Following our fantastic Australian Adventure trip this year, one of our customers has written a report for www.trademotorcycles.com.au. Andy attended both the Level One course and the five day adventure ride that followed. To read Andy’s story, see below.
Words and Photos by Andy Strapz - www.andystrapz.com/
Australia’s Lord of the Luggage, Andy Strapz, learns a lesson in off-road adventuring…As soon as I saw the ad for Simon Pavey’s off-road adventure training course I raced home and cracked open the piggybank. Luckily there were a couple of coins down the back of the couch, too, so I also enrolled in the five-day ride that follows the training. If I was a puppy I would’ve wagged my tail off as I waited for my Compass Expeditions trip to the Flinders Ranges to come around.It almost didn’t happen when my back gave out the previous Sunday while getting out of bed. For the next three days I walked around as if I’d crapped myself. Chiropractors, massage therapist and pharmacists all became my best mates as I pushed to get sorted for the trip. Nothing was going to stop me!
The ‘Tigger’ [a Triumph Tiger 800XC] was kicked in the guts at 6am in an attempt to miss the worst of the traffic. The thick frost on the northern outskirts of Melbourne made lunch in the warmth of Mildura’s winter sun very welcome indeed.
After knocking off 900km of dull roads I ventured further west into the South Australian township of Morgan with a plan to refuel and find a pub room. In the process, I bumped into a group of blokes heading further north to Marree, a small town that intersects the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks. One of the great joys of riding bikes is the unplanned meeting of like-minded souls. Stories swapped, beers sipped and belly laughs make trips like this.
The next morning had me punching into a drizzly gale, pushing fuel consumption through the roof. A brief detour via the motorcycle museum in Peterborough was well worth the effort.
My destination and the tour meeting point was Rawnsley Park Station at the southern entrance to the Flinders Ranges, an area of earth that had a new Precambrian geological period (600 million years ago, give or take) created for it. A shroud of low cloud wasn’t enough to mask the stunning majesty of the approach to Wilpena Pound.
DOWN TO BUSINESS
After a welcome dinner on reaching the Off-Road Skills School and a bit of housekeeping we were encouraged to get some rest and keep the drinks to a minimum.
A group of some 24 riders assembled the next morning, getting started by adjusting ’bars and levers for optimal standing control. We were then led out into a rocky, red dirt paddock, or “field”, according our Pommiefied task master.
Simon Pavey has been training riders at all levels of off-road riding in an abandoned mine site in Wales for more than a decade and has competed at the highest level of international rallies including nine Dakars. Making up the team was his wife Linley, son Llewelyn (aka Lell) and Welsh-handled Yorkshireman Gwyn Barrowclough, a world-class enduro rider.
I’m sure the two dozen ‘pupils’ were equally in awe and in a mild state of panic as the opportunity we were about to be handed became reality. Each of us had our doubts whether we’d bitten off a bit more than was chewable.
Ominously, lesson one was the most efficient way to pick up our bikes – a task at which I was to get plenty of practise at during the following few days. Simon continually emphasised the importance of low-speed bike control. We spent the majority of our time working on balance, clutch control and turning. Hone these skills at low speed and you’re all set for higher speeds.
Our two days were split into a logically presented series of drills with increasing difficulty. I’m sure the input of Linley, a lapsed teacher, made for the structured curriculum feel of the lesson progression.
Mounting and dismounting the bike from both sides and turning around on steep hills after stalling became remarkably easy – at least it is when you know how.
Turning in ever-shrinking circles and tight slalom exercises using only feet and clutch for control challenged us. Try placing cones in a 4.0m square and turning circles within that. I found the low-speed turning the most difficult task; I became well acquainted with picking up the Tiger.
MAN WITH A PLAN
About five days later I reached a turning point as I picked my way through the steep and rocky hills. I began envisaging coloured plastic cones setting out the route I was planning to take. As everyday riders we are told to look up, but never what to look at and why. Planning, planning and looking ahead for the next plan became the key.
Other drills had us purposely locking up the front wheel, pushing the envelope until it tucked underneath us, then practising full-blooded emergency stops in soft dirt.
We outgrew the paddocks and moved our base to the picturesque Pugilist Hill: a massive mound with 360-degree views of the Flinders Ranges in a rare period of glorious green. Here we worked on hill descent, turning a stalled bike, trusting engine braking, planning and vision.
Learning the value of momentum at the right time blew me away. Our first ‘momentum’ drill had us shooting down a steep gully under power, pulling in the clutch and coasting with just enough energy to reach the top of the other side, before performing a tight turn, descending again and exiting via a sharper turn at the rim of the gully. Simon and the team always place emphasis on control and the slowest speed to affect a manoeuvre possible. We were sent off to play in the erosion gully sand pit, gathering confidence to attack remarkably steep and often sheer drops.
Late on day two we took to a dry riverbed to tackle sand. It tackled me more than I tackled it, but at least the feeling of rising to the top of the surface, like a boat aquaplaning, finally came to me and gave me a starting point.
THEORY TO PRACTICE
On Sunday we said goodbye to some of the group as they headed back to their lives.
The rest of us tucked our heads down for an iconic, Aussie 700km day punching into a headwind. The goal was Coober Pedy to start a trip into the desert, capping off our day with equally iconic accommodation in an underground hotel.
The Tiger was the odd one out as the rest of the group had a mixture of BMW R 1200 and R 800 GSs, mostly from the Compass Expeditions fleet.
Day two took in an opal-mine tour, a leisurely lunch and a short hop to William Creek. We stopped frequently and most riders took time to ride “off piste”, as our trainers put it – that is, hooning around the bush, practising skills including the all-too-familiar ‘pick the bike up’ game.
Erosion gullies and sandy creek beds were used to hone skills and generate broad grins. As we closed in on William Creek the sand practise proved valuable, as we slithering about at 90km/h on a sandy-topped road for the last 30km.
Tourism was the focus of the ride to Marree the next day. The group took frequent stops for photos, to play ‘off piste’ and explore the history of the area. Ruin after ruin bore testament to the heartbreak of the early days of white settlement.
Marree to Arkaroola, towards Lake Frome, was probably the most interesting day. The wide dirt highways gave way to narrower, winding roads. The closer we got, the narrower and rougher the roads became. Long rocky creek crossings and difficult climbs pushed us technically. Hey, that’s what we were there for!
THEM’S THE BREAKS
After a short regroup and rest stop, I set off mid-pack to knock over the last 20km to Arakaroola. On a gentle uphill left-hand bend my front wheel knocked underneath me like the number-one pin at a bowling alley. Marty, riding about four lengths in front, struck a cantaloupe-size rock with both wheels, gassing hard to avoid crashing himself. In an instant I was confronted by the washed out rut. Whether my wallet tucked in my breast pocket was The Bible that stopped the bullet or broke a rib, I’ll never know. Most people buy a key ring or a T-shirt as a souvenir…
After 20 years of working in hospital emergency departments, I knew I’d cracked a rib or two but there was no way I was giving up on this incredible riding experience. Surprisingly, my riding position, sitting or standing, was the most comfortable stance I could achieve anyway.
Our final day took us to Wilpena and around the scenic drive back to our starting point. A final detour contrived by Simon and crew split us into easy, medium and hard for a final assault on the country we rode through on the second day of training.
The easy group retraced its steps on a road the guys found ridiculously easy this time around, reinforcing just how far their skills had come. My aching chest and I tagged along in the medium group while the ‘hard’ group attacked the high ridges hundreds of meters above us.
As the sun set, we stood atop Pugilist Hill, punched the air and toasted our new friends and skills. These skills are just one step in the process of learning: Level One, as our certificate points out.
At least I have a new set of excuses as the lessons need to be practised to become ingrained habits. Frustratingly, it will have to wait a week or three as my ribs heal. Please don’t make me laugh…
I think it’s likely this initial trial of Simon’s school will be repeated. Keep an eye on CompassExpeditions.com for any future school dates.”
The link to the original story is here.
Originally Posted on December 11th, 2013