STORY AND PHOTOS BY DAMIEN ASHENHURST
The Maschine Great Dividing Range Ride (GDR) stage 3, was the culmination of a series that began in Halls Gap, Victoria in 2021.
But the original idea stretches way back to 2013 when Maschine Tours principle, Nick Selleck, had an epiphany; he would run a tour that takes in the length of the Great Dividing Range. It was ambitious and certainly needed to be done in stages, but eventually, the route was plotted and once bushfires and pandemics finished bringing Australia to a halt, the coast was clear to run GDR 1.
In 2022 ADV LIFE joined the crew on GDR 2 which was the ride from the Hunter Valley (NSW) to Mackay (QLD), and while the wet and cold weather presented us all with a challenge, the route was undeniably stellar. A final day that consisted of an unbroken 60 kilometres of the slickest mud will be one none of us are likely to forget.
Now in 2023, GDR 3 was to pick up where stage 2 finished. We gathered once again in Mackay for a 10-day ride that would take us to Pajinka (the northernmost tip of mainland Australia) and then back down to Palm Cove near Cairns.
This would take in some of the best riding that Far North Queensland has to offer and the challenges that come along with steering big adventure bikes in places best suited for 450cc and under.
This is the story of GDR 3 told not in a blow-by-blow description of every day, but through the highlights of what was one none of us will forget anytime soon. And I forget my own kid’s names regularly.
GDR 3 was not an entirely easy run. It was wet and then it was hot, and then it was wet and hot. It had long stretches of wicked corrugations one moment and fiercely technical and energy-sapping trails the next.
It showcased comradery and it pushed some beyond where they thought their limits were.
Let’s start with days one and two.
MACKAY TO TOWNSVILLE – AND THE SKIES OPENED UP
The rain was so hard you could only laugh. You could zip every piece of clothing and kit, but you had no hope of staying dry as a 70mm downpour partnered with 70kph winds to welcome us in the same fashion it bid us farewell in 2022.
The tracks were mush. Some were fun mush, but that bastard red clay was shining like a smug demon sent from the seventh circle of hell to take victims. And it did just that. Hours of torture ensued.
It was slow going but we had 512 kilometres to cover to get to Townsville so you could curse the Gods as long as you kept moving forward. For many, forward motion was interrupted by an unplanned cessation of momentum, often accompanied by a horizontal positioning of the motorcycle.
This would be followed by a deadlift from a base of mud so slippery it is as though it was created in a lab using only olive oil, seal snot and baby poo as ingredients.
The rain would let up for only minutes. Just enough to give you hope, but it was a futile hope. Picking a line in the slop was like trying to decide which toilet to use on day three of a music festival.
To make my day all the more interesting, I had a Pirelli Rally STR fitted on the rear of the Desert X. The Rally is a favourite tyre of mine. The STR, on the other hand, offers the offroad grip level of a soaped banana.
Our arrival in Townsville was late and I managed to make it later by getting lost trying to find the hotel. I saw quite a bit of the city before I got my bearings. Looks like a great place.
Before we move on to the next most momentous moment, I have to give day two a shoutout because it was every bit as wet as day one, but with even more wind and more clay.
At one point as we traversed the highest road in Queensland, I wondered what the highest road in Queensland looked like because I couldn’t see it from my bike. Visibility was damn near zero as the wind forced the rain in through my visor.
We arrived at Lake Tinaroo to be greeted by shots of Captain Morgan rum which made me gag but then warmed our cockles as it would a pirate returning from a high seas adventure.
Everything was wet from my underpants to my camera gear, but my Pirelli STR was swapped out for a Motoz so the next day already had a brighter shine to it.
TAKE ON THE TELE
The Telegraph Track is as iconic as it is infamous. There are countless videos of 4WDs going arse over bullbar in the notorious Gunshot drop or bikes drowning in the many river crossings.
The night before Nick held a detailed rider’s briefing that made it clear that this is a difficult track on a big bike and if you don’t feel up to it then it’s best to take the alternate route around.
I personally love seeing riders who choose the less risky option. Mixing riding with bravado often ends poorly.
There are a couple of ways to enter the Telegraph Track and about half of us elected to take the more dramatic Palm Creek entrance which begins with a precarious ridge line that demanded the bike be walked down.
At the bottom, other riders helped take the load so the bike could finally drop down and start the route properly. It’s a hell of a beginning that bent a lot of brake pedals, but every bike made it at least that far in one piece.
The double trail with a light sand cover starts almost immediately and it’s fairly easy running except for the random tree roots that disrupt the flow.
A DR-Z400, as unlikely a candidate as it should be for most unreliable bike on the ride, coughed up a lung early. It took an hour to bring it back to life, while I was further up the track with a flat front tyre courtesy of those damn tree roots.
Big thanks to the sweeps Scotty and Dave for their assistance. As a photographer I carry a big bag full of cameras and drones and batteries and assorted shit but no room for tools or tubes etc. When things go wrong, as emasculating as it is, I must wait for a gallant man to save me.
The deceptively energy-sapping and unrelentingly winding path that is the Tele Track needs to be respected lest you experience a deficiency in critical reasoning, at which point you will be made to suffer.
For one rider this happened in a flurry of overexuberance.
Desperate to get to the front of the pack (mistake numero-uno), he pushed it too hard and became one with a tree and a nest of green ants. I found him sleeping peacefully while his brain rewired itself and hundreds of ants sized up their surprise Uber Eats delivery.
The doctor declared his day was finished. The rider now had to be doubled out of the Tele Track, but the support vehicle was going around us. There are two early exit points, but neither is easy to get to, let alone meet up with a ute pulling a trailer.
The rider whose brain was still in Disneyland was eventually doubled out of the Tele to the waiting support vehicle, his bike loaded up and secured as Nick Selleck was himself doubled back to his waiting Desert X, hidden in the bush at the scene of the crash. This put Nick and lead rider David Green a long way behind the pack.
Water crossing levels were pretty low which made Gunshot a simple drop-in and only a slightly tricky run-out of.
Next, we arrived at Cockatoo Creek which can be deceptively technical. There’s an arching line that works best for bikes where you sneak up the right side, but the bottom of the river isn’t at all smooth so it can be safest to walk the bike across.
Getting a large number of adventure bikes across at a walking pace can take a long time though and you still have to climb one of two deep sand hills at the end to complete the journey. A couple of bikes drank too much water.
A few riders needed help to get across and up the sand banks. Everyone was helping in the water, but David Green stood out riding bike after bike up the hills for exhausted or daunted riders.
As the end of the Tele Track neared, the smell of freedom was in the air…just one more water crossing and we’d all be free which was of some concern given we had to make the Jardine River ferry before its cut-off time of 5pm.
If you don’t make the ferry you’re stuck on the south side of the peninsula which offers no food or shelter until the following morning.
As there was a KTM 690 buried in mud in the only sidetrack it was impossible to go around the final water crossing. As we worked to get the Kato out, a Desert X entered the water, choosing a poor line that promptly swallowed it and the Ducati disappeared from sight. It was completely gone. The track wasn’t done taking victims.
The Desert X had no chance of starting after a swim like that. It fell to Nick Selleck to once again go the extra mile to assist a rider. But wait…there’s more.
The problematic DR-Z400 was once again refusing to fire to life but the support vehicle’s trailer was already full. That left Nick and his Desert X to take on the unfathomable task of towing two riders about 120 kilometres into our final stop at Punsand Bay.
But again, the ferry stopped operating at 5pm and the scramble to make it was nearly pointless. Upon arriving and finding the ferry parked for the night, David Green used his considerable powers of persuasion – and just the right amount of cash money – to entice the operators to make just one more run.
They were so lucky there was still someone there to fire up that ferry or it would have been a long and uncomfortable night.
The guys arrived in Punsand Bay late and exhausted. The 253-kilometre day had taken them about 12 hours to complete, but no rider was left behind and everyone was left with a story to tell for the rest of their lives.
The Captain Morgan flowed freely well into the night.
JUST THE TIP
On day six we visited ‘The Tip’ and paid respects to a few riders who started the GDR series back in 2021 but were sadly no longer with us to see the endpoint.
This was followed up with an epic beach riding session under cloudy skies that was as much of an expression of freedom as any section of the GDR up to this point.
DAY 7 – CROSSING THE WENLOCK
On the seventh day, we left Punsand Bay and began our 429-kilometre run south after enjoying something of a day off.
A lot of bikes had received much-needed attention with at least a couple being brought back from near death.
The early highlight came from a visit to both Eliot and Fruit Bat Falls which gifted an opportunity to cool off in the climbing heat. Some jumped in still dressed in their complete riding gear. It would dry off again in minutes.
At some point on the trails between the two falls, a KTM 1150 S which had been ridden capably and hard all week, succumbed to FNQ’s brutality and broke in half, the frame no longer willing to face a single corrugation more. I understood its pain. In most areas, the Peninsula Development Road was in no mood to make us feel welcome.
From there we headed to the relatively new Bertiehaugh Track which is close to the Bramwell Roadhouse and would give us, in theory, a shorter route to the day’s finish point at the town of Weipa.
The Bertiehaugh is a 67-kilometre winding double trail that includes the Stones Crossing which is the point you ford the Wenlock River.
You reach the river after some pretty amazing trail sections by which time you’ve also learnt that it’s pretty damn physical to punt a 900cc adventure bike through the Bertiehaugh. But we had really just begun.
The Wenlock wasn’t running overly high, but the flow was powerful and the river bottom was brutally rocky and slippery at every step. Just walking it to plot a course was treacherous.
It was clear we would have to walk all the bikes across and with 19 bikes (some chose to take an alternate route) this would take some time.
First, the bike had to be lifted a couple of feet onto a rock platform and then dropped back down to enter the river proper. This took a crew of guys in itself lifting and then lowering everything from a Yamaha XT250 to an Africa Twin.
Once in the water, the bike’s rider guided the bike across with help from about a dozen other riders stationed in spots all the way across the river. It was no straight shot either, you had to take a winding path to avoid some of the biggest holes.
Steering a 250kg motorcycle with a dead engine on slippery rocks, in knee-high charging water with innumerable drops to fall into is no easy task and it was expected that there would be at least a couple of bikes taking a swim.
After a hard two hours of methodical one foot in front of the other progress, however, each and every bike had made it across and not one went down into the depths. The riders? Well, the riverbed was so damn awkward to just walk on they were dropping left right and centre, but at least it gave some relief from the heat.
Interesting side note: the Wenlock River is full of crocs. We had a spotter a little further up the river but could we each get out of the water in time if one charged? Not a chance. Someone would have been a sandwich for a handbag with teeth. I believe the fact that we all smelled so bad by this point probably kept them at bay.
All in all, the crossing was a logistical conundrum that could only be pulled off with a maximum team effort and that’s exactly what transpired. Yet again, everyone on GDR 3 came together when called and kept the momentum rolling.
But…the Bertiehaugh had really only just started to show itself.
The day got hotter and hotter, the riders more fatigued and that bloody trail just wouldn’t finish. If we were on 450s the story would be different, but adventure bikes aren’t made to carve through scrub the way this track demanded.
Sandy sections gave way to baby head-sized rocks which relented only to allow deep holes to enter the picture. Keeping a good flow up was hard with loose branches and never-ending hard corners while first and second gear copped a flogging.
Finally, and thankfully, we made it to the end of the track and into Coen with tired bodies and bikes.
Another wild day was done. Another day none of us will forget. It was frustrating and it was fun. It was hard and it was a blast.
From the pub’s forecourt, we watched the local dogs play chicken with what little traffic there is in the town. There was no prize in guessing how one of them got its terrible limp. Later that night those dogs would steal about a dozen pairs of thongs from our campsites.
The Great Dividing Range Ride part 3 had hundreds of kilometres left to run as we headed for the town of Cooktown and finally, Palm Cove. The rains had reappeared ahead of us and soaked the CREB track to the point that it was taken off the route.
This was a bummer to all, but when it’s wet the CREB could be a nightmare on adventure bikes and many still had to ride home after the ride was done.
We passed through the Daintree once again, skirted by Trinity Bay and ducked into Mossman before we hit Port Douglas and ultimately, Palm Cove. The GDR 3 was done.
10 days of riding and the culmination of three separate rides spanning from Victoria to Far North Queensland. Under at times insane weather conditions and faced with challenges for all the mixed skill levels, the Great Dividing Range Ride series was one that none of the participants will forget.
And full credit to Nick Selleck and the Maschine crew for pulling it off. It threw some massive curve balls at times, but Nick’s focus is always on getting everyone to the end while not overly sanitising the riding.
Maschine will be running this GDR 3 ride as well as GDR 2 again in 2024. Head over to the Maschine website for the dates and details and do not miss out on either opportunity!