I’d commented to Lisa that I wanted a ‘big’ ride. “I need some dirt, sand, raw beauty, and a little danger. Well, just enough to shake me up a little,” I’d continued naively. I should have known better.
We are perched on the northeastern coast of the world’s sixth largest nation and biggest island, as well as one of the oldest landmasses on the planet—Australia. At a gas station in the town of Mackay, Lisa tops off the fuel tanks while I check the bikes over. Nearby, the Coral Sea pounds the beach as a stream of boats head out to the Great Barrier Reef. At $ 250 per person, this excursion is out of our budget.
The air carries a salty tang. A warm dry breeze lulls our senses, but it does little to distract me from the building knot of anxious excitement that’s growing in my stomach. Ahead is a long and unforgiving off-road route—the “World’s Longest Shortcut.” These 2,600 miles across Australia take in uninhabited desert and challenging terrain, and they will see us traverse this vast continent from coast to coast. We’re here to motorcycle the real Australia, the primeval interior where walk-about legends take root in the blood-red earth, and the land whispers to those who listen. We’re headed into the Outback.
We are southwest of Mackay, and Lisa’s F 650 GS belts out a hefty “blat, blat, blat” as she eases off the gas, applies the brakes, and pulls to a stop. Six large kangaroos leap in unison across the Peak Downs Highway. The large male at the rear throws us a suspicious stare before disappearing into the tall grass on the other side. “We’re going to have to be very careful of this particular hazard,” I yell to Lisa.
We’re looking at a straight piece of tar that stretches out of sight. Fields of sun-bleached brush grass spread out under a cloudless sky. After heading west for five hours, we meet the Gregory Development Road and turn south, grateful for the interruption. In the small town of Clermont, we cruise the short main street and stop to refill our water packs; we’re already parched. The little wooden-decked provisions store looks like it would have 50 years ago. Inside, the beaten 1950s Coca-Cola fridge is overflowing with chilled bottled water. Handing over our cash, we quickly fill our water-sacks.
Jim, a long-distance trucker sporting a thick dusty beard, ancient jeans, and a faded-orange safety shirt, is outside.
“Struth mate. You’re ready for an adventure, eh?” asks the inquisitive truckie (truck driver) pointing to the motorcycles.
“We’re riding down to Perth across the Outback,” Lisa answers.
“You be careful out there. That place wants ya dead. Ah, heck, young fella, good on ya. Mind the roos. Ya’ll be right,” Jim adds with a dry chuckle.
“I think we’ve just met Crocodile Dundee’s dad,” Lisa comments to me with a smile.
The Outback Has Teeth
West of town, the tar ends abruptly. With a thump, we drop to the loose gravel track. With our tire pressures lowered, we pick up speed. On the pegs, I squeeze on the throttle, and my rear wheel drifts out before I straighten for the next long left.
Two hours of glass (shiny ball-bearing) gravel later, the air is pungent as we cruise through a grove of silver-barked eucalyptus trees. Clearing the trees, I plow into a deep wash of dust and rocks and instantly shift my weight to compensate. In my mirror, I can see Lisa’s bike is sideways, her rear wheel sliding out violently. In a split second, she’s thrown forward as her 650 GS high sides before smacking the ground hard and flipping. Lisa’s pinned under the front left fuel tank. Adrenaline pumps as I spin around and rush back to her.