Gibb River Road: Hot & Humid Wet & Sweaty, The First Bit

4th September 2016

It is time. The Gibb awaits. Whatever apprehensions I have have no place here anymore. It is time to Do It. It’s also only about 30-odd kilometres to Home Valley station. An easy day (on the hardest bit) to get back into riding after five days of fun with Craig and Rod, too many cigarettes and perhaps, just perhaps, enough beers.

Dreamer and Zi-Biddi end up on the roof of Craig’s Patrol and the panniers scattered about. Fits really well, a pleasant surprise following Craig’s initial “How are we going to do this?” as he surveyed Dreamer + Zi-Biddi’s fully loaded mass.

I almost regret not riding out to the Gibb but not quite. At the turn-off we unload my gear and I reassemble it all. A few snaps later I start west whilst Craig starts east. We expect to meet in Broome. Rod should pass me sooner or later. He’s heading to Home Valley with the intention of doing the Carson River Road. A brutal former stock route roughly paralleling the coast of the most northerly section of the Kimberleys from Home Valley to Kalumburu. Craig did it with another driver and spoke of sections in which it took them four hours to do twenty kilometres. They averaged 100 kilometres per day for the 450 kilometre trip. Slow tough going. If Rod does it solo and has a problem he may be in for a long, long wait until someone can assist him. He does not have a Personal Locator Beacon nor a sat-phone.

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Just before heading off on The Gibb Adventure

The road is well corrugated but not so hilly. The (in-)famous Pentecost River crossing lies between me and Home Valley. This is what Warrick had to say about the Pentecost River:

I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but there’s a river crossing at the Pentecost, around 40m wide thereabouts. We camped nearby on the river for a while and got some good barra but also saw some large, and I mean large salties hanging about. If it’s got decent water on it, I’d be hitching a ride across on a 4WD rather than wading waist deep over the crossing”

Hmmm …  food for thought. Literally.

There is no water at the Pentecost Crossing. No water no current no crocs. I can actually ride across, albeit a bit bumpily.

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The eponymous and iconic photo of the Pentecost crossing

It’s hot. 43oC OTH. I drink water freely. I know there’s water at the end of this day. No need to conserve.

The road is slow. Stoney and corrugated. Not particularly soft (for sand, and bull dust, is the Bike Killer). Vibro-matic sometimes. Other times a small shoulder offers respite.

I spend a lot of time on the wrong side of the road. This clearly causes consternation to some drivers. Some make no effort to move over the other side and pass me so close I worry about getting smacked by their wing mirror. Others wait until the last minute before giving me a suitable berth. I don’t want to eat their dust and most times there’s a horrendous stormy ocean of brutal corrugations I’d have to cross. I figure their fat low pressure tires and suspension can deal with it better than I.

Today is the last day of a catch-and-release fishing competition at Home Valley. Lots of men in LOUD competition shirts. Everything is oversized: the vehicles, the tents and camping gear, the boats and fishing gear, the men and the women. We are talking about a fishing competition in the Kimberleys afterall.

Tomorrow is Climbing Day. Two hundred meters vertical over 3000 meters horizontal. About 7% on average. And more to come. Home Valley is basically at sea level and I have to cross the Pentecost Range.

I go to bed well before the awards ceremony even starts.

05 September 2016

It doesn’t take long for the hills to start. By 0630 it’s 30oC and near 100% humidity. Tiny drops of rain bedeck me. The sky is ominously grey. I sweat phenomenally as I crawl up an 8%-er. It is pissing down to the west and its getting closer.

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Hmmm, that is rain and lots of it. Is this gonna be a good thing. Or bad. Guess I’m gonna find out

I fill up my water bottles at Bindoola Falls using the Platypus, which are but sixteen kilometres west of Home Valley but above the first series of climbs.

Then it hits. I am crawling up various inclines of various percentages mostly between three and seven percent in heavy rain. Plus the odd ten percent ‘Jump-up’ which are fortunately asphalted.

On a road that is rapidly becoming a river shifting the dust and dirt from the corrugations all over the place. And softening the ground. The best place to ride is smack in the middle of the currents since they strip all the loose material and shift it somewhere else. I am soaked. The temperatures plummets and bottoms out around 19oC. I am almost chilled. Almost.

Once the rain passes the humidity returns and I sweat prodigiously.

All of my supply calculations are based on a minimum seventy kilometres per day. I’m pushing forty and are knackered. I plod on and on and make fifty. Slow, slow going. Sixty crawls up late in the afternoon, in full sun again. I need a camp site. A track to the left. I take it and come across dilapidated cattle yards strewn with junk. A large mobile donga offers full shade and I gratefully park Dreamer in it, lay out my tarpaulin and sleeping mats and slump into a grateful snooze for an hour and a half.

I am awoken by the sound of a vehicle. A station hand checking out the site. I’m asleep half across the track. He smiles and reassures me it’s OK, goes about his business and leaves me to make dinner as the sun disappears. I seriously doubt it’s going to rain and so don’t set up the tent.

Shortly after hitting the sack I am awoken by tiny ants crawling on my face. Ants aren’t normally active at night. I have placed my bed right across their track and they are simply going over the new obstacle in their way. I shift my bed a meter away and sleep blissfully.

06 September 2016

More of the same. High humidity, steep short inclines, asphalted ten percenters, long drawn out three percenters. All day up.

I pause at the Durack River, spending a good couple of hours here. I seriously contemplate camping. I fill up my Sea to Summit six litre water-bladder and all my bottles. Platypus may make the water safe but it still tastes of pond. It’ll do. I’ve now over sixteen litres of water to get me to Mount Barnett Roadhouse nearly two hundred kilometres west. Five litres per day. I’m not sure it’s enough.

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Durak River. Perfect camping site eight hours too early. More water, filled all my bottles AND my one of my bladders

 

Ellenbrae Station turn-off turns up. Forty five kilometres done today. I’ve still got most of the water from the Durak. To ride the five kilometres in to Ellenbrae or not. I choose to and almost immediately regret it.

The track is very sandy in places and has some nasty inclines too. I have to pull Dreamer and my load through the worst sections. It takes thirty-three minutes to ride the five kilometres. Ellenbrae has a nice homestead surrounded by green lawn. The only food they offer is scones, jam and cream of all things. I am hoping for some chicken.

I replace all my painstakingly Platypussed Durak River water with their sublime tasting water.

I ask if anyone is heading towards the gate tomorrow with a tray-back who could spare me the horror of the ride out and are accused of wanting “something for nothing”. Great. The last thing I need is a bit of a blue with some twat who isn’t able to relate to what riding his track actually means. “You chose to ride in here” he spits. Sure, but if I’d know what the road was like I wouldn’t have bothered, I think to myself. Instead, I pay for a night and retreat to the campground and a swim in the billabong.

I go to bed ridiculously early again.

07 September 2016

The climbing continues. Into day three approaching 500 meters elevation. The ten-percenters continue. Finally I get to 503 meters. It is also 53.6oC on the handlebars. Am not quite sure how 37-38oC forecast temperatures suddenly elevate to 53oC but am pretty sure it has to do with the sun beating remorselessly down on dark asphalt encased between large volumes of rock. However it manages it, literally every incline has been 50+C, ‘cooling’ to early-mid forties on the flats.

A Nissan pick-up draws up alongside and asks if I’m OK for water and food. They stop for a chat and I gratefully accept two cans of Coke Zero. Mal is a medic with the Royal Flying Doctors based in Meekatharra and keen cyclist. He also has the responsibility of deciding Go-No-Go’s for participants on the Simpson Desert Challenge (http://desertchallenge.org/) depending on their state and level of hydration. If someone knows aboutthe hydration challenges cyclists face in hot terrains it is Mal. Carmen joins him on his off-rotations to travel around. Excellent people.

My water is disappearing alarmingly fast. A Troopy approaches so I wave my water bottle around and a young French couple take the hint, stop and fill my water bottles, hand me a mandarin and a packet of chocolate wafer biscuits. No way anything with chocolate is going to survive long so I eat the entire packet in one glorious binge of sweet delight. Five hundred and fifty calories later I realise I have eaten lunch. Thanks guys.

After the 500 meter mark the terrain flattens somewhat and the road improves dramatically. I make good time arriving at the Kalumburu turn-off mid-afternoon, 73 kilometres done. I guess the Gibb’s “first bit” is now over and I’m onto the second bit.

Parking in the shade of the information board, I unpack and assemble my Helinox Groundchair and take a breather. A couple in a Landcruiser hand me two 600 ml bottles of cool water and a hard-boiled egg, for which I am very grateful.

I’ve still 110 kilometres to the Mount Barnett Roadhouse and I’ve a little over ten litres of water. I realise I’m water stressed and wonder what to do to ensure I don’t have any hydration problems the next day. If the track remains good I should be OK, like the last couple of hours. If the track is like the last three days I’ll be consuming a lot of water over a good day and a half’s ride.

I ask everyone who pulls in about whether the Gibb River which lies two kilometres to the north has any water in it. Few even noticed and those that did suggest its scungy and stagnant. I am armed with a Platypus and may not have the option about being fussy. Should I make the effort to reduce my water-stress or gamble on road-condition and distance?

A Kimberley Spirit off-road tourist bus arrives and the drivers asks me if I need any water. I don’t bother looking for the Hand of God, She’s always that bit faster than I and I am really grateful. I refill my Sea to Summit bladder and any empty water bottles and now have sixteen litres for 110 kilometres. I am sorted and my stress disappears. Truly thanks Mate.

There are signs everywhere telling me I cannot camp here. I am going to camp here anyway and are considering when I should emerge from the wonderful shade of the information board when I’m confronted by a Troopy veering off the road from Kalumburu heading straight towards me accompanied by loud barely legible hollers. After a moment’s confusion I recognise Rod’s 4WD.

Swiftly he decides to join me and we set up camp right under the ‘No Camping’ sign. Whilst he’s out sourcing some wood for a fire two carloads of young men turn up, urinate out the beer they’ve been drinking whilst continuing to drink more. I ask if I can buy a couple of beers but they give them to me instead. Rod is extremely grateful. As am I.

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Right smack under the No Camping Sign too, with Rod

He decided against a solo effort along the Carson River Road based on feedback he received at Home Valley. Which explains why he is so early coming down from Kalumburu. He’d indulged well his passion for fresh wild oysters which are abundant on the rocks around Honeymoon Bay.

A late-middle-aged couple turn up in their dual-cab Hilux and ask us about the road to Kalumburu. Rod convinces them that although rough with due care they’ll have no problem and they head off.

Rod cooks up two wondrous chicken-bacon-something else briskets whilst I supply the pasta and dinner is absolutely fantastic. Rod plies me with chilled isotonic drinks.

Great evening. Next time we meet is likely to be in Broome where I hope to join him and Craig on a trip to Cape Leveque, which lies 215 kilometres north of Broome.

We hit the sack early, both of us tired from our respective day’s travel.

Max

Kalumburu Turn-Off, with Rod & Bailey, 07 September 2016

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