Ron and Ray’s Postie Bike Saga Coast to Coast

10th June, 2012.

RON’S POSTIE BIKE SAGA. Written by Ray Cope

It all started on Wednesday, 6th June, after I had visited an orthopaedic surgeon in Rocky.  He told me that I had to use my right arm and left hand more and get proper movement happening.  Only then would he decide what could be done surgically.  Goodo then a trip across Australia should fit the bill.

I took off in the Navara and met up with Ron and Michele at Byron Bay on the Friday night.  We transferred everything needed from Ron’s ute to mine.  Ron had to do all the heavy lifting because both my arms were pretty useless.

Michele had to take off home on Saturday morning because she had to work the next day.  Ron and I spent the day casing the joint and general sight-seeing.  We stayed the 2 nights at a backpacker joint.  I had cunningly got there early and scored a good room with a king size bed.   Ron had to share bunks with 3 of his postie bike mates.  The place was chock full of young backpackers who loved to party, and once again I was happy about my deaf ear.

We met up with another support vehicle driven by a bloke called “Easo”, a good sort of a bloke, but not coming to terms with growing old gracefully.  The other Postie bike contenders rolled into town like browns cows, and somehow managed to meet up at the Lighthouse at 5pm Saturday for a photo session.  Nobody seemed to notice the sign that was planted in the middle of the road that said all vehicles had to be out the car park and off the lease by 5pm, as they were locking the gate halfway back down the hill.  Sure enough me and about 10 other vehicles got locked in and had to wait for some cranky bastard to come down and let us out.  The Postie bikes of course just went around the gates.

The whole crew, about 20 bikes and 5 vehicles, all got together for dinner Saturday night at the main pub.  I think the whole town knew that the Postie boys were there.

Phil, the head honcho, decided that all the bikes would leave from that pub at 5am the next morning, Sunday 10th.  As it turned out the browns cows all left from the Main Street about 200 metres away.  It was pitch dark for the first 2 hours and I positioned myself just behind the last rider.  It was about this time that I reckoned I was ready for bed and a good sleep.

Just after daylight I pulled into a servo to fuel up and ran into one of the contestants, “Joe”.  He had to buy some more oil.  He had lost a nut from the side of his tiny motor and oil was everywhere.  I followed him for a while because we were the tail end by then, and he kept getting slower.  I had to sit back a bit to stay out of the smoke coming from the thing.  When we caught up with a large group who were pulled up somewhere near Casino, I left him to go in search of Ron.

I found Ron somewhere around Tenterfield, going like a bat out of hell (80k/h).  Already, everyone was either pulled up for break, or spread out at different towns along the highway.  The pecking order was beginning to form, with George & Craig, “Bluebox” and Ron fighting for the lead.  George and Craig had spent hundreds of millions of dollars kitting out their bikes with long range fuel tanks (1,000km range) and had the course, and every turn point, specially plotted with all co-ordinates worked out and nominated.  Also they were what Ron and I would call “young”.  “Bluebox” had a pretty good machine with some fancy mods, that didn’t look fancy, and a massive blue plastic box bolted to the carry rack.  He also had vinyl canvas panniers fitted either side, just like a real postie bike.  Ron would just shake his head when looking at this bloke because his set up made no sense at all.  But once again this bloke was “young” and could handle the whole show.

I stuck behind Ron then, all the way to Inverell.  It was a good chance to sticky-beak at 80k/h, as I had never been that way before.  We pulled up at Inverell for fuel and the coppers had the highway blocked doing RBT’s in the main street area.  “Bluebox” was the first to leave the servo and was shitting himself that they might pick on his unusual set-up.  They were just RBTing but and let us all through no worries.  George and Craig where behind us at that point.

Coming out of Inverell I somehow lost Ron, he went via Narrabri and I ended up on the road to Moree.  By the time I realised my mistake it wasn’t worth turning back, as it was only a matter of about 5km difference, my way to Ron’s, through to Walgett.

Ron and “Bluebox” were in front, and about together by this stage, somewhere near Narrabri.  Ron took a wrong turn and sent himself south, about 60km out of his right road.  He didn’t realise it until it was too late to turn back.

I had put the pedal to the metal through Moree to Walgett, and was the first person there.  I waited for Ron, near Walgett, at the intersection of the Moree-Walgett and Narrabri-Walgett roads. Half an hour later “Bluebox” came through from Narrabri way, another half an hour later George and Craig came through.  They had come the same way as me, through Moree.  By the time Ron rolled up from the Narrabri Road he was 3/4 hour behind “Bluebox”.

I was ready for bed by now because we had originally planned to pull up at Walgett for the night, and I was very tired.  Unfortunately that just wasn’t going to happen because “I want to win” Ron Thomson decided to push on, darkness wasn’t far off and near Brewarrina Ron said to go ahead and find some beds at Bourke.  I did as I was told, driving into the sun as it went down while the wildlife came out to play.  I was certain that Ron couldn’t possibly get through that lot, and I was wondering what I would be telling Michelle.

Anyway, working on a million to one chance that Ron would live, I scored a room at Bourke, fuelled the ute and parked where he would see it, should he ever come in alive.  He rolled up about 3/4hr later and fuelled up.  George and Craig and “Bluebox” had rolled in by then, fuelled up, and continued on their way.  By this stage Ron knew he was up against some very tough competition.

We went straight to bed and just as I was ready to go into a deep sleep (3am), Ron ordered me up and on the road again.  About 15 minutes out of town we were pulled over by Phil to have a bit of a yarn, he was camped beside the road with his travelling crew.  We soon took off, in the pitch dark, chasing after the three leaders.

It was around here that the bitumen ran out and endless dirt started.

Blessed daylight!  After fighting to stay awake, we arrived in Wanaarring, the road condition signs had been locked out and said the road to Tibooburra was closed.  I managed to find a phone at the local cop shop that connected to someone, somewhere, that knew nothing about anything.  Some “knowledgeable” local then came by and said “Yeah, no worries, she’s open go for it.  Ok we thought that’ll do.  Meanwhile “Bluebox” and Phil, and his crowd, had caught up with us.  Bugger knows where George and Craig were, but they were still ahead.  “Bluebox”, Ron and I took off while Phil and “Easo” parked up to re-build one of their bikes that had shit itself.

Many, many, many kilometres, sleep attempts and Kangaroo, Emu etc. dodging, we arrived at the secret turn off, past Cameron Corner and the big bus.  For the record it is 81km past Cameron Corner, blink and you will miss it.

By now I was completely astonished by Ron’s determination, and stamina, to keep going.  Cruising along in the nice, comfortable, warm and dry Navara all I wanted to do was sleep.

But there was to be no sleep. At the turn off we caught up with “Bluebox”, who was unsure if this was the right one.  He was molling around waiting for someone to come along and confirm it all.  Ron made a completely wild guess and said “Yes”.  It turned out he was right.

This short cut saved about 100k on the trip to the Strezleki Track and on to Lyndhurst.  The only downside was that this road was a bastard of a thing, so I followed along behind Ron and “Bluebox”.  As I tried to explain later to a completely deaf Ron Thomson, it was here that I noticed “Bluebox” knew how to ride, and would be a force to reckon with.  Ron reckoned that because “Bluebox’s” bike was not set up to the same scientifically calculated perfection that his was that it couldn’t possibly be any good (ever).  “Bluebox” charged along this track like a man possessed, trying to get ahead, and shake off Ron.  At several stages I thought “He’s gone”, but somehow he would straighten up and keep going.  In a real bad spot one of his panniers fell off, so I picked it up for him as I came past, after this he did slow down a bit.  On the road there was quite a bit of water laying about, forcing everyone to go off track.  It was also very steep and sandy, at the sides.  It was the first place that I had to go into Four Wheel Drive.  It was a blessed relief to later hit the Strezleki Track.  It was coming onto dark by this time so we fuelled Ron’s bike and I took off to the Lyndhurst Pub to get a room.  Luckily for us Ron’s Sister and Mum were staying at Lyndhurst, doing a spot of bird-watching, so I called them on my Sat. Phone and they had a room organised for us by the time we arrived.

When I arrived at Lyndhurst George and Craig were at the pub with Ron’s Sister, Therese.  They had just made it in time to get fuel and were wolfing down a counter tea.  They were very pleased that they got fuel and “Bluebox” would miss out.  They were completely exhausted but determined to win this thing.  They got back on their bikes and took off into the night.  They ended up winning of course, and we never caught up with them again until the end.

About an hour later Ron and “Bluebox” rolled up.  “Bluebox” was nearly out of fuel; luckily we had enough in the ute to get him out of trouble.  It was a good chance for Ron to catch up with his family.  I was delirious from lack of sleep by now, and probably hallucinating as well.  I had no sooner collapsed somewhere in the room than Ron had me up for Breakfast at 4am, he seemed to be as fresh as a daisy.  All I could do was shake my head and get back behind the wheel.  Geez, we had been doing nearly 1,000km per day.  The man’s MAD!

Ron and “Bluebox” rode out from Lyndhust together, with me following.  As I slowly came out of a somnalistic stupor, I realised that my fuel light was on.  I pulled Ron over to fuel up from our two jerry cans in the back of the ute.  I climbed up to lift them out and soon realised, through my delirium, that they were empty.  Some scumbags of unconfirmed origins had emptied them, somewhere between Byron Bay and Lyndhurst.  Bloody great!  Fortunately there was enough left in the ute to make the 80km to Maree.  I then had a 4 hour wait for the shop to open.  I put my feet up and fell into a coma.  Ron continued on knowing that I would catch up on the next leg, being William Creek to Coober Pedy on to Erinduna, another 900km.  When he was about 15km out from Maree, Ron had a small, major, panic attack thinking we had forgotten his bag and medicine pack at Lyndhurst.  He doubled back and was happy to see that I had picked them up.  He quickly took off again but this put him quite a way behind “Bluebox” and he never managed to catch him again.

As soon as I fuelled up I took off feeling a tiny bit more rested.  The roads were good, and many hours later, I caught up with Ron on the main highway from Coober Pedy to Alice Springs.  He was battling a headwind and was down to about 60k/h. For a while I tried to cut the wind by driving in front of him.  This did help him but I soon got sick of trying to keep to the right speed.  My feet had been swelling up from the endless hours behind the wheel so I raced ahead, for an hour, and managed to get a good break before Ron caught up.  I laid down and put my feet up, fixing the problem.  Near Kulgera I left Ron to battle on in the dark and shot ahead to Erinduna to get a room.

Just outside Erinduna I passed “Bluebox” battling away, he was about an hour ahead of Ron by this stage.  I saw him fuelling up at Erinduna and then he took off into the night.  We didn’t see him until 2 days later at Carnegie.

The next day was destined to be a short one, only 723km, to Warburton, just over the W.A. Border.  Mercifully this allowed a bit of a sleep in. 

It was good bitumen road out to Yulara and Ayer’s Rock.  We pulled in for fuel and tried to buy a carton, it wasn’t that simple in these communities so we gave it a miss, and headed for Warburton.  The road took us through the boom gates at Ayer’s Rock and into the National Park.  Ron had the permits filled out and we went straight through.  We stickybeaked past the rock and the Olga’s, then we were onto the beginning of the dirt road to Warburton.

The traffic west was pretty heavy with lots of people going home from the Finke Rally in Alice Springs.  The road was good and I followed Ron for a while.  I soon got sick of that.  The feet were swelling up again so I left Ron behind and sat on 120k’s for an hour.  Then I pulled up, parked the ute sideways on a slope, put the feet up on the back seat and went straight to sleep.  By the time Ron caught up the feet had gone down and I was a little bit rested.  We repeated this procedure all the way to Warburton.

Near Warburton it was getting dark, so once again I took off to get fuel and a room.  The caravan park there had big gates at the front to keep out the local undesirables. So I waited outside the gate until Ron came in.  That way he didn’t miss it in the dark.  The people at the park suggested that we didn’t leave anything in the back of the ute overnight.  They also reckon the boys have a habit of cutting the fuel lines to empty the tanks of the bikes.  The next thing you know the room was chock full of gear with Ron’s postie bike in the middle.

Once we unpacked we were told about a track just outside of town that would lead directly to the Gunbarrel Highway.  It looked like it would save quite a bit of time.  We drove out for a look and after many arguments with Ron’s navman, we found it.  We only drove down it a short way.  It didn’t look very inviting.  Ron decided to give it a go anyway because we were led to believe that “Bluebox” went that way.  We returned to our room where the State of Origin Game 2 was on, Ron managed to watch it all but I fell into a coma again.

In the morning Ron had decided against doing the shortcut.  Thank God for that because “Bluebox” later told us that it was murderous for him, and his bike, and a 4WD would have taken forever to travel down it.  He reckoned that it looked like a road pushed through by a tank in WW2 and then fallen into disrepair.  Satnav helped us find the turnoff to the Heather Highway.  The map said 37km but we found it at 32.  The first 40km was reasonably maintained because apparently it serviced a cattle station thereabouts.  When we turned right to go the 37km to the Gunbarrel Highway we soon realised that this was not good.  Ron went in front and I followed.  I was down to 10k/h in most places and started to wonder just how smart this was.  Ron was too but as you do you think “She’ll get better further along”.  How wrong we were.

When we got to the Heather-Gunbarrel junction Ron, the black tracker, examined all the tyre and ground markings.  After a long story he deduced, correctly, that George and Craig, and “Bluebox” were ahead of us.  I set the trip metre and marked the time, and off we went onto the worst piece of abomination that ever got called a highway.

Ron decided to go in front because he correctly assumed that he would make better time on the bad stuff and that I would catch up later on the good stuff.  What good stuff?  This plan fell apart exactly 1 hour, and 24km, later when Ron had his first crash.  This slowed him down somewhat, and I wasn’t far behind when he had his second and third crashes.  One of these resulted from his accelerator slide sticking open in the little carby.  This caused a spectacular crash that sadly I missed seeing by moments.  By now he was pretty rattled.  His foot was broken for sure and he was whinging about his shoulder.  He pulled his long range fuel tank off, freed up the carby with a bit of chain lube and got back on.  I was astonished and began to wonder where my duty of care started and stopped.

We continued on for a total of 6 hours and 123km.  Ron rode in front always making sure not to lose me in his mirrors.  He could make good time on the hard stuff but had the feet down on the sandy rough stuff.  Blind Freddy could see that the old man was running out of puff.  The Navara on the other hand was down to 5-10k/h on the hard and could produce short bursts up to 60k/h the sand.  I was terrified of coming around a sandy corner, where Ron was most likely to fall off, and run over him.  I slowed at every blind corner.

Finally Ron had prang No: 4. He came down on hard ground going pretty quickly.  His movements were laboured and his mind had gone beyond its limit.  By the time I caught up he was staring ahead at the endless sandy corrugations and said “No more”.

It took him quite a while to assemble his jigger to put on the towbar and put the bike on it.  I was little help to him because of my old injuries.  I knew he hated to give up but, rightfully, he knew that he might kill himself if he went on.  We both agreed that had we turned back as soon as we saw this bastard of a road, and stayed on the Great Western Highway, Ron could well have won this little show.  Talking with the three riders in front, at the finish, confirmed the hardship that they went through as well and the low average speed they managed through this 400km, approximately, piece of shit.  We knew this anyway from watching their wheel tracks.  We could practically count their stacks.

With the bike bolted to the back of the Navara, we then faced a further 4 to 5 hours of mongrel road through to Carnegie.  Mercifully the road got better as we approached Carnegie.  It was well and truly dark when we pulled into the Station.  “Dusty”, the station manager, and his wife invited us to their table and it was a good feed.  We were not at all surprised to see “Bluebox” at the table too.  The sufferings and bad luck that this man had been through was inhuman.  It was etched on his face and visible in his wild crazed eyes.

It turned out that “Bluebox”, after falling off many times on the Gunbarrel, had gone through Carnegie Station hours earlier.  He had managed to get a flat front tyre about 30km further on.  The spare tube was no worries but on one of his many Gunbarrel crashes he had broken his 12v pump.  He flattened his battery trying to pump her up so then he zippy tied the accelerator flat out so he could run things while trying to hold the compressor together.  All this did was heat up his exhaust to red hot, setting fire to the oil that was somehow splattered all over his bike.  Putting out the fire used all his water so now he had no choice other than return to Carnegie.  That’s where we found him.  He had ridden all the way back with a flat front tyre and somehow when we pumped it up it held air.  Amazing!

Between Ron, myself and “Dusty” we convinced the delirious “Bluebox” to give up for the night and grab a room.  If he hadn’t I was ready to steal his key.

“Dusty” was truly astonished by the state these postie boys were in.  Phil, the head honcho, had rung him months earlier to warn him that they were coming.  He thought everyone would roll up together for a big party, so far all he had seen was three riders.  All three were in a shocking state from the Gunbarrel.  It certainly had him wondering what he’d see next.

We all had a good night’s sleep.  “Bluebox” was up early but found that he had lost a glove.  Ron loaned him his and “Bluebox” took off to keep racing.  Ron and I finally had the luxury of taking our time, having a good stickybeak, fuelling up the ute and leaving at our leisure.  We both agreed that Carnegie Station would be a great place to park up for a week.  It could be a nice experience, learn about the station and help out where required.  They certainly could use somebody who can weld.

Before we left we did our usual thorough check of the room.  We both had a good look and then promptly took off leaving Ron’s riding boots behind the door.  God knows where they are now.  Fortunately Ron reckoned that they were getting a bit old and sad anyway.

30km out of Carnegie Station the stupid satnav decided, for some God unknown reason, to send us off on an extra 90km sightseeing tour.  Had we looked at the map we would have kept going straight ahead.  The map showed this new road as just a track, it wasn’t but.  The dirt surface was perfectly graded and mostly dead straight.  The sides were formed and if it had a coat of bitumen it would be called a 4 lane autobahn.  Incredible!  We averaged 130-140k/h on it and made good time to Wiluna.  The silly satnav tried to send us down every possible turnoff but by now we weren’t fooled that easily and always consulted the map.  We could see “Bluebox’s” tracks around Wiluna but still hadn’t caught up to him by Meekatharra.

The people at the service station come supermarket filled us in as to where the three riders would be by now.  As with every stop, the concept of postie bikes crossing Australia drew lots of attention, and had everyone talking.  The name “Bluebox” was also becoming famous and was always linked to bad luck, hardship and pity.

Ron and I decided at this stage there was no point following the most direct road to Steep Point anymore.  I had never been west before so we decided to take the cook’s tour via the road further north, through Gascoyne Junction, and hit the coast at Carnarvon.  Once again we were driving through the night dodging the wildlife as we went.  A couple of times I was ready to pass the wheel to Ron and slip into a deep sleep.  Somehow I managed to battle on and we rolled into Carnarvon around 10pm.  A total for the day of 1,146km.  All the motels etc. were closed but after three tries we managed to score a room at a caravan park.  From Carnarvon we headed south and turned right at the Overlander Roadhouse.

We were about 50 km from Steep Point when we stumbled across George and Craig, this was about mid-afternoon.  They had made it to Steep Point almost 2 nights ago and had spent the previous day in the area, catching up on sleep, and waiting for the next lot to arrive.  No-one came, so they decided to head back to the nearest camping grounds at Hamlin.  The sandy track wasn’t very wide and there was no traffic, so we parked up in the middle of the road and opened the esky.  George and Craig were desperate for a beer by this so we settled in for about 2 hours and swapped a few stories.

We were well into the supplies when to our utter amazement up rolled “Bluebox”.  He was very weary and keen to get to the finish line.  He had to have a few beers first, of course, whether he needed them or not.  It was starting to get a bit late in the day so George and Craig convinced “Bluebox” to stash most of his gear beside the road and pick it up on the way back.  The road ahead was very sandy and hard going for a fully laden bike.  We agreed to catch up later at Hamlin Caravan Park, about 100km back.  George and Craig headed there and we followed “Bluebox” to Steep Point.

The road out to Steep Point was all soft sand, with tight turns, sharp rises, corrugations and anything else you might think of.  Half way there we found “Bluebox” with another flat.  There were no niceties and he was removing the back wheel with the bike just lying on its’ side.  It was getting late so Ron and I left him and charged on to the finish point.  It was all very easy in the Navara really.  We arrived at the Steep Point sign, took photos, signed the book and Ron pushed the button on his “spot”.  He wanted to mark his position at the end point.  Unfortunately he put his “spot” on the bonnet, left it there and we drove off into the darkness.  By some small miracle one of the riders that came in later found it and contacted Ron (phew!).  When we left Steep Point, as well as being dark, it was getting very, very cold, very quickly.  We headed back wondering where the hell was “Bluebox”?   He was exactly where we had left him.  The new bike pump that he had bought didn’t work.  He’d left his cold weather gear back beside the road and was standing beside his bike shivering and suffering.  Fair dinkum I have never before seen such misery.  We broke out our pump, Ron lent him his jacket, and off he went again.  Ron and I watched him go.   Given all that this man had been through we were a little concerned about his possible state of mental health.

By the time we got to Hamlin George and Craig had given up on us and gone to bed.  It was very late, too late to get a room, so for the first time on the whole trip we had to break out the tents.  In two words, cold, ice.  I heard poor old “Bluebox” come in about 3am but it was far too cold to get up and help him set up his tent.

We all slept in a bit that morning.  Ron’s sister was tracking all the riders on her computer and we knew that Phil and the next wave of bikes would come past us to Steep Point later that day.  We all had the day spare so we unloaded the Navara.  The five of us piled in and we spent the day sightseeing at Monkey Mia Shell Beach and everywhere in between.  A good time was had by all and we finished the night with a massive bonfire at the camp area.  Much talking was done and we were expecting Phil and his mates to roll in and join us at any time.  They didn’t, apparently once they hit the end they were too exhausted to move so camped at Steep Point.

Next morning Ron and I said goodbye and headed south, intending to make it to Perth.  A few hours down the track we got a call from “Easo” in his ute.  Everyone that, to this point, had made it were heading to Geraldton to stay the night.  We thought “Bugger it”, we’ll park up the night as well and catch up with them.  We all booked at the same pub and it was a chance to hear some more stories of hardship.  “Easo” had not showered since Byron Bay and stunk to high heaven.  Disgusting!

Poor old “Head Honcho” Phil had many sad tales, falling off, going back the wrong way, lost his wallet, stolen helmets etc. etc. etc.  The list just goes on.  The individual antics that were performed during this little adventure would make a whole new story, and are too many to deal with here.  I’m sure that Ron will get all the stories later over the web.

We finally said goodbye, again, and left the next morning.  We headed south to Gin Gin and turned toward home.  The next night we spent at Coolgardie.  We had run out of daylight, and puff, to continue.

Next day we got up early, drove on to Kalgoorlie, saw all the necessary sights including the Super Pit, bought a teddy bear for Jane, and kept heading home.  We crossed the Nullabor Plain that day, no worries, and parked up that night at Nullabor Township.  Ron’s plastic postie bike long range fuel tank blew out of the back of the Navara and is still out there somewhere.

We had to visit a friend of Ron’s at Ceduna the next day.  He was a mate from their apprenticeship days and they hadn’t seen each other for 30 years.  He didn’t even recognise Ron.  When he knew who it was he was over the moon.  He owns a small engineering firm at Ceduna (poor bugger) and Ron and he talked for hours.  Nice bloke.  We left Ceduna and headed for Port Lincoln.  Ron wanted to catch up with a nephew who lived there.   We stayed the night and then headed for Adelaide.  Cold, wet and miserable all the way!

Adelaide was very interesting for me as I have never been there before.  We stayed the night at Ron’s sister’s place.  They put on a bit of a show, for Ron, and I got to meet most of his family.

From there we headed north through the Barossa (all new to me) and onward to Singleton.  Many, many more Ray & Ron Dragline stories later I dropped Ron and his bike off at Singleton and headed for home by myself.

I was completely and absolutely exhausted by this and I only got as far as Tamworth before parking up.  Next day saw me pull up at Toowoomba and finally the next day I made it home.

The whole experience took me 16 days and I had travelled 13,000 km.  That is an awful lot of fun!

Hindsights and Learnings:

1.            I should have had someone with me to share the driving/sleeping.

2.            Ron should have listened to Jeff and never gone down the Gunbarrel.

3.            Next time I hear Ron say he wants to do a race I should turn around and run like one thing.

Otherwise I had a fantastic time and would do it again tomorrow.  A slower programme would make it a great experience, as well as having a few more of the boys along to enjoy it too (you all know who I mean).

I am ready to go again.

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