I still have dust collecting on my ’80s and ’90s Paris to Dakar VHS tapes I watched over and over as a teenager, dreaming of one day owning a high performance desert crossing machine.
Somehow road bikes found their way into my life, and a 10-year stint living in the USA saw me seduced by the dark side, owning several Harleys and immersing myself in the culture of orange and black merchandise.
While HD took me to some amazing places and events (like the insane Sturgis Rally), adventure was calling and I wanted to blast across deserts, explore forest trails and jump endless cattle grids.
Fast forward a few years the big 5-0 hit and I was no closer to living out my dream. I was missing two key ingredients; an adventure bike and the skills to ride one. While I had several hundred thousand kilometres on road bikes, I’d never owned a true dirt bike.
Choosing the bike proved the easy part as I loved the ‘Rally Ready’ look of the much touted Yamaha Tenere 700. Of course finding one was the real challenge. As luck had it, I went bike shopping on my 50th birthday to a local Yamaha Dealer and as I walked in I saw two Teneres sitting on the floor, naturally assuming one was a demo and the other was sold.
The salesman was unsure when asked, looked up the details and then muttered the words, “It doesn’t appear to be allocated yet.” My credit card went down like a fat kid on a seesaw and she was mine.
So what now? I’m still missing the skills and of course I need all the accessories to at least look 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 at my local coffee shop; bash plate, crash bars, Barkbusters, pannier racks and more. However the embarrassing reality was my T7 only had a pathetic 200 km on her and I had no idea where to ride or whom to ride with.
During my research I discovered there was a dedicated Tenere 700 Four-Day Off-Road Navigation Rally staged by RideADV that promised adventure and exploration. It sounded perfect, if somewhat daunting, but there was one downside. The starting point was in Wauchope, NSW some 1,800 km away from my home in the Barossa Valley in SA.
The event was run by Greg Yager and his RideADV team and I had become a fan of their unedited and down to earth YouTube videos comparing various Tenere 700 accessories. A few Facebook messages, emails and phone calls and Greg had assured me it was going to be a great event and tapped into my just-do-it personality.
The clock was ticking as it was now less than two weeks before the Rally commenced, and I was far from prepared. As I read through the pre-rally notes I started to realise just how under-prepared I was.
‘No 50/50 tyres permitted’, ‘No soft sided adventure boots’ (more on this later) and being a GPS Navigation ride I kind of needed a GPS. A few more calls to Greg and I had tyres being shipped to Wauchope and a GPS ordered. Suddenly I realised I needed camping gear, an adventure helmet and I’d be away for the mandatory 1,000 km service so I need to have that done early.
Only days prior to departure and I still had no idea which route I was going to take to arrive at Wauchope. It just felt wrong to take a bike like the T7 on a 1,800 km bitumen ride, so I reached out to various Facebook groups seeking ideas for scenic off-road routes, which proved to be extremely helpful.
Sunday departure was aborted due to lack of preparation and was pushed back to noon on Monday. I suddenly felt a wave of anxiety, ‘What are you doing Mark? You’ve never owned a dirt bike, you don’t know which way you’re going, your riding solo and you don’t know anyone at the rally,’ I asked myself.
My partner came home for lunch to wish me good luck and take the necessary departure photos. I could sense the concerned look on her face as I rode off.
I only had two deadlines, be in Mudgee Friday morning to have custom Dakar graphics fitted by DMK Design, and Wauchope Saturday morning for pre-rally scrutineering.
Day one saw me heading towards to Renmark and depending on time, the recommended ‘Rufus River Road’ passing Lake Victoria, testing my new gear as I went. I’d fitted a GoPro to my helmet and had been given a drone by my brother and sister as a 50th present, but had no idea how to use either of them.
I started to get used to the riding position and feel comfortable on the bike, only having amassed 600 km prior to departure. The run to Renmark was easy especially with my gel seat topper fitted and I felt like I was just on a really easy to ride road bike.
In contrast, as I turned onto Rufus River Road I realised this was going to be my first dirt sections. I was excited but also somewhat apprehensive. My naivety or ignorance saw me maintain 30+ PSI on my Pirelli STR tyres.
Confidence started to build on the loose gravel surface and my speed climbed accordingly. Suddenly I was exactly where I’d dreamed of, blasting across wide open plains, awkwardly standing on the pegs on a beautiful evening with the sun setting behind me.
The road surface changes, and the front wheel wandered as I hit a sandy stretch. My off-road inexperience saw me do all the wrong things, I slowed abruptly and landed my butt on the seat. All ended well, as I pulled to the side of the track, reminded myself what I’d read about sand riding, and took off again.
It’s amazing how quickly I regain my confidence, no doubt motivated by the spectacular scenery as I passed Lake Victoria and continued towards Wentworth. I glanced in my mirrors to witness a stunning orange glow at sunset and thought this was a great opportunity to stop and grab a few pics of my Tenere 700 on dirt roads instead of outside cafes in the Barossa Valley.
It’s about an hour after sunset as I ride into Wentworth to grab some fuel and find some accommodation. After settling on the main street motel that adjoins a busy looking pub, I decide to reward myself with few beverages and a pub feed. My advice when stopping at pubs is to ask, what’s great on the menu? – lets face it they want you to have a great meal. The special was steak and giant onion rings, and it lived up to its reputation being an Instagram worthy dish. Day one done, and no idea where I was heading on day two…
Some late night research and suggestions from Facebook adventure groups had me eyeing the Darling River Run visiting towns dotted along this route. The days riding was coming together when I read a disclaimer in one group, “Do not attempt after rain as clay roads will be impassable.”
A quick Bureau of Meteorology review revealed heavy rain and storms in the area, and with my ADV skills being at the shallower end of the mud pit, this route was quickly discarded.
An alternative trip materialised thanks to another Facebook member, “Ever seen the Mad Max Museum at Silverton?”. ‘Seriously Mark?’ I said to myself. I’ve been a Mad Max fan since my teen years, and I’ve never been there – this was a must visit!
My eyes wandered further up the map seeing where this would take me. Suddenly in the back of mind was what seemed like a CRAZY suggestion from the early stage of my planning, Cameron Corner. The theme of this trip was going to be unplanned, spontaneous and adventurous, so let’s head north – maybe.
Day 1: Total kilometres: 400. Highlight: Rufus River Road. Must do: Wentworth Pub.
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