Sunday, December 8, 2019

Australia - The Gawler Ranges / Running out of fuel

Not sure what it is but I feel at home here... so much better than 'civilisation'!
Good morning! Saw this in the
doorway of my tent... Poisonous?
Probably, better err on safe!
On the eastern end of the Nullarbor is a National Park called the Gawler Ranges. I'd never heard of it, all the more reason to go and see it! The road leading into it, off the Eyre Highway, was… well… ahem, terrible. Remember I wasn't riding a dirt bike or even an adventure bike but a more or less standard Triumph Bonneville. The suspension on mine is substantially better than stock, probably the best you can get on a Bonnie, but I was still shaking to bits. After an hour or so we met a Toyota Landcruiser coming from the other side. 'How's the road further on?' I asked 'Have a look inside…' was the reply as she turned her head away so I could have a look inside her car. The scene before me resembled an interior which had just been ransacked… The professionally built off-road interior of this 'go-anywhere' camper was wrecked by the constant shaking and hammering it had endured. 
Hmmm, if this couldn't handle it then either my Bonnie wasn't so bad or... the road ahead was even worse than what we had been on so far. I was hoping for the first :-)
'How much longer' she asked me 'About an hour' I replied. She didn't look happy. In fact she looked shocked, probably wondering if she'd make it at all. The vehicle would make it. Working at an Outback Cattle Station had taught me how much a Landcruiser can take: a lot!

As we battled on I noticed the track was actually much better than what we had before… poor Landcruiser I thought :-) Don't let the road stop you though as I'm glad we went as it's a beautiful area. Beautiful Rock formations in the Outback's typical red colour. A beautiful track to ride too, more so with a lighter bike of course, but still great fun. Don't forget that in the outback conditions can change rapidly, the rutted track we found can be a sandpit by the time you get there or even a dried up mudbath and anything in between. Judging by the state the Landcruiser was in you're better off on a Bonneville (with my suspension setup that is) than a clunky 4WD.

As I wrote earlier we went in totally unprepared. That's good and bad at the same time. The good thing is that we didn't know what to expect and were thus totally surprised to find so many birds, wallabies, wombats and goannas. Our senses were on overload! The bad thing is that we missed The Organ Pipes… as we didn't know they were there.

About halfway we stopped at a deserted campspot, we literally had the whole place to ourselves! A beautiful quiet evening, enjoying the kangaroos, cockatoos and later-on millions of stars while we cooked a meal over a small campfire. What a grand finale of the Nullarbor I thought.

Don't always trust your GPS when it says there is a fuel stop... this one had been out of action for a while yet was still on the map
Leaving the Gawler Ranges National Park, we back tracked a little to Kimba to get fuel, but they were sold out! The GPS map showed us a fuel stop in the next town, lovingly named Iron Knob, but once we got there we found it was no longer in service! By the looks of things it had been abandoned years ago. 
Asking around we learned we had two options, go 55 km south to Whyalla, fill up and then 80km back to Port Augusta, or continue on directly to Port Augusta which was about 70 km. One of the locals told us there was a fuel stop 'just down the road' towards Port Augusta. We had learned that could be anything in Australian lingo :-) Years ago we had received an invitation to visit a family in Western Australia. 'It's not that far' they had said 'Take the second left after Perth' making it sound like 15 minutes or so, it turned out to be Carnarvon which is some 900 kms north from Perth! Back to the fuel stop, we figured we should be able to make it to Port Augusta and thus continued east. 

Chain oilers DO work when riding dirt. Without
one the o-rings would have dried out. Look at
the lubricated centre compared to the outside
yet no grinding paste as you'd get from spray
Once underway I realised that our calculations were probably somewhat off as we would have used more fuel in the Gawler Ranges on the sandy tracks than we reconed with… Sure enough Mike's low fuel light came on a lot earlier than expected. The Bonnies low level light had stopped working some 6 years ago… We rode on as economical as we could, counting the kilometres and blessing the bikes for every km more they managed to get out of the tank. Then, after what felt like hours, we saw the glimmering image of a fuel stop like a Fata Morgana resembling a service station… surely this can't be right, I thought! It was though! The Yamaha spluttered to a halt metres before the pump. It's oil consumption, most likely caused by a worn out engine, meant it had to work harder to compensate for lost compression and thus ran less efficient. I literally took 15.2 litres… which meant there couldn't have been more than 300ml left in the tank, which is not enough for the pickup of the pump. The Bonnie was even weirder… it took 16.2 litres while according to Triumph a T100 has a 16 litre tank. I've never heard of steel tanks growing, have to assume they are all made in the same mould, which leaves just two options: the bowser is wrong, which doesn't make much sense as the amount of litres that went into the XT was spot on, or a T100 can hold slightly more than 16 litres? Whatever it was, we could fill them up and didn't have to walk! 

We looked around for a motorbike shop to do an oil change, found one and drained pitch black oil from the XT. It wasn't overdue for a service, not at all in fact, but the piston rings clearly had it, causing lots of blow-by and thus dirty oil in no-time at all. Doing an engine rebuild wasn't an option at that point so we nursed it 'home' doing frequent oil and filter changes. With new oil the consumption was minimal but after about 1200-1500k it suddenly started using oil and a lot too. Figuring the dopes in the oil had cracked, we decided to swap oil every 1500-2000k from now on, hoping it would make it to the end...