A second epic crewing adventure – Roxby Downs
My husband Craig had been planning a long distance dirt road adventure for ages. His plan was to ride 1600km in less than 24 hours, all on dirt. In the weird world of this type of motorcycling the ride is known as a “Dusty Butt”. It’s never been done in Australia and Craig wanted to be the first. Lots of planning had gone into identifying stretches of dirt road that would allow him to complete the ride in as safe and supported manner as possible.
Craig left on Friday for a gathering of enthusiasts in Renmark, South Australia. He set out with his friends Bill and Peter, saying goodbye some hours later when he diverted to meet another friend, Rob. Craig and Rob rode to Renmark on a dirt stretch with the plan to reunite with Bill and Peter on arrival.
Craig’s plan was to then spend the day in Renmark on Saturday, and ride to Coober Pedy to start his dirt adventure. Bill was the support crew and would leave Renmark for Coober Pedy for the start and then to Roxby Downs on the bitumen, a point in the ride Craig would visit on one lap, and ultimately end there. Sadly Bill never made it to Renmark. There was a collision with a kangaroo near Dubbo in which Bill came off second best. His motorcycle came off even worse.
Craig called late Friday night relaying this news and indicating his own ride would most likely not proceed because it was likely foolhardy to undertake it without support. I had offered several times in the lead up to the ride to come and crew, but Bill’s planned presence in Renmark had rendered him the more obvious choice. Craig sounded fairly despondent on the phone and I made the offer again thinking he may change his mind overnight.
Thus Saturday morning dawned and with it came an invigorated call from Craig. “Do you really mean it?” he said. I knew the game was on.
It took several hours to coordinate my trip. I booked flights Newcastle – Melbourne – Adelaide, and return. I’d researched Alliance Airlines that fly Adelaide – Olympic Dam and knew that was doable but when I came to book that flight I was horrified to realise that particular Sunday was almost the only day of the year they do not fly! I booked the return flight for the Tuesday morning and then looked at hire cars. Six hours Adelaide to Roxby Downs! One way in a hire car was almost triple the price of returning the vehicle but that wasn’t an option as my return flight from Adelaide was booked to get me home early evening. I’d already rung Qantas to bring my incoming flight forward to an earlier time to give me more time to drive to Roxby Downs. Anyway I debated the Nissan Micra and the Toyota Corolla options, settling on the latter but knowing it wasn’t really suitable for dirt if that was required.
Saturday morning our daughter Emily spent her time working on my diary, contacting clients to say I’d be Skypeing them rather than seeing them in person. All good there so the plan was to work while in Roxby Downs, all the while tracking Craig on the spot link.
Sunday morning Emily drove me to Newcastle Airport very early. School holidays! Packed full of people heading to Brisbane and Melbourne. I was lucky and was offered an exit row seat so had heaps of space on that flight. We arrived in Melbourne to stormy, wet weather. There had been talk in the news of disrupted flights so I was a little anxious this would affect my plans, but thankfully all was good.
The next flight to Adelaide I’d been able to choose an exit row seat so once again the flight was pleasant.
Arriving in Adelaide I was stunned by the cold and windy conditions. I’d only thrown in a jacket at the last minute! I found Hertz who offered me an upgrade to a Kia Sportage for an additional $15 which I grabbed. The excess though was $4000!
My plan was to get out of the city and onto the road to Port Augusta as quickly as possible. I was lost on the airport roads for a time and then took a couple of wrong turns even with a gps, but eventually I was in the clear. I stopped at Port Wakefield for lunch and to properly sync my phone with the vehicle. I was all set now I had music.
I phoned Craig around this time. I’d thought he’d be at Port Augusta and he was – 1.5 hours ahead of me. I dropped the news I was driving and said I’d see him in a few hours.
I churned through the kilometres, stopping again with 80km to go at Spud’s Roadhouse, Pimba. Finally I arrived in Roxby Downs and met Craig at our accommodation. It had been an epic effort to get there, but I’d made it.
We drove around the town, out to the start of the Borefield Track at Olympic Dam. The ride route was Olympic Dam to William Creek (via the Borefield Track and then Oodnadatta Track) to Coober Pedy, and back again for one lap; and then repeat.
We went to Woolworths for some frozen meals and dessert, and went to bed early.
Overnight I’d been thinking about the ride. Craig was starting from the nab teller in the town and riding to the track. I knew proper support crews go to the start and take photos, so sprang out of bed at 3:20am to go do my duty and support. I took copious photos of him as we left and at the start of the Borefield track at Olympic Dam.
By this time I’d developed the view that I could potentially drive my trusty Kia out on the track and see Craig both leave and return for a few kilometres. The mobile reception lasted for 5km and I dared not go (much) further in case something happened and I couldn’t call for help. Similarly Craig’s spot would work without phone reception to alert me to call help for him, but if I was out there I couldn’t.
We drove onto the track. It was awful. Dusty, sandy, ridges of hard packed dirt.
The Kia didn’t feel the love and I couldn’t waste time seeing if there was a setting for AWD. I knew Craig was hoping to average 70km/hr on the ride and in those first 5km in the dark the speed was no faster. Eventually Craig held up his hand and told me to return, so I waved goodbye and turned around.
I stopped the car and turned off the lights to take some photos.
I went back to Roxby Downs and had some cereal, coffee and a shower, as I was cold. Dressing in my running clothes I headed out the door about 6:45am for a 10km run. I followed paths around the town, looking at stuff, and taking photos. I was lost a lot of the time but had my phone and in the end resorted to Maps telling me how to get back to Discovery Park – 11km in all!
That day my primary mission was to listen for texts from the spot to see Craig was OK; monitor the spot in case he wasn’t OK and couldn’t press the emergency button; and meet him at the end of lap one and then lap two. In between this I had Craig’s washing to do; and food to arrange for him. My secondary mission, but of significant importance, was to Skype six of my clients at set appointment times throughout the day. It was very strange sitting in a cabin in a caravan park in remote SA, speaking to my clients about matters for which the setting was very different, including my clothing, hair and makeup!
Craig had been vague about nutritional requirements. I’d already noted he’d left his camelbak behind and I knew this was an error. I researched travel by bitumen to William Creek and to Coober Pedy in an effort to get to him, but the former route did not exist and the latter was over four hours. My phone had synced with the Kia but there was a glitch with hands free calls otherwise I may have attempted the Coober Pedy drive and multi tasked by phoning clients on the way. I researched William Creek and saw it had fuel so I figured they would have water, as would Coober Pedy so I suspected he’d be OK to get water and pick up the camelbak at the end of lap one.
Back to nutrition. He’d said something from the service station would do. I thought not. There was a Subway in Roxby Downs so I bought a ham salad roll. In Woolworths I bought two different flavours of Poweraid knowing the blue was a favourite but wanting a choice. I thought a banana was always a good option and Craig had left some dried fruit, muesli bars and cake for me to take as well. Armed with all of this, plus Panadol and ibuprofen, and chain oil, I watched the spot and calculated the time to arrive at the corner of the Borefield Track and Olympic Way. I’d no sooner arrived than the motorcycle crested the little rise in front and there he was! It was about 1:30pm, nine hours after he left that morning.
We drove the 800 metres or so to the Mobil service station, Olympic Dam, where Craig refuelled and got a docket. He sat in the back of the Kia in the shade and ate.
The break was short and he was keen to get back to Coober Pedy by dusk. I was going to follow him back out but he was much faster on the dirt than the Kia, disappearing from sight within moments.
I elected to drive further to test the mobile reception in conjunction with being able to see the landscape. It was even more scary by day in the Kia on that road than had been by night!
I was interested in seeing the Olympic Dam mine and turned right at the end of Borefield Rd to drive closer. I had only traversed about 200 metres when a sign on the road made it clear I wasn’t going any further. Bummer.
I conducted a u-turn and drove back toward the Mobil where I turned at the sign to the airport, just to check out where I’d need to be on Tuesday. On the way down that road I passed the temporary village constructed by BHP Billiton for single workers. I’m sure the name was tongue in cheek.
Back to Woolworths I purchased Craig some chocolate milk and a frozen meal as options post ride, as well as his favourite cherry ripe. Finishing my last clients for the day I had a bit of quiet time with a book and the spot link. Craig phoned from Coober Pedy around 6:30pm to say all was well, and I decided to go and find myself done dinner.
I drove around first, trying to get a photo of a ute with an orange flag on the front. They had been everywhere during the day and I’d been thinking I wanted one for the front of my Kia and perhaps even my Mercedes at home! As I stopped for dinner I realised I’d driven for about 10 minutes with no lights turned on. Honestly!
I’d read reviews of a couple of restaurants and had seen the Chinese near Woolworths earlier that day. It was a classic small town Chinese, complete with prawn crackers.
The fellow who greeted me was wearing shorts, Nike tshirt and thongs! I asked for a soft drink and he brought me the bottle complete with lid. The menu was also classic but I wonder whether my choice of the Chinese greens was less classic, as when it appeared, borne forth by a man dressed as a Rastafarian, it was just a plate of bok choy – or one may think, quite a few bok choy! The sauce was lovely but the greens were super chewy so in the end I ate the rice and sauce. It filled the time though and I went back to the accommodation ready for the last few hours of crewing.
I debated my options. I’m not good at night, often falling asleep by 8:30pm. I knew I was tired and decided to risk a short sleep, with fingers crossed that Craig would fire off an emergency signal if something went wrong. It was a risk I know but another ugly case would have been falling asleep in front of the iPad and missing the end of the ride. I set the alarm for 11pm and woke myself at 10:45pm, having slept for 90 minutes. Checking the spot I could see he was about an hour away.
I sat on the bed for a while calculating what I needed to do. I’d left the supplies, car charging cord and iPhone with the keys and my jacket and water, ready to go. I kept refreshing the screen and the spot stayed the same for about 20 minutes. I was feeling a little uneasy but knew this occurred at times. Finally it refreshed and when I opened the link it showed he was only 30 minutes away. I squeaked and sprang up and out the door.
Out on the road of course it was pitch dark. I drove the 10km as fast as I dared but I was really worried about hitting a kangaroo and defaulting the $4000 excess! Driving straight down the middle of the road I recalled Bill saying on the way to Darwin “don’t swerve or you’ll roll the ute. Just hit the kangaroo”. I just wasn’t sure the Kia was made of the same stuff! I elected to travel more slowly and brake safely if required. I made it to the track and turned onto it, refreshing the spot again. 10 minutes was all that remained!
I drove out on the track, travelling no more than 40km/hr, believing a kangaroo was about to bounce at me at any time. Instead it was a rabbit but it was well clear. Finally in the distance I saw lights! I swung the Kia around and waited. Along came Craig! “Go to the BP” he said, knowing that as it was only 11:35pm the servo would still be open. He took off, leaving the Kia in a dust cloud. I didn’t really dare go much faster as I retraced the route, saying to myself “don’t crash the car; watch out for kangaroos”.
At the BP Craig was finishing refuelling and going inside for a docket. I refuelled the Kia and followed him in before taking the photos!
We moseyed back to the accommodation where Craig refuelled himself on chocolate milk, spoke by phone to Rob, and collapsed into bed!
My flight out of Olympic Dam was 8:30am Tuesday. Craig awoke sore and sorry but still thrilled. He said he wasn’t keen to get back on his motorcycle and I suggested he take another day to rest but he had already decided to ride back to Broken Hill.
I arrived at the airport, returning the hire car and finally getting a photo of the squadron of utes with orange flags.
The air in the departure lounge was rank with the odour of 40 men freshly off work and catching my plane back to Adelaide. I thought that was foul enough but had nothing on the ripeness of the smell on the Fokker itself. Omg, most bodily odours premiered and featured on that flight. It was gross but still probably better than the six hour drive back to Adelaide. I had three clients and a case conference to attend to via Skype from the Qantas lounge in Melbourne and then the hop to Newcastle.
Roxby Downs is an interesting place and something of an oasis in the remote area though “oasis” is a stretch. Purpose built by BHP Billiton and the SA government, it has great infrastructure with excellent community facilities. I’d read that the mine had reduced staffing by 350 in recent years and the property market including rental accommodation had fallen over. There were huge numbers of empty homes, and homes for sale. Rents have dropped from $900 per week to $100 per week.
Nothing much grows there and more upmarket dwellings had synthetic lawns. I saw two brick homes in all, although they may have been faux brick.
I didn’t go to the tavern but reviews suggest it can become quite rowdy. I suspect there’s not really much to do out there. From my end, I’ve seen it now and I don’t expect I’ll go back!
So another crewing adventure. I enjoyed the semi-solitude despite constantly watching over Craig and talking to my clients; my staff about a Telstra crisis at the office; and messages from Emily, my friend Hayley and the girls with whom I work. It was something of an adventure for me despite the occasion being very much about Craig and this latest amazing achievement. I’m glad I got to share this one – it was well worth the effort!