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The Real Thing

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A media release for a new bike is usually some gentle riding from one exotic location to the next with five-star accom and a-la-carte dining each night. You’d think someone with as much experience as Daryl Beattie would know that.

Alice Springs was at its fly-infested, 38-degree best as the cynical and hard-bitten journos piled off the airport bus to stare with disbelief at swags in the red dust. In the few seconds it took to absorb the scene several million flies had settled on each rider and had obviously sent insect signals to their mates declaring, ‘Fresh meat!’, because the little buggers began to swarm.

Having been warned in the bus the riders sprinted straight for the swags where fly nets had been left for them.

It was a strange start to a media release where every rider was accustomed to being treated with deference.

With insect proofing safely in place a few giggles broke out and comments were made about what a good laugh it’d been to start things off.

Heads gyrated through increasing arcs as it became clear there really weren’t any airconditioned rooms nearby.

A Bit Different

The occasion was the release of Honda’s Africa Twin 1100, and the location was Uluru Camel Tours just outside Alice Springs. A view of Uluru and the novel setting made things interesting, and a sunset camel ride offered by owner Chris Hill calmed some ruffled feathers.

But first was a lap of the monolith to settle in on the new bikes, and the majesty and mystique of Uluru was overwhelming. It’s easy to understand why the landmark is held in religious awe by anyone who strays near it, no matter what their heritage.

But the wonder didn’t stop there.

Seeing Uluru change colour as the sun sets must be one of the world’s most unique and wonderful experiences. A camel offers an excellent mobile viewing platform and makes for an unforgettable experience all its own.

Feeling far more settled about things the group, trailing the faint odour of desert ruminant from manky crotches, hobbled its way back to camp and rider briefing.

Daryl himself barbequed up some amazingly tender steaks before everyone climbed into their assigned swags, complete with sleeping bags, liners and pillows, and pondered on whether the briefing had been serious. Could everyone seriously be expected to ride 900km the next day? And 800km of it on bitumen? That was the kind of thing riders did on big dualsporters, but not journos on a press junket.

The temperature plummeted to the mid-30s as the snoring and blurting from the campsite kept the camels from a restful night.

Light On

Before dawn the next morning the group was on the road, fumbling around in the darkness looking for the cruise control and mostly at ease with the idea of a big day. A spectacular sunrise of the calibre only The Red Centre can offer set the horizon glowing and the kilometres began their long and laborious countdown.

Everything was purring along nicely until, at a drink stop, Daryl – ‘Daz’ – asked if anyone wanted to do a bit of extra dirt. He explained it would only add another 60km…or so.

Eyeballs swivelled rapidly from side-to-side as everyone tried to second guess what everyone else would say, and, before anyone embarrassed themselves by appearing reluctant, Daz declared, “Okay. More dirt it is!” In a fluid motion he leapt on his bike, landing with his thumb on the starter while his foot kicked up the stand, and was gone before anyone could say, “But…”

A stop at Ti Tree allowed the intake of desperately needed caffeine and a chance to scrape off several kilos of flies before mounting up and heading on to the overnighter at the Devils Marbles, about 80km south of Tennant Creek.

It was a long day and everyone was glad to discover the campsite included another stunning formation of stones and some truly beautiful countryside.

And rocks. There were some rocks here and there.

The Comfort Zone

Surprisingly, not everyone was keen to go pounding across the gibber plains for photos that evening. There may even have some been slight bow-leggedness evident in a few of the riders, but there was work to be done, so while Daz, lead rider Buddha and truck driver Scooter prepared another amazing feed – it turned out every feed on a Daryl Beattie Adventures ride is amazing – some grabbed bikes and styled it up for the camera while some returned to the privacy of swags to massage tender rear ends.

Well…that’s what they said they were massaging. No-one enquired any further.

A full moon made for an incredible evening as a tired but happy group settled in around the fire to enjoy a cold drink, a huge dinner and one of nature’s most majestic displays.

Life was basically pretty good.

The Binns Track

The second day was to be the riding highlight.

The idea was to head along a section of the Binns Track, allowing riders to give the bikes a good off-road workout and for everyone to get the photos they needed. It was what everyone was there for after all, and Honda had supplied Damien Ashenhurst to take care of images and video. Only a mug would’ve missed the opportunity to be shot by a cameraman of Damo’s calibre.

At the briefing Daz had forecast around 500km for the day. There’d been a little murmuring from his team at the announcement and he amended the forecast to 600km. The trip meters on the Hondas called it 650km, but who was counting?

The Binns Track is over 2000km of four-wheel drive glory stretching from the South Aussie border through central Australia and on to Timber Creek, halfway between Kununurra and Katherine in the Northern Territory. Judging by the sample on this ride it must be one of Australia’s most fulfilling off-road journeys.

That may well be, but as hands blistered on the rocky going, the temperature climbed, and the occasional section of saturated bulldust helped focus riders’ concentration, it possibly wasn’t everyone’s favourite part of Australia on that particular day. Some clearly enjoyed the riding immensely, but the necessary endurance took its toll. A few stops for photos and video – Daz is a dab hand with a drone – meant plenty of opportunities to recover and to enjoy the endless supply of cold drinks from the truck, and gave time for socialising and discussion.

The long, dusty and very satisfying day wound down and Daz offered the group a choice between spending the night at Ti Tree pub or setting up a bush camp. A few trembling voices started to offer opinions, but before any sentences could be completed Daz was nothing more than a trail of Euro 5-compliant emissions disappearing into another spectacular Northern Territory dusk.

“It’s only about 200km to camp,” offered the imperturbable Buddha.

The news was received with an almost uniform series of blank looks from the riders.

High-Level Camping

A bush camp can mean different things to different people.

A bush camp for some means stuffing bark down the jocks to protect the nether regions from drop bears and sleeping in the foetal position on the ground, maybe sucking on an old muesli-bar wrapper if one can be found in the backpack.

On a Daryl Beattie ride a bush camp means raging catering with cold drinks, hot coffees, chairs and camp furniture, music, lights and very comfortable bedding. There’s even Peter ‘Buddha’ Luczkowski moving around quietly in the evenings checking on the bikes. If you wonder why that left everyone feeling a little starry-eyed, Google his name and see who else’s bikes he’s checked over.

So although some of the journos were a little restless at the end of the second day, there were still plenty of happy faces inside the fly nets that night. The coffee machine worked overtime and after some discussion it was agreed having no phone or internet access wasn’t so bad after all.

The velvety black night crept up from the horizon, accompanied by the ribald comments thrown at those who elected to use the shower on the side of the truck, and the buzzing of flies faded to become the whining of mozzies.

By this stage it’d dawned on everyone that this wasn’t to be the media pampering everyone had expected. It was an actual adventure ride.

Almost, But Not Quite

The final day was another scorch along the Binns Track and the road to Alice Springs and it was fantastic. Long stretches of sandy surfaces on a solid road base meant cutting loose and the rigours of the previous two days faded in everyone’s minds.

It was fair-dinkum feet-up fun and those with the energy made the most of it.

A relaxing bitumen run steered the group into Alice itself. Dusty, gaunt faces began to fill out and smiles appeared in helmets as coffee shops, motels and manicured

suburban lawns came into view. Phones went ballistic loading up backlogged e-mails, text messages and all kinds of alerts. Riders relaxed back into thoughts of the luxuries to come.

Those fantasies were snatched heartlessly away as the bikes launched back on to the dirt and into the dust. A few looked wistfully in the mirrors to watch Heaven fade behind as the Finke Desert Race track appeared on one side of the dirt road and rolling red dunes filled the other. A few rocks here and there kept everyone honest and even a road train or two rumbled past to ensure the air filters had a good workout.

It was a crumpled and worn crew which turned into Ooraminna Station in the late afternoon. Damo Ashenhurst, showing serious commitment to his work, asked who wanted to do some pics in the dunes, and the instructions he received on what to do with his camera would’ve caused a fetish sex worker in the red-light district of Istanbul to blush.

With all the mod cons of Alice Springs just short distance away, faces fell when the truck came into view with the swags and bedding waiting.

A Strong Finish

Looks can be deceiving and were in this case.

Ooraminna turned out to be a jewel of comfort and a true oasis. The station has good amenities for visitors, a very nice airconditioned bar and dining room, a movie set (true!), and the Northern Territory’s friendliest dog, Scrappy.

After showers with lots of soap, and an amazing dinner of steak or barramundi with a selection of suitable wines set on a long table with a tablecloth and real cutlery under the stars, the journos began to feel things had returned to normal. The staff of Ooraminna – mostly the family who owned and ran the station – were friendly and incredibly helpful, and even the swags were under shelter for the night.

When it was found there was phone signal at the bar everyone’s cup of happiness once again overflowed.

Daryl Beattie Adventures ran a first-class show, Honda had in fact allowed everyone to put the bikes through some very thorough testing, and once it was all over the journos looked at each other and agreed: they’d just spent a few days in the real world of adventure riding. Amazing.

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