Long way to Wauchope
With Mark Battersby
I still have dust on my 80s and 90s Paris-Dakar VHS tapes that I watched over and over as a teenager, dreaming of someday owning a high performance desert crossing machine.
Somehow, road bikes have found their place in my life, and a 10-year stint in the United States saw me drawn to the dark side, owning multiple Harleys and immersing myself in the culture of orange and black merchandise.
As HD took me to amazing places and events (like the crazy Sturgis Rally) adventure was calling me and I wanted to traverse deserts, explore forest trails, and jump endless cattle racks.
Fast forward a few years, the big shot 5-0 and I was nowhere near living my dream. I was missing two key ingredients; an adventure bike and the skills to ride one. While I had ridden several hundred thousand kilometers on road bikes, I had never owned a real mountain bike.
Choosing the bike turned out to be the easy part as I loved the “Rally Ready” look of the much-vaunted Yamaha Tenere 700. Of course, finding one was the real challenge. Luckily I went to buy bikes on my 50th birthday from a local Yamaha dealer and on entering saw two Teneres sitting on the floor, naturally assuming one was a demo and the other was sold.
The seller was unsure when asked, researched the details, then muttered the words, “It doesn’t appear to have been awarded yet. My credit card fell like a fat kid on a swing and it was mine.
And now ? I still lack the skills and of course I need all the props to at least look at the part. I dove into YouTube and every Facebook group I could, immersing myself in information overload.
Two months later, the bike is fitted with the necessary bling to look cool in my local cafe; bash plate, crash bars, Barkbusters, luggage racks and more. However, the embarrassing reality was that my T7 only had pathetic 200 km on it and I had no idea where to ride or with whom to ride.
During my research, I discovered that there was a dedicated four-day Tenere 700 off-road navigation rally organized by RideADV that promised adventure and exploration. It sounded perfect, if a little intimidating, but there was a downside. The starting point was in Wauchope, NSW, about 1,800 km from my home in the Barossa Valley of South Africa.
The event was hosted by Greg Yager and his RideADV team and I had become a fan of their unreleased and down to earth YouTube videos comparing various Tenere 700 accessories. A few Facebook posts, emails and phone calls and Greg me. had assured that it would be a great event and tapped into my just-do-it personality.
The clock was ticking as there were less than two weeks left before the start of the rally, and I was far from prepared. Reading the pre-rally notes I started to realize how under-prepared I was.
“No 50/50 tires allowed”, “No soft sided adventure boots” (more on that later) and being a GPS navigation ride, I kind of needed a GPS. A few more calls to Greg and I had tires shipped to Wauchope and ordered a GPS. Suddenly I realized I needed camping gear, an adventure helmet, and would be absent for the mandatory 1000 km service, so I have to do it early.
Just days before departure and I still had no idea what route I was going to take to get to Wauchope. Seemed wrong to take a bike like the T7 for a 1,800 km ride on asphalt, so I reached out to various Facebook groups looking for ideas for scenic off-road routes, which turned out to be extremely useful.
Sunday’s start was aborted for lack of preparation and was postponed to noon on Monday. I suddenly felt a wave of anxiety: “What are you doing Mark? You’ve never owned an off-road motorcycle, you don’t know which direction you’re going, you ride solo and you don’t know anyone on the rally, ”I wondered.
My companion came to our house for lunch to wish me good luck and take the necessary departure photos. I could feel the worried look on his face as I walked away.
I only had two deadlines, being in Mudgee on Friday morning to have some Dakar custom graphics installed by DMK Design, and Wauchope on Saturday morning for the pre-rally scrutineering.
On the first day I headed to Renmark and depending on the weather the recommended “Rufus River Road” passing Lake Victoria, testing my new gear as we went. I had a GoPro fitted to my helmet and my brother and sister gave me a drone as a 50th gift, but I didn’t know how to use either.
I started to get used to the riding position and feel comfortable on the bike, having only covered 600 km before the start. The race to Renmark was easy especially with my gel mattress topper and felt like I was on a very easy to ride road bike.
On the other hand, as I turned onto Rufus River Road, I realized that this would be my first sections of land. I was excited but also a little worried. My naivety or ignorance allowed me to maintain over 30 PSI on my Pirelli STR tires.
Confidence began to build on the loose gravel surface and my speed increased accordingly. Suddenly I was exactly where I had dreamed, crossing vast open plains, awkwardly standing on stakes on a beautiful evening with the sun setting behind me.
The road surface changes and the front wheel skidded as I hit a stretch of sand. My off-road inexperience saw me doing all the wrong things, I slowed down sharply and put my butt in the seat. It all ended well, as I pulled over to the side of the track, remembered what I had read about sand riding, and set off again.
It’s amazing how quickly I regain my confidence, no doubt motivated by the spectacular scenery as I pass Lake Victoria and continue towards Wentworth. I peeked in my mirrors to witness a stunning orange glow at sunset and thought it was a great opportunity to stop and take some pictures of my Tenere 700 on some dirt roads instead of cafes outside the Barossa Valley.
It’s about an hour after sunset as I drive to Wentworth to get fuel and find accommodation. After settling into the motel on the main street next to a busy pub, I decide to reward myself with a few drinks and a pub meal. My advice when you stop at pubs is to ask, what’s good on the menu? – let’s face it, they want you to have a good meal. The special was a giant steak and onion rings, and it lived up to its reputation as an Instagram-worthy dish. The first day is over, and no idea where I was going on the second day …
Some research and late night adventure group suggestions on Facebook got me observing the Darling River Run tour towns dotted along this route. Driving days were coming together when I read a warning in a group: “Don’t try after it rains, because dirt roads will be impassable. “
A quick review from the Bureau of Meteorology revealed heavy rains and storms in the area, and with my ADV skills being at the shallower end of the mud pit, this road was quickly abandoned.
An alternative trip came to fruition thanks to another Facebook member, “Ever seen the Mad Max Museum in Silverton?” “. “Seriously Mark? ” I said to myself. I’ve been a Mad Max fan since I was a teenager, and never been there – it was a must visit!
My eyes wandered higher on the map to see where it would take me. Suddenly in the back of my mind was what seemed like a CRAZY suggestion early on in my planning, Cameron Corner. The theme of this trip was going to be unforeseen, spontaneous and adventurous, so let’s head north – maybe.
Day 1: Total kilometers: 400. Highest point: Rufus River Road. Do: Wentworth Pub.
Stay tuned for day 2….