Africa Twin Across The Outback 2017: Day 4 – Innamincka to Coongie Lakes

Day 4: Update from yesterday evening – Odometer 15681km. Don’t worry, I am still alive. There was no reception out in the remote Coongie Lakes region. A very sandy region, the strong headwinds were really taking a huge toll on both my mental and physical state. I dropped the bike again yesterday, so I just decided to call it a day with barely over 100km clocked. I was so glad that I was within metres to a trio of grey nomads who’ve already set up camp from where I stacked it. A very friendly bunch, I was so happy to spend my night here!

Day 4 at Innamincka (North), South Australia

Rookie mistake #4: Slowing down and remaining on the seat when riding on sandy terrain; the slower you go and the less you insist on standing on the pegs, the more likely you will lose balance and consequently fall down!

Confidence is a hugely important element of a reasonably competent rider. By having some confidence in your skill and the capability of your bike, you have an idea of how much faith you have in what technique works on various terrain. Even on the routine urban commute from home to work and back, you have faith that you’ll make it to your destination on time without hurting yourself or damaging your bike as long as you ride defensively and don’t get hit by another vehicle.

Since Day 1 of this trip, my confidence was at an all-time low, ever since my first time on a motorcycle. I had no faith in the handling characteristics of my bike on the dirt and through bulldust, which was so heavily tied down by a massive load of luggage in the rear. I had no faith that my offroading skills were anywhere good enough for me to be able to make it out of this place completely without any further falls and drops. I simply didn’t think that my experience level as a motorcyclist was enough for me to punch through this journey with a genuine sense of elation. Instead, each kilometre was an outright ordeal.

My journey was progressively getting challenging by the distance as I left the Innamincka settlement in the morning. Being on the edge of a greater desert region, what is thought of initially as bulldust evolves into dry and loose sand. And I mean real loose, the type where you step into, and have your feet sink into millions of golden grains. Winds of over 50km/h were also blowing across the region, which affected my composure, whilst the dust that blew with it were detrimental to vision and respiratory system. My progress was a story of a bad situation gone even worse.

I’ve never really liked sand. I hate walking on it when I’ve got clean feet. I hate having the car mat scattered with sand grains in every crevice of the interior after a day at the beach. I hate having the sand getting into the most inconvenient voids of the mobile phone, jamming buttons and clogging charging ports. Just when I thought I couldn’t dislike it any further, I discovered motorcycling. Throughout my years as a motorcyclist, I’ve never had any experience at all on sand and I had absolutely no idea of how I was supposed to approach such terrain across long distances like what I have encountered in this trip.

The thing with sand is that, especially on a top heavy bike, the slower you go, the more effort you need to apply to keep the bike upright on its two wheels. Instinctively, when you’re lacking confidence, there’s an automated response by the brain telling you to slow down. However, the slower a bike travels, the greater the tendency of the steering would turn to the direction that the irregularity of the terrain may dictate on the front wheel. Travelling too slow on a loose surface is a great way to drop the bike unintentionally.

Digging into my supplies, in search of some edibles to reinvigorate my waning energy.

The one other technique that I was still trying to improve on throughout the trip was standing on the footpegs. It’s doable for some time, but it gets real tiring when you’re having to ride for many hours across many consecutive days. By standing on the pegs when riding on variable terrain, you’re shifting the weight further down low than if you were remained sitting on the seat which is positioned higher than the pegs. Imposing a lower centre of gravity on a bike like the Africa Twin has a noticeable effect to its dynamics when dealing with the sandy trails. The duration of time spent on the footpegs were hampered by leg muscles that were so fatigued, that I just wanted to sit down instead for the bulk of the time.

When you keep to a decent pace, that is neither too slow or too quick, you’re more likely to stay in control, particularly when you utilise the footpeg standing technique. The front wheel naturally wants to stay straight after a certain amount of forward motion, and just makes the journey less strenuous. I didn’t quite have this knowledge in mind when starting off this trip, but I eventually figured it out as I spent days out on such surfaces.

With no other vehicles to be seen on the isolated Walkers Crossing trail through the arid Coongie Lakes region for days, and a slight element of loneliness threatening my disposition, I was so happy when a convoy of dirt bikes approached towards me from the opposite end of the track. I guess I wasn’t totally alone out here! Comment from one of the riders, as he glanced at the fully-loaded Africa Twin: “You’re a little ambitious to be out here on your own with that”

Just when I thought I had it all figured it out, I pulled off a pretty absurd move by purposely going into a dry creek under a bridge, and dropping it on the way down. All I could think was to question my motive behind such a fruitless deed. Was I trying to show the world that I could now go anywhere and everywhere with my newfound knowledge? Was I trying to prove to myself that I was now the all-conquering outback rider without equal? Was it all just for Instagram? There was no reasonable answer to the whys of this manoeuvre.

Coincidentally, and most invitingly, there was a trio of grey nomads who had set up camp for the night with their caravans, literally just metres from the bridge where I was stuck under. Thankfully, I had picked up the bike off the ground minutes before being approached by one of them, who looked down upon me from up the bridge. There’s nothing more embarrassing than to be seen wrestling with a big bike, in case I couldn’t actually pick up the bike on my own! The remainder of what little dignity I had left were redeemed for the day.

I decided to call it a day, setting up camp between the two caravans that were parked up for the camp night. I was already heavily fatigued and I definitely needed some rest. It was already late in the afternoon so I had to make a choice, fast. The nomads had advised me that the terrain was going to be brutally rocky and that there was a great chance that the winds would be even stronger up ahead due to the flat, shrub-less landscape that provided no wind break at all. At least if I were to stay at this location, the few trees and plantations that surround the camp site, as well as the caravan panels that effectively acts as a wall against the elements, any strong winds that may occur overnight would be alleviated.

Despite the little mishap in the creek bed and the lack of progress made, it was an ideal end to the day. A starry galaxy to grace the beautiful night sky, as the campfire burned gently within the calm windless atmosphere, this is probably what a proper motorcycle road trip should constitute. A time to think, space to immerse oneself and a soothing environment to put your feet up and recuperate for another big day on the road. Marvellous.

A beautifully calm night, void of wind and heat. Only a quiet rustle as the campfire gently burns.


Basic Statistics for the day:

  • Route: Innamincka – Coongie Lakes region
  • Total distance: 159km
  • Range of temperature: 18°C to 36°C

Expenses for the day:

Africa Twin - Outback 2017 - Expenses - Day 4.jpg

General map route:

Note: Again, just like in the blog for Day 3, map below only shown as an approximate guide. Route taken within Innamincka is not exactly known, as I did not really know where I was going..

Africa Twin - Outback 2017 - Map - Day 4.JPG