knew I was tired last night but once again I managed to stuff up setting the alarm properly, but this morning I couldn’t even work out what I did wrong. Once through the routine of packing the Harley-Davidson® I returned to the Shell Broken Hill for a docket. This morning even later at 6.42am with further to go than yesterday.

Heading south down the Silver City Highway to Mildura at sunrise was enough to improve my mood.

I stopped to take a photo, rode off and 10 minutes later had to stop to take another shot, it just kept getting better

My head was full of numbers and the route, without the GPS talking to me I had to wing it most of the day and hope that I didn’t get lost and lose too much time. Or worse, come up short on k’s. I already had less than 24 hours to do nearly 1800k’s, time was going to be a little tight.

At the Victorian border I ignored the GPS and took the Calder Hwy to Mildura thinking it might be like the Calder Fwy, it wasn’t.  Having said that it was interesting, who new where Sunraysia Sultanas come from, well I didn’t.  It was like riding through a wine region only I think the houses might have been bigger. Mildura at 9.30am on a school day was busier (and bigger) than I expected.

I stopped at a Caltex servo for fuel, had a quick chat with a guy on a BMW on his way to Adelaide and thought I’d use the facilities while I was there.  The door was locked, the staff were puzzled.  They came to check, it didn’t seem locked then so I walked in and saw a native of the area having a wash in the sink with his bags on the floor.  Well, I was there to go and when I went he was gone.  Very strange.

Soon I was out of Mildura, where I saw the road I should have taken join up with my route and I was soon out on to the open plains towards Hay.  I got through my traditional 11am dozies fine arriving at South Hay for fuel about 12.30pm.

My next stop was the servo at Gillenbah/Narrandera.  This stretch was pretty rough, with increasing roadworks causing more delays. At one point I found myself standing on the footpans of the Road King® as I dropped off the edge of a large section of unfortunately graded soft gravel. Somewhere along here my Airhawk became a hawk so I had to resign myself to bareback riding for the last 1000k’s or so.

I then saw a road to Finley shortly followed by a BP and mistakenly thought I’d made to to Gillenbah early.  I rode through the servo and realised I’d got it wrong so rode straight out.  At that point I realised the importance of the corner docket I was going to get before turning south to Jerilderie and Finley.

Within site of the servo at Gillenbah I was stopped yet again by roadwork. I waited with the bike turned off for over ten minutes in full realisation that I needed to get the docket, turn around and come back to these roadworks to turn onto the Newell Hwy south.  At the servo I grabbed some sugar hit lollies, went to the cashier and asked for a tax receipt.  After some puzzled looks and further discussion he quite rightly told me I wasn’t getting a receipt until I’d paid for them.  Ooops, focus Wom. It was the 3pm period of the day I usually find a little difficult too.

Luckily the traffic flow was moving forward as I left the servo so I managed to catch up, wave to the lolly pop man and get onto the Newell without another significant delay. This small win was soon turned sour by at least four other areas of roadworks and delays on that stretch of road.  I eventually made it to Finley, fuelled up and hot footed it to Albury through Howlong arriving just on dusk.  I filled up and called home. 6pm and 700ks to go up the Hume. It was going to be a late night.

The Hume was busier than I’ve ever seen it. Rows of trucks light up like small cities on both sides of the highway all seeming to travel faster than they should have been, except for uphill.  The temperature was also dropping quickly, by the time I got to Yass I was shivering. I filled up, pushed the Harley into a parking bay and ratted through the panniers and bag to see what else I could put on.  I found a cheap wet weather suit and put it on over the one I already had on. I couldn’t get the pants on but the additional thin layer on top did help slightly while riding through Goulburn and into the Southern Highlands. But it was still cold.

Here there were spots of fog about, but nothing like the last time I’d ridden through here in the dark.  I had been feeling pretty tired, but the closer I got to the M7, M2 and then Thornleigh the realisation of finishing the 3000 mile ride in under 72 hours was sinking in. My spirits and focus lifted. I stopped at the BP in Thornleigh for the last fuel before finishing and could only pay through the night window.  I talked the operator into going into the shop to grab me a Cherry Ripe and after the sugar hit I hit the road for the relatively short trip down the F3 to finish the ride.

The roadworks were not done with me yet though, 100ks, 80ks, 60ks, 40ks, 110k in what seemed a never ending loop, but  I was on my way home. Well, on my way home via Beresfield for a corner docket because I was (uneccessarily) concerned about being short on k’s for the total trip.  At the BP at Beresfield I bought a twin pack Cherry Ripe to give to my wife and son when I got home and woke them up sign my end or ride witness form.

From Bero a short trip to the local servo for a fuel top up, a finish docket and then home for the paperwork. I think the family were happy to see me home, but probably not so happy to have to celebrate my arrival shortly after 2am in the morning.

It took me quite a while to thaw out and shake off today’s ride.  While quietly elated that I’d successfully completed the SS3000M, on the odometer 5063ks in less than 72 hours, I also had some time to reflect on why the Ironbutt Archive of Wisdom talks about Day 3 being hard.  My first hand experience of this gave me pause to reflect on my ride plan. Next time I do it, I’ll do it differently. But for now, it’s done and dusted.