STORY AND PHOTOS
DAMIEN ASHENHURST ||
It hasn’t been easy to breathe life into the Husqvarna 701 Enduro Trek. The inaugural event took place in 2019, but only after several postponements due to fires and floods that swept through the ride’s proposed route.
It was eventually held in the Victorian High Country and there was epic scenery and crazy weather and of course, given the location, mouth-watering tracks. It was proof positive that the idea of a 701 Enduro only ride would work and plans were immediately underway for a second running.
But, the Universe conspired to make the second running of the Trek yet again a tough task. This time massive floods isolated towns and caused incredible devastation. But also, something called a pandemic happened. You may have heard of it; it was on the news and sounded bad.
But if there is a tenacious and determined soul on this planet it is that of Rosie Lalonde. Rosie is the Marketing Manager at the KTM Group Australia and neither mother nature nor pathogens stand a chance against her will to hold amazing events for frothing punters.
Rosie recruited Danny Wilkinson (photographer extraordinaire and all-round top bloke), to map out a route (ably assisted by his two sons) and short of nuclear holocaust, this ride was taking place.
GATHER AND GET READY
47 riders headed to the New South Wales North Coast for a week of single model magnificence and with only a slightly sketchy weather outlook ahead, spirits were high and the second running of the 701’s was to begin.
Armed with GPS coordinates and excellent route instructions, riders were also able to follow arrows placed by the mighty Nick Selleck from Maschine, Rosie herself, and at one point even Jemma Wilson. Yeah, it’s pretty cool when you can invite a multi-time International Six Day Enduro and national enduro champion on a ride.
The night before the ride we ate, drank beers from a Kombi converted into a keg and listened to route notes from Danny with suggestions like, “Don’t do in there if you don’t know what you’re doing. You will regret it.”
Harder breakouts were plotted to split away from the main route for the more experienced riders and they were rated using chillies – the more chillies the harder the route was. The harder routes were generally to be avoided if the rains came and while we did have great weather most of the ride, the rains made an appearance in a big way on day two and an amount of havoc ensued.
EMERALD BEACH TO GLEN INNES – 347 kilometres
It’s not unusual to have a good long road section to start an adventure tour. This ride had no time for that shit. In fact, Danny must hate riding on the road as much as I do because we saw minimum blacktop all week. Mere minutes after leaving the carpark, I rode into lush greenery on a carpet of supreme double and at times single trails.
My initial thought was that this was a great way to start a ride, but it surely couldn’t last. I even stopped and made a video and posted it on our Instagram to show everyone how good it was before it ended. But it did last. And in fact, it got even better.
The tracks were in amazing condition with no dust at all and not slippery despite some fresh moisture. We crossed several streams and climbed a couple of decent hills under a thick canopy of trees and enjoyed what is the type of riding that makes this area so good. Then, quite suddenly the tracks closed in completely.
The sky disappeared, the light grew dim and bushland thickened as we entered a true single trail section that is only ever thought of as the domain of the trail bike, not the adventure behemoth. But the 701 is different. And that’s why this ride is so unique. It promotes the 701’s strengths and celebrates its uniqueness.
The single trail section included a slippery train track that needed to be traversed with very little room to move. Some rode through like European enduro masters but a lot of guys got stuck briefly in there. Some struggled with soft panniers to keep them from being snagged on trees and others simply haven’t ridden terrain like that for some time and fought rapidly diminishing energy levels.
The tone for the ride was set and this was clearly going to be a banger.
From there the tracks opened again and we took in the beautiful countryside of Dorrigo, making a stop at the Vista Point Lookout which offers views across the incredible Gibraltar Range National Park and is a great spot to stop and eat some Allen’s Snakes, the staple diet of all adventure riders.
After passing through the ghost town and semi-famous but actually quite underwhelming tunnel at Dalmorton, we made our way to our final stop at Glen Innes, one of the coldest places in the universe, which was actually not too bad on our arrival but exactly a week later would be covered in a blanket of snow.
GLEN INNES TO TENTERFIELD – 246 KILOMETRES
And then the rains came. Not long after we left Glen Innes, the heavens teased precipitation which was the second most interesting thing happening because the videographer, Jorden Bethune, had stepped into some quicksand and was fast disappearing from view. I’m not shitting you. I did it minutes before as the two of us were looking for a spot to shoot a river crossing.
Of course, I didn’t pass this info on…I was just glad not to end up like the horse from The Never Ending Story. So, Jorden sees his drone go down after clipping some high grass and jumps into the same stuff I climbed out of to rescue it. Clubby ran to the rescue, but thankfully Jordy was able to crawl out before both blokes went in. The drone was not so lucky. RIP DJI.
The flavour of the day was open trails with some light sand and rocks, but not overly slippery. We got to see the devastation the floods left behind on this route and it’s simply mind-blowing to contemplate the power involved in ripping hundreds and hundreds of huge trees out by the roots and smashing them down the riverway.
There were piles of shattered trees choking sections of the rivers and how this gets cleaned up I have no idea. Nature can be brutal.
The rains persisted all day and it got pretty cold at times but the scenery coming into Tenterfield was worth being out in the wet. Huge boulders across an alpine-like landscape, complemented by low cloud coverage and sporadic downpours made the day interesting, or if you ignored the ‘do not ride the breakout if it is wet,’ warning, it was a bit tough.
A few blokes had a bit of a struggle before they could pull into town. And those that came in late copped the worst of the rains. A few whiskeys would be ordered that night.
TENTERFIELD TO EVANS HEAD – 346 kilometres
Every ride has its standout days and while day one was pretty amazing, day three was without a doubt the cracker. It was a chilly start, but the rains had moved on which meant the tracks would be prime and indeed, my friends, the tracks were prime. Some off-camber corners kept everyone on their toes in the morning, but the surface was so good and completely dust-free. It was one of those mornings where you just become transfixed on the track ahead and zone out all other concerns but what’s ahead of you. It’s a perfect morning.
The first breakout route was perhaps the best of the entire week with some undulating and twisty trails leading into another single trail section that was fairly technical and had some sneaky, slippery sections that could catch you out easily.
Some guys went down after their back wheels randomly decided to lead the way. I got the heebie-jeebies early in the section and rode like I was traversing a minefield. The route has a pretty solid hill that I got to early and had no drama with, but after a few bikes started to dig it up, the rocks and roots became exposed and the going got tough. Any impediment to momentum was punished with a hill start with little traction available.
After this came yet more amazing single trail which again, I wouldn’t want to ride on any other adventure model, and we eventually arrived at a short but fairly sketchy river crossing. You had two ways across; you could go for it and wrestle with the two boulders hidden under the water or go around and handle the tight twisty track that led you over less water but plenty of exposed rocks.
One rider had to take it on without a clutch, using his starter motor to move forward painfully slow across the rocks (his clutch was fixed in no time by the support guys nearby), full marks for effort there.
We eventually hit open tracks that took us through Kyogle and onto roads that were used for the WRC a few years ago. We got a good breather before the next hard route which gave us undulations mixed with wet clay and some decent mud holes.
As the day grew late the light put on a show with a sunset we couldn’t help but stop and take a bazillion photos of. We eventually pulled into Evans Head after having one of the great days that you never forget. Everyone was a bit tired but the smiles were on show. What a day.
EVANS HEAD TO EMERALD BEACH – 270 kilometres
The final day is always a mix of sadness that it’s coming to an end and relief that it’s coming to an end, depending on how your week went and how the bruises might be forming. If there’s one thing that gets riders psyched though, it’s a beach session.
Organisers had managed to secure entry to a beach at Brooms Head for us to play on and conditions could not have been better for some sand skids. The sun was shining, the beach was smooth and solid and short of a bucket and spade there was noting anyone needs to have the most fun possible. It was also on the beach that Jemma Wilson blew our minds with how fast she is for the second time. The first was day two when she went past us on the outside like a rocket. Again, getting to ride with a champ like Jemma is pretty special.
We rode back into the bush for more quality tracks which led us to the somewhat hidden Jonas Zilinskas Monument. It’s impossible to give Jonas’s story in full here but in short, he was a Lithuanian immigrant who worked primarily as a circus performer, who then worked as a timber cutter, a job he often did butt-naked. And he built a statue of himself in the Yuraygir National Park.
After we said goodbye to Concrete Jonas, we rode on to a quarry that had been turned into a bush motocross track and had some fun there for a while. Then it was back into the scrub where we came along some serious ruts and a few deep holes and slippery wet clay, until we emerged at the top of a hill of bananas, our cue for letting us know we had just about finished the four-day loop.
BACK AT HOME BASE
Back at Emerald Beach, the place we started from days before, it was great to catch up with everyone and talk bikes and the bush and learn that there were relatively few accidents. The hard-fought second running of the 701 Enduro Trek was indeed a success.
The 701 is such a unique machine that it deserves and almost needs a ride tailor-made to let it shine. There were so many places we went that you just wouldn’t take a Tenere or 890 or GS or anything else. Not unless you were Toni Bou but he’s an alien.
We did straight trail riding for a lot of this ride; the type you do on a 250F. The route wasn’t simple and very rarely mundane, which is a credit to Danny Wilkinson and the day-to-day running was exemplary as you’d expect from pros like Rosie and Nick Selleck and the great support crew that was there for anything anyone needed at the end of a day. The medical crew thankfully didn’t have much to do aside from a nasty roo strike, a suspected busted rib and at least one shoulder, but it is always good to know they are there.
So, it’s about time nature let this ride go on with fewer impediments. No more floods, fires and certainly no more of these pandemic things. Let’s hope number three rolls around in 2022 after an utterly boring period of nothing going wrong so the 701 Enduro riders can do it all over again.