The 2016 Black Dog Ride charity journey on the Yahava MotoKafe
Dave Bassett: (Yahava Basecamp Krewman)
This was not the first charity trip for the MotoKafé and there was concern for all involved that this might just be a bridge too far for a machine designed and built to travel around Australia just once.
I was once again the designated Barista/Pilot for what was to be the MotoKafe’s last big journey. I had ridden the machine to Uluru from Busselton without incident in 2015 but the kilometres now were really starting to mount up. Experience was proving that the half tonne machine was a beast to handle at the speeds other riders travelled at. A new set of tyres were worn to the canvas every 4000 kilometres and who knew what kind of fatigue the frame had suffered after 20,000 bone shaking kilometres on Australian highways.
The other concern I had was about this trip was that I would be without a support rider. On my Uluru ride my Wingman was Jeremy Jeans an accomplished rider, barista and MotoKafe rider. Not only was he great company but he shared the workload both riding and serving coffee.
This time I was solo.
This ride was to take us through the wheat belt to the mining town of Kalgoorlie and then on up the inland route to Newman before heading to Port Hedland on the coast. From there the Black Dog Riders would follow the coastline back down to Perth. This was the end of the ride for most but I had anther 200 kilometres to travel back to Busselton.
NOT A GREAT START
Thursday 18th August Busselton to Hyden (451km)
The hot farewell coffee in Busselton on a cold and wet Thursday morning was like medicine. The ride to Hyden would be over 450 kilometres and all things going to plan would see us there before nightfall. It was great to get back on the MotoKafe but the peculiar nuances of the way it performed soon became painfully obvious. The weight and windage of the sidecar created a serious left-hand drag that constantly tried to pull the machine off the road; a character defect that intensified the faster the MotoKafe travelled. So, it wasn’t long before my right-hand shoulder was starting to complain as I fought the steering bias. I was grateful I had put some gym work in before I left as I knew this ride was going to be another epic endurance workout.
The Moto Guzzi was literally purring under me and that was very comforting. As always, I found myself tailing the other 50 riders and cruising in front of Ross Scott in a big ute and trailer as ‘Tail-end-Charlie’. His job it is to clean up any ailing or failing bikes and riders. He drove the ute and trailer, fully equipped with spare fuel and tools for any road side emergencies.
I was cruising at the speed limit and looking forward to the lunch stop at Dumbleyung as I coasted into Wagin. I looked at my watch it was just on midday so we were making good time. The bike slowed to about 40kph when things without warning went very pear shaped indeed. Something was seriously, seriously wrong but I had no idea what was happening. The entire rig was bucking across the road like an enraged bull at a rodeo and all I could do was hang on for the ride. Those behind me watched the MotoKafe bounce into the oncoming lane, generating a cloud of blue smoke and the acrid smell of rubber. Was it going to flip and would I stay on? I really had no time to think so I just stayed with the rig for the ride. I couldn’t brake because the rear tyre was more in the air than on the tarmac. Thank God there was no oncoming traffic and thank God I was only travelling at 40kph. The machine finally came to rest, right side up, in gravel and a cloud of smoke and dust on the wrong side of the road. I just sat there totally bewildered and stunned. My heart was still pumping at 110kph as the dust and smoke cleared. What on earth had happened? Two other riders and the sweep vehicle had stopped and people ran over to me. “Are you alright?” they asked. I was fine but in a state of shock. I got off and walked around the machine looking for clues as to what may have happened. Then I spotted the culprit. The swing arm suspension had collapsed locking the sidecar wheel hard against the mudguard. With the swing arm snapped the sidecar tyre was effectively frozen in place and it just wouldn’t budge. The bike and side car were not going anywhere.
We tried to drag the MotoKafe onto the trailer but with the sidecar wheel locked the entire rig was too heavy for the winch. We called on a local tow truck operator with some heavier gear and it wasn’t long before we had the MotoKafe in a local yard.
With most of the riders now in Dumbleyung, Ross excused himself and headed off to join the rest of the group. It looked like my ride was over on day one. I was about to phone my wife and ask her to come up to Wagin and take me home when the Towie quipped that the broken swing arm just needed a weld and it could probably be repaired.
So, I asked the obvious question, where could I get this done. Now Wagin is a two-horse, wheat-belt village, not exactly brimming with workshops. It has a pub and a service station and not much else. The Towie told me the local publican was handy with a welder and got back in the truck to get on his phone. I was out of earshot of the conversation, but he finally wound the window down and told me to jump in. We pulled out of the yard and drove about fifty metres to an engineering yard where we met with Lionel, the local publican.
He looked at the broken swing arm and scratched his head. “Yep I reckon we can sort this, just leave the machine on the truck, it will be easier to work on it at this height.” With the side car jacked up the wheel was easy to remove. The swing arm bar was welded and an additional flange also welded in place to reinforce the offending joint. The repaired swing arm was scrubbed and painted and the MotoKafe was off the truck and ready for the road. I was gob-smacked, it had all taken less than an hour. “How much for the repair Lionel?, I asked. Na don’t worry about it mate, was the reply, you guys are doing a great job carrying the message, it’s my pleasure.”
I couldn’t thank him enough. What I had witnessed was the generosity and caring that is such a special characteristic of a rapidly disappearing rural Australia. These are people that have a deep, ingrained sense of ‘caring for others’ without expecting anything in return. I shook his hand in a very ‘blokey’ way but had to choke back my gratitude. It had been an incredible day.
As the MotoKafe roared back on the road, I realised it was just after 3.00pm and I was now well behind the rest of the riders and on my own in a part of the country that was very unfamiliar. It was just a matter of following the google map on my phone and I knew I would eventually catch up to rest of the pack in Hyden.
I wasn’t too concerned when my phone went flat as I had bought a spare battery and cable. But then to my horror I discovered the cable didn’t work so I now had no map and no GPS. The ride was not along main roads, these were back country roads with minimal signposting, and it wasn’t long before I was lost and running low on fuel. Not every settlement had a fuelling station and by now the towns were few and far between. In my homeland New Zealand there is always a farm house driveway you can travel up for help but in the wheat belt there are no farm houses, just endless miles of road and emptiness. Too continue down a wrong road would mean ending up out of fuel with no shelter in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t seen another vehicle in over an hour and I was starting to get a little worried.
The winter sun was low and the air temperature was rapidly dropping as I rode in to Kulin. I walked in to the local take-away and asked for instructions. I emptied the last of the petrol from a 5 litre can into the Guzzi’s tank as I watched the sun dip over the horizon.
It was now very cold and very black. The Moto Guzzi is not famous for its head light and hitting a roo was not something I was looking forward to. I was freezing, my arms and neck were aching and I was not enjoying the ride. To add to my misery I started obsessing about what else could go wrong with the machine and thinking about how bad a day it had been. Perhaps I should have taken Steve Andrews advice when we spoke on the phone in Wagin. I told him what had happened and knowing my confidence had been shaken he suggested I should perhaps head back to Busselton.
I kept the machine rolling along at around 90kph, not only to save fuel but also to cut down the freezing air that was cutting through every tiny gap in my riding gear. The bike straightened up after a big right hand sweeper and in front of me was the most incredible full moon I had ever seen, just above the horizon, silhouetting a stand of gums.
For the moment I forgot completely about the day and just marvelled at the sight. It was like something out of a movie. I thought to myself, what a shame the rest of the riders couldn’t see this. These ‘breathtaking’ snapshot images across this wonderful country are what make these rides so memorable.
As the road turned away from the moon I saw ahead of me the lights of Hyden. It was close to 8pm but I had made it. A couple of locals sitting under the porch of the pub, beer in hand watched me struggle off the bike. Too cold to take off anything other than my helmet I pushed through the pub door and into a room packed with riders and importantly a roaring log fire.
A big cheer went up as I climbed out of my road gear and pushed my way in front of the fire. I had a story to share with my road mates that night.
TO THE GOLD FIELDS
Friday 19th August Hyden to Kalgoorlie (504 km)
I scraped a layer of frost of the bike seat before throwing my leg over the saddle. The other riders had made it into Hyden late in the afternoon and all rode to get photos of the iconic Wave Rock but it was clear I would not be seeing the tourist spot on this trip. Another disappointment.
We headed for the Airport where the Lions Club had a big cooked breakfast for us. I loved their enthusiasm but the barbequed sausages weren’t ideal fuel for a rider. Someone coined it ‘death by sausage’ so I managed with an egg on toast instead.
The bike and sidecar sat on the road with its normal rolling gait. Alex Kok who had ridden the rig around Australia told me a couple of times just to let the mob go and find your own speed at under 100kph. At this trot the bike purred along comfortably, the fuel consumption plummeted and the sidecar relinquished most of its desire to drive off the road. The only downside was that I would get further behind the other riders.
Before we left the vast Western wheat fields we drove northwards to Merredin where we were to meet with school kids at Merredin College. We were on a tight schedule because at the end of the day we were to be escorted into Kalgoorlie by police. As a result no one was holding up the proceedings for the MotoKafe. I arrived just as the school visit finished, with just enough time to fuel up and turn east for the long haul to Southern Cross and lunch at the local bowling club.
As always rural folk are so welcoming and keen to make sure we were well fed and watered. The principle that ‘you can do anything if you are well fed’ seems to be ingrained into farm folk and they never shy from ensuring we left with a full stomach. After another High school visit we headed for Coolgardie. There was a little high cloud but otherwise it was a great day to be on the road. We headed through endless stands of trees that cast flickering shadows over the road. We were in the uppermost region of the great Western Woodlands, the largest temperate forest remaining on the planet, an area about the size of England.
I was conscious of our date with the boys in blue at 4.15pm so I needed to keep the throttle open a bit more than I had on my leisurely morning ride.
I couldn’t see the swing arm on the far side of the sidecar but it seemed to be working well, keeping the cart floating alongside me. I couldn’t stop obsessing about the accident in Wagin. It was beginning to dawn on me what a close call I had. Only minutes before the incident I had been traveling at well over 100kph. If the swingarm had broken at that speed I’m certain I would not be alive let alone still on the ride. So why did it break when the stress must have been much less at the slower speed rather than underload at full speed? It made no sense.
On my own in the middle of nowhere these thoughts were starting to do my head in. Every small noise, every strange bump or wobble caused a quiet panic; was something else going to break? Between the bike and the side car were two 5cm wide pipes that connected the side car to the bike. It was held in place by a single bolt and now I was wondering whether 20,000 kilometres of rural roads had caused more metal fatigue. Just a single bolt and how fragile was that rose joint?
I looked at my watch and it was just gone 4pm. The first road signs indicating I was close to Coolgardie appeared. As the township came into sight I could see bikes lined up at the fuel station and a number of police cars on the side of the main street. You could have run a four lane motorway through the town and I found out later from a local they were built wide enough to turn a camel train around, very handy.
The 40 kilometre ‘pack’ ride to the gold town of Kalgoorlie was not rushed and the Motokafe sat comfortably in the pack. Riding in a big pack of bikes is a little different from cruising the open road. I had to remain vigilant as the tight formation leaves little time to avoid anyone up front and what may be coming at you from behind. We arrived in Kalgoorlie without incident just on sunset, time enough to fuel up and find my cabin at the Holiday Park.
While the riders were accommodated at a number of different motels, we all met that night at the Overland Motel for a fine buffet dinner and speeches.
Saturday 20th August A day in Kalgoorlie
I rode to The Loopline Park in Boulder city just a short distance from the camping ground. It was another perfect cloudless day.
Frost was still sparkling on the ground as the bike cut through the cold morning air. The gates of the park were heavily chained and bolted so I got on the phone to try and arrange someone to come down and let me in. A vintage car show was being held during the morning at the park so getting the MotoKafe set up before the start time of 9.30 was important. I needed an hour for the boiler to come up to steam.
No one knew who had the key to the park but I was told that Chunky was on his way.
Just on 9.00 local identity Chunky arrived sporting the most magnificent beard and announced that he had managed to find the keys. With that he ducked off but came back with a massive set of bolt cutters. One snip and we were in.
A line of gleaming vinatage cars soon filled the park and I started cranking out the coffees.
That afternoon we were all invited on a tram tour that wound around the streets of both Kalgoorlie and Boulder. The Tram, with typical rural ingenuity, had been bolted onto a truck chassis which meant it didn’t need to stick to the tracks. As a result it climbed the dusty track up to the top of the mountainous tailings of the Super Pit. From here we could see a mile down into hole and just make out the massive trucks hauling out rock for the refinery. Each truck takes 40 minutes to do the round trip. The mine is worked 365 days a year and in that time loses around 15 million tonnes of rock. It is the second largest gold producing mine in the world. I wondered what they will do with the hole when its all over?
The tram ended the trip back at the Metropole Hotel for a spit roast where we met up with Chunky again this time sporting a Wallaby rugby jersey. The hotel was screening a Bledisloe Cup match with the All Blacks and Chunky was adamant Australia would rise to the occasion. Sadly for him his team suffered the annual ‘cuff round the ear’ but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm over the rest of the evening.
LOST IN TRANSIT
Sunday 21st August Kalgoorlie to Mt Magnet (687kms)
This was going to be a long day. The Lions had arranged a breakfast for us at the Cruickshank Sports Arena at 6.30 so I had to be there at 5.30 to set up. By the time I had packed the bike up I watched the last rider disappear around the collection of sheds and out onto the highway.
Our first stop for fuel was Menzies. The fuel stations in these outback areas are not ‘manned’ so you roll up with your credit card in hand and line up behind all the rest of the riders. Once again I was last to leave and in spite of being warned about a road turnoff, somehow I missed it and found myself rolling along roads that gradually deteriorated into a dirt track. I knew the roads out here were rough but this didn’t look good. I got on my phone but there was no coverage. I just had to retrace my tracks and try to find the turnoff Steve had talked about at the morning’s briefing. After 20 minutes or so I spotted the sideroad and eased the MotoKafe back on course for Leonora.
Not surprisingly there was no one at the Shell servo in Leonora so I didn’t have to wait for anyone, fueled up and got on the road for Leinster.
At Leinster the last of the bikes were lined up at the servo so I glided in to the head of the queue and pulled rank. I got a dirty look from one helmeted individual and then a couple of the other riders figured out what I should have done at the start of the ride. “Let the MotoKafe in,” someone yelled out, “we need to look after the coffee dude”.
That set a precedent for the rest of the ride and it meant I got far enough ahead of the riders to virtually arrive at each destination with the last of the riders. No more getting lost.
LUNCHING WITH ROYALTY
It was about 2pm when I pulled into Sandstone and the temperature had well and truly picked up. I parked the MotoKafe in the middle of the street and peeled off the layers of clothing. On hot days you have to make a call on how long you think you will be stationary. Once air ceases to flow over and through the road suit the internal temperature can boil you like a lobster in a very short time. Trouble is climbing in and out of all the gear is as tiresome as a workout at the gym and just as sweaty.
I wanted to look tidy for lunch as we had been told we would be having lunch with ‘Lady Di’. I had visions of dainty sandwiches and cup cakes but I should have known better. There under a seriously faded sun umbrella in the middle of a small children’s playground was ‘Lady Di’. Blue rinse hair, shades, a blue dress and a brightly coloured Tahitian top, lathering margarine onto slabs of white bread.
“There you go love,” she said in a rural drawl but delivered like I was two paddocks away. “Get that in ya…ya must be a bit peckish by now”. She slapped a well charred sausage onto a slice of bread and squirted it with tomato sauce like it needed to be drowned, or it might just come back to life.
Rural Australia I decided is fuelled on sausages; long live the sausage. I wandered back to the bike and had a chat with a local who was intrigued with the sidecar and had a few war stories to share.
The afternoon was well and truely warming up as I settled back into the familiar rumble of the bike on the heavy metal seal. I was more conscious than ever about every new squeak and bump, straining to detect anything that might suggest another calamity was about to occur.
When Mt Magnet came into view I was ready for the sack. We pulled into the Camping Grounds without driving through the town. It was evident however that it was a one horse town and the camp ground was full of aging cabins, a sign that the area serviced the mining industry.
I got the bike set up for coffees in the morning not far from the dining hall. I knew there would be a steady stream of riders both to and from here. I ran the power cord back into my cabin so I could switch the espresso on at 5 am almost without getting out of bed then get another half hour of kip.
A COFFEE PROHIBITION
Monday 22nd August Mt Magnet to Newman (617kms)
As we headed north the temperature was definitely lifting. It was nowhere near as crisp in the mornings which made it a little easier to get out of bed. Another school visit interrupted the journey north towards Newman. At the Cue Primary school the children were enamoured with a Joey the local police had rescued from the roadside and a couple of the ladies would quite happily have adopted the little fellow. The police in rural Australia have shown incredible support for us. Coming from a small town myself it is heartening to see their role is more one of community support than as law enforcement, which is not to say they are not tough, far from it, but they are clearly are a vital and welcome part of the community fabric.
Newman is a real city with all the amenities and bright lights. As we coasted into the Seasons Hotel entrance I was already fanaticising about sleeping in a real bed. It always seems a bit incongruous walking into a posh hotel suite with all your road kit, petrol cans, extension cords, chains and MotoKafe gear, but I was so tired I couldn’t have cared.
We had a long and heated conversation with the hotel manager about being allowed to serve coffee to the riders, something they weren’t at all keen about. Clearly we would impact on their profits but Steve Andrews managed to talk them around. Ironically, I wasn’t too fussed because they served Yahava Koffee at the establishment anyway so either way I was on a winner. I just didn’t fancy having to tell the riders they wouldn’t be getting their regular morning ‘juice’.
We were treated to a lavish Poolside buffet that night and as normal I baled to get an early night. My back and shoulders were wracked with muscle cramps from the ride and a migraine like headache that even Paracetamol wouldn’t shift. It was a rough night.
JOUSTING WITH JUGGERNAUGHTS
Tuesday 23rd Newman to Port Hedland (455kms)
From the time I mentioned this ride to friends I was warned about the road from Newman to Port Hedland. While most iron ore is moved to Port Hedland by rail, a number of mines have been forced to use road trains in this area due to a spat over who can use the railway line. This has increased the number of trucks on the road and much of the road winds its way to the coast, so it is an infamous stretch of road.
There are a number of factors that may this road potentially deadly. One is the sheer number of trucks, I thought there would be dozens but instead there are hundreds going in both directions.
At 50 metres long, these 200-ton road trains typically have 62 tyres on the road and pound along at 120kph. They wait for no one and as far as they are concerned the road belongs to them and who the hell, away out here is going to argue with them.
They could run over the MotoKafe with about as much fan fare as flattening a kangaroo and the driver probably wouldn’t even feel the bump.
I started out with the rest of the group, (safety in numbers) and the trip was a slow one, so it was a comfortable pace for me. As predicted the number of road trains beggared belief. There is no point overtaking these monsters because right in front of one is another. It is just too dangerous with other trucks coming the other way so we just travel with them, safely bookended, one behind, one in front.
RUNNING THE GAUNTLET
We had been on the road for about an hour when we came up behind a police car lights flashing shadowing a pilot vehicle with amber lights flashing. They were traveling along the dead centre of the road at about 80kph.
In front was an oversized heavy hauler with the most massive crane tracks I have ever seen. This load spanned the entire two lane highway with no room either side.
How we were going to get passed this load was a mystery.
The bikes banked up behind the pilot vehicle. I could see someone on a two way radio leaning out the window waving the bikes to tuck in behind.
We followed the truck for several kilometres. There was no way anyone was overtaking this rig so I assumed sooner or later it would pull over and let the traffic that had banked up behind, pass.
How wrong I was.
Every now and then when the road widened a little the rig would move off the centreline and create a slim gap along the side of the road. When it occurred the pilot would gesture wildly to the bikes and half a dozen bikes would roar into life and speed along the narrow corridor in single file before the gap closed and the pilot would move again in front of the bikes, blocking their passage.
It took half an hour to clear the bikes in this manner until there was only me left. To be honest the overtaking manoeuvre filled me with dread. Unlike the bikes I was the width of a small car and the narrow gap just wasn’t wide for me to stay on the seal. I would need to accelerate to at least 110kph to make the pass in the time it takes before the gap closed. This meant I would need to take a run up to get up to speed. Worse was the thought of riding off into the gravel at that speed. You just can’t ride a three-wheeler ‘half on and half off’ the road without the high risk of a catastrophe. Somehow I needed to stay on the seal but the gap was barely wide enough for my rig.
It wasn’t like I had anyone to talk this through with and as the gap opened the fateful moment arrived. The pilot waved to me and I opened the throttle wide open. The Guzzi ‘s purr turned into an angry growl, but I felt as if everything went into slow motion. The MotoKafe reluctantly started to pick up speed but not fast enough for the pilot. As I got up to the vehicle he frantically waved me down as the gap between the overhanging tracks and the side of the road disappeared.
Not once but twice this happened. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would punch through my riding jacket. More cars started to back up behind me and I knew there would be some really grumpy drivers wondering what the hell I was doing. Cars were able to drive past with two wheels on the road and two in the gravel, because four wheels are way more stable, but I was riding a ‘suicide rig’.
I could see the frustration in the pilots eyes as he wildly waved me through. This time I had to commit. As I edged past I could briefly see the tracks overhung the sidecar, I was traveling underneath the load. I daren’t avert my gaze from the edge of the road. The bike wheel was only centimetres from the edge of the seal; to slip over the edge would be a disaster.
As I edged towards the front of the truck, to my horror I discovered there were two trucks on the road, not one. As I burst into the space between the vehicles I was now traveling at 115kph and I fixated on the second gap between the front truck. At least I was carrying good speed as I shot the second gap. Not only were these trucks over width but they were also over-length. Buoyed by the success of the first overtake I felt more confident as I headed past the second set of tracks.
Half way past I could see the road ahead narrowed and the rig started to edge towards me. I figured the driver had no idea I was there, as the load was so wide he couldn’t possibly see past the overhanging tracks. All I could do was just hold the throttle wide open and gun through.
As I slipped in front of the load I glanced in the mirror to see the gap totally close. The tracks now overhung the gravel and the truck veered back over the centre line. That was not a pleasant experience. At the front was another police car, lights flashing driving on the centre line as well. I could see vehicles coming towards us had completely pulled of the road and parked up waiting for the load to pass. There was nothing on the road ahead so I rode on until the police car behind me disappeared.
Then looming into view ahead was another police car, lights flashing driving into the headlong traffic, forcing everyone to move off the road completely.
This circus wasn’t stopping for anyone.
At about 12.30pm we pulled in to the Auski Roadhouse, hot, thirsty and on empty. We had plenty to talk about over lunch. The stop was a relief and I almost nodded off in the heat after a pie and a very long iced tea.
AN UNSCHEDULED STOP
I climbed onto the MotoKafe about 15 minutes before the rest were due to leave. I wanted to get a head start so that I could get into Port Hedland almost with the rest.
About two kilometres from the roadhouse I was flagged down at some roadworks. I pulled the MotoKafe behind the ‘lollipop man’ and switched the engine off to keep it cool and save fuel. I waited for a big train of traffic (mainly ore trucks) to crawl through. The road workers showed a little interest in the MotoKafe before the sign flipped to ‘slow’ and I got the wave.
My thumb pushed the starter, but nothing happened, the motor was dead. I looked down at the gears and made sure I was in neutral and tried again. Nothing, not even a click. I turned the key off and on and tried again. Nothing. I looked back and saw a big line of traffic. I flipped my visor up and yelled to a couple of the road workers to give me a push off the centre of the road.
What on earth was wrong? Was it fuel or electrical? A couple of the roadies gathered around the bike. I pulled the seat off and they started to prod and pry, one chap sauntered over to his ute and bought back a tool kit. I was out of my depth and these guys clearly knew their way around bike engines. I decided to try calling Mario at Thunderbikes in Perth where we purchased the MotoKafe. He was always my ‘go-to’ guy on all matters to do with the bike. I was thankful that I had phone reception, probably because I was so close to the roadhouse. There is precious little phone coverage in the outback so I was lucky.
Mario had me relaying different possibilities to the roadies and there was plenty of discussion. Mario was convinced it sounded like it was electrical.
Ross Scott pulled up with the rescue trailer so I felt a little more relieved but it meant I was way behind again at the back of the ‘peloton’ if I managed to get the bike going again.
“Yep I can see the problem,” shouted one of the roadies. It was an earth cable that had detached from the frame. Within minutes the bike roared into life. Ross headed off to chase the other riders content that I was now on my way again. I thanked the guys and wanted a name and address so I could send them a little thank you but they refused. “No, if our boss finds out we helped someone, we will only get into trouble.”
I was hugely relieved to be back on the road. I reflected on the miles the MotoKafe had travelled since we purchased it and realised its days were numbered. This was probably our last ride. She had done well but now things were starting to go wrong.
The gas light began to flicker so I looked for somewhere to pull off the road and fuel up. The sun was low but the road still busy with ore trucks but little other traffic. I spied a deserted truck lay-by and glided to a halt alongside the sun-baked rusty old long-drop. I started to unpack the plastic fuel cans just as a massive road-train pulled up in front of me. Suddenly I felt like maybe I shouldn’t have stopped here, maybe it is exclusively for trucks. I took the fuel cap off and started to drain the cans into the tank. Another road-train pulled in alongside me so now I was hemmed in, followed by yet another.
I carried on what I was doing trying to ignore the trucks, all had switched their engines off. It was eerily silent. I heard a strange and distant repeating noise. ‘boing- boing-boing’. It gradually got closer. Around the end of the truck came a truckie wielding a large steel bar, he proceeded to strike the tyres that gave off the resounding ‘boing’. He was testing the tyres for any deflation, something they obviously regularly do. It turned out he was a Kiwi so we had a yarn for ten minutes. I asked him if he enjoyed the work and he said, no – but the pay was too good to stop.
The air was comfortably warm and I felt a bit more positive. Just as the sun slipped over the horizon I drove into Port Hedland. Port Hedland is an industrial port and its ‘reason for being’ has everything to do with mining and nothing else.
I pulled into the Cooke Point Holiday Park and found my cabin and a spot to set up the MotoKafe for my early morning barista duty.
That evening we were to dine at a mining camp mess hall. On the edge of a mining camp, the dining room is open 24/7 for buffet style meals. Anything and all you can eat, around the clock. If you want breakfast at midnight or ice cream for breakfast then it is all there for you. One of the few upsides of remote work.
A FAMILIAR FACE
Wednesday 24th August Port Hedland to Karratha (242kms)
Low cloud shrouded the start to the day, as I drove out to a servo on the edge of town to fuel up then wait for the others to join me. The first task was another school visit before the reasonably short trek to the infamous Whim Creek.
The cloud burnt off and the temperatures quickly rose. The side cart tyre was showing serious signs of wear so I decided to keep my speed well down. Today was one of the shorter legs so there was no need to rush things. I ambled along at around 90kph and the bike purred with appreciation. The left hand drag almost disappeared at this speed so the ride was much more pleasurable for both man and machine.
Whim Creek is an oasis in the wilderness and something of an enigma. How a pub can survive in the middle of nowhere is a mystery to me but none the less here it was. Inside the aircon was working overtime but it was such a relief to shed the road attire and relax in the chilled bar. After a sizable lunch we hit the road for Roebourne where the local constabulary were waiting for us. First out of Whim Creek but last into Roebourne for a refill, I was now well aware of the routine. It took less than five minutes to do a complete circuit of the town led by the police car with lights flashing.
This last stretch into Karratha was a breeze. The MotoKafe glided into the Pilbara Holiday Park. I found my cabin and started the familiar unpack. I was startled by a shriek and turned to see a familiar grin of an old friend. Glenice Andersson was running towards me arms outstretched to give me a big hug. Glenice worked for many years in our Wholesale franchise and had left with her partner to circumnavigate and work their way around Australia. They were both resident and working at the motor camp so this was a complete surprise. That evening I caught up with her again around a BBQ and a game of pétanque, we talked well into the evening.
Thursday was to be a day of rest for the road weary riders. I set up and served coffee at a more humane hour without the pressure of the normal ‘road rush’. It was a chance to have a more leisurely yak with some of the riders I normally see riding by. Almost everyone is on the ride because of a family member or close friend that suffers depression or worse who has suicided. The ride for most is a positive way to deal with pent up emotions and to do something meaningful about personal tragedies that often seems devoid of meaning.
That morning I also had a chance to catch up with Steve Andrews the founder of Black Dog Ride and talk in depth about what motivated him to start this incredible movement. Like others his is a deeply personal story and filled still with a huge amount of raw emotion. I always feel it is an incredible privilege to witness someone’s inner thoughts and feelings in this way. Black Dog Ride was the outpouring of one man’s grief and frustration about several losses that tore his life apart. Steve’s grief was magnified by what he saw as the wider community’s inability to listen to people who are clearly in trouble. He realised that all we need to do is start the dialogue, speak about the unspeakable, help those in trouble to reach out to a friendly and compassionate ear. For him Black Dog Ride was a way to bring this ‘elephant in the room’ to everyone’s attention, but more so it was about making a difference.
THE END OF THE ROAD
Friday 26th Karratha to Carnarvon (639kms)
It was hard to believe that thunderstorms were on the horizon. The sky was the deepest of blue with not a cloud in sight. Western Australia is painted with a vivid colour pallet that defies description. With coffee over, I packed up for a big day in the saddle and as I was about to discover, my last day on the bike.
While the view seldom changes in this vast expanse of scrub and desert, there is a beauty about this part of the country that stays with you.
Along the highway and well apart, is the occasional roadhouse. We were headed for the banana capital of Australia, Carnarvon. While we would cross the Tropic of Capricorn we would still be in the grip of tropical weather and the clear skies gave no hint of what was to come.
We pulled in to the Carnarvon Motel and as we drew to a halt I noticed the distinct smell of burning rubber. I slid in the locking bolt (this prevents the bike falling over even though it is attached to the sidecart, the rose joint allows the bike to lean like a normal bike but left ‘unbolted’ when parked it has been known to fall to the ground and from there it is nigh impossible for one person to lift the bike back up).
As I walked around the back of the bike I glanced at the side cart tyre. It was worn through in a number of places to the canvas. I couldn’t believe the state of it. The tyre was in excellent condition when I started the ride. I had replaced the bike’s rear tyre so I hadn’t been expecting any tyre trouble but this was serious. A few other riders confirmed that we weren’t moving on from here without a new tyre. The tyre was not your normal run-of-the-mill tyre. It was a very unique gauge and size. After ringing around the local bike shops and slightly further beyond it became apparent we were not going to be able to replace the tyre. Carnarvon was to be the end of my ride and unbeknownst to me the MotoKafe’s last hurrah.
ESCAPING THE STORM
Saturday 27th Carnarvon to Geraldton (479kms)
Ross helped me load the Motokafe up onto the trailer. From here on I would be riding in the cab of the ‘sweep’ vehicle. Once the bike was securely lashed down we headed to the local airfield where the Lions Club had their den. Once again, a hearty Lions Club breakfast was smoking on the barbie as we pulled up. Looking skywards I noticed far more ominous. Ink black clouds were drifting in from off the sea, but I thought nothing more of it until it was time to hit the road. The air temperature dropped and the sky had become a single black sheet. The first drops of rain splatted on the ground before I climbed into the ute. Although only a few at first each drop was the size of pigeon poo and the harbinger of what was to come. As the last bike pulled out of the airfield and onto the road the heavens opened. This was a downpour of biblical proportions. The wipers on full speed had no impact on visibility, we may just as well have well been driving along the bottom of a swimming pool. All I could think of was the riders and how they would be coping with the deluge. Needless to say I was grateful to be safe and dry in the cab.
Like most tropical downpours it was over almost as fast as it arrived but the roads were now wet and very slippery.
We caught up with a few of the damp bedraggled riders at the Billabong roadhouse. A quick cuppa and it was on to Northhampton, a small town on the edge of the Northern tip of the wheatbelt.
As we pulled into town we passed a huge line up of bikes parked on both sides of the road almost all the way along the main street. We were greeted by the Northhampton and the Geraldton Black Dog Ride community who had come out in force not just to greet us but to ride with us on the final 50 kilometre leg to Geraldton. It was an impressive sight as hundreds of bikes pulled out of the normally quiet and sleepy township. Shopkeepers and local residents stopped what they were doing to cheer us as we left. The awareness of Black Dog Ride and the support for it is strong through rural Australia and it never failed to surprise me just how heartfelt and genuine the support was.
Saturday night was a big night at the Wintersun Hotel, a popular local watering hole. A band had been hired and it all kicked off with a hearty spread. This was the last night on the road for all the riders so many really let their hair down. It was a great night with huge Geraldton support.
Not many of the riders knew that the MotoKafe Barista could play harmonica so I took to the stage for a couple of songs much to the surprise and delight of the riders.
THE HOME RUN
Sunday 27th Geraldton (418kms)
There were a few sore heads as we made our way to the Geraldton Men’s Shed for an early breakfast. I managed to crank the MotoKafe’s boiler up and served coffees from the trailer for the last time. Many came for a coffee just to thank me for the coffees I had provided along the way. It was a sad way for the MotoKafe to finish its days but at least I was comforted by the fact that it was still cranking out great coffees right to the end.
It wasn’t to be a straight run to Perth. We stopped in at Jurien Bay and were invited to the home of motorbike collector and enthusiast Ian Boyd. Ian has what could well be the largest collection of Vincent motorbikes in the world, all housed in a huge basement area under his Jurien Bay house. We spent a fascinating hour poking around the collection of bikes and memorabilia.
Finally it was time to travel the last leg.
The weather was at its glorious best as we pulled into the Waneroo Senior Citizens Centre in Perth. The ride was over and many loved ones, and friends had gathered to welcome us home. I still had a three hour drive back to Busselton but for everyone else this was the end of the line.
I thought about the friends I had made over the course of the ride, how cathartic the trip had been for many and all the communities we had touched with our message. No one on this ride had been paid to carry the message, in fact it had cost everyone a lot of money but such was their passion for the cause.
For me I was also thankful I work with a business that cares deeply about these issues and had provided huge support and money towards the ride. It is just the way Yahava is.
In almost every town and community we travelled through, these discussions tapped into deep reservoirs of grief. Almost everyone had lost a family member or close friend to a suicide, some had even endured multiple suicides.
No one should suffer depression on their own, but this illness forces sufferers to isolate. No one should find themselves in that horrific corner from which suicide is the only path out.
As a community we need to bring the illness out into the open and talk about how we can help sufferers.
We need to do this because the impact on those ‘left behind’ is also almost unbearable. Suicide leaves terrible scars, but it is a solvable problem. While the cause may be a tough one to engage in, even if we save only one life, it will all have been worth it.
The MotoKafe was the brainchild of two men, Black Dog Ride founder Steve Andrews and Yahava Founder Alex Kok. These two men care deeply about people and serving our fragile communities.
This may have been the MotoKafe’s ‘last ride’ but over the 30,000 kilometre Black Dog Ride travels, it served coffee to some very deserving volunteers and it also carried an important message in a very novel way.
So, if a friend seems withdrawn or troubled, why not suggest; “Hey, let’s have a coffee.” Because often that may be all it takes.