Been there, done that!
Having survived the 2009 Postie Bike Challenge from Brisbane to Melbourne via the Outback (and the unexpected snow bonus), and knowing what I was in for, I knew as soon as I saw the route for the 2012 Challenge that I wanted to have another go!
I was one of sixty two riders (fifty one men and eleven women) who started the 2012 Postie Bike Challenge – and I was one of sixty one riders (fifty men and eleven women who completed it). As with every Challenge the riders come from many walks of life, a wide range of ages and all levels of riding experience (including a newly licensed rider). Some previous Challenge friendships were renewed and some new friendships were made. My brother in law, Allen, also completed the 2012 Postie Bike Challenge – he can cross this one off his ‘Bucket List’!
Another woman, Heidi from Canberra, should have taken part this year but unfortunately she broke her wrist the weekend before the Challenge started. After having spent the day honing her dirt riding skills she had an accident as she arrived home after her own Postie Bike ‘failed to proceed’ up her very steep driveway. To say Heidi was very upset about missing the Challenge would be an understatement but, having befriended some of the Challenge riders on Facebook, she planned to follow our adventures online.
Once again this year’s Challenge had a number of riders from overseas – a bloke from the UK, a husband and wife from New Zealand and a father and daughter from the US. At least eight of this year’s riders (including three women from Australia and two men from overseas) had completed previous Challenges and for the bloke from the UK this was his fourth consecutive Challenge!
Despite the 2012 Challenge being very different to the 2009 Challenge in many ways it proved to be just as interesting and diverse! Once again it was a very well organised event and the high level of attention given to detail, and the competence of the support crew, was evident from the outset. All riders were supplied with a Postie Bike that had been carefully prepared and fully serviced, a milk crate (to hold a First Aid kit, lunch box, water bottles, 5 litre fuel can and whatever else we could stuff in) and daily run sheets.
During the Challenge we were accompanied by seven support crew (most of whom were First Aiders and three of whom were also motorcycle mechanics) in a number of support vehicles (4WD utes and the official “Postie Bike Challenge” truck) all of which were equipped with First Aid kits and satellite phones. Apart from carrying extra drinking water, fuel, oil, chain lube and spare parts (including spare wheels and tyres) most of the support vehicles also carried a spare Postie Bike (or two) in the event that a Postie Bike could not be repaired by the side of the road. Each support vehicle also had a spare seat or two but, barring illness or injury, we were expected to ride our Postie Bike all the way from Perth to Broome!
Each morning some of the support crew would set off before the riders to place strategic markers using orange and yellow surveyor’s tape. They would also setup at the designated refuelling stop to provide us with extra drinking water and fuel and, if required, engine oil and chain lube. One of the support vehicles towed a long, flat‑bed trailer capable of carrying six Postie Bikes and this was the designated “Tail End Charlie” vehicle that travelled behind the last rider. All the support vehicles, including the official “Postie Bike Challenge” truck (which, apart from carrying our personal stuff, also doubled as a mobile workshop and spare parts store), travelled along the same route as us during the day. Along the way the support crew offered advice and encouragement, took photos, fixed our bikes, chatted with us when we stopped to take a rest and, if necessary, assisted us after our spills.
Each day, when the official “Postie Bike Challenge” truck arrived at our destination, the mechanics setup their mobile workshop and, in addition to carrying out any scheduled maintenance on our Postie Bikes, they worked their magic with repairs. They did a great job and often worked on into the night as we sat down to recover, relax, share our day’s experiences and enjoy our evening meal!
Most riders and support crew camped each night but some riders treated themselves to a room in a pub or a motel once or twice along the way. Those that camped were, courtesy of some very talented fellow riders, roused from their slumber by the calls of roosters, sheep and cattle (and the occasional pig) as the sun rose each morning. Hopefully the locals at the caravan parks where we stayed were equally impressed by this display of talent …
with the 2009 Challenge not all of our meals could be
provided by local community groups and, as a result, our
support crew took on the additional role of caterers – in
which they also excelled – the night we stayed at 80 Mile
Beach. With a cooked breakfast, packed lunch and a two
course dinner on offer each day not gaining weight was yet
another challenge many of us faced (although by the end none
of us wanted to see another meat and pickle sandwich!).
Another significant difference between the 2009 Challenge and the 2012 Challenge was that we had good mobile telephone coverage every day. This meant could maintain contact with our family and friends and, if we were so inclined and equipped, update our status and upload photos on the internet.
Over the course of the nine day Challenge we travelled almost 3,400 kilometres and about one third of this distance was on dirt roads. The daily distances ranged from less than 200 kilometres to almost 480 kilometres (the longest single day distance ever travelled in the history of the Challenge!) and some days we rode up to 280 kilometres on unsealed roads. The condition of the unsealed roads varied from smooth hard packed dirt – on which we could travel at speeds of 60 70kph – to bone rattling washboard corrugations with some long stretches of loose gravel and deep patches of sand thrown in for good measure.
weather conditions ranged from a cold, frosty start on the
second day to a very hot finish on the final day; from
strong, gusty 80kph winds that blew riders across and/or off
the roads to hot, dry winds that turned fresh sandwiches
into toasted sandwiches within seconds of the first bite
being taken; and from warm, dry days to cold, wet days on
which we also encountered hail.
As we made our way from Perth to Broome we also saw some of Western Australia’s natural Spring time splendour including beautiful native wildflowers, stunning rock formations and spectacular mountain ranges, waterfalls and gorges. Some of us were also lucky enough to see live native animals (there was an abundance of road kill to challenge our sense of smell) including kangaroos, emus, snakes, lizards and majestic raptors that circled above us most days.
Two days before the 2012 Challenge started my brother in law and I flew from Canberra to Perth. My trip got off to a rough start when I started to feel sick just after breakfast that morning. On the long flight to Perth, via Melbourne, it became clear I had gastro and this made air travel rather interesting – and quite challenging - in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I was so ill by the time I arrived in Perth that I had to get my brother in law to take me to see a GP. With an injection and some extra prescription medication the symptoms eased fairly quickly but even so it took me another few days to fully recover and feel well again.
The day before each Postie Bike Challenge starts is an administrative and set up day when riders get to meet their Postie Bike, each other and the all important support crew. There is also a briefing session in which the finalised details of the departure time are provided and information on the daily maintenance routine for the Postie Bikes is given. This is also when we get to fit our personalised crate cover and other Challenge travel *essentials* like a sheepskin seat cover, soft handgrips, electronic gadgets (eg, GPS, phone charger, etc) and clips for holding the daily run sheets. This year some riders also fitted rather impressive – and very colourful – wind, dust and rock deflecting screens to the front of their bikes!
Early on the first morning of the Challenge, we set off under cloudy skies and in cool conditions for Hyden – almost 370 kilometres to the south east. After making our way through the suburbs of Perth we travelled through a number of small towns and along scenic roads on our way to Hyden. One of the highlights of the day for me was the ride alongside fields of Canola in full bloom – I didn’t realise Canola flowers had such a sweet scent (one of the benefits of slow riding!).
Murray, one of Heidi’s Facebook friends, posted details and photos of our first day’s ride on Facebook – Heidi’s response: "Devastated!" Knowing that Heidi has a pet rock named Steve that she takes with her on motorcycle trips I suggested to Murray that Steve needed a female companion – also a rock – and that she should take part in the rest of the Challenge. And so the idea of Sharon ‘Shazza’ Stone was born …
Day two started with a surprise for all of us – we awoke to find our tents and bikes covered in frost! After visiting Wave Rock as we left Hyden we first headed north and then east on our way to Kalgoorlie. Once again we travelled almost 370 kilometres but this leg included about 100 kilometres of dirt roads. Fortunately these were, for the most part, in very good condition and this meant we could travel at ‘Postie Bike’ highway speeds (ie, up to about 75kph). There were, however, a few short sandy sections to keep things interesting and for some these provided the first real challenge of the trip.
On the second night we camped at a sports ground in Kalgoorlie and, despite the windy conditions, we all settled down for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately many of us were rudely awoken at midnight when the in ground sprinkler system came on. Some unlucky campers instantly discovered they had pitched their tent directly over a sprinkler head while others found out that the air vent of their tent was in the direct line of a sprinkler head water path. Some people slept through the whole thing – including one person whose tent was pitched on a sprinkler head!
The third day started with us packing up our tents and gear in the rain and then setting off in quite cold, wet and windy conditions. After visiting the Kalgoorlie Super Pit, the largest gold open pit mine in Australia, we travelled 140 kilometres along sealed roads to the town of Menzies. From Menzies we headed north west for 280 kilometres along dirt roads on our way to Sandstone. We all stopped at Lake Ballard (a salt lake which is home to the ‘Inside Australia’ sculpture exhibition) to re fuel and check out some of the sculptures.
At Lake Ballard Murray gave me a lovely rock he’d found and drawn a face on – Sharon ‘Shazza’ Stone had joined us! Shazza accompanied us for the rest of the Challenge and was photographed with many of the riders and support crew in all sorts of poses and places and her adventures were shared on Facebook each day. Shazza had a makeover a few days after joining us (courtesy of the decorations on another rider’s bike) and looked rather glamorous with her red boa feather hair and matching diamante earrings.
After leaving Lake Ballard the cross winds became very strong and gusty for most of the way to Sandstone. Many of us struggled to stay on our side of the road as we were blown around by 80kph winds (fortunately there was almost no other traffic) but Allen, my brother in law, came off his Postie Bike when he was blown completely off the road while we negotiating a dirt section. Shortly after recovering from his unplanned dismount both we both had to contend with riding through a hailstorm – seeing a dirt road turn white is quite an impressive sight!
The following day we had a relatively short 200 kilometre ride from Sandstone to Meekatharra. Despite the short distance most of route was dirt and there were some tough sections of sand and gravel. Having arrived in Meekatharra by mid afternoon most of us spent a few hours catching up on washing or relaxing at the local pub although some opted for some ‘retail therapy’ in attempt to deal with the unexpectedly cold nights in tents.
Our destination on day five was the town of Newman and by the end of this day we would have travelled more than half of the total distance of the Challenge! This was also another day on which we would travel more than 400 kilometres and this type of sustained use is very demanding on the small, but incredibly robust, Honda CT110 engine. During the morning briefing Andy, one of the mechanics, came up with a novel way to remind us to regularly check the oil level. He told us that, from this day forward, whenever we heard the call of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ we were to respond with ‘Oil, Oil, Oil’. (It was certainly effective because the chant of ‘Oil, Oil, Oil’ was heard at all times of the day and night for the rest of the Challenge!)
Our ride along the Great Northern Highway also marked the first day on which we had to share our travelling space with road trains. These behemoths are up to 53 metres long and can motor along at 100kph – they’re much longer and can travel a lot faster than a Postie Bike! Being overtaken by a road train while riding a Postie Bike is an interesting experience – you literally get sucked along as they pass by but you have to keep your wits about you to make sure you don’t get sucked underneath. I saw one rider literally disappear into the distance as he skilfully caught the slip stream of a passing road train!
A detour from the planned route on the sixth day saw us travel along 90 kilometres of very dusty and mostly washboard corrugated dirt roads on our 325 kilometre ride to Tom Price. The changed route gave us the unexpected opportunity to visit some of the spectacular gorges and waterfalls of the beautiful Karajini National Park. Little did we know that the road conditions we’d conquered this day were just a sampler of what was on offer the next day …
At the morning briefing on the seventh day Dan, the event director, reminded us that the Postie Bike Challenge provided challenges in many forms and that on some days it would be the roads we travelled. He then informed us that this was to be one of those days! Karratha, our final destination for this day, was almost 375 kilometres to the north east and, based on Dan’s most recent travels along the route, the 260 kilometre dirt section would be very difficult. In addition to the everything shaking washboard corrugations we’d ridden the previous day Dan warned us to also expect long stretches of deep sand and loose gravel – this was going to be a long, hard day!
Thankfully I didn’t find the road conditions on the long, unsealed section nearly as difficult as Dan predicted although there were certainly a few tricky patches to catch the unwary or those who had let down their guard. (Dan later said the road had been graded, and was in much better condition, since the last time he had travelled it.) However, some riders found the conditions very challenging and there were quite a few spills – although no serious injuries – on this day.
Once we’d finished the dirt section we still had to ride another 100 kilometres to reach Karratha. On the way into Karratha I noticed a sign to Dampier and I remembered that the ‘Red Dog’ memorial statue was located in Dampier. After arriving in Karratha at the end of a long, hard, 375 kilometre day a bunch of us rode another 45 kilometres to see the ‘Red Dog’ memorial statue.
The eighth day provided us with two new challenges – a 480 kilometre ride and increasingly hot weather. We left Karratha as early as possible and headed for 80 Mile Beach along the Great Northern Highway. In addition to riding into headwinds for most of the morning we also had to share the road with much larger and faster road users – including road trains and grey nomads with caravans – again.
Fortunately I had considered the possibility of having to ride in hot weather and had read about a good way to keep cool while riding in these conditions. This method involved wearing a wet, long sleeved, light weight top under my jacket and leaving the cuffs open so that the air entering my jacket could cool me by evaporating the moisture in my top. This ‘air conditioning’ system worked very well and made the next 30 minutes/50 kilometres of riding very pleasant. Unfortunately I then had to wait at least another 30 minutes/50 kilometres to get my next cooling fix!
At the turn off to 80 Mile Beach we discovered there was 10 kilometres of sandy red road to traverse before the day was over. None of us were expecting this – we all thought we’d finished with dirt roads the previous day – and some of the deeper sandy patches tried to swallow a Postie Bike or two! The highlight of this day was the sunset – there is something special about a sunset over water and it was definitely the most beautiful sunset of the Challenge.
The final day started with the same 10 kilometres of sandy red road we’d ridden in on the previous evening followed by a 45 kilometre dash along the highway to the Sandfire Roadhouse for breakfast (and to collect our lunches). Once again it was a very hot day and I had to stop a few times along the next 290 kilometres to refill my Camelbak and restart my ‘air conditioning’.
We all stopped at a roadhouse outside of Broome to take a much needed break and regroup before riding the final 35 kilometres into Broome. Upon our arrival we were welcomed by members of Broome Rotary and provided with refreshments (and more meat and pickle sandwiches!) – many of us were also fortunate enough to be welcomed by our family or friends (my husband was there to meet me).
After delivering our Postie Bikes to Broome Rotary we checked into the luxurious Oaks Resort in Broome. We all appreciated the opportunity to have a long shower – and start the lengthy process of washing all the red dirt out of our skin – before the end of Challenge celebrations got underway a few hours later.
One of the aims of every Postie Bike Challenge is to support Rotary with its charitable works and it was wonderful – and very moving – to learn that evening of the many ways in which Broome Rotary would use our Postie Bikes (or the proceeds from selling them) to provide assistance and/or opportunities for others.
Another Postie Bike Challenge done and well and truly dusted (it took ages to get all the red dirt out!).
Kathy Leslie (# 30)
Postscript: Much to her surprise I presented Heidi with Shazza when I arrived home from Broome. Hopefully Heidi will get the opportunity to be challenged in 2013!